Monday, April 30, 2012

TUSCALOOSA - ONE YEAR LATER - AND JOPLIN

April 27, 2011.  The city of Tuscaloosa, Alabama had a path of destruction carved right down through the middle of town, narrowly missing the campus.

It was a tornado that the south never use to worry about too much.  At least that is the way it seems to me.  It seems like tornado alley is slowly moving southward and away from the northern plains in Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Northern Nebraska and northern Iowa.  Meanwhile Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Kentucky and Tennessee have been having these deadly twisters bear down on them more often and earlier in the spring than ever before.

I sat there a year ago watching the video coming out of Tuscaloosa.  It was devastating.  I have a fair number of family living in that part of the state, a lot of them just outside Tuscaloosa in a town called Northport.  I had already hear that everyone was okay.  Everyone in my family anyway.  There were others that weren't so lucky as my family.  People lost their lives in this sudden tornado that seemed to come out of nowhere.  Houses were destroyed leaving thousands homeless and not knowing what to do.

I consider the Tuscaloosa area as my adopted second home town.  I watched the video and could see landmarks that I once knew that were either gone or had debris spread all around them.  I saw the good people of Alabama in tears as they looked over what use to be their homes.  My Nephew in Law's father complete lost his house and almost everything he owned.  Luckily, where Mr. Porter lives they have a community shelter and he was in that shelter while the tornado tore apart what was left of his life.  His wife had just died not very long before the tornado and while he was still feeling that loss, he had another huge loss tossed on top of that.  I met Mr. Porter about six months after the tornado event, and he seemed to be in good spirits.  He had a smile on his face and firm handshake.  Somehow he was in the midst of dealing with all of this.  In those few moments of meeting Mr. Porter, I realized why I respected his son, my nephew, so much.  He was a strong man who cared about others and kept a smile in spite of the events that could crush a lesser man.  My nephew has a lot of those qualities.

Another of my nephews took some heavy equipment into Tuscaloosa and helped with search and rescue teams that went from block to block through the town.  He stayed and helped with the initial cleanup for days and at many hours at a stretch.  He had never seen such destruction as he was working in last year at this time.

MY niece, knowing how I feel about Tuscaloosa, came up to visit a few months after the tornado struck.  She brought me a t-shirt that had a ribbon of the left chest on front.  The ribbon was decorated with houndstooth, a signature design for the University there in honor of the late football coach Bear Bryant.  under the ribbon was a simple, 04-27-11 indicating the date of the storm.  On the back is a big ribbon design with hounds tooth that again has the date but in big script lettering it says "We ARE Tuscaloosa".  I felt honored to get that shirt.  Made me realize that at someone, namely my family, knew how I felt about that city.  I began to wear it on a regular basis.

I went back to Tuscaloosa a few times last year after the storm.  The last time I was there in October, my sister drove me through the tornado devastated areas to see how much progress had been made in the clean up.  It also showed me how much more cleanup had yet to be done.  You can still see the path that the tornado took across town.  Slowly the town is starting to come back to life.  I imagine it will take another five years or so for Tuscaloosa to get to the point where the citizens can tell each other what a hard job it was to rebuild, but my was it worth it.

A few weeks after Tuscaloosa was hit, one of the towns in my state of Missouri was blown away by a tornado.   Joplin, Missouri is about the same size as Tuscaloosa.  Joplin got hit just as hard, if not harder than Tuscaloosa did.  The people of Joplin and Missouri are in the process of rebuilding just as the people of Alabama are.  Joplin will survive as well.

There is a certain pride one has in their home towns and their states that cause people to come together and work as one huge family to get things set back right.  I saw that movement in Tuscaloosa and I saw it in Joplin as well.  The world can be a difficult place at times and there are people who just aren't meant to get along.  But when a disaster like the one that tore apart Tuscaloosa and the one that flattened Joplin come along, all those petty differences seem to be put aside and the community becomes one as they get their lives back in order.

Last Friday was April 27th, 2012.  The one year anniversary of the Tuscaloosa tornado.  I couldn't wear my t-shirt to the office, but Saturday morning as I got ready to do chores and run out to the grocery store and do what I ordinarily do on Saturdays, I donned that special t-shirt that my niece had given me commemorating the one year mark of the devastation before I left the house.

Keep working Tuscaloosa.  Keep working Joplin.  The Missouri side of me and the Alabama side of me is very proud of both states and both cities.  May it be a long time before either of you face this kind of destruction again.

It Don't Come Easy - George Harrison/Richard Starkey

It don't come easy,
You know it don't come easy.

It don't come easy,
You know it don't come easy.

Got to pay your dues if you wanna sing the blues,
And you know it don't come easy.
You don't have to shout or leap about,
You can even play them easy.

Forget about the past and all your sorrows,
The future won't last,
It will soon be over tomorrow.

I don't ask for much, i only want your trust,
And you know it don't come easy.
And this love of mine keeps growing all the time,
And you know it just ain't easy.

Open up your heart, let's come together,
Use a little love
And we will make it work out better.

(ah -)
(ah -)
(ooh-ooh)
(ah-ooh-ooh)

Got to pay your dues if you wanna sing the blues,
And you know it don't come easy.
You don't have to shout or leap about,
You can even play them easy.

Peace, remember peace is how we make it,
Here within your reach
If you're big enough to take it.

I don't ask for much, i only want your trust,
And you know it don't come easy.
And this love of mine keeps growing all the time,
And you know it don't come easy.


