Category Archives: family

Happy Birthday, You’re Now Officially Closer To The End

I’ve had a birthday every year since I turned 1. I don’t remember that one, but some of them are supposed to be milestones. Thirteen, sixteen, eighteen, twenty, thirty, forty, and this year’s major occurrence, my fiftieth birthday. Fifty years old. God, that sounded so old when I was a kid. Fifty years old. People will tell you it’s not old at all. Usually these people are in their later fifties or their sixties or even seventies.

The thing I realized this morning as I turned fifty years old while working at my job, is that my life is already more than halfway over. Think about it. What’s the age of your oldest relative, or friend? What were the ages of the last three people whose funeral you attended? Was the average of any of these figures over 100? Heck, were any of the individual answers over 100. How about 95? 90? Even if the average is 90, although I suspect it’s probably closer to 80 or 85, I hit the halfway mark five years ago.

You know how when you’re reading a book and you hit that halfway point, everything starts gelling. All of the main characters have been introduced. The plot is usually fully revealed and the action is accelerating, forcing you to keep on reading to see how it all comes out. If you’re like me, you start calculating how many pages are left. Or maybe it’s a TV show and you know there will be three more commercial breaks. I’m not at that last commercial break yet, but I don’t need to worry about seeing Flo or the GEICO gecko more than another time or two.

I’m a little sad, mostly because I haven’t accomplished anything with my life other than the basics. I have a wife, a couple of grown kids, a granddaughter, a job, a car, and a house. I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to make movies. I wanted to have fans that I entertained with my next project. Nope. I have a dog that puts on an acrobatic act for me every time she thinks she’s getting to go for a walk, but that’s the extent of my fan club, and honestly as cute as it is watching the dog jump and spin and twist in midair, it makes it very difficult to attach her leash to her collar.

Maybe some third act miracle will happen and I’ll still get that fame I was dreaming of when I was a child of fifteen, twenty-one, or thirty-four. But the pages are getting flipped faster. The action is accelerating, and before you know it Time’s finger will be ready to flip that last page to see how it all wraps up…

Part of me imagines people happy and celebrating as they toss me in the ground. I’ve battled with depression all my life and low self-esteem issues as well. I know I’m a great person, but I can’t convince myself that I am. And I sure can’t convince anyone else, except for maybe my dog… and maybe my wife… maybe the kids… oh and some of my nieces and nephews and cousins and maybe my sisters and some other friends and family. And maybe that’s enough. Maybe that’s more than enough.

Peanut Butter and Karo Syrup

When I was a kid growing up, money was tight. We weren’t as bad off as some kids, but we did tend to do a lot of homemade snacks. I was thinking back on this when I tried the new Cadbury Peanut Butter Egg. The idea seems to be a mix of the classic Cadbury Egg, but with peanut butter added. When I bit into the chocolate shell and tasted the peanut butter and Cadbury “yolk” filling, I was immediately taken back to one of my mom’s greatest concoctions, at least in the eyes of a child. Mom used to mix peanut butter and Karo syrup together as a snack. I loved it. It was one of the trifecta of peanut butter snacks that a child could easily fix. The other two were peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and peanut butter and marshmallow creme (also usually served as a sandwich).

Peanut butter and Karo syrup was a go to snack for me for most of my childhood, and it was simplicity in itself. Take some peanut butter. Put it in a bowl. Add some Karo syrup, but not too much. Stir the two together and enjoy. The Cadbury Peanut Butter Egg brought back this long forgotten memory as the center of the egg tastes almost exactly like Mom’s peanut butter and Karo syrup did. The only problem is that the Cadbury product tastes like the peanut butter and Karo syrup snack where someone added a little too much Karo syrup. It was extremely sweet.

I’m trying to write down and share things like this as I remember them because these are things being lost to the dust bins of time. My son has heard me talk about the great toys from my childhood and some of the things that we used to do, but much of what life was like I have forgotten to tell him. He might remember me talking about having to wait years for a movie to finally come on TV, but have I ever properly explained Top Value stamps? Oh well at least he’ll have my blog if he ever gets curious about the old days when TVs had 3 channels, gas was well under $1 a gallon, there were no drive thru restaurants, and almost everything was shut down on Sunday. And now if he wants he can even try out one of our old budget snack recipes.

