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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

You Don't Say

  I like to tell people I’m a “city boy raised by country people.” Mom and Dad were both small town folks with Dad living most of his child hood out in the “sticks”.
   In case you’ve never noticed, country folks like to impart little tidbits of wisdom in the form of adages they call “old sayings.” They also get pretty colorful with the English language in general.
  I have carried on the tradition of “old sayings” and the like. It has always meant a lot to me. You might say that it all sort of “stuck in my craw”, which would refer to a piece of food or bone lodging in one’s esophageal area. 
  Ben Franklin liked old sayings. Just about everyone knows about  “Poor Richard’s Almanac” where he expounded prolifically on little bits of advice like “A stitch in time saves nine,” or “a penny saved is a penny earned”. Great stuff but not exactly what I’m getting at here.
  One of the better sources for this sage language of which I speak was my Dad. He had his own little pearls like, “Boy … I may seldom be right but I’m never wrong.” or “if you’re waitin’ on me you’re backing’ up.” It was the “OLD sayings” that rang my bell, though.
   I’d get to moaning about wanting to do something … “Sure wish I could go to that party tonight.”  He’d come back with, “Well boy … you might trying wishing in one hand and spitting in the other and see which one fills up first.”
   First of all, he was saying no because I had smarted off at him earlier or something but on another level he was teaching me that wishing was never going to get you very far. You had to take action.
   It would be time to head home from vacation or somewhere we were having fun and I’d get to grousin’ pretty good. He’d come out with, “My how time flies when your having fun,” that meant the “party was over” and I needed to get on with it and load the car.
  I was a good boy over all but could be more than a little headstrong at times. I was supposed to be home by eleven but it seemed like no matter how good a head start I got I’d be a little late. That’s when he’d pull out the big guns … “ Boy … don’t believe cow horns are hooked.” I don’t guess there’s a whole lot of confusion about what that means.
  My feelings would be hurt about some girl  … “There’s plenty of fish in the sea.”
Somebody would be getting bullied … “First lick wins the fight.” Money would be tight and you’d hear him telling somebody … “Well I reckon “its pork n beans and fatback time.” He’d make a mistake …”No use cryin’ over spilt milk.”
 I’d do something clever … “Well, even a blind squirrel’ll find a nut every once in a while.”
  It got to where you’d kinda’ look forward to what he was going to say next.  He’d be trying to corner me on some issue or another and I’d be a little evasive,  “Boy … talking to you’s like trying to catch a greasy pig.”
   I couldn’t help but use that a few times about Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky thing. Hey … ole Bill had a pretty good one himself, now that I think of it, with all that “it depends on what you call sex,” stuff.
   The thing is, I grew up and left home and I’ll be darn if I didn’t go to using those same sayings. Guys in the Navy use to double over laughing like when somebody would try to get tricky about something … “ Hey man … my momma didn’t raise no fool ya know.”
  At work somebody’ll want to test-drive a car but I’ll know they don’t have any money or credit. “ Well sir …why don’t you load your gun first and THEN we’ll go huntin’.” At the very least I’ll get a big ole grin.
  A vehicle that is seriously underpowered won’t “fall out of a tree.”
A fast car “runs like a scalded dog.” I’ll be getting on one of my kids for leaving the half-empty cereal bowl on the end table and out will come, “Boy, sometimes talking to you’s like peein’ in the wind.”
  Well I could go on like this forever. My kids think I’m an absolute “hoot” with all the sayings. “Lord willin’, ” one day, I figure they’re gonna see it about like I do now.  “The older I get … the smarter my Daddy gets.” He always said, “Hindsight’s a hundred percent.”
   Well … thanks for listening.  “Ya’ll keep it in the road now, heah?”