Monday, April 23, 2012

ONE OF DEPRESSION'S DARKEST HOURS

Depression has come to be a little more understood over the last twenty years or so.  For those who do not suffer from depression,  it is totally misunderstood.  You can not appreciate what it means to truly suffer from long term depression, clinical depression, unless you have been there.

The ignorance of depression was brought forth in the 1972 Presidential election.  Senator George McGovern was on the way and would receive the Democratic nomination to run against the incumbent President Richard Nixon.  It was an uphill climb for the Democrats that year.  Senator Edmund Muskie had pulled out of the race after the Nixon campaign released the infamous "Canuck Letter" that brought tears to Muskie's eyes as he withdrew from the race.  This opened the door  for McGovern to become the nominee in 1972 for the democrats.

At the convention, McGovern chose Senator Thomas Eagleton from the great state of Missouri to be his Running mate.  Eagleton had served the people of Missouri since 1960 holding various state offices and was in the midst of his first term as a United States Senator.  He was known as a strong and honest politician who stood for what he believed in.  He was well respected by members of Congress on both sides of the aisle.

Two weeks after the convention, it was revealed that the Senator had suffered from depression in his past.  He had been hospitalized three times for depression and had received electro therapy for his disease.  In spite of that, he had served Missouri well and no one would have guessed that he suffered from the disease.

When it came to light,  Senator McGovern did the right thing and said that he had no plans of removing Eagleton from the ticket.  As a matter of fact McGovern said he backed Eagleton one thousand percent.  Two days later the thousand percent backing turned into zero percent and Eagleton was forced to resign his campaign for Vice-President.  One of the Kennedy clan, Sargent Shriver. would replace Eagleton on the ticket.  Shriver, while a good man, was not as strong a choice as Eagleton would have been.  Add to that the fact the McGovern now seemed wishy washy for changing his mind on the Eagleton case, and a path was carved for President Nixon to win the election by one of the largest margins up until that time.

It was simply the ignorance of the disease and the ignorance of the treatment of the disease that removed Eagleton from the ticket.  Eagleton suffered from depression, that is a fact.  He never denied it.  But he was under the care of doctors and was on medication that kept his depression in check.  His depression did not effect his thinking process or his decision making.  But leaders in the party decided that it was too big of a risk to take having someone who had gone through shock therapy and was diagnosed as depressed to hold high office in the land.  They did not think the American people would vote for someone with such a major flaw.  They were probably right.  Depression, as much as it is misunderstood today on 2012, was much more misunderstood in 1972.

The people of Missouri weren't concerned about it however.  Eagleton went on to serve another two terms as Senator from Missouri making his time in the Senate a total of eighteen years.  He chaired committees and went about his usual business of doing what he thought was right.  He was one of the most vocal of politicians when Nixon's bombing of Cambodia was brought into the public eye.

His colleagues held him in very high esteem all the way until his death in 2007.  Some examples of what his fellow Congressmen and Senators had to say at his passing are plenty.  Her are a few.

Fellow Senator John Danforth from Missouri who served as Eagleton's Junior Senator for ten years said “Tom Eagleton was an outstanding public servant throughout his career in elective politics and beyond,  As a United States senator, he was highly respected on both sides of the aisle. He was a person of high principle and consistent good humor.”

Senator Edward Kennedy's remarks stated that “He made a difference on every issue he touched in the Senate, especially Vietnam.  He’ll long be remembered for his outrage over the senseless bombing of Cambodia and for his leadership in the anti-war effort.”

I started following politics in 1968, when Tom Eagleton became my Senator.  I was proud having him in the Senate for Missouri.  It was an era when Missouri had some very good men in Congress and most of them were well known.  Senator Stuart Symington was the senior Senator when Eagleton went to Washington.  Representative Dick Bolling was my representative in the House.

I trusted Tom Eagleton and I was able to vote for him for re-election to his third and final term.  Even though I am a moderate that leans to the right, I did not question my vote for Senator Eagleton.  He had proved himself time and again as being smart, honest and a man of character.  These kind of men are hard to come by.  The fact that he had suffered from depression did not concern me at all.  I didn't understand depression back then, but I knew that even if he was suffering from it, he was still capable of doing his job.  I feel I voted correctly in that election.

Since that time I have developed the disease that cost Senator Eagleton a run for the Vice-Presidency.  I understand what he was going through.  I also understand that you can suffer form this disease on a continual basis and still perform your job.  You can still think.  You can still make sound decisions.  Depression is tough to be sure and it can become a little debilitating at times, but by the time 1972 rolled around the Senator had his depression well under control and proved it up until he left the Senate in January of 1987.

Senator Eagleton died in 2007 but his legacy lives on.  He is still considered one of the best Senators the state of Missouri has ever produced and he will be remembered for many many years in this great state.

As I fight my own demons with depression and struggle to keep going, the Senator is one of the figures I look up to.  I think I will always look up to him and admire what he accomplished suffering the same disease that I do.  Seeing what he accomplished gives me hope and strength to continue with my own depression.

I write this in honor of Senator Thomas F. Eagleton in hopes that some who read this might try to come to a better understanding of what depression and anxiety is, to educate yourselves and to realize that those of us who do have this disease, are still and can be functioning and contributors to society in a world gone madder than any one with depression could get.

Thank you Senator Eagleton.

