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James R. Stout


Teacher Teacher, I Declare

            As good as my memory is, I don’t actually remember the names of every teacher that I ever had. My elementary teachers are easier to remember mainly because there were much fewer of them. For the most part, I had only one teacher per grade level. The truth is there are only two teachers from my elementary years that I don’t recall their names. We moved from Houston to Bryan, Texas on May 4th of 1963 when I was almost finished with 1st grade. I do not recall the teacher that I had for the last three weeks of first grade. In fact, I have only a few memories of that school. We knew when we moved that we would be moving again within a few months. Mom and Dad were looking for a permanent house to buy and, in the meantime, we moved into a rental house so that Dad could start his new business. Back in those days school didn’t start until after Labor Day. We ended up moving into our permanent house on September 30, 1963. So, I don’t recall the name of my 2nd grade teacher at that first school, a teacher that I only had for about 3 weeks or so. Otherwise, I remember all of my elementary teachers. Fifth grade was a total mess for me. We moved again in November of 1966 and then again in February 1967. So, I ended up going to three schools in 5th grade. Of all the teachers that I had in elementary school there were two that stand out as favorites. One in particular was my very favorite for elementary school.

            Coming in 2nd place was my 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Dahlberg. She was a very good teacher. She was much older than most of the teachers that I had. She could easily have been old enough to be my grandmother. I learned a lot from her, and she was a very sweet lady. She didn’t let us get away with much, but she was not mean or so stern that there was little fun in class. My favorite part of that year was our combination of Geography and World History. Our geography book was great. Each chapter was about a particular country or region of the world. We studied Japan, China, India, England, Ireland, Germany, Russia, and perhaps my favorite, Egypt. What was really interesting about Egypt was it coincided with the building of the Aswan Dam. We got to watch current newsreels about the building of the dam and the events surrounding the preservation of ancient buildings and monuments that would end up being under water. It was way cool. My absolute favorite elementary teacher was my 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Laster. I have no idea how old she was, but I would guess she was in her late 20’s at the time. She was a fantastic teacher. She was very sweet, very smart, and she genuinely cared about her students. I have no negative memories at all regarding her or 3rd grade. My favorite part of her class was when she read to us. We went through a couple of books that year. She would read a chapter a day. It was a quiet time and for me it was a time to live the stories. The one that I remember the best was “Pinocchio”. It was full of adventure, laughter, and love.

            Well, I suppose everyone had a teacher or two that they had a crush on. My 8th grade year presented me with my two favorite teachers of Junior High School. Both in the same year! Sixth and seventh grade were pretty much a nightmare. I had some good teachers, but some pretty bad teachers too. That was something new for me. With the exception of a bullying incident, 8th grade was a great year for me. The bully was one sick kid. And I do mean sick. If he is still alive today, then he is likely in prison or something like that. I’m not going to talk about him though. It was what it was and before it was over, I persevered. Back to those two teachers. The teacher that I had a crush on was Mrs. Sillivan. My memory of her was that she was very pretty. She was also very young. I think our class was her first year of teaching. So, she was probably only about 22 years-old. Now keep your mind out of the gutter when I say this, but she wore these pleated skirts that just drove me nuts. I remember one of them was purple. I think the deal with that was I had already had a crush on Shelley Fabarares from “The Donna Reed Show”, but it was in an Elvis Presley movie that she wore a skirt like that. That movie, “Girl Happy”, is my favorite Elvis movie. (“Viva Las Vegas” is 2nd!) Mrs. Sillavan was my English teacher that year. It was a fun class and my first “girlfriend” was in that class. Yea, we were so cool. We actually held hands a few times!

            My number one teacher in junior high was my 8th grade history teacher. She didn’t let you get away with much, but she genuinely cared about her students and made history come alive. Her name was/is Mrs. Anderson. Of all the teachers that I ever had, she is the only one that is a “friend” on Facebook. She’s still cool 50 years down the road! I don’t know how old she was then, but I’m guessing she was in her late 20’s. She wasn’t a rookie, but she wasn’t jaded either. She was the kind of teacher that made you want to do your best. She was encouraging, learned, inspiring, and all the things you could hope for in a teacher. And, as I recall, she was certainly pretty, which never hurt.

            Now we get to high school. It was a mixed-bag where teachers were concerned. Do I recall the names of every teacher that I had? No, but I remember most of them. The ones that I most remember were either very good or very bad. They ran the gamut. The truth is that I had one teacher in 9th grade that I liked and that I felt cared about me. Tenth grade was basically just OK. No particular teacher or teachers stood out as favorites etc. Eleventh grade was basically about the same. My American history teacher was a good teacher and I liked her, and I did learn a lot from her class. I wrote several long poems about some of our forefathers. I would give her a copy of them, and she loved them. She even read them to the class. The two that I remember best (and still have copies of that my mother typed when she found my hand-written copies and liked them so well) was “Poor George” about George Washington and “The Great Compromiser” about Henry Clay. When a certain former Texas governor made fun of George Bush with her “Poor George” speech, I had a good laugh.

            Onward to my senior year. My favorite teacher of high school my English teacher that year. It was a creative writing class. Mrs. Huckabay was my teacher. I don’t have any idea how old she was. Probably in her late 40’s. But she was about as cool as they get. However, the horn-rimmed glasses needed updating! She took a great interest in my writing and helped me learn some of the basics with regards to dialogue. She also was very encouraging about my songwriting. She used lyrics from some of the current songs as a way to express creative writing. It caused me to start writing about things other than simple boy-girl love songs.

            Well, let’s recap. My favorite Elementary teacher was 3rd grade teacher Mrs. Laster. My favorite junior high teacher was Mrs. Anderson. My favorite high school teacher was Mrs. Huckabay. What’s my point in telling you all of this? It’s simply to say that teachers were extremely important to me growing-up. I am thankful to have had these great teachers who intersected with my then young life and sparked interest, inspiration, and were influential in helping to lay the groundwork for my life to come. To be frank, I could never be a teacher. I’m just not patient enough and as much as I hate to admit it, I’m a bit too thin skinned to survive. I also believe that teaching is a calling. It should never be viewed as “just a job”. But even though I am not teaching material, I do think that all of us, myself included, can be teachers in our own way. I love to read to my grandkids. Now that I am retired, I would be interested in reading to children in a program at a library etc. But that’s for another day. If you know a teacher, then thank him or her for being there for so many kids’ year in and year out. Thanks to all the teachers that I’ve ever had, Mrs. Anderson that especially includes you, and thanks to the people who I have known that spent their working life as teachers. Two of them were my sisters. Barbara, who passed away in 2018, was a music and English teacher. Debbie taught elementary school for 40 years. Now, go thank a teacher.

