Monday, November 19, 2012


Veterans' Day is just a couple of days away so "honor the vets" is showing up in newspapers, on Facebook, and in various other places.  I heartily endorse this sentiment, especially toward those men and women who have actually taken part in armed conflicts (even the dubious ones currently winding down in the Middle East).
I'm talking about it here because seeing those expressions of respect and gratitude made me feel proud because I too am a vet.  In one of his requests to me to talk about myself, your dad asked the question, "What is something that you are proud of?"  It isn't that I had a distinguished career in the military; I wasn't a volunteer. I was drafted. I stayed in only as long as I was required to and never had any desire to go back.  I reached the rank of sergeant, but was fortunate enough to never be in combat.  Nonetheless, I am proud that I served.  When I see a soldier in uniform I feel a kinship with him (or her).  I just read somewhere that approximately seven percent of Americans have served in uniform, that makes it a pretty elite group.

I am not advocating that any of you enlist.  I am glad that your grandma and I were spared the fear that comes with having a son or daughter serving in harm's way and I would like to see your mom and dad spared that same fear.  On the other hand, if any of you do choose to serve, know that you will have a proud grandpa saluting your choice.

Your grandfather is no poet, but this is as close as I can come to putting my feelings about being a vet into words. I am part of something.  I am part of a group of men and women who feel they can hold their heads just a little higher than those who have not served.  I share a bond with every soldier who ever lived.  It is that bond that makes me proud.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Instead of my usual wandering thoughts, here is something from when your dad and his brothers were small.  Usually, your grandmother or I would read a story to them before bed, but once in a while I would make up a story for them. I don't suppose that most of them were very good, but the boys seemed to enjoy them, and I enjoyed making them up. This was probably the first one I did, and about the only one I really remember. Perhaps your dad will read it to you while you are still small and maybe when you are older it will give you a glimpse of your grandpa B.

The Little Doughnut

On a quiet street in a quiet little town, there was a little bakery with a jolly baker who every morning put out trays and trays of delicious doughnuts for people to enjoy with their breakfast.  There were all kinds:  cinnamon rolls and glazed doughnuts, cream filled and jelly filled bismarks, plain doughnuts and powdered sugar doughnuts and many others.  
One morning, as he set out the last tray of powdered sugar doughnuts, all white and fluffy like they were covered with snow, he saw that one was much smaller than the rest.  “Oh dear,” he said.  “I can never sell that one;  it’s much too small and it just wouldn’t be fair.”     He thought for a moment about eating it himself, but after making doughnuts since three o’clock in the morning, eating one just didn’t sound good at all.  “I guess I’ll just toss you out into the street,” he said to the little doughnut, “then some stray dog can have himself a breakfast.”  And that’s just what he did.
     The little white doughnut landed on the sidewalk and rolled a few feet before he stopped.  “I wouldn’t have minded being part of someone’s good breakfast,” the doughnut thought to himself.   “After all, that’s what I was made for, but I sure don’t want to be eaten up by a stray dog!”  But just as he was thinking this, a snarly, gruff sounding, hungry looking stray dog came wandering up the street toward him.  Having decided not to be a dog’s breakfast, the little doughnut flipped himself up onto his side and looked around for a place to hide.  Spying a nearby storm drain, he rolled to it as fast as he could and jumped in.
Out of one scrape and into another!  The little doughnut found himself swirling along in a stream of rainwater and soon felt the last of his nice powdered sugar coating melting away.  “Oh no!” he thought, feeling himself start to swell up and soften up with the rainwater.  “Now I’m starting to melt.  Soon there won’t be anything left of me.  I might as well have let that dog get me!”  But he wasn’t about to just give up.  He spun himself about and hopped up onto a ledge running along the inside of the pipe and soon felt the water begin to drain away.  He rolled along the ledge, rather squishily, until he came to the end of the drain and out into the sunshine once again.
After a few minutes, the warm sun began to bake away all the water he had soaked up.  Soon he had shrunk back to his usual rather small size and wasn’t squishy anymore.  In fact, he was rather hard now, and he certainly wasn’t fluffy white like snow anymore.  What with swimming in the drain and then rolling along the ground, he was now coated with hard black dirt.  Seeing his new, very unappetizing look, he said to himself, “Well, I’m certainly safe from stray dogs, but what shall I do with myself?  If I’m not going to be a breakfast what will I be?”  Not knowing the answer to his questions, he decided to just keep rolling along and see what he could see.
As he had been rolling along, drying himself in the sun and seeing the sights, he had rolled into a rather shabby neighborhood with not so nice houses and untended yards.  In one of these yards was a little boy trying to play with an old toy truck.  Trying, but not having much luck because the truck had only three of its four wheels.  The corner with the missing wheel kept digging in to the dirt and made the toy truck very hard to push.  The little doughnut noticed that the wheels still on the truck were just about his size.  He also saw that after his adventures in the drain and the dirt he was exactly as black as a tire.  This gave him an idea.  He rolled into the yard and flopped over onto his side right next to the toy truck.  Sure enough, the little boy picked him up and placed him on the truck where the missing tire had been.
“This is where I was meant to be!” he thought joyfully as the little boy started pushing his toy around the yard.   “I was meant to make someone happy and now I’ve done it!”