Friday, April 20, 2012

BOARD GAMES

I am not a big fan of board games for the most part.  I do have a history with board games, but I find the ones I remember the best and enjoyed the most while growing up were not games like TROUBLE or PARCHEESI but rather games that took some knowledge or some strategy.

My grandma Clark had two games that I enjoyed playing whenever I visited her.  She had a game called GO TO THE HEAD OF THE CLASS.  This was a game in which the board was laid out as a classroom with rows of desks.  You would put you playing piece in the last row.  Then someone would draw a card that had a simple question on it.  Well, the questions weren't that simple to a little kid trying to play, but if you answered the question correctly you moved your piece up to the next desk in your row.  The idea being of course to be the first player to get to the front row, or the head of the class.

The other board game she had was JUNIOR SCRABBLE.  It was based on the original scrabble game except the point system was different and the tiles were bigger and it was just easier to play.  The board was also decorated with little pictures that spiced up the game instead of colored squares that indicated triple letter or double word scores and the such.  Playing this version of Scrabble just seem less intense then playing the adult version of the game.

Ah yes, the adult version of Scrabble.  SCRABBLE was my mother's absolutely favorite game and she was good at it.  She also played strictly by the rules.  She would get us kids together, it seemed like once a week, to sit on the living room floor and play SCRABBLE with her.  Next to her would be the family dictionary in case there were any challenges made during the game, and believe me, there WOULD be challenges.  Every once in a while I would get desperate as a kid trying to get rid of letters and pick up points and try to slip in a series of letters that might be a word.  At least it sounded like it could be a word.  "I think I am going to challenge that" mom would say as she was reaching for the dictionary.  Before she would crack open the big book, I would have pulled the letters off the board and try again, because if mom was challenging it, chances are she knew you were bluffing and that it was not a word at all, just a series of letters that meant nothing.  She would usually win these games but there were times when me or one of my siblings might sneak out a win or at least come close to her score.  SCRABBLE was a game that I think every household should own.  It is a game that increases your vocabulary ten fold.  It is a game that taxes the mind to think of different ways letters work together.  Mom was especially good at it because she did have a good vocabulary and she had lots of practice moving letters around to make words because she played JUMBO in the paper on a daily basis.  All in all, what she did was give her children a tool to think with and a vocabulary to grow with.

I have a SCRABBLE game in my home and we get it out once in awhile to play.  The first time my son defeated his mother and I in a game of SCRABBLE was ground breaking.  In our SCRABBLE box to this day sits a little yellow piece of paper with the date on it and the scoring of the first game he won.  I treasure that little piece of paper.

Another board game that I began to learn at an early age was chess.  Chess is a game that absolutely fascinates me.  I grew up during the Bobby Fischer age of chess when the young American was winning world championships and defeating Russian champion chess players.  America had produced so few chess champions that when Bobby Fischer was in a match, it would be reported on television in the national news with Walter Cronkite.  The newspaper would print out each move that had been made in a game.  That is how I learned chess.  I would take the moves from a Bobby Fischer match and move the pieces on the board to follow how the game had gone.  I learned how each piece moved and how they could be used.  Eventually I taught my little brother how to play and we had some pretty good games between the two of us.  Then as I grew older and moved out of the house and in with my wife, the electronic age was beginning to come on strong and they had little electronic chess games where you could play against this computer of sorts.  Now I have a chess game on my laptop and try to play at least one game a week just to keep my mind sharp.  I usually lose, but it is a fun thinking game.  Chess is probably my favorite game of all time.

Another board game that I like to play I have a love hate relationship with.  I was introduced to MONOPOLY at a very early age.  It was like SCRABBLE in that every household seemed to have it.  It was a favorite game that would be played at holiday times when the extended family would get together.  My Uncles, mom and some of my older cousins use to play that game forever.  I finally got to the age where I could play and it was fun, but it was also long.

The thing about MONOPOLY is that you can play a "gentleman's game" of it and simply move the pieces around the board as the dice fell and money would exchange hands, and if you were lucky enough to get a Monopoly, you could save your money and slowly build houses on it followed by a hotel to increase the value of the property.  Playing the gentleman's version of the game could take hours if not days to complete.  It was the never ending board game.

Then there was the version of the game that my family played.  It was the cut-throat version of the game.  This version always started out with an argument over who was going to be the banker.  The philosophy was that whoever controlled the money controlled the game.  Usually my Uncle Jack would win the esteemed position of banker, which may explain why he was always in the game until the end.  In spite of constant accusations that he was short changing you or that he was dipping into the till, it was a losing argument.  He controlled the money.  In this version of the game deals on the side would also be made.  While it was another person's turn, a couple of the other players would be negotiating a deal that they thought would give them an advantage.  These deals would be anything from trading pieces of property to giving away a piece of property with the agreement that you would not have to pay rent if you landed on said property.  It wasn't exactly a team effort because a player you thought was looking at things in your best interest would savagely turn on you and make another deal with another player, that could wipe out the agreement you had with the original deal maker. It was a version of the game that you didn't get involved with unless you had the stomach and the guts to accept things that would be totally out of your control and face the fact that family members that you loved and who loved you would do anything to get you off the board and out of the game.  It was truly vicious.  My wife would not have been able to play a game of Monopoly with my family.  She didn't know how to wheel and deal and to trick people into making trades or doing things that they really didn't want to do.  In other words, Barb is too nice to have played Monopoly with my extended family.