Herman's Hermits, Balsa Wood Airplanes, a Soda Fountain, and Dugan's Drugs

            There was a family owned drugstore two blocks away from the house we lived in when I was 11-13. It was called “Dugan’s Drugs”. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was a part of a vanishing breed. When I think back to those years and that store, I realize that it had an important part of my young life. The first LP record that I ever bought I bought at that store. It was “The Best of Herman’s Hermits”. It cost me $3 and was well worth it. I still have that album. Not a replacement of it, but that exact album. Perhaps the best part of Dugan’s Drugs was their old-fashioned soda fountain. They sold ice cream, malts and shakes, Coke floats, and assorted other treats. Sometimes my parents would send me down to get everyone a malt at Dugan’s. They had cardboard carriers that would hold all of them for the quick walk back home.

            The first time I ever tasted a new candy called “Sweet Tarts” was after buying a roll at Dugan’s. One of the things that I used to like to do was go to the store and watch the pneumatic tube flash by on the ceiling. You turned in your prescription at the front of the store and it was sent back to the druggist. He would then send the medicine back to the front when it was ready. I would go in there with my mother and while we waited for the prescription to be ready, I would look around the store. There was a rack of comic books, an aisle with socks and gloves and the like, and an aisle with clock radios, portable record players, and other small household appliances such as toasters and can openers. And, there was a rack of balsa wood airplanes. Those airplanes provided me with hours of fun when I was a kid. The small gliders cost a whopping 5 cents. A larger glider was a dime. They had several other models and some of them included a propeller that was driven by a rubber band. You had to put them together, but they were easy to assemble. I could always scrounge up a nickel or a dime to buy one of those planes. The propeller ones were a little more. Perhaps a quarter.

            I remember one day I was looking at some of the comic books and a girl from my class came into the store. She said hello and I thought it was the sweetest sound in the world. Her name was Penny. I rode the school bus with Penny throughout junior and senior high school. I have no idea what became of her after we graduated. Sometime in 1969 Dugan’s sold his store to a big named chain. The store was remodeled, and the soda fountain removed. Within a couple of years, they closed the store in lieu of a new store down the street. I didn’t miss Dugan’s until I got older. But I think what I miss about that store is all of the things that went away with it. Most of us buy our prescriptions at big chains now. Heck, we can get them via mail, at the grocery store, at department stores etc. I’m sure that there are soda fountains somewhere still, but I haven’t a clue where one might be and it likely is owned and operated by someone who was not even born when soda fountains were popular. LP’s are coming back, but even so they cost a lot more today. I have a couple of record players, but they are cheap compared to the great stereo systems that I once owned. I could buy an expensive component system today if I wanted to, but I just don’t want to spend the kind of money it would take to do so. The only place that I know of with pneumatic systems is my bank. But I don’t really go there very often. I don’t have to in today’s world. But that’s another story. Perhaps the biggest thing I miss from Dugan’s and those days was knowing the pharmacist and owner of the store personally. The government laws and rules that have come into place in the last 50 years have made it very difficult to start and run a business. It seems that it takes a board of directors, a CEO, and a whole bunch of managers, lawyers, and specialist to run a company today. The closest thing that I know of to that old way of doing business is the barber that I go to. Actually, even that has changed in the past few years. I started going to him about 12 years ago after I helped him with a claim on his car. He retired about 5 years ago, but he had a couple of partners who have continued to run the shop. He passed away from cancer about two years ago. But I can still go to that shop, a small shop with three chairs, I know the barbers by name, and they know how I like my hair cut. They only take cash and that’s OK by me. I’m sure it keeps the overhead down. I tried one of those sport barber shop chains when I first moved up to the country. They had one in Huntsville. Still do, I suppose. But it was so impersonal. All of the “barbers” are in their 20’s and they’ve got a completely different idea on what a haircut is than I do. And what’s with this getting a massage with your haircut?

            Well, as time continues its march onward, I think of places like Dugan’s Drugs and remember a time when things weren’t as complicated and convoluted as they are today. Maybe I’m just getting old. The fact is there are much worse things than getting old. To anyone young reading this you’ll understand someday.

She Owns Your Destiny

     I have been debating all week whether or not I would post this. I wrote the song you hopefully have taken the time to listen to and watch the slide show on December 5,1979. That’s 40 years ago now. To the day in about 3 hours from when I’m writing this. I recently discovered the recording that you are listening to. It was recorded about a week after I wrote the song. Is it “state of the art”? Not hardly. In fact, I recorded it on a two-track stereo reel-to-reel recorder in the living room of a one bedroom apartment that we had just moved into a month before. There’s no way to separate the tracks and do a proper mix down. What appears to multi-tracks is actually a feature on the recorder called “sound on sound”. I recorded the basic acoustic guitar and the lead vocal live. I then flipped a switch and while that basic recording played I added the background vocal and the 12-string guitar. The reason it sounds like it’s in stereo and therefore fuller than it really was is because I have transferred that mono-recording to my computer and using software gave it a faux stereo effect. That’s all that I did to the recording. Frankly, I like the recording very much. A lot of the reason though is I like the song a lot. I never got around to recording it properly. Maybe I will, but even if I do and get to employ additional instruments and equalizer effects, I doubt that I can come close to recapturing the two things the original recording has. 

 
     First, I just don’t have the “young” sound in my voice. I no doubt can sing it properly again, but that youthful sound of my voice as it was when I was 24 just doesn’t exist anymore. Secondly, and perhaps just as important, I don’t have the inspiration and therefore the feeling I had 40 years ago. This is where I tell you why I have been debating posting this. We had been married 3 years by December of 1979. We were still very young. I was 24 and the mother of my children was only 21. It would be another 5 years before we had any children. We were still very much in love. Yes, I said it. I loved my ex-wife. Well, of course I did. Anyone who goes through a divorce should be able to say that at one time they loved their ex-spouse. Too many people don’t though. It’s like they are willing to throw away those years because things ended badly. There were hurt feelings and some things that were hard to get over, but with maturity it’s doable. But I debated posting this because I don’t want anyone to think I still carry a torch for my ex-wife. I don’t Let’s face it, that was 40 years ago! In a way it’s like losing a spouses to death. That girl and young woman that I loved so many years ago no longer exists. And, neither does that young man that I once was. The deal is I wanted to give you perspective into the writing of the song and the recording itself. It meant something once. It still does, but it’s like remembering someone who has been gone for a long time. You can have fond memories of that person as they were way back when. You just need to put it all into perspective. I have done this. Even though the marriage ended and there were some hard feelings for a few years, I don’t hate my ex-wife or even dislike her now. Why? Well, I don’t even know her. Like I said, that young woman no longer exists. I see her at special occasions that involve our kids and grandchildren and we are always cordial. But she isn’t “that” girl anymore than I’m “that” guy. 
 
