Life Stories

One of my favorite program on television is This Is Us. The series follows the lives and families of two parents, and their three children, in several different time frames. On any given episode, there may be several separate story lines running across these many time frames.

The series is really much like our lives in that there are always several different story lines progressing through our days, weeks, months and years.

Today, in the midst of coronaville, I was reminded of a story line from the late 60’s in my own life. The relevance of which I hope you will see.

Late 1966 was a tumultuous year for me in many ways—most of which I only vaguely remember. I was a senior in high school and was having a hard time figuring out my place in life and often felt like I was a stranger in my own body.

My home life was less than stellar and I was often at odds with my parents who often seemed lost and caught up in their own drama as well.

Fast forward to early winter 1967 and amidst the confusion I seemed trapped in, I quit school and hitchhiked to NYC with a friend. Really can’t remember what we thought we would find but the city was to be the beginning of a year long journey which found me flying to San Francisco, moving to Seattle and finally returning to NYC and flying to Europe. After floating around Amsterdam and Munich for several months, I ended up in Italy and worked my way back to America on a freighter.

The biggest mistake in my life was moving back into my parents house when I returned to the USA and that is really where today’s story begins.

Everything was really wonderful after I returned from Europe and for awhile it seemed like I was riding on top of the world. I went to night school and got my high school diploma and began classes at the local community college. By the middle of my freshman year, I had all the teachers convinced I was smart and ran for student government president and won. During my brief tenure, the student council brought both Ralph Nader and Dick Gregory in to town as featured guests and speakers. Dick Gregory was less a comedian than a human rights activist and health nut at the time. I spent several hours with him from the Detroit airport and back and it was enlightening.

One of the people on the student council was a very pretty black girl who was also in my sociology class. She was a feisty debater and it wasn’t long before I asked her out on a date. As I remember we went to a restaurant for dinner and then attended a movie afterward.

Now we are talking about Port Huron, Michigan, a city on the shores of Lake Huron and the St. Clair River. Growing up I don’t remember many people of “color” on either side of the tracks.

World traveler that I was, the stares and so forth didn’t seem to bother me as my date and I walked through the downtown area. The first part of my wake-up call came as we watched the movie. It must have been one of those beach pictures which were popular at the time. I firmly remember, abut 15 minutes into the movie, noticing that there were not any black people in the film and I began to feel uncomfortable at that and my choice of movies and my total lack of under standing that reality. I don’t believe that I had the words to express what I was feeling and about how uncomfortable she must have felt.

Anyway, we made it through the evening, I walked her back to the student housing and went home. It probably was really that simple.

Later that week, I asked her out again and she asked me to meet her at her apartment. She informed me that she would not be going on another date with me and when I asked her why, she pointed to another student housing building down the block where a few of her black friends were hanging out. If I go out with you again, she said, I risk losing my friendship with those people that you see over there—they don’t approve of me dating you. Another moment where words failed me.

It wasn’t until several years later (yes, I am that thick sometimes) that I began to understand what had really taken place on that day. I felt stupid that I had rushed head-long into something that was beyond my reach or comprehension.

But it was a lesson learned and it is probably to simple to say that it was an example of reverse discrimination.

In writing this I am not looking for a pat on the back or a racial diversity award. I have my filters and so does everyone else.

Several years ago I had a conversation with a friend of mine about being black and all that entailed. I can’t remember the entire conversation but what stuck with me was his response to me. He said that even though his skin color was different from mine that he wanted me to regard him as a brother and to not define him as black or treat him any differently from how I would treat anyone else. We are still friends after all these years and that is really all that matters. He is a musician, a father, a husband and friend and that is really what defines him to me.

After all, it is the unknown that we are really afraid of isn’t it. What we know and are familiar with, is not as scary as what we don’t.

While walking on the beach with my wife a week or so ago, the 1958 movie “South Pacific” came to mind. The sound track to the movie is one that I will remember my whole life. One tune in particular came to mind that day on the beach.

The plot centers on an American nurse stationed on a South Pacific island during World War II, who falls in love with a middle-aged expatriate French plantation owner but struggles to accept his mixed-race children. A secondary romance, between a U.S. Marine lieutenant and a young Tonkinese woman, explores his fears of the social consequences should he marry his Asian sweetheart. The issue of racial prejudice is candidly explored throughout the musical, most controversially in the lieutenant’s song, “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught”.

[Verse 1]
You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear
You’ve got to be taught from year to year
It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught

[Verse 2]
You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade
You’ve got to be carefully taught

[Verse 3]
You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late
Before you are six or seven or eight
To hate all the people your relatives hate
You’ve got to be carefully taught

And during this ride that we are on, I do hope we learn before it is to late.

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Letting Off A Little Steam

In light of this coronavirus lockdown, social distancing and all the rest, I stumbled upon this thought this morning. I was imagining myself as an older John Prine who had not spent most of his life not writing songs. I was carefully strumming the guitar and allowing myself to think John Prine thoughts, or so I imagined, and in doing so let those pent up words and verses turn themselves into Oscar worthy songs.

