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.......