Easter Sunday Reflections

When I was a kid I always looked forward to Easter. Easter to me meant an Easter Basket which usually would contain my favorite seasonal candies and at least one small to medium toy that I had been wanting. It was like a very early Christmas stocking in many ways. Easter also meant getting dressed up in nice clothes and going to church and Sunday school after which I would come back home and the family would all gather for an Easter Egg hunt. I was never very good at finding the eggs, but I always enjoyed it anyway. The eggs would contain candies, small toys, or sometimes money. Of course by money I mean a few pennies, a nickel, a dime, or maybe a quarter. I don’t recall the eggs ever having anything larger than a quarter. A dollar bill in those days would have been like a kid today finding a fifty or a hundred. A dollar would buy a comic, a slurpee, and a candy bar. That was a full meal for a kid.

I looked forward to Easter Sunday just like I looked forward to Christmas. I know a lot of kids might have frowned on getting dressed up and going to church, but I enjoyed that part as well. I was in awe of our church’s minister, Rev. John Shadburn. Rev. Shadburn made all the kids feel special and when he smiled at you and spoke to you, he perfectly encapsulated what God’s love meant to a kid. I was so thrilled with Rev. Shadburn and the church at the time that many people assumed I would likely grow up to be a minister as well. Of course the Methodist church doesn’t like to leave a minister in the same church for very long and Rev. Shadburn soon departed St. Paul’s, replaced by Rev. Arnold Belcher. Rev. Belcher was a fine preacher, but he was not the boisterous, larger than life personality that Rev. Shadburn was in my eyes. And where I was favored by Rev. Shadburn, other children were favored slightly by Rev. Belcher. I wasn’t ignored, or shunned, or treated badly. I just wasn’t made to feel as special as Rev. Shadburn made me feel.

I began to lose interest in the church and soon Mom and I quit attending on a weekly basis. Years later after I had graduated and moved away, Mom started going back to St. Paul’s on a regular basis. She had always kept in contact with the church and remained a member of their women’s group. With me gone and living away, she had more time and became a more active member of the church once again. The church had been through a few different preachers since I left, and they had one that Mom truly enjoyed. Rev. Frank Shomo had breathed new life into the church. He had a special children’s sermon each week as well as the sermon geared for the adults. He welcomed everyone and he understood what Rev. Shadburn had known. You have to make the children love coming to church in order for them to hear the message of the church. He also seemed to understand that the young adults and teens were important as well. Where the church let me slip away as a teenager, Rev. Shomo kept his teens and young adults engaged. He understood that these were the people who were starting out in to the world or in the case of the older ones, starting their own families. If you lost them, you also lost the next generation. But Rev. Shomo didn’t forget about the older members either. He respected the elders of the church and celebrated every day that they were still with the church. He was an amazing minister, and he even managed to lure me back into the church to the delight of my mom.

But, as they say, all good things must end. Rev. Shomo was moved to a different church by the Methodist leadership. I also moved to a city 30 miles away from St. Paul’s. I could have used the help of my church family in moving, but no one stepped up and volunteered. My mother fell and broke her hip. She was unable to attend church or the meetings of the women’s group. The church responded by essentially forgetting about my mom except to remind her that her yearly tithed offering was not up to date. No one visited her, and only a couple of the women even called her. The new minister didn’t step up either.

I tried a new church in the town I moved to and was greatly disappointed. There was no children’s program, no youth program, no young adult program. There was nothing to make me look forward to being with these people every Sunday morning, and even less reason for my young children to want to be there. St’ Paul’s never called or wrote to ask me how I was doing either. The last contact I had with St. Paul’s was when I stopped there one Saturday morning for a rummage sale. I bought a few items and my wife and I noticed another item we were going to purchase, but we didn’t have the cash on us. I asked if they would take a check. They very firmly told me no. I am still on the books as a member of the church, but apparently membership does not have its privileges.

I have heard several news reports lately about how the church is losing members left and right. How young people don’t relate to the church and the church’s teaching on homosexuality and other issues. I hear the church complaining about how it is portrayed in the media and blaming that on the declining numbers, and I can’t help but think that they’ve got it all wrong. The people didn’t just give up on the church. The church forgot about taking care of their people.

I Ain’t No Spring Chicken

Last week I had an experience that if I had any doubts left solidified the fact that I’m getting older. I had my first heart catheterization. It started with me being short of breath on Saturday. I called work to let them know I wouldn’t be in. It’s hard to perform the work they expect when you can’t breathe. I puttered around the house and woke up Sunday morning feeling even worse. Still couldn’t breathe and it felt like someone had pulled a weight belt across my chest and was tightening it while concrete was poured into my lungs. This prompted another call to work.

