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James R. Stout


In My Room

            Three weeks before I turned 16 my sister got married. My only part of that wedding was to wear a black tuxedo and perform the job of being an usher. I can’t say that I was sad to see her move out though. Oh, we got along great and I wished her the best. But it was her bedroom that I wanted and was promised once she moved out. So, the week that I turned 16 I took possession of that bedroom. Why was that bedroom so much better than the one that I had for the previous 5 years? It had its own dedicated phone. The phone had been a graduation present to my sister when she graduated from high school the year before her wedding. It wasn’t simply an extension line from my parent’s phone line. Nope, it was a separate phone line altogether. A totally different number. I remember it well. 467-3361, It became my phone when I moved into that room. There I was a 16-year-old boy with his own phone line. Could life have been any better?

            There’s a song by The Beach Boys that I always liked. It’s called “In My Room”. It’s full of teenage angst. Although the song was a hit 8 years before I turned 16, it was something that I certainly identified with. There were some changes necessary to make that room totally mine. For one thing, the aqua blue drapes had to go. I painted the room the only color that Mom would allow me to paint it, off-white. But it needed painting since it had probably been a dozen or more years since it had received a new coat of paint. I also had been collecting a great many wall posters. I had a black light as well. I would listen to records with just the black light on and dream of the days to come. In those days, I didn’t look back much. I was more focused on looking ahead. I had a big black light poster that simply proclaimed, “Peace”, and an assortment of posters that came with record albums that I had bought. Heck, I bought some albums just for the posters inside. The Beatles photos from their “White Album” were on one wall, a big 24x36 inch poster from George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass” was there. Posters of Harry Nilsson, Three Dog Night, Frank Zappa, Paul McCartney and Wings, and a few others lined the walls.     

            Later, in 1973, there was a big poster purchased at Astroworld of me, my girlfriend, my friend Lonny, and his girlfriend prominently displayed. I got my first real stereo when I was 17 and my parents bought me a stereo cabinet that had room for my records too. An odd assortment of things were on the headboard of my bed. It was one of those old headboards with shelves and sliding doors. There was a yellow flashing light that had once warned people of a construction zone. Don’t ask where it came from because I don’t remember. There was a speaker from the Thunderbird Drive-in. (I plead the fifth). My collection of KILT Top 40 Surveys, a couple of photo albums, a chess set, and the high school phone directory sat on top of the headboard. I had a chest of drawers with my first ever blow dryer (a-la-Keith Partridge), my camera, and a couple of change trays on top. There was a fair-sized mirror above the chest of drawers. I had two closets in my room, but I was only allowed one for myself. The other one was my mother’s “catch-all” closet with things that I’d rather not think about. In my closet, my flared and bell bottom pants hung beside several pairs of thin corduroy pants next to my paisley shirts and my assortment of belts. These included belts that were incredibly wide. My go-to belt was a 2” wide brown leather belt. I had four pairs of shoes. My dress shoes that I hardly ever wore, my suede desert boots that were my “going out” shoes, a new pair of tennis shoes, and my old pair of tennis shoes with a hole for my right big toe to wink at passersby.

            Somewhere in that room were some schoolbooks, but they tended to get buried until needed. I made a lot of phone calls on that turquoise princess phone. Hey, it beat no phone by mile! The room started to get filled up with guitars, a bass, amplifiers, microphones, and the like. I wrote a lot of songs sitting on my bed with one of my acoustic guitars and a spiral notebook and pen. I still have all of the original papers that I wrote the songs on with scratch-outs, chords, lyrics, and notes such as “capo on 2nd fret”. The fact is, that room was my domain. It was my kingdom. I ended up living in that room from September of 1971 until September of 1976 when I moved out to get married. I had great times in that room. Sometimes it was just me and my thoughts, hopes, and dreams while other times friends would be over and we’d listen to records, practice songs, or in the case of a girlfriend, there were some stolen kisses with an eye on the door and an ear tuned to any activity in the hallway. Some of the best memories of my life are from being in that room. Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys said it so well, “There’s a world where I can go and tell my secrets to”. That was how I felt about my little 10’x12’ bedroom. I’m sure that some of you didn’t get to experience their own room. Perhaps you had to share a room with a sibling. But I’m also sure that there are others of you who had their own room too and have similar stories to tell. If so, then please reply in a comment. I’d truly like to hear about your life in your room.

 

Taken June 22, 1973. I had just gotten home from being gone for two weeks and I had one picture left on a roll in my camera.

I had a friend snap this candid photo "In My Room"

Taken sometime in late 1972. That's the headboard behind me with the yellow light among other things.

The Ballad of Walker Cane

            I believe its natural for us to portray ourselves in the best light as possible. Now, there are certainly some people who seem to love being felt sorry for. Those people will often make sure that everyone sees how bad off they are, physically speaking. Many times, it’s not as bad as they make it out to be. But I think most of us don’t want to display our infirmities if at all possible. I watched a movie tonight that made me think about this issue. It was made in 1974 and starred John Wayne. The movie is “McQ” and its really quite good. The script had originally been proposed as a movie for Steve McQueen, but he declined the role and it was re-written with John Wayne in mind. It was the first of only two movies in which he played a cop. It was directed by the highly successful and excellent director John Sturges. He is best known for directing the blockbusters, “The Magnificent Seven” and “The Great Escape”. The film features a chase seen worthy of Steve McQueen in a 1973 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am with a 455 cubic inch V-8 and all the trimmings for the day. He would only make three more movies after “McQ”.

            John Wayne was 66 when the movie was filmed. A bit long in the tooth for a cop, but he pulls it off amazingly well. What you don’t realize as you’re watching the movie is that due to his having lost one of his lungs to cancer, he could only walk a short distance before having to take an oxygen treatment. You would never know it. He was a good actor and when it came to being physically limited and hiding it, he was a great actor. It was a mere two years before his last film, “The Shootist” in which he plays an aged and dying gunslinger. Knowing what he was having to go through physically it makes his acting in that movie that much more amazing. He died only 5 years after “McQ” came out.

            I truly believe that there are a lot of people, especially people over a certain age, who do their best to hide the ailments that they are fighting. You probably know people that you would never guess are dealing with a chronic illness or handicap. You may be one of them. I am, but I’m not going to go into that. Suffice it to say that time is the great equalizer. We need to be more patient with each other. If there’s someone at the grocery store who is obviously aged and is using a cane or walker or riding one of those carts, then put yourself in their place. They certainly don’t want to have to live that way. And don’t judge them either. Maybe they’re overweight. It’s a little too easy to think that they’re just lazy or that they’re in their situation by their own doing. Whenever I see a person who appears to be 20 years older than I am, then I think about how they were active young adults when I was a child. They did their fair share of bending down and helping a toddler up after a fall. They did their fair share of being patient with children who were running around like a bunch of wild Indians. Well, it’s my turn now to be patient with them. It doesn’t take much to be nice to someone, but it means so very much to that person when you are. If we all live long enough, then our bodies are going to wear out. It’s a fact of life. There are also plenty of younger people who are dealing with serious illnesses that you can’t see. Cancer, diabetes, and a whole host of diseases don’t care what age you are. I have a dear friend whose daughter was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was about 7-years-old. She had to go through things as a child that other children didn’t have to face. But she’s in her late 30’s now with children of her own and is a successful nurse practitioner. I can’t help but wondering if her illness as a child inspired her to help others.

            So, next time you’re in a store or traffic and someone isn’t moving fast enough to suit you or is riding on one of those carts and blocking the aisle, try wearing a smile and being nice. I know how hard that can be with some people. I know that there are days when we just don’t feel like smiling. But it pays to be nice and it’s the right thing to do.

Cool Change

            There are things that happen in life that are just plain weird. There’s absolutely no logical explanation for these things. I know how this is going to sound to some of you, but I promise you that I am telling the truth. This is not fiction. First, let me tell you about some early strangeness in my life. When I was about 10-years-old my father decided that I had some kind of telepathy. He was a big fan of science fiction. He said that I sure could guess well. We used to sit at the kitchen table on opposite ends. He would take a stack of my baseball cards and hide them under the table so that only he could see them. He would then take one of them and concentrate on the name of the player. My job was to see if I could figure out who’s card he was looking at. It was pretty amazing when I started getting about 50% of them correct. Another thing that started to happen to me and still happens from time to time is I’ll be driving along in the car (or in the days before I could drive, I’d be in my room at home) and a song would just pop into my head. I’d turn on the radio and there it would be playing. I remember doing this once when a friend from school was over one Friday night. We were sitting there on my bed playing a game of Stratego when I looked up and said, “KILT is playing “Bend Me Shape Me” on the radio. Well, the radio wasn’t on anywhere in the house and my friend Mark just smirked at me. I reached up and turned on my radio that was on the headboard and out blasted that song. Mark got freaked out and stood up, backed away from me, and said, “That’s just freaky, man.” I guess it was.

            So, let me tell you about what was probably the weirdest thing like this that happened. It was late in 1979 and my wife and I had recently moved to Dallas from Houston. Her parents lived near Lake Somerville and we had not been able to visit them for a while. It was time to make that drive. One of the ways that we could get there was to drive down to Temple, Texas and pick up Hwy 36. Hwy 36 would take us down to the turn-off in Lyons, Texas that would take us to their house. Not far from Rockdale, Texas on Hwy 36 we crossed a small river. I made a comment about its name being “Little River” and how much I enjoyed the music of a band that was popular at the time called “The Little River Band”. We made it to her parent’s house around 9 o’clock on that Friday night. We visited them and hung out all day on Saturday and then spent the night. Sunday morning my wife got up first and when she came in to wake me for breakfast I awoke with a start. I had been having a very realistic dream. I didn’t tell her about it right away. But later that afternoon when we were heading for home, I told her about the dream. In the dream I was visiting with two members of the Little River Band. Yea, I know that sounds kind of weird, but just wait. We were in a recording studio and I asked the lead vocalist if they had any new records coming out soon. He told me that they sure did. A new single called “Cool Change” was about to be released.

            When I told my wife about the dream, she thought it was weird, but she was kind of used to me having weird dreams. About an hour later we were approaching the river crossing on Hwy 36 over Little River and we had the radio tuned in to a station in Temple, Texas. Honest to goodness I’m not lying here. Just as we crossed the Little River the DJ came on and said, “Here’s a brand-new record by The Little River Band. It’s called “Cool Change”. Well, I nearly swerved off the road and my wife was just sitting there staring at me. Then she said, “Is this a joke?” I guess the look on my face told her that it wasn’t.

            I cannot explain how any of that happened. I only told one other person about it because I figured people would think I was lying. But it really did happen. Years later I bought a CD of the greatest hits by The Little River Band. I still get a weird feeling when I hear that song. For anyone who might be interested, the record peaked at #10 in January of 1980.

            So, you might be asking yourself why I bothered telling you about this. Well, perhaps it’s to show that there are things in this life and our existence that we simply can’t explain. We may try to figure it out and then rationalize an event to make it easier to take, but in our hearts, we know that there’s just no explanation. I don’t believe there was some grand message being transmitted or that I have some kind of 6th sense. I just accept the fact that it happened and that’s that. I see no reason to waste time trying to figure out something that I can’t figure out. There’s a familiar saying that I always used to say. I flat-out overused the saying to the point that my mother bought a wall hanging with that phrase and gave it to me when I moved into my house. The saying, “It is what it is.” The fact is, we just have to accept some things the way they are and leave it at that. Instead of fretting over why something happened or is the way it is, we need to just accept it and move on. Now that’s a cool change.

Doors and Windows

            We bought a 1978 Honda Accord in January of 1987 to go along with our old 1975 Toyota Corolla. Yes, it already had 109,000 miles on it, but it appeared to be in good running condition. One weekend in 1988 my wife decided to take the kids up to visit her parents in the country. She would take the “good” car, the Honda Accord, and I would stay home with the old Toyota. I couldn’t go away for the weekend because I had a Saturday class from 9-12 and had to work on Saturday night. Her plan was to leave after work on that Friday and come home on Sunday afternoon. To be honest with you, I was kind of looking forward to a quiet Friday night by myself. I was sitting there at the dining table typing a report for school when the phone rang. It was my wife. They had gotten as far as US290 and FM1960 and the car had just “died”. Well, great. I figured it was most likely something such as a loose alternator belt causing the battery not to charge. I immediately drove out to the scene of the crime and after tightening the alternator belt using a crowbar, I hooked up jumper cables expecting the Honda to fire right up. My wife was sitting in the car with the kids and when I told her to try the key, nothing happened. Not even a click-click-click. Nothing happened at all. So, I called a wrecker and had them deliver it to a mechanic that we had used before. Of course, they were closed, but they would check it out the next day. So much for a quiet evening by myself.

            The next morning, I went to my class as usual and figured I would swing by the shop on the way home to find out what was wrong. I was still thinking that it would be something simple such as a completely dead battery. I got out of class and headed for the shop. When I got to the shop and walked in the front door, the owner looked at me and I could tell by the way that he looked that the news wasn’t going to be good. The problem? The timing belt broke. Now, that wouldn’t have been that big of an expense to simply replace the belt. But when a timing belt breaks while you’re driving, then serious damage to the engine can occur. And that’s exactly what had happened. I was told the engine was beyond repair. The valves and head were toast. He gave me the name of a guy who would buy salvage vehicles and said that I might be able to get a few bucks for the car. This was devasting news. I did not want to have to tell my wife that news. I called the salvage guy and he met me at the shop to look at the car. He said the best he could do was give me $250. I saw no alternative, so I sold it to him. We were back to being a one car family again.

            I’m sure you’ve heard the old saying about when God closes a door, He opens a window. Well, the door was that Honda Accord. The window that opened for us came about 2 weeks later. I got a call from my brother-in-law. He had bought a 1977 Chevrolet Impala a few months before and now his company was giving him a company car. He didn’t need that Impala and he literally gave us that car. It was a $750 gift. I just had to pay to transfer the title. It wasn’t without its issues, but even the one major thing that happened to that car lead to another window being opened by God. We had that Impala for about 8 months, and it was Christmas time. The transmission went out on the darn thing. A used transmission was going to cost $300. There went Christmas, or so I thought.  But someone had heard about our troubles and I received an anonymous gift of $300. All I could think was, “Wow”. It didn’t end there. About two weeks later someone else had heard about the problem and didn’t know about the gift we had received. This person was a deacon at our church, and he came to me to ask me if I needed help. I explained about the gift and that we were mobile again. That’s when he said that he had an old 1979 Buick LeSabre that he had bought new and that it was in good condition. I figured he was going to offer to sell it to me cheap, but no matter how cheap it was I couldn’t afford it. Then he told me that he had loaned it to his son who lived in San Antonio and that it was just sitting there collecting dust. His son didn’t need it anymore. This godly man then told me that he would pay to fly me to San Antonio to meet his son and get the car. He would give us the car and even pay for transferring the title. That was one great ole big window that God opened! Between those two incredible gifts our transportation needs were met until after my graduation from college.

            I’ve been very blessed in my life. Those two events are good examples of God’s blessings. Sometimes Satan digs a hole to cause us to stumble, but God fills it back up. Sometimes He overfills it, and this allows us to step up a little higher and see all the holes that have been filled by God in our life. I also believe that sometimes God leaves the holes and allows us to trip because we need to learn something important. If nothing else, it teaches us to watch where we step and to avoid stumbling as much as we might otherwise do. The great composer Irving Berlin wrote a song that was featured in the classic Christmas movie, “White Christmas” that was called “Count Your Blessings (instead of sheep)”. I think that’s a great idea and even though things come along to get me down and I stumble, I try to focus on and count my blessings, rather than contemplating the negatives.

A Thorny Situation

            In September of 1966 there was excitement in the air at our house. I had just turned 11, but the big news was my parents had decided that we would move back to the Houston area from Bryan where we had lived for 3 and a half years. At the time, I was excited because I wanted to be in the big city. As the years went by, I realized that those days in Bryan were golden. No, things weren’t perfect, but they were definitely special. Before we could move, we had to sell our house. My Uncle Victor owned several houses in Spring Branch and told my parents that they could have their pick and he would basically allow them to take over payments. So, we already had a place to move to, but first we had to sell our house. In the meantime, life carried on. I was in 5th grade and was looking forward to the coming year. Even though we wouldn’t be living in our house for much longer, I wanted to build a treehouse. There was just one problem. There was only one tree in our yard that was big enough to build a treehouse in and Mom nixed that immediately. It was right in the front yard and a homemade treehouse by an untrained builder would be a definite deterrent to selling the house.

