Friday, July 3, 2015

Like a Kite?

"I saw the brightly coloured kite yanking hard at the thread that held it tethered to the Earth. It was obvious just how much its heart yearned to break free and soar with the sea breeze.
'You are like that kite. Tied down by the limitations created by your own mind. Break free. Live!' "

I read this lovely bit of writing in another blog and my cynical mind immediately flashed back to when I flew kites as a boy.  What I remembered was that when the kite string broke the kite did NOT fly free; it fluttered to earth where it would lay helpless and inert.

Being fond of metaphors, I then thought of how this actual behavior of kites was a more accurate reflection of our lives. We need something that tethers us to reality if we are going to soar, without it we crash. What is the string that keeps us "flying" at the same time it binds us to one spot? Who is holding the string?  Who can stretch a metaphor to the breaking point?

There certainly is a time in our lives, usually our teens, when we want to cut all those strings.  We question why our parents and society have told us to act certain ways and we may even actively rebel against many of those rules.  Good for us! With no questions and no rebellion, there would be no progress.  The tricky part is in learning what things to rebel against and what to embrace.  Maturity, in part, is learning what parts to hang on to;  what strings do we need to keep us airborne.

My generation, coming to maturity in the 1960s was one of the most rebellious in history. We questioned everything we were told was true. One of our most notorious protesters famously said, "Never trust anyone over thirty." We challenged many things, like the Vietnam war and racial segregation, that needed to be challenged, and we also tended to "throw the baby out with the bath water." If parents or government or church said it was good, we rejected it.  So along with equal rights and an end to that particularly hideous and pointless war we also promoted indiscriminate sex and drug use.  We broke the string, and many of us crashed to the ground.  We also soared. 

I've been trying to finish this for some time now, to bring it to some sort of conclusion, to make some point.  No such luck.  I've had some fun playing with a metaphor, and touched a couple of old memories, so I'll just have to be satisfied with that.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

I Wish I had Told Her

The title of this piece is a comment I made to a post written by Pam over at  She had written about the women who were "mothers" to her when she was a child and of course this made me think of my own.

My grandchildren, I watch your mother raising you, and I am in awe of how much she does.  She works hard and consciously at the task of being a good mother, devoting her time and talent to providing you with all the opportunities, experiences, and education possible.  On top of this she shows you and tells you over and over that she loves you.

Rural women like my mother, who grew up in the depression, were different in many ways.  They were, in someone's words, "made of sterner stuff."  Working hard, all day every day, to provide a home was pretty much their "raison d'etre." I'm sure Mother never thought she had a hard life, it was just life.

Washday was a once a week all day affair.  Clothes were put one load at a time through the washer, then one piece at a time through the wringer into the first rinse tub, then through the wringer a second time into the second rinse, and finally a third trip through the wringer into the laundry basket.  Then it was out to the yard with them (a basket full of damp clothes is heavy) to be hung on the clothes line. Once dry they were brought back in to be ironed, and there was no such thing as permanent press

 Many long summer days were spent in a kitchen that would have done credit to a steam bath, canning hundreds of jars of tomatoes, corn, and beans.  Hens that were past their prime for egg laying also ended up in canning jars, another job that took a full day to accomplish.  After they were killed by a quick blow with an ax they had to be processed.  First they were dipped in boiling water (steam bath again) to loosen the feathers; then the feathers were pulled out by hand. Wet feathers stink! Next the entrails were removed and the whole birds went into a huge pot of (again) boiling water where they stewed until the meat could be easily removed from the bones.  Finally the cooked meat and broth went into the canning jars, which were once more heated to boiling and sealed for storage.  Fruits were either canned or turned into jams and jellies.  (More than a half century later I still can't abide strawberry jam, which we had in abundance.)

Of course this work was all in addition to the continuing tasks of preparing three meals a day, cleaning the house, tending the yard and the garden (where all those fruits and vegetables came from) and the flock of chickens.  Raising two boys also made demands on her time.  It was she who taught us responsibility, supervising us as we completed our "chores," tasks that she could have done more quickly herself, so that we not only learned how to do them but also that we needed to pull our own weight.

All of this hard physical work didn't leave much time or energy for playing games and reading stories; my brother and I learned to entertain ourselves. We also learned that "I'm bored" would most likely be met with an opportunity to add to our assigned tasks.  At best we would be told to go outside and play.

