Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Gifts that last

Well, Christmas is past - the debris has been cleaned from the living room and the trash man loaded and immense pile of "stuff" into his truck and it is all in that place where good trash goes to last forever.

Likewise the candy, cake, pie and other naughty goodies are pretty well gone as well. Good thing - I tried my best to live up to my diabetes regime but last Thursday the blood sugar was up almost to 300 -- unthinkable - never been that high and both my doctors (one civilian - the other VA) would have a fit had they known. Fortunately the next day it was back down to; normal - right where it should be - and usually is. Like I say, some things don't last.

But then there are practical books that last a year - and sometimes go into bookcases to be treasured for years to come. For instance, I loved a book that showed a whole flock of church signs bearing humorous admonitions why one should be a part of that congregation. Then there was another book gift that showed pictures of all kinds of outhouses. (Both of these books were from the same individual who either thought I had a warped sense of humor or had a warped sense of humor themselves. Maybe true in both cases.)

But the classic book (in a general sense) is the one that stays in the bathroom. I had a brother-in-law who subscribed to a magazine about ships - I spent a lot of time reading these magazines and when my brother-in-law passed away a number of years ago I inherted that stack of magazines and I still have them. Not in the bathroom - but I have them.

Well, this year I was give a book titled "Uncle Johns Endlessly Engrossing Bathroom Reader." It has all kinds of stories - long and short - serious and funny - and just stuff to while away the time doing whatever one does in the bathroom.

For instance, I didn't know this before: Barack Obama said, " I don't keep track of paper that well. My desk is a mess." Hey, I'm qualified to be president - MY desk is usually a mess - ask my beloved. But if I cleaned it up I couldn't find anything.

Billy Connolly is reported to have said, " Why do people say, 'It's always the last place you would look.' Of course it is - why would you keep looking after you found it?"

George Carlin commented one time: " Did you ever notice that people who say they don't care what other people think are usually desperate to have people think that they don't care what people think." Huh? That's enough to keep you thinking in the Loo for an extra five minutes or so.

Finally, a thought from one of my favorites, the late Lewis Grizzard: "Ever notice that the first thing you see at an airport is a big sign that says 'TERMINAL'? Then somebody says, 'Have a nice flight'."

Anyway, my endlessly engrossing bathroom reader will continue to fill my days with great wisdom. And the spirit of Christmas will last until next Christmas. And who knows what great book will appear on the scene next year?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

It's a Holiday - For Some People

The scene: the control room of radio station WHUC in Hudson New York. The subject: yours truly. The date and time: Christmas morning, December 25th, 1950 at about 9:30 or 10:00 in the morning. Which just goes to say, there are lots of people who don't spend Christmas morning - or maybe afternoon - at home with their family on Christmas day.

Fact of the matter is, I had to get up at around five in the morning to get to the station by six when we went on the air. I looked around the house - especially on the roof - for Santa's sleigh tracks and couldn't find any so maybe he wasn't going to make a stop until I got off the air at one in the afternoon. Or maybe I didn't have a positive spot on his list that year. But the fact remains, I was among those who never had a holiday - even at Christmas - or Thanksgiving - like everyone else.

So I want to recognize those people who might be taken for granted on Christmas. People who work in radio or television where the show must go on - even on holidays or in bad weather. (I remember opening up the station one morning after driving twenty miles on icy roads and even beat the engineer in, and he lived right in town).

But there are others more important than I was. People in law enforcement, or firemen. How about emergency rescue crews? How about people in the medical field - nurses, doctors, and others who provide care to those whose health depends on them? (Our youngest daughter has spent a lot of holiday time caring for people in a hospital. And I think of Christmas babies in neonatal where she worked for quite a while. She's earned the cruise she's on right now.)

So let this be a salute to those whose jobs dictate working when most people are celebrating. Like the old saying goes, "Somebody has to do it" and eventually there comes that time when they can celebrate just like everyone else. Only a little bit later.

Friday, December 18, 2009

No Room at the Inn

It was just before Christmas 1962 in Virginia. The aircraft carrier Enterprise had just returned from a tension-filled deployment off Cuba. Needless to say, the five-thousand men aboard ship were eager to get home to be with family and friends after a lengthy cruise in foreign waters.

One family was heading for Columbia County in upstate New York. The station wagon was loaded - the rack on top was filled with Christmas gifts, the five-hundred mile trip began around noon on Christmas eve and went well -- no bad weather, no major problems with traffic. By eight in the evening the family had driven through New Jersey, and had reached the New York State Thruway at Harriman.

At this point, the driver thought it wise to call home to let the folks know that they were only a couple hours away and would be home soon. The response to the call was unexpected: the voice on the other end of the line said, "You're so early - we're just not ready for you; you'll have to find some place to spend the night."

What a shock! What an unexpected turn of events within two hours of home. Then the driver said, "We'll do the best we can" and he returned to a wife and children (including a five-month-old infant) who were all tired and cranky from the four-hundred miles already driven since noon-time.

Driving north, they saw a major-chain motel sign at Newburg. Leaving the highway they pulled up to the motel and the nondescript drive in rumpled clothes entered the lobby. The desk clerk looked over his glasses and asked if he could be of help. The father asked if there was a room for two adults, four young children, and an infant. The desk clerk just looked at the young man and said, "Don't you know this is Christmas eve? We've been sold out for weeks. We're sorry, but there's no room at the inn". When asked if the clerk could suggest another motel or hotel, the desk clerk just shrugged his shoulders and said he had nothing to suggest.

Tension began to build in the car and, to top things off, the baby started to cry -she hadn't had a bottle in quite some time. It was nearly impossible to find a restaurant open on Christmas eve but finally a pizza restaurant was spotted and somehow they found a way to heat a bottle.

Traveling further north, and crossing the Hudson River a neon sign was seen glowing in in the sky over Poughkeepsie - a sign that simply said, "Hotel.'

Pulling up to the entrance, the exhausted family was ready to give up hope of a place to stay. Yet here there WAS room in the inn for the family. They checked into a very simple, no-frills room at almost precisely midnight on Christmas eve.

Thus the story of Christmas - the story of the inn with no room - the story of a family settling in to the simplest of accommodations came true in our time. To be sure, the family did not end up
in a stable but the hotel was one most people would have ignored under normal circumstances. In a way, the sign in the distance might well have been the Bethlehem star leading the way to a special place. In a sense, this became a miracle story in our own time.

It turned out to be a wonderful Christmas - a great family reunion - and a very positive experience. But I will never forget that Christmas eve, since, as you might guess.......the family trying to find room at the inn was mine. Now, as Paul Harvey might have put it, you have the rest of the story.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Who Would Have Believed?

