My incredibly shrinking world

world

 

According to a report in The Atlantic entitled “Why We Shrink with Age”, “as gravity pulls down on us, as the cartilage between our joints wears down, and as our spines are weakened by osteoporosis, we shrink.” The process, as with most processes associated with aging, is degenerative. That same article reported that men tend to shrink an average of 1.3 inches; women, an inch and a half.

That’s disturbing news to some, including my wife, who, when called a “shorty”, would always brag that she was, in fact, five feet tall! But that’s not what’s bugging me. No, what’s most disturbing to me is not how much I am shrinking; rather it is how much my world is shrinking. And yesterday it took another giant downsizing step into oblivion.

Yesterday we took our annual drive to the north Georgia mountains to see the fall color, have lunch at Poole’s Bar-be-cue, and buy some apples at one of the roadside stands along the way.

Our critters accompanied us. Rudy slept. Sophie Mae pissed and moaned and panted the entire way for no apparent reason other than the fact we placed her in the back seat. In an effort to minimize the annoyance, I turned off my hearing aids.

Since I now must take debilitating pain medication every four to six hours, Valerie drove. Between Sophie’s panting, Valerie’s herky-jerky driving, and her endless questions about the route to take, by the time we arrived at the pig joint in Ellijay, I was fit to be tied. Even so, I volunteered to take the dogs for a potty break before we ordered lunch. So with two rambunctious critters in tow, I wobbled across the parking lot to a grassy area out back.

Twice, or was it three times, I stumbled and nearly fell sprawling. The only thing that kept me vertical was my gritty determination to hold onto my beloved critter, lest they get loose and venture out onto the busy four-lane highway that runs by Poole’s Hill.

It’s called spinal degeneration and it has affected everything I do. More accurately everything I used to do. You name it … it’s now a painful struggle. An MRI in 2013 showed that I have bone spurs in my neck, and moderate to severe degeneration all the way down my spine. The lumbar discs are herniated and bulging and I have a moderate to severe spinal stenosis from L1 to S1. I’ve tried chiropractic, acupuncture and physical therapy. I’ve had orthopedic and neurosurgical consults and been treated by orthopedic sports/pain specialists. Bottom line: surgery is not an option, and neither chiropractic, acupuncture nor physical therapy will help. That leaves me to manage the pain through drugs, and very limited activity.

No more travel, even to Ellijay. Much less around the world. No more standing in line for tickets to anything. No more walks to the lake; no more strolls down to the cul de sac with Valerie and the doggies.

No more shopping for groceries, attending church functions or playing in the church orchestra. No more performing a thousand little honey do’s that seem to always arise or doing some minor maintenance around the house. No more puttering in the yard or washing the cars.

No more erecting ham radio antennas. No more climbing up and down the stairs to ham, play the sax or make some music on the keyboard. The list goes on and on. And while my world is shrinking, my worry list is growing.

How much more responsibility can I pile on Valerie? Should we, can we, hire someone to do the things around the house that I can no longer do? For example, how will we get the Christmas tree up from the basement? Can I possibly help decorate or must we be content looking like the neighborhood Scrooge’s?

On the drive home yesterday, Valerie told Sophie Mae – the panting one – not to worry, that this would probably be our last car trip to the mountains. She’s probably right. I’ve had to cross so many things off my bucket list that it now resembles a sand pail.

So what keeps me going? I read. I write. I talk to my doggies. I hug Valerie. I explore the Internet. Thank God for the Internet!

I still fly around the country, albeit now via Flight Simulator instead of in N200RF, my old Beechcraft. Instead of playing music, I listen to it on YouTube or on some old CDs.

I miss my friends, the warmth of their smile, a handshake, laughter, and the face-to-face social contact, but let’s face it, I’m not that much fun to be around anymore, and besides, I don’t have that many friends left. Thankfully, I have made some new ones on Facebook who are content sharing jokes, pictures, and just stirring the political puddin’.

Hidden in all this malaise, there’s a moral and it’s the best advice I can give. Go see your faraway friends or relatives. Go to that class reunion. Take that trip, take that cruise. Visit the cathedrals and the art museums in Europe. Go deep sea fishing, to a ball game, to the movies, to a play or to a concert. Be as active as you can be, while you still can.

For years I listened as my parents talked about a trip to Hawaii, but kept putting it off. Then my Dad had his first heart attack, then his second, and his life, like mine, abruptly changed.

Oh, we all know that the clock is ticking and that one day we might not be able to enjoy life the way we planned, but you, like my Dad, and me, probably think you’ll have a lot more time before to reach that point.

I hope and pray you’re right. But sadly, take it from me, once you do, there’s no turning back.

 

 

Advertisements

Whatever happened to the boobs on the boob tube?

laugh inboobshappy days

Whatever happened to Laugh-In? … Hee Haw? … the Cunningham family? … Howard and Marion and the kids Richie and Joanie … their friends Ralph, Potsie, and The Fonz?

Whatever happened to that boy named Sue? … to the Wichita lineman? … or the good-lookin’ fellow that crooned, “Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime?”

What became of the skinny, dark-haired gal and that funny little guy that every Tuesday night assured us that “the beat goes on?”

I don’t know. But I sure as heck miss ‘em!

It was just-for-fun TV that entertained and made us laugh all during the sixties and seventies.  So maybe it was mindless; maybe it was what earned TV the reputation of being a “vast wasteland” and an unflattering description like “the boob tube.” All I know is that the beauty of hi-definition notwithstanding; television today ain’t nothing like it used to be.