My wife hooked up the nebulizer so I could take a breathing treatment before bed time. When I got up Monday morning I felt better, so off to work I went. Only one problem; the more I moved around the harder it got for me to breathe. By two hours into my shift the tightness was back in my chest. By four hours in, it was accompanied with chest pain on the right side and in the center. I had doubts I was going to be able to finish the shift. Six hours in I was valiantly trying to wait until everything was in and processed before I told them I was going to have to leave. I’m stubborn like that. I hate to leave a job unfinished.

Finally seven and a half hours in that job was done. I found my supervisor to tell him I was going to leave, but he didn’t understand why I couldn’t wait another thirty minutes until my shift was over, so I started helping with some manual processing. Within fifteen minutes he had changed his mind. I don’t know if he saw how hard it was for me to breathe, realized the pain I was in, or envisioned the liability that he and the plant might be in should I die on the work floor after requesting to leave, but he finally told me to go on home. I left before someone changed their mind and headed home to get the wife and probably head for the ER.

When I got home the wife was asleep. I woke her up and told her what was going on. We ended up deciding to wait until morning and see if I could get in to see my doctor. We went to sleep and the next morning she got me an appointment for 10:30 AM. The doctor took me back and after a very brief examination sent me directly to the emergency room. The ER team ran a few tests and a few hours later I was told I was being admitted to the hospital and they would be performing a heart cath on me on Wednesday. Several hours later, they finally got me in a room and told me my procedure would be at 8:30 AM.

The next morning I was whisked down to the heart cath lab and after numerous delays was finally taken back to the operating room. To make a long story short, they did find some blockages, but nothing serious enough to prompt surgery or even stints… yet. The general feeling is that the chest pain I was experiencing was a combination of my asthma, COPD, and damage caused by my diabetes and neuropathy. I was out of commission for a few more days and returned to work on Sunday.

With me out of commission, my son borrowed my car and put his in the garage to have some repair work performed. As payback for letting him use my car, he and my daughter loaded up all the rest of my toy collection from the old house and brought it over to the new house. If my breathing doesn’t get any better, he and the other kids will all need to finish doing the rest of the moving as well. There was a time when I could have done it all myself, but that time has long passed. As I have heard so many people tell me through the years when I was younger and more active, I ain’t no spring chicken anymore.

Why Did We Lose Our Common Sense?

I saw an article the other day about a father whose young son shot himself in the stomach with a gun the dad had stolen. The child’s mom had dropped the boy off earlier that day. When the father was awakened by the gunshot he grabbed his son and rushed him out of the home screaming to his neighbors to get help. When the cops arrived, the man took off back inside. One of the cops tried to save the young boy while another pursued the father. Inside the residence the father was caught with not only the stolen weapon that had killed his son, but with a large amount of drugs as well. It’s a horrible story.

As I read this article I began thinking about what the aftermath would end up being. This little boy is dead no matter what else happens, but there are plenty of questions. Did the mother know the type of life the boy’s father was living? If she did, then why would she leave her son in his care in the first place? If she didn’t, then why didn’t she? It didn’t appear from the way the article read that he was hiding his lifestyle choices from anyone that entered the residence. It goes without question that the father will be charged with something, likely many things. But what about the mom? Should she be charged with child endangerment or a similar offense for placing the child in such a dangerous environment?

After thinking about this case for a few minutes my mind started thinking about how something like this might have gone down when I was in grade school. Split parents were not nearly as common back then, and locally we never really heard about a lot of theft or drugs. The fact that the situation was nearly unthinkable just forty years ago made it impossible for me to fathom any answers, so I tried to come up with a similar scenario that seemed more realistic for the early 70s. In this revised scenario the father would have been drinking perhaps and fallen asleep on the couch. The mom would have been gone only to run to the local store to pick up some bread to go with their dinner that night. The gun would not have been stolen, but would have still been left out instead of put away properly. The father in this version would still have been just as negligent about leaving the loaded gun out and the mother would have left the child with a father whom she knew had been drinking and who might pass out. Now what would happen? What would happen is the family and their friends, family, and neighbors would have mourned the death of the child. The father and the mother would not likely face any legal charges even though they would both be similarly negligent. The general consensus would be that they had suffered and been punished enough by the loss of their child.