Well, that never happened. But as my fingers loosened up on the strings, I remembered thinking, during my months as a surveyor for an engineering firm in the late 1960’s, that I hoped to reach 64 and still be able to play the guitar and hear the world around me.

To that end, I was one of the only people who wore ear protection when I used a chainsaw or brush cutter, so common when plotting out a subdivision in a heavily wooded area. My thought was that I would protect my body so that when I got older, there would still be something there to live for.

What I have come to understand since that time, and during this Covid-19 era, is that you really can’t totally protect yourself from everything that is going to happen around and to you. You can do your best to protect your hearing and then at 50 realize that tinnitus makes it sound like you are in a fall forest with the brittle leaves blowing against one another. And having said that, I do believe that my efforts to protect myself were not in vain—I just failed to take into consideration situations that were beyond my control or imagination.

And that is where we find ourselves today. Face masks either protect or they don’t (I guess there could be a middle ground). And if they do protect us is it you protecting yourself from me or me protecting myself from you or we are both protecting ourselves from one another. And what are we protecting ourselves from—that you might sneeze and that those droplets of viral infection might linger in the air that I unknowingly walk through.

In all of this, I doubt that we have all read the same articles and am reasonably sure that most of us are not on the same page when it comes to dealing with/understanding what is happening around us.

What I am almost positive about is the fact that none of us are 100% right or 100% wrong in the methods we have chosen to navigate this global storm.

Several years ago, a doctor who I highly respected told me that after 65 I should start getting the seasonal flu shot since our immunity is reduced (or so he said) as we age. Like I said, the guy was from Michigan (my home state) and seemingly read every analysis and medical report published. He had even stopped cholesterol testing in the blood work that he ordered for our annual check up. This because he believed that heart disease was mostly caused by inflammation and not cholesterol in our blood. What I have since learned is that he was correct about inflammation.

However, when it came to getting the flu shot, I took his word for a year or two and then after much research stopped getting one. When I did I made sure that I was getting the single dose version and not the bulk version with some sketchy preservatives. But then, after all that, you realize that the shot is only partially effective, that you have never had the flu, and that during flu season you wash you hands often and don’t pick your nose.

Not that any of that makes any difference in the overall scheme of things. The choices we make often have outcomes that, had we known at the time, might have affected our choices.

People die everyday because of bad habits—overeating, junk food, alcohol, drugs and the like. Good people get hit by drunk drivers, get cancer, and occasionally get hit by a bus.

Since Covid-19 has hit the scene and been politicized beyond measure, it is almost impossible to find a consensus about anything concerning this virus and the computer models that seem to propel the daily news. I read the other day that we have most certainly lowered the vehicle death rate during this crisis. And whether or not flattening the curve will prove effective or just serve to lengthen the time we have to live with this, has not been determined yet.

This is where things get dicey. I could go on a long time about what I have read and what I think about where things are at, heath and economy both considered, but I fear that the blowback would be significant and without any redeeming social value. A quick perusal of Facebook would be a case in point. People that haven’t hibernated or worn a mask or gotten within 6 feet of someone else have been called all sorts of stupid. We live in America and I am sure that some sort of forced vaccine will not be accepted. On the other hand, giving away some of your “rights” under the guise of big brother’s protection might be something that many would welcome.

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out and how soon we can let the millions who have lost their jobs get back to work and making a living. I could use a good burger and beer.

 

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The New World

One of my favorite past times is reading the newspaper. I know, that is kind of “old school” but that is what I grew up with. When I was a youngster growing up in Port Huron, Michigan, I had two paper routes as they were called back in the day. Each morning at 5:30 or 6:00 I would pick up and deliver the Detroit Free Press to about 75 or 80 people in and around my neighborhood. The Free Press was a Daily morning newspaper and that is how lots of adults began each and every day: reading the news. In addition to that route, I also had a Sunday route delivering the Detroit News, which was a weekend fixture in many homes at that time. It was big and heavy and included the Parade magazine and Sunday comics, which I delivered Saturday morning while collecting the subscription money which many people paid each and every week.

It was one of the very first “gig” jobs and we were all independent contractors who collected money and paid our “paper bills” each Saturday.

Nearly 32 years later, I would find myself working for a little twice weekly newspaper in West Jefferson, North Carolina. It was a job that I loved and worked at for over 3 and a half years. I between writing stories I would sell advertising and I walked the streets of that little town almost each and every day in search of “all the news that fits” to coin a phrase.

During that time, I relied heavily on the Winston Salem Journal, which had a Northwest section of the newspaper a couple of times a week. This was normally two or three pages relating to what was happening in Ashe County, the most northwest county in North Carolina. I would read their view on things and then take the stories and add a local element which they didn’t have the staff or time for.