Saturday, May 28, 2011

How to Grow Your Self Back Up

  When we’re little, things happen. Most of us harbor scars of one kind or another from our childhoods. One of the funniest things I ever heard was my twelve-year-old son when he accidentally stumbled upon his naked mother scooting from hot tub to laundry room to grab a towel.  Aghast he yelped, “ Oh my God … I’m scarred forever.”
  My Dad was a bit of a tyrant and had the habit of looking over my shoulder as he bit his tongue cursing at every errant move I might make. It was nerve wracking and to this day if someone looks over my shoulder I cannot for the life of me so much as write my name.
  Once in a while someone will give me a dirty look. It may be at a traffic light, or in a crowd at the mall. I’m not sure exactly where it comes from but I know it’s tied to feeling physically threatened as a child. I will immediately become fighting mad.
  Sometimes I make a mistake on an IRS form or forget to pay a quarterly tax. The moment I realize the mistake my heart jumps in my throat, my hair raises up on the back of my neck and a sweat breaks out at my temples. Somewhere along the line I did something that left me feeling very guilty … and it lingers just beneath the surface.
  The thing is … what do you do with all of this? Do you just swallow it? Well I have learned the hard way that if that’s all you do then it just builds up until one day it comes out sideways at your kids, the family pet or some poor clerk somewhere.
  So finally I went to a shrink and just asked. She gave me this book with a little kid on the cover dressed in his father’s business clothes. They were just hanging on him all jumbled up at the floor as he stood there with this forlorn look on his face. At first I found it mildly humorous but that kid stayed in my mind.
  Now when these little scenarios crop up and my emotions begin to bubble to an inappropriate degree; I think of that little boy. The book suggested that a person needs to parent that little boy (or girl). You need to let him know that you’re going to take care of him and everything is going to be ok. He needs to know that this is just an ordinary occurrence and nobody is going to hit him or take away his freedom. You’re a “grown up” now but even though it’s cliché as “all get out” that little boy is still alive and well in there and he needs your help.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Higher Place

   There’s an older man that does some work for me now and then. He lives out on the edge of the county in a semi-rural area. The property was originally a farm that was handed down and parceled out over time. It exists now as a couple of acres on the crest of hill. A neat red brick ranch style house rests dead center. 
  One day, when I was sad, he asked what was wrong. We shared easily about our lives and it turned out we are both reformed sinners, so to speak. It was a misty eyed encounter with a couple of graying ex-rounders who had found some peace in life.
  On a recent bright and sunny spring morning, no one came to the door when I knocked. I left a check in the windshield wiper of his small red Ranger pick- up truck.
  As I stepped into my car I could hear a whippoorwill as the hill top wind blew through my hair. One foot in the car, I stopped. Dogwoods in early bloom splashed the green grass landscape with their creaminess. An old oak like “Father Time” stood watch over the pastoral scene. From a low hanging branch hung a paintless wooden bench swing. It was not a lonely swing though empty in that moment.
    I know that he and his wife come often to gaze out across the land … together. He had told me how he adored her; how she had stood by him in the rough places.
  The chains on the bench swing are contrastingly new like “tended to” memories. A patch of fresh tilled earth lay deep brown, a miniature runway waiting for the measured labor that will bring seeds to flight as they reach skyward in rebirth.
  A white wooden fence surrounds the gray faded shed where he works. I have visited there and know that the tools are lined up like troops ready for battle. The dirt and sawdust floor is raked and swept.
  Everywhere careful plantings awaken to the season. When he was a boy, his Grandfather told him this was the highest point of altitude in the county. It strikes me that some places in this world are higher in more ways than one.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