Friday, October 19, 2012


Willy Ley and Werner von Braun were among my childhood heroes.  I was thrilled by the first faint beeps from Sputnik.  Alan Shepard and John Glenn took me with them into space.  I will remember to my dying day where I was when I watched Neal Armstrong take his one small step.  Those feelings and memories are of enormous importance to me.  They help define me. I am a child of the space age.  If we turn our back on space, what will my grandchildren have to take its place?  We NEED to be explorers!  It is our birthright and our legacy.  Please do not allow it to be taken from us.

I wrote the above paragraph as an attachment to a letter to the president of the United States from the Planetary Society.     By the time you, my grandchildren, read this it will be apparent whether or not the efforts of the society and the others who support the space program were successful.  What I want to talk about here is that one sentence, "I am a child of the space age."

The space age is usually defined as beginning on October 4th 1957 with the launching of the first man-made satellite.  I was six weeks shy of my thirteenth birthday.  For me it began even earlier.  Along with cowboy shows like "Roy Rogers," kid's TV at the time included "space operas."  When I was eight or nine years old I was thrilled by the adventures of "Captain Video" and "Tom Corbett, Space Cadet." Never mind how quaint or even silly those names sound today, they evoked a sense of wonder and the belief that there were no limits to what we could do.  Science fiction was by far the biggest part of my pleasure reading for many years.  My ship of imagination didn't just take me across oceans, it took me across the universe.

I grew up in a wonderful, terrible, time.  "Wonderful" because science and technology were making the world a better, richer place every day.  Television was just beginning to bring the world into our living rooms. Terrible diseases like polio were succumbing to the power of medicine.  The commercial jet airplane made travel something anyone could do. "Terrible" because that same science and technology had created the power to end civilized life through nuclear war.  The Cuban missile crisis occurred the same year I graduated from high school, and in grade school I did take part in those ridiculous "duck and cover" exercises.

Through it all, more than anything else, it was the effort to get man into space that held my imagination.  I grew up believing that we would have colonies on the moon and be on our way to the stars.  I have to admit that my belief that those things will happen has diminished, but it still remains a part of me.  I hope that you have a "space race" to inspire you to believe we can still reach for the stars, and that nothing like the threat of nuclear war exists for you.  "Go in peace" is an often heard benediction.  May you have peace, and also the opportunity to "go."


Sunday, September 30, 2012


The quote that titles this essay is from Georgia O'Keefe.  For any who don't know, she was an artist from the American Southwest.  At first, I couldn't quite get what the quote was about. Finally, I figured out that she was observing that an event (a broken piece of dinnerware) that most people would have been mildly upset about, or more likely would have dismissed out of hand, was for her a source of inspiration.

Every day, along with the little triumphs and occasional moments of serenity and joy, we deal with small tragedies like a broken plate. If only I could, like Ms. O'Keefe,  use them for something good.  I guess the message is a lot like, "Every cloud has a silver lining," except we all know that one is a load of crap.  Some clouds are just clouds.  Not every shattered plate yields half-a-dozen of anything.  But some do.  It's our job to find them. 

Just so you know, I don't have all these quotations just queued up in my head waiting their turn to be put in my blog.  Usually, I just happen across them or I remember a fragment and look up the rest.  If I have an encyclopedic mind, it's a Funk and Wagnalls, not a Brittanica. 

I don't suppose there is any chance you understand that metaphor.  Before the internet, the most used reference source was the multi - volume encyclopedia with articles about every subject imaginable.  Preeminent among these was the Encyclopaedia Britannica, more than twenty massive tomes crammed with articles by leading authorities in every field.  The EB was huge, and so expensive that it was owned almost exclusively  by libraries and schools.  It was the Rolls-Royce of reference books.  At the other end of the encyclopedia spectrum there were the sets such as Funk and Wagnalls Encyclopedia, that could be purchased one volume at a time at the supermarket.  With pasteboard covers and fewer articles (mostly by uncredentialed authors) they sold for about a buck a volume and were probably worth somewhat less than that.  Still, they were something that even poor families could afford and the set my mother bought for us did get a fair amount of use.  As I am writing this, the most used reference source in the world is probably Wikipedia and the traditional encyclopedias are either gone or struggling to survive.  Every piece of information you could possibly want is as close as the keyboard, but somehow we have still lost something.  The physical presence of the books, just sitting on the shelf, was always just a bit tantalizing; "There's knowledge in here.  Don't you want to come sample it?" seemed to be what those volumes were saying.  It was fun to pull one down at random and let it fall open to a page just to see what was there.  Even more often, looking for one thing you would happen across something else that would grab your interest for a few minutes.  I do not get much of that from having a computer sitting on my desk.  I can't just let it "fall open to a page," I have to follow a "link" to what the computer thinks I want to see.  An Ebook tablet certainly doesn't have the presence of a five foot shelf of leather bound books even though it can hold their entire content and a whole lot more.

It just occurred to me that my great grandparents probably had similar thoughts about how the automobile might be more efficient than the horse and buggy but it didn't have a personality like old Dobbin and couldn't find it's own way home late at night.  I wonder what you kids will feel that way about when you are my age.  Any guesses?