            But that never stopped me from building my own treehouse. There was a vacant lot behind our house. Although there was only one tree on that lot, it was big enough for a treehouse. However, there was one itty bitty problem. The tree was what is known as a honey mesquite tree. Which meant that tree had thorns. Big thorns. But I was inventive. The first thing that I did was use my Dad’s handsaw and I cut off all the lower branches and smaller branches which was where 98% of the thorns on the tree could be found. I didn’t let them go to waste though. I’ll tell you about that in a minute. When we had moved into the house in 1963 it had a covered wooden carport that was attached to the house. At the end of the carport was a large covered storage shed. In 1965 my parents converted the carport into a shop for my Dad’s piano business. They converted the shed into a large storage closet. The old shed had two doors that were somewhat of the homemade variety. For some reason, my parents kept the old doors in the storage closet. Those two doors were attached with a long piano hinge and would fold in two. I asked Dad if I could have those doors and I think he was more than happy to get them out of the closet. After I had trimmed the tree and nailed some spare 2x4’s cut to about a foot long to use as steps, I got a length of old rope and tied one end of it to a large limb about 15 feet up. The rope would be my quick way down once the treehouse was in use. I hauled those doors out of the closet, out of the shop, and drug them through our yard and down to the tree in the vacant lot. The doors were about 7’ high. I maneuvered the folding doors in such a way as they were standing up on end. I had brought a stepstool down to the worksite and lifted the folding doors up on top of the stepstool which allowed the top of the doors to rest against one of two large limbs about 9 feet off the ground. I stooped down and, using the tree limb as a lever of sorts, I lifted those doors up until I could push them lying flat and resting on both of the limbs. Then I unfolded the doors and voila’! I had a floor for my treehouse. I nailed the floor to those two tree limbs, and it was secure. As humble as it might seem, that folding door turned floor was pretty much the full extent of my treehouse. I could lean up against the trunk of the tree or just sit Indian style.

            Now, remember those limbs with the thorns? I wove them together and made a barrier around the tree with two openings to walk through. What it lacked in esthetics, it was proficient at thwarting invaders. Not that I expected to be invaded, but I was just playing make believe. The last thing that I did was to use my parent’s rake and an old broom to clear the area beneath the treehouse. This allowed me to use that rope to disembark without fear of doing so and impaling my feet with thorns through my shoes. Over the next 2 months I had a great time in my treehouse. I would occasionally have guests, friends from the neighborhood, and I started a treehouse craze. Before long there were treehouses all over the neighborhood. My favorite thing about that treehouse was the fact that it allowed me to have a place to be alone. I would fix a sack lunch, a thermos filled with Kool-Aid, and take them along with my most recent comic books and mystery novels such as The Hardy Boys and spend a Saturday afternoon enjoying the alone time. I had a small wooden box that I could tie the end of the rope and haul my lunch and books and other things up to the treehouse.

            The last week of October we got the news that the house had sold. We were scheduled to move back to Houston on Thursday, November the 9th. That day finally came, and I went down to the school bus stop to say goodbye to my best friend in the neighborhood, Tommy Elliot. I officially bequeathed my treehouse to Tommy. Back at the house the movers were loading the moving van with all our earthly possessions. It was exciting and they had it all loaded up and ready to go by about 11 o’clock that morning. We all piled into the car and as we drove away, I looked back at the house that I had lived in for most of 2nd grade, all of 3rd and 4th grade, and two months of 5th grade. There were a lot of memories made while we lived there. But we were on our way to a new adventure. That treehouse has come to be a symbol for those last days in Bryan, Texas for me. It was a humble little treehouse, but it was a place to call my own. I never built another treehouse. I had pretty much outgrown the idea. I was interested in records, girls, and adventures made on my bike in a new neighborhood. Looking back on those last couple of months in Bryan I realize that it was a transitional period of time. I went to visit my friend Tommy about 4 years later. We had both just finished junior high school. The lot where that treehouse had been was not vacant anymore. In fact, the wooded area across the road from our house was filled with new homes and all of the vacant lots that had been in the neighborhood were sporting new homes as well. I made one last visit to see Tommy when I was 23-years-old. Only by then I was married, and my wife went with me. Tommy still lived at home with his mother. His dad had passed away. I have no idea what became of Tommy. That was 41 years ago now. I built that treehouse nearly 54 years ago. At times it seems like yesterday while other times it seems like a century ago. But that treehouse is still there in my memory along with my Converse Tennis Shoes that were “uppers” and white with a black patch, the beautiful fall days that I spent time reading and dreaming in that treehouse, and a simpler time in life.

Randolph Scott, An Aquarium, and A Red-Hot Spinning Top

            In the spring of 1975, I was 19-years-old. I worked a part-time job at Fox Photo and was also in a trio. We would often times practice until 10 or 11 o’clock in the evening. It was a time of change for me. I was out of high school and trying to decide what I wanted to do with my life. The job allowed me to earn money to pay for gas, dates, and the upkeep on my car. Many times, I would get home around 11 o’clock and what I didn’t know at the time was I would be making some great memories that I cherish today. It was a unique time. When I would get home, it would be after the evening news was over and my parents would have turned off the TV and be preparing for bed. But a very special ritual began for me and my dad that would only last for a little while. By the fall, I would be involved in a job that was more demanding, I was seriously dating the girl that would become my wife, and I guess the most significant thing that halted the ritual was my parents were having the kitchen and dining area remodeled. I’ll explain how that affected things in just a moment.

            During those months during the spring and early summer I was able to truly bond with my father in a way that I hadn’t been able to previously. I wasn’t just a child anymore. The remodeling was months away, so the house was still the way it had been since we moved there in 1967. The only difference was we had added on a den. What had been a very small den before the den was added, became my father’s home office area. It was where he had a desk and filing cabinet for his business. There were some floor to ceiling bookshelves that were built into the wall on one side of the room with a window between them. That window had at one time been where an A/C window unit had been, but we moved it to another window in the adjoining living room after we built the big den. In the fall of 1974, Dad decided to buy a fair-sized aquarium and put it in front of that window. He bought some very pretty and colorful fish to stock it with, a sunken ship that was not only an air pump but provided a place for the fish to explore and some rocks and a cave like formation. He also had a special aquarium light that could be set for daylight and moonlight.

            I would get home and Mom would have already gone back to get ready for bed. Dad would be sitting there in his desk chair facing the aquarium with all the lights off in the room except for the aquarium light. He simply liked to sit and watch the fish and it was soothing to him. I got to where I started making sure that I got home in time to pull up a chair and sit there with him. While we watched the zebra fish, angelfish, tetras, and other fish that he purchased at Pier 1 imports when they were a different kind of store than they are today, we would talk about our day. He would tell me what parts of town he had gone to on his service calls that day, what kind of repair work he had brought home, and things that might have seemed mundane subjects such as where he ate lunch that day. I would tell him about my day too. The customers that I met, the new products we were selling at Fox Photo, how the trio was going, and so forth. I recall him telling me about songs that were current hits on the station that he listened to in the car. In particular, he was very fond of songs such as “Whatever Happened To Randolph Scoot” by The Statler Brothers” and “Ice Cream Sodas, Lollipops, and Red-Hot Spinning Tops”. I probably thought they were hokey at the time, but now when I hear those songs there’s a tightening in my chest as I think of my Dad and those evenings in front of the aquarium. After about 30 minutes or so, Dad would head-off to bed with the nightly instruction to be sure and turn off the lights in the den if I stayed up to watch TV. As he got up and started to leave, he would reach down for just a second and squeeze my shoulder with his hand. It was his way of saying, “I love you”.

            Although those days didn’t last a long time, they were like seeds being planted for a plant that wouldn’t sprout for decades. The last dozen or so years of Dad’s life we became very close. We would talk on the phone every day, I would go over to visit them several times a week, and from time to time I would take him with me to run errands in town just to share some time together. I think those days back in 1975 really did plant a seed that yielded fruit 30 and 40 years later. And, they still do in a way. Although Dad has been gone now almost 4 years, I have those memories. I was in the car today coming back from Huntsville and I had the XM radio on. One of the stations that I have programed on the radio is “Willie’s Roadhouse”. It’s a station sponsored by Willie Nelson and they play classic country music. I had just turned off the highway and on came “Whatever Happened To Randolph Scott?”. I’m not ashamed to admit that I teared-up a bit thinking of my Dad and those special times that we had together. I miss him terribly. I miss his sense of humor, his Dad jokes, his kindness, his huge heart, his ever-present smile, and the sheer joy of just being with him. I know this sounds silly, but I hope he gets to enjoy things like that red-hot spinning top in Heaven.

You Oughta Be In Pictures

            I had a craving last night. I just had to watch an old movie that I have known about since I can remember. It just so happened to have been a big hit movie the year I was born. The movie is “Blackboard Jungle”. Well, I went into look for it in my extensive DVD/Blu-Ray library and before I could find it, I came up another movie from the year I was born. It’s called “The Desperate Hours”. I had about decided to watch it instead when another movie caught my eye. No, it wasn’t from the year I was born. I was a whopping 4-years-old when “Anatomy of a Murder” came out. I ended up watching it after all. It didn’t end there though. After watching James Stewart as a humble country lawyer on the Michigan Peninsula defend Ben Gazzara for murder (and very much enjoying the lovely Lee Remick) I decided that I needed a little bit more of James Stewart and the 50’s. So, I made the second feature the hugely successful movie, “Vertigo”, from 1958. All of these movies are terrific, and I put hold them all in high esteem. But watching “Vertigo” is what inspired this blog entry. Why? For one thing, it was the only one in color. Don’t get me wrong. I love black and white movies and especially the film noir genre. But there was something special about seeing the period of time when I was a toddler in living color.

            The clothes and especially the cars showed reminded me of what it was like back then. Seeing them in color instead of black and white certainly helped. Barbara Bel Geddes who would 20 years later be famous as the matriarch on the TV series “Dallas” was the trusted friend of James Stewart. Oh, she was in love with him too, but he didn’t seem to notice. He was too smitten with Kim Novak. Speaking of which, did she fall in the same vat of goo that The Joker did or what? The architecture of the buildings, the Golden Gate Bridge at only 20 years old that year, Alcatraz was still a working prison, and some of the minor little things such as the telephones (just the handset on one was a lethal weapon) all reminded me of how things were when I was very little.

            Now, I didn’t get to San Francisco for the first time until 2004. So, I never saw that city in the 50’s. But the cars, clothes, buildings, and telephones I remember. Phones were pretty much all black and very heavy. The cords were usually short, and our houses all had a phone nook in the hallway where calls were made and received. People didn’t spend much time on a phone call in those days. If it rang at all, then it was a source of excitement for whoever was home. We had party lines too. Most men wore suits with hats that matched, and the women wore dress hats and gloves. I remember my mother had several hats and sets of gloves in the top of her closet. There were these guys who delivered milk to your house. They had a uniform that was usually white and wore a cap (not a baseball cap, but more like a military cap). The wet head was alive and well for men. My father used Jerris Hair Oil. He always had a little wave in his hair in the front for style. It seemed most adults smoked in those days and were blissfully unaware that they were willingly and greatly enhancing the chances of heart disease and cancer in their future.

            The TV families in the 50’s mostly had nicer homes than the majority of Americans, but then that was part of the appeal of the show for us. Most families that owned a home lived in a 2-3 bedroom wood frame house with 1 bathroom and a 1 car garage. We had a toaster, stove, washer and refrigerator, but dryers and dishwashers were for the well-to-do. June Cleaver was probably the only housewife who vacuumed in a nice dress wearing a string of pearls. Two-story brick homes were for rich people. To prove a point, my uncle was an attorney and they lived much nicer than we did yet they didn’t have two cars, a brick house, and such things until of the 60’s.

            But we had a great life. Oh, there was the atomic bomb fears and once in a while you would hear about someone being murdered, but for the most part we didn’t have the everyday violence and global fears of viruses that would lead to zombies in the street. That was 10 years later.

            Watching those movies last night made me a little homesick for those days. I am sure that a lot of my homesickness was because I didn’t have the weight of the world on my shoulders that we gain as adults. I’m realistic enough to realize that not all things from today are worse than back then. I have a nice car that will likely last me 150,000 miles with little problems. A car was about ready to be traded in when it got to 50,000 miles back then. But then we didn’t drive as much as we do now. I think our 1961 Ford Galaxie 500 was a demo that my parents bought with about 2,000 miles on it. It was ready for trading in by 1967 and had about 55,000 miles on it. The rear end went out on it and Dad put a used one in it just to keep it running and traded for a new car shortly thereafter. Cars are most definitely made better today. They just lack style. They seem to all look the same. I don’t drink beer, but it seems that beer is about the only drink in a convenience store that is sold in a glass bottle. Soft drinks aren’t unless they’re from Mexico and that stuff is just nasty. People still smoke and chew and now they vape. Every generation has to learn for itself, I suppose. Baseball and football uniforms have sure changed. As for football, I think it’s a good thing. It’s safer for the players even if they do still seem to get injured a lot. Baseball uniforms are not as baggy as they once were and much more colorful. I heard that one team is going to have a trashcan lid patch sewn onto the right arm of the jersey. Not sure what that’s all about.

            Well, I guess I’ve said enough about this subject for one entry. The truth is there’s a part of me that really misses the way things were back then and then there’s a part of me that is glad it isn’t like that. Frankly, I never liked wearing a suit and tie to work during the years that I was required to. I don’t work now, but in those old days’ men wore suits just to go to indoor movies. I guess what I do miss is the way people were in general. It was kinder, gentler, and decent society to live in as opposed to today. And, since it was movies that started this blog entry, then I might mention that those movies are great and classic by any standard yet none of them had crude language, nudity, or excessive violence. Which proves it’s not necessary to have those things to make a great movie. I like seeing the way things were when I was a kid. Especially the period of time when I was alive but was too young to remember. It’s a window into how things were. It’s sort of like knowing something happened, you didn’t see it yourself when it happened, but there’s a film that caught it all and you can watch it knowing you were just around the corner, Metaphorically speaking. Whatever your age is, go find a movie that was set in the contemporary time when you were too young to remember and see how things were. I’ll leave you with a few suggestions. If you were born:

(1960-1964) – “Fate Is The Hunter” (1964), “Experiment In Terror” (1962), and “Take Her, She’s Mine” (1963)

(1965-1969) – “That Darn Cat” (1965), “Bullitt” (1968), and “In The Heat of The Night” (1967”

(1970-1974) – “The French Connection” (1971), “What’s Up Doc” (1972) and “McQ” (1974)

(1975-1979) – “Three Days of the Condor” (1975), “The Goodbye Girl” (1977), and “Coma” (1978)

(1980-1984) – “Caddyshack” (1980), “My Bodyguard” (1981), and “Starman” (1984

(1985-1989) – “Witness” (1985), “Batteries Not Included” (1987), and “The Dead Pool” (1988)

            That’s as far as I’ll go. You get the idea. Until next time, keep singing “You oughta be in pictures.”

Why I Write This Blog

            I’ve met a handful of people who have claimed that they have no regrets whatsoever about their life. Well, from my perspective that’s just nuts. Everyone has regrets. That said, you shouldn’t spend your life dwelling on your regrets and wishing that you could change things. You can’t. However, you can start doing things that will enrich your life and avoid having a few regrets that you don’t have to have. I heard someone say recently that while most people regret something that they did, it is the things that they didn’t do that they regret the most. He also said that cemeteries are filled with unwritten books, unwritten songs, college degrees never achieved, and basically dreams never attempted. I’ll add to that by saying that the longer we live, the more likely we are to do one of two things. We either spend our days fretting over something we did or didn’t do, or we push that heavy weight aside and start doing things that fulfill and enrich our lives as well as a great many others who we come into contact with.

            Please don’t take the next paragraph as me bragging or anything of that sort. Trust me when I say that I have missed the mark on a great many things and there are things that I always wanted to do, but simply won’t be able to. It might be due to money, time, or physical limitations that I haven’t always had. I realized at the age of 22 that I should have gone to college. I was working dead-end jobs and found it impossible to be able to do a great many things that I wanted to do without that degree. It was a different time too. College degrees today don’t carry the same weight that they did back then. I made a half-hearted attempt that summer and earned a whopping 6 hours of college credit. But by the fall I gave up that dream. It just seemed too hard. That was a defeatist frame of mind. By the time I was 30, I had two small children who deserved better than what I could provide in a dead-end job. And, time was ticking. At the age of 31 I decided to go to college and get that degree. I won’t go into all that it took, but let’s just say it was 4 years of sacrifice, no sleep, working at odd hours, and at times it seemed to be unattainable. But I persevered and I graduated from college with two degrees and a scholarship to pay for going for a master’s degree. But by that time, I was 35 and I spent enough time doing schoolwork and odd jobs instead of spending time with my kids. So, I decided not to go for the master’s degree. I do not regret that decision.

            I truly learned a great many things by getting my degrees. I learned how to stick with something. I greatly improved my writing skills and vocabulary. The world became my classroom. And perhaps the best thing that I got out of that time was confidence. I used to walk around thinking that I was a failure because I didn’t have a degree. There would be several couples at church our age and when we got together for social functions I felt like the poor relations. They all talked about when they went to college and then about the great jobs that they had. They were able to own a car that wasn’t a junker. They actually were able to buy a house. I could only rent one and it was usually not the kind that made me proud. I wasn’t jealous at all. In fact, I blamed myself for being a failure. But I was able to rise above that. I might add that there are plenty of people who have done quite well and never attended college. I tip my hat to those people. They have gifts that I don’t possess. The point is I needed and wanted that college degree and I set my mind to achieving it.