This I Know

  I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the teachings of Jesus Christ, as given to us in the Christian bible, are the ultimate truth. I also know that the teachings of Vishnu, Gatama Buddha, the Upanishads and many other “paths” to so-called enlightenment are also true.
  I know that to “love thy neighbor as thyself” and to “do unto others as you would have others do unto you” is the right way. I know that if humanity could live according to these tenets there would be peace. There would be understanding where there is hate. Our ignorance would fade and our hearts would open to an existence that gives all comfort and assurance.
  I don’t know why we choose instead to judge. I don’t know why we fight and live in fear of one another. I do not know why countries wage war rather than peace. One could say that we would only protect ourselves from the sword of others. I have learned in this life that if I “live by the sword I will only “die” by the sword. I know that I have died many “deaths” at the hand of my fear.
  I do not know why even today, if threatened, I am ready and willing for combat. Even though I believe as Christ taught us to believe, I fall woefully short. I see countries destroying one another and know the answer to their plight. I watch as genocide erases the lives and culture of innocent people and I do not know why the perpetrators cannot see the damage they do to themselves.
   I believe that through Jesus Christ we can have everlasting life. I do not know what happens to those who do not believe this. I only know that Christ taught us “all are welcome at the table.”
    The only thing I really know is that the scope of what I don’t know is infinite.  How can I judge the beliefs and paths of others from this place of not knowing? How can anyone judge much less attack someone for believing differently? We can only pray for the salvation of all who breathe. We can only treat each other with love and respect. One day, this I do know, Christ will come and he will tell us. One day we will know everything.  On that day we will finally realize that all that mattered was that we lived his will as best we understood it and what we knew or didn’t know did not make a whole lot of difference. I will search anyway because I need to. I’ve got a feeling that in the end it will be the searching that mattered.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


  Each morning I reach into a wicker basket beside the chest of drawers in my bedroom for a fresh pair of socks. Resting in the corner there is a small teddy bear. I named him Kennedy long ago when my twin boys were about three years old. He has two hearts. The boys had reached up their tiny hands, cheeks all aglow, to bestow upon me the small, satin, ruby colored jewels. Their bright eyes were absolutely sparkling. The store was called “Build-a-Bear”. It was another one of those sweet places that the father of toddlers goes that, if they were not the fathers of toddlers, they would never cross the threshold. I felt horribly out of place and clumsy, yet each moment my stubborn attitude was melting like an ice cream cone on a hot summer day. The boys ran from bin to bin excited by the construction of this umber colored, fuzzy being that was to be my gift from them.  They giggled and cooed as the limp carcass was blown full of foam and they were each guided to place their two hearts carefully in the bear’s chest.
  Kennedy. The time came to dress him and I spied a “Fonzie-like” leather jacket in one of the bins. “That’s it there fellas. That’s all he needs; a good leather jacket.” Part of me was just trying to get out of it all easy. I had no desire whatsoever to spend time picking out some cutesy pants and shoes. On another level I couldn’t explain to them that the jacket on the fuzzy bear would serve as a symbol of my long-standing internal conflict. Half my life had been spent building barriers with leather jackets and balled up fists. Now these two cherubs were exposing my facade. I felt like I was standing on the square buck-naked during the morning rush hour.
   I named the little bear Kennedy because JFK has been my hero since I was a child. I found him to be courageous in battle and loyal to his brothers in combat.  He stood for the poor and disenfranchised though he was wealthy and privileged. Yes, he was something of a rascal but he rose to the job that was before him and represented much that was good about America. Then they killed him. Like so many things in life, it broke my heart, but now these children … one day at a time, heal the part of me that had been bound in a leather jacket prison for so many years.
   It is early October now. The leaves are changing and beginning to fall. The boys are thirteen. This weekend on a camping trip we collided with a drunk driver that crossed the centerline. My family mostly walked away with bumps and bruises. Mom’s banged up a good bit worse.  I’m afraid that we were somewhat traumatized by the event though. I’ve been dismayed at the emotional hangover that has rested heavily in my soul. I could have lost them and it is still tearing at me.
  So now, standing here in the dim morning light, I pick up Kennedy and hold him to my chest. Gently I caress his soft fur and realize that I had forgotten how wonderful he feels. Suddenly the bile rises and I can taste the sour fear just like I did after the collision settled this past weekend. Air bags had deployed and the yellow dust like talcum powder filled the air and our lungs.  I could smell twisted metal.  For one brief second  … I had been afraid to look.
   It’s as if I can hear the boys laughing that day in the store. This soft, little bear wears a leather biker jacket. My truth is that the two tiny hearts resting within him are what became of the one that was broken oh so long  … long ago.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Middle Aged Style?