It was fifty-six years ago this week. Joyce and I were married on December 19, 1953 - in the middle of the last century. Who would have believed that it would have lasted so long? And be a 'happily-ever-after' story.
If anything could have gone wrong the wedding had every reason to not happen. I was stationed at Wright Patterson AFB and commuted to Detroit several times before the wedding. We went for our blood test and believe it or not I passed out in the doctor's office. That should have been Joyce's first warning. On the way from Dayton to the wedding - on a Saturday (I think) my trusty Studebaker Commander began to cough on every grade. Ever tried to find a car repair shop open on Saturday? But I did and it cost me a significant amount to replace a frozen fuel pump. We didn't have a church and a sister-in-law fixed us up with her Lutheran pastor. At the church I froze and the best man had to give me a shove to go out and join the bride. We (and her parents) survived the wedding and the reception was in the basement of one of Joyce's sisters homes - in fact, you can see the furnace and huge heating duct up over our head in the faded old reception picture above. During the reception Joyce's Dad drew me aside and asked a delicate question: "Do you have anywhere to stay tonight? Oooops - I knew I would forget something!
So Joyce's brother Jim and I went out and tracked down a motel and I never stopped to think. Jim knew where we would be and all I could think about was that we might be subjected to an old fashioned chivaree. Never happened, thank goodness.
The next day we headed out on a honeymoon, got about thirty miles out of town and realized we didn't have much money - it was either a honeymoon or the first month's rent - so we turned around and stayed with one of her aunts and I spent the Christmas holidays working with another brother-in-law installing TV antennas - in December - in Detroit - in the wintertime.
We left for Dayton around the 1st of January and found our first apartment. One bedroom with a fridge in corner of the bedroom and a hotplate in the closet and we shared a bathroom with five other couples. A bathroom in which the plumbing groaned and howled every time it was used. And a bed that had a tendency to collapse. And a landlady who asked if we were alright and for us not to knock any more plaster off her downstairs ceiling.
We lasted a month or so in Dayton and were transferred to Rantoul, Illinois, and Sacramento, California, and to Tucson, Arizona, and Niagara Falls, New York and so on and on and on.
That's not the story of our life but it's how it started. Who would have believed it would last so many years - and we would still be civil to each other? Who would have believed?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Some Things Never Change

The picture might as well have been taken yesterday - but fact of the matter is, it was taken a year ago on December 10, 2008. I drove to the store yesterday in a virtual whiteout and it might as well have been a repeat of last year. What's more, our temperature was 9 above zero and it isn't even winter yet

I've never been overly troubled by winter weather although my beloved hates it. From the time I was a child I loved to play in the snow and now at 82 I guess I still do.

That reminds me of an episode in the late sixties when we lived in St. Charles, Missouri. We had a major snowstorm and the children wanted to go sleigh-riding. Only problem was, we didn't have a sled and we were low on money. So I decided to build one.

I went down in the basement of the house to look for materials. There was some hardware, some two-by-fours, a four foot slab of wood, some tin, and some clothes-line. In an hour or two I had a sled of sorts with tin on two-by-four runners and it looked like it would work.

The sled was loaded in the car and off we went to the local sledding hill. When we took it out of the car we got a lot of weird looks from other people, but hey, it was a sled - a bit like an old bob sled we had back in the early 1940's. But we had not figured on deep snow and a good-size hill and the sled was heavy. I mean REALLY heavy. But we eventually got it to the top of the bill and got four of us on it.

Would you believe, it worked like a charm. Between the weight of the sled and the riders it went through the snow like a flash.

I'm not sure how many more times we used it but it was a conversation piece every time we went out. I don't think we took it with us when we moved - maybe we got enough money to buy a real sled (or sleds) but for that season it gave us fun making it and we got a lot of use out of it. Most of all, it was a family project - several of us pitched in to make it and it took every rider pulling it to get it to the top of the hill.

Come to think of it. there probably might have been no better time to have come up with a rope tow like they had (and maybe still have) at ski slopes. Reminds me that if you are saturated in, lemons it's time to make lemonade. Except when you are saturated in snow and don't have a sled. And there's scrap wood in the basement. The important thing was that we had a lot of fun in the process. Family fun. And a lot better than today staying in the house playing computer games but I guess kids today might not agree. Oh, well.......

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Something out of yesterday

At the moment the sun is out and the temperature is in the forties. It's been that way for weeks it seems, but old man winter is bound to hit us one of these days. And we'll see scenes like this all too soon. But the picture to the left reminds me of our winters back in new York so many years ago.
I guess it goes with getting older. You sit and reflect on where you were and what you did years ago. Many years ago. And it's not all bad.
A couple of weeks ago Joyce's brother and I did something I haven't done in a very, very long time. We drove out to a tree farm a few miles north of where we live to seek out a Christmas tree for their house. We found a beauty and left it in the field adorned with a ribbon so he can go back and cut it and bring it home a bit closer to Christmas. That is, if we don't have a storm like the picture and we can't make it back through the wilderness road to the tree farm.
It reminded me of when I was in the sixth or seventh grade and we lived out in the country. One day my father told me to get my snow gear on - that we were going after our Christmas three. Not at some community or city Christmas tree lot but several miles out in the wilderness.
We loaded a toboggan in the back of the station wagon and Dad, Uncle Ralph my brother and I
drove up the snow-cover back roads to the forest. I was glad for my high-top boots but even at that the snow still was over my knees and it was close to Roger's hips (I think we ended up loading him on the toboggan and pulling him. It was always a challenge trying to fine just the right height tree with just the right shape. We finally found what seemed to be the perfect tree, loaded it on the toboggan, and struggled to pull it to the car. Wouldn't you know - when it was cut down the tree turned out to be close to 10 feet high (our house ceilings were around 8 feet) and it wouldn't fit in or on the car. So we had to go through a trimming process before we even headed home. But it was one of those very special trees - not just simply a Christmas tree but the perfect one right out of the woods.
We didn't have snow the day we went out look ing for Jim's but it was a very special time looking through all the trees in the lot and the best part was tramping through the farm looking for it.
I've gotten a lot of trees from city lots and it took a lot of eyeballing to try to get the perfect tree.
I wasn't always successful at that - there was a time when we lived in North Carolina I came home with what I thought was a beauty. Joyce took one look at it and asked, "Did you nreally look closely at this tree?" I said I had, and she said it had two trunks - the trunk had split part way up. I said we could put an agel on one trunk and a star on the other and she gave me one of those looks. She said to the children, "Let's go get a REAL Christmas tree" and off they went. Meanwhile my tree remained outside leaning up against the back of the house until spring - or summer - or the next Christmas perhaps. I don't think I searched out another Christmas tree
ever again - at least until Jim and I went out to the tree farm a couple of weeks ago. I didn't hear Joyce say anything to Jim but I'll be she was hoping Jim would pick his own and not leave the choice to me.
And our fiber-optic tree doesn't light up any more.What do WE do this year? You can bet sure dollars she won't send me out by myself after a new one.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Over the River and Through the Woods......

......to grandmother's house we go. That's the way it was for us in the 1930's and it is what is happening for so many people this weekend. And that's my grandmother's house to the left. It's the house my mother grew up in and it holds a lot of memories.

The house was built between 1900 and 1910 and is still looking good after a hundred years. And looking much the same (except for color) as it did when we made our annual Thanksgiving treks to Tuckahoe, New York. Or was it Yonkers? The house stands atop a hill halfway between the two cities and though the mail address was Tuckahoe it seemed as though we were closer to Yonkers to the west. And to top that, I went to school at School Number 8 in Bronxville. Figure that out if you can.

Thanksgiving was a ritualistic thing at "Gangie's" house. If we lived in Mount Vernon, or Fleetwood, or Shrub Oak, New York, or Ramsey, New Jersey, we'd load up the car early Thanksgiving morning and be at my grandmother's house by nine in the morning. The kitchen would already be emitting wonderful odors and the men (and boys) would be told to get out from underfoot. So the tradition was for all the men to walk several miles along the New York City aqueduct. We'd leave by ten in the morning and get back to the house by one-thirty or two in the afternoon hungry as could be and little fellers like me would be worn out before we even sat down to eat.
When "Gangie" would let me ring the Chinese gong everyone (including several boarders who helped keep the house financially afloat in the Depression years) trooped into the huge dining room to a table overloaded with the finest Thanksgiving dinner this side of heaven. And we would eat - and eat - and eat. It was a wonderful Thanksgiving in the finest American tradition.
And I would ride back home in the back seat of whatever 1930's car we had and sleep the whole thing off.
Once in a while we'd have a Thanksgiving surprise. Something like a major snowstorm. I remember one that was so severe that no one could drive home and so we camped out at the house on the hill until the next day - surviving on what dinner was left. But also enjoying sledding on the hills in seven or eight inches of snow (or more)
So for those of you who have the opportunity to have the family gather together - have a wonderful Thanksgiving. Treasure your family time together. Fifty or sixty years from now you will treasure the memory.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Want to See My Etchings?

