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.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

ON THE BOTTOM STEP

The house where my parents live and where I grew up is a split level house.  It has three half floors.  The main floor is the living room and the kitchen.  There are stairs that go up a half flight to the bedrooms and stairs that go down a half flight to the basement.  It is one of the standard house layouts in the neighborhood.

The steps that go up to the bedrooms are worn.  Who knows how many feet have gone up and down those steps over the last fifty one years.  One step is a little more worn the the others and yet it probably had about two thirds of the feet on it then the rest of the steps.  That step is the bottom step.

The bottom step held a special meaning for all of us kids and for my mother.  This step was visible from almost anywhere in the house.  It was, of course, clearly visible from the living room where it was located.  It was visible from the kitchen just by taking a step one way or the other to bring it into view..  From the bedroom level of the house it was clearly visible through two of the three bedroom doors.

This step became home to me for much of my childhood.  Whenever any of us acted up or got out of control the command "Go sit on the bottom step" would come from my mothers lips.  I spent a lot of time on the bottom step.  I venture to say that I spent more time there than my siblings, it seems like it anyway.  Anytime I got into an argument or fight with my little brother, I got sent to the bottom step.  I don't ever remember my sisters having to sit there.  It seems that this form of punishment did not occur to my mother until after the girls were too old to sit there.

I became to find out how to be comfortable on the step.  You could not see the television from the step so it became an opportunity to sit and read for a bit while I served my time set by my mother to sit there.  The most comfortable position was to sit on the step and lean your back against the wall while you rested your feet on the rod iron banister.  If I was in big trouble and was sentenced to a fair amount of time on the step, my back would start to hurt a bit, but it was still the most comfortable position there was.

The trick to surviving the bottom step was not to be serving time there when dad arrived home from work at four in the afternoon.  If you weren't on the bottom step when dad arrived there was a very good chance that it would be forgotten by the time dad came home and nothing would be mentioned of it.  If dad walked in and you were on the step. there was no getting out of it.  He would immediately ask you what you had done and with  out waiting for an answer would go into the kitchen to get the lowdown from mom.

Mom would give a detailed account of what had happened to dad.  Sometimes I think she exaggerated the offense a bit but dad got an outline of what had gone down just before he came home.  A lecture would then ensue and possibly more punishment to do chores for him, especially if it was summer and nice enough to work outside.  There was always grass to be cut,  trees to be trimmed and in the fall leaves to be raked.  This usually fell on the kid on the step while the other kid involved would skip by.  Most of the time it was me that was caught sitting on the bottom step.

Sitting on the bottom step did serve a purpose.  Not only did it serve as a form of punishment, but it taught me to be patient as I waited for mom to decide I had sat there long enough.  If you complained while sitting on the step, the time that you spent on the step would lengthen.  So I learned to sit and keep my mouth shut and wait out the time.

It gave me extra reading time which helped grow my love for books.  There was nothing else to do except to read and there was no way mom was going to take away any time any of her kids were reading.  I think because of the bottom stair I fell in love with books earlier than my siblings.

There were other types of punishment that was used for different offenses.  Spanking was of course a staple for the more severe offenses.  Getting grounded was also an option although that was mainly reserved for my sisters.  I don't remember being grounded very often at all.  Extra household chores were given out which had the effect of freeing up one of the other siblings from one of their chores.  I often wondered if my sisters tried to get me in trouble so that they would not have to dust the furniture or vacuum the floor.

Many times punishment was a chore that was already your chore to do.  It was just that you had to do it immediately instead of in the time span you had originally planned. Once I figured this out, I kept my half of the bedroom clean and made my bed every day.  Then if I got in trouble during the day and was sent up to clean the room and make my bed, it was already done.  I would simply go upstairs, close the door and lay on the bed and read.  Keeping a step ahead of the inevitable became a valuable lesson that I still carry with me to this day.

Yes, the bottom step and myself became very good friends over the years.  Every time I walk into that house and see that bottom step I think back to all the hours I sat there contemplating what I , or one of my siblings had done to get me sitting there.  It is worn a bit more than the others but there is a history behind that wearing.  I still believe most of that history belongs to my rear end.

Monday, October 10, 2011

CEMETERIES

Cemeteries are like walk through history books.  Walking through a cemetery reminds you of people who lived before you, sometimes a century or more before you.  Sometimes there are names you recognize and sometimes the stones hold names that mean nothing to you except that someone who carried that name lived at a certain time in history.

