Wednesday, November 25, 2015

THANKSGIVING IS IMPORTANT

It has been four years since I wrote my third Thanksgiving post on this blog.   All three of those posts addressed the memories of Thanksgiving at my grandfather's house.  They told of the huge Hill family gathering together to sincerely give thanks for all of our blessings as a family.  All my uncles and aunts were there and the distance between the families was not spread out as they are now.  Back then my uncle Dan lived the furthest away but everyone else seemed to be within a four hour drive of the old house on 54th Terrace in Kansas City, Missouri.  Death was relativity rare in the Hill family in those days when I was young and so grandpa's house would be totally filled and noisy with laughter and good talk.  Since then the family has changed.  Four of my uncles have passed, Melvin, Buster Dan and Bill, and two aunts have left us, June and Jane.  The family has spread out into Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama and Colorado and the glue that held that family together, the two people who brought that huge gathering to their home, grandma and grandpa are gone as well.  Very seldom does the family have gatherings like it use to on Thanksgiving every year.

I sit here thinking about Thanksgivings past.  When thanksgiving use to be observed in school every year.  In elementary school the teachers would have us make Pilgrim hats or Indian head dresses and we would observe Thanksgiving sitting there dressed in our little construction paper hats and learn about the Pilgrims, Plymouth Rock and how two different cultures came together for that magical first Thanksgiving.  It was not ACTUALLY the way things happened but it was a good story for a second grader learning about and falling in love with history at such an early age. I visited Boston some years ago and made a point to visit Plymouth since I was going to be close to there when I visited Quincy to soak in some John Adams history.  I saw what was said to be THE Plymouth Rock, protected by a greek structure and with "1620" engraved into it.  It was magical to see it after hearing about that rock since I was six years old, but in reality, I knew that it was just a rock that had been chosen to represent the day the Pilgrims landed in the name of religious freedom onto a new land.  I had learned more of the true history of those days between the westerners and the Indian cultures and how they did not get along as well as we were taught.  History has a way of making itself known.  Sometimes it takes a while but it is there ready to burst out with truth instead of idealism.

Thanksgiving has become lost in today's society as Christmas continues to spread itself earlier into the fall months and I think that is a bad thing.  Thanksgiving is important.  Thanksgiving should be a time of reflection, not on the past year necessarily, but on years past, all the way back to as far as you can remember.

The world seems to be in turmoil.  This country, the United States, seems to be in turmoil.  A midst all of the turmoil though, there are organizations made up of ordinary people who care for the sick, the homeless and the hungry.  The television stations come out at this time of year to show what an organization is doing to help those in need, but in reality, they are helping those people all the year around.  Thanksgiving is important because it reflects what these groups do every day of every year.  It isn't the government helping these people, but ordinary citizens who see a problem and step up to give relief to those who need it.  Yes, the government does do a lot to help people, but the true resources of help come from these people who see the problem and take measures to help fix them.

Thanksgiving is important and needs to be set aside from Christmas.  Thanksgiving needs to be kept as it was intended.  To give thanks for the blessings we receive.  To be thankful that this country, either through government aide or through citizens stepping up, will continue to see the problems and the injustices that people endure, and will continue to take measures to right the wrongs.  To help the helpless.  To feed the hungry.

Thanksgiving is important to help remind us of where we came from, where we are, and where we can be as we continue to help those who  can not help themselves on a year round basis.  To be thankful that as we continue to see the wrongs, we continue to fix them.

Thanksgiving is important to remind us of how important and special are the people we have been influenced by.  The people who were and those who still are in our lives.  They can older than you or younger than you and still have influence on your life that helps you to grow as a human being.  I have always believed that you can learn as much from someone much younger than you as well as from someone much older.  I have learned something that helped me from everyone in my family, both the maternal and paternal sides.  I have learned from my wife and son. My nieces and nephews have taught me so very much about life, especially Justin and Mei.  Aunts, Uncles and cousins have always had a word of wisdom when I need one as well as my parents,grandparents and my siblings.  Pastors and fellow church members have been there when I needed them.  I haven't had in the past nor do I have now many friends, but when I need one, they are there.  I truly am thankful for all of these.