Then I started thinking about other differences. We had playground equipment at our school. The drive-ins had jungle gyms, slides, and merry-go-rounds as well. We loved playing on them. If we fell off of the monkey bars and broke our arm that was our own damn fault. We chose to play on them and we failed to hold on tightly enough. There was no thought toward suing the school or the drive-in. We went to the doctor and got a cast and dealt with it. These days most everyone is looking for a personal tragedy payday. If someone breaks their arm while playing on the monkey bars at the school, the parents will sue the school. They may even sue the manufacturer of the monkey bars. Then what happens? The school’s liability risk goes up as long as they have the monkey bars. This means their insurance goes up. And it won’t just be at this one school. It will be at any school with a jungle gym because some other kid with sweaty palms might slip and land on his elbow. It’s cheaper to just remove the playground equipment, all of it, because someone could just as easily break a leg jumping out of a swing.

So much of what I enjoyed as a kid, so many of the experiences we learned from as kids have been denied to this current generation because of lawsuits. And these lawsuits were filed because someone decided to be a victim rather than take responsibility. The same mentality has crept into other areas with equally dubious results. Children have been suspended for bringing the one inch long toy weapon that came with their Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figure to school or pointing their finger and saying “bang-bang” because the schools have a zero tolerance policy on weapons in the schools. Forget carrying a cough drop or some aspirin or Midol. Those are drugs and there is a ban on them as well.

It’s not just in the schools that society has lost its mind. Many kids have snuck around and played “you show me yours, I’ll show you mine”. Today if a child gets caught doing this they may be labeled as a sex offender. Yes technology has made it much easier to show your goodies to people, but trust me it was going on back in the sixties and the seventies too.

It just seems that we’ve lost our ability to use common sense. People don’t want to take any responsibility, and we’re paying for it with higher prices, unnecessary insurances, and fewer playgrounds. I would love to see this generation quit looking for a way to blame anyone but themselves. If you agree with me, start speaking up. If you don’t agree, well, the doctor changed some of my medicines last week, so it’s probably not me talking. It’s the meds the doctor prescribed, so blame him… or the pharmacist… or the drug company.

The Oscars Was My Childhood’s Super Bowl

I was a very unathletic child with asthma and coordination issues. There was no male role model in the house to drill the love of sports and loyalty to a sports team into my DNA. What I grew up with was a love of reading and of watching movies. I discovered the Oscars during the ceremony that saw Jaws nominated for best picture and lose. I didn’t actually stay up to watch the whole ceremony, but I flipped over and saw Jaws win a technical award and was pleased. I had probably caught a few minutes of some earlier broadcasts now that I think of it because I remember wondering why Million Dollar Duck wasn’t nominated or some of the other animated films I had seen that year. But I remember the Jaws ceremony as much more important to me. I was shocked that it didn’t win best picture.

It was a couple of years later that I became hooked on the Oscars. Star Wars had been nominated for best picture. I was certain it had to win. I had never seen a film that made me as happy as Star Wars did the first time I saw it. It was up against Julia, The Turning Point, Annie Hall, and The Goodbye Girl. Before the ceremony aired, I got to see The Goodbye Girl and Annie Hall. Annie Hall just didn’t connect to the 14-year-old boy living in Spring Hill, West Virginia. It had some funny moments, but I would need another year before I learned to appreciate Annie Hall, although I did develop a fondness for Woody Allen’s other films. The Goodbye Girl was a different story. I saw it at the old Saint Albans Twin Cinemas and immediately fell in love with it. If Star Wars didn’t win, I wanted The Goodbye Girl to take home the gold. I also wanted Star Wars to completely destroy Close Encounters of the Third Kind which at my young age I had decided was the most boring film in the history of the world. I reviewed it for my school’s newspaper and still remember the headline, “Close Encounters of the Boring Kind”. I really didn’t like it.

April 3, 1978 I stayed up late and watched until the final award of the evening was handed out. There were several things that made a huge impact on me that night. The first was Vanessa Redgrave’s acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actress. The next was Paddy Chayefsky’s rebuttal to her speech. This was also the night Bob Hope made a joke about the Oscars being referred to in his house as Passover that for some reason has stuck with me for all these years. By the end of the night Star Wars had pretty much beaten CE3K, but it still managed to lose to Annie Hall. At least Richard Dreyfuss won for The Goodbye Girl. One other memorable moment was watching favored nominee Richard Burton start to stand up to accept the award after only hearing the “Richard” part of it.

Ever since that night I have watched every single Oscar telecast live except for two. One year our cable was out and I had a friend and a family member both tape it for me so that I could watch it later. I followed the ceremony on the Internet using my AOL dial-up account. Another year I was just too tired to watch anything. I taped it and watched it later as well.