I learned many things during my nearly 3 1/2 years at the Jefferson Times. I learned to load my black and white film in a darkroom and then develop it after a picture taking assignment. Not only did I write the stories, I also took the pictures that often accompanied them. One valuable lesson came on the heels of me taking a photo at the local Ford dealership of several employees receiving awards. They were great shots from the knees up and focused on the framed awards they were receiving. When I printed the photos, my editor asked me if these people had feet. I remember answering “I guess” and his response was classic: “Then where are they?” was his reply. That lesson has lasted the rest of my photographic life along with the “whole body” pictures of the family at the beach.

As I remember we practiced old time journalism at the Times. What I mean by that is we used the pyramid method of story writing along with the who, what, where and why formula. The pyramid method stacks the most important info into the first few paragraphs so that if the editor cut some of the story off the end in order to fit everything in, the sense of the article would not be lost.

It was during the last few months at the Times that a new paper began to be published. It was called USA Today and most of us traditional journalists called it the Mac Paper because it featured a lot of news in short bits and pieces and didn’t seem to have any depth to it. USA Today was indeed a sign of the times and definitely spoke to the attention span of many Americans at that time.

Even though I hated that paper at its beginning, several years later found me buying one out of their television paper boxes almost everyday. I liked the way it was organized with its color coded sections and the focus on the news and entertainment industries. Then, at some point it got way to liberal for me and the cost was more than I could justify, so I stopped buying it. The last time I read it in 2019 was the last time I will ever waste any more money on it. I realized at that point that they were not reporting the news but trying to manipulate the news to fit their liberal agenda. And there you have that.

But that is not the end of the story. Several months ago I began a subscription to the Wall Street Journal after buying their weekend edition at the local Publix. What I have found is that they actually report the news and still write with the intent to inform rather than manipulate. A lot of what they report comes at us through the lens of finance and business but I have found that they do more in depth reporting than almost any other news source. Of course it takes me about a week to wade through the weekend edition and some weeks are better than others in terms of what interests me.

An interesting article I just read in the Journal during this Covid-19 lockdown says that: “Evidence shows that social interaction is a biological requirement, much like eating, drinking and sleeping. Our ability to learn to talk, play, acquire new skills (like making art – my addition), fall in love, conduct business and age in good health all hinge on our motivation to connect with other people, social neuroscientists have found. So, while social distancing reduces transmission of the coronavirus, which is good for us, it also increases anxiety, frustration and loneliness, which is bad for us.”

During this time, it is in our best interest to try and keep connected with one another.

I was alerted via Facebook this morning that John Prine had passed away. I don’t know why he was never on my playlist as it seems like he was a singer/songwriter that I would really like. One of his song lyrics that popped up on my news feed is from a song called Hello in There and one verse goes like this:

Ya’ know that old trees just grow stronger
And old rivers grow wilder ev’ry day
Old people just grow lonesome
Waiting for someone to say, “Hello in there, hello”

In ending this little story, lets take John’s advice and reach out to someone today by phone, by mail, by Facebook, by Zoom or any other ways that come to mind. As a community, let’s post what we are currently reading, listening to, or working on and keep sending those prayers and good thoughts to one another.

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I Am Younger Than That Now

My life at almost seventy seems to be an endless stream of thoughts and memories that appear on the horizon of my mind’s eye and then fade to the credits without so much as a ripple in the ocean of my existence. The days and weeks skim and skip over hill and dale and more often than not, I have to wonder what is real and what is not.

And if we are not making new memories are we destined to live in the blurry past and as T. S. Eliot said, “…measure out our lives in coffee spoons.”

As most of you know, I have worked for an art supply company for the past 30 years. During that time my wife has taught art and written 4 books for children about making art in its various forms. We started our family in 1980 (first of four kids) and have utilized our refrigerator as an art gallery for most of the past 37 plus years.

I have had periods during my life where I have painted, drawn and collaged and am surprised by the many sketch books I have filled.

Sandi and I have been to the Metropolitan Museum, the MOMA and the Guggenheim  during our frequent visits to NYC. In other words, art has been and  continues to be an important part of our lives.

As to what prompted this missive is some research that I did last week about the stages of artistic development. Since we sponsor at least 25 art workshops per year at work I get to talk with many of the participants about their art journey. I am always interested in what motivates people to take classes and spend money in order to develop their skills when in comes to drawing and painting. And I believe that art has the power to transform a persons life in a positive way.

Several years ago a researcher named Viktor Lowenfeld compiled a study on the stages of artistic development and not unlike Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, has become the industry standard on this area of investigation.

Like most developmental studies, there is a little wiggle room around each category and age, but by and large, what I have read, seems to resonate true.

The first stage (2-4 years) is called “Scribbling”. It is Pre-Representational  and mark making and includes mandalas, slash marks, bang dots and open shapes. And not to be funny, but on point as to the nature of this post and the conclusions I have arrived at, we probably know some adults who never went past this stage. But more on that later.

The period for 4-7 years of age is the Pre-Schematic stage or first visual symbols and includes nature, filling the paper, floating shapes and transitions into tadpole people.