Thursday, August 30, 2012


In keeping with Zak's wish that these chronicles help you know a little more about me, I want this time to write about something I'm doing now instead of about long long ago.  For a while now I have been spending Tuesday afternoons at the White County jail talking one on one with inmates who are looking for help in dealing with their alcohol and /or drug problems.  I'm not a psychologist or licensed addictions counselor or anything like that, simply an alcoholic who has been in recovery for a long time.  In the parlance of the recovery program that saved my life, I am trying to "share the experience, strength and hope" that I have found to help others.  Talking with these, mostly young, men does a great deal for me. The feedback that I get from them and other people associated with the jail says they are benefiting as well.  My hope, of course, is that I will play a part in their beginning a lifelong recovery from their addiction.  What I know is happening is that I am getting the opportunity to give back something, no matter how small, in exchange for the multitude of blessings/gifts that recovery has granted to me.

Those blessings and gifts are the core of what I talk about in these sessions.  I know it is useless to tell these guys, "You should do this," or "You should do that."  Instead, I try to tell them what I have done to overcome my addiction to alcohol and what the rewards have been. Rewards such as: I am still married; your grandmother and I just celebrated our 38th anniversary.  It is not possible that she would have continued to put up with me the way I was when I was drinking.   Thanks to recovery, I have a positive relationship with your dad and his brothers.  They even sometimes ask for my opinion or advice.  I was able to finish a thirty year working career at Caterpillar so that I now have a comfortable retirement.  Last but not least, I have not died of some alcohol related cause.  I surely would have been dead years ago if I had not found recovery.

Talking about the benefits of recovery will, I hope, encourage the guys I'm talking with to continue their own efforts to recover.  I know it helps me to appreciate the life that I now have.  I embrace life the same way that someone who has survived a life threatening disease or near fatal accident does.  Every day is a gift and every smile and friendly word a reward.  I love the life I have now and am grateful every day for the blessings that I have been given.

Of course I hope that none of you ever have need of a recovery program.  On the other hand, I would love for you to be able to see the world as I do. 

Thursday, August 2, 2012


"Tell me I've been a good man."

In the movie “Saving Private Ryan,” Ryan the old man, while visiting the graves of the men who fought alongside him, turns to his wife and says, “Tell me I’ve been a good man.”  It’s really a question.  Face to face with the sacrifice represented by the grave markers of his fallen comrades , he is asking if he has been worthy of that sacrifice.  What a profoundly brave question.  The answer will sum up in one word whether his life has been a success or a failure.   Success in life is not best measured by trophies in a case, certificates on a wall, money, property, or even how many “friends” we have on face book.  “Have I been a good man?”  Only if the answer is “Yes,” has our life been a success.  I wish I was brave enough to ask that question out loud, and I fervently hope I would like the answer.  Being too aware of my weaknesses and shortcomings makes me fear that I would not.  When I am at my best, I can use this hope and fear to drive me to do more to earn that right answer.  Asking myself the question is the first step.

 “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

This quote, usually attributed to Edmund Burke, has long been a favorite of mine.  I try to remember that while it will be up to others to decide if I have been “a good man,”  whether or not I “do nothing” is up to me. 

“God is love.”
I was probably introduced to this Bible verse from 1st John when I was in the Nursery class at the Reynolds Methodist Church Sunday school class.  I have no memory of learning it, so I must have first heard it before my memories started to form.  The thing is, I have known the words all my life but never thought about what they mean until I read them in a book by Andrew Greeley.  He actually begins the book with them, “God is Love.”  He then goes on to explain that his interpretation of this verse is that it requires no interpretation;  it is simply a literal fact.   Love is the substance of God, what He is made of.  To me, this means that when we love we become part of God.  Of course, there is a danger here because it also means that if we are unloving we are ungodly.  When we hate, when we cause hurt, we separate ourselves from God.   When we try to do good, when we try to “love our neighbors as we love ourselves,” we move closer to Him.   A caveat here;  “God” is a term I use because it is a convenient shorthand for a concept that I cannot really define.  I know my human mind is not capable of framing an image of that concept.  The ancient Jews expressed this inability by saying that no one could look upon the face of God and live, not a bad analogy.  Nonetheless, if I know that “God is Love,” I know what I need to know about God.  I have the ability and the obligation to have God in my life; in a sense, to be a part of God.  All I have to do is love and act with love toward those I come in contact with.  I am also vulnerable to separating myself from God, by refusing to love and by failing to act lovingly.  When I am not good, when I am not kind, when I take when I should not take, when I do not give when I should give, I separate myself from what is good; I am no longer a part of God.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