For several years Oscar night was met with plates of snacks and a festive atmosphere. The wife and I would each write down our picks and see who did a better job at picking the winners. It was usually me. Many times she would choose with her heart or a gut feeling while I would study all the factors like a gambler at the horse track. Never the less, she still managed to pick several that I missed. This year we pretty much let the whole thing drop. I had just gotten over a bad bout with the flu. There was no talk of making snacks. I guess she was worried about what my stomach would be able to handle, and she was tired from dealing with a sick hubby for several days. She sat down with me for the red carpet pre-show, but before the first award was handed out, she had settled in under the covers in the bedroom with the lights out.

One other thing that was different this year was that my daughter decided for the first time to actually sit down and watch the entire ceremony with me. Both of my kids have made attempts at trying to feign interest in their dad’s yearly big night, but these normally end within a couple of technical awards when they remember that there was something they needed to check on in their room. That’s kid-speak for “I’m bored and going to go play video games”. I was happy to have my daughter there this year, but I missed not having the wife beside me. Hopefully next year things will work out better. As for my picks… this was my worst year ever. I had absolutely no idea in so many categories. I had only seen one theatrical film in the last year (The Avengers) and hadn’t managed to pick up any of the available nominees on Blu-ray. Maybe next year.

When I Used to Get Sick

I have been struggling with the flu for the last few days. It hit me late Wednesday night or technically early Thursday morning. At first I didn’t know it was the flu. My doctor had just changed my medicines and I was sure that was it. Or maybe it was something I ate. I had eaten some of Lays new Sriracha flavored chips and surely that was the culprit if not the meds. I checked my blood sugar and it was up. That had to be the answer. My diabetes was making me vomit my insides out. My wife being much calmer and well-reasoned, stuck a thermometer in my mouth and informed me that I had a temperature of 100 degrees. You don’t get a fever with high sugar, bad food, or new medicines. You get a fever with a virus.

When I was a kid the thought of getting sick didn’t bother me. If I was too sick to go to school, Mom called and told them I wouldn’t be there. If I needed to go to the doctor, Mom bundled me up and drove me to the doctor. If I stayed at home, Mom would fix me foods that my stomach would handle and that would comfort me. Usually this was toast with butter, or after I got to feeling a little better, peanut butter. One food that I always wanted when I was sick and that no one could understand why I would want was pizza. Not just any pizza, Geno’s frozen pizza or any of the other rather bland frozen pizzas on a crust that doesn’t so much pass for a bread product, but as an edible form of cardboard. She would top this off with 7-Up, ginger ale, or Coke. I got a lot of Coke over crushed ice also.

If Mom did have to take me to the doctor’s office, she would usually pick me up a few comic books to read on the way home, and I could usually get her to buy me a model kit as well. The model kit would give me something to do and take my mind off of my sick tummy. At least that’s what it was supposed to do. Often times I would get frustrated when certain parts didn’t fit together properly and it would backfire by making me more upset and agitated.

As an adult I can be on my deathbed and I still have to call in to work and tell them I won’t be there. I don’t feel like breathing, but I have to go through a 10,000 question automated system to alert work that I’m not coming in. Oh and if you do that three times in a 90 day period there will be severe consequences (unless they are FMLA covered). I do have a wonderful wife that always pulls through for me when I get hit by the flu bug. She fixes me food and makes sure I stay hydrated. But my body has decided that it no longer wants cardboard pizza on a sick stomach. Baked chicken and baked potatoes all just lightly seasoned tends to stay down best now.

Needless to say the treat of getting a comic book or a model kit for being a good boy at the doctor’s office doesn’t happen anymore either. For one thing, I would have to buy them for myself since I’m also the one that would end up driving myself to the doctor’s office (unless I’m really bad and we have to try and catch my son before he goes to work). And also because neither comic books or model kits are as easy to find (or as cheap) as they were back in the late sixties/early seventies.

I’m not sure who in their right mind gets nostalgic for the sick days of their youth, but compared to the sick days of adulthood, I’d trade for them in a heartbeat.

I Miss Those Old Songs

I like a lot of different music. I always joke about the fact that my CD collection had Garth Brooks and The Butthole Surfers on the same shelf. A guy singing Elvis songs in Latin shares space with a cd of rock classics sung in “chant” format and a chant album done in oinks and pig latin. There is also a huge section of compilation cds featuring song hits from the 1970s. And there are plenty of more mainstream choices as well, Nickelback, AC/DC, Ozzy, Brad Paisley, David Allen Coe, Halestorm, Ice-T and Body Count, Nas, and plenty of others. About the only thing I don’t have represented is Gospel (other than an Elvis and a Johnny Cash gospel cd) and Polka (and even Polka gets a nod thanks to Weird Al Yankovic).