            I know this is going to sound trite, but I have always tried to do the right thing. That’s not me bragging or me judging other people. It was just the way I was raised. I made some mistakes along the way and at times I didn’t live up to the standards that I wanted to live up to. It wasn’t because I was so good or thought I was so good. It was because I saw how doing certain things hurt other people and were just plain wrong. I didn’t want to hurt other people and there is that “still small voice” inside of me that nudges me (sometimes kicks me) when I start to veer off the road.

            Here’s my “never gonna happen” paragraph. I’m never going to see the Pyramids. I’m never going to visit the Holy Lands. I’m never going to own a classic 1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1. I’m never going to live in a house that is a showplace. I’m not likely to ever run a footrace again. I will never again look as good as I did when I was young. The truth is none of those things really matter to me now. There was a time when I wanted to go see Egypt and the Holy Lands, but now it sounds like a good way to wear myself out. Besides, I just don’t feel comfortable about being in that part of the world today. As for the Mustang, it would likely be hard to get in and out of and taking a ride in one would probably cure me of that desire pretty quick. I don’t want an expensive, large, showplace of a house. It’s a lot to keep clean and looking top notch. I’m just fine with a nice comfortable 1400 square foot house as long as it has the normal amenities. You know, running water, bathrooms, a room for my studio/office, appliances, etc. There are plenty of people in this world who have never even seen some of those things. I’m truly blessed to live where I live.

            I always wanted to write a book. I started to write one several times but work and kids and a busy life always seemed to derail those attempts. But when I retired, I found myself with more time and a renewed interest in writing a book. So, I’ve written one now. I still need to finish the editing and then see about publishing the darn thing. I’ve already started a second book and I’ve written several short stories along the way. I’ve got one major book project that I’m doing a lot of research on before I get started on it. Writing has become my biggest passion these days. For a while it was my photography. I still love doing photography, but as I’m aging and my physical abilities have lessened, getting to some of the places that I wanted to photograph are leaning towards that “never gonna happen” paragraph. Back in 2006 I hiked through some pretty rough terrain (rated as expert on the map) just to get to a waterfall that is in an official wilderness area. Even then I was worn out by the time I got back to my car. It was a round-trip hike of 12 miles. Much of it was either going up a steep incline or down a steep decline and over big stones. A turn of the ankle would have spelled disaster. But I did it. I was literally sore for a week afterwards. I will never again be able to do that kind of a hike. Photos that I take these days tax my creativity. Now I must find interesting things to photograph that speak to the viewer but are not so inaccessible.

            I am compiling a retrospective of my life’s work in writing songs and as a recording artist as well. I have tapes going back 45 years that I am perusing, setting aside to edit and master, and generally getting ready to pass on to my family when I’m gone. I do have a few songs that still need to be recorded. That’s a project in my future as well. The reason I’m writing this blog entry is to tell you something very important. No matter what comes your way, how much your body deteriorates with age, or how weighted down with life you may be, DON’T GIVE UP! There’s a legacy with your name on it. Maybe you can’t do some of things that you wanted to do. So, do something else! Search for and find your passion. The life you are living is such a great gift no matter what has happened along the way. Just because I have some nerve damage in my legs and can’t run anymore doesn’t mean that I can’t walk. I can write, take photos, enjoy my grandchildren, read, dream, sing, play my guitar, spend time with Moe the Cat, and sit on the porch and be inspired by the animals as they stop by the hay meadow to graze. I know some people who spend most of their time sitting in front of a TV. What a waste. Leave your heirs something much more valuable than the things that you have or the money that you’ll leave. Leave them lifelong memories of who you were. Leave them a legacy of how you touched other lives. Maybe it’s not writing a book or photography or music. But it’s certainly just as important. If you enjoy wood working, then build something that becomes a treasured keepsake to your grandchildren. If you like to work on cars, then help other people make much needed repairs that they will remember helped them through a rough time. If you like to bake, then bake cakes that your loved ones will talk about long after you are gone. Leave your mark and make sure it’s a good and positive mark. Leave your legacy for all to know one thing if nothing else. You were here and you mattered.

A Soapbox and Making Memories

            I made the mistake of falling asleep in front of the TV. It was a mistake that I seem to be making often these days. The problem with it is that when I wake up a couple of hours later, I can’t get back to sleep to save my neck. So, I was channel surfing in the early a.m. hours and came upon a movie that I was not familiar with. I’m not going to tell you the name of the movie because it was a seriously upsetting movie to me and I wouldn’t pass it on to anyone else. What the movie did was portray realistically the problem of child trafficking. I am horrified by the estimated number of children that are abducted and sold to be sex slaves all over the world. The FBI estimates that there are approximately 100,000 children a year brought into or trafficked out of America. All of this got me to thinking about how truly different things are today compared to when I was a child.

            Parents today, the ones with any brains, can’t drop off their children at a movie theater to see a movie today by themselves. They can’t allow their children to roam the neighborhood and play with other children unless a trusted adult is watching them the whole time. Parents don’t have the security of knowing that whatever comes on their TV will be fit for their children to see. Morality is so warped today that a great many parents don’t think things that were so clearly not tolerated in my childhood are a problem for their children to see. Social media has taken America onto paths that are riddled with predators and dishonest businesses. I saw a news report this week about dating sites on the internet. I won’t name the company, but it’s a major player in that business, The company admits that fully 35% of the profiles on their site are in reality non-existent. Instead, they are a front for a company that posts a picture of an attractive person with a completely fictious profile. Why? To get your information. Let’s say you see one of these people and contact them via the site. What’s the first thing you do? You tell them all about yourself. Things you like, don’t like, eat, won’t eat, body type, religion, and a whole host of other things that you willingly provide thinking you’re going to meet this person. Of course, it’s set up so that the actual person monitoring that profile will have a reason not to want to meet you after all. But the company now has all that info including your email address. Suddenly, you start getting emails wanting to sell you this or that and it doesn’t occur to you that it’s all based on the info that you gave to them.

            In 1965, when I was 9 and 10 years old, I have no doubt that there were a few sick people out there. But it was very uncommon. My parents didn’t have to warn me about things because there just wasn’t anyone out there who spent their lives destroying the lives of children. From the time I was 8-years-old my parents would drop off me and my sister or me and a friend at the movie theater to watch a wholesome family-oriented movie. They were great movies too. Unfortunately, the same company that made those movies then has become greatly lowered its standards. I won’t name the company, but you probably can guess. In 1965 we might have gone to see a movie about a teenager and her cat. The cat was prone to prowling the neighborhood and getting into trouble. It was all good clean fun to watch. Today, that same company has put out movies marketed for kids that include homosexual behavior, bathroom (that’s what we always called it) humor, and over-the-top violence. Another series of movies that made billions of dollars and was geared for kids was all about the occult and witches and warlocks. Oh, we had our ghost stories back in the 60’s, but they were almost always funny and light-hearted.

            Now, before you get to thinking that I’m just an old fuddy-duddy, stop and think about what I’m saying. People under the age of about 50 never knew things the way that people my age did. By the time they can remember things were already in a tailspin. It started slow, but it’s full a whirlwind today. I can’t help but lay a lot of the blame at the feet of Hollywood. They’ll show anything today. Even PG movies have language and some skin that would never have been tolerated in my early years. I don’t recall hearing a 4-letter word in a movie until I was a teenager and it was talked about because of its rarity. And you know what? The words aren’t necessary. The skin isn’t necessary. Take the movie “Shenandoah” from 1965 for instance. A young couple got married, but before they could have a honeymoon, he had to immediately go off to war. Later in the movie he is rescued by his father-in-law and brother’s-in-laws. His wife is with them also. There’s a scene where they come to an abandoned cabin and decide to take shelter there overnight during a storm. The father goes into the bedroom and closes the door, and everyone can hear him moving furniture around and bumping things. He finally comes out and tells his daughter and son-in-law that he’s sorry it’s not any nicer than it is, but at least it will be private. The son-in-law picks up his bride, carries her across the threshold, and then the door closes. That’s all we see and that was all that was necessary. It may come as a surprise to some people out there, but there was a day when most people didn’t use cuss words. My parents would never have put up with it. Most parents back then were the same. I hear young parents today in stores and other public settings openly saying words that a child doesn’t need to hear.

            Well, I’ve gone and gotten on my soapbox in this entry. But I’m not sorry if it offends you because if it offends you, then you’re part of the problem. But I’m guessing that most of the people who read my blog every day are closer to feeling the way that I do. Notice that I didn’t even get into politics in this diatribe. That’s another issue altogether.

            But to end this on a positive note I’ll tell you what it was like when I was 9-years-old and went to the movie with my big sister. It was in the fall of 1964. We were huge fans of Hayley Mills. Her latest movie was a spy-thriller called “The Moon Spinners”. It is a wonderful movie and I have the DVD of it. On a Saturday about 1 o’clock my mother drove us to The Palace Theater in Bryan, Texas. She gave us each $1.25. The ticket price was 50 cents. We could buy a Coke for 25. cents, a bag of popcorn for 15. cents, and a candy bar for a dime. The extra quarter was so that we each had a little left over. Just in case. We excitedly bought our tickets, went into the theater to find good seats, and then took turns saving our seats while the other went to the concession stand. There was always a couple of cartoons and previews of new movies about to be released, but then the movie started. It was 2 hours of thrills watching Hayley and her aunt on vacation in Greece navigate through helping a young man escape from some bad guys. The cinematography was fantastic as was the exotic locale. When the movie was over my sister would call Mom and let her know the movie was over. We would go outside and window shop near the theater while we waited for Mom to show up. Soon, she was there, and we piled into the car and told her all about the movie. I think that she must have truly enjoyed seeing us have such a good time. She didn’t have to worry about us not being safe at the theater. I treasure those days not only for the fun times, but for the blessing of living during a time of innocence. Here it is 5 a.m. now and I’m itching to get that DVD and watch it now. I’ll end by saying that when I take my granddaughters to either see a movie or out to a park or riding around up hear in the country, I tell them that we are “making memories”. They like that and when they see me and we head out to get a snow cone in the summer or go to a park somewhere they’ll pipe up and say, “We’re making memories, Paw-Paw!”

The Lavender Carnation - Happy Valentine's Day!

            When I was growing up Valentine’s Day was celebrated in our schools. All through elementary school we would prepare Valentine’s cards for everybody in our class. Then on the day itself we would tape a brown paper bag to the front of our desk, and everyone would go around and put the cards in the bag per person. It was a big day for us. I always enjoyed reading the cards after getting home that day. The messages were typical and certainly age appropriate. Starting in junior high there was a new thing going on. I forget now who arranged it all, but you could purchase carnations for someone to be given to them on Valentine’s Day. I didn’t buy or receive any carnations in 6th and 7th grade. For one thing, guys just didn’t give other guys a carnation. Girls, on the other hand, could do that and it was completely OK. I didn’t have any secret admirers in those years that would purchase a carnation for me. Boo-hoo!

            But 8th grade was a new experience for me. I may not have been the most popular boy in school, but I had come out of my shell and I was enjoying the attention of some of the girls in school. I still hadn’t even held a girl’s hand yet, but I seemed to have taken to flirting with the opposite sex with ease. In January of 1970 they announced the annual carnation sale. I purchased three carnations to be given to a certain girl that I was infatuated with. But I requested that they be given from a “secret admirer”. The last thing I wanted was to give carnations to this girl and then it somehow or another backfire on me. Backfire as in her laughing at me. I had no expectations of receiving any carnations. I just didn’t think there were any girls who were interested in me.

            It was Valentine’s Day of 1970 and I was more than ready to get to school. I was in two classes with the girl that I had bought the carnations for and I couldn’t wait to see her reaction. I sang the then current hit song, “Ma Belle Amie” by The Tee Set all the way to school that day. I think it was during 4th period that the carnations were scheduled to be delivered. I had English in that period and that certain girl was in my class. I dressed in my coolest outfit that day. I sported a purple button-down shirt with flared sleeves (all the rage), a pair of gray bell bottom pants, and a new pair of Hush Puppies loafers. I got a lot of comments on my garb that day. Mission accomplished!

            The bell rang at lunch and I made my way to my English class. I sat down at my desk and noticed that there was excitement in the air. The carnations would soon be delivered. Finally, about 15 minutes into class the kids who did the delivering of the carnations came into the room with bunches of carnations. I looked over at that girl and she was receiving the three carnations that I had sent. Well, I hoped it was the three from me. She could have gotten more. I deviously asked her who were they from. She had a puzzled look on her face and said, “It’s says secret admirer”.

            I coyly said, “Well, I’m not surprised that you have a secret admirer. Who do you think it is?”

            She said, “I have no idea! But they are beautiful.”

            There was a pink carnation, a red carnation, and a lavender carnation. I had recalled her saying that lavender was her favorite color. Thus, I made sure she got a carnation of that color.

            “I can’t believe one of the carnations is lavender, my favorite color!” she said. “It must be someone who knows me.”

             I was so enthralled with watching her and talking to her about the carnations that I didn’t realize a student was standing there holding a half dozen carnations to give to me. I couldn’t believe it. I looked at the card and now I knew how that girl felt. It said, “Secret Admirer”. Three of the carnations were red and three were white. I didn’t care about the color though. I was just thrilled to get any. Now it was her turn to ask me who they were from and I told her. She laughed and said something about that secret admirer “getting around.” I was dumbfounded by the gesture. Who liked me enough to give me 6 carnations? I just couldn’t believe it.

             Well, Valentine’s Day came and went and soon it was the beginning of April. That certain girl and I had developed a boy-girl friendship. I walked her to classes, we ate lunch together every day, and I would call her on the phone. We would talk until one or the other of our parents told us to get off the phone. By the end of the school year, we were boyfriend and girlfriend. We went to the 8th grade dance together and started holding hands. She was my first girlfriend.

             One day in June I went over to her house to play records and watch a movie on TV. Her older sister was our chaperone! We were listening to a record when she said to me, “I have a confession to make.” I feared the worst. I feared she was going to tell me she liked another boy. Then she said, “Remember those carnations that you got on Valentine’s Day? Well, I was the secret admirer. I sent them to you.” She couldn’t have been more beautiful to me than she was at that moment.

             “Well, I have a confession to make too.” I said. “I was your secret admirer and sent you those three carnations.” Her eyes flew open and then and we both laughed. It was a sweet moment in my innocent days of youth.

             We continued to be a couple for another few months, but after high school got going and we were growing up, we parted ways. Mainly because our interests were taking us down different pathways. I always think of that girl on Valentine’s Day though. That was 50 years ago today. Half a century! I haven’t seen her since running into her when we were both in our early 20’s and both married by then. I hope and pray that she has had a good life. If I could, I would send her a lavender carnation in honor of that day 50 years ago. Hopefully, she has a husband who does much more than that for her today.

The Last Ride of The Trio

            I recently wrote a blog entry about me and my old duet partner and friend, Lonny Schonfeld. I wanted to write about something related to that friendship and our duet partnership. As I mentioned in that earlier blog, Lonny and I had begun our duet in November of 1972. At the time, we were strapped for cash and undecided on exactly how we would embark on our adventure. Lonny owned an old Gibson Melody Maker electric guitar, but no amplifier. A decent amplifier would cost him around $300-$500. I owned two acoustic guitars and if we “went electric” then it meant I would have to buy an electric guitar and an amplifier as well as we would have to expand with a drummer. I did own an old “no-name” bass guitar and a 2x15” bass speaker cabinet with a 100-watt Bogen amplifier. So, it meant that our “duet” would have to become a band and we would need to add a lead guitarist (if I was to play bass) as well as a drummer. We experimented with this to some degree for a couple of months while performing as a duet using my two acoustic guitars. I’ll expound on those in just a minute. It didn’t take us long to figure out that we preferred two acoustic guitars and just doing the duet as opposed to an electric band. So, by the time the first of March 1973 came around we had decided to go the route of an acoustic duet. Now, to those two acoustic guitars that I had. They were birds of the same kind. Cheap cheap cheap! One was another “no-name” guitar. I had gotten it in the summer of 1972 from a pawn shop. It literally didn’t have the name of the maker on it. I am positive it was a cheap knock-off from Japan or Mexico. The sound was tinny, and the action was poor. But it had only cost about $50 when I got it. The other acoustic guitar was a 1970 Sears Silvertone that probably had cost my parents about the same amount at Christmas 1970. The fact of the matter was that if Lonny and I were going to pursue the acoustic duet route, then we were going to need better guitars.

            I had started to work at the Oak Village Theater in late January of 1973. So, I was saving my money for a better guitar and my first car. But it was clear I would need the guitar quicker than I could save enough money. I’ll get to that in just a moment. Lonny made the decision to sell his Gibson Melody Maker and use the money to buy a good acoustic 6-string. He made a deal with a local music store and traded even for a new Alvarez 6-string with a hard-shell case. The guitar was quite nice with great tone, smooth action, and it even had gold Grover tuners. We were halfway there.