There are no variety shows. There are no more musical entertainment either, unless you’re into MTV, the Country Music Channel, or one of the amateur talent shows. TV today is all about reality – courtroom drama, crime shows, sci-fi, horror, tear-jerking make-overs, and the survival of the fittest. It’s about more and more sex and violence, more and more blood, guts and gore.

Thinking of dozing-off watching a baseball or football game? Forget it. Sportscasters with their chalkboard as well as their sidekick, the ubiquitous “color man,” have taken all the relaxing fun out of watching a sporting event. Today the powers that be seem to think they can generate more interest by creating more anxiety. If the boom mike misses the pop of leather and the crunch of the quarterback’s bones, the color man is there to make-up for it. “Bam!” he screams, followed by “… Hey, the offensive linemen are the biggest guys on the field, they’re bigger than everybody else, and that’s what makes them the biggest guys on the field.” These guys are great at explaining the obvious to an idiot. Golf and tennis are the only contests you can watch on TV without taking a blood pressure pill.

The format for promoting and delivering the news has changed as well. “Feeling sick? Hear how the food you’re eating can be ruining your health. That and more coming up at 6:00.” Even the weather has an ominous tone … “Will rain spoil your weekend? Stay tuned. Stan the weatherman will have that and more at 11.”

When CBS dumped the Smothers Brothers, it became known that boyish Glen Campbell was running around with Tanya Tucker, Sonny divorced Cher, and Claudine Longèt left Andy Williams; when Dean Martin, Walter Cronkite, Eric Sevareid, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley all died … entertainment television and credible news reporting died too. All of it replaced by opinion news with a political agenda, mindless sitcoms, and talking heads. Reality shows where people eat bugs, afternoon talk shows with subjects like “Ever lost your tampon?” Action-packed drama and adventure that, if you watch too close to bedtime, much like a cup of black coffee, leaves you staring at the ceiling for hours.

Perhaps that’s why the popularity of retro TV is growing. Perhaps that’s why so many of us prefer watching old movies and reruns of shows like Dragnet, Ozzie and Harriet, The Lone Ranger and I Love Lucy. Gunsmoke, The Honeymooners, All in the Family, Red Skelton, Bonanza, The Jefferson’s, The Beverly Hillbillies, Andy Griffith … even Get Smart and everyone’s favorite bra burner, old Maud … to the garbage that passes for entertainment on TV today.

You may not miss that boy named Sue as much as I do, but here’s one thing I’ll bet we can all agree on: Someplace where the jukebox is still playing and we’re all still able to dance; the sky is bluer, the air is cleaner, the burgers are better, the world is a little bit friendlier and life is a lot more fun.

.

Turned off by the demands of the black power crowd?

black power

 

You should be. These folks are changing the world we live in, and in my opinion, not for the better. Also, I’m not referring to anyone’s skin color. Rather to a culture shift taking place all across the land. A culture shift brought about by the notion that because of this country’s brief history of slavery, blacks are owed a debt. A debt that thanks to the daily compounding of interest by race baiters and left-wing radicals, loom so large, I doubt it will ever be retired.

It’s a notion that decades ago found favor with blacks, black organizations, Hollywood liberals, most all branches of government and government agencies. Politicians who saw a grand opportunity to get votes, soon commandeered what began as an honest attempt to level the playing field in education, in the courts, and in the workplace. These are the same folks who through their political pandering, prove every day that they will say and do almost anything to gain votes and keep their jobs.

The civil rights movement in the sixties taught us a lot. It too, changed the world, that time for the better. Through nonviolent demonstrations and sit-ins, we saw first hand that black power in pursuit of a just cause could move mountains. In the hands of ethical, responsible, right-minded groups and individuals, the empowerment of blacks was a wonderful thing. Nowadays, however, when blacks can be whipped into a frenzy by a bunch of freeloading race whores, or manipulated by an unethical public official to gain votes, it becomes unsettling.

When we hear prominent blacks defend riots in the street, the killing of cops, thuggery, predatory sex, and the notion that “because we are owed, we’ll do whatever we have to do to get even”, it gets downright scary.

In a world where there was once empirical truth and empirical wrong, now there’s a double standard. There’s one standard for blacks, a different one for whites. It says that gender and racial degradation in hip-hop music and black slang are okay for blacks, but not for whites. It says it’s okay to take away the first amendment rights of one group, but not another.

We see this double standard in the workplace where respecting diversity means the employer must cater to blacks and other minorities. We’ve seen it in education where colleges and universities have admission policies that favor blacks, over often better-qualified whites.

We’ve seen it at work in our local government where corruption, malfeasance, graft, nepotism, ineptitude and reverse discrimination by black officials are swept under the rug, and often go unpunished. We’ve seen it in our mayor’s office, at our black controlled international airport, at MARTA – our rapid transit system. We’ve seen it in our county offices, our education departments and in some of our sheriff and police departments across the land.

We’ve seen it in the highest levels of government and the lowest. We recently saw it at work in the courts when a white police officer witnessed and arrested a black county sheriff exposing himself in a public park. The sheriff was accused committing a lewd act, indecency, and obstruction of justice. The county court in a predominately black county couldn’t get their act together so the plaintiff had to be suspended for 40 days by the governor. He did, however, get to keep his job. (You or I would have had our lives ruined and still be serving a stiff sentence – no pun intended.)

Look around and you’ll see how the influence of blacks and other black power advocates are changing our economic landscape as well. Minority dollars are revamping our shopping malls, the types of shops that are there and the merchandise they stock.

It’s changing entertainment, the make-up of television anchor desks, daytime soaps, and commercials, the storyline of movies and sitcoms. Pseudo hip-hop has even found its way into Mercedes Benz ads!