There used to be a story about the lover boy who invited his girlfriend up to his apartment to see his etchings. It didn't take long for his girl friends to get the idea that he wasn't just thinking about etchings.

Well, I thought I'd invite you to our house to see some pretty neat etchings. Only thing is, it isn't etchings - it's Joyce's collection of staples from last Tuesday's knee replacement surgery. All fifteen of them.

And she didn't give me a lot of static about taking the picture. I guess she is being cooperative because she is somewhat dependent on me for help with therapy, doing laundry, cooking, making the bed, and a few other things that I might not have thought about.

She is doing amazingly well - is able to bend her knee almost 90 degrees (with a little bit of help) and is able to get around the condo quite well with her balloon-equipped four wheel drive walker. And she says there 's no pain to speak of other than that which I create when I push her on some of her exercises. And the stitches come out next Monday.

She's an amazing patient but then, I've thought she has been amazing for quite a few years.

And now, it's into the kitchen to make lunch. (Now you know why this blog is pretty short)

Friday, November 6, 2009

Oh, My! It's Christmas Time Again

The annual overload of Christmas catalogs has begun again. Started a few weeks ago in fact --
but it's getting serious now. And it isn't even
It used to be that Christmas promotions didn't start until the big Turkey Day Parades (Macy's,
Hudson's, and so on) but I think Christmas is kept in mind the year round now. (It is at the greatest Christmas store in the world -- Bronners in Frankenmuth, Michigan which DOES celebrate Christmas year round.) I even heard one of the local children suggesting that maybe we should move December 25th up to November 25th so that Christmas and Thanksgiving can be celebrated at the same time. And there are those who push the "Christmas in July" sales. Where's the real meaning of Christmas any more?
I'm thinking of how church services and the celebration of Christ's birthday have tended to become secondary. Routine. So many times the only time you see certain people in church are at Christmas and Easter and that there isn't any need for people to celebrate God any other times of the year. Does going to church twice a year make people any better? Does it give people a closer tie to God? A time to pay God's dues from time to time?
But there's something else missing nowadays. Family stuff. Like putting a ginger-bread house together. Or stringing popcorn and cranberries for the Christmas tree. Or making loops out of colored paper to be strung on the tree as well. Or making presents for others - our eldest daughter loves to do that. It's so much better when a gift is not store bought
I like to look at catalogs - but I can do that anytime. Always have. Always will. But I wish that they weren't so focused on Christmas.
Oh, about the picture - some traditions ARE still alive. People do still use advent calendars opening a little flap or door every day until Christmas. Or, as happened at our youngest daughter's house last Christmas - put together a ginger bread house a day or two before Christmas - even if the ginger bread house disappeared in to the mouth of a dog (or two) within minutes after it was built when no one was watching. So what if the dogs threw up - after all, it's a time of great joy - or so they say.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

And you always thought it was the pumpkin

As this is written, it's Halloween - that very special time for ghosts and goblins. And costume-clad little kids carrying sacks to be loaded with candy and other treats. But it has never been limited to little kids like Margaret O'Brien in the movie "Meet Me In St. Louis."
Remember the scene? She was with a gang of kids - she was the smallest - and was pushed up to the door of the meanest man on the street so he could end up with a faceful of flour?
No, Halloween was for teenage boys as well - and I remember the occasion(s) well.
There was a time when a fender of a 1930's car was run up the flagpole in the center of our village. One year someone put a farm wagon on top of the Methodist church - another year a surrey was placed on top of the shed behind the church - in those days some churches had sheds where church folk could leave their horses and buggies during the church services.
It was a tradition at Halloween to soap up windows but the town leaders got a better idea - why not have a contest and let school children make a supervised project of fancy paintings on store windows using a base of Bon Ami to help with the cleaning when the season was past. I even did that with Christmas paintings on mirrors on our homes and once on a display window
in an Italian hotel in the mid-fifties. Lovers of art as they are, the folks in the town loved the American contribution to the Christmas season in their town.
We always had a Halloween parade in town and the high school band (all 8 or ten of them) was featured. Half the band was percussion as I recall but we made a joyful noise unto the community just the same.
One time I remember some of the boys loading up a big trash can with old, dried up highly flammable nitrate movie film, setting the barrel in front of the firehouse, and torching it off.
It provided the best explosion and fire in several years and and the firemen were not impressed.
Appreciative that they didn't have to take the truck out - but not happy just the same.
However, the real symbol of Halloween was not the pumpkin. While in grade school the thrill was making jack-o-lanterns. But when we became teenagers it became the season of the outhouse. The more outhouses that could be tipped the better - and if we could tip one with someone in it, all the better. Sadly, the outhouse is gone along with steam locomotives but memories still remain for some old guys who remember the day of the outhouse. There's a book that memorializes the "necessary house": Nature Calls by Dottie Booth and published by Ten Speed Press. It's a history book worth looking at.
But my father was smarter than many teenagers -- when we finally got running water in our house he invited our fire department to a beer bust in our back yard - and in the process told them they could have a training event by burning down the outhouse. A good time was had by all except the teenagers the following Halloween -- after all, outhouses were meant for teenagers at Halloween - not firemen at a beer bust. Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Know where this is? And When?

Back in the last century - in my Air Force days (or years) (I spent a tour of duty at Lowry Air Force Base. I loved Colorado and it was nice to be back there this past summer.
However, since 1952 and 1953 a lot of things have changed in the Denver area.
There is no Lowry AFB anymore. It was closed down a number of years ago and most of the base facilities are gone.
However, the humongous hangar (or hangars) are still there and are the core of the Air Museum of the Rockies - well worth a visit. I've wondered if the old Base Headquarters building has been retained - it was a beautiful building with a Spanish
touch to its architecture. Looking at air photos of the area on
Google shows the huge "Brick Barracks" still there - not far from Hangar One. It held several squadrons including my 'open bay' instructor squadron, a small base exchange, and a dining hall. Even the facilities of the summer White House of Eisenhower's day, and remains of the earliest days of the Air Force Academy are no longer there. Most of the base has been done away with to allow building of new subdivisions. But memories of Lowry stay with me and good memories of Denver.
I remember a New Years eve when I went downtown to take pictures of all the Christmas lights on the Civic Center from the steps of the State Capitol. The next day we were driving around Denver in a Pontiac convertible with the top down. Weather in Denver was hard to predict. I roller skated at a rink in Englewood not far from the Gates Tire Company factory. I filled in occasionally as an announcer at KGNC - a country music station. I skied weekends on the base ski team and ended up on Sunday evenings in snake dances down the main drag of Idaho Springs or at a pub atop Lookout Mountain, looking down over Golden, Colorado. We had great times at Lakeside Park and Elitch's Garden where they had big bands of the time at their dance pavilions.
And we would take trips to other places in the area. Like the picture above where several of us spent part of a day at Royal Gorge. I couldn't easily handle crossing the Royal Gorge bridge today because of a problem with vertigo but in those days I had little fear (if any) of heights.
As I suggested earlier, a lot of what I remember is gone. Stapleton Airport has been replaced. Elitch's has moved closer to downtown. The electric buses no longer run the distance from downtown Denver to Aurora. Time changes a lot and Denver has become a big town and really sprawls. It has a problem with smog. It has problems with traffic. But in a lot of ways, Denver will never change. And some of us who lived there many years ago remember it as a special place with special memories. And that is good.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Somethings you simply accept in faith

It's been a year and a half since I retired from the pastoral ministry at Whittemore UMC.
It was a wonderful three years and I have missed it. In some ways. I miss the people and the personal aspects of being a pastor under appointment. The people of the church - each individually - became a part of my extended family and it was a deep personal loss when we
were not part of their family.

