Tuesday, December 20, 2011

GREAT DEBATE IN THE AFTERLIFE

The room was dark and still.  The curtains had been drawn as if to reflect the life  that the man lying in the bed had led.  He had been a famous man, an intelligent man.  He was a philosopher that stood above other philosophers in his time.  His arguments were told in short stories and books that he had written.  The man had gone through some changes over the course of his life and was so intelligent he was able to change even his own mind while holding debates with himself when he was alone.

When he was alone.  He was alone now as he struggled for each and every breath that he could take to stay alive.  No one was here now to debate whether he was dying or simply falling into a deep sleep from which he would never awake.  His eyes were closed but he could hear a voice every now and again of a nurse talking about how much time he had left.  Apparently they were betting in the hospital on the hour and day in which he would no longer need to be cared for.

In Heaven, God sent a messenger to bring one of the residents in to see Him.  The resident soul had been known while he was on earth as a great debater himself.  He was known far and wide as a conservative man who could argue any point on any subject.  He had always relished the test of his thinking abilities in this way.  One thing he had never debated though was the existence of God.  William Buckley was raised with a strong belief system and had held onto it until the day he had died on Earth.  He remembered arriving in Heaven and being told the God wanted to see him as soon as he arrived.

Buckley remembered thinking that although he had always believed, this place wasn't the way he had envisioned it.  He found himself bodiless and just a spirit whose job it was to praise God.  As he was led to God that first moment after his death he could feel the presence of billions of souls but could see no one.

He was led into the throne room where the great Presence of God was.  It was a fearful place but at the same time a calming place.  He then heard these words echo though his spirit.

"Buckley," God said, "I have a chore for you to do.  In about three Earth years a man's life will end just as yours have.  I want you to prepare for his arrival and debate my existence.  Go now and prepare."

Suddenly Buckley felt his spirit pulled quickly from the throne room and taken to a place where he would sit in solitude preparing for the debate God had commanded him to take on.  Who was this being that was going to arrive shortly to take on such a matter in debate?  Buckley only knew one thing.  Three Earth years went by might quickly and he had better prepare himself for the commission he had been given.  He began to think back on his past debates and figure out what arguments would he face in such a debate.  He began to form the debate in his head and carry on the arguments with himself.  It would be a greater debate than any he had fought while he was on Earth.

As Christopher Hitchens took his last breath, he found himself being pulled away from his earthly body and out and away from the earth.  He was heading towards a dark place.  The darkness was far darker than anything he had ever imagined.  He felt the restraints of earth being pulled away from him and he found himself in a non-body spirit type being.  His thoughts were coming back alive.  His great thinking ability was returning to him.  Then suddenly he found himself standing next to what he could only perceive as an evil spirit.

"Where am I?" asked Hitchens becoming a bit confused.

"Oh, you know where you are Christopher.  If not you will before long.  The boss wants to see you.  Come along", said the spirit .  Hitchens did not want to go but found he had no control over himself at that moment.  He followed the spirit into an even darker place where the evilness weighed upon him so that he could hardly stand or hear.

"Christopher Hitchens" he felt the heavy and evil spirit saying to him.  "I have been waiting for you quite awhile now.  You, sir, have been one of my greatest hopes in this silly war I am engaged in."

Hitchens could not speak because of the weight of the darkness and evil in the place where he was.  He tried to think , tried to move and soon settled in that wherever he was, he was stuck until the spirit was done with him..

"I have a chore for you.  You are a great debater, no?" the spirit asked as if already knowing the answer.  "I have set up a debate for you.  If you win the debate, I will make your time here as easy as possible.  You will be my confidant and my adviser.  The only labor you will have to do while you are here is to think, and you like to think, don't you?"

Hitchens thought that it was obvious that he was a great thinker and that he enjoyed thinking more than anything else.  Apparently the spirit read his thoughts as Hitchens was still not able to speak.

"You spent a great deal of time on Earth proving that there is no God.  You did a fine job of it.  I always looked upon my Christopher Hitchens with pride every time you won one of those debates.  You even convinced thousands who were not sure that you were right and my kingdom here has grown because of your thinking and your words."

Hitchens began to wonder what this was all about.  Of course he had argued against the existence of God.  It was obvious that there was not a God in his mind.  He could prove it too.  He had proved it hundreds of times.  He had even written books upon the subject.  So this spirit wanted him to debate it one more time.  Sure Hitchens thought.  I can do that.  I have all the arguments down to a science.

"GOOD!!", the spirits voice boomed, "You will take on my request.  Not that you had a choice but it makes it easier when I don't have to force my subjects to do so.  You have three days to prepare for the great debate.  If you win the debate, as I have said, you will be my adviser.  If you lose the debate, however,  You will have an eternity of hard labor in which you cannot imagine the pain it will bring upon you.  You will be among the lowest of the low in this kingdom that I call my own.  You will be so low you will not even be allowed to take part in battles that arise upon the earth.  If you lose, you will be sorry ever second that you ever took on the debate..  Now GO!!! and prepare."

Hitchens felt his soul like being pulled from the darkest of the dark and back into the plain dark.  He was led by the spirit that brought him to this place to a small room.  A room so small he could barely turn around in it.  He had three days to go over all of his arguments he had made in the debates on earth.  Shouldn't be a problem Hitchens thought.

The three days passed quickly and before he knew it, Hitchens soul was being dragged out of the room and on it's way to the debate.

"I hope you are ready," said the evil spirit.  It was the same spirit that had escorted him to the darkest of the dark. "You lose this one, and you will forever be in mournful pain wishing you were back on earth."

The spirits words made Hitchens shiver as they moved upward.  Hitchens noticed that the darkness was becoming a little lighter.  He could feel the weight of evil ease a little.  Finally they came to a stop.  It was a gray foggy area .  The feeling was one of melancholy.  Hitchens stood and waited to see what would happen next.  In his mind he went over the arguments he had prepared.  He had a feeling this was not going to be easy.

Then before him suddenly stood a spirit that he recognized.  It was Buckley!  Buckley stood and look at Hitchens.  He noticed Hitchens soul was bent and crooked.  He noticed a darkness around Hitchens as such he had never seen before.  Hitchens always thought that he who spoke first had the advantage and so he began the debate without direction from anyone else.

"So, it is Buckley." Hitchens voice seemed to have a hiss to it and his throat was dry.  "Seeing you here it seems that you are to be my opponent in debating the existence of God.  Before we begin, Buckley, I must warn you that I am an expert at this subject.  I do not ever remember being bested in such a debate.  Then again, I never had the opportunity to debate you on this subject until now. "

Hitchens looked over at Buckley who was standing straight and tall and studying him with a look of pity.  Buckley remained quiet which was very odd for him.

"If I were you Buckley, May I suggest that you leave right now before embarrassing yourself.  I am a much greater debater than you ever thought about being.  You stand speechless now out of choice but by the time I am done, you will be speechless because you can't argue with someone as brilliant as me."  Hutchins continued to look at Buckley who stood silent and still.  He began to lose patience.

"WELL BUCKLEY???"  Hitchens hissed loudly. "Are you going to say ANYTHING or just concede right now before you make a fool of yourself?"

Buckley sighed and lowered his head.  He then looked back up at Hitchens.

"Yes," Buckley said softly, "you were a great thinker on Earth.  Here, though, it takes a much higher level of thinking than you have ever experienced.  You did not expand your thinking to a higher level but left it at the level that you had while you were on earth.  I am afraid you are doomed, my poor Hitchens.  Doomed to an existence beyond comprehension."

Hitchens cocked his head to one side and tried to figure out what Buckley meant but his mind was growing dim and blank as Buckley took a step towards him.

Buckley raised his arm and pointed at Hitchens.

"You are here, Hitchens."  Buckley said almost in a sorrowful voice.

"AND???" hissed Hitchens.

"And that is my argument. Since you are here, you lose Hitchens. You being here proves that there is indeed a God." and Buckley turned to walk away.

Suddenly Hitchens felt his soul being pulled back to the darkness very quickly.  He reached out in desperation.

"BUCKLEY!!!!!!!!!!!"  Hitchens yelled but suddenly his mouth was shut, his lips as if they were glued together.  Further and further into the darkness he was drug until he found himself being put to work as one of the tormented.  It was not two seconds after Hitchens arrived at his post that he realized he would be there for eternity.  He had lost the debate without argument and the Darkest of the Dark Spirits had followed through on his promise.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

MEMORY OF A GOOD CHRISTMAS

For some reason I have always had a difficult time with Christmas.  I don't harbor too many memories of Christmas from my childhood.  Most of the Christmas' I do remember ended up disappointments. Looking back I can understand why things were the way they were.  Usually my little brother and myself received either a joint toy together or each of us got the same things.  It was an economic situation that required this to happen.  It often led to a bit of a let down as I received toys that were more appropriate for my brothers age than mine. I am almost sure is was the same situation with my sisters although I didn't pay much attention to how their Christmas' were going.