            On more than one occasion over the decades since then Lonny and I have talked about how my father was so supported of us and our musical endeavors. We didn’t actually realize how much a part of our dream he was. We’ve talked a lot about how the 18-month period of time from November 1972 through June of 1974 was very special. It was exciting, a lot of action going on, and we shared experiences that only the two of us have memories of. But the truth is, my father was there for much of it. When we start to reminisce about those days, we almost always realize how much my father was a part of it. His encouragement was paramount, but he also provided his experience and such mundane things as his “big ole long drink of water”, as he called it, 1972 Ford Country Squire Station Wagon. On several occasions he provided transportation in that car for us and all of our equipment. It held not only our guitars, but the new Peavey P.A. system that we purchased in the summer of 1973 that included microphone stands and microphones. We used it to haul our equipment to more than one audition or performance. Dad was even there for us when we had car trouble on the freeway on the east side of Houston. He dropped what he was doing, arranged for a tow truck to come get my car, drove 25 miles to pick us up, and treated us to dinner at a Denny’s on the way home.

            So, the first of March rolled around and I sheepishly approached my Dad about a money problem. I explained the guitar situation to him and asked if he would co-sign with me for a loan through Evans Music City on a new guitar. He knew the owner of the store and took care of their pianos. I told him that I would be able to pay off the loan early by saving my money at my job. Dad didn’t bat an eye and said, “When do you want to go to Evans?” Well, in those days’ stores closed at 6 p.m. and by the time I could get home from school we would barely have time to drive over to Evans and shop for a guitar. No problem for Dad. He wrote me a note allowing me to leave school during the middle of the day. He came to the school and pick me and Lonny up about 10:00 a.m. and off we went to Evans Music in that Ford station wagon. It was like we were a trio instead of a duet.

            We got to Evans and I started to try out different guitars. I had saved $100 to put down on one. Our “sound” in those days included me playing a 12-string guitar. I’ve had some people who knew who I was at school in those days come up to me years later at a class reunion and say, “You were that 12-string guy!” So, as I walked around looking at the guitars and trying them out, I came to “the” 12-string. It was an Alvarez model 5068. I still have the receipt for it. The cost? Well, with hard shell case it was going to be nearly $400. That doesn’t sound like much, but as per the official calculator for how much buying power that would be today it was about $2,075! It turns out that the guitar was hand made by a world-renowned luthier. Well, I gulped at the price, but I fell in love with that guitar the minute I took it off the wall. Just the feel of the neck in my hand before I even played a note was something special. It didn’t take long for me to say, “This is the one.” Dad looked at the price tag and I think he might have turned a little green around the gills, but that didn’t stop him from helping me out. We set down with the salesman and Dad co-signed the loan with a balance of $315 after taxes and interest on the loan. He gave me his best “Dad look” and said, “Now son, you know if you fail to pay this, then I’ll have to and if that happens, then the guitar is mine!” Well, that was only fair, but I was never going to let that happen. I can still smell the new smell of the inside of that hard-shell case, gold in color, as the salesman put the Alvarez inside of it and closed up the case.

            Dad drove us back to school, but not without treating us to lunch first, and when I got out of the Ford to go back in school and he drove off with that guitar in his car it was like I was saying goodbye to my girlfriend. Yea, silly it seems now, but I was just 17 and you know what I mean? Lonny and I were set. We had a coffeehouse performance coming up in a week and some other performances in the works. We couldn’t wait to get to my house that night to practice with our new guitars. I remember Dad standing in the hallway listening to us and a great big smile on his face. I guess I should tell you that even though my monthly payment for the guitar was only $26 a month and I had a year to pay it, I paid if off by that July. We even had earned enough money to buy that P.A. system by then too.

            We played a significant amount of time in an Anthology performance in April that year and were the featured performers by opening the show and then performing 6 songs in our own part of the program. I’ve attached a photo taken by the school newspaper photographer of that performance. I’m facing the camera (but my face is somewhat blocked by my microphone) while Lonny’s profile is captured. The lighting was perfect. I’ve also attached a photo showing that guitar on the wall at Evans Music.

Dad had also been associated with the V.A. hospital in Houston. For one thing, he himself had been a patient there back when I was a baby after he was in a bad car accident. He got to know the event planners and such and took care of the pianos at the hospital. Dad had been telling the man in charge of performances that were held at the hospital auditorium about me and Lonny and the guy invited us to come out and play on a Saturday evening in April. It was a huge auditorium and when we got there we were immediately scared to death at the size of the crowd. We were used to an audience of 50 or so people at small coffeehouses. We wanted to do the performance as a practice for the upcoming Anthology performance. But we had no idea that in reality we would be playing for a great many more people at the V.A. than at Anthology ’73. There was an audience that night of about 2000 people. Our veterans, heroes all, many of them wheeled in on gurneys to watch us sing, were amazing and so inspiring. Remember, a lot of these veterans were just back from Vietnam. Of course, we had gone there with my Dad in that Ford. It wasn’t until years later that I learned something from my Dad about that night. It has come to mean something special to me. There was a certain song that we did that I played lead guitar on and it was a somewhat difficult bit of guitar playing and even more so on a 12-string guitar. Dad was sitting out in the audience and as I was navigating through that guitar solo a man sitting next to Dad remarked, “Look at that kid go on that 12-string! That boy’s good!” Well, Dad turned to the man, a stranger to Dad, and beamed with pride when he told him that the kid playing the 12-string was his son.

            The thing that both Lonny and I came to realize as the years passed was that often times Dad was the only one of our parents in attendance when we made a performance. When we got our first decent paying gig at a Steak-n-Ale restaurant in January of 1974 Dad surprised us by showing up just to hear us and see us playing. It came to mean a lot to us how much support we got from Dad and we realized too that he was part of that golden time period for us.

            Fast forward to June 14, 2016. I had told Lonny on the phone that Dad wasn’t doing well in hospice in Palestine, Texas. Dad was 93-years-old, suffered from congestive heart failure, and had lost his left leg due to peripheral artery disease two months before. We arranged to meet at the facility there on that day. I brought Mom with me. We spent some time in Dad’s room, but Dad was not able to talk. His time was near. Lonny, Mom, and I went out to lunch and then came back for a little while to Dad’s room. We weren’t sure just how much he was aware of at the time, but then as we all prepared to leave, with each of us saying our goodbyes to Dad. My mother remarked later that even on his death bed his hand grip was like a vice when she took his hand and leaned over and kissed his forehead. I remember watching as Lonny took Dad’s hand and said some words of encouragement and Dad tried to reply but was just unable to. The hospice nurse told us that Dad probably would not last another 3 days. I bent down and kissed his cheek and then I whispered in his ear. I said, “Dad, I’ll take care of Mama. You can count on me. Do what you need to do and it’s OK to go if you need to go.” For just a second he opened his eyes and we made eye contact and I knew he understood.

            Lonny went back home to Dallas and I drove Mom to their home in Trinity, Texas. I was outside my house around 7 o’clock that evening when my cell phone rang. It was the hospice nurse and she told me that Dad had passed away. I didn’t want to tell Mom on the phone, so I decided to drive over to her house. On the way I made two phone calls. First, I called my sister Debbie to let her know. She would call our sister Barbara to let her know. They were sisters after all and closer. I also called Lonny and let him know. Thinking about it now, I realize it was only fitting that Lonny was there and got to say goodbye to Dad. In many ways, Lonny had been like another son to Dad. I have no doubt that Lonny could regale you with some of my Dad’s old jokes and pranks. And, that was the last ride of our Trio.

 

 

Lonny and I performing at Anthology '73 on April 27, 1973

 

The 1973 Alvarez model 5068 12-string guitar

My father circa 1973.

Hey, Brainless!

            Scientist and medical researchers say that a teenager’s brain isn’t fully developed. In fact, the consensus is that a human brain doesn’t become fully developed until approximately the age of 25. Now, if you had told me that when I was a teenager I would have been offended and I would have scoffed at the very idea of something so obviously prejudiced. But as I grew older, I came to the realization that there might be something to the studies showing these results.

            I have made it no secret that I possess a very good memory. I can only hope that it stays that way until I die. The thing about those studies that makes me know that they are true is that I clearly remember some of the things that I did as a teenager and I now realize how foolish and dangerous they were. What I’m about to disclose may surprise you. I would never have admitted these things as long as my parents were alive. Why? Because it would have likely caused them unnecessary stress despite the events having been decades ago.

            I’ve written about my high school girlfriend quite a bit. I’m betting she doesn’t remember some of these things, but then again, she might remember them, but would never admit to it. No, it’s not something nasty or anything like that. It’s just we were so clearly doing some dangerous things that could have proved disastrous. I was 17-years-old and she was 16-years-old. Her parents were very strict and did not allow her to be out past 10 o’clock on Friday or Saturday night dates. In the beginning, they only allowed us to go out on double dates. I certainly understand how they felt and why. In the early part of 1973 we did something, on several occasions, that I now shiver at the thought of doing. It was so downright stupid and dangerous but at the time I barely thought of it as anything other than normal. I can only plead now that my brain was not fully developed. Seriously.

            It was all so well planned. I think that characters like James Bond must not have fully developed brains. I literally had no fear in doing what we did. I didn’t own my own car yet, but I did have my own set of keys to my mother’s car. It would be a school night when we made our rendezvous. I would wait for my parents to get good and sound asleep. I would slip out the back door, get in the 1967 Chevy Nova, start it up and head for my girlfriend’s house. It’s not as though it was close either. It was about 10 miles away. Not exactly right around the corner. It meant driving to I-10 from our neighborhood, getting on the freeway, driving 6 exits, and then drive to her street. It was a cul de sac. So, it wasn’t like I could just drive past her house and meet up with her. No, I had to drive down to the turn around and come back up the street and park on the opposite side of the street a few doors down. Any resident could have easily seen me, wondered who was parking in front of their house, and called the police. Fortunately, that never happened.

            I would quietly open the car door and no interior lights came on because I had unscrewed the overhead light bulb. I would walk across the street and up to her driveway and then to the rear of her house. I would wait there for her to sneak out of her back door. We would skip across the lawn and the street and get in my mother’s car. I would start it up and off we would go. Sometimes it was simply a drive down to a 24-hour Jack-In-The-Box to get a cola. It was always about the thrill of being able to see each other. We would sometimes park on one of the other streets in her neighborhood and just talk. Sometimes we would be gone a couple of hours. I remember that one time we drove all the way back to my house so that I could retrieve my wallet that I had forgotten! What if we had been pulled over by the police? What if we had a minor fender bender? What if some creepazoid had tried to harm us? This was just before the mass murders in Houston were revealed. Murders of teenagers. What if a friend of her parents had been out late and saw us? Frankly, the what ifs could go on and on. We could have been physically harmed. We could have simply been caught if her parents had awoken and not found her in her room at home. It would have been the end of us. I can’t say as I would have blamed them if they forbid us to see each other. But strange as it may sound to say, God was looking out for us. I choose to believe that rather than to believe in dumb luck.

            These middle-of-the-night forays ended by the summer. It started to soak in that we were truly running a terrible risk. I look back on those early days of 1973 and those nights of sneaking out and I shiver. Perhaps partly because of the way things are today, but mostly because we just weren’t thinking about what we were doing. Oh, I can laugh about it now, but deep down inside I can’t believe that I put not only myself, but someone that I cared a great deal about, in harm’s way. I would never do that now. Even after we broke up and I eventually met my wife to be, I still made some bad decisions. Getting married at 21 and my wife being 18 comes to mind. We were simply not ready for what was coming, but then we survived.

            I look back on my teenage years with mixed emotions. I had a lot of fun in those days. I was in the peak of physical condition and rarely got sick. I learned a lot during those years. I also remember some of the dumb things that I did and somehow got away with. I think about all the people in my life during those years that could have been hurt by my reckless behavior. I am so very glad that I was spared what could have been terrible things happen to me. I have to thank God for his allowing me to be spared and for watching over me while my brain was not yet fully developed. If you have teenage kids today, then don’t worry about them hating you if you are a little too strict. They’ll understand one day and be thankful for you more than you will ever know. Pray for your kids daily. Pray with your kids daily. Help their brains to develop and explain to them in an age appropriate manner just how dangerous our world and our society is today. Arm them with the knowledge that they need to know. Love them with all your heart and make sure that they understand that if you’re a little hard on them at times it’s out of love that your decisions are made.

 

 

Stout & Schonfeld - February 6, 1975

            In November of 1972 a mutual friend introduced me to a fellow student at Spring Branch High School in Houston, Texas. His name is Lonny Schonfeld. At the time, I was 17 and Lonny was a month away from his 17th birthday. We found that we had many things in common. We both loved the music of The Beatles as well as the music from 1955-1968 (we also liked a lot of music from after 1968, but unlike many of our contemporaries we were not into the hard rock that had taken over), we both played guitar and sang, and we both had a sense of humor inspired by the antics of The Beatles in “A Hard Day’s Night”. There were also some things that we were polar opposites on. Lonny had been born in Brooklyn, New York and spent the first 13 years of his life in New York. I am a native-born Texan and spent a significant part of my early life in a small Texas town and visiting my grandparents on their farm in East Texas. I don’t think I have to explain how different all of that could be. I was raised as a Christian and attended church regularly. Lonny was raised in a Jewish household and raised in the traditions of such. I believe that we had more conflict stemming from where we were raised than our religious upbringing.

            We also had one other major thing in common. There was a group of guys that we both knew who were in different bands. Most of the band members acted as if they were better than either Lonny or me. We were outcasts in a way. We weren’t good enough to be in their bands or so they lead us to believe. But suddenly we had a like-minded friend and confidant, and, in a way, we were ready to take on the world as a duet. Or so we thought. We initially tried to put together a band but finding a drummer always seemed beyond us. We knew some good drummers, but they were either already in bands or they had problems that we didn’t want to deal with. These mainly being drugs and unreliability. So, we opted to be a duet. We were inspired by Simon and Garfunkel, Loggins and Messina, Seals and Crofts, and even The Everly Brothers. We started to practice non-stop. We were a little rough at first, but by the spring of 1973 we had garnered a name and following at our school by performing in programs and coffeehouses. We paid $300 to go into a studio of a friend of my Dad’s and record two songs that we would have pressed as a single. This was in June of 1973. Of course, it was just the two of us on an old 4-track recorder and the single was never released to the world. Probably a good thing! But we did have 300 copies to sell at places that we played. But we were progressing at light speed and that single was soon deemed inferior to our burgeoning abilities. I still have a few copies of that record.

            In October of 1973 we were hired to play at a small bar near where we lived. Lonny wasn’t even old enough to legally be in the bar, but that didn’t stop us. We figured “Sam’s Club”, the bar, was like The Beatles time in the Hamburg, Germany clubs. We couldn’t have been more wrong. For one thing, we were never going to do drugs. The gig lasted 3 weeks and that was that. But it was good experience. We learned some about performing for a paying crowd instead of a group of kids at school. Our abilities were sharpened. This would continue.

            In January of 1974 we auditioned for and were hired to be the entertainment on Sunday and Monday nights at a nice restaurant and club. At the same time, we were contracted via a booking agent to play Friday and Saturday nights at a club right on the beach in Surfside, Texas. Playing these dates helped to sharpen us even more. In March of 1974 we were playing a two-week engagement at a Holiday Inn in downtown Houston when that booking agent we had known a few months before happened into the club. After listening to us perform a set we spoke to him briefly and his comment was, “Somebody’s been practicing”. Later that month via an old friend of my then brother-in-law’s who was a successful working singer and musician, we were introduced to his agent. His agent was the largest and most successful agent in South Texas. We were taken on and booked to perform at some private parties for the rich folk in River Oaks and were hired to be the entertainment at a restaurant called “Cellar Door”. Then I got a visit from that old friend of my brother-in-law’s. It seemed as though the agency wanted me, but not Lonny. I was shocked. It was, as Marty McFly used to say, “heavy”. I thought we sounded better than ever, but there was an element at the agency that didn’t want Lonny. It was my first experience with blatant prejudice, but I didn’t recognize it for what it was at the time. Well, it couldn’t help but a rift between me and Lonny. In the end, I told the agent that we were a package deal. But the damage was done. Lonny was hurt and also suffered a loss of confidence. Frankly, it would have been better if they had just come out and said, “We don’t want him around because he’s a Jew.” It wouldn’t have been as hard to deal with for either of us.

            We decided to break-up the duet and performed one last time at school near the end of our senior year. We had gotten so much better and the kids actually gave us a standing ovation. Of course, this made us rethink breaking up the duet. But by June things were different. We were no longer being booked by that agent. Lonny’s parents had split-up and his mother and siblings moved to the Dallas area. Lonny decided to move up there too.