I was asked to go back there last Sunday to share a Communion service and it was really wonderful tom get back if even for one day. For a couple of weeks before I worked hard to
develop a message that would be meaningful. I finally came up with one that I titled "All In
the Family" but it was not oriented toward the Archie Bunker TV series. Instead, I borrowed from Bill Gaither music - a song called "The Family of God" It goes (in part) like this:

"You will notice we say 'brothers and sisters' round here
It's because we're a family and these are so near;
When one has a heartache, we all share the tears,
And rejoice in each victory, in this family so dear."

We walked into the church last Sunday morning a little early and it felt like 'Old Home' week. It didn't take long for the choir director to ask if I'd sing with them like in the old days. "Sure," I said and I wandered back to where they practiced - and what do you know -- they were singing................"The Family of God." "Oops," I said, "You guys just took care of my sermon for the morning!" They said, they could sing something else but I said, "No, I think this will fit in just great."

I think the amazing part was that both of us were thinking of the same thing at the same time. I'd like to think that God was in control that Sunday morning - that we all were focused on the same thing. That we're part of God's family - and it's wonderful.

"I'm so glad I'm a part of the Family of God
Washed in the fountain, cleansed by his blood,

Joint heirs with Jesus, as we travel this sod

for we're all part of the family - The Family of God"

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

But Dad, You Don't Understand........

That's what son Son Jeff said to me twenty or so years ago.

"But Dad, you don't understand. Things are different nowadays." And so they are.
I suspect one of his children (and maybe some other grandchildren) will say to others
of our children in the years or decades ahead. I have to agree that things are not today
what they were when I was growing up. And I worry about changes we've experienced and
I worry about what changes lie ahead for our children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.

I've just finished reading book titled "Marching Home" written by Kevin Coyne. It begins
toward the end of the Great Depression in the late 1930's and focuses on six young men growing up in Freehold, New Jersey. They become sailors, soldiers, and airmen in World War Two, survive, and come back home again after the war. Then the book offers a narrative of their lives after the war -- the changes that went on on in their town in post-war years - manufacturing plants closing - their rural atmosphere being converted to a bedroom community - and the changes in priorities that became part of society from the mid-sixties up to recent years.
And yes, things have changed but as some might say, "That's life".

My wife talks about her growing up years in Detroit. At one time her house was the only house on the street - by the time I met her it was wall-to-wall homes and today the crowded
housing spreads for miles and miles west and the environment of where she grew up has radically changed. I think of when a major retailer put up a store outside of a town where we
lived and the home-town stores in the town center fell by the wayside. Small mom-and-pop stores fell by the wayside and major chain management from out of state got rich at the cost of home town life. You've got to have lived in a time when Main Street was just what the name implies - the main center of town where families and friends gathered to shop and visit and live a life that was personal and neighborly. I have a hunch that some of our children don't know what I'm talking about because they, for the most part, have let modern lifestyle and values become a way of life. Yes, times are different and I probably don't understand why our values and priorities have gone the way they have because the priorities fifty years ago were pretty good.

So what's the difference? We (as a nation) has deteriorated. In business. In personal values. In moral values. In national pride. In politics. And it's not getting better. In some ways it is live for today - who cares about tomorrow -- tomorrow will take care of itself. But what will tomorrow bring?

Coyne's book says this: "The small town is no longer the typical American way of life. Today's society is increasingly mobile, urban, impersonal, anonymous; it is no longer capable of enforcing its moral and behavioral codes simply by force of community opinion.....today thousands of Americans live in fear -- crime is our nations number one internal problem."
To go a step further, we've lost our sense of values and have embraced a life of permissiveness.

When I was a teenager I don't think I worried about what the world might become in fifty years. I might have said to MY father, "Dad, You don't understand. Things are different from when you were growing up." The older I get, and the more years that pass, the more concern I have for what my children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren will experience forty or fifty years from now. And I wonder if they will feel the same way I do today.

By the way, the town Coyne talked about is Bruce Springsteen's home town. I wonder what he thinks of the world today.

I pray for our children and their children in the years ahead.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

That's Life

It was bound to happen.

The first time I noticed it was out the AMTRAK train window week ago. I think it was at Dowagiac, Michigan. The leaves on a tree were turning.

Then, after we got home last Friday, I noticed that one of the trees outside the condo was turning (see picture at left) and realized that Summer is just about in the past tense. But that's life. Sooner or later we get to Fall and Winter.

Like I said, that's life.

I sat back and thought about the seasons of life. For instance, as a sixth grader I would swing in the swings out behind our two-room school and marvel at the lush new growth of green leaves as Spring emerged in upstate New York. Or the time my mother and I headed overnight by train from Buffalo to New York City in the nineteen thirties to go to a funeral. In Buffalo it was still cold and bleak with some snow still on the ground and the next morning New York City was flaunting flowers and new growth on the trees.

Then I thought about summer - of following a horse-drawn hay wagon to load new-mown hay,
and then transferring the hay to the loft in the barn. Or sitting under a porch at our house watching lightning playing across the sky during a wild thunder storm

Then I took a moment or two to recall what New York autumns were like. Like the leaves changing from a faded green to yellows, reds, oranges. Or the mists filling the valley and the chills of first-of-the-season frosts and apples ripening on the trees.

And there was New York winter - sometimes requiring snowshoes to get down the hill from our house. Zero - or below temperatures. A mile each way to walk to school. And stark tree limbs grasping for the sky and maybe in prayer for the new life that comes with Spring.

I tend to do a lot of reminiscing but it goes beyond memories alone. I tend to think that's part of life and it is challenging to be reminded that at my age I've gone through the birth and new life of Spring. That's childhood. There were the teenage and young adult years - the rich life comparable to summer time. Then came the retirement years -the years when everything began to slow down and one has a tendency to realize that even in human life there is a point when our "leaves start changing colors, and fade, and fall away." And all we have to look forward to is the winter of life when we wonder what tomorrow might have for us.

Perennial optimist that I am, I like to think life does not end with winter - we always have Spring to look forward to with the new potentials tomorrow holds. And if life doesn't make it through winter, reflect in one way or another on all the good things we have seen and done. And hopefully made the best of life and shared the best of our life in making the world a better place. And hopefully sharing something good and beautiful with others.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that for everyone and everything there is a season. never waste where you are - make the best of life - and be thankful for what God has given us. And hopefully we've given God the best we have had to offer.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Stilll in Chicago

You never know what can happen in Chicago. Especially when you are living 37 stories up and have vertigo. Or at least have mind or body reactions to height.

Anyway, I was glancing out the wall-to-wall window this morning and all of a sudden a helicopter flew by at our balcony level. Didn't have a camera in hand but it was awesome to see what I believe was a Coast Guard helicopter flying past our window as it flew up the Chicago River.

Last year we had a wonderful time watching the annual Air show - awesome as well with all kinds of airplanes flying low along Lake Michigan and close to the Hancock building. One day we watched the air show from the top of this building (60th floor) and then the next day we went to the Navy Pier at Lake Michigan and watched the whole show all over again from a different view. If one likes airplanes - as I do - it was a great show. So, I'm not going to say much more - I'm just going to show some photos from that weekend.

Oh, one other thing - State Street in Chicago must be a main connection for police cars, fire engines, and ambulances. Oh, my, there goes another one now! And within five minutes or so there'll be another. But you get used to it after a while. I suppose.
I sure enjoy Chicago. But maybe you've already gotten that idea.