" Two roads diverged in a yellow wood..." If there is a poet who speaks to me, it is Robert Frost.  In spite of being an English Lit major in college I find most poetry tedious and pretentious.  But that's a subject for another time.  Today I want to reflect on my life using "The Road not Taken" as a jumping off point.  Frost's poem ends with "...and that has made all the difference."  I have always taken that to mean he likes where he has wound up or at least believes he made the right choice when he "took the one less traveled."  But there is ambiguity in that line.  We do not know for certain that that is what he means.
     My thoughts about my life as I reflect on this poem are that I did not choose any road.  I have gone through life rather like a hitchhiker who doesn't care where he goes but must keep traveling.  I didn't choose a career at Caterpillar.  I took a job there because it best suited my needs at the time.  I needed to work nights so I could go to school during the day to get that degree in English Literature and Cat offered better pay than anyone else.  I became an English Lit major because first chemistry and then religion didn't work out.  I never "chose" to fall in love; it was something that happened when it happened and was literally beyond my control.  
    I'm not sure there is a lesson here, or if there is, if it is one I should be passing on.  The consensus seems to be that we are not supposed to just let life happen to us.  We tend to, or at least claim to, admire the person who chooses the road less traveled.  The "rugged individual" is an American icon.  We all like to think we are unique and in charge of our destinies.  Another poet cried out, "I am the master of my fate!  I am the captain of my soul!"  I don't know if he believed that or just wished it were so.  The cynical part of me thinks that being one of several hundred million "unique" individuals is something of an oxymoron.  I know that I for one have never been that rugged individual, master, or captain.  But, my journey along the road more traveled has been largely a pleasant one with good companions and plenty to see along the way.  For me that is enough.

Saturday, June 23, 2012


LIFE IS GOOD!  Believe that with your whole heart.  Be good!  Life is better if you are a positive participant, adding to it not taking away from it.  Being good doesn't just mean obeying your parents and teachers or the law or even the ten commandments.  It means helping when you can help, giving when you can give, sharing when you can share, loving when you can love.  Do these things and I guarantee you will enjoy your life. 
 I wrote the  preceding paragraph in my first blog entry and then quickly went on to get some of my other thoughts down before they could get away.  “Life is good” is worth spending a lot more time on.
 Too many people I have known seem to live their life with the premise that, “life would be good if only….”  The surest way to be unhappy is to be convinced you could be happy if you just had more.  This brings me to something I sometimes use in recovery meetings, I title it “The Richest Man I know.”
 My dad, your great-grandfather, worked as a tenant farmer for much of his adult life.  This is not a job which brings in a lot of money;  I believe at one time his salary was one hundred dollars a month.  When he was in his mid-fifties, he quit farming and took over managing a gas station, a job he kept doing until he was at least seventy years old.  He and my mother had purchased a small house in town when he left farming and they lived there the rest of their lives.  His car (they had only one) was a modest sedan; they didn’t own a boat or a camper or a vacation home.  When they traveled it was to visit family;  they didn’t take cruises or “see the world.”  He watched sports on tv and fixed bikes for the neighborhood children.  He liked visiting with the neighbors and talking to his siblings and his sons on the phone.  This is just about the sum total of the things in his life, but he was the richest man I know.  I give him that title, because I have never met anyone who was more content with what he had.  A bigger better house or fancier car would have been wasted on him.  The best meal he ever ate was Mother’s cooking.  His life was complete; he had everything he wanted.  It is impossible to be richer than that.   I am now close to bestowing that title on myself.  There is little I want in this life that I do not have.  I love the home I have.  It is filled with family pictures and dogs and movies and books and I wake up in it every morning loving, and being loved by, your grandmother.  I don’t know what more I could ask for.  I hope that you can also be “the richest man in the world.”  It’s a great thing to be.


Sunday, June 17, 2012


     In a previous attempt to get me to record something of my life, your dad asked me to write about something that made me feel proud.  As I was thinking about Fathers' Day, it occurred to me that one of the things I am most proud of is that my sons look to me for advice and assistance when they have a problem or something needs fixed.  Usually, this is just something like building shelves or a plumbing problem or trouble with a car, but it's the idea that it is me that they turn to that makes me proud.
      Many of the skills that I employ when they call I learned from my dad.  Farming did not provide the sort of income that allows you to call a professional every time something needs built or repaired, so whether it was carpentry or plumbing, rebuilding an engine or welding a broken implement, Dad just did it.  He seemed (at least to me) to have been born with a wrench in his hand.  One place where he excelled as a dad was that he insisted that my brother and I work alongside him.  This of course is traditional on a family farm, but the basic training in tool use that he made sure we received has served me ever since.
      When Dad died, I told the minister preparing the eulogy that Dad's legacy to me was in my hands.  Every time I pick up a tool his hand is guiding mine.  One time not long after he passed I was repairing the fence around the property we had just bought here in Indiana.  Fence building and especially repairing were activities that we did a lot of on the farm, and as I was pulling a strand of barb wire taut and tying it off I felt him there with me.  I don't mean like a ghost or anything,  just that he was there in each thing I did to mend that fence.  That sense of his presence was so strong that I think I stopped mourning for him in that instant.  I know he will be with me in that way for as long as I live, and how can you be in mourning for someone who is still there.
     I don't know if I have passed anything like that along to your dad and your uncles or not.  I know I did not push them to be my apprentice carpenters, plumbers, and mechanics when I was  fixing things around home while they were growing up.  I apologize to them that I did not.  I advise you, my grandchildren, to seek out opportunities to learn and practice manual skills;  building and fixing provides a special kind of satisfaction not available anywhere else.  I hope that you have some opportunity to practice these skills alongside your dad so you can understand and share the bond I had with mine.
     As usual, this essay has gone in a somewhat different direction than I thought it would when I started.  That isn't only OK, it part of the fun.  I've spent a few minutes enjoying remembering my dad and hope you haven't minded being dragged along.