There are other board games that I enjoy but have never played that much.  The game of LIFE is one such game.  It is suppose to mirror a trip through life where you can choose to go to college or not, you get married and have kids, and sometimes unexpected disasters or windfalls will come your way as you head through life.  In the end you either weather all the storms and become a millionaire or you made some bad decisions or things didn't go your way during your trip and you end up in the poor house.  Real life is becoming more and more like the game of LIFE as the middle class continues to shrink.

Backgammon is a good game that I enjoy but I haven't played in years.  I am not sure why.  I always enjoyed it.  It takes a little luck, a little thinking and a lot of strategy.  I think I will pull out the old backgammon game and challenge my wife to a few games in the near future.

These are and were the major board games of my life.  It doesn't include card games which is a totally different scenario.  My extended family also got together and played cut throat versions of PIT and ROOK.  When I say "cut throat" I mean exactly that.  Just as in the Monopoly games, you had no friends during the course of the games.  It is hard to believe that such a close and loving family could turn into such viscous monsters for a few hours of playing cards.  When the games were over, however, they turned back into their kind and loving selves that I had come to love so much and to enjoy..

When my son came along, I had to readjust and revert back to games that I wouldn't normally ever think twice about.  I played Parcheesi again.  Chutes and ladders was a game that made absolutely no sense to me at all. but my son loved it.  His favorite game was TROUBLE.  What an obnoxious game.  It is similar to Parcheesi except it has the die captured in this plastic bubble that makes an extremely loud popping noise every time you "roll" the die.  It was the noisiest quiet game ever invented.  I am not sure if he will admit it, but I think he still loves the game TROUBLE.  I wager that if he came over and I pulled out the game, he would be all over it ready to play.

Board games are good things.  They teach you and you learn.  Even TROUBLE has some strategy involved in it as you attempt to make your way around the board while sending your opponent back to the starting line.  Chutes and Ladders on the other hand, serve no purpose at all as far as I can tell.  If anything the game takes you on an emotional roller coaster ride.As you make your way to the top and you think you are just about to win, you hit a chute that sends you all the way to the bottom of the board.  Is that anyway to treat a four year old?

One thing that playing SCRABBLE with mom all the time while I was growing up was not only the growing vocabulary and the thought process of un-scrabbeling letters to make a word, but it brought the family together.  It gave time for the family to laugh, to talk and to compete.  It was one of the things that mom did to make that house with us four kids more into a home.  She did good.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

LEVON HELM - RIP

 Levon Helm passed away earlier today.  He was a major part of The Band, playing drums and mandolin.  His voice was the most recognizable of any in the group.  You watch him play and sing and you can see the passion with which he performed his music.  He also was in film, his best known role being in The Right Stuff as he narrates the opening of the film and is Chuck Yeager's (Sam Shepard) side kick as Yeager prepares to break the sound barrier.

His is a talent that, in my opinion, was underrated and his talents will be missed. 


THE NIGHT THEY DROVE OLD DIXIE DOWN - The Band


Virgil Caine is the name and I served on the Danville train
'Til Stoneman's cavalry came and tore up the tracks again
In the winter of '65, we were hungry, just barely alive
By May the tenth, Richmond had fell
It's a time I remember, oh so well

The night they drove old Dixie down
And the bells were ringing
The night they drove old Dixie down
And the people were singing
They went, "La, la, la"

Back with my wife in Tennessee, when one day she called to me
"Virgil, quick, come see, there go the Robert E.Lee"
Now I don't mind choppin' wood, and I don't care if the money's no good
Ya take what ya need and ya leave the rest
But they should never have taken the very best

The night they drove old Dixie down
And the bells were ringing
The night they drove old Dixie down
And all the people were singing
They went, "La, la, la"

Like my father before me, I will work the land
And like my brother above me, who took a rebel stand
He was just eighteen, proud and brave, but a Yankee laid him in his grave
I swear by the mud below my feet
You can't raise a Caine back up when he's in defeat

The night they drove old Dixie down
And the bells were ringing
The night they drove old Dixie down
And all the people were singing
They went, "Na, na, na"

The night they drove old Dixie down
And all the bells were ringing
The night they drove old Dixie down
And the people were singing
They went, "Na, na, na"


Friday, April 13, 2012

GRANDPA AND SNOOPY

My grandpa collected dogs.  I don't mean to say he was an animal hoarder, he collected just one dog at a time.  They were strays that would wander onto his land and if there wasn't a dog already living with grandma and grandpa, then grandpa would take pity on the poor soul and feed him.  Grandpa didn't like to see any animal mistreated or go hungry and so when he could, he would take care of them and they would settle down and be at home on the property.

It was much the same way he treated kids that had rough home life's or the hobo's that would come by the old place on the trains down the hill.  Kids could be taken in at times until things settled down at home.  The hobo's were given a meal and then they went voluntarily on their way.  The dogs just took up residence outside.  Grandma would never let the dogs into the house.  That was her rule.  Grandpa could have as many dogs as he wanted to hang around but they stayed outside the house, and it was grandpa's chore to feed and water them.  That changed a little as they got older and I noticed grandma buying some dog food once in a while and feeding the dog.  but not often.

There are really only two dogs that I remember very well.  One dog was named Bowser by grandpa.  I was rather young when Bowser took to hanging around.  I didn't care too much for Bowser.  When I was young, dogs and myself did not get along very well.  I was terrified of them and although Bowser wouldn't have hurt me in anyway, I stayed as clear of him as I could.