You can find husbands and wives buried side by side.  The dates tell you many things.  They say how old the couple was when they died, who died first and how much longer did the surviving spouse live after their loved one passed.  Sometimes there are extra clues on the stones.  On my Grandmother and Grandfather Hill's burial spot, it tells you that Grandpa was a firm believer in the unions, in particular the sheet metal workers union.  It tells you that my Grandmother was deeply involved in the Women's Missionary Union at her church.  You find out when they were married and how long they were married.  On the back of the stone each of their parents names are engraved giving you a head start on figuring out where you came from.

The cemetary where grandpa and grandma Hill are buried has a history within itself.  At one time during the American Civil War one side of the cemetery was reserved for Union sympathizers and soldiers while the other side was reserved for confederates.  My grandparents are buried on what was once the confederate side. Long ago the cemetery quit determining where you would be  buried on your stance during the war.  There are still signs of the history left in there though.  There are several stones that carry the stars and bars on the stones.  There is a huge memorial still standing that memorializes the soldiers who died in the war.

In that cemetery are above ground crypts that are locked and secured with the caskets holding those who passes sit above ground instead of being buried.  There are founders of Kansas City buried there as well as local heroes.  One of my favorite grave sights to visit, other than grandma and grandpa, is the final resting place of Satchel Page and his wife.  The cemetery is not the same as it was during the Civil war.  It has integrated itself as time has passed.

Across the street from the previous cemetery is a smaller one.  Inside this little cemetery is the grave of one of Kansas City's most famous favorite sons.  Charlie Parker is buried in this little cemetery.  They have replaced his head stone several times, only to be stolen again by history seekers and jazz lovers.  His grave is now unmarked as it was getting too expensive to keep replacing the headstone on the famous jazz saxophonists grave.

Another piece of history is located in Independence, a suburb of Kansas City.  Here stand the Harry S Truman Library and in the center courtyard of the library lies Harry and Bess Truman.  Missouri's favorite son has a history all to himself and this tribute to him and his grave in the center of it brings the history to life.

Another non-famous cemetery lies in Fort Worth, Texas.  The cemetery does not advertise their most famous permanent resident.  a few locals know of the grave site but it is not well known.  If you have and idea and enough patience and a general area in which to look in the cemetery, you will eventually stumble across a small tan stone with one word on it.  That word is "OSWALD".  There is no first name,no dates of birth and death, just that one word.  Lee Harvey Oswald was buried here the same day that President Kennedy was buried in Arlington Cemetery.  The presidents grave has a walkway up to it, surrounded by ropes and has an eternal flame burning upon it to keep his memory alive.  The "OSWALD" stone looks like a paupers grave in comparison.

Also in the Dallas/Fort Worth are are buried Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow.  If you didn't know your history you would never put the two together. They are buried in separate cemeteries apart from each other in spite of being one of the countries most infamous lovers and partners in crime better known as "Bonnie and Clyde".

By far the most interesting graveyards I have visited were on a trip I made to Boston on business.  Just of of the Boston commons, behind the state house, is a very old cemetery.  As I wandered through this small cemetery I saw names I recognized.  I saw the simple grave of Paul Revere and Sam Adams.  There was a huge grave marker on the grave of John Hancock that matched his tremendous ego. Among these famous graves were the small stones of ordinary Americans. Were they ordinary though?  Most of the dates on these stones were dated around the time of the new nation being born.  These were patriots who played just as much a part of the revolution as the more famous names.

As I walked along the freedom trail I came across another small cemetery.  Again the dates and names were worn so that you could hardly read them.  The stones were no more than three inches thick and I wondered how they had stayed intact for hundreds of years.  It was a beautiful little cemetery that overlooked that Charles River.  These two cemeteries were a walk through history bok of the early days of our nation and I quietly thought about these people who kept the nation alive during its infant years and I thanked them.

On the south side of Boston sat the tiny community of Quincy.  In the basement of a church in Quincy were entombed the bodies of John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams along with their wives.  At the time they were Bostons most important and most famous citizens.  It was proper to have the two Presidents set aside from the rest of the patriots of Boston.

One of the most somber cemeteries I have visited was at the Little Big Horn.  Here General Custer was killed along with his troops at the hands of native Americans defending themselves. Everywhere a soldier was found, there is a white stone saying that an American soldier died at this spot.  When you see all of the stones and how wide spread they are until you get to the top of a little hill where there are dozens of stones all clumped together, including a stone for General Custer.  This was the last stand. It is history truly brought home.

There are other cemeteries I would like to visit before my time is up.  I would love to visit Arlington where heroes fill acres of land with little white crosses.  A tomb containing unidentified soldiers from every war are in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and President Kennedy is buried there.

I would love to visit Yorba Linda, California and see Richard Nixon's boyhood home as well as the President's grave next to his wife, Pat.

Cemeteries are fascinating places.  Even if there aren't any famous graves, you can tell a lot of the history of an area by walking through and reading the stones. You can tell how old the cemetery is and the kind of people who are buried there.  You can get information on what the interests were of those who are buried there.