     Well, now you know. The pictures on the slide show are all from within a year before to a year after I wrote and recorded the song. They perhaps give you perspective into “that young man and young woman” at the time the song was written and recorded. I hope you understand what I’m trying to say. Thanks for reading and listening.
 

Leper

            Do you know anyone who names their car? I have an old friend who had a weathered and much used 1965 Chevrolet coupe. By the time I got to know him it was about 9 years old. My friend named the car “Old Paint”. It was appropriately named. I knew a couple who had a 1963 Mercury Comet. It was not street legal. When I think of that car, I think of a line from a Jim Croce song that goes, “It was held together by wire and a couple of hunks of twine.” They named it Rusty. Again, quite appropriate. When I was a kid, we owned a blue 1961 Ford Galaxie 500 that we named “Old Blue”. But for the most part, we didn’t name our cars.

            In January of 1986 we needed a spare car. A work car that worked. We only had $750 to spend and even then, it was going to mean doing without some things for a while. But it was necessary. My wife took a part time job that was 18 miles from home. I was working for a delivery service and drove 200+ miles a day. I had to have a truck for that job. That truck of mine was rode hard and put up wet most days. Well, we started looking for a good used car. Good is a relative term. We finally found a 1975 Toyota Corolla that a guy had been using as a work car. He said it ran great but didn’t look great. He was right about one of those things. It didn’t look great. By the way, never buy a car in the dark. We paid the man $750 for that car and thought we had made a good deal.

            The next morning, I went out to look the car over in the light of day and my first thought was how embarrassed I was that it was parked in our driveway. It was that bad. I named that car Leper. Sometimes I referred to it as “The Leprosy Car”. The paint was worn and faded all over. Down to bare metal in some spots. The seats had chunks missing. The carpet was worn clear through to the floor on the driver’s front. That car was simply a mess.

            In the summer of that year we made a plan. I would finally go get a college degree so that I could support my family better. I had a whopping 6 hours earned back in the 70’s. But we sat down and made a blueprint of how we would get it accomplished. It was going to take almost 4 years to get it done, but I was determined. The first thing we did before the fall semester started was, I quit the that delivery job. I was going broke doing the job. With expenses (gas, insurance, etc.) I was making a net of about $5,000 a year. We sold the truck, moved in closer to town, my wife took a job just a few miles away, and we worked out a cockamamie schedule that I think back on now and wonder how on Earth we did it. I was 31-years-old when we embarked on that journey. We had Leper to get us there. Sort of.

            My wife used the car to go to work in the morning. I stayed home with the kids (ages 1 & 2) to save money that would have gone to daycare. I would be ready and waiting at the door for my wife to get home from work by 5:30 p.m. A quick kiss and hug and off I went. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I went to a job delivering pizza. I also worked on Saturday nights delivering pizza. On Sunday we went to church. Period the end. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I headed downtown to the University of Houston for 3 classes. I studied when the kids were napping during the day or after getting home from delivering pizza. This was just the first semester. Each semester after that varied in hours, days, jobs, etc. Meanwhile, that leprosy car got me to school and back, my wife to work and back, and to church on Sunday. I always felt like the poor relations when we parked at church.

            By the time the spring semester of 1987 was in full swing I started noticing a loud noise and rattle coming from the front end of Leper. I just had to hope it wouldn’t fall apart because money was very tight. But, after a couple of months several things started to demand immediate attention. The master brake cylinder went out one night while I was delivering pizzas. It was the wrong pedal to the metal. Well, I had never changed out a master brake cylinder, but paying a mechanic to do the job was more than we could think about. So, I bought a new one at the auto parts store, went to the library and made photocopies of how to change it via Chilton’s guide, and undertook the job. Changing the cylinder wasn’t so bad. Bleeding the brakes was another story. I finally called my brother-in-law and he helped me get them bled given it took someone pumping on the brake petal while the other adjusted the brakes. That job got done just in time for Leper to give me another headache. That noise in the front end was very bad. The steering was getting pretty loose and wobbling about. I also realized that I needed a couple of tires. Steel belts were poking through. So, I sold some things at the pawn shop and went to get the car repaired. It turned out the tie rods were hanging by a thread. Two new tires and new tie rods later I was down $400. But there was good news. My wife’s parents took pity on us (truth be told they wouldn’t have given me a Matchbox car found in a landfill, but for their daughter, they took pity) and gave us a 1978 Honda Accord. It had over 100K miles on it, but it ran much better than Leper.

            I continued to drive Leper for another year. No A/C, no heater, and looks that literally could have killed. I would love to tell you that after all these years I have grown fond of memories in that car. I can’t do that because there simply weren’t any. It was a means to an end. We stayed on course and did what was necessary to get me through school. A scholarship to Houston Baptist University was a huge blessing in 1988. I worked part-time jobs including two stretches of delivering morning newspapers 7 days a week while working another part-time job three nights a week. My wife started working part-time when I transferred to HBU because my classes were all during the day. We were still two ships passing in the night for the next two years.

            I think back on Leper and that bleak period of time and I’m very glad that I’m not there now. I do realize that there could have been worse things happen to us, but that leprosy car stands for all the hard times we went through back then. I haven’t named another car since that car. I haven’t had any car nearly as bad as that one either. For that I am most thankful. When I think of that car, I think of how embarrassing it was to go to church and pull into the parking lot in a car that rattled and looked like it had leprosy. I think of climbing out of that coupe and wearing threadbare clothes because they were all I could afford. At least the kids were dressed nicely. My wife made some dresses and I always made sure that the three of them came first. I think of the time that me and the kids went to buy groceries in that car. I inadvertently locked the keys in the car with the kids in the car. They were only 2 and 3 years old. I started to panic. I spent 10 minutes coaxing my 3-year-old son into pulling up on the lock lever. He thought it was a game and laughed the whole time. Oh, and the groceries were in the trunk already and I knew that the cold stuff would go bad in that summer heat if I didn’t get them home soon. Finally, my son pulled up on that lever and I yanked the door open. I smothered both the kids with kisses and after we got home, unloaded the groceries, and the kids were occupied with the TV, I went into the bathroom and sunk down to my knees. I thanked God that nothing bad had happened and I sat there praying that we would get through that period of time quickly. And then I heard my mother saying something in my head that she said many times when I was growing up. I heard her say, “Don’t wish you life away.” Good advice no matter how hard the times may be.

Skipping Stone

            There’s a poignant scene from the movie “Coal Miner’s Daughter” where Loretta Lynn’s father is with her at the train station prior to her leaving to join her husband in Washington State. Levon Helm portrayed her father and he remarks that he lost “those young years” of Loretta’s because she got married so young and was moving away. In a sense, I understand how he must have felt, but for a different reason and circumstance. One thing that is rarely talked about is something that happens to those of us who go through a divorce. Oh, we bemoan what “he did”, “she did”, and all the perceptions that may or may not be real which we come to believe were the reasons for the divorce. I know that there are cases of people who almost from day one are not the person they portrayed themselves to be during the dating phase. I’m not talking here about those cases or the abuse cases etc. What I’m talking about is the kind of divorce that comes after many years of marriage and is not directly related to infidelity, abuse, etc.