            But that’s not the “rest of the story”. Lonny had joined the Air Force in December of 1974 but was injured in boot camp and was Honorably Discharged. I was wanting to get back to playing after working “regular” jobs. In early January of 1975 Lonny came to live with me and my parents while we got the duet going again. We had learned a few things along the way, and we felt like we could get somewhere. We got down to a lot of practicing. Backing up a little, I had started writing songs when I was 14. By the time I met Lonny I had a strong desire to write songs. We wrote a few songs together, but for the most part one or the other of us would write a song and then we would call it a “Stout & Schonfeld” composition. This was inspired by the Lennon and McCartney way of doing things. Back in early 1974 I wrote a song called “Loneliness” when we were playing at that club down in Surfside. It became a “Stout & Schonfeld” song. Over the next couple of months, we would stay up late in my parent’s den and write songs together. Some of these included, “Baby With You”, “Your Heart Will Bleed”, “We’re All Through”, “Could It Be”, and “Life”.

            In the fall of 1974, I wrote a couple of songs that we would put into our repertoire when we got back together in January of 1975. These were, “It’s Been So Long” and “The Ax-Wax Museum”. Around February 1st, 1975 Lonny came to me and showed me a song that he had been writing. He had the music down, the first verse, and a great chorus with a hook, but had gotten stumped for the other verses. He asked me to write the lyrics for some other verses which I immediately did.

            On February 6, 1975 we decided to make some recordings on a borrowed tape recorder of our own songs. Nothing fancy, it was supposed to just be a means by which to put on tape the songs and mail a copy to ourselves for a poor man’s copyright. It was just a stereo deck and no overdubs, or such were done. We did the recording in my parent’s den using two cheap microphones, one placed for our vocals and the other for our guitars. It was just us live playing those songs. We didn’t even care if the performances were perfect. We just wanted the songs recorded for the copyright. That day we recorded the following songs one after the other, “She’s My Lady”, “Baby With You”, “Loneliness”, “Your Heart Will Bleed”, “It’s Been So Long”, “The Ax-Wax Museum”, “Could It Be”, “Life”, and “Alice”. It was just us and our acoustic guitars. There was a point at which we realized that we had failed to state the date of the recording. That’s when I said on tape that the songs were for a copyright and that the date was February 6th. I failed to mention 1975 and Lonny chimed in with that part.

            As much as I hate to admit it, I recorded over portions of that tape. Too cheap to buy new tape I suppose. But some of the songs survived and portions of a couple survived. I just went through all my old reel to reel tapes going back 47 years and I found that tape. I transferred the recordings to my computer and have only altered them by adjusting the eq and balance. Otherwise, the recordings are exactly what we did that day. I have included a collage of 4 of the songs recorded that day in a slideshow below. The pictures are all from around 1974-1975. “She’s My Lady” survived intact as did “Loneliness”. Portions of “Could It Be” and “Life” survived as well. Unfortunately, “It’s Been So Long”, “The Ax Wax Museum”, “Your Heart Will Bleed”, and “Alice” did not survive. A portion of “Baby With You” survived, but it is so cut up that I did not have anything to work with.

            Why have I done all this? Well, February 6th will be 45 years to the day since those two 19-year-old kids recorded some songs. Within two weeks events occurred that ended our duet for good. Lonny moved back to the Dallas area. But we remained close friends. We didn’t always get along and at times were like two real brothers arguing with each other and getting mad. But also, like brothers, we were family. We rejoiced in each other’s successes, got together and commiserated over our failures, and watched as we each had kids of our own born, raised, and now all adults in their mid to late 30’s. Lonny lost his wife in 2010 and I was there for support. I got divorced in 2003 and Lonny was there for support. Now we’re both 64 and by year’s end will be on Medicare. We’ve gone from two teenagers to two old men! Lonny is now a successful radio personality with a base of operation in the Dallas area. I’m retired but write and enjoy photography and music still. Life has indeed been a long and winding road, but that can be said for anyone. I’m glad for the experiences that Lonny and I shared. Not only those from when we were young, but those along the way. If you’re interested in hearing what two 19-year-old kids sounded like live 45 years ago, then take a little time and watch the slideshow. If not, then at least remember to cherish yesterday, live today, and dream of tomorrow.

https://youtu.be/xsKute3iwqw

The Way We Were

            In 1965 things were sure different. I suppose you could write several books about that subject, but I wanted to only mention a couple of things from those days that I believe highlight the differences between the way we were then compared to now. Please understand that I can only reflect on the way things were in the world that I lived. I will say that I am a historian and have done considerable research on American history. Both of my college degrees are history related including a degree in history. Still, I know that there were Americans my age who lived completely different types of lives than what I did. Some of that was because of where a person lived (a person living in a small Texas town had a different life than a person raised in an urban area such as Detroit or Chicago), religious background, and economic situations. But I do believe that there were some fundamental similarities across the nation and the citizens therein.

            On Sunday mornings circa 1965 a firm majority of people attended church. In our neighborhood there were two Catholic families who attended church on Saturday, but the vast majority of the families were primarily Baptist, Methodist, and Assembly of God affiliated. On any given Sunday morning you would see little girls and little boys dressed in their best with Mom’s wearing dresses, gloves, and fashionable hats while Dad’s wore a suit, tie, and well-polished shoes all piling into the family sedan to go to church. EVERYONE was carrying their Bible. Our church did not have a nursery. Yes, that meant that sometimes a crying baby had to be tolerated and often would require its mother to step outside to calm the baby down. My mother used to say that she thought a church nursery was nice for things like choir practice and during Sunday School, but she believed that the only way for a child to learn how to act properly in church (and in public for that matter) was to learn via “on the job” training. There were plenty of thumps on the head with a forefinger required to make us quit fidgeting and occasionally there was “the look” that meant you were only one teeny tiny step from crossing a line that you never wanted to cross. In short, we were learning how to behave and to respect other people. Even at a young age I liked listening to the preacher. Sometimes he would talk about things that I didn’t understand, but I usually could follow along. I had favorite hymns and we all sang them with gusto. I got a lot of info from those hymns too. I was able to picture Jesus on the cross when singing “The Old-Rugged Cross” or “At The Cross”. There were songs about depending on Jesus when you were weak. “Leaning On The Everlasting Arms” and “Just A Closer Walk With Thee” come to mind. There were songs that were perfect for setting the tone for worship. “How Great Thou Art” was a favorite. We were good ole Southern Baptists and in those days that meant that we also went to church on Sunday evening. There was an evening Sunday school known as “Training Union”. Sunday was a day of rest. The only businesses open on a Sunday were a handful of pharmacies, grocery stores (but only from 1-5 p.m.), gas stations (but only for gas and no mechanic on duty), and a few restaurants. People expected to worship God on Sunday instead of the almighty dollar.

            During the school year we had a bedtime of 9 p.m. The only nights that were exempt was Friday night. We could stay up later on Friday’s because there was no school or church the following day. Speaking of school, there was rarely a discipline problem. The worst things that kids did then was to talk in class, sneak a piece of chewing gum, or forget to raise their hand to be called on. It wasn’t until I was in 6th grade and we had moved back to Houston that I saw someone get swats. Usually those were in gym.

            Dirty words. I didn’t know what they were until we moved back to Houston. I never heard a four-letter word in 1965. Things were starting to get a little looser, but that usually entailed the usage of the word “damn” at worst. I never heard anyone use crude language in those days. Heck, gay still meant “to be happy” and for that matter we never heard about sex in any way. I knew men and women kissed, I saw it in the movies and on T.V., but for the most part the bedroom door was closed and when you did see inside a bedroom the bed was always made. I could learn from that today!

            We slept with our windows open at night when it was warm because there was never a thought of someone trying to harm us or steal from us by gaining access through a screen only. The only thing we were wanting to keep out was bugs. There was also something about the night sounds that made you feel a synchronicity with life. The distant train sounds, the occasional car driving by and the crackling sound of gravel as it moved along, the sound of night birds, crickets, frogs, and a bark or two from Fido down the street, all lulled me to sleep in those days. You didn’t worry about someone breaking into your car or stealing your bike that was leaning up against the side of the house.

            Music was still for the most part rated “G”. We would learn later that some of the hidden meanings of some songs were dubious, but at the time we didn’t know that “Norwegian Wood” by The Beatles was about an extra-marital affair by John Lennon. All kinds of music were in the Top 40 in those days too. Even some religious songs were popular. The Top 40 of a given week in 1965 might include a country crossover such as “King of The Road”, rock and roll such as “She’s Not There”, a beautiful ballad such as “Yesterday”, an instrumental such as “Whipped Cream”, a song in the big band sound such as “Strangers In The Night”, and a jazz version of “The In Crowd”. There were no songs with dirty words. Had there been, they would have been banned from the airwaves.

            Movies were mostly “G” rated too. Disney was still big. An acclaimed movie about Jesus even was a top movie. Sure, we had some movies that were starting to push the limits, but it was the year of “The Sound of Music” and “Shenandoah”. There were some movies made for teen audiences in which bikini clad girls danced on the beach, but even those had no explicit scenes and were decidedly tame compared to today.

            I guess the main difference between 1965 and today is that America was a more innocent and decent place to live than it is today. I for one miss those days, but then I don’t want to relive the last 55 years exactly the way that I did. But we could definitely stand to return to some of the ways that we once were. I mean, is there really anybody out there that thinks it would be a bad idea if we went to church, stopped cussing, respected each other, didn’t steal something just because we want it, and dressed more appropriately? Yea, I guess there are people who would think it’s a bad idea and that’s part of the problem.

 

 

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The Allegory of The Man and The Snake

            A man was walking through a vast forest. He came upon a deep gorge. He had brought with him a backpack filled with trail mix, camp cooking utensils, a small pot for coffee, a bag of coffee, and other items that he thought he might need if he decided to spend the night in the forest. He also had a small shovel, a long nylon rope, and other items. As the man walked closer to the edge of the cliff in order to look down into the gorge, he got down on his hands and knees and edged up to the precipice. When he looked down into the gorge, he immediately became excited by what he saw. Lodged within the top of a large tree about 50 feet down, a tree growing out of the side of the cliff, was what appeared to be a large wood and iron chest. He suddenly had visions of a fortune in old coins or jewelry inside the chest. Surely the person or persons who had thrown the chest over the cliff had done so in order to hide their treasure. After all, the area was consumed by the thick forest and was well off the beaten path. There was no telling how long the chest had been lodged below.

            The rope that he carried with him was 100 feet long. Ample length for him to repel down the side of the cliff and fetch what could only be a fortune. He quickly took off the backpack in order to free his movements down the cliff and then he tied the rope to a tall Western Hemlock tree about 15 feet from the cliff’s edge. The man got his climbing gloves out of the backpack and tested the rope. It was well secured. For just a moment the man stood holding the rope and looking down at the chest. It was as though a small voice spoke inside his head telling him not to do what he was contemplating. He finally shook his head and muttered to himself, “You’re just being paranoid.” He then stepped over the cliff’s, edge grasping the rope tightly. He had made up his mind.

            As the man slowly made his way down the side of the cliff, he had to avoid rocks, roots, and other such obstacles. It was slow going, but he was making progress. He was about halfway down to the chest when he realized that he should have emptied his backpack and worn it so that what ever was in the chest he could transfer to the pack making it easier to retrieve the contents. For a moment he thought about going back up to the top and getting the backpack, but finally decided that he might as well go down and take a look at the chest contents first. He had the rope tied around his waist and it began to chaff him somewhat, but his excitement about finding a treasure all but erased the rope burns that he was enduring. Finally, he reached the tree, a tree growing at an angle out of the side of the cliff, and he tested his weight on the trunk.  It seemed to be sturdy.

            When he inched out onto the trunk of the tree in order to reach the chest, he realized that he had made another error. He should have brought his small axe in the event he needed a way to open the chest. He could only hope at this point that he would be able to open the chest without having to climb back up to the top of the cliff. He stooped down to access the chest and realized that it was secured with a large, but very old lock. He pulled on the lock and it appeared to be secure. He stood there for a moment trying to think of some way to get into the chest without having to climb back up the cliff. Finally, he noticed a large grapefruit sized rock lodged in another limb on the tree. He reached up and grasped it and was completely shocked when he saw something written on the flat side of the rock. It read: “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves.” Luke 21:25

            The man stood there looking at the scratched lettering on the underside of the rock and was confused. How had the rock come to be there? Surely, it was left by some other person who had discovered the chest sometime before. What did the message mean? He thought about it and then realized the truth. He laughed out loud as he decided the person who had left the message had been unable to get into the chest and had likely gone to get equipment he would need to get inside the chest. The man thought to himself that this other person didn’t even think about using that rock itself to smash the old lock on the chest. What a fool! The man grasped the rock in both hands and stood over the chest taking aim at the lock. He brought the rock to bear against the lock and what happened next was a mixed jumble and a ball of confusion for the man. First, the lock popped open and fell into the gorge. Then the chest rocked with the force of the blow and incredibly it slid three feet down the tree trunk. The man started to give chase and was stopped cold. He had run out of rope. It must have been farther down than he thought it was. In his excitement to see the contents of the chest the man didn’t even think about what he did next. He untied the rope which freed him to move to the chest. He didn’t dare look down though because it was at least 200 feet or more to the creek that ran through the bottom of the gorge. He bent over to open the chest and that’s when it happened. A loud and horrible cracking sound erupted from the tree and the man found himself free-falling to the bottom of the gorge along with the chest and a large portion of the tree. He bounced and flailed against the side of the cliff as he tumbled down the gorge. He was vaguely aware of a cracking sound that was in fact his right leg breaking. His arms, face, and legs were being subjected to tears, rips, abrasions, and deep cuts. He landed in the bottom of the gorge half in the creek and the other half laying twisted and broken on a small bank of the creek. He passed out for a few minutes, but agonizing pain awoke him.

            He tried to straighten up but found that nothing worked like it should. Only the terrible pain all over his body allowed him to realize he wasn’t paralyzed. He took stock of his situation. His right leg was obviously broken. A compound fracture was confirmed by the sight of his femur protruding from the skin. His left pants leg was ripped and torn open revealing deep cuts and abrasions. He tried to lift his right hand to touch his face, but the hand wouldn’t work. His arm was dangling by a thread from his shoulder. He found that his left hand and arm worked, but there were cuts all over them. He felt of his face and something seemed to be wrong. After nearly passing out from the effort, he managed to maneuver himself so that he could see his image in the small clear creek. His scalp was dangling sideways, his nose was misshapen and definitely broken, a large cut on his right cheek had ceased bleeding, but his cheek was swelling badly. He was a mess. It didn’t take him long to realize that he would soon die. Nobody had a clue where he was and there was no way he could get himself up to the top of the gorge. Even if he did, he wouldn’t be able to walk the several miles through the forest to get to his car. His cell phone was smashed and most likely there wouldn’t have been service anyway. He realized that he had been a fool to try to get the chest. That’s when he looked at the remains of the old chest that was laying open a few feet away. There was nothing in the chest except for what appeared to be a small book. With his left hand he took hold of a stick lying next to him and was able to drag the book out of the chest. He realized then that it was a book featuring the books of Ecclesiastes and Proverbs. How strange, he thought.

            The day was getting late and he was in physical shock. As the day grew dim the man laid prone and was dying. He started to hallucinate, or so he believed. Surely what was happening as his laid there dying couldn’t be true. Because a rather small Northern Copperhead snake laid curled in front of the man’s face and was talking. Actually, he was mocking the man.

            “You are such an idiot.” The snake said. “I can’t believe you fell for the old treasure chest rube.” The snake continued. “If you weren’t already so far gone, then I would point out to you the remains of more of your kind along the bottom of this gorge. But you’re nearly gone now.”

            The man clearly heard the snake talking, but the meaning had not registered. How could a snake be talking anyway? I must be delirious, the man thought to himself. He gathered all of his strength and focused on what the snake was saying.

            “You people are so easy. You’ll fall for a lie and turn your nose at the truth every time. All I have to do is dangle a few baubles and beads in your face and you stupidly do my bidding. Let me tell you what’s about to happen. You’re going to take your last breath. When you do, you’re going to stand before God. Guess what? He’s going to judge you and I’m here to tell you that you won’t pass judgement. You never believed. Oh, you had your chances, but you thumbed your nose at His son. Hey, I’ve met the guy. I tried to tempt him like I did you with that treasure chest, but he’s the only man that I couldn’t at least temporarily tempt. Well, you didn’t believe in Him and that’s good news for me. Because I am going to own you forever. Yea, it’s going to be a lake of fire. Yadda-yadda-yadda. But the point is that I’ll own you. So, see you in hell, Buttercup!”

            The man laid there in the final moments of his life and listened to the snake. Then much to the snake’s dismay the man started to pray. “Dear God, I am so sorry for all of the sins that I committed. I do believe in your Son. I remember hearing about him in Sunday School when I was growing up. I do believe in Him. Please forgive me for my sins.”

            “YOU FOOL!” cried the snake. “You’re too late. He can’t save you now!”

            Then the man breathed his last breath and as the snake jealously watched, he saw the man standing before God. Standing next to the man was God’s Son and He was acting as the man’s advocate! As the snake began to slither away disgustedly, an eagle spied him from above and took aim.