What Happens in Chicago Stays in Chicago -- sometimes

As this is written we're 37 stories up in a corncob condo building overlooking the Chicago River. I've never thought I would enjoy the hustle and bustle of a downtown area of a major city but I really enjoy Chicago.

We left Oscoda very early Sunday morning and drove to Durand, Michigan to catch an AMTRAK train to Chicago. I love going by train - no strain - no pain - no heavy city driving - no high speed traffic on Interstate highways. Just go business class and sit back and watch the world go by. You get into Chicago around noon - and leave for home around four in the afternoon whenever you've worn out you welcome in Amy and Vic's condo. And we always have a really good time.

The picture this blog is one that goes back a couple of trips but it is one of my favorites of all our trip photos. It was taken in the former Marshall Field (now Macy's) a few blocks south of the condo building. Two devious girls having a good time. But that's what our trips are all about - at least I like to think that's the case. This time we went to a movie ("Julie and Julia") which was excellent especially when Julia Child's "French Chef" TV program fell right in the middle of our adult lifetime. WE also went to an Italian restaurant up State street from where we stay in Chicago, and rode a subway/elevated railroad from the Loop to O'Hare Airport - which consumed he better part of 2 hours round trip. Oh, Joyce had to make a stop at her favorite store for chocolate (Ghiradelli's) which is right across the street from competitor Hershey's.

If you like to shop Chicago is wonderful although I have yet to see much that is heap. There's virtually nothing cheap in Chicago but, hey, where is anything really cheap anymore.

On other visits we've gone to museums, parks, the Navy pier which has a little of most everything, and stage shows. What a wonderful place to be!

Most important, it is great to be with family and we do a lot of laughing. And evensympathize when a barbecue grill goes up in flames. Poor Vic really struggled Sunday evening but the steaks and crab legs and Swedish meat balls were great. Who needs to go to a restaurant when one can eat in luxury at home?

Anyway, this is a vote of thanks to Amy and Vic for always making us feel at home in Chicago.
It's always a trip that is special and ends up with fun stuff -- even liked the picture this time.
I just wonder what our mothers would have thought when they saw that picture. Guess we'll never know.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sometimes I Just Don't Understand

I received a small package in the mail a few days ago. Addressed to me - not to us. Me. And I was left wondering, "Why Me, Lord?"

It was from our youngest and I wondered: "Did she read this book herself before sending it? Did she see something in it about me? Have I got a problem coping I wasn't aware of?

Anyway, I read it through in about one sitting and I enjoyed it. Erma Bombeck (bless her deceased soul) has been one of my favorites for years. Much better humor than Karl Rove or Bob Woodward - but not quite as much of the reality of family growth. Along with Erma Bombeck there was Lewis Grizzard (also deceased but hey, his books like "Come Home Billy Bob Bailey" live on as classics of southern edification) and Tom
Bodette who continues on with lights being left on at Motel 6.
To be sure, Tom no longer writes about Alaska, but he does a great job of exposing the lifestyle of northern Vermont.

I've been accused of warping the young minds of our children. That goes back to my love of Spike Jones and Smothers Brothers music but that's not all bad. In fact, I've been accused of occasionally continuing a weird outlook on life even today. Better that than living in a world of negatives or filth.

With that in mind, Maybe that is why Lisa sent me the book on coping. I've coped with a lot in life. I've coped with being fired a few times. I've coped with work that uprooted me and the family more times than I like to think of. I've coped with children growing past the age of Lisa's and somehow making it into adulthood without too many scars. And now I'm coping with retirehood when I always enjoyed being productive and creative. And trying to figure out what day of the week it is - what day of the month it is - and how long it will be before the next retirement check comes in.

Well, I still wonder if Lisa read the book before she sent it to me. You see, she is at that age the book is talking about. Her daughter is named Jill (just like the book) and her boys are a lot like those in the book. And there are a few similarities between the book husband and Lisa's husband. I can't ignore the book telling about a friend who is always first to a party and last to leave and hovers in the kitchen offering little if any help. Lisa has one of those too.

I look back to 1979 when the book was published and realized that we (mommy and me) were past the stage in Bombecks book - but we were coping then and are coping now. Trying to get from Monday to Friday in twelve days. Sort of reminds me of something the kids used to ask: "Are we there yet?" At this phase I have a problem figuring out where there is. But
I'm coping the best I can.

Thank you Tom Bodett, Lewis Grizzard, Erma Bombeck - and so many others who lighten up my life. And thanks to Lisa as well - she's helping me cope with another 12 day week ahead.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

60 Some Years After the Fact

I think it was in August 1946. I might have been standing in the doorway to the left.. You see, I had run away to join the Cole Brothers Circus and I ended up spending a day working in the cook wagon. That's what you see at the left - the cook wagon of the Kelly Miller Circus which rolled into our town late last night or early this morning and will leave town tonight or tomorrow morning.

Sixty or so years ago this month I heard that the Cole Brothers Circus was going to be in a nearby town and I decided to watch it come in. I didn't really mean to run away from home but, hey, there's a charisma to the circus - even a small one.It would be the adventure of a lifetime. In late evening I expected to see at least one or two trucks roll in.. However, nobody showed up until around dawn and I had a terrible nights sleep in the grandstand of the fairgrounds where the great (certainly not the GREATEST) show on earth was to set up. When the trucks began to roll in, I wandered up to see the big top go up. Somebody called out, "Hey, kid - want some work?" The cook wagon sounded a lot better that shoveling elephant poop so I said sure and immediately found myself cooking eggs and burning bacon. They let me eat a bite or two and then it was back to sweating over a hot griddle.

Any thought I had of seeing the big top go up went up in smoke - I slaved in that cook wagon right up to six in the afternoon when somebody handed me a couple of free (did I say free?) passes. I hadn't seen anything of the circus stars except when they ate, or the setting up of various tents. Never saw any of the animals. Just worked up a sweat over that hot griddle.

By the time the day was over all I wanted to do was to go home and sleep for a week or more. I vowed I never wanted to see another circus. Until today.

The folks at today's circus invited anybody who was interested to come at nine in the morning and watch the big top go up complete with an elephant pulling up tent poles. Finally I had my chance - I could visit the cook tent and visit with the cook telling her she had my sympathy - and she responded with a smile - "It's hard work but someone has to do it." I replied, "Yeah, I know what you're talking about - I served my time (a day that seemed like an eternity) sixty years ago.

So go my memories of the circus. And I finally got to see what I didn't see back in the last century. And I did not volunteer to work in the cook tent.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Here's Looking At You

The picture was taken at a motel in Canyon City, Co. It was taken not long before the big disappointment of the train ride cancellation but hey - sometimes you win - sometimes you lose and I still have the hat and the smile.

Thought I would review the trip with a few thoughts. Like high points, low points, etc.

For instance, the high expectation: see family and exciting places.
The big downer: Linda having to go home.
The big surprise: Theodore Roosevelt National Park
The big disappointment: Not getting to ride the Royal Gorge train
The dumbest thing: leaving stuff at motels
The most awesome: Grand Canyon
The most beautiful: Yellowstone Falls
The most laughs: with Greg and Michelle
The most worrisome: People that got caught up in significant illness
The hottest: Needles California to Albuquerque, NM
The stormiest: Bismarck, ND and driving into Albuquerque
The most peaceful: Redwood Forest, CA
The town I liked best: Ennis, MT
The town I liked least: Seattle (traffic)
The most heartwarming: family reunion in Arlington, WA
The best food: Mexican restaurant in Jamestown, ND
The worst restaurant: California restaurant in Lone Pine, California
The most challenging roads: Oregon and California coast (US-101)
The most impressive: The Spruce Goose at Evergreen Museum, Oregon
The most frustrating: highway construction. Now, if I can only get
The wealthiest area: Lake Tahoe
The poorest area: Along US-395 in California (desert areas)
The best motel chain: Days Inn
The most disappointing motels: Super 8
The most satisfying: Gas mileage with our Dodge Caliber

There may be more but my mind is slow this morning. It was a wonderful trip and great to be
with family a significant amount of time. But next time it will be by plane or train. Now, on
to video editing.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Murphy's Law

As this is written we are Salina, Kansas well on the way home. It has been a grand trip not withstanding a few glitches here and there - including a few that were life threatening. No fatalities but really challenging. It just goes to prove that if something can go wrong, it will.