Ask any white teenager and you’ll discover that in most circles, it’s considered not just “cool,” but “way cool” to be black.

The demands of the black power crowd grow every day and, even though it shouldn’t, that gives me cause for concern. “Why’s that?” you ask. It’s because more and more, black power is represented by the rogues and not the righteous. More and more that power is signified by a clenched fist, not a clenched jaw, or by the taking a knee while others respect our country and our flag.

They claim it’s all in pursuit of racial justice and equality. Bullfeathers! Follow the money … follow the power.

An op-ed in a local newspaper recently said: “There will never be racial equality in our society until we can get just as outraged by what a black person says and does as we are by that of a white person.”

Methinks that train has already left the station.

It seems like only yesterday …

Virginia

“What a nice evening,” she thought, as she pulled away from the traffic light a scant two miles from home. She glanced at her watch: it was a little past nine. For the past two hours, she’d enjoyed the company of a special friend as they celebrated his birthday over dinner … a special someone she’d met after her husband died. Although they cared deeply for each other, theirs wasn’t a romantic relationship … just a friendship … someone to pal around with, someone to help pass the time and fill the lonely void.

Suddenly in the road ahead, headlights shot out of the darkness. She gasped, “My God, he’s headed straight for me!” She slammed on the brakes. All four wheels on her Mercedes Coupe locked down hard. The tires dug into the pavement in a vain attempt to avoid the inevitable.

My wife called down from the upstairs. “Ron, did you hear that?”

“Hear what?” I asked.

“Look out the back and see if the guys next door are shooting-off firecrackers again.”

They weren’t. The KA-BAM my wife heard was the sound of two 3,000-lb. objects coming together at a combined velocity of over 100-mph. While the passenger cage of the Mercedes Coupe remained intact; the lap belt held and the airbags deployed just as they were supposed to do, the impact was so great that the driver was body slammed up under the dash. Both legs were broken above the knee, bones mangled and crushed below.

For a week she languished in the intensive care unit with little treatment except for transfusions, while all five of her now grown kids stood watch. Early on, they asked that friends and neighbors stay away from the hospital; between kids and grandkids, there was hardly a spot left in the waiting room for anyone to sit. Besides, better they do what friends and neighbors are supposed to do … feed the cat, pick-up the newspaper and the mail, and remember their friend in their prayers.

On the tenth day, the medical team decided to go against the odds and try and surgically repair the fractures and stop the bleeding. They took her to surgery. They pinned and screwed and sewed and did all that they could. More surgery would be required, much more. But this was a start. And to everyone’s amazement, she pulled through. Maybe there was a reason for hope after all.

On the twelfth day after the accident, things weren’t so rosy. On the thirteenth day, her organs began to fail. On the fourteenth, the grim reaper came to call.

Later that week, family and friends gathered at the Catholic Church where she’d spent much of her adult life and where she was a founding member. During the wake in the parish hall, everyone sat quietly and reverently as the sad and grieving passed-by her casket. The next day, following a formal funeral mass, she was laid to rest.

This lady was one of the first homeowners in our subdivision of 2200 homes. She was also our across-the-street neighbor. A widow who lived alone, she was someone we watched-out for, someone we kept an eye on. When she traveled, as she often did, we fed old Charlie the cat. Perhaps due more to his aggravating antics than to her absence, we were always glad when she returned … glad when we saw a light on upstairs or a light on the porch where she often sat and read the New Yorker, her favorite magazine.

According to rumors, the driver of the other vehicle and the person charged in the accident was also a resident of this community … a junior at the local high school, one located less than 200-yards as the crow flies from where the accident occurred.

Gossip had it that he was speeding when he lost control of his parent’s BMW. At a bend in the road, a front wheel dropped off the pavement, he overcorrected, crossed the centerline and ran head-on into our friend and neighbor. Long after the tire tracks had faded away, a cross still marked the spot of impact and we thought of her every time we passed by.

While we know that our friend was killed and that this kid was at fault, as so often happens with lawyers and influential parents, the story was kept off the news and out of the newspaper. Some in our community were sympathetic. They were pleased to learn that the kid’s injuries were minor and that he was back in school just days after the accident. They hoped that this incident didn’t mark him for life.

I, on the other hand, was not so forgiving. While I realize that accidents happen, this was no accident or unexplainable Act of God. This was an irresponsible act committed by an irresponsible teenager turned loose on the rest of us by equally irresponsible parents. They chose to allow their son, an inexperienced driver to get behind the wheel of a high-powered automobile. He chose to speed and drive recklessly. In the process, he took a life.

Soon after the funeral mass, the house was sold, her belongings divided among the kids and grandkids and all the stuff left unclaimed was sold to the highest bidder.

It saddens me to think that seventy-nine years of living ended with total strangers picking over a person’s stuff, each one likely attached to a memory.

Facing my own mortality, I’ve become sensitive to things like that. I know you can’t take it with you, but seeing a lifetime of living reduced to a few memories, a few photographs, and some odds and ends sold off at a yard sale is downright depressing. Especially while the reckless teenager that caused it all is still driving fast cars and chasing skirts.

Memories …

precious memories

We called her “Flossie.” She was my maternal grandmother and the one member of my family that I never heard speak ill of anyone. Also, the one person in the world that thought I could do no wrong.

The year was 1946. My dad was home from the serving in WWII and the five of us – my mom, my dad, my grandmother, and the skinny collie dog we called Skipper – had moved from the duplex on Euclid Avenue we’d rented while Dad was overseas, into a tiny white frame house in Kirkwood, purchased with his post-war GI-loan.