Mom and dad did find a way every year to get each of us kids something just for us and that did help off set the other presents that were the same as my brothers.  Then there were always the sweaters, socks, coats and hats that we would get.  Nothing is worse for a kid at Christmas than to get socks and mittens.  We knew they were coming though and so we were prepared every year to be happy with them.

I remember one year finally getting a new bike that I had been in need of for three years.  It seemed that when little brother was ready for a new bike, that was when I got mine.  Still I was thrilled with the bike and before lunch rode it over to Ronnie's house to show it to him.  That was a good Christmas.

There were other moments of Christmas I recall.  Mom and dad gave us a Johnny Lightning race track one year.  It came with little plastic helmets that you were supposed to wear while racing the cars to make the experience more real.  I remember that Christmas morning watching my brother in law Steve play with the race track while having this little red helmet sitting on top of his head.  He looked absolutely silly but he was having a good time and let the rest of us have a good time at his expense.

One year I got a book.  I never realized how much my mother and father knew about my likes and dislikes until the Christmas that I opened that book.  Not only was it a book, indicating that they knew I loved to read, but it was a book about basketball.  They had picked up on the fact that I was turning into a pretty good basketball player and played out in front of the house on my sister's goal almost everyday.  It was a revelation to me that they paid attention to what I was doing.

The best Christmas from my childhood happened a few years later.  I still smile when I think about it.  I was in Junior High School and had taken drafting as part of the shop class in the seventh grade.  It was there that I fell in love with drafting for the first time.  I had always wanted to be an artist but had absolutely zero talent.  When I began to learn how to do drafting I found that with these tools I could draw, and I could draw very well.  It would later become the start of my career as I worked my way up the engineering ladder.  Now I find the love I had for drawing is still with me but I don't draw anymore.  All the drafting and design work I do is done on a computer.  I haven't picked up a pencil to draw with for almost fifteen years now.  Anyway, back to that special Christmas.

There was a package under the tree.  It was pretty large  being about two feet wide by three feet tall and a couple of inches thick.  I do not know if my little brother was let in on this or not, but when I inquired about the big present my mother told me it was for Bob.  That present sat under the tree for a whole month with me thinking it was not mine.  I never told my little brother it was for him of course.  If I had done that I would have to listen to him brag about it all the way to Christmas when I would finally find out what he was getting.

I accepted the fact that whatever I was getting it was not going to be that big package.  I didn't let it get to me.  I pretty much put it out of my mind since it had no significance to me whatsoever.  It just sat next to the tree leaning against the staircase for a month.

Then came that Christmas morning.  Bob was handing out the presents.  There went one to Carol, one to Elaine, Another to Carol, one for Bob, another for Carol, a little one for me, another one for Carol, one for Elaine and then one for Bob.  After a few more presents for Carol and one or two for Bob, Elaine and myself, Bob took hold of the big present.  There wasn't a name on it.  Bob asked who it was for and when he did I could see a glimmer of hope in his eye.

I wasn't paying attention and so I am not sure I heard mom tell Bob that the present was for me.  Bob drug the box over to me and waiting until I took in the fact that mom had pulled a big one over on me for a whole month.  I don't remember tearing into it or opening it up slowly as I usually did.  I don't remember opening it at all to be honest.  But I do remember what was in that box.  There was a small drafting board, a t-square, a couple of plastic triangles, some pencils, a french curve and some paper.  It took awhile for it to sink in.  My very own drafting set.  I am not sure but I think I was speechless for awhile before blurting out a huge thank you to mom and dad.

That night I thought about it a bit.  How did they KNOW that I liked drafting so much?  How did they KNOW that it would be the perfect gift?  I don't remember ever talking to them about it.  Sure, when I would go into work with dad on Saturdays, he could usually find me up in the drafting room of the office.  I still don't remember ever talking to them about how much I enjoyed drafting and wanted to be good at it.

I do know this however.  Mom and dad went out of their way to be sure I got something that I would never forget.  They succeeded in that.  I still have not forgotten that Christmas.  I know that it must have been a financial sacrifice  in order to get me that drafting kit, and that meant it a lot to me then as well as now.  It probably meant a lot to Carol as well as she probably got one or two fewer presents than she normally got.

I still have a difficult time with Christmas.  I struggle to make Christmas good for everyone around me by putting on a mask and acting like I am not having problems with it.  But there was this one Christmas when five minutes made all the hassles and noise and traveling around worthwhile.

Thanks mom.  Thanks dad.  It was the best Christmas I can remember until the Christmas when Brett came to live with us and that, you will agree, is pretty hard to beat.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

GONE 31 YEARS

John Lennon was murdered thirty one years ago tonight.  Not only is it still hard to believe that he was murdered, but it is hard to believe that so much time has passed by.

John Lennon was one of my heroes.  He was so many things he became an enigma to himself.  He was an artist, a song writer, a singer, a poet, a philosopher and managed to become just another New Yorker.

He went through many phases in his life.  His songwriting went from pop love songs, to angry political and society songs, to celebration of life songs.  His philosophy changed all through his life as well.  Simply put, he was a man who was willing to look at life and the world with open eyes and unafraid to change based on what he saw and learned.

His last album before he was killed had some of the most beautiful music he had ever written.  The lyrics to the words were a look at how his life finally got to be where he wanted it to be.  He had not recorded for five years before he and Yoko released "Double Fantasy" in 1980.  The songs tell the story of a man in love with his wife and family.  A man who wasn't afraid to be who he was.  He did not have to put on a show as the outspoken Beatle.  He was simply John.  And John would walk with Yoko through the streets and through Central Park without being bothered much at all.  The people of New York had accepted him as a fellow New Yorker and it was not too strange to see him out and about.

At the time that he was murdered a person could tell that it was a new John Lennon that had not been seen before.  He had matured.  He had learned.  He seemed to finally grasp what life was about.

I found out about his death while taking a shower and getting ready for work the day after the murder.  Barb burst into the bathroom telling me that they had shot Lennon.  My initial reaction was not one of surprise.  I could imagine any number of political organizations or fringe groups that would consider it a feather in the hat to have killed Lennon.

Then I learned it was not a murder of motive at all.  It was a senseless murder.  A man who was not quite thinking normally had killed Lennon to make him famous or something like that.  There was no reason to rob the world of this man who, whether right or wrong, strived to make the world a better place.

A song that was on Double Fantasy shows how far he had come in life and how he saw his life.



WATCHING THE WHEELS - John Lennon

People say I'm crazy doing what I'm doing,
Well they give me all kinds of warnings to save me from ruin,
When I say that I'm o.k. they look at me kind of strange,
Surely your not happy now you no longer play the game,

People say I'm lazy dreaming my life away,
Well they give me all kinds of advice designed to enlighten me,
When I tell that I'm doing Fine watching shadows on the wall,
Don't you miss the big time boy you're no longer on the ball?

I'm just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round,
I really love to watch them roll,
No longer riding on the merry-go-round,
I just had to let it go,

People asking questions lost in confusion,
Well I tell them there's no problem,
Only solutions,

Well they shake their heads and they look at me as if I've lost my mind,
I tell them there's no hurry...
I'm just sitting here doing time,

I'm just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round,
I really love to watch them roll,
No longer riding on the merry-go-round,
I just had to let it go.




Wednesday, December 7, 2011

DAYS OF INFAMY

Today is December 7 and as every American should know, although with today's education system it is in question as to whether every American does indeed know, this is the day that President Franklin Roosevelt declared as a "Day that will live in infamy."  On December 7, 1941 the Japanese Imperial Army bombed a military base in the Hawaiian Islands called Pearl Harbor.  It was a surprise attack that destroyed most of the United States Naval fleet.  It was a day though, that would forever live in the annuls of American History.  The United States rebuilt the Navy and it was at this point, I think, That the United States did become a world power.  A day that will indeed live in infamy.

I was thinking last night as I pondered the annual arrival of December 7 that this country has had many "days that have lived in infamy".  There have been points in our history that have changed the course that the country was on and changed history in the blink of an eye.  These are some of the days that I think deserve that special place in American history.  It isn't a complete list, just some of the days that came to my mind.

The first day that I thought of was back in the year 1770.  On March 5 of that year a group of British soldiers fired into a crowd of Bostonians out side of the Old State House causing casualties.  March 5 is not the day of infamy though.  It is the day that sets up the day of infamy.  If you know about my love of history then you also know that I think John Adams is probably the most underrated founding father of our country.   I admire the things that John Adams did and they way he stood for what he believed.  This was one of those times.  John Adams acted as defense lawyer for Captain Preston of the British Army.  It was not a popular stance but Adams believed that every man deserved a trial by jury and believed deeply in the innocent until proven guilty theory of justice.  The trial began on October 24 and lasted until October 30.  That was the day of infamy for on October 30 twelve men from Boston found Captain Preston innocent of all charges.  John Adams had set a mark to shoot for through the rest of the history of our nation.  It was a turning point that is still carried down through to this day.