  The thing is, it just doesn’t seem right to harp on a middle aged working man about style. How’s a guy supposed to keep up with it all?  I mean every time you turn your head they’re changing things up on you.
  During the Fifties we wore deck pants you tied with a matching rope, for crying out loud. We all had crew cuts and pushed it up in front with “Butch Wax”.
  By junior high we were wearing continental slacks and tassel loafers. You had to have a 100 % cotton, button down collar shirt. If it wasn’t starched stiff as a board, it was not cool. The piece de resistance of this ensemble was a v-neck alpaca sweater. At the end of my tenth grade year, we went home in all this sartorial splendor, sporting short Ivey League haircuts.
  That was the “Summer of Love”, so by the time we came back to school we had grown our hair out and donned elephant bell-bottom jeans. Pocket t-shirts of assorted colors were the rage. “Dead Heads” liked the tie-dye ones best.  Popular footwear were these biker boots with sawed off toes we called “snoot boots”.
  The movie “Saturday Night Fever” with John Travolta started a disco thing. “All us good ole boys” just left our hair long and started wearing designer jeans and faux silk shirts unbuttoned to our navels. You’d accessorize with a gold chain that had a small gold tusk hanging from it.
  Believe it or not, Travolta struck again with another movie entitled, “Urban Cowboy”. I was suddenly the proud owner of several western style shirts, Tony Lama cowboy boots and skintight Wrangler jeans. That was the most uncomfortable style EVER.  Sitting down could be a painful experience if you weren’t careful.
  When I met my wife (who did some modeling) I was still about halfway stuck in this style. We had cut our hair shorter and ditched the western shirts. She thought I was cute but she’s always telling folks that what she saw was “a little boy with frogs in his pockets”, so you can’t really count her opinion.
  These days, I’ve taken to wearing my teenager’s stuff for casual social activity. I have to watch it though. A grown man with graying hair and beard just does not look right in a fur lined “hoodie” with “Hollister” written in giant letters across the front. I don’t care how slim you are.
  Since they started making you ring the bell and get some usually grouchy lady to come open the dressing rooms, I don’t even try clothes on. If they don’t fit, the wife will take them back and buy herself something with the money. We call it “doing me a favor.” We don’t talk about how it’s really just a piggyback way to get in a little shopping. At least someone in the family has got some fashion sense.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Grouchy Trail Running Shoe

Thank God! This guy is a wreck! Every time I turn around he’s injured again and I spend the next two weeks gathering dust with that pile of old running shoes in his closet that he won’t throw out.

Thwap, thwap, thwap on the asphalt.  MAN It’s freezing! But I love it! Run the golf course, dude RUN THE GOLF COURSE! Easy does it. Don’t blow that rickety knee or mushy ankle of yours. What’s with the limp? Get over it Shirley! Turn! TURN! Ahh yes! Spung, spung, spung through the rough. Splish, splash over water logged declivities. Now river rock. crunch, crunch, crunchin’. Dodge those roots! Hold your form! Ok he’s settling in a bit. Past the first green through the tunnel of woods as the cart path cuts behind some houses. They sure built ‘em close on the left. I imagine mothers at the kitchen sink wondering what this maniac is doing in the freezing cold. Then I imagine a little envy creeping in. I can just hear ‘em … “ I need to get my expanding butt out there!” The light begins to change as we near the clearing. God I love this spot as it opens up. Dun covered expanse declining. Evergreen forests bordering on the right … stately homes greet us on the left. The creek in the distance with sea oats waving at us.  A hawk riding a thermal across our line of view.  OK … OK! Watch those sprinkler heads dummie! Don’t space out here! Trouble breathin’ there ole man? That’s quite a bit of huffin’ and puffin’ this early on. Past the greens keeper’s shed he angles left and up. Over the curb… down the hill and across the quaint little wooden bridge. Thump, thump thump. Here comes the monster hill! I LUV it when he runs the tree line! Soft mulch … swaf , swaf ,swaf … oh boy he’s crankin’ it now. I gotta’ admit. He’s a determined little goof.   I know he wants to walk.  Also know he’s not gonna.  Sometimes I can hear him.” Lord give me strength to do thy will. I humbly ask you to remove my shortcomings”  Here comes the turn. Careful … careful  and down we go! Easy … eeeasyy … Whump! … Over the creek! Green moss covers the roots and rocks in this shady place . I hear him again … “ and miles to go before I sleep.” Frost  … right? Up the hill back to asphalt. Wimp. He’s taking the shorter route. Must be running late for work. Twap, thwap twap. The long steady incline rises up to meet us. By the Milleman’s. There’s the grouchy  woman with the weenie dog. Is she ALWAYS frowning?(sings) “Don’t stop. Beleeevin’!” ok ok in front of Chad’s house. Here comes the last leg. Watch the car dummie! You in “la la land”or what?! You almost ran out in front of the guy! Steady as she goes. Here it is … he’s in the home stretch and reachin’ for more. Ouch ouch ouch. Harder and harder. I can see his face. DUDE! Are you actually CRYIN’?  Jeesh man … get a grip! Pump it. PUMP IT! I can hear him again. What’s he sayin’? I know his lungs feel like they are gonna’ bust. Hit it dude! Kill this mutha!   “Important to finish … more important to finish well … important to finish”..  “God grant me serenity …

