Wednesday, November 30, 2011

I was surprised

Back in the old days we didn't have mcrowave ovens. In fact, at one point we had an ancient wood-burner that worked just fine so long as I brought in enough firewood to keep it going. I know, it makes me sound old but not so old that we had to cook all our meals over an open fire in the fireplace. Maybe that makes me middle-aged. Anything to keep me from feeling ancient.

But we DID use the fireplace for one special  thing - we popped corn over the open fire. Not Orville Redenbachers pop corn - but Jolly Time - which I think is still in the stores. We put the kernals in a good-size basket with steel screen, and the basket was mounted on the end of a long handle. The basket had a mesh lid which served to keep the pop corn from going all over the place when it popped. Then we held the popper over the coals or fire and watched the kernals expand and explode
in the basket. For a little guy like I was it was a handful to hold the popper long enough for all the corn to pop but when it was done it was wonderful served up in a big bowl saturated in real butter and a measure of salt. It seemed as though popcorn was always better in those days than it is now with convenient ready to pop packages right out o the microwave. Could it be that the open fire added something special?

Apart from great eating, we would use pop corn for making garlands for the Christmas tree. We'd get strong thread and needles and then string the corn on the thread. It took a lot of time to do this  but, hey, there wasn't much to do what with television ten or twelve years away. Sometimes we came up with a different twist - we would use easter egg coloring to color the kernals different colors. It provided a bit of color and added a bit of variety. But the best thing of all with these garlands was when we interpersed the popcorn with firm ripe red cranberries. You had to sort them to be sure they lasted through the Christmas season. When the tree finally came down after Christmas we would remove the garlands and hang them on trees in the yard for the birds to eat.

I was surprised the other day when I found suggestions about popcorn and cranberry Christmas tree garlands on the internet. I thought things like that were long gone and it was nice to come up with a good memory of things I enjoyed as a little boy. Maybe there are a few people out there who share good memories of family projects that are fun to do and provide some essential family togetherness in a world where togetherness is often forgotten.

Saturday, November 12, 2011


Who would have thought the monkey in hand would last 84 years?

But then, again, who would have thought that I would have lasted so long? It looks a bit grotesque and I can't figure out the pose, but maybe it had something to do with the rickets I was supposed to have had at very early age.

I was thinking this morning - thinking about all the birthdays that have passed since November 12, 1927. I don't remember this picture ever being taken but it is one of those that seems to emerge when you least expect it. Like the one where I was proudly looking into the camera lens with diapers at half mast. I hated that picture because it always seemed to come out of the archives just in time to be shown to some person I least wanted to see it. And our children - at least certain of them - seemed to gloat that they had put one over on the old man. By the way, I haven't seen THAT picture in quite some time - maybe it has found some blessed file thirteen along the way.

But when I look back over the past 84 years, I realize that lot of history hasa been made in my lifetime. People like FDR, and Harry Truman, and Ike, and JFK and Nixon and Clinton and the Bush's. Events like the great Depression, World War Two,radio and television, the Korean conflict, Vietnam, the protests of the sixties, the Space Race, atomic energy,  Iraq and Afghanistan along with a whole flock of good or tormenting events throughout the world.

Then I think of all the jobs - large and small - that I've had. A Tydol/Veedol grease monkey - helping build a freezer locker plant - pitching hay - shoveling manure - newspapers - radio -  machinist and draftsman - Air Force -  aerospace engineer - preacher - teacher - travel agent and more. It reminds me of an interview where an interviewer, who had read my resume, asked if I thought I had found my niche in life. Maybe, maybe not - who knows?