How about one of our first motels where a shower fitting blasted water everywhere except on the body. The motel said "sorry about that" - and that was all there was to that.

Just after we left our eldest son's house in Washington - we were on the road to Oregon when we heard about it - Jeff went to the emergency room with a kidney stone. Having endured one some years ago I really felt major pangs of sympathy because it is a horrible experience.

Another day or so I the three of us lost some lines of communication and left a small bag in a motel
in Florence, Oregon. Wouldn't be a major thing except it had all my medication and diabetes glucometer and some other stuff of some significance. I usually leave some money in that bag but thankfully, the money was in another bag. We contacted the motel and asked them to ship it to our home. We tried to get the prescriptions transferred from the pharmacy back home to a
similar chain store in South Lake Tahoe but the Tahoe store did not have a pharmacy. Solved the dilemma by going to an urgent care clinic where I got prescriptions to cover the rest of the trip.

Then we got word that Linda's husband ended up in the hospital with a serious blood pressure problem. But we got word after we left the Tahoe area for Needles, California. It was serious enough that Linda became convinced the needed to fly home. Were we to cut the trip short and drive back to Minnesota as quickly as possible? Then we figured it would be faster for her to fly.
But there were no connections out of Needles which meant another day on the road so she could fly out of Albuquerque which allowed her visit to Grand Canyon (a primary reason for her going on the trip in the first place). When we got to Albuquerque we fought a terrible rain storm in the dark and Joyce managed to get us to the hotel with not much help from me (I have now come to the conclusion that no matter what I said, the GPS lady never failed us and I better listen to her more closely).

Linda got a 4:45am transfer to the airport where her flight (I won't say what airline it was) was delayed because of a missing flight attendant) Once airborne, and about 15 minutes into the flight there was a bang and the pilot (not saying what had happened) announced that the flight was returning to Albuquerque. At any rate, Linda made it back to Minneapolis safely albeit a little late. Oh, and by the way, most of her souvenirs and other bags will be shipped back from Oscoda when we get home. Assuming all goes well between here and there.

Well, the latest was when we got to Canyon City, Colorado and experienced a major rain storm.
This morning we checked in for the Royal Gorge train ride. Half an hour so later a voice over the PA system announced that our train ride was canceled because of a storm-induced rock slide that blocked the tracks in the canyon. Couldn't wait to see if the tracks would be cleared for the 1230 departure so we got an earlier start back home than planned and a nice refund of the fare for the trip. Got pictures of the train -- and a commercial video so we'll be able to see what we might have seen.

I may have something but this was enough. Tomorrow it's on to Indianapolis - Murphy's Law
not withstanding.

Oh, about the picture - Joyce wanted to have some warm weather. The dashboard thermometer indicates an outside air temp of 108. But wait - a little bit later it went up
to 112. I'm ready for some cooler weather.

See you next time with the next exciting chapter.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Hello Down there

Leave it to our youngest son to give us the thrill of the trip. Probably everything from here on will be a downhill experience. (Figuratively and literally)
We have had a lot of mountain driving on this thrip. The picture will give you an idea of a little of what what we have experienced. Narrow two lane roads winding, twisting roads often with construction in the worst locations. And I do not like heights which doesn't even approach what Joyce thinks. I think she cringed on the floor a couple of times when we were on some particularly challenging stretches. We thought there were some challenging roads on I-90m going to Washington. But it was even more challenging along the Oregon and California coasts.
The roads were challenging in the Redwood Parks of Northern California. The super wide
I-80 over Donner Pass was not so bad in itself but there was a lot of consthruction which was

The last couple of days we have been at Lake Tahoe - about 7,000 feet above sea level. We have had a great time visiting son Greg and family and it was Greg that gave us the greatest thrill of all. Yesterday he took us further up - MUCH further up - to an overlook where we could see Emerald Bay. It was all very beautiful until we came to a two lane stretch of road that went along a ridge way up -- way WAY WAY WAY up looking straight down on both sides of the road. No guard rails. And I throughly panicked.

Well, as I said, there's no where to go but down from here unless we take that road again and I'll never ever do that agon unless I'm blindfolded and nobody says "Hey, look down there!"

But I must thank Greg for the greatest thrill I can ever remember. He really presented us with the reatest thrill of the whole trip. And if I repeated myself it's because it was just that. Today it's off the mountain to see Virginia City.

Fortunately I have video of the entire trip so we will see yesterdays views layet. I'm not sure what I saw yesterday when I was cringing on the front seat floor.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

2800 miles from Michigan

We made it safely to Arlington, Washington despite innumerable mountain passes -- twisty,

twisty mountain passes with 75 mph speed limits on the interstate highways. But the trip

has been worth every mile we've put behind us

In my last blog I mentioned the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. I still marvel at that

park which we were not aware of. I had heard of the Badlands but it never really sank in just how bad. We were talking about how difficult it must have been to the pioneers as they

went through the badlands.

The next night we stayed in Jamestown, Montana from which we headed(the next day) to Yellowstone National Park. Wonderful -- but it exposed us to our first real narrow winding roads and significant climbs. At one point we crossed the Continental Divide at 8300 feet

altitude. Lots of big trees and it was not as scary as I expected. The high point of the day was Yellowstone Falls - Got beautiful pictures (see above) Did not see Old Faithful because of crowded parking lots. But there were a lot of other things that made up for it.
The weather was wonderful - but very cold at Yellowstone. I was glad for a heavy sweater
But the rains came as we left the park heading for Ennis, MT where we stayed at a really nice "mom and pop" motel. A really nice town.
However, we goofed the next morning, Took State highway 287 when we should have taken US Highway 287. It was a spectacular ride and worth every second of the mistake, Picked up
Interstate 90 again a little east of Butte and after Missoula is when we got into the mountain passes and twisty Interstate highways. I don't think the ladies in the car appreciated the
twisty roads at high speed but it was a spectacular ride just the same. Spent our next night
at Moses Lake, Washington. The next day we finally made it to Arlington and got our first taste of Seattle traffic. I hate it and hope we don't have to contend with too much more. But our visit to Jeff's has been great.
One last note - I love the Dodge Caliber gas mileage. The lowest was 28 in the heavy driving
at Yellowstone. All the other days averaged 31 to a max of 34 mpg in some of the really flat lands on cruise control. Much better than I expected.
As I said, we're enjoying our visit to Jeff and Wayne's. gonna leave on Tuesday morning if we can find a slot in the traffic pattern.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Where in the World am I?

I've built a reputation. Nothing significant or scary - but a reputation just the same.

For years and years I have carefully planned itineraries for vacations. I've ordered
AAA maps and trip-tics by the dozens. Nowadays I use google maps and mapquest
but my reputation is that All the effort that goes into the planning more often than
not is ignored once we are on the road.

The past few weeks has been such an occasion. Only this time I sent copies of my
itineraries to five or six important family members - including any who might be
traveling with us - or would find us stopping somewhere at their front door. One of our
daughters responded by saying that the fourth final itinerary began to make her wonder just when we (I?) would come up with a FINAL final FINAL plan for a vacation. I removed the
word final and began to use the date of the day I did the last itinerary.

