Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Smell of Orange Blossoms

As I watched the television screen today I marveled that, even with the grip of winter upon mid-Michigan, we still have not been challenged as much as central and eastern New York where I grew up. I found myself reflecting on my first escape from winter on my own.

It was in January 1950. I was working as the 'morning man' on a radio station in Hudson, New York. I had to drive fifteen miles each way from my home in the hills and it was a real challenge at times making it on the air at normal sign-on time. To me the most important part of my job was letting people know what schools were closed and various road conditions. One time the roads were badly iced over but I still got to work on time and beat the station engineer and had to power-up the transmitter without him. I loved the job but did not appreciate the ordeal of winter driving back and forth to work. So I began to send out resumes and 'demo discs' to stations all over the country. I finally was offered a morning position on an NBC station in Orlando, Florida.

With a deep sense of apprehension, I boarded a train out of New York City and headed into the unknown. After a long, restless night on a train coach a very tired young man finally arrived in Orlando. I was totally unaware of what waited for me.

I got off the train and it was warm. The trees had leaves on them. Most of all, it was an amazing experience to disembark to breathe air saturated with the smell of orange blossoms. I'd smelled apple blossoms in the north but I had never smelled anything so pungent - that so saturated the air. What a contrast with what I had left behind in the northland.

It's little wonder, when the weather is at its worst up north that I find myself, especially in January, thinking about that first experience of orange blossoms and warmth in mid-winter.

I'll be writing from time to time about my experiences in the south. Perhaps a bit about my conversion from Yankee to Floridian. Stay tuned - you'll never know what I'll come up with next.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Some People Got It - Some People Don't

With the Presidential inauguration over and done with (albeit needing two presidential oaths of office) I started reflecting on why some people get notoriety and others fade into the shadows. For instance, why have I never been invited to become President of the United States? What did Franklin D. Roosevelt have that I don't have?

My memory carries me back to those thrilling days of yesteryear - when the country was caught up in the horrors of the Great Depression. I don't remember Herbert Hoover, as president but historically he appears to have been a very serious, laid back individual who was good man at heart but lacked the charisma that FDR had. There've been a lot of things said about FDR and the New Deal. A lot of things remain from the 1930's - state parks and national forests, products of the Public Works Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps. There was a lot of creative work done during the Great Depression but that didn't overcome the depression. Fact is, it took the Second World War to lift the economy out of the doldrums. I don't like thinking that it takes a war to get past a Depression or Recession.

Regardless of where the nation was economically, the thing that most lifted the spirit of the nation was an exuberant, charismatic president. He had a positive outlook toward the future.

If we look back over the years we can find a lot of people who have presented a charismatic persona. Not just in politics but throughout the entertainment and business/manufacturing

worlds. Beyond that, I think of when I was in high school and there were those "who had it" and those that didn't. Certainly in school I didn't have much charisma (except for an ability to get accused of mischief). But I can think of a lot of people who DID have charisma (like our school cheer-leaders).

I guess what I'm really thinking of today is that it is one thing to flaunt a personality and another thing to have the personality and really accomplish something in life. We can look back in the entertainment field and recall movie stars and music personalities who were highly regarded - perhaps worshipped in their time - who are more or less forgotten today. Their charisma was here today - gone tomorrow. But what did they leave behind? What is their gift to humanity?

Sometimes I tend to think that charisma can only be skin deep -- not a deeply impressive way of life. On the other hand, some of the least charismatic people make some of the lasting contributions to the world.

I had an uncle who was a somewhat retiring person. Never got married. Never seemed to be flashy or obvious in the world. But in his quiet nature he left a great deal to me. That you don't have to be obvious or pretentious to leave the world a better place. All you have to do is care about your family and friends and do the best you can each day. That's a real gift and I treasure his memory a lot. And would like to think that, in his own way, he had a charisma, if only to a

little boy in his formative years, that has lasted - lasts - over time. For this I give thanks.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Life's too Short

We lost a neighbor all of a sudden the other night. Didn't move out -- rather moved on to a better life in a better place. Something like that makes one think about their own role in life and what they have done within their own life.

John was a very nice person. I wasn't close to him - we haven't lived in this community all that long. But in the time we've been here I have admired his commitment to his neighbors and the condo association. I guess that the closest I came to dealing with him personally was at the Condo Christmas party. we exchanged small gifts and then, if we felt led, we traded them with others. He had gotten a 2009 Farmer's Almanac and I had something I didn't care for and I asked him if he would trade. He grinned and said 'sure' and so I have an almanac on my bedstand to remind me of him. I recall that one day he and his wife Joyce asked me if we
would like to try out their church and I asked which one they went to. "The Baptist Church in town," they said and I responded, "But I'm a Methodist" and he grinned and said, "The roof won't fall in if a Methodist goes to a Baptist church."

It set me to thinking: life is pretty short. And what has one done with their life. I look back and realize that I have done a lot of things and in their own way, each of them has been an adventure. And everything seemed to reinforce what I was going to do next. I suppose life is what falls in our laps -- or is what we make of it. I have never had a job that in one way or another wasn't rewarding and fun. (In my case, the exception might have been the job I had for a week with RKO Radio movies where all I did was throw cans of movie film around all day. That was hard physical work and I lasted only a week. The fact remains, someone had to do it and I'm sure someone later, after me, found it rewarding. But not me) However, I've had a zillion things in life that were rewarding and good.

I've conducted a lot of funerals in my life. I've lost good friends and members of the family. but I've never been involved in a service for someone that was a total failure. Every one of them found some satisfaction and joy in the life they lived. I think of people like Joni Eareckson Tada who at a young age became a quadraplegic as a result of a swimming accident. She didn't let it stop her - one of her great gifts in life has been holding a paintbrush or pencil in her teeth to create real works of art. And she has credited it to her faith in God.