I think of all the valleys I've gone through - and the mountains I've climbed. I think of love lost and love gained - of a wonderful wife who has traveled through life with me for all these years - and our children who no longer are kids but grown adults with lives and families of their own. I have memories of times not so good - and times of great joy. A lot of it is wrapped in in photos and videos and  blogs and newspaper columns most of which are buried in boxes that probably will be unloaded after I'm gone. But memories can be treasures. Like when our middle daughter Amy and friends dressed up for Hallowe'en as a string quartet. Or when our eldest daughter Linda was the cause of a public relations situation in Colorado. Or when we took Linda to college and I realized the at-home family was shrinking for  the first time.Or when Jeff left for the Navy. Or Greg went west or when Lisa won her nursing pin.

Memories - we've all got them - and we treasure them more and more as the years pile. They help us grow and for most of us, they help us mellow.

As for me, the best birthday is the 84th - today. It opens the door to tomorrow, and it gives cause to remembering special times - like when I turned 18 and got my first notice about being drafted for the Army. I wasn't drafted but I remember the induction center with its marble benches and the inductees were pretty much bare naked. So, like I say, treasure your memories and thrive for tomorrow. Remember: the best birthday of all is when you wake up in the morning, put your feet on the floor, look in the mirror, and thank the Lord for another day and another opportunity at life.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Friends Forever


Have you ever stopped to think of people you knew when you were young? Special friends? Classmates, perhaps?

Back in 1980 my high school class celebrated 35 years since graduation. Though we were living in Indiana, we decided to go back to New York for the occasion. My first experience when I walked in the door of the restaurant where the reunion was being held was seeing a couple of "classmates" sitting at the bar and one of them commented that the celebration was in a back room and she pointed to the door. She made some comment about my being the photographer from the local paper - after all, I was laden down with camera gear. Obviously, she didn't put my 1980 grey hair within the class and, certainly, had no idea who the good-looking lady with me was.

Inside the dining room it was not unexpected that people had changed - some I could recognize despite changes in weight, hair color, and so forth, but like so  many reunions, those of us from out of town had little in common with those who still livd in the home town.. After all, we hadn't seen each other for 35 years. People I remember as 'best friends' were just interesting people exchanging stories about what they had done, and pictures of children and even a few grandchildren. So often it works like that - the ones  we described as 'best friends for life' may not be anymore. Oh, on occasion I might have run into a classmate in later years - one of my classmates retired near us in Florid and we still e-mail back and forth at times.

But this weekend Joyce and I drove up to Detroit from Indianapolis to attend a memorial service
for the wife of one of her brothers. It struck me that our friendship with Jim and Sandra has lasted over many years. When Joyce and I were  talking about getting married we got together with Jim and Sandy to get their advice on marriage. After all, he had been in the Air Force, and they had been married a year or so, and they were experts on married life in the service. Right?  Then, when it came time for the wedding,we had a problem finding a church and minister and so Sandy interceded and steered us to her church and pastor. I don't know what we would have done without them.

The years passed - we went our way, they went theirs but somehow, one way or another our lives seemed to intertwine. In 2002 we went back to Michigan for a family reunion with Joyce's sisters and brothers and she suddenly realized it had been 50 years apart, for the most part, from her family.This led to our move back to Michigan and Jim and Sandy were right in the middle of that. They had bought a home on a former Air Force base, and we ended up buying one close to them. And so 'best friends' were reunited. The years In Oscoda were rich ones - we had great times together.

Then Sandra came down sick. She struggled with poor health for quite some time and eventually she and Jim moved to Bay City to be with their daughter and closer to their doctors and medical centers. In the meantime, Joyce and I moved to Indianapolis to be close to our youngest daughter, Lisa, who is a nurse. My health problems cleared up - Sandra's got worse. Her problem  turned out to be cancer and she eventually passed away not long ago.

And that was why we went to Detroit - to go to her memorial service. It was a time of great reflection of how her life impacted in good ways upon our lives. She was a really good person -
a very special person who contended with some tough things in life with grace  and love. Especially relating to her family.

Most of all, Joyce, especially, can look back even to her teen years like the photo above (Joyce on the left, Sandra on the right) and testify that there, indeed CAN be friends forever - one's you can remember with love for all the years that friendship lasted.