Saturday, May 19, 2012


"The old barn" was what my brother and I called our favorite play ground.  This was on a farm we lived on for four years when I was between eight and eleven years old.   There were two more large barns and numerous other outbuildings, but this was the one we preferred.  It was a post and beam structure enclosing a single large room.  I can't even guess at the actual size, but to our young eyes it was vast.  The main beams were about eight or ten inches square and stretched unobstructed from one side of the barn to the other, probably twenty feet above the dirt floor.  In midsummer, the barn would be stacked literally to the rafters with bales of hay.  When the hay was high, those beams seemed as wide as a sidewalk.  John and I would run back and forth on them as easily as we would run across our yard.  Then a funny thing would happen.  As the hay was taken away to feed the cattle, the distance you could fall became greater and greater and the beams became narrower and narrower.  When there was nothing but a hard dirt floor below, we would no longer walk on the beams, much less run or fight imaginary bad guys on them.  I remember going out on the beam to attach a rope for swinging on when the barn was empty.  I sat straddle of the beam and "scooched" my way out to where I wanted to tie the rope. 

Oddly, looking back, it was never the climbing up that was scary.  Our mother always said we learned to climb before we learned to walk.  It was only after I got on the beam and could see all the way to the floor that it was scary.  Anyway, that barn provided the perfect platform for every sort of imagination game.  The beams could be the yardarms of a sailing ship,  The walls could be the flanks of Mount Everest.  We built forts and caves and cabins using the bales of hay and vanquished our enemies all day long.  We often became characters from books, movies, or TV shows;  Roy Rogers "the King of the Cowboys" was always a favorite.  Cowboy heroes were very big with boys of my generation and Hollywood gave us a good supply of them.  They were "knights of the Old West" with pure hearts and iron courage, and we in our innocence believed in them.  I'm not sure it's a good thing that today's kids are so much less naive.

Because we lived in semi isolation out in the country, my brother and I usually had to provide our own entertainment.  We didn't have a gang of kids around to play with.  We never thought about this, it was just the way it was.  Sports and games were things we did at school.  At home all play involved imagination even if it was playing an imaginary baseball game (at least I always won!)  To this day, I seem more comfortable in solitude than most people I know.


Sunday, April 22, 2012


“Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in.

That's a line from Robert Frost's "Death of the Hired Man" that I thought of while looking at something I started to write about the places I have lived.  Your dad and his brothers only ever lived in one house all the time they were growing up, an experience very different from my own.  By the time I finished high school, I had lived in at least (I have to stop and count on my fingers now) eight houses, two of which I have no memories of  because I was too young when we lived there.  When the building where "home" is located changes every few years, the definition of home has to be linked to something else.  "Home is where the heart is," probably sums it up as well as anything can.  While I was growing up, home was where your great-grandmother was.  I don't mean to exclude Dad, but he was my step-dad and didn't become part of my life until I was four years old.  Since 1974, home is wherever your grandma is.  I have to think that for your dad and his brothers, the house on 4th Street will always be home.  It is the only place your Uncle Ryan has ever lived.  Josh has lived there except for a few years when he was in his early twenties and your dad until he left for college.

    I'm sitting here wondering which was better, my childhood of many houses or theirs of one.  I suspect that most of the "experts" would opt for stability.  They are probably right.  On the other hand, I think moving every few years may have contributed to a flexibility and resilience that does not come from stability.  More likely, it really doesn't matter that much.  The number of houses, the kind of house, or its location are all a lot less important than what is going on inside them.  Hopefully home is a place you want to go and a place where, when you get there, they want to take you in.

 GRAND Social link party


     Here's a personal story, hopefully the kind your dad wants me to share with you.  When I was seventeen years old, I became convinced that I had had a "conversion experience."  I had been "saved."  As a result, I decided that I had a calling to become a minister and began college studies to reach this goal.  After I had been in school for a couple of years, when it was time for the minister of our church to take his annual vacation, it was suggested that I take over the pulpit for the three weeks he would be gone.  I was nineteen or twenty years old and too dumb to know better, so I accepted.  I don't remember the subjects of the three sermons that I preached, only that they were more notable for their brevity than their flair.  Thanks to "Speech 101" I did manage to get through it.
     The low point of the whole experience came on the second Sunday.  Part of the service was the recitation, in unison, by the entire congregation, of the Lord's Prayer.  Somehow, I failed to give, or the congregation failed to get, the signal that we had reached that part of the service.  I began saying, "Our Father..." and had said only a few words when I realized that no one was joining in.  Instead of doing the wise thing, stopping, and then instructing them to join in as I started over, I just blundered on ahead.  Then it happened.  I forgot the words!  My mind went blank and I couldn't remember the prayer I had been taught to recite as soon as I could talk.  After a few seconds that seemed like a week and a half, one of the congregants realized my plight and supplied the next phrase.  The rest of the people came in at this point and the service proceeded without further difficulties.  It's a story that I find funny today, but in that moment I learned the true definition of the word mortified.
     It was at the end of the third service that the high point of my experience as a preacher came.  I was standing at the door of the church shaking hands with the members of the congregation, accepting their thanks for filling in and feeling relieved that I had survived.  One of the last to leave was a little old lady who took my hand in both of hers, looked up at me and said with complete sincerity, "You done real good."  Other people that day also offered praise, and it is possibly her colloquial grammar that has made the moment stick with me, but I remember her words as the most heart felt compliment I have ever received.  To this day, when I want to offer the highest praise I can to someone, I use that fractured phrase, "You done real good."
     If there is a piece of wisdom to be derived from this anecdote (other than have the words to the Lord's Prayer written out if you're going to lead the prayer) it is this;  if you have the opportunity to offer praise to someone, do it.  Don't qualify it or limit it "that was good but..." or "not bad for a..." just do it.  You may give someone a moment they will treasure for the rest of their life.