Dad was back at his old position: working for a nasty, draft-dodging taskmaster in a hot job as a pattern maker at a filthy dirty steel mill west of Little Five Points. My grandmother was still employed as a film inspector for United Artists. The post-war economy was starting to recover, but our family had a long way to go. Still, Granny – or Flossie, as everyone called her – could always be counted on to share what little she had, especially with her grandson, “the apple of her eye.”

In the year or so that followed, our lives kept changing. My dad, seeing the need for more education, soon sold that first little house so that he could afford to go to Georgia Tech night school and advance his career. We moved back into one of several duplex apartments we would occupy over the dozen years, and although still a frequent visitor, Flossie went to live with her sister and brother-in-law at their home near Little Five Points. For health reasons, she had resigned from United Artists and now made do with what little my family could spare, and a small Social Security benefit.

Visits with Flossie were special. On Sunday nights, we’d lie on her bed and listen to the radio broadcast of the service from the Inman Park Baptist Church and eat Fritos, maybe even split a Coca-Cola. Inman Park wasn’t her church home as it was for the rest of the family, clinging to her Methodist upbringing, she often attended but never became a member.

At other times, we’d listen to one of Billie Graham’s Crusades, and afterward, Flossie would prevail on me to sing “How Great Thou Art,” doing my eight-year-old best to imitate the booming baritone voice of George Beverly Shea.

Perhaps our most exciting times were spent listening to Jim Woods radio broadcast of the Atlanta Crackers baseball games. Whether from Ponce de Leon Park or read from a Teletype in the studio, his commentaries were live and thrilling. We cheered, we booed, and when Dixie Walker, Cracker Manager in those AAA Championship years, was suspended for thumping an umpire, we cried together. The bond between grandmother and grandson was strong.

The things that Flossie loved most of all were Jesus, family, Christmas, and snow – although, in the southeastern United States, snow was a rarity. Still, no one could “out-family,” or “out-Christmas,” Flossie.

She would arrive on Christmas morning shouting “Christmas Gift” – and Christmas gifts there were – our old Chevy’s trunk filled to overflowing with brightly wrapped boxes. She would scrimp and save all year and then gather the entire family’s stash of S&H Green Stamps to do her Christmas Shopping.

No one enjoyed Christmas more than she did. And when it was all over, she would clap her hands together and say “didn’t we have a good ‘un!” Thanks to her, we usually did.

Snow was another one of her passions. As long as I can remember, as soon as the first flakes fell, the telephone would ring. “Ron! Have you looked out? It’s snowing!” On the rare times that we were together when it began to pepper down, she would stand at the window and gaze out at the snow. “Isn’t it pretty, Ron? Just look at it coming down.”

Before I knew it, I was grown and married, and life had grown more complicated. I had barely missed being cannon fodder in Vietnam and my two best friends in the world were slipping away. I lost my dad to heart failure in 1981, and Flossie was growing older and more feeble each day. Oh, she still had her sparkle and her family and friends were as important to her as ever. She would often chide me and say, “you should call and go visit your cousin Judy” – someone I hadn’t seen since I was eleven or twelve!  She would bake coconut pound cakes and deliver them via a MARTA bus to family and friends all over town. She loved to be on the go, so whenever we could, we’d take her for a Sunday drive downtown or anywhere. She didn’t care, just so she could go along with us on a trip in the car.

A big change came when her sister whom she’d shared her life with for nearly fifty years suffered a debilitating stroke and was bedridden. Helpless to change the situation, Flossie stayed distraught and depressed. To escape, she would ride aimlessly on the bus for hours trying to put her sadness out of her mind. She knew every “motorman” (a holdover from the streetcar era) on the Lake Clare line and often took cakes to them, too.

In 1984, her world was crumbling around her. Her emotions just wouldn’t let her stay in an environment where her sister was suffering so, being cared for by paid caregivers instead of family. In desperation, we secured a small apartment for her in a retirement center close-by.

For the first time in over sixty-five years, Flossie was living alone. Another time, another place, it might have worked. However, in this time and in this place, it did not. Still grieving over her sister’s condition and lonely beyond words, the emotional strain soon took its toll.

The call came from the Decatur Police Department at about 9:30 am on a Saturday morning in February 1984.  The residents of her retirement home had a practice of placing an “I’m OK Card” on their door each morning to let everyone know they were, in fact, up and “OK.” On this particular day, Flossie’s card was not on the door. Looking in on the situation, a neighbor found her lying on the floor, still in her bedclothes.

On Sunday night everyone gathered at the funeral home to pay their respects to this cherished soul. Cousins, great aunts, old family friends, and people I’d never seen before. Given the circumstances, it was a grand celebration since all that knew Flossie, loved her, and each one had a story to tell. Finally, much later than we had planned, the crowd of friends began to thin and the few remaining family members started toward the door to the parking lot.

When we stepped outside, we were awestruck. Although it had been a beautiful February day with a high-blue winter sky and moderate temperatures, the ground had turned white: It was snowing to beat the band! Huge, wet flakes danced and swirled in the lights scattered across the parking lot.

In the silence and beauty of the snow, I could hear old Flossie saying, “Isn’t it pretty, Ron? Just look at it coming down.”

The following day, we said goodbye to Flossie. We buried her beneath the still fresh snow next to my Dad. God and most all of her family and friends were there the way she would have wanted.

And while Christmas at our house is still a wonderful time, it’s never been quite the same without Flossie.

Time to blow up the TV!

blow up

Why? TV is awful.

I’m sick to death of watching news that tries to tell me how I should think rather than what happened.

I’m sick to death of hearing the hateful left and the hateful right scream at each other.