Through all this, we never doubted that we were loved.  In fact, it was something that we never thought about. Love wasn't expressed with hugs and kisses; the words "I love you" were never spoken, but as an old man, I can look back and see that my brother and I were loved, as much as anyone's children were ever loved.  Mother literally, every day, gave her life for her family; from the time she got up until the time she went to bed all her efforts were for us.  And that's what I wish I had told her.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Let Me Help

“Here, let me give you a hand with that.”  “No thanks, I’ve got it.”  I hate to think how many times the second voice in that conversation has been mine.  Let you help me?  No way!  I’m independent, I’m strong, I’m self-reliant.  I’m stupid.

Not only am I too stupid to ask for help, I even turn it down when it is offered.  I tell myself that I do this because I don’t want to put anyone out; I don’t want to impose.  These are lies I tell myself.  It is really fear that makes me turn away every offer of help.  It may be a reluctance to be in anyone’s debt, but mostly it is fear of admitting weakness or admitting failure.  If I allow someone to help me, I’m telling my ego that I am not superman.  My ego doesn’t like that.

There are, of course, times when asking for help has been made necessary by bad choices I have made.  Those times are especially hard on the ego because the weakness and failure that they illustrate was real.  Many times though, asking for, or at least accepting, help is simply the smart thing to do.

For example, some years ago I went sailing on Lake Geneva.  I belonged to a sailing club and we had a number of boats there that day ranging from 14 to 24 feet long.  The wind was strong and the water was a little rough, but the first half of the day I was on one of the larger boats, enjoying the ride and snapping pictures with the fairly expensive camera I had brought along.  After we stopped for lunch, a woman who had been on one of the smaller boats was talking about not sailing back because of the roughness of the water.  I offered to trade places with her so she could ride in the larger, more comfortable boat.  She quickly accepted and then asked if I would like her to take my camera with her because it might get wet in the smaller craft.  For no good reason except that I always turn down help, I said no.  Well of course, halfway across the lake we capsized the little sailboat and my camera didn’t get wet, it got drowned.   All I needed to have done was accept the small favor she had offered, which would have not imposed on her at all, and I might still have that camera.

Sometimes refusing to ask for or accept help can have much more serious consequences than just a destroyed camera.  In my twelve step group it is vital.  We begin recovery by admitting we are powerless.  “Without help it is too much for us,” but by depending and leaning on each other we succeed.  Equally as important as receiving help, is giving it.  It is by helping others that we strengthen ourselves.  It is only by helping others that we are able to save ourselves.  I frequently admonish the young men I counsel to not reject help.  To help them overcome their reluctance I ask them if they like to help people; I ask them how they feel when they have helped someone.  Always they say that, yes, they do like helping, it feels good to help.  I then ask them to not deny the privilege of helping to others. When you ask for help, you are usually doing the one you ask a favor.  You are giving them an opportunity to do good, and it feels good to do good.  Hopefully, you will never need for that kind of helping to be part of your lives, but the lesson that helping and being helped are both good should be.

Be self reliant, that’s a good thing.  But don’t be afraid to ask for help or to accept it.  Remember, "We are all in this together,” and giving and getting help is how we succeed in life.


Saturday, February 28, 2015

"At The Movies"

"Which movies would you direct me to as 'MUST WATCH'??"

A friend, on learning that Grandma B and I own over 2000 movies on VHS or DVD recently asked me that question. I guess their assumption is that anyone who has so many movies must know something about them.  Never assume.  It did occur to me that knowing something of my taste in movies might help you, my grandchildren, to know me a little better.  This would be in keeping with your Dad’s initial request that inspired this blog. So here is my answer to the must watch question.  

I have an answer, but I must protest that the question is a little vague.  Movies come in all shapes and sizes and there are a variety of reasons why different ones should be on your viewing list.  Do you want warm and inspiring, with beloved Hollywood stars in the lead roles?  “It’s a Wonderful Life” has to be at the top of the list.  A three hanky tear jerker, “Love Story” or “An Affair to Remember.”  Big adventure movies litter the landscape, but you can’t go wrong with “Star Wars,” “Jaws” or just about any of the “franchise“ movies that have spawned multiple sequels.  Horror movies are not my thing but if you must have one the original “Halloween” would be my choice.

Comedies offer a whole subset of choices.  If you would have a rounded exposure, some of the classic oldies where the stars were the reason to see them are important (and they are classics because they are so good). I’m talking about the Marx Brothers, W. C. Fields, Abbott and Costello, and others whose name on the marquee was all that was needed to sell tickets. Modern romantic comedies or “rom coms” provide a glut of forgettable movies, but a few stand out.  “While You Were Sleeping” is one we have watched many times.  Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan teamed up for some really good ones.  “When Harry Met Sally” is marvelous.  My personal favorite comedy across all the subsets is “Young Frankenstein” but it probably helps to see the original “Frankenstein” and “Bride of Frankenstein” first (They are worth seeing anyway, even though they are “horror” movies).