During the 7-9 year period, art is used for communication and includes facial features and improved representation of figures.

Dawning Realism is the title for the 9-11 year olds and art is a creative outlet and includes details, clothing to identity, receding space and world making.

11 to 13 years is the Age of Reason or ideas in search of forms and this artwork includes proportions and three-dimensional space and realistic colors.

Art motivated by meaning is the 14-17 years or Period of Decision. This art will include inspiration by emotion, social issues and improved skill level.

And lastly, 17 years and up, the Adult phase which includes a focus on individual goals and a continuous improvement upon prior knowledge.

I have purposely simplified this to at least present the graphical nature of artistic development in order to make a few observations.

In another blog that I read while researching, it was mentioned that children 11- to 13 years of age are becoming more critical of their success or lack and need encouragement.

But it is the next level that resonated most within me.

The Decision Stage (13-16 years old) when a person will decide to continue drawing or will quit based on perception that they lack the necessary skill. There is a high level of self criticism at this point which leads to this decision. Some will decide to continue making art and will continue to grow and it appears this stage is the most critical in the development of an artist.

As a youngster I was an avid fan of comics and would draw the characters that I liked most. I got pretty good at copying stuff from them and the funny papers that came with the Sunday paper. I guess it was at this point that my mother enrolled me in a Saturday morning art class because of my interest in drawing.

As I remember (it’s been a long time) the class was held in a classroom and was full of future artists. Though things are a little fuzzy at this point, I think we drew shapes and learned to create 3-dimensional stuff using shading, etc. I sat next to a boy who I think was a little older than me and when we moved on to still life’s and portraits, his ability to make life-like representations was amazing. In other words, he was so much better than anyone in the class and, I thought, especially me, that I grew frustrated in my ability and quit going to class. After that, I don’t remember drawing again until I was in high school and art was an easy class to take for credit.

All this was before I had read in the bible (Galatians 6:4) that it is unwise to compare yourselves to one another. We need to find happiness in what we have created, irregardless of what others have accomplished.

As I mentioned earlier, I am surprised by the amount of sketchbooks and portfolios that I have filled over the years. Looking back at some of this stuff (art) I am surprised at the quality of some of it and have to wonder why I didn’t follow through with this or that inspiration. One of the points here is that I have created art not to be shown to others, but rather, to fulfill a longing within myself. I approach playing music in much the same way. I like getting together with others and jamming but am mostly content to just sit in my living room and fill that space with whatever sound seems pleasing at the time.

As Sandi and I were wondering through Central Park this past September, we came across many entertainers doing their thing. Most of them, if not all, were doing what they did in order to be seen by others and, according to the open guitar cases and hats full of money, had a desire to be rewarded for their effort. Nothing wrong in this scenario except for the fact that it brought to my mind the idea of wanting to be seen, be famous, be recognized for something outside of myself.

I realized that within the desire to be known as an artist or a musician or actor, etc. there is an implied set of rules as to how this ideal is to be accomplished. And therein lies the rub to my sensibility: I have always chosen to participate in many areas of interest rather than confine myself to becoming famous or well known in one. To become good at anything we must be single-minded about that pursuit and, like the horse with blinders on, stay focused in order to excel.

The conclusion that I came to, while walking in the park with my wife, is that even though the thought of being famous as an artist, writer or musician is indeed intriguing, I was just not wired in that direction and have no regrets in the fact that I am only a bit above average in many of the “arts” that I have pursued.

And that ride, for me, is about as good as it gets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Information Age

Hi. My name is Terry Henry and I am an information junkie!

I can almost see myself at some Information Anonymous meeting, in the basement of some small church, in a poorly lit neighborhood, acknowledging my addiction.

And now, looking back on my senior year in high school and my class schedule of American lit, English lit and World lit (3 separate classes), I can see a pattern begin to emerge.

I have always loved to read. So much so in fact that when I was in grade school, I burned through so many Hardy Boys mysteries that my mother told me, in no uncertain terms, that I either had to slow down or she would not buy me anymore books to read. One of my biggest pleasures was slowly eating a box of good and plenty candies while I read.

What started me thinking this way today is perhaps because I am in the process of devouring Malcolm Gladwell’s newest book entitled, Talking to Strangers.

And talk about information overload.

The inside panel of the book says: “Talking to Strangers is all about what happens when we encounter people we don’t know, why it often goes awry, and what it says about us.

How do we make sense of the unfamiliar? Why are we so bad at judging someone, reading a face, or detecting a lie? Why do we so often fail to ‘get’ other people?

Through a series of puzzles, encounters and misunderstandings, from little-known stories to infamous legal cases, Gladwell takes us on a journey through the unexpected. You will read about the spy who spent years undetected at the highest levels of the Pentagon, the man who saw through the fraudster Bernie Madoff, the suicide of the poet Sylvia Plath and the false conviction of Amanda Knox. You will discover that strangers are never simple.”

However, this post is not a review of the book but an acknowledgement that this book has brought some of my latest/latent thoughts to the surface.