I like to think that God is always opening doors in life. Not as an escape - but as an opportunity to do something new and exciting. Who knows what tomorrow holds - but I know if I were to die today there's something better in the future. Even if I live another ten or twenty years there will still be exciting times ahead.
I'd like to think that my friend in the condo had that same sense of joy in life. That there things to do - life to life - love to share - and faith in the future. And that is good.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Behold, The Cat

Somebody said, in a response to an earlier blog, that I neglected to include a picture of the cat. Hopefully, it got back into the blog series a little later. At least for a little while.) The cat likes to turn the printer on and off as it meanders across the desk - then snaps at the paper as it comes out the printer. It jumps to the top of the grandfather clock. It likes to sleep on my wife's head in the middle of the night which does not add to domestic tranquility. It likes to fetch the little rings that come off the top of milk bottles. It has occasional killer instincts - which make me feel somewhat the same. It loves to track the bubbles - if not the fish - in the fishbowl. My wonderful wife says, "She's just a cat - that's the way cat's play." But why is she loving to my wife - and so aggressive to me (at times)? She does like to take over my lap - but I believe she really is saying "You don't have anything to say about it -- it's my comfort spot!" (Is there a "Cat Whisperer "
like the "Dog Whisperer" on television we can consult on matters like this?) Oh, well, it could be like our daughters house -- three dogs and two cats -- and three lively kids. To say nothing of an erstwhile thespian husband.

Over the years we've had a lot of pets. I recall a Siamese cat pair that didn't last long in the house. One, especially, would bounce off the walls of the family room. Their names were 'Kiam' (from Siam), and Simba. They lasted only long enough to sink their claws into a neighborhood child and found a new place to live. We've had stray dogs and cats get 'adopted'
by one or the other of our children. And by intent we got a collie (a purebred) which was named 'Candy.' She lasted a long time and it was a horrible day when she had to be put down because of incurable illness. We also had a cat that lasted a long time and had to be put to sleep as well.
I swore up and down, with the loss of those two, that I never wanted to go through the animal bit again. They had become so much a part of the family that I felt like they were near to becoming our children.

Then 'Inky' shows up - an unexpected birthday gift. And she is, in her own way, becoming part of the family as well. Frustrating (like a child) but loving as well (like a child). Oh, well,
we all end up with unexpected things in life - and if the truth were known, we are thankful (sometimes) for the excitement they bring into life.

Friday, January 16, 2009

It's all in a Name

What's the most unusual birthday or anniversary gift you've ever gotten?

How about an 80th birthday gift of a solid black kitten? We called it 'inky' but some of our children would rather it had been called 'Impy' which was my mother's nickname for me 78 or so years ago. That's what the picture is all about. You'd think a nickname like that would fall by the wayside somewhere in history but no, some of our children tend to use it at the most inappropriate times - even today. And I agree with the children about the cat's nickname from time to time - it's a crazy cat that is up to all kinds of mischief.

With that all said and done, how many of you have had to contend with strange nicknames over the years? For instance, some whose name is James may be called Jimmy, or Jimbo.

Someone named George was in a Spanish class with me and it makes sense that he was called 'Guillermo'.

But why would someone be called 'Froggy"? Is it because he wore goggle-size glasses making him look as bug-eyed as a frog? Is it because be looked like 'Froggy" in the ancient Out Gang

comedies? Is it necause he was going through the change-of-voice time of life between being a boy-soprano and a seductive, mellow baritone? I never knew and guess I never will.

Then there the other nicknames like Brooklyn when the individual had never set foot in Brooklyn? How about 'Rip'? or 'Corky'? Or 'Poochie'?

Or Navy or Air Force pilot nicknames like 'Snake', or 'Catfish', or 'Texas' (who got his nickname telling far-fetched jokes like: "knock knock." "Texas." "Texas who?" "Texas to write a silly blog like this."

Then there is the old song by Johnny Cash about the man who had to live with the name Sue

that was laid on him from birth. How would you like to be called Sue all your life as a big, husky loudmouth redneck?

Oh, well - "sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me" After all, I don't really care what people call me so long as I'm never called late for dinner.

Frigid Digits

If my youngest daughter can do it, I can do it. Well, maybe.

She's done a fantastic job of blogging for several years and so I'm taking a senior opportunity to give it a try as well. Besides, in the reality of Michigan winter I've got to do something to kill time until spring gets here. All three days of it and our two hours of summer as well.

My brother called from Connecticut last night to find out if we were surviving this winter which has been nominated by some to be the worst in years. We're surviving but the picture at the bottom of the blog will testify to what we are experiencing compared to the picture on the right which is what we wish were happening. My brother and I began to compare this winter with what we had when we were little kids growing up in eastern New York in the late 1930's. We lived a mile out of town up on a hill. We had one storm in February when we couldn't get out for a week without snowshoes. And wouldn't you know, right after I had shoveled out the driveway (by hand) the county plow came by and I had a humongous pile to clear away again. It hasn't been that bad here so far this year - but we haven't gotten to February yet.

Then there was the time - in 1984 or '85 - when we were living in Indiana. It was January and we had just gotten back from a two week vacation in Florida. A storm came in from the north and we were up to a sigificant portion of our anatomy and couldn't get into town for several days and Joyce couldn't get to work twenty or more miles away for a week.

Meanwhile, I'm glad I don't have to drive forty miles each way to work anymore like some of the old days in Missouri. (Hey, listen, I've got a lot of old days behind me!) I'm happy to just look out our second story condo window and think to myself -- at least the snow is not up to our window sill.

Oh, well - so it is in Michigan when the snow flies. But we left 17 years of Florida living to
come back to this? Hmmm.