You know somethin’. Maybe this ole guy ain’t so bad after all.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Battle Never Won

When our young fall in
battle never to rise again,
can we see their grieving
loved ones, striving to begin
loving instead of mourning,
Each breath a sorrow’s paean?
Always to remember,
never to rise again.

After the flag is folded,
when we turn and walk away,
do we carry the burden lightly,
or see them when we pray …
The children who have no father,
the wives in their lonely beds,
parents with souls dismembered,
existence wrapped in dread?

When we hear “Taps” played
Slowly. Three shots ring crisp and clear.
Can we make ourselves remember,
the family wrapped in fear?
Broken they’ve ceased dancing.
Their war has just begun.
Can we hold them close, embracing,
The battle never won?

How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in life you will have been all of these. -George Washington Carver, scientist (1864-1943)"

How To Cure "Fatally Hip and Terminally Cool" Disease

  First of all you need to fall flat on your proverbial face and have to start life all over again at the ripe old age of thirty-five. Then you marry a volatile firebrand ten years your junior. After a couple of years you start a business on a shoestring borrowing against your home and have twin boys with the volatile firebrand.
  Next thing you know you’re changing diapers, getting peed on, food slung at you on a regular basis and just generally abused. One night, exhausted you’re bathing one of the little boogers in the basinet. (God made ‘em REAL cute so you wouldn’t kill ‘em) Suddenly he sighs and lets go of whatever he was holding onto. As you look in the water for whatever gross deposit he has gifted you with you catch his twinkling eyes and could swear he’s saying, … “I love you … thanks”.
  Before you know it comes first grade. Mom’s panicking, work is absolutely overwhelming, windows are broken, you’re making emergency calls to a plumber and the great American voting public elects George W. Bush to the presidency. Just as you’re about to run for the hills you breathe and for a moment really see them. Little biddy heads, little biddy feet and a HUGE backpack clamber up the school bus steps. Gears grind obnoxiously, the rattling motor roars and all that’s left is toxic smoke from the yellow monster’s tailpipe. You realize that you are mourning and very confused.
  Eventually you figure you’ve about had enough. The firebrand is way too high maintenance. (God made her VERY pretty so you wouldn’t kill her). The adolescent boys want, want, and want. Business sucks, the world economy is in the tank when suddenly you look around and a hundred or so people you have come to love, the firebrand and the twins are singing “God Bless America”. WWII vets are standing at attention and you can’t help but wonder how you got here in this terribly corny place. Gone are leather jackets and Steppenwolf. Gone are fist fights and 45’s, fast cars and wanderlust and you are singing “God Bless America” in church with a bunch of old people. The crazy thing is… you’re loving every minute of it.