Another day of infamy happened on April 12, 1861.  Confederate forces led by Brigadier General 
Beauregard fired upon Fort Sumter in South Carolina.  It would turn this country into a bloody battlefield across the entire nation.  It took four years and hundreds of thousands of lives to bring this country back together under the Presidency of Abraham Lincoln.  It was a day in infamy because it was the beginning of strengthening this country as one.  Almost four years to the day of the Fort Sumter battle, another day of infamy occurred.  On April 14, 1865 with the war being over due to Lee's surrender to Grant, John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Lincoln.  It was a day in infamy because it truly marked the end of the civil war in a way that a piece of paper could never do.  Today, our country is united and strong and it is because we came out of the civil war and learned to grow together, work together and hammer out differences with peaceful transistion of power.

One of the biggest days of infamy that effected the entire world happened on August 6, 1945.  On that day President Harry S. Truman ordered that the world's first atomic bomb be dropped on Japan.  This action along with a second atomic bomb dropped a few days later changed the entire landscape of history and modern warfare.  This is a day that surpasses any other day of infamy.  We have seen what these weapons can do, now it takes leaders of countries that have these weapons a great deal of self control not to use them again.  So far we have been lucky.

The East Germans being a part of the communist block of nations built the Berlin Wall on August 13, 1961.  It became a symbol of freedom versus State run country.  for many years, people tried to escape the wall, some being lucky and making it past the border guards but many hundreds losing their life as they strived for freedom.   The day of infamy happened on November 9, 1989.  President Reagan taking ad.vantage of a failing economy in the communist block of nations challenged the East Germans to unify and tear down the wall.  On the night of November 9 people from all over the world watched as Germans from both sides of the wall tore it down without military challenge.  It marked the end of the Cold War, a true turning point not only for our country but for the world

Another day of infamy happened in 1961.  On January 20, 1961 John F. Kennedy took the oath of office as President of the United States.  The infamy here is the fact that President Kennedy was a Catholic and many in the country thought that he would give a certain amount of power to the Catholic Pope during his administration.  He did not.  For the first time religion truly became an issue in a national campaign and in the same election, religion was set aside as a requirement for the Presidency.  Lately however with a Mormon seeking a nomination for the Presidency, the issue of religion has again raised it's head.  Hopefully we can look back on history and remember the day when a Catholic was sworn into the nation's highest office.  Sadly another Day of infamy followed this one a few years later when on November 22, 1963 President Kennedy was assassinated.  Again the death of a President brought together the country and we remained more determined to be a unified and strong country.

The next day of infamy that comes to mind happened not too long ago.  On September 11, 2001 terrorists hijacked four planes to carry out the worst attack on American soil since the Civil War.  Over 3,000 people gave their lives in these attacks.  Two planes hit each of the World Trade Center towers in New York City.  One plane slammed into the Pentagon while the fourth plane was over taken by the passengers and failed to reach it's target, which was either the White House or the Capitol Building in Washington D.C.  Once again the country was brought together nad strengthened.  I think by the time that September 11 came around, Americans had forgotten what a day of infamy was like.  I remember talking to my wife on the phone when the second Tower was hit.  I immediately knew it was a terror attack and that it would change our way of living for a very very long time.
There are probably other "days of infamy" I am sure.  These are just a few that crossed my mind.  Hopefully we won't have any more of these kind of days, at least for a very long time.

The thing that all of these days have in common is that they have strengthened the American will and the American ideal.  We are a stronger country because we worked through and survived those days from the past that still effect us today.

(I left out President Nixon's resignation.  Many of you will see this as a day of infamy when it came about that not even the President was above the law.  I can agree with that.  The part I can't agree with is that it was never proven beyond a reasonable doubt the the President broke the law to begin with.  Many of you will shake your heads at this, but that is where I stand on the Watergate scandal.)



Wednesday, November 30, 2011

JOYCE CLARK - MOM

Today is my mom's birthday.  I don't know what to really say about her except she has had to go above and beyond the call of duty of an ordinary woman raising a family.  It was a situation forced upon her and a situation which she accepted and worked on.

She had four children when my father came as close to death as one could possibly get.  He suffered from an aneurism in his brain which left him with a long rehab period to get back to where he could function in the world.  He had terrible headaches from the incident and it came to mom to take the reigns of the family and be sure we got through life okay.

She took me to speech lessons when no one could understand a word I said.  More time and money taken from her already busy schedule and small budget.  It was probably the best gift she could ever give me.  I talk very clearly now and even though people don't understand what I am saying they can understand the words coming out of my mouth.

She did a good, no a great job of it.  Dad had gone back to work and while it was difficult for him, he was doing his part of raising the family as best as he could.  Dad did his very best, there is no doubt about that and I am oh so proud of my dad.  However there was a lot left to be done that dad was not able to handle completely.  Mom had to step up and pick up the slack.

Mom and dad believed that a mother should stay at home and raise their kids and so she did.  For many years she stayed at home raising the four of us plus taking in other children to babysit in order to make some extra money.  It was hard work but she did what she had to.

I think she really always wanted to work outside the house.  She is very intelligent and has a good head for figures.  Raising kids was more important though and so that was the path she took.  Everyday when I got home from school, mom was there.  She was there when I was terrified to on my first day of kindergarten.

It wasn't easy raising four kids, especially the four of us.  We were all different with different needs and I believe she did her best to meet those needs.  She had to make decisions concerning the finances and budget of the family and to make sure we never wanted.  She taught us to be honest in all our dealings.  Not to lie and not to cheat.  She taught us to show respect for our elders and really to show respect for everyone.

Christmas must have been especially difficult.  I know she wanted to give us everything we wanted but had to budget and make Christmas as good as it could be for us.  It was the same situation year round.  Making the money stretch, taking care of dad, raising four kids.  That is a lot of work and a lot of responsibility to put on ones self.  In her mind it was the right thing to do and I agree with her.  I feel really lucky to have had my mom there whenever I needed something.  I knew where she would be while friends of mind came home to empty houses.

As time went on the situation began to get better.  Dad began to slowly heal over a thirty year span.  Eventually mom went to work.  She got work as a tax preparer in a private firm.  She proved herself and quickly rose in the ranks at the firm.  She would eventually retire from that firm even though I don't think she was really ready to retire.

This has been a pretty rosy picture, right?  Well mom is human as we all are.  She has made some small mistakes over the years but very small ones.  I have not always agreed with her on things and I got into plenty of trouble growing up.  That is all on me though.  I believe that my mom did her absolute best and did what she truly believed was the right thing to do.  The things she thought were the right thing to do turned out to be the right things to do looking back on things. 

I feel extremely lucky to still have both my parents as long as I have.  Our family has more or less stuck together.  That wouldn't have been possible without mom.  Mom kept the family running, kept us going through some extremely difficult times.  She held the family together because she worked hard at it.  It wasn't an easy task for her.  I think I speak for my brother and sisters when I say we realize that ist was difficult and we are thankful she worked so very hard to accomplish what she did.  She smiled a lot when it wasn't easy to smile.

If ever there was a reason to get the saying "just a housewife" out of the English language, it is my mom.  She was never "just a housewife".  I can not look at her and see those words match up together.  She is so much more than that.

She continues to take good care of dad and she continues to worry about her kids and grandkids and even great grandkids.  She is the matriarch of our family.  She deserves respect for all that she has done over the years.

Somehow this piece just doesn't feel like it does justice to her.  It is the best I can do right now though.  All I can say is "You did a good job mom.  Thank you for all the sacrifices and the lessons you taught as I was growing up."

Love you

Friday, November 25, 2011

THE TABLE

The table was made out of dark wood and looked heavy.  It had massive legs that held it up off of the floor.  It was the center piece of Grandma Hill's dining room.  It seemed that everything that went on in that house centered around the dining room table.

It was where Grandpa held court when there was trouble between his children in the early years.  It was where report cards from school were discussed.  The table was where thousands of checker games were played and hundreds of Monopoly games were played.  Strange card games with titles as "Rook" and "Pit" were carried out on this table.  Grandpa did his writing on this this table.  He would write poems and letters to the local newspaper there.  The surface of the table never seemed to wear out over the years even with all of this activity going on upon it.

The accessories in the dining room for the table included a china cabinet and a buffet,  Grandma's bell collection around the plate rail and my uncle's violin hanging on the wall.  One whole side of the dining room were windows that looked out on the flower garden.  A window seat went the length of the wall sitting just below the windows.

It was a beautiful room.  Grandma had entered a competition one time with Better Homes and Garden in which she described the table and the room and the importance it had held over the years for the family.  I went over and took pictures of the dining room for her to send in with her article.  she didn't win, but in my mind she captured the importance of the table and what surrounded it wonderfully.  This room was indeed the central control room of the house.  It was where anything important occurred.

It was at the holiday season when the table really showed it's importance.  Grandma would fix big Easter dinners that would be consumed at the table as well as even bigger Christmas dinners.  Both of these events made my Grandmother's talent at cooking and setting a table shine.  But the most important day of the year for the table was Thanksgiving.