The dog I remember best though was christened "Snoopy" by grandpa.  Snoop, as grandpa called him, was an ugly basset hound that made a lot of noise.  He would bark at anything that came anywhere near grandpa's land.  If a stranger came to the house and Snoopy was out front, the stranger did not get very close to the house.

Snoopy was a protector.  He protected the land and the kids who spent a lot of time there.  Once Snoopy got to know you, then you didn't have anything to worry about.  You were okay as far as Snoopy was concerned.

Snoopy use to follow grandpa around the yard as work was being done in the garden and in the flower beds.  Many times you would know grandpa was finished with a chore because you would hear him say, "Well, let's go Snoop" and the both of them would walk away from where the chore had been performed.

Even though it seemed that Snoopy was grandpa's favorite dog that he had taken in, there was not any special treatment from grandma.  Snoopy stayed outdoors, keeping watch from the back porch at night waiting for the sun to rise and for grandpa to come out early in the morning to give breakfast to the old hound.

Many times as grandpa and snoopy aged together, I would stop to see them and Snoopy would be lying at grandpa's feet while the old man sat in his chair on the front porch smoking a pipe or cigar and watching spiders spin their webs for the flies.  As I would walk up the steps of the porch, Snoopy would lift his head, look at me with those sad Basset Hound eyes and keep an eye on me until I sat and started talking to grandpa.

If I arrived and grandpa was not outside, Snoopy would stand on the porch at the top of the stairs, not exactly wagging his tail but not barking and howling either.  As I reached him I would hold out my hand so he could get a whiff and a lick and then follow me to the front door, where he would stop,  knowing he wouldn't be allowed any further.

After I met Barb and she started going over to grandma and grandpa's with me, snoop would check her out, but then figuring that I was there as well, Snoopy would let her pass.  I think Barb got pretty use to Snoopy but I am not sure that he ever got use to Barb.  He would let her by because she was with me, but then came the day Barb showed up alone.

I was in the kitchen with grandma watching her fix up the evening dinner and having a good talk with her.  Barb was going to be coming over after work to have dinner with my grandparents and myself.  Grandpa must have been upstairs napping or cleaning up from the day's work.  At first Grandma and I just heard Snoopy howling and barking.  It was his defensive howl and bark and I remember grandma asking what was up with that old dog.  I figured that some kids were in the street or some other stray dog that snoopy was warning off because this was his home and there wasn't room enough for more than one dog on the land.

Pretty soon, I thought I heard someone outside yelling and when I mentioned it, grandma said she heard it as well.  I went to the front door and look out over the front yard and down the sidewalk that led up to the house.  Snoopy was standing his ground firmly at the bottom of the stairs to the front porch and at the other end of the walkway stood Barb, frozen and afraid to move.  Snoopy had her stopped in her tracks and he was not going to let her trespass on his territory.

Barb called out to me to do something as she stood there never taking her eyes off of Snoopy who was still howling and barking at her.  I let a little smile escape from my lips which probably wasn't the right thing to do since Barb was scared stiff and waiting for me to do something.  I walked down and petted Snoopy and told him he was a good boy, which was good enough for him.  It let him know he had done his job well.  I then walked out to Barb and escorted her past Snoopy and onto the porch and into the house.  Snoopy stood there with a little soft growl still emitting from his throat as Barb walked past.  Snoopy would never really get use to Barb and I had to make sure from then on that she was safe from Snoopy.

Then came the night that I remember most.  I went over to visit grandma and grandpa.  It was late fall, early winter.  Snoopy had been gone for over two days and grandpa had been worried about him.  When I got to the house, I found my grandfather in the back room sitting in his favorite chair and there, in the house, lying on the floor next to him was Snoopy.  A very quiet, barely moving snoopy with cuts and bites all over his body.  I had never seen a dog so tore up before.  Grandpa was trying to soothe Snoopy with soft kind words and very carefully placed pats on the old dog to let him know it was going to be alright.

Grandpa's love for Snoopy must have come through that night and opened grandma's eyes to how much that dog meant to grandpa.  He was actually in the house after all.  The first dog ever to legally get in the house with grandma's blessing.  Grandpa held on to Snoopy as long as he could but it became apparent that Snoopy's time on this earth were numbered.

As Snoopy slowly went down, grandpa seemed to be at his side the whole way.  You could see the love the old man had for the dog in his eyes.  You could hear the love from his voice as he comforted Snoopy.  You could almost feel those gentle pats from the old man's hands as he tried to give the old dog some human touch without causing anymore pain.

It wasn't long after Snoopy came home broken and beaten that he passed.  I don't remember seeing grandpa cry or anything but you could tell he was hurting and was missing Snoopy.  Snoopy had lived at the house with grandpa longer than any other dog.  He had been grandpa's buddy out in the yard or on the porch.