I’m sick to death of weather forecasts that attempt to entertain and be funny, or worst still work at creating a little anxiety in hopes they will gain more viewers and their ratings will go up.

I’m sick to death of sitcoms centered round apartment dwelling, jive-talkin’, horny singles, and gay folks

I’m sick to death with night after night of macabre reruns of the Texas Chain Saw Massacre disguised as detective and police drama. Ditto with updated versions of Starsky and Hutch, albeit now agents of NCIS; or updates of Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man and The Bride of Frankenstein.

I’m sick to death of reality shows and mindless game shows hosted by men with too many teeth. I’m sick to death of late-night comedians with their insulting humor and endless political trash talk.

Even TV sports suck. Unless that is, you enjoy listening to endless chatter by the ex-jocks with smiles wider than a mile, teeth whiter than my Frigidaire, wearing suits louder than an F15 at full throttle.

I can’t relate to commercials that have more special effects than Independence Day the movie or Star Wars. Most of the time, when their 30-seconds are up, I haven’t a clue as to what they are selling unless it’s beer, burgers, chicken, pizza or sex.

Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned the chatty-Kathy daytime talk shows hosted by femme fatales of both persuasions and all colors pushing their not-so-well-hidden agendas.

Where does it all end?

I’ll tell you where it ended for me: about two years ago I gave up on nighttime TV and began reading.

Some 250 books later, we ran out of shelf space so I bought a pair of Kindles. One for me and one for my bride. When last I looked, they each now contain about 50 titles. Most were free, or cost only a few bucks, and all were genres of our choosing.

Thanks to the printed or the digital word, in my old age, I’ve become a world traveler, an airline pilot, a juror, a lawyer, a CIA operative, a detective, an agent for the Mossad, a beat cop, and a beach bum. Oh yeah, along the way, I’ve often been one helluva lover!

Oh, maybe one day I’ll clean the cobwebs from one of our five big screen TVs we have scattered throughout the house and go back to watching.

‘When will that be,’ you ask? When they once again broadcast shows like Andy Griffith, All in the Family, the Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, Sonny and Cher, Johnny Cash, Ed Sullivan, and Johnny Carson. When the nightly comes from the likes of Huntley and Brinkley or old Walter Cronkite.

I recall one night long ago sitting in a smokey bar in Homewood, Alabama having a sprucer and listening to songs performed by a quasi-bluegrass group called “Three On A String”.  The sang an upbeat ballad by John Prine, told the story of a dancer who shares my sentiments exactly. It goes like this:

She was a level-headed dancer on the road to alcohol,
I was just a soldier on my way to Montreal.
Well, she pressed her chest against me about the time the jukebox broke.
She gave me a peck on the back of the neck, and these are the words she spoke.

Blow up your TV, throw away your paper, go to the country, build you a home.
Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches, try and find Jesus on your own.

 I sat there at the table, and I acted real naive.
Cause I knew that topless lady, she had something up her sleeve.
She danced around the room awhile and she did the hoochy-coo.
Singing a song all night long, telling me what to do.

 Blow up your TV, throw away your paper, go to the country, build you a home.
Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches, try and find Jesus on your own.

 Well, I was young and hungry, and about to leave that place.
Just as I was going, she looked me in the face.
I said “You must know the answer,” she said, “No, but I’ll give it a try.”
To this day we’ve been living our way, here is the reason why.

 We blew up our TV, threw away our paper, went to the country, built us a home.
Had a lot of children, fed ’em on peaches, and they all found Jesus on their own. 

Here its is from John Prine’s album called Spanish Pipedream. Take a listen:

 

It was good advice then, perhaps it’s even better advice now.

And that’s the way it is on this October 17, 2017, on what feels like the first day of autumn in Georgia.

 We’d never play in Texas, but we wanted a fiddle in the band!

fiddler

I wasn’t the first to arrive. The lead guitarist was there, so was the drummer. We were thinking of putting together a rock-a-billy group that would become known as “The Racket Squad. When the little blonde with the pouty lips came in, I quickly learned that she played the fiddle.

I took my old tenor sax out of the case and began to warm up. The dude on lead guitar joined in and so did the drummer. Soon we were belting out strains of the Bill Doggett classic called “Honky Tonk.” Next, we played “To Know Him Is To Love Him”, a song that under the circumstances, I thought was most appropriate.

The pouty blonde with the fiddle had a solo part. She struggled valiantly through it, albeit slightly off-key. I thought to myself, ‘it’s too bad her violin doesn’t have frets.’ Still, she was a cutie that I’d let fiddle with me anytime.

We went through a half dozen tunes and all agreed that we needed more work. So another rehearsal was set for the following Sunday. The next week, I couldn’t keep my mind on my schoolwork. I kept thinking about the fiddle player with the long blonde trusses, those pouty lips, and that out-of-tune violin.

When we got back together, we sounded a lot better. Not great, mind you, but better. Before heading home, I pulled the guitar picker aside and asked him what he knew about the fiddle player. He said she was still in high school and that she dated some goon whose dad was a cop. His best advice was to stay away.

Now, when it came to girls, I always relished the joy of victory far more than I dreaded the agony of defeat. So about mid-week, I gave her a call. Didn’t ask her out — just gave her a call. But when the next rehearsal rolled around, was it my imagination or was the fiddler warming up to the guy with the tenor sax?

I walked over to her and said, “Nice job on the solo … OK to call you next week?” She grinned and that was all I needed. We dated all of two or three months.

One star-lit night we were almost back to her house when I noticed another car following close behind. I pulled into her drive and walked her to the door. Turning back toward my car, I noticed the same car was parked against the curb across the street, motor still running.