The Train Will Leave The Station

            It was the summer of 1975. I had just begun dating the girl that I would eventually be married to for 27 years. Her parents owned a weekend place near Lake Somerville in central Texas and most weekends they, along with their daughter, spent Friday night through Sunday afternoon at that place. I had been invited to come up and spend the day with them on a Saturday in July. We had already been out on a couple of dates and things were going well. I had gone to the lake many times with my father and uncle on fishing trips between 1968-1972. But it had been 3 years since I had gone to the lake. I had to drive through Brenham, Texas to get to the lake. Just outside of Brenham on Highway 36 there was an abandoned motel. I remembered a time when it had been open several years before but had not been aware that it no longer was. It always caught my attention and imagination when we passed it by. On this day in July of 1975 I decided to stop and check out the motel. It was one of those old kinds of motels where each room was a separate building. In this case, all of the buildings were designed to look like rail cars. The office was designed to look like an old steam locomotive. The motel itself had about 12 rooms to it and the facility was shaped so that it appeared to be a large train. Each room had its own covered parking next to the room itself.

            I pulled into the old facility and got out to look around. Grass and weeds had taken over much of the facility, but you could get around fairly well. The front door to one of the rooms was standing open and it was inviting me to come check it out. So, I did. I was surprised to find most of the furniture still inside. Oh, it was covered in dirt and dust and rodents had taken over, but it was easy to picture what it had been like to stay overnight in one of those rooms. Everything was in the theme of trains and railroads. The headboard of the bed looked like a caboose. Pictures on the wall were of old trains, trestles, and rail equipment. It was obvious that someone had loved trains and had spent a great deal of time decorating the rooms. I was standing inside the room looking things over when I heard a loud rumble outside. Within a minute the sound of a diesel train overwhelmed the little room. It seems that there was a rail line just across the highway from the motel.

            I continued to look around the place and decided that I would need to come back soon in order to take photos. I would love to attach photos to this blog entry of that old motel, but I can’t. Why? Because I never got to take pictures there. I had plenty of chances though. After we were married, we would go spend a weekend with her parents about once every six weeks or so. Each time we drove by that old motel I would remember that I wanted to take photos, but I always seemed to be in a hurry and we just didn’t ever stop.

            One weekend in late 1978 we were on our way up to the lake and I had come prepared to take photos. I had two cameras with me, and we had set aside time to stop and take pictures. We had just connected up with Highway 36 from a new loop around Brenham and as we approached the location of the motel, I couldn’t believe what I saw. The place had been bulldozed. Nothing was left standing and it appeared that they were in the process of clearing the land to build something. I was so disappointed. But it was my own fault. I had plenty of opportunities to take photos and I just didn’t seize the moment.

            Thinking back on that motel and the lost chances to photograph it I realize that we do a lot of things in life that cause us to miss out on something that goes away. I learned that lesson many years ago and I rarely let the loss of a little bit of time stop me from enjoying something before its gone. Here it is 2020 and so many things are gone forever that once seemed as though they would always be around. Not only buildings, but things in general and most importantly, life itself. Back in the late 70’s I was in my early 20’s. I was in great shape and could pretty much do whatever I set my mind to do, physically speaking. That isn’t the case today. I’ve lost more than a few steps and some things that were so simple and done without giving a thought are beyond me now.

            I was talking to my sister recently and we were talking about all the “things” that we can’t remember what became of them. I once had a 10 and ½ inch reel to reel tape recorder. Now, I know what happened to it. I sold it to a music minister at a church after I purchased a new multi-track machine. While I kept all of my old tapes, most of which were 7” reels and for years had one 10 and ½ inch reel, I have lost that large reel. I remember what was on it. The songs recorded on one side and a concert that the trio I was in gave back in 1977 on the other side. I know I never would have thrown it away. I haven’t been able to listen to it for 38 years now. I wanted to transfer the contents to my computer using my brother-in-law’s machine that would play it, but I cannot find that tape. I’ve been through every box in the house and it’s just not here. Apparently, my opportunity to hear that tape again has passed me by. As Frank Sinatra sang, “That’s Life”. We can’t assume that what is here now will always be here.

            What I realize is I guess I’m getting to an age where I would like to enjoy some of the things that I thought were still around, but they are not. In the long run, it won’t matter to anyone once I’m gone. I am the only person who will be likely to want to hear my old recordings, read my unpublished poems and stories, and enjoy gadgets that probably will seem like antiques to those who follow. But for the here and now, those things matter to me. I do believe that my grandchildren may one day like to hear what I sounded like when I was young and to read things that I wrote. Perhaps they will spend some time getting to know me better that way. So, I will transfer all the recordings that I can and keep all of my written material. If they find it useless someday, then so be it. At least I will have given them the opportunity to enjoy it. I just hope that they don’t find it no longer in existence like that old motel.

The File Cabinet and Letting Go

            I’ve been putting it off for nearly two years. What, you ask? Going through my mother’s file cabinet. I have quite literally two garbage bags full of files that will be burned. I always knew my mother was very meticulous about their records, but I had no idea to what extent until this recent undertaking. There were certainly files that bear keeping. These are basically genealogical, birth certificates, a notebook filled with newspaper articles that are historical in nature, and relevant files to personal finances that I may need at some point in the future. But these items only account for about ¼ of the files that she had maintained.

            Do you save every receipt for anything that you purchase? If you do save receipts do you keep them forever? I found scores of receipts for appliances that were bought 20 years ago and wore out before she passed away. I found large thick files of operating manuals for said appliances. Would you believe that she had kept their IRS returns going back to 1979? There was a thick file of receipts for every bill that they paid for the decade preceding her death. These included power bills for a power company no longer in business!

            But I also found some priceless items that I will never throw away. Coloring book pages that I colored when I was 5 or 6-years-old and gave to my mother as a “gift” at the time and that she apparently liked enough to keep. There are immunization records for me and my sisters going back to 1949 when my oldest sister was a month old. There is a file with poems that I wrote and apparently showed to my mother who then made typed copies. There’s even one that she painstakingly made a copy of using her then newfound talent of calligraphy. There are pictorial church directories from churches that we were members of going back more than 50 years. Although technically not something required to save, but certainly of importance to my family are the military records of my father from WW2. These are now over 75-years-old. I always knew that he was discharged from the Marines in 1945, but now I know the exact dates of his entry into the service (April 9, 1944) and his honorable discharge on March 17, 1945. I am now the keeper of such documents as his “mustering out” documents and receipt for his mustering out pay. Oh, and in case you’re wondering why he was only in the Marines for 11 months and mustered out before the war was over, he was injured while serving on Saipan.

            As I was going through all of these files I couldn’t just glance at a file title and if it appeared to be something not needed simply throw it away. Oh, no. My mother was known to hide cash. So, I have had to go through every file and look through each envelope to make sure that she didn’t hide money at some point in the past. She had disclosed to me about two months prior to her passing where she had money hid and asked me to get it and put it in her bank account for her. I did this, but I figured it was possible that she might have forgotten about one of her “hidey holes”. Sadly, I am no richer now!

            Going through that file cabinet and the contents have had a melancholy effect on me. I have smiled, burst out laughing at some discoveries, been brought to tears, and have been reminded of how very special my parents were. Those files most certainly contained a lot of mundane and essentially useless information. But more importantly, they contained tangible proof and evidence of the lives of those two wonderful people that I am honored to forever call “Mom and Dad”. The past nearly four years have been what can only be described as a metamorphosis in our family. As the executor of my mother’s will, this change in my life was felt even stronger. In the 43 months since my Uncle Tommy unexpectantly died, our family has been deeply affected. We lost Uncle Tommy (Mom’s younger brother) in May of 2016, Dad in June 2016, Aunt Velma (Mom’s older sister) in October of 2016, my sister Barbara in January 2018, and Mom in March of 2018. Additionally, we lost three aunts on my father’s side of the family and a cousin. I was not as close to them primarily because of the distance between where we lived, but they were certainly special and meant a lot to me.

            Losing someone very close to you is not easy. Dealing with that loss is a process. I believe that when it is someone such as a beloved parent or sibling the loss is never something that you get completely over. But it does get easier with time. At some point we start to remember the good and any negative thing usually fades away. At least, that’s how it has been with me. Going through that file cabinet this week has been another major step in dealing with the loss of my parents and my sister. It has been a time of remembrance and a time of letting go. In the end, I am left with wonderful memories and moments of poignancy. We have to learn how to let go and to do so without feeling like we are abandoning our lost love ones. It is essential to the healing process. I started this by talking about some of the lighthearted parts of going through that file cabinet. Two years ago, I might have felt different about it, but with time I realize that if my mother had been sitting there watching as I went through those files, she would have laughed at some things too. Although often subdued, she had a wonderful sense of humor. She also understood me very well. I’m reminded of the many times that I would do something funny or unique and she would smile and say, “That’s Randy!” As I finished going through that file cabinet, I looked at the huge pile of files to be discarded and thought to myself that the whole process of going through that cabinet was in a way an analogy for life. We collect things as the years go by, but most of them are not of any real importance. The things that are important remain with our loved ones and in their hearts. Perhaps I’ve learned an important lesson by taking another step in letting my parents go. I’ve learned that maybe, just maybe, our lives will be more fulfilled if we leave our loved ones with good memories and a strong sense of being loved rather than the collection of “things”.

The Leaning Sofa

            From the time I can remember we always had the latest issue of the Sears catalog. To be honest with you, I don’t believe that my mother bought anything via the catalog from home. However, it allowed her to see what was available and she would just go to the store and purchase it. She might have ordered in the store via the catalog, but I don’t recall that we ever received packages from Sears of items that she ordered. The catalog served other purposes as well. The big catalog was a source of wonder for me as a kid. All those toys, bikes, record players, transistor radios, and even clothes were all there to ponder. It didn’t take long for many pages to become dog-eared. My sisters viewed it mostly for clothes while Mom looked at clothing, kitchen items, knick-knacks, and for all I know, patty-whacks. Dad would look at the latest tools. He was a firm supporter of Craftsman tools.

            The catalog usually sat on an end table or a lamp table between my parent’s chairs. Dad always had a recliner while Mom preferred a swivel rocker with an ottoman. Come to think of it, there were likely back issues of the Sears catalog inside that ottoman. The catalog was also a convenient coaster. Therefore, it didn’t take long for the front cover to be wrinkled and worn from spilled soft drinks or coffee. Fortunately, the days of using the catalog in an outhouse were long gone. I never asked, but I wouldn’t be surprised that Mom had to put to use an old catalog for this purpose in her early childhood. They didn’t have an indoor restroom until she was about 11 or 12-years-old.

            As the years passed and I grew-up the Sears catalog was still a must have household item. We pretty much used it for the same reasons as stated above. There was a large Sears store in a mall close to our apartment when we were first married. There were also stand-alone Sears stores still in many areas of town. I remember sometimes going to one of these just because. Eventually, the catalog would get a year or two old and way out of date which usually meant it got thrown into the trash.

            Now, fast forward about 20 years. It was in the late 90’s and we had been married for 20 years or so and our kids were about to be teenagers or close to it. The house we lived in had a fairly large den separate from the living room. We used the living room for watching TV and so forth. The den was a combination music room and home office. We inherited an old sofa from my parents. It was a hideous thing. It had a brightly colored floral pattern. I remember watching the news one night and they had video of an arrest of some dangerous criminals. Right there in the background was an exact copy of our sofa. I felt like a criminal just owning that thing. But the truth be told, it served a purpose. It was something to sit on or take a quick nap. It also became more and more worn out with time. As the kids grew older their ability to jump onto the sofa didn’t lessen. Have you ever noticed that teenagers don’t seem to be able to just sit down on a piece of furniture? Nope, they plop down with a loud thud. It didn’t matter that I would tell them not to do that every time I was witness to it. They just couldn’t help themselves.

            One day I was working on the office computer (I worked out of the house when not inspecting damages for a claims) which meant that my back was to the sofa. One of the kids’ friends who was over all the time and seemed to like to talk to me came and plopped down on the sofa. Except this time the thud was much more pronounced. It was enough so that I turned around to see a teenager with a shocked look upon his face and that he and the sofa were leaning. Actually, it was the sofa that was leaning. Oh, by the way, the sofa was a sleeper sofa and weighed roughly the same amount as Dumbo’s mom. I got up to inspect the leaning sofa. The sofa had a large fringed skirting that effectively hid the feet. I lifted the skirting and the left rear leg, a behemoth piece of carved wood, was broken clean in-two. As bad as that sofa looked to me, it had been free and to replace it meant several hundred dollars that the cheapskate side of me didn’t want to spring for. But I couldn’t have a leaning sofa. Not while I still had a wife. So, I set out to find a way to fix it. That’s what we guys do. Fix things. Note that I didn’t say “fix things right or to the approval of the fairer sex”. I employed the teen who had done the plopping to help me turn the very heavy sofa on its front allowing me to gain access to the broken leg. After much inspection I realized that the leg itself simply wasn’t fixable. Had I glued and screwed screws into the leg it just wasn’t going to withstand even a small plop. My wife was due home within 30 minutes, and I was up against a ticking clock. That’s when, as Hayley Mills said in “The Trouble With Angels”, I got a scathingly brilliant idea. There was a linen closet in the laundry room. I remembered that it had become a catch-all closet over the years. One of the things it caught was a bunch of Sears catalogs. When a catalog got out of date, it was sent to catalog purgatory in that closet. I went and got three of those catalogs. We set the sofa back up right and I got down and started stacking catalogs under where the now missing leg would have been. Three catalogs was just a little too much, but two were not enough. I tore out a clump of pages and within a few minutes that sofa was no longer leaning. I even had a teenager plop down on it to make sure it would hold up. Remember that skirting? Thank goodness for that skirting. It hid my handiwork. Three cheers for Sears catalogs!

            Well, it lasted for about 3 or 4 years that way. The wife was none-the-wiser. But then it fell victim to a tropical storm that flooded our house with about 8” of water throughout. The sofa material slurped that water up and that was that. You should have seen my wife’s face when we moved the old sofa out to the street for large trash items to be picked up by the city. She just looked at those wet catalogs and then at me and then back at the catalogs and then she just shook her head. What’s that old saying? Necessity is the mother of invention? Well, maybe I didn’t invent the Sears catalog, but I sure did find yet another good use for it.

This one survived the flood only because it wasn't used to level the sofa.

Ed, Ed, Eddie, Eddie, Ed

            What’s in a name? Jim Croce sang “I Got A Name” back in 1973. Your name means something. Not the meaning that you look up on Wikipedia that shows the origin of your name, but the meaning of who you are in other people’s eyes. People start to think of your name for not only who you are, but what you are. It doesn’t have to be global in nature and usually it is far more local in nature. To this day I have only known one person named Conrad. Now, I’m certain that there are and have been many men named Conrad who were good and decent men. Men who made their name stand for a good and decent person. But the only Conrad that I have ever known was a bully who was vulgar and seemed to only know vulgar language. He was a serial rapist and killer in the making. OK, perhaps that’s a bit harsh, but it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that he became one of those types of men. So, when I hear the name Conrad it’s not with an ounce of liking. That Conrad made his name a synonym for evil. Thankfully, I have only met a very few people of Conrad’s ilk in my life.

            Let me tell you about a name that has a significant meaning in my life. I have been deeply affected by no less than 5 people with this name. The name? Ed. When I was 8-years-old the pastor of our church was Reverend Ed Wiggers. While I only knew him through the eyes of a child, I knew him as a man of God who had a pastor’s heart. Ed Wiggers led me to the Lord when I was 8 and he baptized me at that little church in Bryan, Texas in the fall of 1963. As so often happens in the Baptist Church, Ed was called by another church to move and become their pastor. It was the leading of the Lord in his and the lives of the two congregations involved. Strangely enough, our next pastor was a man named Reverend Ed Pounders. Brother Pounders, as we called him, was also a man of God. He had a pastor’s heart and it was via his sermons and leadership that I first came to a deeper understanding of who Christ is. I also got to know his two children. Ernest was about 3 years older than me and had a major crush on my sister Debbie. Ernest’s sister Cindy was a year older than me and for a time I had a major crush on her. Ed Pounders was the first minister that I came to know on a personal level as opposed to just being a member of the congregation.

            During this period of time I became best friends with a boy in our neighborhood who was my best friend during my first 10 years of life. His name? Eddie Brown. Starting to see a theme here yet? Eddie and I were the Tom and Huck of the neighborhood. I’ve written about him at length in other blogs, so if you want to learn more about Eddie, then look at my archived blogs on jamesrstout.com/blog. I’ll just say that Eddie was a great guy. Unfortunately, we lost Eddie when he drowned in the San Jacinto River in July of 1965. He was the first person in my life that died and was close to me. It was a traumatic event and created a hole in my life for years to come. I often wonder what kind of man he would have grown into had he lived. Would he have had children? I do take comfort in knowing that just two weeks prior to his death he became a Christian and was baptized in the same baptistry that I had been baptized in 18 months prior.