One thought at the front of my mind is this: what haven’t we developed a cure for cancer? One would think, with all the research and money spent, that a cure would have been developed by now.

I am aware of the fact that the human immune system and abnormal cellular development is like a big area to search and quantify; but come on now, this is the 21st century not the dark ages.

An internet search reveals that during the past 40 years, when the war on cancer began, the National Cancer Institute has spent 90 billion on research. This is in addition to all the other research done on a world-wide basis that is also in the billions of dollars spent. As a perspective, on the opposite side of the fence, spending on cancer medicines totaled $107 billion worldwide in 2015 and is projected to exceed $150 billion by 2020. Perhaps that is why conspiracy theories abound about why a cure has not been found: big pharma makes lots of money on cancer, etc.

Bear in mind that this is just an observation and not an invitation to start a long discussion surrounding the ins and outs of this subject which could possibly fill a library.

PS: As a side note I thought it interesting that the Wall Street Journal ran an article in this past weekend’s edition which spoke to this very thing. The writers assessment was that we are still using cancer treatment techniques developed in the 70’s that are still more harmful than beneficial. Her estimate is that the focus of most research is on end stage cancer, which by that time is almost impossible to turn around without destroying lots of healthy cells along the way. And that the quality of life is not that great for most chemo patients. Something to think about for sure.

A second thought which is not even in the same solar system is about traffic signals and what I perceive to be a very inefficient system of how they function.

We have all been at some intersection and waited for the light to turn green and noticed that there is no good reason why we are still in a holding pattern. No traffic from the left and no traffic from the right and yet the light remains red until a set time that has been programed in by some employee of the Department of Transportation that lives 200 miles away from the town in which we live. On the side of the road by every traffic signal is a big stainless steel box that evidently contains the hardware/software that activates the signal based on some programming activated by cables underneath the asphalt our cars sit on top of. All well and good when it works and a pain when it doesn’t seem to realize the actual traffic patterns in whatever area we find ourselves in.

The thought that I had the other day is a simple one: why can’t we retrofit all those boxes with some sort of artificial intelligence that when hooked up to the roadway sensors or a camera would actually program the lights to the actual flow of traffic and not just some time based algorithm that has been determined by some engineer who lives somewhere else.

Remember you heard it here first.

Lastly I will say that Sandi and I had a great time in NYC the first several days of the first weekend in September. As any of you who have walked the streets of this fantastic city already know, NYC is a people watching place. If you don’t like to walk, watch people and eat, you will not enjoy the big apple.

There are people of all races, colors, creeds and sizes on the streets, in the subways and restaurants; many of which are, at least to me, attractive in some very interesting ways.

I realized when I returned to Boone, NC that I tend to de-construct people that I see during my daily walk through life. A part of one day I focused on noses and the many shapes and sizes and whether or not I thought they fit the persons face and/or defined the culture I imagined they were from. Then I looked at shoes and again at hair cuts and again listened to what language they were speaking to one another in. All in all, it was a revelation to me that this was how I digested the world around me and the strangers that inhabited it with me.

And last but not least, a snippet of what Gladwell was talking about in his book.

He related the fact that almost everything we take in from the world and the people around us is filtered through a filter called “bias”.

Websters defines bias as: prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair.

Or as Wikipedia defines it: Bias is disproportionate weight in favor of or against an idea or thing, usually in a way that is closed-minded, prejudicial, or unfair. Biases can be innate or learned. People may develop biases for or against an individual, a group, or a belief. In science and engineering, a bias is a systematic error.

Politicians play to our biases as do health professionals, climate scientists, televangelists, and the list is perhaps endless.

So in ending, I would hope that we start to listen to one another in a new way and really attempt to understand what is being said rather than jump to conclusions before all the facts have been laid on the table.

And I can’t help but wonder if the writer of Ecclesiastes was on to something when he said:

(Ecclesiastes 1:18) Because in much wisdom there is much grief, and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain.

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The Aging Process Is Not Trout Fishing

I recently finished reading for perhaps the 2nd or 3rd time Richard Brautigan’s 1967 collection of stories entitled “Trout Fishing In America”. In the book, Brautigan would tell a story and would then assume the persona of the book’s title and would reply to the story as “Trout Fishing In America”. What this has to do with the aging process I am not quite sure, but as I started to write, this title popped into my soggy mountain brain. Perhaps it is because 1967 was a magical year for me and many other teens as we began our search for meaning and the purpose of life.

Perhaps the 50th high school class reunion that I attended in 2017 fits into the larger picture of aging in America somehow. And from what I have seen so far, it is not a picture that you would frame and hang up for all to see on your living room wall.

One of the first things that you notice about getting older is that time seems to pass by very quickly and one season follows another in a fast-forward sort of way. If you have been fortunate enough to have children, they have left the nest and have kids of their own and it seems like overnight you have become a grandparent.

Memories seem to fade or become so blurry as to be hardly recognizable. People have come into your life and people have left and sometimes it is hard to even remember their names.