There were not any other trappings during the Thanksgiving holiday except for Thanksgiving itself.  There were no Easter egg hunts or Christmas tales of what we all got for Christmas to take away from what the table's role was.  At Thanksgiving it was all about the table.

Grandma would spend all day cooking getting things ready.  The best plates would be pulled out and set upon the great table.  Standard dishes would be made that we could not get anywhere else.  Her homemade cranberry sauce along with her creamed potatoes and a small dish of oysters.  She enjoyed cooking and cooking for the Thanksgiving meal just brought that much more joy in her heart.

The Hill family took Thanksgiving very seriously.  The family would gather that night and food filled every inch of the table.  Grandpa always sat at the head of the table.  As the family grew, smaller tables would be set as accessories to the main table in the living room.  The important thing was that the family was together ans together for one purpose. That purpose was to be thankful.

Lest we forget what the purpose of that day was, my Grandpa would send up a prayer before dinner that reiterated what that day was about.  Thankfulness for the entire family each and every member whether they were able to be there or not.  He would thank God for our good fortune at having each other.  He would be thankful for all that we were provided.  The food, our shelter and the ability to help others.  He would be thankful that God had looked down on this family and protected us and provided us with what we needed, not what we wanted.

Televisions were seldom turned on at Thanksgiving.  Instead the entertainment may be a board game or card game or just spending time talking with those you loved.  Talk of what had happened over the past year and summarizing the events were often the topic of a lot of talks.  Politics was probably the hottest topic of all every Thanksgiving.  I can remember sitting on the window seat while my uncles and grandpa discussed, read argued here, the politics of the day.  I sat and quietly listened and received my first lessons in history and in political thought.

It was tradition for Grandma to leave a few things out on the table after dinner was over.  Turkey was always left out for a while as well as bread and other foods that could be eaten with fingers.  This was important because while all this talking made people hungry.  The uncles were the worst culprits.  They would pick at food during their "discussions" on politics  The thinking and making a point would bring up their appetite.  The worst of these was my Uncle Melvin.  After dinner he would hover around the table talking and listening to his brothers and his father picking at food the whole time.  I think he must have eaten a whole second meal and a part of a third before the evening came to a close.

As I sat at my mother's table yesterday for a small Thanksgiving meal I could see parallels to past Thanksgivings at Grandma and Grandpa's   It was a much smaller scale and there were no discussions involving politics and the food was picked up and put away.  There was not any lingering and picking of the food after the meal was done.  It was just over.

Over the years, the Thanksgiving holiday has lessened in it's meaning.  I tried to watch the Macy's parade Thanksgiving morning and saw very little of it.  The televised parade has become a long commercial for the networks shows and Broadway shows.  Very little of the parade itself was actually shown on the television.  I turned it off halfway through it.

The commercialization of Christmas has over shadowed and over taken the Thanksgiving meaning.  Thanksgiving has become lost since the stores and people in general have started the Christmas season the day after Halloween.  It is all about money and there is no money to be made on Thanksgiving.

It is a shame really.  When I look back on Thanksgivings in the past and the meaning that Thanksgiving meant and the way we were taught to truly be thankful for all that this country has given us, all that God has blessed us with.  All of this seems to have faded into the background.

We have one day now to show our thankfulness and to think of what we are thankful for.  There is no way you can think of all that you have been blessed with in one day.  Those weeks between Halloween and Thanksgiving are just as important as thanksgiving Day itself.  It should be used as a time to reflect and prepare to truly give thanks and be thankful for our blessings.

I was pleased to see a lot of my Facebook friends give a reason for being thankful every day since Halloween.  It was a good exercise for all of them as well as me.  We have so much to be thankful for in this country even with the hardships that we face right now as a nation.  This country is still that city on the hill and each and every one of us are blessed to be able to live here.

Over the past year I can point to many things that I am grateful for.  connections remade with family members.  Still having my job even though the company went through some very difficult times.  My wife and son who watch out for me.  I have had food and shelter and have been able to give help to others when it is needed.  I was able to make three trips down south this year.  One for a funeral, one for a wedding and one because my sister needed someone to be there in a rough time for her.  I am thankful that I was able to make those trips because each of them were important.

I am thankful that I have those memories of Thanksgivings past and being able to be truly thankful. I am thankful I can still have memories of those that are gone who influenced my life so greatly.  Memories of both my Grandmothers, of my Grandpa, of Uncles Duane, Dan and Bill, Buster and Melvin and Aunts Jane and June among others.

I do long for the days when we have a few weeks to think of our blessings and to be thankful for them before we begin the maddening Christmas season.  I am afraid those days are gone though.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

UP ON THE ROOF

Every night I would come home and come face to face with one of the chores I dread doing around the house.  I would walk up towards the house and take a quick glance up at the gutter over the garage door.  There I would see leaves spilling out over the top.  The gutters were full and would need to be cleaned out before the next rain came.

I put it off as long as I could keeping an eye on the weather forecast every morning before I left for work.  Then one morning I heard the words coming from the television that i did not want to hear.  It would be warm on Friday and Saturday with high winds.  Sunday would turn cold and moving in on Sunday night would be rain that would stick around for a few days.  I knew deep in the pit of my stomach that the time had come to take care of the gutters.

I called Brett that afternoon and asked him if he was working Saturday.  I also had a back yard of leaves up to my ankles that needed mulching.  I knew that my hands would be limited in using the leaf blower on the gutters and then trying t run the lawn mower all in one day.  Ever since my wrist were victimized by carpel tunnel syndrome too much vibration on the wrist would make my hands useless.  So I asked Brett to come over and hold the ladder for me while I climbed up on the roof and got the gutters cleaned and then he would run the mower over the leaves and mulch them up.  He said that it was no problem and he would be there at nine on Saturday morning.

Saturday morning greeted me at nine-thirty.  Brett wasn't there yet but that was not a big surprise.  I had told him any time would be okay as long as we got it done before the Mizzou game started.  I decided to face my demons and go ahead and get the gutters done while I was waiting for him.  Now, if you have been reading this blog for awhile you know that I am terrified of heights.  The thing is that Brett isn't too wild about high places either so I had made the decision that since it was my house, I would do the high chores while he stayed grounded.  It seemed like the best thing to do since he was willing to help out.

I got dressed and put on my jacket and went to the garage.  I pulled my extension ladder out and took it to the back of the house.  I always climb on the roof from the back of the house because I look really silly getting up the ladder and stepping onto the roof because of my fear.  I look even sillier trying to get from the roof back onto the ladder to climb down.  I did not need the extra pressure of having Jim, my neighbor across the street, see me struggle to get up on the roof.

Jim is a very nice man and we have become pretty good friends over the years.  Jim is about fifteen years older than I am and when we were both younger he was always busying himself around his house keeping it up.  I would see him fearlessly on his roof leaning over to paint spots here and there during the summer and of course gutter cleaning presented no problem to him at all.  I always had the feeling that he knew I was trying to keep my house up but he did it so much better than I did.  I tried to keep up with him on the house work but never quite could until two summers ago.  The water company was replacing sewer lines and had dug up Jim's front yard.  For the first time in thirty years my yard finally looked better than his and I did not hesitate to walk over and tell him about it.  In the back of my head, Jim owed me one because of that.

After getting the ladder set up against the side of the house I went and got the leaf blower.  I have made it a habit to start the leaf blower and get it running while on the ground.  Using this method I would not be trying to start it cold from the roof where I envisioned myself pulling on the start rope so hard as to throw myself from the roof.  I would get it warmed up, turn it off and then climb up the ladder.  Once on the roof I would start the leaf blower rather easily because it had already been warmed up.  And so I began the ritual.

After starting the leaf blower and turning it back off I began to climb the ladder with the leaf blower in one hand and my shaking left hand holding onto the ladder.   My knees would shake with every step I took closer to the roof.  I finally arrived at the roof and after setting the leaf blower on it, pulled myself over the ladder onto the roof.

After getting on the roof I sat and took a couple of deep breaths looking around me to get use to the height.  Then came the moment.  The most deadly moment.  I got on my knees and pulled the rope on the leaf blower.  It started right on up much to my relief.

I slowly stood up and began walking down the edge of the roof blowing the leaves out of the gutter.  I stayed as far from the edge as the leaf blower would let me.  The weatherman had been right.  It was windy up there and that only made slightly more terrifying to walked along the edge.  After getting the back gutters done and having established my legs as being steady, I climbed over the peak of the house to the front gutters.  I saw Jim's garage door open and knew that he was in there watching me.  He always stayed in the shadows of his garage watching me as I worked.  One time I was out trimming with the the lawn trimmer when it had stopped.  I tried and tried to get it started again.  Suddenly Jim appeared from his garage and asked me if I had gas in it.  I had looked at the gas tank to see it was empty.  Jim had just smiled and faded back into his garage.  This is the kind of thing I did not want to happen while I was on the roof.