The Western movie at the top of my list would have to be, “The Magnificent Seven.”  Favorite war movie, “The Enemy Below” (not the best, whatever that means, just my favorites).

Musicals are not to everyone’s taste, but if you like them or just want to give one a try, “Singin’ In the Rain” would be my first choice.  It’s fun and funny, and great dancing and songs you will find yourself humming the next day.  Most musicals are adaptations from Broadway shows so if you want a taste of the Great White Way without going to New York and dropping a week’s pay on a ticket these can give you that.  “Camelot,”  “West Side Story” and “My Fair Lady” are timeless and wonderful.  Some others are kind of dated and may seem to promote social attitudes that are no longer acceptable.

Dramas, dramatic movies, are a whole different thing. They move us emotionally and at their best help us grow as human beings.  They can help us see the world differently, through other people’s eyes.  They teach us. Sharing the triumphs and tragedies of screen characters is why we go to these movies.  Some allow us, for a few hours, to vicariously live lives that seem bigger than our own, and they don’t get any bigger than “Gone With The Wind.” 

Now I will end this essay by actually answering the question. There is one movie that I believe everyone on Earth SHOULD see.  I only watched it once, and can’t bring myself to watch it again, but I will never forget it.  The movie is Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler"s List.”  It shows us the darkest side of humanity in a way that can’t be forgotten, but also lets us aspire to be good men as Oskar Schindler was a good man. I don’t suppose many people would call it the best picture of all time, but it has my vote for most important.

So there are some of my thoughts on movies.  I love romantic movies and rom coms (aka chick flicks).  I don’t care for 99% of what are called horror.  I think movies can be socially important, but first and foremost they are entertainment.  Silly comedies and mindless action movies also deserve to be made and should not make us feel guilty for watching them.  Enjoy the movies, and as Siskel and Ebert used to say, “Save me the aisle seat.”


Monday, November 24, 2014

Barns Revisited

I haven't put up a new post for some time, mostly because I just haven't felt like I have anything more to say.  This picture that I took a week ago has made me want to at least try.
It's just an old abandoned barn, slowly crumbling away, but looking at it makes me think about life, and long ago; fond memories and melancholy recollections too.  I wrote about "The Old Barn" in one of my early posts, how it was the playground of our childhood.  That barn is long gone now, like most others of its kind.  The old has been torn down to make room for the new or just allowed to decay because it isn't needed anymore.  The value of these old buildings that can be measured in dollars and cents has dwindled to nothing, and sentimental value doesn't pay the bills on a working farm.  I can't fault the owners for getting rid of a tax liability and returning the land to productive use;  I am just saddened a little that the way of life that flourished around these structures is gone and that the memories of it are fading too.

Old things are preserved in museums so that we can catch a glimpse of the past.  Limited space and limited resources dictate what can be preserved.  There are a few "historic" farms that survive by selling tickets for that glimpse.  I'm not sure it works to visit these places unless they were once a part of your life.  That old barn is just a pile of boards unless it contains memories.

It was on my seventieth birthday that I took this picture and I suppose that that milestone has something to do with the mood of it.  The longer ago "long ago" becomes, the more precious (and more romanticized) the memories become.  "Three score and ten" was long considered a man's allotted time.  I feel grateful to have been given my full allotment and have a reasonable expectation that I have a decade or two left.  I do not intend to spend all of that time reminiscing about what has been;  I look forward to adding to my store of memories and to sharing some of them.  But, the memories are a warm place to visit and sometimes long ago doesn't seem very far away at all.


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

ROCKING (as in rock music) WITH YOUR DAD

When your dad was fifteen years old, his favorite music was heavy metal rock and at least for a time his favorite band was "Metallica."  One day he told us that the group was performing at the World Theater near Chicago and that he and his two best friends were going to the concert.  I had no problem with this, but when he said that his friend "D", who had just turned sixteen and gotten his driver's license was going to drive I balked.  No way was I going to trust my son's life to a novice driver in rock concert traffic.  Since they were determined to go, I told them I would take them there and wait for them in the parking lot.