Wednesday, April 4, 2012


"Green is the color of so many ordinary things," is a line from a song.  On this lovely April day, I am looking out the window at an explosion of green.  Spring has arrived early and enthusiastically this year and my favorite colors, green, are out in abundance.  There is a patch of woods across the field from our house, and as the trees leaf out they display a portion of the range of this color;  the grass in our yard and even the weeds in the field show this same talent for variation.  I love that there are so many shades of green.  It's as if every plant shouts, "I am alive!  I am unique."  My own enthusiasm for life is regenerated by the return of spring.  Each year I am impatient to get the flowers and veggies started and watch the first sprouts come through the ground.  When I was growing up on the farm, the year truly did begin in the spring.  Planting season was the start of everything we would do.  Hours spent on a tractor watching the black shining earth turn up behind the plow were satisfying in a way that few if any of the work activities that I pursued in later life could match.  I guess the point I'm trying to make here is one I have offered before:  Enjoy the world around you.  Things that are often ignored or dismissed as unimportant, like the variations in shades of green, can provide an ongoing pleasure and satisfaction equal to more exciting or dramatic experiences.  You don't have to be riding a roller coaster to be having a good time.  A quiet bicycle ride can be a pleasure too.


Friday, March 9, 2012


What's New.  Some of my previous posts have been rather heavy handed attempts to share my "values" with you;  this one is meant only to be a reflection.  Your Dad wants me to tell you stories about myself and what life was like back in the dark ages (also known as BZ "Before Zak."  This is not a story, but rather a list of some of the things that have come into existence during my life. Much of what each of us knows of life has been there as far back as we can remember.  For you guys, instant access via computer to all the world's information is as ordinary as running water and electric lights.  Your Dad can remember when we brought home our first computer.  My parents could remember "fetching" water and living without electricity.  The things I can remember not having include, among others, television,  hot water, and an indoor toilet.  (These last two were not because they hadn't been invented yet, just a result of economic circumstance.)

Television was around before I was born, but was still just getting started.  I was about nine years old when we got our first set.  There were only two channels available, and they only operated during daylight and evening hours.  Every night they would "sign off" playing the national anthem while showing a film of the American Flag or other patriotic images; the first music video.  On Saturday mornings my brother and I would often turn the tv on before the station began broadcasting.  We would stare at a screen full of snow (random dots of white and gray) until the "test pattern" came on.  The test pattern was an image of rectangles and circles that you could observe while you adjusted manual controls to get the best picture.  Finally, the Saturday morning kid shows would start.  Television was black and white; like old photos, color television was still a decade or more away.

There were no commercial jet airplanes when I was a child.  Living out in the country as we did, it was a bit of an event to see an airplane of any sort.  I can just remember, when I was a very small child,  seeing a working steam locomotive delivering freight to the small town where we lived.  "Modern" diesel electrics had largely replaced steam, but there were still some in use.  Cars didn't have air conditioning, seat belts or turn signals.  When I was old enough to learn how to drive, the "Rules of the Road" still prescribed the hand signals that were to be used to indicate turning and stopping.  You were supposed to extend your arm out the drivers side window; straight out for a left turn, up for a right turn, and down for a stop.  For a short time, I even rode a horse to school.  It was really a pony, but since I was only about six years old it looked like a horse to me.

 The school I rode him to (riding double with my brother, John) was called "Prairie Union School" and was an actual one room schoolhouse, much like the one described in the "Little House" books.  We had one teacher for eight grades and at most around twenty students.  I was there through third grade, then that school closed and we were moved to the big school in town where each classroom held only two grades.

Many social concepts that we find offensive now were the norm in the 1950's.  Gender roles were much more defined, usually to the detriment of women.  There were "women's jobs" and "men's jobs"  and if a woman was working in a man's job she could expect to be paid less than a man doing the same work. There was something suspect about any woman who didn't aspire to being a wife and mother and nothing else.  "Negroes" or "coloreds" were expected to "know their place," even in northern states.  "Gay" only meant happy and carefree.  Homosexuals were called queers and worse, and in the rural Midwest would have been committing suicide if they dared to come out.  Being different in any way was just asking for trouble.  Anyone who remembers the Eisenhower years as some kind of Golden Age has a blind eye for bigotry.