Grandpa let Snoopy go but I don't think it was easy for him.  It was another testament as to how loving and caring my grandfather was, not only to humans that jumped trains, but also to dogs that came to stay and become best friends.  Grandpa was a kind of loving man to all creatures, and in the non-human world of the creatures he came across, Snoopy was certainly a special one.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

America - Waylon Jennings

Some have said, down through history
If you last it's a mystery
But I guess they don't know, what they're talking about
From the mountains down to the sea
You've become such a habit with me
America, Amer-ica

Well I come from, down around Tennesee
But the people in California
Are nice to me, Amer-ica
It don't matter where I may roam
Tell you people that it's home sweet home
America, Amer-ica

Chorus:
And my brothers are all black and white, yellow too
And the red man is right, to expect a little from you
Promise and then follow through, America

And the men, who fell on the plains
And lived, through hardship and pain
America, Amer-ica
And the men who could not fight
In a war that didn't seem right
You let them come home, America

And my brothers are all black and white, yellow too
And the red man is right, to expect a little from you
Promise and then follow through, America

Well I come from, down around Tennesee
But the people in California
Are nice to me, Amer-ica
It don't matter where I may roam

And my brothers are all black and white, yellow too
And the red man is right, to expect a little from you
Promise and then follow through, America

Tell you people that it's home sweet home
America, Amer-ica
America, Amer-ica

And my brothers are all black and white, yellow too
And the red man is right, to expect a little from you
Promise and then follow through, America

It's home sweet home, Amer-ica
America, Amer-ica

Monday, April 9, 2012

MY EXHIBIT AT THE NELSON-ATKINS

The Nelson-Atkins Museum Of Art in Kansas City, Missouri is known world wide as one of the top art museums.  It is one of the several pearls of culture that you would not expect to find in a city like Kansas City.  Kansas City is located in the middle of the country, and isn't a very large city compared to other centers of culture in the United States or the world.

The museum is best known for it's extensive collection of Chinese art and artifacts.  The whole top floor of the museum is dedicated to the collection.  The best known artifact in the collection, or at least the artifact that I like most, is a dress made entirely of Jade.  Each piece of Jade is hand carved and the dress is meticulously sown together by hand.  I can't remember how old the dress is but it is well into the hundreds of years.

The museum also houses the entire collection of Missouri's favorite son artist, Thomas Hart Benton.  The only things that are missing from the collection are the murals that Benton painted and still exist today in places like the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and the Capitol Building of Kansas in Topeka.  Why Benton painted a mural in Kansas I will never understand nor forgive him for.  The paintings are of a distinct style that any student of art can recognize as being a Benton.  As a side to this part of the museum, Benton's studio where he did his painting and sculpture is located in the Valentine District of Kansas City.  The studio sits just as it was when the great artist died, a sculpture in the works on one of the tables, unfinished.

With the Nelson-Atkins having the prestige that it does hold, a lot of traveling exhibits come through Kansas City to be put on display for those of us who do not get to travel to the larger centers of culture in the United States and the world.  I go to see a lot of these exhibits.  One exhibit that I recall with total fascination was the joining together of all three panels of Monet's "Water Lillies".  One of the panels is a fixture at the Nelson but one year they got all three panels together and took them for a trip around the world.  The fantastic painting took up a whole room by itself as people lined up as if it were a national funeral and the painting was the body lying in state.  I remember when people got into that room their voices became whispers as the overwhelming beauty of the painting as a whole overwhelmed the senses with it's beauty and technique.

Another exhibit I remember fondly was one based on time.  It held various artists works on what they considered their concept of time.  I remember there was one artist who took a picture of himself for one second at the same time of day for a three year period.  He then put the pictures together as a motion picture and there before your eyes, you could what him age.  His would grow long then be shaved off.  He would quickly grow a beard that became a mustache and eventually he became clean shaven.

Another part of the "Time" exhibit the artist had taken pictures of various people every five years or so over a fifteen year period to show how they aged as time progressed.  It was a very interesting exhibit and we spent most of the day there without seeing much of the rest of the museum.

The exhibit that I remember most though was the one I was most excited to see.  It was back in the late seventies when the museum announced an exhibit of Music Album Art.  You must remember that vinyl was still the main way that music was sold and played.  The musicians and producers of this music back then considered the jacket that held the disc as part of the actual album.  The covers for the albums were indeed works of art.  Artists such as Andy Warhol, Klauss Voorman, and other famous artists of the day were putting their work on album covers.  This was something that I was indeed interested in as I had a fairly large collection of Albums of my own.

I anticipated the day when Barb and I would go to the Nelson-Atkins to see this collection of album art.  I imagined it to be the original artwork that ended up on millions of albums sold around the world.  Albums cover art from The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Santana, and The Velvet Underground would surely be included in the artwork that ended up printed on my albums at home.  There wasn't that long of a line when we got there but long enough of a line to help build up the anticipation of seeing the art.  We waited and we talked and we slowly moved forward until we finally came around a corner and entered into the exhibit.  "Stunned" is too light of a word for how I felt as I walked into the exhibit.  There were rows of tables covered in glass as though something priceless was being protected from the harm the general public could place on such works of art.  But the art wasn't the original art as I expected

What sat before my eyes were album covers.  Album covers that were exact duplicates of many that I had at the house.  We walked up and down between the tables covered with glass looking at album covers.  There was not a single piece of original artwork on display here.  I could have taken my collection of records and placed them under glass and it would have made just as fine of an exhibit as what I was looking at.  Yes, there was Warhol's Velvet Underground album cover that he had painted for the bands first release.  There was the Rolling Stones Sticky Finger's album cover, another Warhol masterpiece that I had at home..only mine was in much better shape than the one on display.  The Beatles were well represented with almost every one of their album covers.  There were some rare ones like Rare Earth's In Concert album that was designed like a back pack that held the two discs, but again, I had this album at the house.  What Barb and I ended up doing was walking around a set of tables covered in glass with essentially my album collection underneath the glass.  To be fair there were some rare album covers that I did not own.  The Count Basie Super Chief album cover was there. There were album covers of music that had not yet come into my life such as a Marvin Gaye album and a few Miles Davis album that I now own.