The thought that started this train was my memory of asking my mother where my dad might be found. Her sometimes reply was that he was “in the library”. And as our collective consciousness will recall, the library was a metaphor for the bathroom. It seemed like most older people would take some reading matter with them to the library in order to facilitate the bodily processes that had apparently slowed down over time.

What was once a two minute hike up a well worn trail had/has become a meandering of sorts through hill and dale. As our metabolism slows, other things follow and that is only part of the aging process.

I have noticed that my skin is not as smooth as it once was. There are lines and scrapes and spots and light and dark areas that populate mostly my arms and legs.

Several years ago, I could work in the garden for most of the day without resting. I now do about an hours worth of work in order to take a fifteen or twenty minute break. All the work gets done but in a far longer time frame. Not a big problem, just another adjustment that needs to be made as we age in order to make it through the day.

I guess I could go on and on about all the subtle changes that take place as we journey down life’s pathway. What we will always find is that it is better to let go than it is to hold onto the way things used to be. As we make adjustments, we can move forward with a confidence that only comes with maturity. And remembering that you are only as old as that inner picture of yourself, which today may be thirty rather than the 69 or 70 calendar years your body tells you it is.

 

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Violence

As I slowly begin to press open the gate towards the 70th anniversary of my birth, there are many things about this life on earth that I don’t understand and violence is one of them.

Defined by Webster as: the use of physical force so as to injure, abuse, damage, or destroy, I have become all to aware of the results of violent acts. Everyone that was alive at the time remembers where they were when JFK was shot on that 23rd day of November 1963. And that morning of September 11th, 2001 is etched on our brains for all time. Just those two events alone changed the timeline of our lives in ways that can never be measured.

Historically speaking, violence has been around for a long time. Genesis 4:8 relates the story of Cain killing his brother Abel because he was angry at his brother. My memory of this story had Cain hitting Abel with a rock to the head but in reading that verse today, there is no mention as to the method Cain used.

Be that as it may, it seems that some of us are repelled by violence and others seem prone to it.

One of my first memories of violence was watching the Friday night fights at my grandparents house during one of my summertime visits. Generally the main event featured a white guy and a black guy duking it out until one of them was knocked out or was so badly beaten that the referee would call the fight off. I can still hear my very “old school” grandparents yelling at the top of their lungs for the one guy to beat the other and the racially charged words they used. I don’t have to tell you which guy they wanted to win.

Another form of violence is what we now call “bullying”. As a pre-teen in grade school I had a big mouth and very little control over it, which often precipitated trouble for me. As I only lived a block from school, when the current bully would follow me home after school in order to start a fight, I could quickly make it to my front yard and my mother’s protection without to much effort. She could be pretty intimidating when needed. I never considered myself a “sissy” but was just not prone to fighting.

Another memory of those formative years was being forced by the current bully to fight someone else who they had a problem with. Rather than stand up and punch it out, I took the other guy (even less prone than me to fight) to the ground and despite being told to hit the guy in the face, I would wrestle and maybe throw a few punches to the back of his head. I could only imagine what being hit in the face would feel like so I was not going to go there. I guess I proved myself that one time as I was never forced to fight again.

Back in the mid sixties and my high school days, Friday night football games were all the rage. I would not go so much for the football as to see and be seen by the girls in my class. We often had a lot of fun and I remember making my lip so sore blowing an old trumpet that the salty, after game french fries would puff up my lip like I’d been in a fight. And speaking of fights there was always this one guy wandering around the stadium, crew in tow, looking for someone to fight. During this era, there was at least two diverse groups of kids. One group was called the “greasers” and the other group the “frats”. I guess we all thought the greasers were destined for the trades after high school and the frats were destined for college and the big bucks blowing in the wind.

I don’t remember this particular guys name, but it seemed like he was always around football night and rumor had it that he had been kicked out of school a few years prior to my seeing him around. He was very handsome in a James Dean sort of way and kept a pack of cigarettes rolled up in his tea shirt sleeve. I remember that he had several scars on his rugged face and that the girls really seemed fond of him.

What I most remember thinking was that he seemed destined to end up someplace bad and that he also seemed to be locked into being something that his posse wanted him to be. It was almost like they pushed him into acting like the bad guy and their taste for violence was what motivated him and them. The rest of this historical story is kind of blurry but I hope you get my point. I moved to a different school and lost track of the rest.

Modern day examples of violence are typified by the Harvey Weinstein’s of the world who take advantage of women and men and seem to think they have earned the right to abuse and damage whomever they please. Just as I can’t fully comprehend violent people, I can’t imagine taking something from someone that is not freely given to me.

And though I hate to mention it, some of the modern day church has it’s own issues with control, manipulation and domination (forms of violence), not to mention sexual scandal.

