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.