Thanksgiving is important.  Do not let it slide by as another benchmark in our march towards Christmas. Make it what it was meant to be.  A time to be thankful inspite of all the hard times we all endure.

Monday, November 16, 2015

HIGH SCHOOL VENDING MACHINE CIRCA 1973-1975

Things have certainly changed since the early to mid seventies as far as a cafeteria in a high school is concerned.  I first noticed this when I went back to my old high school, Ruskin, for a community meeting one weekend.  There was a machine in that room that I had never seen when I was attending.  It was a soft drink vending machine.   When I was in school, all the way from kindergarten until I graduated in December of 1974, our choice of drink of milk.  They did give us a choice though.  We could have white or chocolate milk but a Coke for lunch?  Not going to happen.

When my son was in high school and we would have meetings in the cafeteria at Bishop Hogan or O'Hara, vending machines had grown from just one soft drink machine to two or three drink machines, a candy machine, and a few other machines designed to keep the kids healthy and awake for the remainder of the day.

To be fair, there were treats in the morning before school if you got there early enough.  The special education class of Ruskin would sale donuts and coffee every morning.  Not exactly a vending machine but at least it wasn't the no choice that happened at lunch at the school.  There was a group of about six of us who would arrive at school early and have some social time with donuts and coffee before starting another boring day.

There was but one vending machine in the Ruskin cafeteria when I attended that great school.  It was a vending machine of music, otherwise know as a jukebox.  This juke box was, of course, before the days of the compact disc and so it was filled with 45 rpm records.  It was the juke box in the cafeteria that i began to accumulate information concerning the flip side. or "B" side of the hit side that groups released.  It became a hobby of mine to learn, to memorize which songs were on a 45 rpm record.  From this I spread my knowledge of records to include label, label color, group, the writer of a song, the year it was released, the album it was taken from (although there were plenty of singles that were released only as singles not appearing on an album) onto learning the producers and any other kind of knowledge that could be learned about a record or album.  It was an interesting hobby as long as the music was interesting and for me the music ceased to be that interesting around the mid eighties.

There must have been a hundred songs on that juke box but few songs were played on a regular basis.  Everyday at lunch, there seemed to be a play list that was required to be played over the lunch period.  Everyday the same songs seemed to be played and from this playlist a string of songs are embedded in my memory.  When I hear these songs today, a lot of times my mind wanders back to the lunch periods in high school.

I am going to make a list here of the songs that I remember being played constantly during my years at Ruskin.  I am sure that some of my classmates may have other songs that they remember and I would really appreciate it if some of my classmates would send in songs that they remember.    The songs I am going to list are probably the songs I appreciated the most, not necessarily all the songs that were played daily.

Here are the songs that click in my mind as the songs that were played most often (not in any particular order):

Summer Breeze - Seals and Crofts
Without You - Harry Nilsson
Black Dog - Led Zeppelin
Rock and Roll - Led Zeppelin
Garden Party - Rick Nelson
Foot Stompin' Music - Grand Funk Railroad
Closer To Home - Grand Funk Railroad
Stairway To Heaven - Led Zeppelin
Misty Mountain Hop - Led Zeppelin
Levon - Elton John
Make It With You - Bread
China Grove - The Doobie Brothers
Brown Sugar - The Rolling Stones
One - Three Dog Night
Chest Fever - Three Dog Night
Share The Land - The Guess Who
Bus Rider - The Guess Who

Those are the songs that pop into my mind as I think about those lunches at the school.  It doesn't seem like they ever changed the records in the juke box the whole time I was at Ruskin.  Every year the same songs, with the same numbers were there.  It played the songs at a fairly high volume and it seems like the juke box was constantly playing leaving silence behind during each lunch period.