I am not a pacifist by any means. I believe that there are just wars, etc. and would not hesitate to protect my family by whatever means necessary. I hope that never happens and really can’t say how I would react in that moment anyway. I remember that just before shooting my first deer, gun in hand and doe in sight, asking my self the very simple question as to whether or not I was capable of pulling the trigger and ending this animals life. It was a moment of hesitation that I will remember the rest of my life. As the animal hit the ground, I was thankful that it had provided my family with lots of meat. And as a friend of mine would later explain, the goal of conservation is to create a healthy environment for our wildlife to flourish and not overpopulate to their detriment.

At this point I can’t really recall what prompted this flight of words. More memories turned into stories I guess. And perhaps it is a ride that we can all relate to in some way.

 

 

 

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That First Kiss or Driving in America.

As a boy growing up in America during the mid sixties, I will have to admit that I looked forward to receiving my drivers license more that I did my first kiss. Not that the first kiss wasn’t highly anticipated, but the biggest right of passage that I lived with at that time was obtaining a driver’s license. And, as we were told in drivers ed class that driving in America was a privilege not a right.

So I guess in many ways I have been intrigued by driving and the associated freedom that it implies ever since I was a young teenager.

My first experience with driving was sitting beside my grandfather and shifting gears for him as he drove. He worked for the railroad and had a big truck with one of those four-on-the-floor shifters with a big round handle on top. I remember visiting him most every summer and sometimes going to work with him.

The next step in my drivers education was still siting beside him, but this time I learned to steer the truck as well as shift gears. I remember my shaky hands and always trying to over-steer the truck. His wise council to me was this: you don’t need to constantly move the steering wheel back and forth (ie: over steer) but let the truck guide itself and only use your hands to gently correct the trucks sideways motion. This is a lesson that impacts me every day and that I passed on to my four kids as well.

As history would have it, the next and almost final step with my grandfather was actually sitting behind the wheel and working the clutch while he shifted and I drove. This was really exciting until I hit a red light at the top of a steep hill. As you can guess, panic ensued and my only focus was keeping the clutch and brake pushed in so that I would not roll back and into the car that was right behind me. Without so much as a moment’s hesitation, my grandfather pulled up the handbrake and told me that when the light changed I was to carefully let out the clutch and give the truck some gas as he gently let the handbrake loose and we moved forward and off the hill.

His deft handling of the situation impressed upon me the fact that there was a solution to many of life’s situations and not to give up at the first sign of trouble. This was another life lesson that I was able to pass on to my kids as a part of their own drivers ed with me in the passenger seat. I would always take them to a hilly part of town and hope the light would go red just in time for us to put this lesson to use. Yes, all of my kids learned to drive in a manual shift car.

Learning to drive with my grandfather took place way before I drivers training and I received my license. It really was a kinder and gentler time.

Another part of my learning to drive history involved my mother’s mother who lived with us after her 2nd husband passed away. She had a lime green automatic Plymouth with push button shifters on the dashboard. She was not a very confident driver and one summer I went with her to visit my relatives in Terre Haute, 400 miles from home. She was the type of driver who went slow and would never cross over a lane to get gas or get something to eat. I was 14 1/2 or 15 at the time and remember talking her into letting me drive. As we lived in Port Huron, we took I-94 and had to drive through Detroit on the way to Indiana. I remember getting caught in rush hour traffic on the expressway and her telling me to be careful because I didn’t have a license and what would happen if we were involved in an accident. I promptly told her that I was confident that I wouldn’t run into anyone and she replied what if someone ran into me. That was an outcome I had not considered and you can bet I paid an extra amount of attention until we were out of the stop and go and on the open road again.

Fast forward to the summer of 1965 when I took drivers ed with several of my class mates. As I remember it was 2-3 hours a day for a couple of weeks and we learned to park and drive in traffic and all the rest. The emphasis was driving defensively and always being ready to react in time. The last day, a highway patrol officer showed us a film of accident results with one image of what it looked like after a head broke through a windshield. It was not a pretty site and an eerie calm subdued the darkened room we were in. After all the time I had been driving illegally and thought I knew how to drive, a light came on and I realized after seeing that horrific film, that all I knew about driving was the manual/mechanical part of driving a car. What I didn’t realize until that very moment was the responsibility being given to us 16 year olds. That driving was as much a mental exercise as it was a mechanical function. And that very thought probably saved my life and many others from that day forward.

As I age, I am grateful that I have driven for almost 53 years without an accident although I have been in many situations that could have been very bad had I not been able to react in time because of those same “defensive” driver tactics. That, and as Amy Grant once sang, the angels watching over me and my family.

But that is a story for another time and another ride. Enjoy yours today.

 

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To Dream Or Not To Dream

I woke up this morning with the feeling that I had once again experienced a dream that repeated several aspects of dreams that I have had before.

One element of this dream state features a house that Sandi and I lived in from 1978 until 1985. It was an old farmhouse on 200 acres that had been abandoned and partially burned that we moved into and slowly remodeled for the rent. I must say that many good years were spent in that house that never had an indoor toilet or insulation against the winter winds.