            I don’t think that I am alone here. We tend to judge the years of a failed marriage based on after things started to go south. I think that many of us simply do not want to have fond memories of the marriage. It means having to face some facts. Maybe both parties were at fault. Maybe one cheated late in the marriage, but the other might have not been the kind of spouse they should have been either. The simple fact is it’s just not a black and white thing. I think a huge part of healing after the end of a marriage is accepting two major things. First, we weren’t perfect even if we weren’t the one who “cheated” or baled on the marriage out of boredom (middle-aged-crazy syndrome). We contributed to the demise of the marriage too. Maybe we didn’t contribute as much as the other person, but we contributed, nonetheless.

The second thing is just as hard to admit and to reflect upon. No matter how bad the marriage got by the time it ended, there were some good times, perhaps even great times in the marriage. For some of us those times were short-lived, but for some of us they lasted for several years. I’ll get back to this in just a moment. But let’s talk about the most common reasons that a marriage goes bad. Finances are at the top of the list. Perhaps things are tough financially early on. Frankly, they usually are. I mean, we were young and inexperienced. But sometimes it draws us close together in those early days. It’s a “you and me against the world” kind of thing. But when the years start to pile on and things don’t get much, if at all, better financially the stress starts to work on us. It can affect people differently. I’ve known some people who just roll with the flow no matter what comes along. But even that can be a problem in a marriage when one person is like that and the other one isn’t. The one that isn’t starts to hold resentment towards the other one for not having more “ambition” or not being “smart enough” to figure a way out.

Another reason at the top of the list is we stop communicating. I was married 27 years. I remember about 6 months before we had the talk and decided to divorce my wife and I were watching TV one night. An advertisement for a new movie came on and my wife made the remark, “I could never get you to go to a movie like that.” I was floored. My first thought was, “she doesn’t really know me anymore”. I actually wanted to see that movie a lot. I might not have 20 years earlier, but I had matured. I had changed. But somehow or other my wife hadn’t noticed. Why? Because we had stopped communicating. It was easier for my wife to continue believing I was the same person I had been 2 decades before than to know the me that I had become. I have no doubt I was just as guilty as she was in some respects. When we stop having meaningful communication on a daily basis, then we start to assume things. We even make them up to fill in the blanks.

            Let me tell you a little story. When my wife and I were first married and for about the first six years we certainly had some bad financial times. But we still communicated. We still commiserated with each other. We still made plans together. Plans that may or may not have worked out, but we were on the same page and were working together. Despite some hard times during those years, there were some great times too. I remember a day in December of 1978 that became very special to us. I’m not afraid to admit that it still holds fond memories for me. But something you need to understand before I go any further is that I am by no means “hung up on my ex”. You would have had to experienced the entire 28 years we knew each other to fully understand why, but the fact is I’ve been divorced from her now for 16 years and while I have fond memories of some of our time together, I am a much happier person today than I was for the last 15 years of that marriage.

            Back to that day in December of 1978. I had the day off and decided to drive up to the old farm. My wife asked me if I could look for a small, perhaps 4’, Christmas tree for the office she worked at. There were only three people in her office, her boss, another secretary, and my wife. So, I took along a handsaw and part of my plan was to find her a tree. Now, given we had a 1977 Chevrolet Nova, it wasn’t like I would be able to drive across the pastures to get to some trees. I had to park at the entrance of one of the pastures and hike a long way to a thicket of trees. Well, I searched high and low in those trees and they were either too tall, too big, or just not good for the purpose intended. Finally, I found a rather full-bodied pine tree the right size. It wasn’t a great tree, but I figured it would do for my wife’s office. Let me say that I fully understand NOW a pine tree is not ever going to make a good Christmas tree. A cedar perhaps, but the fact is there were no spruce trees that I could find.

            I cut that poor tree down and proudly walked back to the car with it. The car was a hatchback and when I laid that tree in the back, I noticed that the trip from where I cut the tree back to the car had been rather hard on that now “not-so full-bodied” pine tree. Well, it was getting late and I needed to get back to Houston and drop the tree off at my wife’s work before they closed at 5 p.m.

            I got to her workplace a little before 5 and went inside to proudly tell her that I had their Christmas tree out in the car. So, wifey and I go out to the car and when I lifted that tree out of the back there were more pine needles on the floor of the hatchback than on the tree. I was horrified. I looked at my wife and she suddenly burst out laughing. In fact, she was laughing so loud and hard that it was drawing attention. Attention that I didn’t particularly want at that time. After she finally got calmed down, she said, “It’s a Charlie Brown Christmas Tree!” Another 5 minutes of laughter ensued, this time we me joining along. I had to admit it was the quintessential Charlie Brown Christmas Tree.

            A felt like I was walking a gauntlet carrying that tree into her office. It was a big place with a lot of employees in other offices. It was closing time which meant that most of them were filing out to go home. The looks ranged from “What the heck?” to huge smiles and snickers. I carried that tree into her office and the secretary that she worked with started another round of laughter. Well, I have to give them credit. They decided to make the best of the situation. From what I was later told many people from neighboring offices came to see the pathetic Christmas Tree with its limited decorations that sagged several inches on the few branches that were left. But you know what? We remembered that tree for years and always thought about it at Christmas time. Now, that was not a bad time at all. As I recall it actually endeared me to my wife at the time.

My point of telling that story is that even though the marriage eventually ended and there were some really bad times along the way, there were also some good times from that marriage.  Something I don’t ever like to hear is for someone who is now divorced to say, “I don’t think I ever really loved him/her, or I don’t think he/she ever really loved me.” I’m man enough to admit that I loved my wife. But finances, lack of communication, some hard times, a lot of worrying, and the reaction to these lead to the end of the marriage. I chose to deal with it by hoping things would eventually get better. Let’s call it the “Ostrich Effect”. She chose to find comfort elsewhere. I don’t hate her. I don’t even dislike her. We have limited interaction, but we do have 5 grandchildren together with one on the way.

            I started this blog entry talking about that movie scene and the “lost years”. Perhaps one very hard thing to deal with after a marriage dies is the fact that there are some lost years. I’m not talking about all the years we were not a team and had lost the “you and me against the world” mindset. I’m talking about the good times. Sometimes those years get tossed out with the bad years when the marriage is over. That’s a sad thing. Those good years shouldn’t be lost. I’m not going to write them off just because of how things turned out in the end.