I eventually finished the front gutters and, pleased with myself, climbed over the peak of the house to head back to the ladder and get myself down off the roof.  As I crested the peak my eyes landed where the ladder should be.  It was not there.  Apparently the wind had taken it down and while I did not go to the edge of the roof to check on the ladder, I pretty much had a good idea of where it was.

I had been up there about half an hour blowing leaves and now I couldn't get down.  Brett had not arrived yet.  I called out to Barb a few times but received no answer.  The doors and windows were shut to keep the stiff cool wind out of the house.  I stood up and looked around.  I began to try to figure things out.  I looked over the top of the house and saw Jim's garage door open.  I thought about it for a bit.  I imagined yelling over to Jim's but couldn't bear the thought of the old man coming over to rescue me once again.  No, Jim was not the answer.

I sat on the roof and pondered my options.  I could try to jump from the roof and hope for the best that I wouldn't break an ankle or a foot.  The more I thought of that option the more I realized that it wasn't really an option.  I sat and continued to think.

After about ten minutes of sitting up there the girl next door cam out and played fetch with her dog.  She had not looked up in the sky and I was being fairly quiet and so she did not realize I was up there.  I watched her play with her dog and was just about to get the courage up to ask her for help when she went back inside.  It was for the best I suppose because if I had called to her, Jim would have heard and would have seen her walk over to my house to save me.  I took a deep breath and decided to sit it out hoping Brett would show up soon.

Finally after sitting on the roof about half an hour I saw his bald shaven head come walking around the corner of the house into the back yard.  My boy had arrived.  I watched him as he looked around the back yard and call out for me.  I slapped my leg and he looked up.  Then he looked at the ladder on the ground followed by looking up at me again.  He walked over to the ladder without say a word and soon I found myself handing him the leaf blower as he reached the roof on the ladder.  I did my silly move to get back on the ladder and began my descent.  It was not long before I found myself back on solid ground.

We talked about the mornings events as to how long I had been up there, as to how I was not going to ask Jim for help and so on.  Then I had to go into the house and explain to Barb where I had been for the last hour and tell her all the grisly details about being stuck on the roof and about how I wasn't going to ask Jim and all the other facts of the adventure.

It was time to go to the grocery store.  Barb said she would come with me since it was Thanksgiving shopping and there were a lot of items that I usually do not get.  While we were gone Brett mulched the leaves in both the front and back yard.

When I came home from the store I looked up at my nemesis once again.  No leaves spilling out over the top.  The gutters were clean before the rains and the the cold weather arrived.  The yard looked good with most of the leaves now gone and Brett and I sat in the warmth of the house to Watch Mizzou win another football game and become bowl eligible.

It is a good feeling to know that the chore of the leaves are done for another year.  Next year I will make sure that I have the ladder set up so that the wind does not blow it over again.  That is how life is.  No matter how old you get or how many times you do something, there is always something new to learn as you progress through life.  This year I learned that the wind can leave me stranded and alone with my thoughts on top of the house.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

BEAUTIFUL MUSIC - POP

I was listening to some of my music this afternoon and came across some truly wonderful beautiful songs.  I began trying to think what songs I consider the most beautiful songs that effect me.  The rules I set for myself were simple.  The melody had to be one that catches in your mind and keeps coming back over and over.  The melody also had to carry the meaning of the song working hand in hand with the lyrics.

The lyrics had to be meaningful and have a purpose.  Sappy lyrics are not permitted.  The words have to convey the emotion that the writer is trying to get across.  It has to let the listener know what the message is without being cryptic.

The song has had to stand the test of time.  It has to communicate from generation to generation.  /this is the most difficult part of the test for a song to past.  There are different ways a song can accomplish this.  The original recording can be unsurpassed  and be the  best recording possible and able to touch the hearts of generations to come.  Another way is for each generation to have a new recording of the song that easily speaks to the generation it is recorded for.

There are a few song writers that immediately jump out as being great song writers with several songs worthy of making the cut.  Paul Simon, Carol King and Hank Williams Sr fit into this category.  After giving it much thought here are a few songs that I think meet the criteria

I expect there to be many disagreements pertaining to my choices.  That is the way it should be.  Music is as individual as those that listen to it and appreciate it.  This is my list as of today.  If I had written this yesterday or tomorrow, the list might be completely different.  It's music.  The way you look at music a lot of times depends on your mood or where you are in life.  

Number ten finds us with Otis Redding's "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay."  The story of a man lost in the world and not able to find himself.  After searching everywhere he finds himself in San Francisco with the realization that he has no life and the thought process leading up to suicide.

Number nine I see a song that has been covered too many times to count. Each time it is recorded it sounds new but still brings about the emotion of lost love.  "Faded Love" is this song.

Number eight is "Love Hurts"as recorded by Graham Parsons and Emmy Lou Harris.  The voices in this recording match the beauty and the pain that love can bring.

Number seven I decided was Harry Chapin's "Cats in the Cradle".  Any parent who has raised their children can relate to this song on some level.

Number six is Willie Nelson's masterpiece "Crazy".  While I prefer Patsy Cline's recording, I have yet to hear a bad recording of this song.

Now we get down to the REALLY good songs and the most difficult to choose.

Number five is George Harrison's "Something".  Easily a contender as one of the Beatles best recordings.  John and Paul never seemed to get in touch with their emotions as deeply as George did on this song.

Number four is Roy Orbison's "Crying".  Not enough can be said about this song. The melody follows the lyrics Orbison's voice puts the finishing touch on it.

Number three brings Carol King to us with "You've Got A Friend".  The same year she recorded this wonderful song, James Taylor recorded it.  It is his version that is better known but this is a song for the ages.

Number two slot is filled with Paul Simon's signature song "Bridge Over Troubled Water".  Art Garfunkels voice on the original recording is filled with passion.  you can not listen to this song without memories of someone in your past that faced tough times or a time when you were facing tough times and someone was there for you.

Number one was probably the easiest choice for me to make.  I knew it would be my number one when I first started thinking about this list.  "I'm so lonesome I Could Cry" by Hank Sr. can be recorded by almost anyone and when you sing it, you can't help but feel the loneliness and heart break of someone who feels totally alone and isolate from the world.  In my opinion it is the most beautiful pop song ever written.

I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry
Words and music by Hank Williams

Hear that lonesome whippoorwill
He sounds too blue to fly
The midnight train is whining low
I'm so lonesome I could cry

I've never seen a night so long
When time goes crawling by
The moon just went behind the clouds
To hide its face and cry

Did you ever see a robin weep
When leaves began to die?
Like me he's lost the will to live
I'm so lonesome I could cry

The silence of a falling star
Lights up a purple sky
And as I wonder where you are
I'm so lonesome I could cry

Friday, November 11, 2011

A BETTER PLACE TO BE

Eddie Harper found himself in his mid fifties and alone.  People said he was an alcoholic and maybe they were right.  Looking back over things he could see how his drinking had cost him his wife and family and a good job many years ago.

He found himself working at Miller's Tool and Die, a small machine shop that was in the bad part of town.  He had been hired as the night security guard to protect the business from vandals and graffiti artists.  It was a huge drop from his accounting job that he had held some fifteen years before.  He found that the booze had made him a loser in the eyes of women and so now he was alone.

He lived in a small boarding house in a little one room with a shared toilet.  It wasn't exactly the way he had envisioned his life playing out.  Now he was alone and lonely and only imagined striking up conversations with women that he would see at the diner where he ate his meals or the bar that he went to when he got off work.

The bar he went to opened at ten in the morning.  Technically it was a bar and grill set up and stayed open until three in the morning.  A few days ago after a morning of drinking at the bar then going home drunk, he had slept past the time he was to be at work.  The boss had given him a warning that his job could be in danger if he was late many more times because of drinking.  He had decided to go on the wagon once again and for what seemed to be the hundredth time, try to clean his act up.

He had stayed away from the bar for about a week having breakfast after work a the diner and avoiding the bar all together.  Then last week he was at the diner and saw one of the most beautiful women he had ever seen.  In his mind he imagined striking up a conversation with her that ended with her going back to his room to spend the day. It was a wonderful fantasy that almost seemed too real.  As the woman finished her meal and left he realized that he would  spend the rest of his life alone.  He no longer had the courage to even say hi to anyone like that.  What the hell he decided.  Not drinking was making things worse then better and so on this morning he found himself back at the bar and grill, depressed about his life and drinking gin at ten in the morning.

As he came into the barroom the waitress got him a glass of gin out of habit.  She had noticed that Eddie hadn't been there for awhile and asked him where had been.  Eddie ignored her questioning, too busy wallowing in his own self pity of the realization of being alone as a way of life for him until he would die.  The waitress told him that if he didn't want to talk, that was fine with her, but she was there to listen if he felt like talking.

Eddie sat there quietly and the fantasy from the diner reentered his mind.  The beautiful woman and how he had fantasized about taking her home.  He took a drink and then decided to tell the waitress about the fantasy.