We went home and I started pulling all of the albums that I could remember that were on display to make up my own display of what we had seen at the Nelson-Atkins.  I remember asking Barb if she wanted to pay me two dollars to look at my album cover collection.  She declined having already seen them for years before they made it to the museum.

To be fair, the album covers did represent art.  Printed art.  Mass printed art.  I felt totally disappointed in the museum.  I wondered for years after that, and still do, who made the decision to put this display on at the famous Nelson-Atkins.  I felt betrayed by the museum.  It was and still is one of my favorite destinations, but this was so far below the standards that the museum has set for itself over the last century that I could see where putting this exhibit on display could knock it down a few notches.

The museum seemed to survive the "Album Cover Art Exhibit" and continued to hold it's reputation as one of the premier art museums in the world.  I had just gotten to the point where I thought the Nelson-Atkins was back to it's former self, bringing in exhibits of true art when it happened again.

One day out on the vast lawn of the museum, three Shuttlecocks (badmitten birdies for those of us less refined) showed up.  They stood about ten to twelve feet tall with big orange tips on them.  The were placed as though a game of badmitten was being played by the gods and they had just landed in the lawn of the great museum.  I could not believe it.  To me they looked stupid and embarrassing.  Soon they became the signature for recognizing the Nelson-Atkins.  Every photo of the museum had those stupid Shuttlecocks there.  Visitors would stop on forty-seventh street and go up to them and have their picture taken next to the giant birdies.

Shuttlecocks at Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Mo

I was wrong about the Shuttlecocks.  They are still there and are as much of a draw to the museum as the giant Henry Moore sculpture that sits on the corner of the lawn.  They have been there well over a decade now and they don't seem to be going anywhere soon.  When you arrive at the airport in Kansas City there is a series of lighted signs of things to do in Kansas City.  One of them is a picture of those stupid shuttlecocks on the lawn of the Nelson-Atkins.

My Uncle use to say "If the artist says it is art, then it is art."  This seems to be the case of the shuttlecocks.  Most of the world must see them as art instead of an eyesore as I do.  I soon came to appreciate the shuttlecocks a little more palatable.  When they expanded the convention center across the highway downtown, the city commissioned an artist to put four "sculptures" on top of the four spires that hold the convention center over the highway.  These too have become synonymous with Kansas City.  They are truly the ugliest things in the Kansas City skyline.  After seeing those things go up, the shuttle cocks didn't seem so bad. 

Sky Sculptures-Bartle Hall Kansas City, Mo.

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art should still carry shame over bringing that display of album art into their building. Art is what you make it to be.  I still hold to this day that album covers that anyone could buy at their local dime store, should not be considered "art" but the representation of art.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

KID CRISCO (THE CRISCO KID)

I have been struggling on whether to write this story for a long time now.  I do not want to embarrass anyone in the family and so I have held back from writing about it.  I was talking to Barb the other night and she suggested that maybe I change the names of people involved so no one would be embarrassed. This is what I decided to do.  Names have been changed to protect anyone from any embarrassment.  This is an important story because it was discussed for years after it happened.  As a matter of fact, the event still comes up in discussions today.

So, let me present the story of a young child, let's say from the southeastern United States visiting his grandparents one summer for a week or so.

The boy's name was Robbie D. Jr. but he did not like that name.  His sister , K. Joyce use to call him Beau Beau instead of brother when she was extremely young and the nickname stuck.  To this particular family he was known as Beau.  He was a cute little kid with many of the traits he would later pass on to his younger son, Connie.  He seemed to always be where he wasn't supposed to be.   He would get himself into fixes every now and then and after everyone got over the experience it would soon fade from memory.  All except one event.

His grandparents lived in the midwest, in the heart of the country.  VERY close to , let's say, Kansas City, Missouri.  Okay so his mother brings Beau and his sister up to this midwest town to visit her parents.  The grandparent's loved it when they visited and always had a good time with them.  Beau had two uncles who lived in this Missouri town who loved to tease the kids as much as possible.  It was easy to tease them because they would believe every thing the elder uncle told them, no matter how outrageous The Uncle could have those kids believing that you could make chocolate out of dirt if the right proportions of water and sugar were added to the dirt.  The uncle would have to be careful what he told them because as sure as he told them they could make chocolate out of dirt, those kids would be out back eating sweet mud just to see if it was true. .

The grandparent's house was a split level.  It had a rod iron railing that went up along side the stairs that led to the bedroom level.  This railing had vertical rods that connected the top to the bottom of the rail, much as you see with wooden railings today.  This was where Beau would find his most infamous trick that would haunt him the rest of his life.

One Saturday, Beau was in the hallway that led to the bedrooms and went by the railing.  Beau decided to play a game by pretending he was in jail or something, The uncle was not quite sure what caused Beau to do what he did.  Where the railing was straight along the hallway, the bars were far enough apart for Beau to stick his head between them and act like he was in jail holding on to the bars with his little hands.  He did this a few times and started getting attention from the uncles, who both encouraged him to continue doing so.

Where the railing went down the stairs though, the space between the bars was just slight smaller then the ones up on the hallway.  Beau made that fateful mistake of sliding his head into the space between two of the bars on going down the stairs.  He had to squeeze a little harder to get his head in there but he persevered unto his head popped out between the bars.  He then began making goofy faces and trying to bring attention to himself.