            Not long ago my oldest granddaughter was visiting, and I was looking for a picture of me when I was in my early 20’s to show her. We set there as I was going through a briefcase full of pictures. She picked up one of the pictures and said, “Is that you Paw-Paw?” I looked at the picture and it was from that Christmas of 1978 at my parent’s house. The extended family was there with some cousins and my grandmother. The first thing that I thought of when I held that picture was that 6 of those people have passed on. My mother, my father, my grandmother, my aunt, my uncle, and my sister Barbara. The second thing I thought of was how young we all looked and how happy we all were in that picture. Everyone was smiling and meant it. My granddaughter stared at the picture and asked who that “girl” was standing next to me. I said, “Well, that’s your Grammie”. The look on her face! But there we were in the picture with our arms around each other and cuddled up the way young married people do. My granddaughter said, “What happened Paw-Paw? Why didn’t ya’ll stay together?” Well, I didn’t want to go into the whole thing and frankly it wouldn’t have been appropriate. So, I just told her that sometimes things don’t work out and when she’s older I’ll explain a little bit more. She was satisfied with that answer. For now.

            To all my friends and to anyone reading this that has gone through a divorce. I urge you to dwell on the good times rather than the bad times of that marriage. Maybe you have a good reason to feel betrayed or hurt. But I’m willing to bet that there were some tender moments in that marriage. Some happy times when you loved each other. Remember those times. No, don’t get hung-up on your ex, but try to accept what transpired and choose to remember the good moments instead of the bad moments. Get past the bad times and move on with your life. But when on occasion you think back on that marriage, try to remember the love that you once shared. I don’t mean to sound like an advertisement for a “Summer of Love” CD collection, but love all you need. No, you won’t forget the bad times, but let them be like a stone skipping across a still lake that finally disappears beneath the water, never to be experienced again.

Days of Infamy

            Here it is 10:30 p.m. on November 22, 2019 and I feel compelled to say something. Our nation has apparently gotten to a point where the anniversary of the assassination of JFK isn’t news anymore. I haven’t seen one post on social media (Facebook) talking about it. It’s just not news. It’s been 56 years since that day in Dallas. I guess I understand to some degree why it’s not something important to many people today. They weren’t even born yet. We have 40-year-old people who were born 16 years after the event. It just doesn’t mean to them what it does to those of us who were alive and remember the day clearly. The closest thing they have to compare it to would be 9-11. To those who were not around when JFK was killed let me say this. Remember how things were that day in September of 2001? Americans were scared. Americans put aside their differences and gathered together for comfort. Families huddled together for support in uncertain times. That was how it was on that day in November of 1963.

            I was only 8-years-old, but I remember the whole thing vividly. It was a Thursday that year and I was in the 2nd grade. Our principal, Mr. McGowan, came on the loudspeaker and told us that the president had been shot. He led us in prayer. Forty-five minutes later he came on again and told us that the president was dead and again he led us in prayer. Prayer for our country, prayer for the president’s family, and prayer for guidance in such an uncertain time. We were encouraged by our teacher, Mrs. Schwartz, to talk about it. She allowed us to talk about how it made us feel. Schoolwork was set aside for the rest of the day.

            When I got home from school my mother was there and her typical hug was longer than usual. Dad had come home early, and our family gathered around the black and white TV to watch the news. It was decided then that we would not go to school the next day and would instead go to my grandparent’s farm to be with them. I asked my mother why and she simply said that, “In times like these, families need to be together.” I would later learn that she and Dad had concerns about the assassination being an over-throw of the government. That it might somehow lead to war. They wanted us in the safest place that they knew of and surrounded by family.

            We left for the farm after breakfast the next morning and got there in time for lunch. Something to keep in mind. My parents did not vote for JFK. They were die-hard conservative republicans. But when JFK was elected, they respected the results of the election and supported his presidency simply because he was our president! Our country wasn’t divided like it is now. But this was all before The Great Society, the Vietnam War, Nixon and Watergate, Bill Clinton and his despicable behavior in the Oval Office, 50 years of Ted Kennedy, JFK’s brother who undid just about everything that JFK stood for, and 8-years of a president who doesn’t even like America and tried his best to dismantle the nation.

            That Friday we watched live on TV the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald. Did he really kill JFK by himself? Was it a conspiracy? It was a scary time for our nation. It was also turning point. As a historian, I believe that there are significant events that change the course of a nation and it’s history. Sure, there are important things that happen every day, but many of them are just the ebb and flow in the life of a nation. Was WW1 important? Certainly, but I don’t rank it as one of THE turning points. Was prohibition and its eventual repeal important? Certainly. Was the Progressive movement of Woodrow Wilson and like-minded people influential? Certainly. But in my mind, there were only two events in the 20th century that were so influential and important that they belong on the kind of list that I am talking about. I might add that sometimes we don’t know how important something is for years or even decades. But these kinds of events are literally Earth shattering at the time. We’ve had just one this century so far. Frankly, it may not hold up with time. In just 18 years it doesn’t seem to mean what it did. It may fade into obscurity. But the two events that changed everything in the 20th century were Pearl Harbor and the JFK assassination. Our nation was literally never the same after these events. They so-changed us that there was no going back. I find it interesting and perhaps merely a coincidence that these two events happened when the same generation was young and affected the most by Pearl Harbor and then later were “in power” as middle-aged adults in the other event.

            Well, this isn’t a history lesson, so I’ll conclude this blog entry. November 22, 1963 was a life-altering event for every American alive no matter how young or old. It changed a coming-of-age generation who in turn changed America. Oddly enough, that day in 2001 came when that generation was itself middle-aged and in power. Nobody can predict the future with pinpoint accuracy. I certainly can’t and wouldn’t even try. I’ll simply say that it is highly likely that one of those events will come along in less than 20 years. Will America be up to the task of dealing with it? Will the young generation on that eventual day be up to handling such an event? Who knows? I do know that it will take a strong “in power” generation on that day to lead the way. This has me worried. How about you?

The Juicer

            It seems that our parents always seem old to us. When I was 5-years-old I thought my mother was ancient. She was only 31. Thinking of them as children was always a chore. Even with photos of them as a child they seemed old given the aged photographs that were usually black and white. They would be wearing clothes that looked old to us. But make no mistake, they were young and vibrant once too. This fact comes home to us as we age. I’m sure I have always seemed old to my kids. Faded old Polaroid photos only help to foster that feeling for my kids and especially for my grandkids.

            My mother grew-up during the depression and World War Two. They lived life on a farm and while they never had to stand in a bread line or lost their home to a bank, they did have to get by on very little and most of what they had was homemade. Almost all of their clothes were made by my grandmother as well as quilts, blankets, and pillows. Grandma canned fruits and vegetables that they grew themselves. They had a smokehouse behind the house that they used to cure ham and beef from animals that they raised. There were a few things though that they had to purchase or barter for. My mother used to speak longingly about something that she remembered with great fondness from those years in the 1930’s. She was always excited when they would buy big bags of flour, boxes of cereal (a great treat), and powdered soap in burlap bags. Why? Because each bag or box would contain a “free” piece of what we have come to know as “Depression Glass”. My grandmother collected the pieces and used them for the purposes they were meant to use. They weren’t some keepsake in a curio cabinet. They actually used those glasses, cups, saucers, and other dishes. She remembered grandma’s favorite was a set in blue. It became my mother’s favorite as well, but she also remembered some special pieces that they had that were in other colors.