As he began to talk the waitress came over and leaned on the bar listening to his story.  As she listened she could almost feel the pain in his voice.  He told her about approaching the woman and talking to her and how she had asked him to take her home with him and spend some time with him.  He talked with such passion that the waitress believed that he was relating a real part of his life, not realizing it was all a fantasy.  As Eddie finished the story with the woman slipping out on him while he was gone to get her something to eat.  In his fantasy she had left him a note and he knew he would never see this lovely woman again.  As he finished, she refilled his glass with gin and he began sipping on it.

After he had taken a couple of drinks from the glass he looked up at the waitress and noticed that she had a tear in her eye.  She began telling him that she knew how he felt.  She was lonely too.  She was not the kind of woman that men easily approached with conversation.  She felt like it was because she was a little overweight and not that good looking.   She expressed to him that people like them were not meant to be alone, it was something that life had just laid on them.  The waitress sadly said that it was too bad that people like themselves were meant to be so alone that they probably wouldn't even find another like themselves.  Another lonely soul that just wanted to be loved and have someone to spend time with.  She sometimes wished that she would have someone who would meet her when she got off work and go home with her to take away the loneliness.

Eddie listened to her as she expressed her frustration with life and relationships.  He began to formulate an idea.  The more he thought about it the more it seemed like this was something that could happen and it brought a small smile to his face.  He finished his drink and looked into her eyes.  He took her hand and stare at her trying to get his courage up.  Finally he asked her what time she would be off work.  She told him that she worked until five that evening.  He finally took a deep breath and looked down at the bar and in a soft shaky voice he told her, " I ain't got no place to go.  If you want, I can pick you up after work tonight.  Where I am at now, any place is a better place to be."

As the waitress watched Eddie leave the bar she smiled and her whole day changed.  She understood exactly what he was saying.  When you got no place to go, any place is indeed a better place to be.


A Better Place to be
by Harry Chapin

 
It was an early morning bar room,
And the place just opened up.
And the little man come in so fast and
Started at his cup.
And the broad who served the whisky
She was a big old friendly girl.
And she tried to fight her empty nights
By smilin' at the world.
And she said "Hey Bub, It's been awhile
Since you been around.
Where the hell you been hidin' ?
And why you look so down ?"
But the little man just sat there like he'd never heard a sound.
The waitress she gave out with a cough,
And acting not the least put off,
She spoke once again.
She said, "I don't want to bother you,
Consider it's understood.
I know I'm not no beauty queen,
But I sure can listen good."
And the little man took his drink in his hand
And he raised it to his lips.
He took a couple of sips.
And he told the waitress this story.
"I am the midnight watchman down at Miller's Tool and Die.
And I watch the metal rusting, and I watch the time go by.
A week ago at the diner I stopped to get a bite.
And this here lovely lady she sat two seats from my right.
And Lord, Lord, Lord she was alright.
"Oh she was so damned beautiful that she'd warm a winter's frost.
But she was long past lonely, and well nigh unto lost.
Now I'm not much of a mover, or a pick-em-up easy guy,
But I decided to glide on over, and give her one good try.
And Lord, Lord, Lord she was worth a try.
"Tongued-tied like a school boy, I stammered out some words.
But it did not really matter much, 'cause I don't think she heard.
She just looked clear on through me to a space back in my head.
And it shamed me into silence, as quietly she said,
'If you want me to come with you, then that's all right with me.
Cause I know I'm going nowhere, and anywhere's a better place to be.
Anywhere's a better place to be.'
"I drove her to my boarding house, and I took her up to my room.
And I went to turn on the only light to brighten up the gloom.
But she said, 'Please leave the light off, Oh I don't mind the dark.'
And as her clothes all tumbled 'round her, I could hear my heart.
The moonlight shown upon her as she lay back in my bed.
It was the kind of scene I only had imagined in my head.
I just could not believe it, to think that she was real.
And as I tried to tell her she said 'Shhh.. I know just how you feel.
And if you want to come here with me, then that's all right with me.
'Cause I've been oh so lonely, lovin' someone is a better way to be.
anywhere's a better way to be.'
"The morning come so swiftly but I held her in my arms.
But she slept like a baby, snug and safe from harm.
I did not want to share her with the world or break the mood,
So before she woke I went out and brought us both some food.
"I came back with my paper bag, to find out she was gone.
She'd left a six word letter saying 'It's time that I moved on.'"
The waitress took a bar rag, and she wiped it across her eyes.
And as she spoke her voice came out as something like a sigh.
She said "I wish that I was beautiful, or that you were halfway blind.
And I wish I weren't so dog-gone fat, I wish that you were mine.
And I wish that you'd come with me, when I leave for home.
For we both know all about loneliness, and livin' all alone."
And the little man,
Looked at the empty glass in his hand.
And he smiled a crooked grin,
He said, " I guess I'm out of gin.
And know we both have been so lonely.
And if you want me to come with you, then that's all right with me.
'Cause I know I'm goin' nowhere and anywhere's a better place to be."

Thursday, November 3, 2011

AND SO IT BEGINS

One night we are sitting relaxing watching our favorite television shows.  The commercials during these shows are full of scenes of happy little kids dressed in costumes trick or treating.  The next day the commercials suddenly are playing Christmas carols at us with suggestions on what the people on our individual Christmas lists really want for Christmas.

The stores go from a black and orange motif with bite size candy bars filling the shelves to aisles filled with Christmas trees and eggnog filling the milk areas.  It has been this way for a while now, I know.  There is still something inside of me that really gets irritated at the moving up of the Christmas season though.

When I was growing up after Halloween was finished, we went back to school and began learning about Thanksgiving.  Art classes were spent making turkeys using the outline of our hands.  We spent the next four weeks looking forward to a family get together that would remind us how lucky and thankful we are to be related to these people.  When you think about it, we probably do need a time or two to remind us why we are so thankful to have siblings that you fight with the rest of the yesr.

When thanksgiving finally arrived and was over with, they turned on the Plaza Lights in Kansas City.  Kids knew that it was now time to start logging your days of being good.  All you had to really do was be good for one month and that would pay off with the coming of Christmas morning.  Kids did not begin to get excited about Christmas until after the Thanksgiving meal.

On Thanksgiving morning we would watch the Macy's parade and at the end of the parade would come the great benefactor, Santa.  Then and only then did you even begin to think about Christmas.

Times have changed though.  While we only had to wait for Christmas four weeks, little ones today will be waiting for Christmas to arrive a full eight weeks away.  We only had to be good for four weeks.  Today's children are under the immense pressure to be good for eight weeks.  That, my friend, is a lot of pressure for a six year old to carry on his shoulders.

Lewis Black has described the modern timetable as Thanksgiving being Christmas Half time.  He is right.  That is exactly what Thanksgiving has become.  By the time you get around to being thankful for all of your blessings and your brothers and sisters you have already spent four weeks preparing for Christmas.

Maybe it is a good thing to down play Thanksgiving a little.  I have given it a little thought and perhaps we can now use Thanksgiving as a practice time for getting along with all these people that you spend the rest of the year wondering how you became your sister could possibly be related to you.  We spend Thanks giving by getting everyone together.  We sit around a big table and eat a meal together without any bickering (because that would not be classified as "being good").  We practice spending the whole day with them, smiling and making jokes until the day is done and we go back to our respective corners and figure out how well we did so that we can do even better on Christmas morning.

To me that is what Thanksgiving has become.  A rehearsal for Christmas.  Of course there is more to contend with at Christmas.  You have to give gifts and hope that you get your loved ones something that they will be happy with.  You have to pretend to be overjoyed by the gifts that your loved ones give you while at the same time they are performing the same act about the gifts that you gave them.

Thanksgiving use to be a special day.  I don't think that it is anymore.  We spend all the days leading up to Thanksgiving worrying about Christmas.  Isn't there enough pressure dealing with Christmas when we only had to deal with it four weeks instead of the current eight?

I know it is all about money.  Just as in sports when you use to have to end up in first place to go to the World Series, now you can end up in second or third place and still have a shot at the world championship (read St Louis Cardinals here).  The NCAA Basketball Tournament use to only invite sixteen teams and it was played over the course of a long weekend.  They worked that up to thirty two teams and then sixty four teams to get more games played and to stretch it out over a month to garner more money.  Since then they have added a sixty-fifth team.  Every game brings in money.

Same thing with Christmas.  Instead of limiting themselves to four weeks to talk people into shopping and spending more money then they can afford to, they tacked on another four weeks so you have the opportunity to go even further into debt than you ordinarily would.

Every year it seems that Christmas moves further from a Religious tradition into just a another tradition.   A big tradition to be sure, but still just another tradition.  I know that Christmas does not cover all the religions, it is mainly a Christian one.  But hey, we were willing to share it with all the other religions.  I see it as an opportunity for store owners that may not be Christian to be able to cash in on the deal.  I have no problem with that.