I have already bought my plot where I will be buried and have a stone to be placed over my grave.  I wonder if people will come to my grave and be able to figure out how I died or why.  Perhaps my grave will bring excitement to generations to come of my family as they discover a long lost relative.  That is my biggest hope.  That being that new generations will discover where they came from by finding my final resting place.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

RETURN TO TUSCALOOSA

I was in Tuscaloosa, Alabama a week before April 27, 2011.  When I left Tuscaloosa last spring, the city was busy and alive as students were preparing to graduate from the university located there.  It was a sunny and mild week and things were moving along at their usual southern pace going through the daily routines that people go through.

Then on April 27 a huge tornado ripped through the town.  It skimmed by the university and left a path of destruction that can only be imagined in the minds of those who were not there that day.  I remember watching the footage of what was left of the town on the news.  It had ripped a path of destruction that divided the city in two.  My nephew's father, Mr. Porter, lost almost everything he owned as his house was totally destroyed.

The people of Tuscaloosa as well as volunteers from all over the state of Alabama and the country raced to start the recovery of the town.  Another nephew of mine, Bo, joined the rescue and recovery teams as he took his heavy equipment to the ravaged area to help those who needed it.  Streets needed to be cleared.  Remains of houses and all other sort of debris had to be cleaned up.  There was no doubt that this would be a long process.

Last week on my way home from Georgia, I stopped in Tuscaloosa for a quick visit with my sister.  On the way home from eating at the local IHOP, she took me on a tour of the stricken area of Tuscaloosa. It had been six months since that day of destruction.  Even after six months though, you could still see the path that the tornado had taken through the town.  They were still working hard to rebuild the town but they have a long ways to go yet.

A lot of the businesses that were effected by the storm have moved to the out lying towns of Tuscaloosa leaving parts of the city like a ghost town.  There is an off campus housing shortage for the students at the university as the tornado ripped through the majority of that housing as it tore through next to the campus.

What was obvious to me as I was driven through the areas effected by the tornado was that the number of workers that were on the job still rebuilding the area was greatly diminished.  The shock of the storm had been forgotten in the minds of most people who were not effected by the storm.  The volunteers from around the state and the country had left having to get back to their own daily rituals of life.  Tuscaloosa was left on it's own now to finish the clean up and the rebuilding.

It is easy to forget about an event that happened six months ago when you don't live there on a daily basis and see the destruction that is still there.  People have found new housing as the old housing in the destroyed areas are cleared away.  Soon, I imagine, new houses will start popping up in Tuscaloosa and new businesses will open in the town as office space and new store fronts are created.  For now though, there is still a huge hole in the heart of Tuscaloosa.

That night as I thought about what I had seen in that beautiful little college town my thoughts went home to Missouri.  A few weeks after the tornado had hit Tuscaloosa, another tornado had ripped through Joplin in southern Missouri.  It had done damage much similar to the Tuscaloosa tornado.  It has been almost six months since that storm.  I have not been to Joplin since the storm.  I do not know how they are doing in their own rebuilding efforts but I imagine they are facing a lot of the same challenges that the people of Tuscaloosa are still facing.

I suppose it is the nature of the beast to help out as much as we can but there comes a time when the volunteers do have to get back to their own lives and leave these two towns on their own as they continue to rebuild their respective areas.  I did what I thought I could to help both cities by making a donation to a relief fund set up for each of the cities that were hit last spring.  I am not sure I am capable of doing anything more than that, except to keep the people of Tuscaloosa and Joplin in my thoughts and prayers as they continue this challenge that life has given them.

I guess what I am asking or trying to say is to take time to think once in awhile about our fellow man in these two cities.  These storms hit every year and every year it seems like another town is targeted.  Next year there will be more people hit and have their lives forever changed when a storm comes tearing through and ripping everything to shreds.

I think of past storms that happened in the not too distant past.  Greensburg, Kansas was totally destroyed in 2007.  It took more than a few years but the town is rebuilt now.  Nashville, Tennessee had a storm come through the downtown area and did a lot of damage to the business section of the city.  We could go on and on naming storms that have happened in the last five to seven years.  Each storm has left a footprint that will live for a very long time in the communities.

The storm that hit my neighborhood was in 1957 and still today there remains reminders of that terrible tornado.  There is a park where children play and underneath that park are tons of debris from that tornado back in 1957.  There is a memorial to the event that happened in May of '57 and along side that memorial there are a series of trees planted for each fatality that the tornado took.  It is important to remember your history, the good and the bad.  The fair and the unfair.  We still remember our storm.  I am sure that the people of Tuscaloosa and Joplin will remember their storms that created so much destruction in 2011.