So we left on Sunday on a massive trip from Michigan, to northern Minnesota, to Yellowstone
National Park (and other parks on the way) to Seattle, to the Oregon Coast, to the Redwood
Forests, to Lake Tahoe, to Grand Canyon, to New Mexico to a train ride through Royal
Gorge, to Denver, to Mount Rushmore and then back to Michigan by whatever route
crops up. Thus far I've used 95 percent of my itinerary, 70 percent of the AAA Trip-Tic,
and it's only three days out of 21. By the way, we had a significant problem trying to
find our daughter's house and if we had listened to our GPS device we would have found
it easily. Using instructions she sent us got us totally lost and for a while we couldn't
contact here because our cell phone didn't work for a while in her isolated area.

The word we have come to expect is "recalculating" -- which has sounded off repeatedly
when we deviated from the directions they (that unidentified voice on the little black box)
insisted were correct. But their recalculations always seemed to catch up somewhere along
the way.

And so we are currently in a motel in Columbus, Montana where a shower fixture was
maladjusted and soaked everything in the bathroom - EVERYTHING - including my
beloved and all her fresh clothes for the morrow. It did get fixed but it was a tense moment.

Well, tomorrow is Yellowstone Day. Let's see how things go then.

By the way, if you ever make it to Montana, on Interstate 94, be sure to take a while to
visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Never heard of it - never expected it - but it
was a hidden jewel very close to the Interstate.

See you again soon.

Monday, June 29, 2009

It Was a Blast

We're approaching the Fourth of July - Independence Day - when we look for our annual
fireworks celebrations. We had one not far from our condo a weekend ago and it was a pretty
good display considering that there were trees and the base chapel hiding a major part of the
low-level display. But what we could see was great. By the way, the display was a part of
what Oscoda calls its "Red, White, and Blue Festival" This weekend was the annual art show
on the beach and next weekend will feature the township fireworks display at the park in the
center of town. Later in the month are a couple of major canoe races and a Native American
Pow-wow. And I don't want to ignore the Yankee Air Force Museum fly-in and USO dance. Who says small towns don't have a bunch of celebrations during the summertime?

When I think of the Fourth of July I think back to the late 1930's (last century) when fireworks
were different and in most states were legal. In one place I remember tissue paper balloons
with candles floating up along the Hudson River. (I don't remember whether they set
any fires but balloons like that (containing incendiary bomblets) were sent up from submarines off the West Coast and came down in Washington and Oregon forests.

It may have been 1939 r 1940 that New York State outlawed most firework. However, I was not going to allow the State ban on fireworks to end my holiday celebration. I made my own.
I tried to buy gunpowder at the local hardware and they wouldn't sell it to a little kid. So I bought up box after box of the big wooden kitchen matches, cut off the heads and glued them together. Then these big bundles of match heads were put on small rafts, lit, and floated on the
stream behind the house. When the bundles of match heads flared up there was applause from family members sitting on the lawn looking over the pool behind the house. The State of New York was not going to do my celebration in.

Well, it wasn't the fourth of July but later in life I was involved in a church play and I was tasked
with creating a flash in a fireplace (A 'Devil and Daniel Webster' special effect). This time I used regular gunpowder and the first try did not create enough flash and smoke. So my second try I used a significantly larger amount of gunpowder (almost filled a pie pan) and this time the flash
was huge and the entire basement of the church was filled with smoke. It was gently suggested that I not involve myself with pyrotechnics again.

And I must sat that there are times that I find it hard tom get past the fireworks stands and displays even now. Guess you can take the fireworks away the old boy -- but it's hard to take the old boy away from the Fourth of July celebration. Know what I mean?

Friday, June 12, 2009

What's Going On?

In case anyone has tried (do people really do this?) to read a new "This 'n That" over the last two or three weeks and found it to be an exercise in futility think of the frustrated old man who has tried to get a particular one on line. In the first place, we have been very busy what with a granddaughter visiting along with two great grandchildren (ours, not hers - that would make Joyce and me really old). Any way, that gang made its way to Chicago yesterday while I was in the processes of having one of those wonderful procedures (colonoscopy) inflicted upon my poor old body. The doctor said the view was great and there were no concerns and when all was said and done, he said he didn't want to see me ever again for a colonoscopy. Is that because there is a cut-off point when one no longer needs to have them?

While Rebecca, Ella, and Maddie were here we had a real treat - a visit from one of our 1970's exchange students, Paul Ickx. He was from Belgium when he stayed with us in the early 1970's - he then became a doctor and has spent many years providing medical care in places like Haiti, Africa, but most of all, for years in Afghanistan. He today heads up a hospital in Kabul but in the eighties he worked with the Muhajadeen (hope the spelling is right but it probably isn't) where as a surgeon he worked under extremely primitive conditions. I wish I could find some of the old photos he sent where he was dressed in the native robes.

It was a wonderful reunion - and I will say that the last couple of days have been tough with
none of the family around.

One of my other problems has been that I wanted to write about a particular place and I can't get the picture I want to come up in the blog. I can find it in "my pictures" but it won't transfer.
Maybe it will another day.

Maybe that problem is part of my problem with Hotmail. All of sudden I have had significant problems getting on line with Hotmail. When I talked to my friendly computer guru he said it wasn't just a problem for me - it was a problem for others who use Hotmail for mail (not necessarily HOT mail - but any mail on Hotmail. So now I have taken on a new e-mail address with Yahoo which I was on years ago and Joyce has been on for quite a while without a problem.

Which all goes to say that it isn't that I haven't wanted to do a blog but rather a lot of distractions and obstacles have made the last two or three weeks a challenge. Frustrating to say the least.

Well, hopefully there's be another blog afore long. As the used to say on an old radio program back the thirties: "I hope, I hope, I hope...." Bye for now

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


She hated every minute we rode in it. Not so much that it had some of the most futuristic styling of any car of the 40's-50's era. She says she hated it because it was black. and it had a weird pointy nose on it.

It was a 1950 Studebaker Commander that I bought a week before I met my beloved. And I loved it. It had a powerful six-cylinder engine, and it had a Borg-Warner overdrive that squeezed every mile possible out of a gallon of gas (Five gallons for a dollar at the time). It also had a hill-holder that prevented the car from rolling backward on a hill. We put a lot of miles on that old Studebaker and to; this day I still think it was one of the most stylish, best designed and best handling cars ever built.

But it was black.

It was the second Studebaker my family had. The first was a brand-new 1941 four-door Champion that my dad bought just before Pearl Harbor was attacked. It survived all my high school antics during the war and was replaced after the war. I hauled a lot of kids to dances and scrap paper for wartime scrap paper drives.

In the mid-fifties I was assigned overseas and I came home to find my '50 Commander replaced by a 1954 Oldsmobile Eighty-Eight. I have a hunch my beloved no sooner saw me depart Chanute AFB by C-119 that she was off to get rid of the Studebaker. After all, it was black.

Over the years we got a couple more Studebakers - 1958 and 1960 Lark wagons. At best, not very good cars - the '58 six cylinder Lark lacked much power - scary in fact. The 1960 Lark was an eight cylinder car which was okay - but finally started rusting out by 1963. And neither of them was black - the '58 was white and the '60 was green -- and they were too small for a family

of six. But they were not black -- and they were a lot more comfortable than a Dodge Coronet two-door which had to hold seven of us. But that's another story.