Sorry, I didn't mean to turn this into a rant.  Growing up on a farm outside a small town in the Midwest was probably as happy an existence as anyone has growing up.  If I had fewer companions and less access to organized activities than you have had, I also had a much bigger backyard.  Having several hundred acres to roam in, with barns and sheds to play in, trees to climb, and creeks and woodlands to explore is something I very much regret not being able to give to my children.  Growing up on a farm also meant learning to work at an early age.  Helping tend the animals and the garden came first, followed by heavier physical work and operating machinery as our size and abilities allowed. 

Many of the good things and bad things from my childhood were different from the good things and bad things from yours.  Our cars weren't as good, but most of our relatives lived less than an hour away so we didn't need a car that was comfortable for a ten hour trip.  There wasn't any Aids/HIV when I was growing up, but there was polio that crippled or killed children.  There was more bigotry, but also more community.  We had fewer things, but what we did have meant more to us.  No smoke alarms meant our houses were less safe, but caring people meant our neighborhoods were safer.  There were no "Have you seen this child" pictures on milk cartons, but child or spousal abuse was ignored because it was "a family matter."

This post has taken a different turn than I expected.  I set out to talk about the changes I have seen in my lifetime and to suggest that you think a little about the ones you have seen.  It seems to me that unless we do this once in a while, the changes happen without our noticing and we think life just goes along the same as it has always been.  We can't enjoy the ride as much unless we open our eyes.


Saturday, March 3, 2012


TIME TO REEF.  Since almost all of my sailing experience has been in small boats on small bodies of water, I can't really call myself a sailor,  but I've been sailing in my imagination since I was a child.  Books and the good ship Imagine have allowed me to accompany solo sailors around the world, climb the rigging of a British Man-o-war, or take a leisurely cruise down the inland waterway from New Jersey to Georgia just by picking up a book.  I am not going to try to coerce you into sailing or even reading about sailing,  but I do want you to read and imagine.  Ever since Daniel Defoe put Robinson Crusoe on that island and Cervantes put Don Quixote on his horse, we have been able to have every sort of adventure that anyone has ever had or thought of.  Movies and television can also provide this of course, but in a different way.  Images on a screen  are limited to what someone has put there; images in our mind are limited only by our ability to imagine.  Like any other skill, imagining improves with practice, so exercise the muscles of your mind.  Read.  And imagine. Think up your own stories.  Maybe someday you will tell them to your own children as I did to mine.

I actually started this post with a different topic in mind, hence the title.  Reefing is the term used by sailors to describe reducing the amount of sail being used so that the ship won't be overwhelmed by increasing winds.  Sailors must be alert to changing weather conditions and recognize when reefing is necessary.  Experienced sailors tell new ones this, "If your are thinking about reefing, it's time to reef."  This sailor's axiom can be applied to any activity.  If you are questioning what you are doing in any situation, there is probably a reason for it and it is quite likely that the prudent course would be to slow things down.  Recovering alcoholics put the same thing another way.  We tell new people, "If you are thinking about whether you have a problem with alcohol, then you probably do."  Whatever you are doing, if somewhere in the back of your mind you are wondering if it might be a bad idea, it's time to stop and really think about it.  You are probably right.  It is probably a bad idea.

 GRAND Social link party

Thursday, March 1, 2012


THOSE AMAZING BUTTERFLIES is the title of today's exercise because something reminded me of an idea that someone had a while back that he called "The Butterfly Effect."  It's the theory that small events can trigger big reactions over time.  The example given is that a butterfly flaps its wings in Canada and as a result there is a hurricane in the Caribbean.  I'm using this as the jumping off point to give you a little bit of Grandpa history and hopefully nudge you to think of examples of butterflies in your own lives.

This is a story from my high school days, which means that as I am writing this it is something that happened about fifty years ago.  (As your dad is fond of saying, I'm old.)  On this occasion, I was between girlfriends, which is to say, that my previous girlfriend and I had broken up and I had not yet found anyone willing to be the next.  I did however have my eye on one girl, Paula, who I really wanted to date.  We were at an after game sock hop, and as usual all the unattached girls were on one side of the floor and all the boys on the other.  I was standing with my best friend and working up my courage to ask her to dance, but hadn't quite gotten there yet.  What I didn't know was that he also wanted to date this girl and wasn't quite as timid as I was.  He made his move first, got the dance, and after spending the rest of the evening with her asked her for a date.  They ended up being a couple for the rest of our time in high school and (since she was dating my buddy) I never did ask her out.  The butterfly comes in at this point, because sometime later I began dating another girl who eventually was the cause of me  moving to Aurora where I eventually met your grandmother.  Had I been the first one to walk over and ask Paula to dance, all the events that followed might have turned out differently.

I can think of other examples, but you get the idea.  It's enough to make you wonder about THE PLAN.  Are our lives a series of random events that turn out as they do purely by chance; or was I meant to hesitate that night at the dance?  The only thing I know is that I don't know the answer to that question.  I hope you have fun thinking about the butterflies in your lives.