I listen to one of the local classic rock stations (FM 105) that also plays current rock except for late at night when I’m driving home and I switch to talk radio with Mike Savage and Coast-to-Coast AM. Even though I don’t usually agree with Mr. Savage’s political views, I still find him more entertaining than a lot of his competitors, especially when he drops the politics and tells stories about his life and travels.

I used to listen to Jack FM which was a hodgepodge similar to my cd collection. I also used to listen to the X which was a heavy metal/hard rock/alternative station that switched formats and became a FOX News station. The station I miss the most is WKAZ which played the hits of the 70s. The best part was that on Sundays they played the old American Top 40 shows from those years. These were the songs I grew up on. Mostly they played the well-remembered hits, but every once in a blue moon they would slip in Troglodyte by Jimmy Castor or My Girl Bill by Jim Stafford. The old Top 40 shows would play all the hits for a particular week, so you got a lot of one hit wonders and songs that had dropped out of the general consciousness. When’s the last time Donnie and Marie’s Deep Purple Dream was on the radio?

My wife and I made it a game on Sundays. We would flip on Casey Kasem when we got in the car, and try and guess what the year was by the songs he was playing. At the top of the hour they would always announce the year, so we always had less than 60 minutes to reach our conclusion based on songs that were just entering or exiting the countdown.

I also remember as a kid going to National Record Mart, Arlens, Hecks, Kmart, and G.C.Murphy and buying 45s with my favorite songs. When vinyl was replaced by cassettes and later cds, the singles didn’t seem as desirable. There were a few cd singles that actually included songs or versions of songs that were left off of the albums. That’s how I knew the words to the gory version of The Night Santa Went Crazy and heard the uncut acoustic version of You Oughta Know.

WKAZ changed formats to become another classic rock station. It resurfaced later as an oldies station concentrating more on the songs of the 50s and 60s. Also the signal was nowhere near as strong. What’s really funny to me is that WKAZ AM 94.5 was the rock and roll/pop station back when I was a kid listening to music in the 1970s. I remember hearing Harry Nilson’s Coconut on there for the first time and enjoying Me and Julio Down By The School Yard in heavy rotation. I even remember the name of my favorite DJ, Frank George. I had his autograph for years. It may still be in some of my junk we haven’t gone through.

Sure I could put on my cds and recreate all the music from that time. I could even haul out my 45s and listen to Convention ’72 by The Delegates or Mr. Jaws by Dickie Goodman or Clap For The Wolfman or Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road, but I’d much rather hear them on my radio with a dj introducing them in all their cheesy glory. I might enjoy listening to Bitch Came Back by Theory of a Deadman or Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked by Cage the Elephant, but none of them hold a place in my heart like the Star Wars Theme by Meco and the songs about stinky roadkill, horny cavemen, and a huge garden party. Of course another favorite was that song my 12-year-old mind thought was about watching a fireworks show with your girlfriend in the middle of the day, Afternoon Delight. Oh to be that naive once again.

What Was I Thinking?

I’m sure that when a lot of you read that title you expected a post describing some new crisis I was dealing with caused by a bad decision on my part in the first place. Nope. I was being reflective a few days ago about my childhood and started wondering about what I was really thinking at certain points in my life. Watching my granddaughter as she discovers new things and seeing her eyes grow wide and a smile form on her face or a giggle escape her mouth, I wonder what she is really thinking. How is her brain processing that toy that makes a rattling sound when you shake it or that sweet taste that she gets from Gerber apples? Then I got to wondering what I thought about certain firsts in my life.

I remember my mom, my aunt, and my cousin telling me about this time when I was a toddler and they took me to Shoneys with them and I demolished the Shoney burger my mom had gotten to eat. I think it was a Shoney burger. It might have been a Big Boy or a Slim Jim (two other sandwiches from that time). My memory isn’t as good as it used to be. But as much problem as I have now trying to remember the style of the burger, I have an even great er problem trying to remember the actual incident in question. I was so young that my memories of the incident are all second-hand even though I was the person they involved. I remember hearing of it happening, but I don’t actually have a single memory of the event that is my own.