            Near my mother’s 53 birthday back in early September of 1982 she went with me and my wife to a recently opened indoor flea market/arts & crafts market in the little town of Waller, Texas. It was a Saturday afternoon and we spent a couple of hours in that market before going out to dinner. While perusing the goods on display my mother saw a booth with a great deal of depression glass for sale. She expressed ooh’s and ahh’s over the glass. She was remembering those golden days of her childhood and how much that depression glass had meant to her. My grandmother was still alive and had a few pieces from the old days, but much of it had been broken over the years as would be common in most households. There was one particular piece that she picked-up and held lovingly. Her eyes had a distant mist in them as she told me that they had owned one exactly like it. It wasn’t the blue glass, but it was a highly prized piece. It was an emerald green juicer. It was in excellent condition. Mom told us how excited she was when they got the piece in a 50-pound bag of flour. I remembered the juicer from my childhood, but by then it was well used and had a chip in it from being dropped. It was lost in the sands of time sometime in the 60’s or early 70’s. My grandmother most likely threw it away when she moved from the farm after my grandfather passed away. We never really knew.

            Mom turned that juicer upside down and looked at the price tag on the underside. She let out a sigh and said, “I just can’t justify paying that much money for something that we won’t actually use. She put the juicer back on the table and moved on. Well, I whispered in my wife’s ear to distract Mom on the other end of the market. I gladly paid the $25 for the juicer, had it wrapped in paper and bagged and went out and put it in the trunk of our car. It would be my mother’s birthday gift.

            The next weekend we got together at my parent’s house for our annual birthday jamboree! We called it that because so many of us had birthday’s right close together. My wife’s was September 6, Grandma’s was the 8th, mine is the 9th, my cousin’s is the 11th, my aunt’s was the 12th, and mother’s was the 14th. Yes, 6 of us had birthdays in 8 days! We always had one big cake and a little get together after going out to eat somewhere. I gave Mom a box with the juicer packed inside and waited for her reaction. She opened the box and just about started to cry. There was that green juicer just like the one she grew-up using for orange juice and Grandma’s homemade lemonade.

            For the rest of my mother’s life, another nearly 36 years, she had that juicer on display in a china cabinet in the dining room of their house. When she passed away, I ended-up getting that juicer. It’s a reminder to me of my Mom, my Grandmother, and so many happy memories. That juicer also reminds me that simple things bring the sweetest memories. I can still imagine my mother’s 8-year-old face lighting up with delight when they pulled that juicer out of the flour bag. It was free, but it became priceless. Such are the many things we sometimes take for granted until one day we look upon them and it’s like looking into a magic mirror that shows us golden moments from our younger days. Much of my household treasures are from days gone by. The old trunk that came from Alabama by covered wagon, a box full of tin-type photos of my ancestors, my grandfather’s last pocket watch, about 20 quilts that my grandmother made, the cedar chifforobe that was my grandfather’s “closet”, pictures and letters and even a journal of my grandfather’s from 1944. Then there are the things from my childhood. I have the original 1961 aluminum Christmas tree with the working color wheel. My cub scout uniform, the receipt from Katy Road Chrysler Plymouth for my first car, a ribbon from my high school sweetheart’s hair, and I could go on and on. When we are young, we tend to always be looking to the future. That’s as it should be. We should never live in the past. However, we should never take our past for granted and discard it’s memory. While it is true that the rearview mirror in a car is small while the windshield is large, it is also true that if we don’t look back while plowing the fields of life, then the rows will not be straight, and we may jeopardize our future. We should learn over time to discard hurt feelings and wrongs we have been done, but never discard the people because one day they will be gone. Remember the six of us who had birthdays close together? Only my cousin and I are left. Well, truth be told my ex-wife is still alive, but she is not part of my life. Hold onto your loved ones and enjoy them while you can because one day, you’ll only have keepsakes that were theirs to hold instead of them. Oh, and here's that juicer.

Friends

             It was December 28, 1972 when I first had an interaction with my friend Jess Sumrall. The youth group at our church had a “working” retreat for three days. We had some Bible studies, got to watch a movie, and went out to Bear Creek Park for some fun and games. But the working part was the big deal for that retreat. Our youth minister, Ed Humphrey, had gotten permission from the church to convert the upstairs storage area of the gymnasium into a coffeehouse that would be used by the youth group. That upstairs storage loft was a mess. It had become a catch-all for just about any and everything the church didn’t want to deal with. Old tables and chairs in disrepair, discarded costumes from church programs, and just about everything else you can think of. The guys were put to work hauling off the junk to a landfill while the girls cleaned and scrubbed. They sewed curtains for the windows in the loft, did some painting, and made table clothes etc. A small stage was made and there was a sound system installed. Someone had donated a bunch of empty spools, the kind that holds utility wiring, and these got painted to be used as tables. Old bottles had candles stuffed in the top to drip down the bottle and provide ambiance. I can’t say for sure if all of this was done in those three days, but it was the big push with perhaps some of the facets being added over the next month.

            Remember that old pool table? Ed Humphrey asked me and Jess, someone who I had seen around at church, but didn’t actually know him yet, to haul the pool table down the stairs, load it in a deacon’s truck, and carry it to the landfill along with some other items. There were two stairways to the loft. One was a zig-zag stairway that the pool table would never have fit going down. The other was a rarely used, but straight shot stairway. It was quite steep. As I recall, we had to clear it of debris before we could get anything down it. So, Jess and I turned the table on its side, folded the legs, and started towards the stairway. Did I say that table was old and decidedly heavy? No? Well, believe me it was! We got it to the stairway and lucky Jess got the front end with me on the back end. We had just tipped it down to make our way down the stairs and I realized that I didn’t have a good grip on the table. In a panicked voice I alerted Jess of the situation. However, gravity took over and before I could get a better grip the darned table took off on its own. It was in hot pursuit of Jess. It was a race for his life! I still recall that table sliding down the stairway, picking up speed as it went, with Jess taking the steps by twos and threes. The end result was Jess won the race. The pool table landed in a heap on the floor at the bottom of the stairway. Well, we got it in the truck and hauled it off to the landfill.