On the drive home, whoever it was, remained right on my bumper. The driver kept yelling something out the window, but since there were three of them and only one of me, I didn’t stop and ask them to repeat it. Besides, I fancied myself a lover, not a fighter.

The next day, I told my fiddlin’ friend about the incident. She said that if it was a black Chevy Impala, it was likely her old boyfriend. (I guess he subscribed to that piece of redneck culture that says, “If I can’t have her, nobody can have her.”) Anyway, the next time we went out, there he was again — stalking us and following close behind. Each time he got braver. Each time he had more of his hooligan friends along for the ride.

Now there are a couple of things my old daddy taught me: never give a sucker an even break and always take care of yourself. He said when it comes down to self-defense, there’s no such thing as a fair fight or should there be. So next time out, I had two pieces of pipe and a length of chain tucked underneath my seat, just in case.

Sure, ’nuff, the following night the boys in the black Chevy appeared once more. This time, however, I was ready. Armed like a hoodlum from ‘Rebel Without a Cause,’ and with my toughest buddy and his date in the back seat, we pulled into a drive-in restaurant in Brookhaven, Even before those clowns could get out of their car, we were in their face. Both of us gripping one of those pieces of pipe in one hand, pounding it against the palm of the other.

After a heated discussion, it seems I’d been wrong about them. They didn’t want any trouble, just a hamburger and an order of fries!

At our suggestion, they left, never to be heard from again.

Oh, and the pouty blonde fiddle player? Seems neither me nor rock-a-billy music was her thing after all. After high school, she went on to study serious music at Georgia State, Michigan State, and San Francisco State University. She ended up playing the violin, not the fiddle mind you, in a half dozen major symphony orchestras across the country.

I guess someone was able to tune her fiddle after all.

 

The days of Burma Shave

simple life

Something on the CBS Morning Show this morning caused my wife to ask if I remembered ’em. Of course, I do … that’s how we broke up the boredom of a road trip back when I was a kid. It was a carefree time when all was right with the world. A time when neighborhoods were safe and drive-by shootings were unheard of. A time before gender confusion when men were men, women were women, kids were kids and we all knew which bathroom to go to. A time when we respected our flag, loved our country and at least a few politicians were statesmen.  A time when little signs with humorous rhymes peppered the side of highways and byways across the land.

It all began in 1926 when Burma-Shave began erecting their signs on U.S. Highway 65 near Lakeville, Minnesota. Typically, six consecutive signs would be posted along the edge of highways, spaced for sequential reading by passing motorists. The last sign was always the name of the product. The very first series read: Cheer up, face – the war is over! Burma-Shave. They remained a major advertising component for the company until 1963 and could be seen across most of the contiguous United States.

I’ve noticed that when you reach my age – well, at least the age of some of my much older friends – waxing nostalgic about the days of Burma Shave and other such trivia becomes an oft-repeated pastime. Usually, it’s the prolog for a tale of long ago, sometimes about one of life’s many lessons. A time when kids shoveled snow off the walk, walked five miles through the rain and snow to school or did a long list of chores for a fifty-cent a week allowance. A time when you, like me, probably had a paper route or worked at the grocery store for money to take the current object of our affection to a Saturday Matinee.

My Burma Shave days occurred sometime between the end of WWII and those carefree days of the early 60s when a few of my peers took off for the left coast in a Volkswagen Bus all decked out in psychedelic paint and filled to the max with dirty, long-haired guys and scantily clad gals with flowers in their hair.

I personally traversed those years in something of a time warp – from a time when I wasn’t old enough, to a time like now when I am too old – well, almost too old. Some would say that marrying young and never having kids helped blur the lines of aging for both me and my wife. I’m sure that’s true. She went from being “Miss Everything” at her high school to being a “Mrs.” running a household. I went from being an aspiring, young ad agency intern and part-time college student, to the breadwinner. Before we knew it, both of us had reached the age of retirement and Sloan’s liniment.

I fondly remember those days when life was simpler and pains were fewer … when things were black and white and not fifty or more shades of grey. A time when there were fewer options and easier decisions; a time when life’s reference books filled a large library, not a tiny hard disk on my home computer. “Progress” – if we can call it that – has made even simple things, complicated. Whether we’re talking about buying a car, a set of tires, or the necessities of life, the choices stagger the mind.

When I was a kid there were Fords, Lincolns, Chevies, Pontiacs, Buicks, Oldsmobiles, Cadillacs, Plymouths, Dodges, Chryslers, Studebakers, Nashes, Hudsons – and for a time, Crosleys, Kaisers, Frazers and Henry J’s. Most came in a two-door coupe, a four-door sedan and a convertible model, each with optional trim packages. The brands were distinctive: one didn’t have to look at the logo on the wheels or analyze the nameplate on the trunk lid to see what make of car it was. Nowadays many of those American-made automobiles have disappeared, replaced by dozens of new, look-alikes from Japan, Korea, Europe and the UK.

Need tires? Trying to decide based on a brand? Well, there are brands we know like Cooper, Dunlap, Goodyear, B.F. Goodrich, Seiberling, and Kelly-Springfield. Oh but what about Michelin, Perilli, Bridgestone, Toyo, Yokohama, Nitto, Falken, and Kuhmo? It’s enough to drive one to drink!

My personal purgatory is the grocery store, where shoppers, young and old, block the aisle while they read and study labels and make-up their minds as to what brand to buy. Heck, the toothpaste decision should be between Colgate, Pepsodent, and Ipana. In shampoo, it should be between Prell, Halo or White Rain. In cereal, between Wheaties, Rice Crispies, Raisin Bran, Corn Flakes, Shredded Wheat, Frosted Flakes or Sugar Pops, not the fifty brands of each that line the shelves of today’s grocery aisles.