Even going further on to things I do have a very basic memory of happening, I don’t truly have some of the all important memories of what I was thinking because I wasn’t really thinking for myself. I was parroting what I had heard or I was saying what I thought I was supposed to say and what the other person wanted to hear. I remember a conversation I had with my mom that somehow got on to the topic of nudity in movies at the time. Keep in mind that this was when I was in grade school. I hadn’t seen any nudity in movies or much of anywhere else, but it was a topic that had been on the news and there were forces crying about the new permissiveness. If you missed those reports, wait a few months they still pop up all the time, and I’ll let you in on a secret; they’re still B.S. More on that later. Anyway, we’re having this conversation because of some report on the news and I in my wisdom as a pre-teen stated that they don’t even call it what it really is. They call it making art. At this point my entire knowledge of making art involved finger painting and glueing macaroni to construction paper. So why did I say that? Obviously I had heard someone on television make this argument and I also figured that my mom would be anti-nudity since she always insisted that I wear clothes. I have no idea what I really thought about the subject, but I had perfectly parroted what I had heard and said what I thought my mom would want to hear.

Before I move on with the original point, let me clear up what I stated about the “new permissiveness” being B.S. If you study the past you will find tons of nudity and sexuality in Greek and Roman times. The British had things like The Pearl and a serialized story called My Secret Life. The French had nudie postcards. Yes, you say, but America is going down the tubes in regards to our movies. There’s so much more filth in them today. So who’s familiar with Can’t Stop The Music? It’s a 1980 film about The Village People and it features a dance number in a men’s shower with a shot of full frontal male nudity and some bare female breasts. It’s rated PG. Logan’s Run has a naked Jenny Agutter and is rated PG. These days a film gets a PG-13 for French kissing. I used to go to the drive in a lot with my mom, my sister, and her family. It was nothing for a trailer for an upcoming film to feature nudity and be played in between two family films like Golden Voyage of Sinbad and Big Jake. Movies today are if anything more conservative than in the past unless you go back to the height of the Hayes Code. We now continue with our regularly scheduled remembrance.

So I look back on my life and I wonder which emotions were real, which thoughts were my own? How much of what I know about my childhood is really how someone else remembers my childhood and their interpretation has become canon? There is one childhood memory that just happens to tie into both the subject of movies and nudity that I truly do recall what I was thinking. In 1974 a movie came out called Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry.

Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry

Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry


...not to be confused with Dirty Sally

…not to be confused with Dirty Sally


There was also a television series around that time called Dirty Sally which was a spin-off from Gunsmoke and concerned an old woman and a stubborn mule. I think it was on Fridays on CBS. My mom and I loved it. When we saw the ads for Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry we figured it had to be similar to Dirty Sally. Even though the ads for Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry had nothing to do with the old West and featured Peter Fonda driving fast cars and running from the cops, it had to be something close to Dirty Sally. It had the word Dirty in its title… twice. Further proof to this theory was that I had one time seen an ad for a movie called Dirty Dingus McGee and it appeared to be a western. So with dirty in the title twice, Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry had to be some sort of modern western comedy. I just didn’t know why they weren’t advertising the crazy old mule which was the funniest part of Dirty Sally. Mom and I were all set to go see the movie when my older sister intervened. She explained to my mom that the film contained some female nudity and she probably didn’t need to be taking me to it. My mother always took my sister’s advice (or so it seemed to me) and so my hopes of seeing Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry were shot down by a meddling older sister. To this day I still remember the anger I felt at my sister and the betrayal I felt when Mom told me that we weren’t going. Had she taken me, I would have seen a film that had absolutely nothing to do with an old woman and her mule. I would have been disappointed, however, I also would have at least had some basis for my next opinion on nudity in movies.

Suitcase Full of Memories

I had today off from work, but no money to do anything. I gave the wife her Valentine’s gift last night (the newest Rachel Morgan book from Kim Harrison entitled Ever After) and she fixed us a nice meal of comfort foods (steak, potatoes, peas, and cornbread). After eating we decided to go move some more boxes from the old house.

At the moment we’re trying to clear out the attic which mostly holds my toys. I still have a large amount of the toys I grew up with and I used to collect them as well, so there are plenty of boxes of odd action figures and the like. There was also a large suitcase that my sister had gotten me when I graduated high school back in 1982. I used it several times, but not recently. I had no idea that anything had been packed away in it, but was pleasantly surprised to find that something had indeed been stored in it. When I was a baby, my mom had a drawer in which she kept awards that I had won at kindergarten. She also had my baby book in there and artwork I made in school. She saved my Doctor Doolittle sweatshirt and my Jungle Book shirt. As I grew up she kept other things in there as well. My graduation program, my diploma from NEC, and other items. I had wondered the other day where some of this stuff might have gone. When I opened the suitcase, the question was answered for me as soon as I spotted the green trimmed white sweatshirt with Rex Harrison and a pushme-pullyou on it. This was the holy grail of childhood treasures.