Wednesday, February 29, 2012


THE GREATEST OF THESE IS LOVE is another line you may recognize from the Bible.  It's from 1st Corinthians, chapter 13, and has probably been read at almost as many weddings as "Do you take this...", your mom and dad's being no exception.  Some translations use "charity" instead of love, but I like this version a lot better.  Being an old man who has had the opportunity to sample many things, I can tell you that there is truly nothing better than loving and being loved.  In that order.  There is a movie called "Marvin's Room"  in which one of the characters , who is dying of cancer, says, "I've been lucky.  I've had so much love in my life."  The person she is talking to replies,  "Yes.  There are so many people who love you!"  She answers back, "No. I mean I have gotten to love so many people."

At your parents wedding, there was an opportunity to address the bride and groom.  When it was my turn, I said to your dad, "Try to remember, every day, that loving this woman is the most important thing you will ever do."  I believed it then and I believe it now.  Find someone who is so special to you that you cannot imagine not living the rest of your life with them and then do whatever it takes to make that happen.  Someone has said marriage isn't 50 50;  it's 100 100.  Sometimes being married takes a lot of work.  That's OK.  Things that are worth having usually do.  Do the work and reap the rewards.


Tuesday, February 28, 2012


STOP AND SMELL THE ROSES.  No doubt you have heard some variant of this phrase more times than you ever wanted to.  Too bad!  It gets repeated because it's important.  It is easy for us to get so fixated on some goal that we ignore everything else.  Enjoying life should not be something we are  going to start doing as soon as we _________ (You fill in the blank).  Life is now.  Enjoy it now.  You do not have to wait until you are rich or successful, or famous or powerful to be happy.  Learn to enjoy the world around you, the gifts of beauty and fun that are offered at every turn.

"See a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wildflower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
and eternity in an hour."

Figure out what Blake meant by those lines and you will have gone a long way toward understanding how to get the most out of life.  Here is one more quote I would like you to always carry with you, "This is the day the Lord has made;  let us rejoice and be glad in it."  Whatever your feelings about "the Lord," don't pass up the opportunity to "rejoice and be glad."  It's why we are here.


Monday, February 27, 2012


DO THE RIGHT THING.  That's actually a movie title, but I'm not going to talk about the movie.  Your dad wanted me to write about what I want you to know about me, so today I am going to relate a couple of experiences from my life.
  Once, many years ago, I was walking down an aisle at a grocery store and saw a one hundred dollar bill laying on the floor.  My first thought was that it must be a fake, possibly a religious pamphlet made to look like money and dropped deliberately.  Nevertheless, I did pick it up and it turned out to be genuine.  I thought about finding a store manager and making an attempt to return the money to its rightful owner, but quickly talked myself out of it with excuses like "It would never get back to the right person," etc.
  I kept the money, and some little while later it was gone, spent on I know not what.  The only difference that money has made in my life is that occasionally I still think a bit less of myself for not trying to return it.
  Some time later, I came across a roll of quarters on the floor at the local library.  Again I picked it up and took it home.  This time I called the library and told them that I had found a sum of money and that if anyone called them to report it missing I would return it.  In fact, they had received such a call and gave me the number of the caller.  The caller turned out to be an elderly lady who said that she had gotten the roll of quarters because that was what she needed for the bus which was her only means of transportation.  I took the money to her house and shared an hour of pleasant conversation with her talking about old times in Aurora and whatever else came up.  I left her house with the gift of feeling good about myself and that is a gift that I still enjoy to  this day.  I received something of great value for the ten dollars;  I bought some stuff with the hundred.  Do the right thing, you won't regret it.



DEBT SUCKS.  After only three posts, I am reduced to talking about money.  I guess your dad was wrong to think that I had much to tell you that was worth hearing.  However, this mundane subject is one that I do know something about.  Having spent a significant amount of my life managing money badly, I can tell you what not to do.  Some debt is probably necessary.  To get an education or buy a home or car may be impossible any other way.  Emergencies do happen.  Spending tomorrow's money to have more toys today will guarantee you a crappy tomorrow, and carrying the load of debt will ruin today so you won't even enjoy the toys.  I know all this because I've been there.  Your grandma and I probably spent more time arguing about money than we ever did about anything else.  Now we have lived debt free for a number of years and I can only say that we should have made it happen sooner.

There is no doubt we enjoy having things.  There is pleasure and pride in having a beautiful comfortable home.  When we are children we love getting toys.  As we get older, we like different “toys,” and most of them we have to get for ourselves so we devote a portion of our time to getting the means to have them.  We work.  We put in long hours doing things we don’t much care to do in order to have the means to do and have things we do want.  The trick is balance.  Don’t let acquisition become the focus of your life.  The lesson of “A Christmas Carol” is not only that we should care more for our fellow man.  It is also that we should not lose our life by trading it for the acquisition of things.

The breakthrough in dealing with money came for me in one small insight.  With the exception of a few necessities, the stuff that money can buy for us is all just stuff.  We think we are the ones doing the gripping, when in fact we are letting the things get a grip on us.  We let things (stuff) get so important to us that we lose sight of what really matters.  I know I’m just reciting the same old cliches, but friends, health, love, self-respect and peace of mind all are worth more than anything you will ever buy with money.   A little further on in this series of essays, I tell about the richest man I ever knew.  Take the lesson of his life to heart sooner rather than later and you will keep “stuff” from running (and ruining) your life.