Loved that juke box.  Taught me a lot of music.  In a way it was continuing our education clean through the lunch periods. 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

PARADE OF FANS ... THIS JUST IN FROM PARIS

Last Tuesday was a beautiful day in Kansas City.  There wasn't a cloud in the sky and the temperature was in the mid seventies.  It was to be a special day celebrating the Kansas City Royals World Series victory over the New York Mets in five games.  A parade had been planned to welcome the champions home that would wind from downtown to the Union Station.  It was a parade that the metropolitan area of Kansas City has seldom seen in its history.  It was a day that would, for all practical purposes, shut down the city.

Earlier that morning my wife and I had traveled to St. Luke's Hospital located just off of The Plaza District in Kansas City.  She was to have some tests done on her heart that would take most of the day.  The majority of that time would be spent in a hospital room resting and recovering from the test before we went home to be sure that there were no complications from the test.

The room that they assigned to her was room 401.  This room looked out over Broadway at about 41st Street.  As the morning progressed we started watching coverage of the parade on a local television station.  They started coverage early in the morning even though the parade itself was not scheduled to begin until after noon.  While watching the crowds begin to gather down at Union Station, she feel asleep and so I walked over to look out the window onto Broadway.

As I stood there looking out the window I started to notice people walking up Broadway towards the point where the parade would find it's end and the players would give speeches to the crowd.  It wasn't a large flow of people however the street was never empty of people taking the three mile walk to the Union Station.  They were ordinary people with one thing in common.  Blue t-shirts.  Every person walking up Broadway had a royal blue t-shirt with some celebratory writing on the front of the shirts.  As time passed, the flow of people in blue began to grow.  Eventually it was a constant flow of fans hiking up the short hill.  As the crowd increased, the inevitable bizarre people began to show up every now and then.

STOP .... TOPIC CHANGE.   

I was in the middle of describing how the Royals fans showed up at Union Station in droves to celebrate the World Series victory.  About my observations of the different people walking miles to the parade.  I stopped to finish later and now something has happened on the world stage.

Paris, France went under attack by terrorist believed to be from the ISIS organization.  Innocent Parisians murdered in cold blood outside a soccer stadium, inside a packed hall attending a rock concert.  Over 150 dead as I write this and the French are taking military action dropping bombs on Syria.  In a way, it is 9-11 for France.

There will be no fingerpointing at political leaders here.  Just a call for nations to finally pull together, go all in, to try to stop these terrorist attacks that have been a constant on the western world.  It is time to put away all political differences between nations.  It is time for each nation to protect their people while at the same time joining together  to try to make life safer for the innocents.

It aches to see this kind of senseless killing.  It hurt on 9-11, it hurt to see in Kenya, it hurt to see London buses blown to bits, it hurt to see trains in Spain destroyed  and it hurt to see at the Boston Marathon.  It is time to band together to end this.

I ask politicians not to use this as a political tool to advance agendas.  I ask political leaders throughout NATO and the rest of the world to come together and fight this scourge that has inflicted our lives since the 1993 WTC bombing.  It is going to only get worse if these groups are allowed to get stronger without any overwhelming retaliation from the world community to stop it.

Something needs to be done.  Now is the time to do it.

Prayers and thoughts for

Monday, November 9, 2015

THE BRAVE, THE DETERMINED AND THE STRONG

I am tired of losing friends and family to illnesses.  It seems that when they leave this earth it is always much to soon.  It doesn't really matter how old they are when they pass from here, it is still too soon.  The last time I saw my Grandfather, I knew it would be the last time I would see him.  He and my grandmother were leaving to visit my aunt in Alabama.  Even though deep inside I knew that I would not see him again, when my mother knocked on my door late one night and told me that he had died, I was thrown into a state of shock and terrible grief.  I have come to believe that the night he died was the night I started a long deep slip into depression that stays with me still.

I have written about Alesia in this blog before.  She died of heart failure when she was just fourteen.  I had known her since she was born as I had worked with and played ball with her dad her whole life.  She had just been declared healthy and had been told that she could live a normal life when her life suddenly ended without warning one evening.  Other teens that I have known have had their lives taken much too early.  Their parents are devastated and even though the grief is strong and will stay with them always, those parents seem to find strength to get up everyday and live as much of a life as they can carrying that pain inside of them every minute of everyday.