I wish Mom was still alive to go over some of these items with me. I’m not sure what the significance is of some of them. I think the old mercury thermometer in the blue plastic case was my baby thermometer, and I don’t think this one was designed to go under your tongue. I’d really like to know what was special about it. There is a plastic elephant that I played with as a toddler, but I didn’t think it was a seminal item from my childhood. There was a stuffed doll with red hair and a bell inside it that I remember being much more important to me, but I didn’t find it in the case. I also remember hearing Mom, my aunt, and my cousin talk about a string of plastic bells that I had to have from Arlens back when I was still a baby. That also hasn’t shown up. I did find a toy lion that Mom said I used to carry everywhere with me.

The funny thing is, as much as I would love to have Mom tell me about all the things I don’t remember, I would also love to hear her tell me about all the other stuff just one more time as well. At one point I wanted to take a video camera and record my mom and my aunt talking about their lives and my childhood so that I could pass it on to my kids. I kept putting it off because there was always something else that needed to get done. Now both of them are gone and I can never hear those stories ever again. There’s probably an extra bit of nostalgia over this tonight because it was the day after Valentine’s Day, February 15, 2007, that my mom passed away. She had always been an incredibly strong woman. She broke her hip in 2002 and never regained her ability to drive or to walk unassisted. She had gotten worse before one night in January 2007 she fell in the shower. She kept going further down hill. My wife and I sat with her in the hospital for several weeks on the late night shift. My sister and her family sat with her during the day.

One night she seemed to be pulling out of it. She wanted to watch Charles Stanley, a television preacher she enjoyed, and I made sure to find him for her. We talked and she seemed coherent. About a week later they were putting her in hospice. I had to return to work and so my wife took the evening shifts at hospice. On Thursday afternoon, I drove my wife up to sit with her and let my sister and her husband go home and rest. It was a rough day. It had snowed on Wednesday morning and my son had fallen asleep at the wheel of his car and slammed into a power pole. He missed a gas meter by a few feet. The car was totalled, but he was fine. My other sister had been planning to come in from out-of-state, but had a medical emergency of her own come up and wasn’t able to be there. We were worried it was cancer.

When I got to Hubbard Hospice House, my wife asked if I was coming in or just dropping her off. Mom’s condition hadn’t really changed since they moved her there. She wasn’t better, but she wasn’t any worse either. She was just out of it. She didn’t seem to know a lot of what was going on. She couldn’t really talk anymore. At least not to where you could understand the words. Those of us that knew her seemed to instinctually know her meaning however. I told my wife that I was going in. I didn’t plan to stay long, but I wanted to Mom to know in whatever sort of fog she was in, that I was there and I loved her.

When I got in, she was worse. Lots worse. Her breathing was more labored. The staff all said she likely didn’t have long. My sister didn’t want to leave, but she had to eat and shower. She needed some rest too. I called work and told them that I would not be in. Mom needed me and I was going to be there. My sister left and told me to call her if there was any change. I sat there with my wife for an hour or so and we talked to Mom. She couldn’t reply, but we wanted to let her know she wasn’t alone. My other sister called and I talked to her. I held the phone to Mom’s ear and let her talk to her as well. Mom’s eyes seemed to show at least a glint of recognition. My sister told her that she loved her and we finished the call and hung up. Within moments Mom’s breathing slowed even more. We called the nurses and began trying to reach my sister that had just left and my cousin. Everyone was on their way, but before any of them could get there she was gone. I held her hand and held my wife and cried. My cousin and her son arrived just a few moments later. It was over so fast. She was no longer in pain.

My sister and her husband soon showed up as well. My wife began making the calls. She had her parents go to the house and get the kids. Her dad talked with the kids and told them what had happened. Our daughter went home with them, but my son decided to stay home to help field phone calls.

That was 6 years ago, but not a day goes by that I don’t think about her and miss her. There have been many times something has happened and I think, “I need to call Mom and let her know,” only to suddenly remember that I no longer need to tell her because she already knows. As I said I’d give anything to be able to ask her about the stuff in that suitcase. I wish I could remember what all that stuff meant, but at least I will never forget who saved it for me and I will always remember how amazing and wonderful she was. Happy Valentine’s Day, Mom. I miss you so much.