Want to lay back in the old La-z-boy and watch some TV? You guessed it, decision time once again. 250 channels, not to mention at least a hundred movies and specials one can call up “on demand.”

It’s no wonder a guy my age yearns for the good old days … the days of Burma Shave when life was so much simpler. Days without problems with Windows and the Internet. Days spent listening to Elvis and Buddy Holley and Connie Frances, not the rants of Mike Shinoda, Eminem, Chester Bennington, Rob Bourdon, Brad Delson, Joe Hahn, Dave Farrell and a bunch of others I’ve never heard of. A day made better by old dogs and children and watermelon wine. A day when easing headache pain was as simple as taking an aspirin without having to decide between regular aspirin, baby aspirin, enteric aspirin, Tylenol, Ibuprofen, Aleve, Excedrin or Vanquish – each in either tablet, capsules or gel cap.

Amidst all the confusion that threatens to steal my joy and drive me crazy, I recently came across the best definition of happiness I’ve ever seen. It said, “True happiness is a day with something to do, someone to love and something to look forward to.” Let me add to that, a day with no more than a half-dozen decisions to make … none so important they can’t be decided by the toss of a coin, or by remembering the wisdom of a silly little rhyme on a Burma Shave sign.

Concerned about the hereafter?

cartoon6705

There’s an old joke about aging where an old man tells a friend that lately he’s been overwhelmed with concerns about the hereafter. “You have?” replies the friend, “How’s that?” He replies, “Well, every time I go upstairs or down, or out into the garage, I ponder what I’m here after.” The joke is a spoof with a double entendre; however, as we age, both meanings contain a ring of truth. I often scratch my head in bewilderment wondering why I opened the fridge or climbed the stairs or went to the basement.

The joke is a spoof with a double entendre; however, as we age, both meanings contain a ring of truth. I often scratch my head in bewilderment wondering why I opened the fridge or climbed the stairs or went to the basement.

And as I lose more of my family and friends to the grim reaper, I find myself pondering the real hereafter … where it is, what it is and what’s it like. I most often think of heaven as a place beyond the clouds, beyond the sunset – perhaps beyond the most distant galaxy – a place where we go when we die. That’s a concept that is central to my Christian upbringing.

At most every funeral we attend, we hear the promise, “In my Father’s house are many rooms … I am going there to prepare a place for you.” Whether this means that we will each have our own room or even our own house, is open to debate. The problem is that any description of heaven is an attempt to put spiritual things into physical terms. It’s like the problem of trying to describe the color green to a blind man. A man without vision can’t comprehend colors. Similarly, as human beings, we lack the knowledge and the resources to fully comprehend what heaven is like.

Now I personally doubt that heaven has streets paved with gold. (I feel that’s probably an early attempt by the writer to describe how precious the place is using human ideas of beauty and perceived value.) I would guess that since heaven is a spiritual realm and because God is a spirit, he probably lacks physical characteristics. (I know that flies in the face of a literal translation of the Bible when it says ‘we were created in His image’. Some folks strongly believe that makes God sort of ‘super-human’.

For sure, there are far more things about heaven that we don’t know, than those we do. The whole concept of the afterlife comes late in biblical history. We hear nothing of it until Jesus himself teaches his followers about the life that follows this one. Indeed, he told the thief on the cross beside him that he would that very day join him in ‘Paradise’ – a word I believe Jesus used simply to explain that a wonderful afterlife awaited him after a horrible death.

Heaven and the afterlife are important subjects for Christians, not only because they are interesting and pleasant topics to investigate, but also because they are so vital to our faith. The abject fear of hell and eternal torment may be a strong incentive for some to seek salvation, but it is not the basis for a Christian’s faith. Rather, it is the promise of heaven itself that is the cornerstone of our faith and our hope.

One of the greatest problems plaguing the Christian Church today is the strong strain of literalism among those that would put God in a box, and hold to the belief that the Bible is the precise Word of God. It’s bad enough that today there are so few who take the Word as the Word from God, but when literalism engages science in a shouting match, it threatens to discredit God and the Bible’s true message.

I believe that the Bible is a true and factual record of God’s revelation – wholly reliable and trustworthy in all it addresses. However, the events in Scripture did not take place in a cultural-historical vacuum. The miracle of creation did not necessarily take place in seven, 24 hour days. Rather, somewhat like the opening crawl that frames the timing of the epic space opera “Star Wars” … a long time ago in a galaxy far,  far away”–  the Bible is a record of events in a world far, far away, from a perspective and to a culture that existed thousands of years ago. We hinder our understanding when we abstract its teachings from this original setting. When we get to the place where our heavenly Father is little more than an extension of ourselves albeit sporting a perpetual Rolex, we are making a god in our own image, instead of vice versa.

I believe that the vague biblical descriptions of heaven were meant to turn our attention away from a literal heaven. To make it so unrealistic, so paradoxical, so incomprehensible that we would not waste time dawdling over the details. Rather, we would shift our focus onto something far more important: the personality of the God who rules there, and here, and hopefully in our hearts.

Our modern evangelical mythology of heaven and the simplistic tendency to make more of it than Jesus or his disciples did after Him, is a trap for the mind. In the process, I fear we’ve gone far astray from the path of His teaching. Our songs and hymns often reflect a pre-occupation of this mythology. Pictures of angels, resting upon billowy clouds arise from taking biblical phrases too literally.