            Over the next year or so Jess and I were frequently at youth gatherings and even after only a few months would reminisce over “The Great Pool Table Caper”. Fast forward to the spring of 1975. Jess and I had become friends over that time, and I expressed to him that I wanted to form a Christian music group. He said that he could sing, and we decided to form the group. It turned into a trio with another guy from the church. I was the only one of us that played an instrument. What I didn’t know at first was that Jess could sing the melody just fine. But the concept of harmony was beyond his comprehension! Although, he did get better as time went by. The truly funny part was the “melody” was whatever part that Jess sang. Sometimes he would get a harmony part stuck in his head and there was just no way of getting him to do another part. So, me and the other guy would sing parts around whatever part Jess knew. However, despite that minor limitation, Jess was the soul of that group. I guess I was kind of the heart given we performed songs that I wrote, and I played either guitar or piano for the given song. Jess brought his incredible love for God, his faithfulness, and his wisdom to our group. God put Jess into my life as a sort of big brother and spiritual advisor.

            The group took a hiatus during 1976 while we were all busy doing other things. But back in June of 1975 we won “Best Duo, Trio, Quartet” at a huge competition during a day-long event at Astroworld. It was an incredible honor and given we had only been together for three months it was nothing short of amazing. In early 1977 we performed as His Story at several churches and then we did a farewell concert in August of that year. Jess was headed off to the seminary in Ft. Worth, the other guy was headed off to medical school, and I was not headed much of any place at all. I was married by then and working for a living.

            Jess and I kept up with each other while he was in seminary and then when he was a youth minister at a couple of churches. He would come out to dinner at our house and we would always get to singing. Sometime in the mid-80’s Jess got married. We still talked on the phone, but our lives were rather busy. I had two children by then and Jess would be blessed with his son in the early 90’s. The last time that I saw Jess was when we were both at a youth camp in the summer of 1991. He was the youth minister from one church, and I was the youth minister from another. During the next 28 years we talked on the phone many times, exchanged emails and comments on Facebook, and such, but we were both working and raising families as well as living in different states.

            That is until today. Jess and I had lunch together in The Woodlands today. The first time that we’ve seen each other face to face in over 28 years. As usual, I got to the restaurant first (I’m habitually early) and as I sat there waiting, I saw this gray-haired old man walking towards the restaurant. Well, I knew that face even if it had some wrinkles and the hair was a little thin. We gave each other a great big bear hug and spent the next hour visiting and eating lunch. At one point as Jess was talking, I closed my eyes and hearing his voice I could see that long-haired 19-year-old that got chased down the stairs by a pool table. The voice is still the same. We reminisced and enjoyed the opportunity to see each other again. Some friendships don’t ever fade away. My friendship with Jess is one of those. He’s 66 now and I’m 64. But for a few minutes today we were 19 and 17 again. I will always treasure his friendship and to say that I am proud of him doesn’t cover it. Jess has a wonderful sense of humor, can discuss the Bible with scholars and barely skip a beat and be talking to me about Neil Young or Steeley Dan. He is the kind of guy that the word friend was evented for. We parted today and Jess headed back to be with his father who is in hospice now. I know that he is a great comfort to his dad as his life winds down. As for me, I came home and took a nap. Hey, it’s a sign of the times! Seriously though, I consider it a great blessing to have a friend like Jess in my life. The best part of all of this is the sure knowledge that when this life is over, we’ll be enjoying Heaven together. I just hope there’s no pool tables to haul off!

Friends

             It was December 28, 1972 when I first had an interaction with my friend Jess Sumrall. The youth group at our church had a “working” retreat for three days. We had some Bible studies, got to watch a movie, and went out to Bear Creek Park for some fun and games. But the working part was the big deal for that retreat. Our youth minister, Ed Humphrey, had gotten permission from the church to convert the upstairs storage area of the gymnasium into a coffeehouse that would be used by the youth group. That upstairs storage loft was a mess. It had become a catch-all for just about any and everything the church didn’t want to deal with. Old tables and chairs in disrepair, discarded costumes from church programs, and just about everything else you can think of. The guys were put to work hauling off the junk to a landfill while the girls cleaned and scrubbed. They sewed curtains for the windows in the loft, did some painting, and made table clothes etc. A small stage was made and there was a sound system installed. Someone had donated a bunch of empty spools, the kind that holds utility wiring, and these got painted to be used as tables. Old bottles had candles stuffed in the top to drip down the bottle and provide ambiance. I can’t say for sure if all of this was done in those three days, but it was the big push with perhaps some of the facets being added over the next month.

            Remember that old pool table? Ed Humphrey asked me and Jess, someone who I had seen around at church, but didn’t actually know him yet, to haul the pool table down the stairs, load it in a deacon’s truck, and carry it to the landfill along with some other items. There were two stairways to the loft. One was a zig-zag stairway that the pool table would never have fit going down. The other was a rarely used, but straight shot stairway. It was quite steep. As I recall, we had to clear it of debris before we could get anything down it. So, Jess and I turned the table on its side, folded the legs, and started towards the stairway. Did I say that table was old and decidedly heavy? No? Well, believe me it was! We got it to the stairway and lucky Jess got the front end with me on the back end. We had just tipped it down to make our way down the stairs and I realized that I didn’t have a good grip on the table. In a panicked voice I alerted Jess of the situation. However, gravity took over and before I could get a better grip the darned table took off on its own. It was in hot pursuit of Jess. It was a race for his life! I still recall that table sliding down the stairway, picking up speed as it went, with Jess taking the steps by twos and threes. The end result was Jess won the race. The pool table landed in a heap on the floor at the bottom of the stairway. Well, we got it in the truck and hauled it off to the landfill.

            Over the next year or so Jess and I were frequently at youth gatherings and even after only a few months would reminisce over “The Great Pool Table Caper”. Fast forward to the spring of 1975. Jess and I had become friends over that time, and I expressed to him that I wanted to form a Christian music group. He said that he could sing, and we decided to form the group. It turned into a trio with another guy from the church. I was the only one of us that played an instrument. What I didn’t know at first was that Jess could sing the melody just fine. But the concept of harmony was beyond his comprehension! Although, he did get better as time went by. The truly funny part was the “melody” was whatever part that Jess sang. Sometimes he would get a harmony part stuck in his head and there was just no way of getting him to do another part. So, me and the other guy would sing parts around whatever part Jess knew. However, despite that minor limitation, Jess was the soul of that group. I guess I was kind of the heart given we performed songs that I wrote, and I played either guitar or piano for the given song. Jess brought his incredible love for God, his faithfulness, and his wisdom to our group. God put Jess into my life as a sort of big brother and spiritual advisor.

            The group took a hiatus during 1976 while we were all busy doing other things. But back in June of 1975 we won “Best Duo, Trio, Quartet” at a huge competition during a day-long event at Astroworld. It was an incredible honor and given we had only been together for three months it was nothing short of amazing. In early 1977 we performed as His Story at several churches and then we did a farewell concert in August of that year. Jess was headed off to the seminary in Ft. Worth, the other guy was headed off to medical school, and I was not headed much of any place at all. I was married by then and working for a living.