By this time, everyone had grown tired of Beau playing like he was in jail and people started drifting out of the living room.  Soon Beau found out that he was the only one in the living room and so he decided to go join the rest of the family.  Something went terribly wrong though.  As Beau went to pull his head out from between the bars, it stopped moving back.  His head was stuck.  Apparently just that tiny bit of difference in the spacing of the bars was enough to catch Beau like a venus flytrap catching a, well a fly I suppose.

Anyway, Beau had to get out of this situation and he would most prefer it if nobody knew that he had been stuck.  He worked his head this way and that coming to the same outcome each time.  He was stuck.  He tried to use his muscles in his skinny little arms to pry the bars apart to get his head out but to no avail.  He was stuck and stuck good.  As the realization of his predicament became more and more clear he began to panic.  It was not long before the family could here him crying softly from the other room and so they got up to go see what was wrong.

As the family entered the living room and upon seeing Beau, they all had a different expression on their faces. His mother had a look of shock. His sister began to cry.  Grandma had a look of wonderment while grandpa tried to suppress a small tight grin.  The uncles immediately started pointing and laughing.  All of this brought Beau to tears that dripped like a leaky faucet that may need a towel out underneath to soak them up.

Beau's crying intensified as people stared at him wondering how did that and his grandpa wondered aloud why he had gotten himself stuck.  All of this made beau not only panic and cry more and beg to be let loose from the trap but also started to make him angry.  He wanted out now and he demanded through his tears that they get him loose.

The families first plan was to try soap.  They lathered up his head with bar soap and tried to work his head loose.  It did not work and Beau began to cry more.  Then they tried dishwashing soap figuring it would be slicker than bar soap.  After coating the whole side of his head, it still would not budge from the between the bars.  The next attempt was to try margarine along with all the soap already on his head.  They greased him up and one of the uncles suggested they may want to be careful because as hot as Beau was getting he could fry his head in butter.  With this both uncles fell down upon the couch laughing and holding their sides which made Beau all the more angry and scared and he began to cry and scream that he wanted out.

It was then that his grandmother pulled out the big gun.  If this large can of Crisco couldn't loosen his head, then nothing would.  As they started pasting his head with the white greasy concoction, the uncles totally lost it.  The laughter being put out by the uncles almost was as loud as Beau's crying screaming.

"It's the CRISCO KID!!" the uncles shouted while pointing at the stuck little greasy headed boy.

"Oh Criiiii-sco, I theenk we stuck!" they said in a very poor Spanish accent.

Grandma gave the uncles a mean look and told them to settle down, but even as she tried to be stern a smile emerged from even her lips.  As for the uncles, they could not contain themselves even if they tried.  This was too good to be true.

After trying to loosen his head with the Crisco and failing once again, his grandpa went to the garage and got a hacksaw.

"OH NO!!!" cried the uncles, "Don't cut his head off!!!"

This brought a fresh round of crying and screaming from Beau.  But he needn't worry.  Grandpa took the hack saw and cut the rod at the bottom of the railing and soon enough Beau was freed from his nightmare.  It took him several hours to settle down and to get calm enough to go to bed.  What he didn't realize was that his nightmare was just beginning.

When Beau awoke the next morning he was greeted by one of his uncles with a hearty "Morning Crisco!!"  Beau ignored him and tried to go about his business.  Soon the other uncle walked in the room.

"How's it going Crisco?" he asked innocently.   Beau lost it then.  He rushed his uncle and started to swing at the uncles legs shouting for them to stop.  He was NOT the Crisco Kid.  He was Beau.  That did not deter the uncles though and for the rest of Beau's visit to his grandparents he was known as the Crisco Kid and each time he would get mad and beg them to stop calling him that.

Beau realized how bad this was going to be the next time they came to visit.  The first words out of the uncles mouths were "Hey.... Criiii-sco" and Beau would lose his temper again.  Slowly over the years, as Beau grew to be bigger than his uncles, the sounds of CRISCO being called out became less often.

Grandpa took some black electrical tape and taped the bottom of the infamous rod to the lower railing.  The tape still sits there to this day reminding every one of the day the Crisco Kid joined the family.

Every once in a while one of the uncles will let slip a Crisco remark to Beau.  When Beau hears it he gives the uncle a look of intimate death and the word Crisco is not used a second time.  Beau will always have to live with the memory of being the Cisco kid and that is good enough for the uncles ... for now.

When Beau brought his own sons up to visit, one of the uncles took Beau's son up the stairs to where the tape held the rod iron railing together and told him the story of the day his dad became known as the Crisco Kid.  His son thought it a funny story but just that, a story.  These uncles could and would tell them anything and so Beau's boys always took what the uncles said with a little bit of doubt.  And so on the day the uncle told them about their dad being the Crisco kid, they did what any good son would do.  They went to Beau and asked him "Dad, is it true you were the Crisco Kid?"

Beau could not get angry with his boys and he let go one of his shy, big dimpled smiles and just said, "no... and don't believe anything your uncles tell you."  That seemed to satisfy his sons for the moment but as they have grown older, I think they kind of believe there is some truth to their dad being "The Crisco Kid" for a day, for a week, and on to for years even up until today.

As far as his uncles are concerned, Beau will always be "THE CRISCO KID".