Rather than writing reams of words about “when I get to heaven,” there ought to be much more about the pathway we must follow while we are in route. Lest in making heaven a “literal place”, we bring it down to the level of our own humanity. If we truly expect to find a literal street with a literal pavement of gold, we have sold the truth too cheaply.

Will the circle be unbroken? Will we know our loved ones? Will they appear young or old, sick or healthy? Do pets go to heaven? Here’s what I believe heaven is like: Heaven is a God-like place. A place of perfection and light where there’s no need for the moon or the sun. A place of immortality where death is swallowed up in victory. A place where faith, hope, and love preside. A place where we are exalted with joy. A place where we are reunited with our loved ones who died in the faith. A place whose beauty is beyond anything we can imagine.

What heaven is not: Heaven is not a hammock, strung up between two clouds occupied by one strumming on a harp to pass the time. Even in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve had work to do to occupy themselves. In Heaven, I expect we will have work to do as well. I believe that one occupation in heaven will be that of learning. Another is worship. While heaven may be a place of eternal rest, I don’t believe it will be a place of inactivity.

Amid the turbulence of today’s terror-besieged world, we cling to the hope of a heavenly home where we will be welcomed into eternal peace and safety. Old time Southern Gospel songs like “I’m Getting Ready for a Brand New Journey” perfectly illustrate the point. Nevertheless, I believe that there is more to it than that. Heaven is being in the presence of God. As such, I believe heaven will be the home of our dreams: a home of lasting value that’s fully paid for and filled with family where we will be wanted and welcomed. Best of all, heaven is a home we can claim as our own for all time.

I recently saw a bumper sticker that read, “If you don’t like Church, you’ll hate heaven.” While not every church or every worship service is a microcosm of heaven, I suspect this statement contains more truth than fiction.

In the midst all the dire predictions for September 23, 2017, and beyond, let us renew our focus on the hereafter. An eternal focus puts earthly worries into perspective. Let us also be faithful in the present, serving society as salt and light. And let us persevere in our trials, knowing that somewhere beyond the sunset, our faithfulness will be rewarded. Not with seventy-two vestal virgins as the Islamic world believes – rather, with the peace that passes understanding.

That’s good. At my age, I crave peace more than virgins.

I don’t get it …

 

I don’t get it … the focus of all dont get itthe protests du jour. The insistence by many on the left that we remove many of our historical statues and monuments and why so many overpaid professional athletes have chosen to openly dishonor our flag and our National Anthem at sporting events. Oh, I get the downside; but for the life of me, I can’t figure out the upside. Both are an important part of our American history, good and bad. We should embrace our past instead of running from it. Like I said, I just don’t get it.

A number Americans claim they’ve been hurt and are disgusted by the presence of objets d’art that honor our past.  Why? Why now? After a hundred years or so of acceptance, where did these artifacts go wrong? They didn’t. No, overreaction and constantly stirring the puddin’ has become the quintessential calling card of the left.

For example, CNN’s Angela Rye recently called for statues of Washington and Jefferson to be torn down. Yesterday a statue of Robert E. Lee was pulled down and removed from a park in Dallas.

The Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. has been painted with expletive-filled graffiti and a statue of Abraham Lincoln was burned in Chicago.

It gets worse.

Wilbert L. Cooper, a writer for an Internet news magazine called “VICE News” suggested on Twitter that we should “blow up” Mount Rushmore and destroy all carvings that are on it. Cooper wrote: “demystifying the historical figures of the past, pulling them off the great mountain top back down to Earth where they shat, farted, spit, pissed, f**ked, raped, murdered, died, and rotted, seems like important business for this country. As long as we allow those men to be cults of personality who exist beyond reproach, we’re never going to be able to see them for all of their good and all of their evil.”

Local groups feel the same way about Stone Mountain here in Georgia. They say the carvings that depict three Confederate figures,  Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, gotta go.

Wow. Such wisdom. Such insight into the biggest problems facing our country.

Now there is plenty for liberals, like Cooper, of all races and all colors to be legitimately upset about. (Did I mention that Hillary lost?) But when they get carried away with such absolute nonsense, they make themselves look ridiculous and prove once more that they are out of touch with the average American.

That brings me to the NFL’s unhappiness with the flag, our National Anthem and the country they represent.

An enjoyable part of most any sporting event used to be the pregame presentation of the colors, a musical performance of our National Anthem … perhaps even a military flyover. Colin Kaepernick changed all that. Now during the anthem, all eyes are no longer on the artist or the skies. No, all eyes are on Kaepernick and other athletes who have joined him in sitting or kneeling out of disrespect for the anthem and the flag, some even raising clenched fists.

Kaepernick is quoted on NFL.com saying, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

Sure, as the President said after Charlottesville, we’ve witnessed shameful actions by a few on both sides and steps have been taken to make sure it doesn’t get repeated. But the nonsense brought on us by Kaepernick has now spread like wildfire to other pro sports … baseball, soccer, and basketball … and not to just the players. Even band members called upon to perform our National Anthem and a few of those chosen to sing it have been seen taking a sympathetic knee.

Call me old-fashioned, call me a racist. Call me insensitive. But the blood of many that died is on that ragged old flag and many of our heroes dating back to the Revolutionary War are honored by that song. To dishonor our flag dishonors those who paid the price and made the ultimate sacrifice to keep us free. The offensive statues and war memorials as well honor the bravery and dedication of the legends of our past, all of whom deserve respect, whether or not you agree with all their beliefs.

All this rank and rancor and hoopla isn’t about 1st Amendment rights and free speech. No, it’s about mounting a political distraction, one intended to diminish our greatness and embarrass us in the eyes of the world.

It’s divisive. It’s demeaning. And, in my opinion, it’s two curly back hairs short of treason.