Out first two children were born while we lived in that house that we heated with wood and had an electric bill of only $11 per month.

In my dream, that has been repeated many many times, the house is a lot different but I can tell it is the same one we lived in. In several ways it is a more “perfect” house without all the flaws that the real house had. Everything about the house is amplified in my dream state. There is also a feeling that it is very cosy and comfortable, even though several aspects of the physical house change from dream to dream. How the house presents itself is almost like I can feel the whole of it even when I am in only one room. Sometimes it feels like I live in the house with a different family even though I am hard pressed to explain how this idea presents itself.

There is also a past, present and future sense of being that is attached to the house itself in my dream. In many of these dreams, a local resident has begun to build houses behind the house I live in and almost a neighborhood is established.

One repeating part of this dream is that there is a road beside the house that leads up a sharp incline into a mountainous range full of danger and adventure. At the top of the mountain is a large lake that is surrounded by a steep cliff that has a trail on top of it that runs around the lake. All sorts of animals live in the wooded area on either side of the trail and I can tell that I have spent many hours exploring this area and keeping away from the dangers that I know exist in that environment.

In real life, there was a road beside our house that led up a mountain and past a house that had been abandoned many years before we set eyes on it. Sandi and I would walk this road many times a week, before kids, and explore the unknown as it presented itself to us. Each time we would take a little different path into the woods at the end of the road. What had been old logging trails cut through the woods and dared us to follow them.

I am sure there is much more to this that I could expound on but this is all that I recall at this moment. For some reason, I was prompted this morning to write this little bit down and share it with you.

What I do remember however is the fact that this is only one scenario and that there are several more repeated themes that manifest themselves in my dream world. Maybe I will have to remember them as well.

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The Wind Does Not Break A Tree That Bends

From my house to where I work is approximately 4 and a half miles. Every day that I drive it I am amazed by the splendor of the mountains that surround me. As one of the oldest mountain chains, the Appalachian’s are unique in their formation and subsequent display.

On my way to work this morning, I was reminded of and old friend of mine who I spent a significant amount of time with in East Lansing before I moved to the mountains of North Carolina.

His name was John Robbison and he was a part of the intellectual college scene that wrapped itself around East Lansing, home of Michigan State University. He was older than me and just this side of being a father figure. We would walk the streets around the town and university and talk about art, literature and life in general.

At the time I was working several jobs to stay afloat with one of them being as assistant to a sculptor that we both knew. Her name was Louise McCagg and she created bronze and aluminum pieces that mostly featured her interpretations of the human body.

On this particular day with John, he was pondering the direction of his life and told me in no uncertain terms that he had come to a major turning point in his life. I think that John’s wife had a moneyed background and John had not had a teaching job in quite some time. As we walked, John told me that he had reached a decision that he was ready to die in East Lansing and therefore had also come to the conclusion that he was also ready to live in East Lansing as well.

What this meant to him at the time was that he had been pondering the idea of opening a bookstore and with his mind now settled, he could begin the process of committing his next few years to this project.

It wasn’t long after that walk with John that “Jocundry Books” opened its doors across the street from the university. The bookstore officially opened in August, 1976, and was unique in the fact that there were chairs scattered throughout the store and people were encouraged to sit and read.

I remember that John had a copy of the 20 volume Oxford English Dictionary with magnifying glass displayed and ready to use in one corner of the store. In another corner there was a large round table where people sat and on Sunday’s there would be a copy of the New York Times along with Lox, cheese and bagels and plenty of free coffee.

I think you get my drift: the store was more a part of John’s personality and really set the bar high for what a local bookstore should be.

It wasn’t to long after that I was hired to work the second shift and began what many would call my dream job. The sections I managed were religion, literature, and what was then called remainders (books that were out of print and priced to sell).

To make a long story short and get to the point I originally wanted to make, Sandi and I moved to North Carolina in August of 1978 to begin our lives together.

I vaguely remember visiting East Lansing either late ’78 or early ’79 and of course visiting my favorite bookstore. I remember telling John about the majesty of the mountains and also his succinct reply. John was from Kansas and told me that it didn’t take much to appreciate the beauty of the mountains but that it took a real poetic eye to find the beauty in mile after miles of flat plains. And to this day, that thought has stuck with me.

Also in light of Boeing’s Max 8 problems I will mention the sad follow-up to my last visit with John and my friends at the bookstore. Several months after my visit, John and a bunch of my friends and employees of several bookstores were on Flight 191 from Chicago bound for Los Angeles and the International Booksellers Convention. A flight that I would have been on had I not moved to West Jefferson with Sandi. A flight that went down on May 25, 1979 killing all 277 people onboard.

As I write this, I am amazed at how one memory can be connected with many others: almost a spiderweb of thoughts. And as to the title of this post: as the wind blows outside my house, I know that without the bending that we have done over the years, we would not be able to continue walking towards our destiny. We may have suffered a few broken branches but the tree is still standing in the ground and ready for the sun to shine another day.

Have a great “ride” toady.

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