I just wish that there were someway to trim Christmas back to four weeks.  Wait until after Thanksgiving before the onslaught of commercials that pressure us every year.  Put some meaning back into Thanksgiving.  I know that we have learned that the first Thanksgiving was probably not as nice and neat of a package as we were originally sold on but then again, government offices still close on Columbus day, and we know he wasn't a Saint.

That is all I want.  I want things to slow down just a bit.  Take the time we have in November to make Thanksgiving truly a time to spot and think about how blessed we all are.  Leave December for The birth of Christ, Santa and all the commercial trappings that come riding into our lives on the coat tails of Religion.

Personally?  I would be satisfied with just celebrating New Years as a holiday.  Get all the Major football bowl games back to that one day and spend the day resting up before starting another year of ordinary daily stress that we deal with all year long instead of recovering from the stress that we just put ourselves through over the previous eight weeks.

Monday, October 31, 2011

WHO AM I?

Who am I?  I have been thinking about this the last few days.  I have had fifty-five years to get to know me.  I know I am known as Bill, but that is just a tag.  I know I come from a family named Clark and a family named Hill.  That is an important point it seems.

Interacting with these two great families have surely had an impact on who I am.  I know that my grandparents have had an effect on shaping me and that the two people who came from these families and were my parents had a big impact on who I am.

Then there is the matter of my siblings.  Now we all know that siblings do not always give a positive outlook on life depending upon ages and circumstances.  All in all though, I think I have been pretty lucky having the siblings that I have.

So why does this question of who I am linger in my mind?  When it comes down to it, there are times when I do not know how I will react to situations.  As a matter of fact there are times that I really surprise myself in the manner in which I react.

When I was young I had a terrible temper.  As I grew older I kept working on my temper but it is still there and comes out at times in very bad ways.  Then again there are times when something happens where I would ordinarily lose my temper and I reacted in a calm manner.

My grandfather once had me record some of his stories of his life.  He told me from the start that I shouldn't expect to know everything about him.  There were things he would not tell anyone about his life.  That is just the way things are.  We keep a huge part of ourselves hidden from the world outside our minds.

Perhaps we hide things about ourselves from ourselves.  Things that get tucked away in our memory and are buried never to see the light of day again.  We keep things from ourselves, which keep us from fully knowing ourselves.  I think that is what I have done over the years.  I hide from myself just as much as I hide from others.

Maybe it is a blessing that I don't fully comprehend who I am.  There is a chance I may not like myself very much if I truly knew who I am.

Perhaps people do know who they are.  I am sure that there are a lot of people who do feel they know who they are.  That is good.  I think the world would be a beter place if there were more of those people than people like me.

Fifty five years of living with myself and I don't understand who I am, I don't know who I am, and as I grow older I am not sure I want to know who I am.  Maybe it is best that way.

Friday, October 28, 2011

ANNUAL FALL POSTING

I wrote a post about the changing of the seasons in Missouri last October.  After looking at the change from summer to fall and the beauty of it, I feel compelled to write of it once again.

A few years ago I had the luck to be in Boston in the middle of October.  As beautiful as Missouri is during this time of year, the Midwest fall cannot hold a candle to the colorful northeastern United States.  New England was marvelous.  I remember looking out of my hotel room over the tree filled landscape and seeing several different shades of yellow, red, and orange.  It was the most wonderful fall I have ever seen.

Here in Missouri, our fall period lasts most of the month of October.  Leaves have started to fall now, but two weeks ago the trees were full of their leaves as they changed over from green to their various colors.  The slow fall of Missouri gives it a different kind of beauty than the north east.  We have green staying around in a lot of the trees throughout October while other trees are dropping their leaves.

In Missouri, right now, you can see bare trees along with vibrant yellows, reds and oranges plus a splash of green spread out over the canvas of fall.  The silver maple tree in my backyard is a huge tree.  It is one of the largest trees on the block.  Being so tall it takes a little long for it to change color and then drop it's leaves.  When the leaves do change the color morphs into a dull yellow.  This is a little disappointing as I would rather have a tree that had brilliant colors.  Since the tree is so large it is also slow to drop it's leaves.  Usually I still have leaves falling in my back yard at Thanksgiving time.  When the tree does finally loses it's leaves the backyard becomes a crunchy beautiful yellow carpet that my dog can run in and roll around in, bringing into the house as many leaves as he can get to stick to his body.

On the other hand, my neighbor to the south of me has a tree in his front yard that is already nearly bare.  It's leaves turn a dark reddish brown and it is pretty for a little while.  The leaves change too quickly and fall too fast though and soon my front gutter is filled with the dead leaves of his tree.  The leaves on his tree do not retain their reddish brown color once they fall.  They quickly turn into a muddy brown and just lie there waiting to be blown up and down the street by the winds that will be stripping all the other trees in the neighborhood of their leaves.

The house across the street from me has a couple of trees with huge leaves.  They turn color slowly but drop quickly because the leaves are so big and heavy.  The wind catches them fairly easily and you can find these huge yellow leaves mixing in with the smaller leaves of the other trees in the tree community.  The owner of the house gets his riding lawn mower out every week to mulch up the big leaves that cover his yard very quickly as they fall.

The prettiest view of trees is up at the lake.  You can stand on a hill at the lake and look out over hundreds of acres of tree line with a bright beautiful massive lake sitting in the middle of it all.  The colors from up on that hiss are varied much as the trees in New England are.  The difference is that there are not as many different shades of the colors as there are in Boston.  Still it is beautiful and the trees that hold onto their leaves for a longer amount of time hide the trees that have already been stripped bare.  You don't see the symbolic death of the trees from a distance as winter approaches as you do when you walk among the trees.

All that being said, here is how I see Fall.  As so many songwriters and philosophers have done before me, they see the cycle of seasons as a picture of life.  Spring is when every thing is new.  Things grow and come to life.  Summer is when nature shows itself in full bloom and stature.  Everything is stable, everything is green and everything slows down growing just a bit before fall.  Fall is the final cheer for life.  Fall is when nature come to a realization of how wonderful and beautiful it is.  It last but a short time and for a few weeks nature is at it's grandest.  Then of course, just when we realize how grand a life can be, whether it be a tree, or grass, or a human being, winter come crawling in slowly.  It slowing turns everything cold and strips the trees of their wonder.  The grass goes dormant, the winds turn from crisp to cold.  The life bearing rain turns into ice and snow, freezing and killing whatever it lands upon.  Winter brings death.

Most people will not admit to being in the winter of their lives.  We look around and see the children in the spring of their lives.  We watch as young adults become a productive part of society and we can see them as being in the summer of their lives.  Then as we age we slowly admit that yes, we are in the fall of our lives.  We are at our best.  We have grown wise as we grew through the summer of our own lives and now we are in the fall.  It is the time to shine and let everyone see what kind of a person you turned out to be.  We hold onto the fall of our lives for as long as we can.

No one wants to admit that they are in the winter of their lives.  Saying you are in the winter of your live says that you are prepared to die.  You say that you have lived a complete life and now it is time to step out of the way and out of the picture.  Who is to say when the fall of life ends and the winter begins anyway?  If you live to be 98, then at the age of 80 you very well could be getting towards the end of the fall of your life, but still be in the fall without taking that fatal step into winter.  If you die at 55 however, then it was a very short fall and you were in the winter of your life without even knowing it.

I don't want to be a tree that tries to stay in the fall of life as long as possible, struggling to hold onto my leaves to prove I still have some worth to the world.  I am ready to admit that I am on the cusp of the winter of my life.  I am getting close to retirement age.  My body is slowing down.  I can not do things that I could do a mere ten years ago.  I don't have the strength or the will to do a lot of those things.  I am wearing out and I can recognize it.  That isn't to say that a lot of people my age are not just beginning the Fall of their lives and have a lot to contribute and to attain.

 I don't see my life that way.  I don't see my body or my brain that way.  Fall is slipping from me and Within a short period of time, I imagine I will be taking that step into the winter of my life.  How long will winter last for me?  I can't answer that just as we can't answer how long others will be in the Fall of their lives.  Everything and everyone is different.  The tree in my neighbors yard has already gone through fall, entered winter and is on the verge of shutting down while the tree in my yard has several weeks of fall left in it before it finally succumbs to winter sometime in mid December.

I had a good spring.  I had a fairly good summer.  I had a good fall until it started to weaken.  Hopefully I will have a long and good winter.

Monday, October 24, 2011

BIG 12, MIZZOU AND THE SEC

This is going to be a rare editorial comment on the blog.  this is what I consider a fairly serious comment.  I love the Big 12 and the history behind it, I love Mizzou and it's history with different past configurations with the Big 12 over the last 106 years.  I love what the one two punch of Mizzou and Kansas bring economically to the Kansas City Market and I truly respect the SEC and their traditions that they have built over the years.

I want Mizzou to stay in the Big 12.  This is where they belong.  I hated to see Nebraska and Colorado leave the conference but those decisions were made right after Texas made their big deal with ESPN.  I think if Nebraska and Colorado had stayed and helped Mizzou fight the Texas money machine, the Mizzou issue would not even be in question.  Mizzou is standing up to the Texas money machine and as of tonight it appears they may be making headway.