            We moved back to Houston when I was 11-years-old. After living in a temporary home while waiting for our house to become available, we moved into the house that I consider the house in which I grew up. It was also the neighborhood in which I grew up. The first day that we lived in our new home I was standing outside in the front yard, basically trying to stay out of the way of the movers and watched as the men unloaded our family’s earthly belongings. While standing there a boy about my age walked over and introduced himself to me. I was a bit taken aback at his name. His name was Eddie Black. My immediate thoughts went to my friend Eddie Brown. Eddie Black and I did not become the Tom and Huck of the neighborhood, but we were definitely friends. We rode the school bus together since he lived across the street from us. We played catch, talked about comic books, and did many of the things that two boyhood friends do. Eddie took me around the neighborhood and introduced me to all the other kids. It wasn’t something that he had to do, but instead it was just who he was. A friendly guy who wanted to help a newbie get to know the neighborhood kids. Over the years we saw each other pretty much daily given we lived across the street from each other. We talked about girls and cars and both oohed and awed over each other’s first car. But as so often happens in life, following high school we sort of drifted in different directions. However, to this day Eddie, who now prefers to go by his first name of Doyle, is a friend on Facebook. I don’t think that I’ve actually seen Eddie (he will always be Eddie to me) for more than 40 years.

            During those heady days of my teenage years I met perhaps the most influential person in my life. I had started to attend more and more of the youth functions at our church and the youth minister was, you guessed it, Ed Humphrey. He inspired me with his faith and dedication to God from the beginning. He also encouraged my development in not only being a Christian, but in other aspects of my life. He took a genuine interest in my music and songwriting and often had me perform for the youth and the church itself. We had our ups and downs during those years, mostly driven by my immaturity, but we never ceased being good friends. We have kept up with each other throughout the years. I’ve known him now 48 years and I communicate with Ed often. When we met, I was 16 and he was 26-years-old. Now I’m 64 and he’s 74. We’ve gone and gotten old. I will say this about Ed Humphrey. Upon his graduation into Heaven, whenever that might be, there’s a verse in the Bible that will best describe him. It is 2 Timothy 4:7. I’ll insert a different pronoun than what is in the verse to make it specific to Ed. The verse would then say, “He has fought the good fight, he has finished the race, he has kept the faith.”

            So, what’s in a name? To be more specific, what’s in the name “Ed”? For me it is the name of 5 people that had a profound effect on my life. Some of them for only a little while and others for a lifetime. They all make the name “Ed” proud. I am fortunate to have known these 5 people and I can’t help but ponder how it is they all were given the same name. I can only hope that when people think of my name it is with a positive feeling much the same way that I feel about these 5 people.

The Bee's Knees

            In 1972 it was the bee’s knees. Every family wanted to own one like it. It was a Plymouth Satellite Station Wagon. By 1982 the bee’s knees were getting old and were wearing out. We had been a two-car couple, but our old vehicle had died a horrible death out on Slow Ham Road. Naw, just kidding. It just gave up the ghost. So, we needed another vehicle. We didn’t want two car payments and it was decided that I should find a good used car that we could pay cash for. I had just gotten a decent bonus at work and it was doable. I searched and inspected several cars over the next two weeks. There was the 1967 Riviera that had sat under a tree for a year with its windows down. It was inhabited by roughly half the mosquitos along the Gulf Coast. I drove an Oldsmobile Tornado that blew a cloud of blue smoke that would likely have garnered a ticket or two. There was a 1970 Plymouth Duster that should have been renamed the Plymouth Ruster. Finally, I found a vehicle that I thought would do the job. It was a one-owner 1972 Plymouth Satellite Station Wagon. The Brady Bunch would have loved it. It had been garage kept and it appeared to be in good running order. It only had 42,000 miles on it. How could I go wrong? Let me count the ways. It was a nice pleasant pale yellow with black interior. There was plenty of room in that thing. If you folded down the back seat you could have put a mattress in the thing and gone camping. It had an AM and FM radio. Yee-haw! The A/C worked on it and it had a big bench seat in the front. Just right for snuggling with my baby while driving. I bought it the last week of May and I was ecstatic to have two vehicles again.

            Things started out pretty good. We drove the vehicle into town (a 26-mile drive) and watched a couple of movies at the drive-in theater. There was lots of cuddling and giggles that night. The first two months that I owned that car things were just fine. We were planning to go stay at the farm for a week’s vacation in the beginning of August. The day before we were to go, I noticed the temperature gauge was getting hot. Then steam started to come out from under the hood. First chink in the armor. I hoped it was just a hose, but no such luck. I went to a radiator shop and they said it was full of rust and I needed a new one. So, I had them do the job. We went on our little getaway and about a week later there was more steam coming from under the hood. No, it wasn’t a faulty radiator. It was the water pump. During the month of September, I replaced the master brake cylinder, two tires, both taillights, a headlight, bought a new compressor because the old one gave out, and essentially, I spent a fortune on repairs. The Bee’s Knees got replacement knees, but it still couldn’t get around too well.

            October rolled around and the front shocks, ball joints, and tie-rod ends had to be replaced. The straw that broke the bee’s back was when the alternator died with a sickening screech on my way home from work. I replaced it and then I told my wife that the old Plymouth was costing us an arm and a leg, and we would be better off to just buy an inexpensive new vehicle. She agreed. So, I bought a new 1982 Toyota Pick-Up truck. It was bare bones. No radio, standard transmission, steel wheels, and the only thing extra was the A/C. The payment was going to be $174 a month. Doable. At least it was under warranty and the parts were all new.

            I sold The Bee’s Knees for exactly the amount that I had paid for it in May. Except the guy who bought it from me got it with a bunch of new parts. I probably spent as much in repairs as I had for the car to begin with. No, now that I think about it, it was likely twice as much. I learned a lesson from that experience. Sometimes the smart move can bee the move that you resist taking. Sometimes the smart move just seems to buzz around inside your head, and you decide to ignore it. I knew back in May that I could afford the payment on a new vehicle, but I wanted to avoid that if possible. If I had just gone ahead and bought the new vehicle to begin with, then I would have saved enough money to make 18 months’ worth of payments on it. I would have also saved myself a lot of grief. All of that said, the Bee’s Knees was once a very nice car. Back in 1972 it was new. It was shiny, everything worked great on it, and it would carry a lot of kids or whatever you wanted to carry in it. Which reminds me that in 1972 I was shiny and fairly new (17 generally looks good on everybody). Everything worked including my knees.

            A few days ago, I got on my treadmill to get some exercise. I hit the start button and decided I could walk a little faster. Then I did a dumb thing. I hit the wrong button and the treadmill immediately sped-up to roughly the speed of light. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it! What happened was I tried to hit the button to slow it back down, but my old knees and my 64-year-old body wasn’t up to the speed I needed to stay upright while I tried to hit that button. The next thing I knew I was on my back with my legs twisted under me and the treadmill was removing a healthy portion of the skin on my back due to my shirt had pulled up. I reached up and yanked on that thing that I should have clipped to my shirt to begin with and the treadmill stopped. I was in pain and it twisted like a pretzel. Well, I untwisted myself and managed to get back up on my feet. But my back was stinging badly as well as a skinned-up knee. The good news is I didn’t break anything. The bad news is I haven’t slept well since Sunday because my back hurts from what is essentially road rash. I am very thankful that I didn’t break something. Frankly, I was lucky. I had planned on going up to visit a friend in the Dallas area this week, but I had to let him know that I wasn’t going to be able to make it given my back hurts so much. He sent me an email saying he understood and then he said, “Man, isn’t it something how we’re getting old? It seems like yesterday that we were two 17-year-old kids running around doing anything we felt like doing (physically speaking). Now we’re a couple of old men taking falls and worrying about breaking something.” I had to laugh, but what he said was quite true. Everything, especially we humans, wears out over time. The Bee’s Knees wore out in 10 years. At least it took me several decades to wear out! To all you other old-timers, eat right, try to get some exercise, but for goodness sake whatever you do stay off those treadmills. I must have looked like a geriatric hamster flip-flopping in its cage after trying to use its treadmill.

Collective Cataracts

            A small town in far west Texas was doing well. It was the 1950’s and the area was in the middle of an oil boom. Before long a few hearty souls moved in and started some businesses. There was a small bank, a pharmacy, a general store, a feed store for the cattlemen of the area, two gas stations, a clothing store aimed at supplying the men who either worked cattle or on the oil rigs with the appropriate clothing for their given occupations, a roadside café, and a hardware store. The man who opened the hardware store was in his early 30’s with a wife and three children. They moved to this little town from Ft. Worth in hopes of a better life than what they had in the bigger city. The store itself wasn’t huge, but it was of a decent size. He not only stocked the typical items found in a hardware store, but he also had auto supplies for the big brands of the day. This meant that local residents wouldn’t have to drive a hundred or more miles to get parts for their cars and trucks. The oil boom provided a good living for this man for a dozen years, but after the area drilling was completed the need for full-time employees in the oil fields ended. The man noticed the steady decline in the volume of business that he was receiving. By the mid-60’s the writing was on the wall. Some of the businesses were closing up. The bank closed, one of the gas stations closed, and the pharmacy closed within the same year. Within two years the only businesses still open were this man’s hardware store, the roadside café, and the general store. The town was quickly beginning to look like a ghost town. By 1967 the owner of the general store closed shop and in early 1968 the café closed down.

            One hot and windy day in the summer of 1968 the man sat at his kitchen table and talked with his wife about their situation. The truth was he no longer had enough business to support his family. With much prayer and discussion, the couple decided that they too would have to close up their store and try again in a bigger city. The physical building was not saleable and there was nothing to do but pack his stock and abandon the building. The little town was indeed a ghost town. The man moved his family to San Angelo, Texas and opened a hardware and auto parts store there. It was the end of a dream for the man and his family.

            Meanwhile, the little town received yet another major blow, the death blow, when the Texas Highway Department chose to build a highway that completely bypassed the little town. The existing highway was decommissioned and essentially abandoned by the State in 1971. There was no reason to go to the little town anymore. No businesses were open and there was no need for the county roads to be maintained.

            In some parts of West Texas there are some pretty strong windstorms. There have been reports and claims that a windstorm was so strong and blew the sand and dirt of West Texas so hard that it took the paint off of cars. The old hardware store had been the very picture of a well-maintained business during it’s prime, but time and elements can take their toll. The front of the store had a large plate glass window. When it was built there were items such as a bicycle, large tools, and neatly stacked cans of oil displayed in the storefront window. The store was empty and abandoned by 1970. One of the things the owner had loved to do was stand inside his store and look out the large plate glass window at the people, cars, and workers going about their busy lives. He made it a habit of cleaning that window, inside and out, every week. The area residents had become accustomed to seeing him on a tall step ladder outside scrubbing the window clean. He had the cleanest window in town. But all of that ended when he had to close up shop and move away. Windstorms, an occasional spattering of rain, bugs, and windblown debris started to work on that window.

            Years passed. The man was retired, and his wife had gone to be with the Lord. His children all had children of their own and all lived far away from San Angelo, Texas. It was 2020 and he was 93 years-old. One of his sons came to visit and was surprised when his Dad asked him for a big favor. He asked his son if he would drive him down to the old ghost town and let him see it one more time. The son was glad to do this for his aged father.

            On a Saturday morning, father and son left early to drive down to the ghost town. The man had to carry his walker with him just in case, but he hoped that he would only need his cane. It was a long drive to the little town, but it was a beautiful day outside. They located the old highway and had to go slowly because it had not been maintained for decades. As they approached the little town, they saw that one of the gas stations had been broken into at some point and even the old pumps were missing. The roadside café had collapsed from either age or perhaps a strong windstorm. The windows in the bank were all broken. What vegetation grew in the arid climate had taken over the old general store. It saddened the man to see the condition of the little town. Finally, they drove up to the old hardware store. The first thing the man noticed and remarked about was the front window.

            “It’s like it developed cataracts or something.” The old man said.

            They looked upon the window and the son remembered helping his dad stack oil cans there. It saddened him to see what had become of the building where he spent so much time as a young child. The window wasn’t broken, but it was literally caked in dirt and grime. Splattered bug remains were mixed with the dirt and accumulation of scratches from pebbles and other windblown items. They got out of the car and the old man reached inside his pocket and withdrew a key. He also had asked his son to bring along a can of WD-40 because he suspected what they would find. A couple of squirts of the lubricant and a twist of the key allowed them to open the front door. All of the fixtures were coated in dirt and dust. Lightbulbs no longer legal to buy were still in the overhead lights. They likely would have worked if there had been electricity. The floor was a mess and they left footprints with every step that they took. There was a large pack rat nest in one corner. The old man remembered lifting his youngest child up onto his shoulders and letting her ride around the store on them. He remembered stealing a kiss or two from his wife behind the main counter of the store. As they prepared to leave the old man stood looking out the front window. He could barely see anything through the window because it was so dirty. He leaned on his cane and thought about life. Yes, time had taken its toll on the building. It wasn’t even close to the same as it had been 60 years before. But then, neither was he. He thought about how in a way the story of his little store was the same as the story of America in those 6 decades. Values that had once been precious to Americans had been abandoned like the store. People who looked out their windows in 2020 couldn’t see clearly as though they were looking through a cataract laden vision. The society had been assaulted with windstorms of lies, deceit, and carefully crafted falsehoods and could no longer recognize right from wrong.

            The old man and his son got back in the car and drove back home. It had been a long and tiring day, so the old man was ready for bed when they got home. As he laid in bed before falling asleep, he prayed to God and asked that a change in the hearts of Americans could be given. He prayed for his children and grandchildren and the future that they would be subjected to. Finally, he fell asleep. He dreamed that he was at a funeral and overheard some people talking.

            One man said, “Well, he was old, and his time had come.”

            Another man said, “Yeah, and let’s be honest. He wasn’t useful to society anymore. He was a drain on our resources.”

            A woman said, “He was a nice enough guy, but he was just so out of touch with reality. He believed in God, you didn’t want to talk politics with him because he was so right-wing conservative, and he was at times a bigot given he believed the Bible.”

            The old man was disturbed by this dream, but then he awoke in Heaven.

Clint Was Right

            Clint Eastwood once said, “A man has got to know his limitations.” I agree with that 100%. I know mine. The truth is our limitations change over time given our experiences and the aging process. I once could work on my car doing maintenance and repairs. That was when shade tree mechanics dotted the landscape of any given neighborhood. I changed the oil, replaced broken parts such as a generator, alternator, solenoid, water pump, master brake cylinder, radiator, and other items on car models from 1962-1978. After that, cars got too complicated for me. And, to be honest, I never liked doing the repairs. I did them because I couldn’t afford to pay for someone to do them. You just haven’t felt pain like the kind of pain that comes with slipping a slotted screwdriver and digging a furrow in your other hand while working outside in 13-degree weather.

            I have more limitations today than ever before because of the aging process. Climbing on a ladder is out of the question. Could I do it? Maybe. But the chances are I would lose my balance and perhaps break something in a fall. So, I don’t climb ladders anymore. Even my musical abilities have suffered because of arthritis. I’m not as fast as I used to be. In short, I know my limitations. Let me tell you about a time when I didn’t know my limitations and it caused me to be quite embarrassed. I can laugh about it now, but at the time I wasn’t laughing much.

            I was 21-years-old and being trained as a locksmith. It was a trade that I thought could be a possible fallback occupation if I didn’t become rich and famous as a singer-songwriter. As it turns out, neither one of those occupations would sustain me. I was sent out to change a lock on a restroom door of a gas station that had been damaged by someone kicking the door open. The dispatcher figured I could change a lock out. If only it had been so simple. The gas station was in the heart of an area in Houston called “Montrose”. It was even then known for its “colorful” reputation. The fact is it was an area inhabited by a great many homosexuals during a time when they were not as accepted as they are today. It was also known for having residents that were in all manor of businesses. There were the record stores and music stores and so forth, but there were also some rather “different” kinds of stores. Stores that sold clothing (that word is used loosely) for the boudoir, clothing for cross-dressing individuals, and there were restaurants with French cuisine that were located in what had once been church buildings. Now you know the area that I was sent to. The next thing you need to know is that it was August and that day it was over 100 degrees. Finally, the gas station restroom was about as clean as you might expect.

            It appeared to be an easy job when I first looked at the lock. I removed the remains of the broken lock and then I tried to install a new one. The hollow metal door was beat up around where the lock was supposed to go, and it meant that I had to do some repairs to the door and the door jamb. I had the lock off and I was hammering away at the door with a tool designed for straightening metal. Within 15 minutes I was soaked with sweat. There was no ventilation in the restroom, but I had the door propped open with one of my feet. I gave a good whack to the door and the tool I was using slipped out of my hand and fell inside the restroom. My natural reaction was to get the tool. Except that when I did the door swung closed. My initial thought was that was no problem because there was no lock in the door. I should have been able to just pull on the door and it would open. But there was one teeny weeny little problem. The door jamb was messed up and when the door closed it couldn’t be reopened by just pulling on the door with my hands. A part of the door jamb was keeping the door from opening inward. Guess where my toolbox was? OUTSIDE the restroom! All I had was that little flat tool and my hammer. I tried and I tried to get that door open, but it wouldn’t budge. I was quickly becoming a drowned rat in that restroom. I started worrying about someone stealing my toolbox while I was stuck inside the restroom. I worried about my dispatcher wondering what I was doing and why I hadn’t finished that simple job yet. I tried to cool off by turning on the water in the sink. Except no water came out.