            Jess and I kept up with each other while he was in seminary and then when he was a youth minister at a couple of churches. He would come out to dinner at our house and we would always get to singing. Sometime in the mid-80’s Jess got married. We still talked on the phone, but our lives were rather busy. I had two children by then and Jess would be blessed with his son in the early 90’s. The last time that I saw Jess was when we were both at a youth camp in the summer of 1991. He was the youth minister from one church, and I was the youth minister from another. During the next 28 years we talked on the phone many times, exchanged emails and comments on Facebook, and such, but we were both working and raising families as well as living in different states.

            That is until today. Jess and I had lunch together in The Woodlands today. The first time that we’ve seen each other face to face in over 28 years. As usual, I got to the restaurant first (I’m habitually early) and as I sat there waiting, I saw this gray-haired old man walking towards the restaurant. Well, I knew that face even if it had some wrinkles and the hair was a little thin. We gave each other a great big bear hug and spent the next hour visiting and eating lunch. At one point as Jess was talking, I closed my eyes and hearing his voice I could see that long-haired 19-year-old that got chased down the stairs by a pool table. The voice is still the same. We reminisced and enjoyed the opportunity to see each other again. Some friendships don’t ever fade away. My friendship with Jess is one of those. He’s 66 now and I’m 64. But for a few minutes today we were 19 and 17 again. I will always treasure his friendship and to say that I am proud of him doesn’t cover it. Jess has a wonderful sense of humor, can discuss the Bible with scholars and barely skip a beat and be talking to me about Neil Young or Steeley Dan. He is the kind of guy that the word friend was evented for. We parted today and Jess headed back to be with his father who is in hospice now. I know that he is a great comfort to his dad as his life winds down. As for me, I came home and took a nap. Hey, it’s a sign of the times! Seriously though, I consider it a great blessing to have a friend like Jess in my life. The best part of all of this is the sure knowledge that when this life is over, we’ll be enjoying Heaven together. I just hope there’s no pool tables to haul off!

Noseworthy Reflections

            My brother-in-law is sick. No, that’s not meant to say he’s demented or warped. He’s got some kind of crud. You know what I mean? His tenor voice is now a bass, his sinuses are completely out of whack, and his throat feels like a badly skinned knee. So, I’m not going anywhere near him or their house for the foreseeable future. No thank you! But while contemplating his condition, I remembered a couple of things from my childhood. Well, to be exact, three things. One of them has absolutely nothing to do with the other two, but there was a bird seed trail between them that I couldn’t seem to shake.

            Let’s talk about being noseworthy. When I was a child and I would get a stuffy nose (when my son was little he would say, “My nose is stomped up.”) and it was perhaps one of my least favorite things in the world. But there was a remedy. Yes, a remedy that only Mom could administer because Mom was the keeper of the medicine cabinet. There was this little greenish-brown bottle of magical liquid that was on the very top shelf of the cabinet that I couldn’t reach if my life depended on it. The bottle held within its darkened glass the remedy. It was known as “Nose Drops”. Remember, this was before nasal spray. Speaking of which, I seriously believe that nasal spray has greatly increased the number of sinus infections. Yes, it will clear up your sinus passages (“All 8 of them” as an early advertisement bragged), but too much is too much.

             Back to nose drops. A typical example of how things transpired in those days went something like this. I would have a cold or stopped-up sinuses and I would beg Mom for the remedy. She wasn’t uncaring. Not hardly. But for some reason she wouldn’t just use those nose drops willy-nilly. She had a job to do and part of that job was to allocate the remedy appropriately. After much complaining on my part she would finally tell me to lay down on the couch. I dutifully laid down on the couch and anxiously awaited the bliss that I knew would be coming my way within 5 minutes. Mom would go into the only bathroom we had in our house and retrieve that bottle of nose drops from the top shelf. She would come back to her impatient patient and give me two drops per nostril. At first, there was a slight stinging in my nose. Now, I have never done any kind of illegal drugs. But I’m guessing it must have been like the little needle prick a heroin addict feels right before the drug takes effect. I was told to stay on the couch for a couple of minutes with my head reclined. You didn’t have to tell me twice. I knew what bliss was headed my way. A couple of minutes would go by and I would sniff lightly at first and then I would take a deep breath through my nose. Ahhhhhh. It was noseworthy to be sure.

            Second, and this is the bird seed trail element of the story, was Mercurochrome. We called it “Monkey Blood”. I have no idea why. It was a dark red antiseptic liquid that Mom would apply to scrapes and cuts to aid in the healing process. Well, that was the story we were told. In those days the stuff contained mercury. You can’t buy it with mercury anymore. They figured out that mercury isn’t the best thing in the world for humans. But good ole Mercurochrome was another of those remedies of my childhood years. That’s the correlation. Oh, I will say that when Mom applied that “Monkey Blood” on a scrape or cut I would walk away doing an impression of a chimpanzee. You know, maybe there was something to that mercury poisoning thing!

            Third, here’s the other noseworthy issue. I used to get a bloody nose spontaneously. Nothing caused it such as a hit in the nose or whatever. I would just be sitting there, and blood would come trickling down from my nose. When I was little, it scared me which didn’t help at all. Mom would get a wet washcloth and make me lay with my head back and that cloth pressed on my nose. Sometimes it would take 15 minutes or so for the bleeding to stop. They checked me out for hemophilia, and we were told if I did have it, then it was a very light case. The funny thing about that is 40 years later I needed some minor surgery on my leg. They ended up not doing it because they found that I had low platelets. Go figure. Now I’m in my 60’s and the platelets are still low, but I have made it this far with low platelets and I see no reason why I can’t keep-a-going. I do wonder about a few things from those long-ago days. Did Monkey Blood cause low platelets? Probably not. I mean, it’s not like I took long baths in the stuff. Did those nose drops cause me harm? Probably not. The Good Lord knows I still have my nose in all of its splendid glory. I did some research on those drops (where would we be without Wikipedia?) and it basically caused the blood vessels in your nose to thin out and thereby lessen your stuffy nose. But, that kind of makes me wonder if there might be a correlation between the thinned blood vessels and the nose bleeds.

            My brain is hurting now thinking about it. So, I am going to stop for now. Who am I kidding? Long after I say I’ve stopped thinking about it and I post this blog entry I’ll still be thinking about it. Hey, maybe all that ailed and ails me was because of when we lived in a house in the southeast part of Houston. It was near one of the chemical plants. We didn’t live there long though because my parents became concerned when the pollution that spewed out from that plant caused the paint on our house to turn black and start peeling. Mom figured if it did that to the house, then what was it doing to us? I think I’ll go outside and breathe in some fresh country air.

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