Mizzou is a very good acquisition for any conference.   They are an AAU school, of which the SEC only has two members right now.  Mizzou has shown that they are competitive in a wide range of sports including football, basketball, baseball, softball, and wrestling.   I can see where the SEC might be very interested in adding Mizzou as a 14th team to the conference.  It would ease the scheduling.  Mizzou borders three states with SEC universities in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Arkansas.

That being said Mizzou simply belongs in the Big 12.  Rivals have been built over the years with Kansas State, Oklahoma, Iowa State and most important the University of Kansas.  Missouri and Kansas is one of the longest lasting rivalries in the nation and one of the most intense in all sports.  No matter if Mizzou has a great baseball team or football team or if Kansas has a great Basketball team or Track and field, the other school always seems to find the extra oomph that keeps the rivalry alive and intense.

Mizzou has no such partner in crime in the SEC like they do with Kansas in the Big 12.  The rivalry alone is worth lots of money to the conference every time they meet on a football field or a basketball court. It is a rivalry worth doing everything you can to keep it going.  The border wars is known throughout the country.

Another reason that it is important that Mizzou stays in the Big 12 is the annual economic boost that it brings to the Kansas City metropolitan area each year.  The fact that Mizzou and Kansas are in the conference brings the big twelve football championship to Kansas City every other year and brings the Big 12 post season basketball tournament to Kansas City every other year.  Not only that but every year the Kansas vs Mizzou football game is held in Kansas city every year bringing in a full house to Arrowhead and an economic boost to the city.

All of that would likely be gone of Mizzou went to the SEC.  The governor of the state and the mayor of Kansas City should be pushing hard to convince Mizzou to stay in the Big 12.  Mizzou would be on the outside edges of the SEC and likely would not get any of the conference wide tournaments.

A lot of my SEC friends say that Mizzou can not be competitive in the SEC.  I don't agree with that.  Mizzou has lost four games in football so far this year, all to ranked teams.  three of those losses were on the road.  One went into overtime against Arizona State, a second one was a ten point loss to then number 1 Oklahoma in Norman, and the third was at Kansas State where mistakes made by a young team lost the game in the final minutes.  Even the one game that Missouri really got beat by Oklahoma State, there were plenty of mistakes made by the young team that is still competitive in the toughest conference in the country.  I say that and I may be a little bias thinking that the Big 12 is a tougher conference than the SEC.

I believe that Mizzou could go toe to toe in football with most of the SEC.  I think they would be a new power house in Basketball n the SEC and Mizzou would add another dimension in presenting yet another threat in Baseball from the SEC.  I am not afraid or intimidated by the SEC and Mizzou's ability to compete there.  If they move, the will be competitive.

The bottom line as far as I am concerned is the history and tradition of Mizzou playing in Big 12.  It is the fact that a Mizzou presence in the Big 12 would keep all of the championship games out of Texas and give the northern teams a chance to play closer to home instead of annual trips to Texas for conference championships.   It is the fact that Kansas City would continue it's tradition as being a home to basketball championships and tournaments.

There is much more to be gained by staying in the Big 12 then being a fringe University in the SEC.  The SEC can pick up a number of other programs besides Mizzou.  The Big 12 could easily get other programs to fill the slot that a Mizzou move would open up.  However, I don't think there is a program that could replace Mizzou.

Stay in the Big 12 where you belong Mizzou.  For tradition, for the border war, for the conference and for Kansas City.

CHILDHOOD BETS

When you are very young, the world is full of unproven theories that sometimes require that they be proven out.  My little brother and myself went through several theories while we were growing up to find out how the world works.  To make it more interesting, we would make a bet on the outcome.  The bets were not for a large amount as neither of us were old enough to possess a large amount of money, but a penny or nickel bet would more than suffice to make the experiment more intriguing.

There are three bets that stand out in my mind that we happened across through inquisitive thinking.  Looking back, they were pretty simple experiments with the outcome already proven through centuries of experimentation by those that came before us.  When you are young and have a mind full of questions about the world, it is best to see the results in person.

The first bet or experiment that I recall involved my oldest sister's cat.  We had been told by numerous sources that a cat always land on their feet no matter what.  We had our doubts about this and felt that we could surely get a cat, given the right circumstance, to miss a clean landing on it's feet.  We tested this theory by taking said cat up to the hallway that overlooked the living room.  The first time we simply tried to hold the cat upside down and drop it down to the living room.  The result was just as it was predicted t be, the cat landed on it's feet no worse for the fall.   We went down and gathered up the cat and took it upstairs again.  This time we held it upside down and threw it out into the living room, thinking the extra distance may throw it's timing off.  Once again the cat successfully landed on it's feet and ran to hide under the stairs.

After we dragged the cat out from under the stairs, we decided perhaps the cat had too much time to right itself before landing.  To compensate for this we held the cant upside down and kind of increased the speed which it would meet the floor in the living room.  Just like the tries before, the cat landed on it's feet.  It seemed there was a truth to this theory of a cat always landing on it's feet.  We ran through a few more experiments before giving and and filing away in our minds that cats do indeed always land on their feet.  When I was older I learned the hows and why's of this by watching a documentary on physical attributes of different animals, one being why cats always land on their feet.  Apparently in their brain there is a little thing that acts like a gyroscope that keeps them up right at all times.  At the time I saw this television show, I owned a gyroscope that my parents had given me for Christmas and so in my mind, inside this little cats head, was a bright red and silver gyroscope forever spinning and staying upright no mater how you tried to turn it.  Sometimes that image still creeps into my brain even though I now know that it is not an actual gyroscope that cats carry around with them.

The experiment with the cat led us to question whether a dog would have the same capabilities of always landing on it's feet.  My other sister had a dog that wasn't quite full grown that I could pick up without too much effort.  We had never heard a myth about a dog landing on it's feet so we decided to play it safe and not drop the dog from the upstairs hallway since the dog wasn't allowed int he house anyway.  I held the dog about three feet off the ground right side up and gently dropped it.  He landed on his feet perfectly.  The next part of the test was to hold him upside down from the same height and see what happened.  The test was not as successful as the cat test was.  The poor dog landed on his back and rolled over thinking we were playing a new game with him.  He was not the brightest dog around.  We tried just a couple of more times with the result being the same and with the dog thinking it was a new game.  What we surmised from this experiment was that dogs do not have a red and silver gyroscope in their brains to keep them upright.  They just fall.  Now I want to be clear about this right now.  Looking back on this experiment I know it was a cruel thing to do to that dog.  In my defense I was young with a very questioning mind and I never held the dog up very high before dropping him.  I would never do that again after the theory that a dog can always land on its feet had been disproved.  I love dogs and would never intentionally hurt one.  I feel I must ask forgiveness for my actions on this matter as a young child.

The third bet involved one of the kids my mom was baby sitting one summer.  There is some contradiction as to which kid it actually was so I will leave Troy's name out of this.  He was about a year old, maybe a little less.  He stayed in the playpen most of the day as my mom went about her chore of directing us kids in our chores.  One day we were playing with Troy and I got an idea.  I bet my little brother that I could pick Troy up by the head without the head popping off.  After discussing details of how the lifting by the head would be executed a bet was finalized.  Troy stood there looking at me with very trust full eyes as I placed a hand over each of his ears.  I was not going to do a quick jerk when I picked him up.  It was to my best interest that his head stay attached.  I slowly lifted him and his feet came off the ground.  He didn't seem to mind much.  He was only off the ground for less than a second.  We decided that it wasn't enough time to accurately prove that his head would stay attached and so I began to prepare to lift him again, for a longer period of time this go around.

I carefully placed my hands over his ears and lifted.  He was content for the first ten seconds or so but after about thirty seconds, the little boy began to panic and wiggle his feet a bit.  It was about at this juncture in the experiment that my fortune took a turn for the worse.  My mother looked into the living room from the kitchen to see what was upsetting Troy and saw me hold him about six inches off the ground by his head.  Obviously my mother did not have the scientific mind of proving theories that I had.  She yelled to put the kid down and then came in and checked on him.  Of course he was okay.  Everything was still intact.  The head, shoulders ears, everything was still where they were supposed to be.  That didn't stop me from getting a lecture though.

My little brother had seen mom coming in and was safely upstairs in the bedroom while I was counting off the seconds that Troy was staying in one piece.   After being questioned as to why I was doing what I was doing and then lectured on why it wasn't such a good idea to run such experiments I thought about what she would have thought about if she had know of the previous experiments that had been run on the cat and the dog.  By the time the lecture was over I was totally glad that those previous tests had not come to her knowledge.

When she was done lecturing me and exclaiming how she couldn't believe that I had done this experiment the final punishment was given to me.  I was lucky I wasn't turned in as a possible serial killer.  All I had to do was go and sit on the bottom step until Dad got home.