Well, we've gone through a lot of cars since. Most were good experiences and we especially enjoyed almost 25 years of Dodge minivans which we loved. And we're still with Dodge --

bought our latest a month or two before the big financial crash. This time it's a Dodge Caliber

and we love it. Only thing is - it has a lifetime warranty on the power train - but is that a lifetime of the car of lifetime of the company?

And by the way, it's black - and she likes it.

Like I said, "What goes around comes around."

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Up in the air in Chicago

For years I had the thought that city living would be too fast for me. Age tends to slow one down, you know? But Chicago is different in our lives - I seem to go back to younger and more active years and we always have fun. For instance, last year's air show. It took me back to the days when I worked on airplanes and even now I still have a tendency to look up when an aircraft flies over.

Chicago has a fantastic air show and last summer's was even better because we could ride the elevator up to the 60th story of our daughter's condo building in downtown Chicago and watch the show from 600-700 feet up with no buildings - or just a few - blocking the view. The picture below shows more building than airplane but we got some spectacular views of the Blue Angels flying past TV antennas atop the Hancock Building. Spectacular!

The next day we went to the Navy Pier and watched the same show all over again - only this time it was from lake level. Only in a city like Chicago!

So, the blog this time is more pictures than words but a trip like this is wonderful and I could be converted into a Chicagoite without too much trouble. And a trip into Chicago is even better with the train ride to and from the City. Hope you enjoy the pictures!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Back to Britain

A few weeks ago I chatted about an unusual experience in a British hotel. This time I want to talk about a different British hotel experience - a bit more humorous that the other time.
The first hotel was in London - this time were had finished a busy day's sightseeing across central England's countryside visiting sites relating to the ministry of John and Charles Wesley who were central to the formation of the Methodist church.
I was overseeing a group of about fifty people - a congenial and enjoyable group. We pulled up to the hotel in Birmingham ready for a good meal and sound night's rest. After arranging for our passengers' accommodations, we accepted keys and went up to our room. We opened the door and - would you believe - there was no bed, and the room was set up for a meeting. That's right - no bed. Lots of chairs and tables but no bed. Was that anyway to treat the head of a large group of visitors?
Making our way back to the main desk we told the desk clerk there was no bed in the room. She said, "Just a moment, Sir.."and disappeared into the labyrinth of offices behind the desk and soon came back with a classic British management type. I mean, he could have come out of a British style magazine and the only things he lacked was an umbrella and bowler hat. Almost a dead ringer for the floor walker from the old PBS comedy, "Are You Being Served?"
With a melodious voice, he asked, "And what can we do for you, Sir?" I responded, "there's no bed in our assigned room and we would like a bed for the night." He stretched up to a haughty height and looked down at us and said, steely eyed: "Sir, that cannot be." I responded, "Maybe that cannot be, but Sir, there is NO bed in that room. Are we to sleep on meeting room tables with no pillows or blankets?" He sent one of henchmen (or henchwomen) to the room and they came back averting any eye contact with us and whispered to the manager, "Indeed they are right - there is no bed in the room!"
I'm not sure that the manager said anything but in no time we were surrounded by bellboys and were escorted to one of the loveliest rooms we ever had. It was complete with a view over a river - a park with classic British trout fishermen -- about as nice a room one could hope for. We stayed there several days and appreciated every moment of our stay.
When we checked out our friend, the manager, was at the desk and with erect British severity he looked down on us and asked, "I trust the accommodations met with your approval?" I couldn't think of anything fit to say except that the second room was a major improvement over our first one.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Memories of Marion

My memories of Marion, Indiana go back to the early to mid-1980's. I was serving a church in a transitional part of town and found it had a lot of traditions. One was to be deeply committed to working with the annual city-wide Easter Pageant. It was one of the most unique and spiritually moving experiences of my life.
We would begin preparing before the end of a year and the work would go on for for at least four months - sometimes more. Our church involvement centered on work around the stage and scenery for me (the stage manager was a member of our church) - and for the ladies it was either preparing or refurbishing costumes. But we were just a small part of it -- people from all over the city were involved in the overall presentation. Usually 800 or so (sometimes more) were in the choir and orchestra - well over a thousand were members of the cast - plus a significant number of others who were in the stage crew, makeup crew, ushers, and so on - more than 4,000 people at one point in its history.. The picture below will give you an idea. It involved whole families and sometimes roles were handed down from one family member to another as the years passed.
The Pageant began in 1938 and lasted fifty years. When it came time for the Easter Sunday morning production at 6 a.m. lines of people waiting to see the Pageant stretched for blocks before dawn. The music became a regular Easter program on Armed Forces Radio network and was heard around the world annually. It was an amazing event considering that the city of Marion has a population of less than 31,000 people. The lower of the two pictures shows the cast of the Pageant enacting a portion of the persecution of Jesus.

I was a "scenery mover" and "rope-puller" for scenic drops on the stage. My wife sang in the choir. Even though we who were mostly out of sight it was a most amazing spiritual experience for those in the production - even behind-the-scenes people. Surely one of the greatest in my personal memory. There was no admission charge that I recall - but the Pageant lived on free-will offerings and industrial and civic contributions.

This holy week I look back with profound memories of a very special Holy Week experience where denominational labels were set aside and folks were afforded of very special view of the Christian story of Easter.

Unfortunately, there have been no presentations of the Pageant for a few years. I understand that the city has fallen on hard times and hasn't been able to underwrite utility costs for the weeks of preparation before Easter, and because Marion has been a victim of industrial cut-backs (especially within the automotive industry) the funds have not been there. But the Pageant lasted over fifty years and one of my treasured memories is being able to the Holy Week story come alive in a most meaningful way. Perhaps in years to come the community will be able to renew this event but like so many things today, it will probably remain only a memory for those thousands who made it possible and who found great inspiration from a community that set aside labels and made Easter come alive.


Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Knothole Gang

Well, it's baseball season -- at least for the grapefruit league. And baseball season means little kids who hang around the ballpark hoping for an over-the-fence ball (foul or otherwise).

And then there was the knothole gang - the kids who wanted to watch the game but there was a board fence around the field and the only way to see the game was through a knothole in the fence.

Then, again, there was the knothole gang out behind our two-room school. Only thing was, it didn't involve a baseball game - it involved a couple of outhouses.

At our school there were two large four-holers - one outhouse for boys; one for girls. I'm not sure why four-holers - we were not that community minded - but, hey, it gave one an option of which seat to use.

Anyway, sometime before MY time, some of the larger boys got a great idea. Both outhouses were surrounded by metal fences for privacy. That held true for the girls but the door of the boys outhouse faced the entry through the fence so privacy was not a factor for the boys. The older boys decided that they needed a view for themselves so they brought a pipe, or a broomstick to school (the teachers didn't know or looked the other way). It so happened that two sheets of metal met just opposite the door the the girls outhouse. So, the broomstick, or pipe was used as a pry bar and separated the fence metal just enough to create a gap (in wood it would have been a knothole). It was just big enough to see the girl's outhouse door (which wasn't always closed). Needless to say, it created quite a stir among the boys over the years. Especially when one of the girls neglected to close their outhouse door.

However, once in a while, though, one of the girls might hear some giggling on the boys side of the fence and, looking through the gap in the fence, would see an eye peering through the hole. There'd be a scream - "I see you over there." "I'll tell the teacher on you!" That would get the boys attention and they would bail out of the outhouse enclosure with innocent smirks on their faces.

Outhouses were commonplace in our town. There are a number of stories about different outhouse events but we'll leave some of the other outhouse stories for another time. a few are better than this one.

Meanwhile, the old school has been converted into a museum and civic center of sorts. I've been back there a few times over the years, but I can't remember ever seeing the outhouses after the school no longer was a center of learning. (In more ways than one). If they are still there, I wonder if the crack in the fence is still there. And I wonder if the view through the fence is any different.