Think of them and pray for them as they continue to rebuild.  It is going to take awhile.

Monday, October 3, 2011

WHEN A SIBLING-IN-LAW PASSES

Last week my brother-in-law Steve died suddenly and unexpectedly.  News of his death came in the form of a phone call from my mother while I was taking a Sunday nap.  Barb woke me up and told me the news.  The first thought was of my sister living in Georgia far from the rest of her family other than her daughter and grandkids.  I thought about what she must be going through and what was going through her mind.  I knew she needed help and support from her family.  My brother was on vacation in Colorado and so I called my sister in Alabama to see if she felt the same way.  She had already made tentative plans to go to Carol's to help her out and giver her support.  I bought my plane ticket to leave the next morning for Alabama so that I could ride over to Georgia with Elaine to help Carol and give her the support that a family is there for.

My siblings and I have started to drift apart a bit over the years.  All of us have our own lives to live and though we keep in touch every now and then, the keeping in touch had slowed somewhat.  An email here and there and an occasional phone call from Elaine was about the extent of my interactions with my siblings.  We had all gathered together in October of 2010 to celebrate mom and dad's 60th wedding anniversary and mom's 80th birthday.  That had been the last time we had all been together at one time,  Steve had been there with Carol for the marking of the two anniversaries and we had for the most part had a good time.

Over the past year we fell back into the drifting apart once again.  I could not get in touch with Carol because I had a bad email address.  Elaine would call once in awhile to see what was going on with mom and dad although she had a pretty good idea because she calls mom and dad more often then I do.  The only thing that was tying us four kids together was our concern for mom and dad and their health.  otherwise communication among us had been few and far between.

Then Steve passed away so quickly and suddenly.  The old feeling of care for my sibling and oldest sister came flooding back.  It was not easy getting down to Georgia.  My plane had a maintenance problem that set my departure from Kansas City back about three hours.  Elaine and I decided that I would get off the plane in Atlanta and instead of flying on over to Birmingham so ride with her over to Georgia, she would meet me there and drive up to Carol's.  It worked out and in spite of the  scary drive through Atlanta we made it to Carol's that evening.  She was glad to see us and we reconnected that night.

The next few days were spent helping Carol make decisions on how to set up the funeral service.  We went through boxes of pictures trying to find ones that defined Steve's life.  We found his baby picture.  We came across some pictures from his days in middle school.  There were pictures of the time he spent in Vietnam during the war.  Wedding pictures came next and then Pictures of him and Carol as they lived together in marriage over the next forty one years.  These pictures were laid out on a display board and his daughter, Kelly, taped the pictures down to the display so that it could be seen at both the funeral home and the camp clubhouse where the after funeral dinner would be.

We went through a lot of songs picking out three that fit Steve and his life.  Steve was not an easy man to get along with all the time but a lot of that was because Steve knew what he thought and stuck to it.  He also could explain why he thought the way he did about things.  Steve and I disagreed on a lot of issues but it was always a good respectful discussion.  One thing I can say is that you never had to guess where Steve stood on things.  He made sure you knew where he stood.

We went shopping for food for the funeral and set up a simple menu that would be easy to fix.  It seemed the busier we stayed the less the thoughts of Steve and why we were there would creep in to our thoughts.  You can't keep busy all night though and every night when it was quiet I would think of Steve and times I had spent with him, talks we had together and the mutual respect that was between us.  I have no idea what was going through my sister's head when she went to bed at night without her husband but I know she was heart broken.

The day before the funeral my brother took off from his vacation and flew down to Georgia to give his love and support to his sister.  Once again all four of us kids were together but we were there to support Carol together in this difficult time for her.  Mom and dad could not make the trip because of health reasons so it was up to all of us kids to get closer than we had been in years to help not only Carol and her family,but to support each other as we offered support to Carol.  Steve had been a member of our family for forty one years.  He was definitely one of us.  One of the kids.  He was the first of our generation to pass on.

It is a strange feeling when one of your own generation in the family passes on.  It brings the reality that we are not immortal.  It brings a true sense of loss and leaves a hole in our little group of kids that my mom and dad had raised.  One of our own was gone and the fact that he was an in-law didn't seem to make much difference.

The four of us found ourselves very close the day of the funeral.  We all leaned on each other and counted upon each other so that it seemed like we were the siblings we had been when we were small, young and naive.  This time we were older, a little wiser and had more of a sense of what life was about.  Hopefully this new found closeness that we found last week will stay with us through the years to come.  There will be more times when we will find ourselves leaning on each other and giving each other support.  Looking back on last week, it is good to know that the four of us still have a strong connection even if it doesn't come out in the open too often.  It came out in the open last week and it was good.