            There was a parking lot next to where I was stuck. I got down on my knees and peaked through the opening in the door where the lock was to go. I waited for someone to walk by. The first person was a man in a business suit. I called out to him from that opening and he just gave me a look like, “Montrose is one weird place.” He quickly walked away. A woman walked by and I tried to get her attention and she just looked at the restroom door and said, “Pervert”. I was getting dehydrated and I was getting a tad on the scared side. Finally, a man came up to use the restroom and I said, “I’m a locksmith and I’m locked inside here. Can you go get the manager?” The guy gave me a look and then burst into laughter. However, to my great relief he did go get the manager. When the manager, our customer, came back to the restroom I said, “Hi! I’m the locksmith and I’m kind of locked inside here. Can you please count to three and then give the door a good swift kick for me?” I quickly stood back from the door and the manager kicked it open. I jammed a big screwdriver under the door to ensure that it would not close again. I must have looked like something from a horror movie because the manager gave me a look that was somewhere between “What on Earth?” and “It’s the creature from the black lagoon.” The first thing I wanted was a cold drink of water. But they didn’t sell water in bottles then and this was an old gas station that didn’t even have a soda machine. I noticed a chicken place across the street and stumble over to it just to order a Coke. But they were out of everything except for Big Red Strawberry soda. I ordered one and gulped that puppy down as fast as I could. I didn’t care what flavor it was by then. Cold and wet was just fine.

            Well, I went back to the restroom at the gas station and within 30 minutes I had the door and door jamb beaten into submission. I installed the new lock, wrote out the service bill, and got in my van which thankfully had air conditioning. Did I learn anything that day? Yes indeed. I never again worked on a door without first making sure it couldn’t close by itself on me. But the truth is I was not trained enough to do that job at that time. I was limited in my knowledge. Fortunately, I got through the ordeal and picked-up some experience along the way.

            About 18 months ago I was on a date with a lady who wanted to go to a particular restaurant in the Montrose area. It had been quite awhile since I had been in that part of Houston. As we were driving to the restaurant, I realized we were going to pass by the location of that old gas station. Of course, that station has been long gone. It’s one of those convenience store/gas station combo places. As I drove by, I thought of that day so long ago. The restrooms were inside and air conditioned and probably didn’t even have a lock. They probably sell every brand of bottled water and soft drinks around. Things change and so have I. Whenever I consider doing something now, I think about it before I do it. I want to make sure that I can do the job. Limitations are just a part of life and Clint was right. You got to know your limitations.

Go With Your Gut

            In 1967 my sister entered a contest and won a week’s stay at a new resort in Arkansas. She was underage, so my parents had to make the arrangements. In the first week of August we all piled into the car and went on our first vacation in 5 years. At the time, my mother was 37, Dad was 44, my sister Barbara was 17, my sister Debbie was 15, and I was a month away from turning 12. I remember the thrill of going into another state. Other than a short trip to Louisiana when I was an infant, I had not been out of Texas. We stopped and ate at a restaurant in Texarkana and the state line was inside the store. I put one foot in Texas and the other in Arkansas just for grins.

            Mom made sure that the motel that we stayed in on the way had a swimming pool. That was just fine by me! There were some pretty funny and fun moments on that trip. I had recently learned that you could make a certain motion to truckers and they would blast their airhorn. This became a source of great embarrassment to Barbara. At one point, she slid down in the back seat and hid her face while saying, “I’m so embarrassed!”. I loved it. As we drove on Highway 7 through the mountains, we kept seeing signs for apple cider. Barbara thought it would have liquor in it, but it was just good ole apple cider without any fermentation. We also saw signs advertising antiques. Dad jokingly started calling them “anty-ques”. We got to the resort late in the day on Sunday and checked in. We would be staying for 3 nights and 4 days. Mom and Dad would have to go to some meetings that were basically sales pitches, but we three kids were left to our own devices. We stayed in a mobile home on the property and the walk to the recreation center was about a mile or so.

            Some random memories of that week include sitting in the resort restaurant and putting a quarter or two into those jukeboxes that were at each table. I definitely remember paying to hear “Pleasant Valley Sunday” by The Monkees, “A Little Bit of Soul” by The Music Explosion, and “Light My Fire” by The Doors. There was a putt-putt golf course, a huge swimming pool, a game room with a pool table and some pinball games, and an area for horseshoes, volleyball, and other outdoor games. One night Barbara and Debbie got to go to a teen dance at the recreation center. I wasn’t a teen yet, but I sat outside and listened to the band doing Top 40 songs of the day.

            The days were not terribly hot, but they were certainly warm enough to go swimming. One day my parents were attending a sales pitch meeting and I was given permission to walk down to the pool and swim. I would have to walk back to the mobile home though. I should remind you again that this was 1967. Things were very different then than they are today. We didn’t worry about things that we have to worry about nowadays. That said, I should say that my parents raised us to have common sense. I had gone swimming for about an hour and decided I would go back to the mobile home to eat a snack. Mom had bought some groceries so that we didn’t have to eat at restaurants for all our meals.

            I grabbed my towel and put on my flip-flops (gravel roads made going barefoot not the smart thing to do) and headed for the mobile home. There was a main road through the facility with several roads with mobile homes on them that crossed the main road. I had gotten about ¼ of a mile down the road when one of the salesmen for the facility pulled up in his car with the window down and offered me a ride to the mobile home. There was something about the way that he looked at me that made me feel uneasy. I had no idea why at the time but getting in that car with him just didn’t sound like a good idea. I politely declined and he drove slowly as I walked and after about a minute or so he sped up and drove away. I never told my parents about the whole thing. I wouldn’t have known what to tell them. I didn’t know a thing about sex much less that there were men who I would later learn were pedophiles. I just knew that something about the guy was off.

            Decades later I think back on that day and I can’t help but wondering if I avoided something that could have totally messed-up my young life. There’s a part of me that doesn’t want to believe anything was actually off with that guy that day, but there’s a part of me that knows deep down inside that I dodged a bad situation that day. That event was one of first events in my life that I learned to go with my gut. I still go with my gut today. Some would call it discernment. I think that is apropos. I didn’t know why I felt like I did, but I listened to my gut. I realize that there are some people who just don’t have the ability to discern when something isn’t quite right. My Dad used to have a saying that went, “It doesn’t pass the smell test.” I believe that we have the ability to develop a “smell test” and to “go with our gut”. In today’s world, I suggest we teach our children and grandchildren how to do that. You don’t have to go into gory details about things, but you need to show them how to think and to discern. Our children are so very precious and such incredible gifts from God. I believe that it is our duty and our commission to protect their young lives from an ever-sickening society. Let’s all do our part and protect the children from the predators that have no other agenda than to harm them.

Mr. Cool with drooping sock, Debbie and Barbara

 

Watch The Rose

            I wrote my first song when I was 14-years-old. It was not my best work, but it was a start. I wrote that song, “Lock and Key” in the summer of 1970. In the nearly 50 years since then I have written approximately 600 songs. I would be disingenuous if I didn’t admit that a great many of the songs written in the first 3 years were not particularly good. In fact, some of them were quite bad. However, I look back on a lot of those songs and I realize that it was a time of learning how to write and a time of discovering my “voice”. In some cases, I pilfered parts of those songs and incorporated them into much better and worthy songs. I’ve heard interviews with some of the best songwriters ever and they have given various explanations as to how they came to write a song. For me, there have basically been three ways that I have written a song. First, the melody and the musical part of a song came. Sometimes I would write the words as the song came, but for the most part the music came first, and the lyrics followed. The second way that a song has come to me is from writing a poem or lyric and then finding a melody that fit the lyrics. The second method has been far less prevalent in my writing. However, some of my best songs came about this way. Finally, I have written a few songs that were “by demand”. Well, more like “by my own demand”. They were written for or about someone or some subject that was important to me at the time. For instance, I have written three different wedding songs. One for each of my children and one for my oldest sister.

            Am I boring you yet? I hope not because I’m about to get to the point of this blog entry. One the best songs that I have written started life as a poem. I’d like to share the poem with you in just a moment. I really do need to get this one recorded properly. I have a demo recorded of it that goes back to 1980. The demo is just that. It’s not a finished product by any stretch. The poem speaks for itself.

Watch The Rose

One man lives, another man dies.

One wife weeps, another wife sighs.

One more grave to fill.

And those who remain, lie still.

 

One child hugs her Daddy home.

Another child cries, all alone.

One man sits and wonders why.

It was his friend that had to die.

 

No war is won, we all lose.

And those who die, do not choose.

Yet some who live, watch the rose.

For though it’s picked, it still grows.

 

            I wrote the poem on April 28, 1980. After reading the poem again 40 years later, it is still relevant. Although I wrote the poem about the effects on people after the loss of a loved one in a war, the same feelings can be felt by anyone after losing a loved one. This could be a police officer, a fireman, or just a best friend who might have been a plumber, electrician, lawyer, doctor, mechanic, grocery clerk or insurance salesman that died. He was loved and his loss is felt deeply by those who loved him. In the poem I compare the absolutely normal feelings of the different people affected by the loss. I immersed myself in those feelings at the time. A soldier died and his friend sits on a bunk in a tent wondering why it was his friend that died instead of himself. There was a wife who is left weeping at the news of her husband’s death while the wife of his friend sighs in relief that it wasn’t her husband that died. At a later date, there’s a child that runs to her Daddy and hugs him as he comes home from the war while the child of the deceased is left crying, perhaps sitting on the floor of her room with her knees drawn up to her chest and she is feeling a loss too profound to understand. Finally, it occurred to me that no war is won. The truth is we all lose. There’s a huge cemetery in Normandy that is the final resting place of American soldiers who died in that battle. While we owe them a debt that cannot be repaid and they were the very definition of heroes, none of them wanted to die. None of them chose to be in their grave. They did make a choice to answer the call of service and it did lead them to an early grave, but I would venture to say that most of those young men went into battle hoping that they would live through it. As I wrote the poem, I did not wish for it to be a totally negative thing. Even in death we can find hope. For those who have accepted Jesus as their savior, death on Earth is just the beginning.

            I once heard the wife of a man who died say something at his funeral that has stayed with me through the years. Someone made the statement that they just didn’t understand why God allowed such a good man to die so young. This grieving wife simply looked at the other person and said, “Sometimes God picks the sweetest rose for Himself.” She didn’t mean it as a negative or with any kind of bitterness. She meant it with love. She realized that God is in control and His love would sustain her. She lived another 37 years and then joined her husband in Heaven. Sorry if I got a little serious with this one, but it was on my heart. Thanks for reading and stay in touch dear friends.

Piggy

            When I was about 8-years-old I was given a glass piggy bank. I’ve attached pictures below of a bank like the one that I had. These little banks were very common during that time. Mine had a tint to it that was somewhere between pink and amber. You were able to see your saved pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters through the translucent glass. The only hole in the glass pig was on the top and it was elongated to allow coins to be easily dropped into the bank. There was no hole to empty the bank. That said, there were times when I would shake the piggy upside down and a few coins would find their way out of the bank and into my eager hand. But it was a tedious affair and not something you would want to do if in a hurry.

            There are certain things that I remember about that bank and the usage of it. First, I remember the sound of the initial coins being dropped into the bank and pinging on the glass bottom. It was somewhat loud. But as the bank began to fill up with coins, the sound became a muted metallic slap as the new coin dropped in and would strike the existing pile of coins within the bank. Secondly, I remember all the things that I had planned for the eventually filled bank. Over the years I would sometimes take a slice of masking tape, marked with the item wished for, and put it on the bank. The masking tape strip would almost always give way to new wishes. I believe one of my first goals for the money was to buy a bike. That became unnecessary when I was given a bike for my 10th birthday. Thirdly, over time I realized that pennies and nickels pretty much just took up space. So, I started only putting dimes and quarters into the bank. My aim was to grow the value of the ever-hungry Piggy.

            As I grew older and became a teenager my desires were for more substantial “things”. An electric guitar and amplifier and a car became top priorities. But let’s face it, the little piggy bank just wasn’t up to the task of accumulating enough coins to pay for those more expensive items. At first, I added more banks to my dresser top. You might say that I diversified my wealth. When we would go on a camping trip or vacation I also came home with a new kind of bank. These were souvenirs and were usually made of pine or cedar and they had something that Piggy didn’t have. An extra hole for the money to be extracted from. While convenient, this added extra was also a deterrent to saving more money. When a new record came out, then some of those coins were just too easy to get at and spend. The Beatles and a whole host of other artists became rich at the expense of my banking system. I still have a couple of these additional banks. However, Piggy is only a distant memory. I Miss Piggy. I would love to have Piggy sitting in the corner curio cabinet as a visible memory of times gone by. Alas, that cannot be.

            The day came on January 13, 1973 when Piggy died a horrible death. But don’t cry to hard for Piggy. He died for a worthy cause. A very worthy cause. It was a Saturday and that night was to be a special night in my young life. I had recently started “going steady” with my first serious girlfriend. As it turns out, she was involved in an organization via school known as FHA – Future Homemakers of America. They were having their annual FHA formal that night. It was to be a double date. Me and my girl along with her good friend and boyfriend. I won’t say the name, but the friend of my girlfriend has become quite famous today. She is a wonderful speaker and author of many books. But that night she was just a shy 16-year-old girl who was waiting to see how life unfolded just like the rest of us. The evening began with the girls cooking us a big dinner. This was to show off some of what they learned in FHA. We would then drive over to the Memorial Country Club for the formal dance. Here’s where Piggy’s demise is made clear.

            My only real job that evening was to provide the transportation and to give my girlfriend a corsage. I had gone down to Drago’s Florist near my house earlier that week and ordered the corsage. No simple carnation or rose would do so far as I was concerned. I ordered an orchid corsage. I was told later by my girlfriend that her mother was taken aback when they went into the other room for the corsage to be pinned onto the formal. Why? Because she hadn’t received an orchid until after she was married! It was apparently a big deal to her. Come to think of it, I wonder if that corsage is pressed between the pages of some keepsake book today. Well, in 1973 dollars that corsage cost $14. That would be about $70 today. A princely sum for a 17-year-old boy to come up with. I was determined to pay for it myself with no help from my parents. Piggy died paying for that corsage. I had to break Piggy into pieces to get all those coins out. It was enough money to pay for the corsage, gas for the car, and some money left over. It was all worth Piggy’s sacrifice.

            As I have been writing this a few things occurred to me. First, I had to laugh at my outfit that night. I wore white patent leather shoes and a white leather belt. The belt was about 2 inches wide as was the style of the day. Those shoes though. Pat Boone would have been proud. But the truth is, they were the only dress shoes that I owned. They were bought for me a few months before when I was asked to sing at a wedding. The white leather was needed to match the outfits of the groomsmen. There was also a typical early 70’s far too wide of a white tie to match. I didn’t own a suit per se. I wore stylish clothes, but suits were not my thing. But I did wear a blue sport coat along with a pair of polyester pants. They could have been Johnny Carson knock-offs. My hair was almost to my shoulders by then, but clean and blown dry. Second, I remember very vividly slow-dancing to the live band doing an excellent job on Chicago’s “Colour My World”. Now, for the more important observations regarding that piggy bank.

            That piggy bank could in some ways be a metaphor for life. It was once new. The first coins put into it made a happy pinging sound and then later would make a contented full sound. As time went by, I learned to fill the bank with more valuable coins. As I have grown older, and I hope the same is true for you, I have learned to fill my life with more valuable insights and experiences. I’ve learned to let the pennies and nickels pass through and to hold onto the dimes and quarters of life. Heck, there’s even been a few half dollars and silver dollars added along the way. I have also learned that sometimes we get broken in order to fulfill an important need. The good news is we don’t have to stay broken like Piggy did. We can reassemble, via our own perseverance and via God’s will, and are often much better afterwards. Perhaps one of the greatest things that we can accumulate in ourselves over time is wisdom. As George Harrison sang in The Beatles classic song, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, “With every mistake we must surely be learning.” I’d like to believe that I have learned from my mistakes along the way.

            There are worse things that we can be compared to than a glass piggy bank. I think you can agree with me on that. I know that along the way there have been some people who just didn’t like me, and they would compare me to some rather crude things in life. So, if you are compared to a glass piggy bank, then don’t be insulted. It’s a compliment. Of course, you will need to be sure and not let yourself become a pile of broken glass. You can be put back together with the right attitude. Here’s an idea. Go buy yourself a glass piggy bank and keep it around as visual inspiration. Someone worked hard to make that bank just as God, you, and all of the people in your life have worked hard to make you. Drop a quarter in the bank from time to time as you learn something new and worthwhile that adds to your life.

 

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