A few days before the concert, they surprised me with the announcement that they didn't think I should just sit in the parking lot so they had bought a ticket for me as well.  I had no real idea what I was getting into, but I had grown up with rock and roll so I figured I would enjoy it and was pleased that they wanted to include me.  When we arrived at the World, an outdoor amphitheater holding thousands of fans, I found my fears of the traffic completely justified. It was bumper to bumper for at least a half mile leading into the parking lot, and I knew that the after concert traffic would be total madness.

The theater had seating under the pavilion roof, and standing room in the grass covered open air bowl.  In theory you could sit on the grass, but in fact no one did because the crowd was constantly moving and frequently "mosh pits" (more of them later) would spring randomly into existence.  The crowd was boisterous and happy, enjoying every minute while waiting for the show to start. 

My first revelation of what I was in for came when they began testing the sound system.  One of the technicians walked onto the stage and thumped the bass drum.  I didn't hear the thump, I FELT it. That thump, amplified through enormous speakers on the roof, hit me in the chest like the concussion from a Fourth of July aerial bomb.  THIS WAS GOING TO BE FUN!

Now back to the mosh pits.  This is a little like bumper cars without the cars.  People start good natured pushing and bumping and suddenly a circle opens in the crowd as non-participents back away and there you have a mosh pit. When one of these opened up right in front of us I was watching and enjoying when suddenly somebody pushed me from behind.  Since the ground sloped down from where we were standing, I couldn't stop but had to travel right across to the other side.  Once there, I had no way to return to the boys except to charge uphill bouncing off the other moshers.  I arrived back at the top to find the boys doubled over with laughter and just a little bit in awe of the old man mosher. Did I mention that at forty eight or nine I was probably the oldest person in the entire crowd?  None of the boys would admit to being the one who pushed me and still haven't to this day.  I too thought it was pretty funny and am actually grateful to whoever gave me that memorable experience.  I have Moshed!

The actual music of the event was something that I think I enjoyed just as much as the boys.  The opening act was trying too hard to be cool and not that great musically.  The second group was much better and for a time I thought they were Metallica.  When the headliners finally did take the stage, I was just as blown away as the die hard fans.  They were great!  There is something special that happens at a live performance by really talented people and these guys had what it takes to make it happen.  Of course, I couldn't actually hear any of the vocals, only the instruments, because it seemed that every member of the audience knew all the words to every song and sang right along with the band.  That didn't matter, because it was the shared experience that made it all so memorable.

Getting out after the concert was every bit the nightmare I had imagined, so I simply insisted that we sit in the parking lot not even trying to move until the madness had subsided.  Finally, four tired but happy fans were able to safely drive home, with memories I am sure we all still hold.

One more thing came out of the event.  Not long after, Grandma B was looking at a mail order catalog and found a T shirt with an image of the title character from Metallica's "Sandman" album on it.  She saw how much the picture looked like my dad so we got the shirt and gave it to him. Here is the result.


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Misty Watercolor Memories

"The Way We Were" is the beautiful, melancholy title song from a movie that came out in 1973, the year Grandma B and I met.  "Memories light the corners of my mind; misty watercolor memories of the way we were."  Those are the opening lines of the song and describe the mood I often find myself in as I begin one of these essays.  Reminiscing lets me revisit the past with filters in place to block out the less pleasant parts.

Many of the art prints we have hanging on the walls of our house are literal "misty watercolors."   I don't know if there is really a connection there, but it seems that my way (and perhaps most people's way) of remembering the past is like the artist Paul Sawyier's way of capturing his beloved Kentucky River Valley in his paintings.  The rough edges are smoothed away by the fog of selective remembering and the glow of sentiment highlights the good times.  At times, even imagination plays a role in our remembering, in the same way his "Mile High Bridge" uses memory and fantasy to create an ethereal scene that never was.

There is no doubt that my childhood memories benefit from the filter of time.  Living in unheatable houses, wearing hand me down clothes, and having the same thing in my school lunch pail every day is not the stuff of idyllic childhood;  But  growing up in a loving family, part of an extended family of grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins who all cared for one another was more than compensation, and I only wish that everyone's memories could be as happy as mine.

I have to admit to a certain enjoyment of the melancholy part of memory as well.  A little wistful longing for what once was, a dash of pondering what might have been, and maybe even a touch of regret all add to the flavor of memory.  Dabbling in melancholy is mostly a good way to "pinch myself awake;" to wake me up to recognizing how profoundly I have been blessed.  I don't need to look at my life through a veil of mist that hides the rough edges;  I can see very clearly that I am "The Richest Man I Know."