I am tired of losing people to heart disease, mental disease, respiratory disease and a host of other sicknesses.  The one disease that I really am tired of though is cancer.  There are so many different kinds of cancer and none seem to have a cure.  Cancer is to me the cruelest of the killers.

There is one thing I have noticed of all the people I knew who died of cancer.  Cancer patients always seem to dig deep and face it with strength and bravery.  I visited my Uncle Melvin in the hospital a couple of weeks before cancer took him from us.  Thinking back he was probably the first person who I was close to that I knew was dying from cancer.  I walked in and he smiled at me.  He held my hand and it seemed that he was comforting me and I needed to be comforted.  He was ready, he was prepared.  No he did not want to leave, but at this point he had come to accept it and was facing it with incredible strength.  None of us knows what was going on inside his mind, but on the outside he was facing the prospect of his life ending and letting all of us know it was okay.

I have written about Rachel here as well.  Rachel was an incredible person.  She had a brain tumor when she was very small and it seemed that she had beat it.  Then one Christmas, the symptoms began to show up again when she had grown into a beautiful young lady.  Rachel kept going as long as she could.  She never gave up.  Always had a warm smile on her face even though she could feel herself slowly slipping away.  She never stopped living her life until that New Years Eve when her life passed from this one to the next one.  She was an inspiration to me and to many others.  I think I can safely say that Rachel will live on in memories and stories that will be passed down from generation to generation.

I had that conversation with my Uncle Dan after he was diagnosed with cancer and it became clear that his cancer would not be slowed or healed.  We talked about "after he was gone" and how he will cease to exist.  I knew that life goes past this life.  Not only with the spirit leaving his body but his life would continue in the memories of those that knew him.  Stories are relayed of Dan and his brothers, Melvin and Buster. who have also passed and through those tales they continue to live on.  Dan faced his cancer with that strength that comes from deep down inside.  He lived his life until he could not anymore.  We went and did things knowing in our hearts that it would be the last time for doing such things.  He went to the theatre one last time and even though he told me it felt sad to be there, he enjoyed it.  He was in his element that night even if it would be the last time.

I have witnessed others who have succumbed to cancer who were co-workers of mine.  Jim, Lera, Paul,  all were younger than me when they passed.  But they not only faced the disease with strength and bravery, but they fought it as well as they could.

Now I look around and see friends that are fighting the fight against cancer.  My cousins have just learned that their step father has a fast growing brain tumor that is untreatable and his time is very limited.  From what my cousins tell though, he is another brave and strong man who is taking it in stride and will live life until he can't anymore.

My brother had bladder cancer and it looks as though he has fought it off successfully.  My wife had uterus cancer and they were able to operate on her and so far it has not returned, but she faced that surgery with strength and bravery.  My cousin Ellen and my Uncle Jack have faced cancer and defeated it with strength and determination.  So cancer is not a death notice by far.  They are making progress it seems.  But without the determination of those who have the disease, we wouldn't stand a chance.  You can not beat cancer unless you fight it with everything you got.

Probably one of the strongest and bravest people I have ever known with cancer is a lady who attends Barb's church.  Yvonne has had cancer as long as I have known her it seems.  She has had tremendous faith that has given her the strength to keep fighting and fighting with a good attitude.  Of course I don't know what goes on inside her head as she continues her fight, but continue to fight she does.  She always has time to look out for problems others are having and offering support and strength to them.  My wife is having heart problems that seem to get worse everytime she sees a doctor and Yvonne always has a word of encouragement.  Yvonne is as good as an example of what faith will do for us when faced with difficult times.  I am so thankful I have the privileged knowing her.

Now my sister has cancer.  I was lucky enough to be able to help take care of her for a few months before she went home to Georgia.  From the time it became clear that this was not going to be an easy cancer to beat, my sister has been determined to fight it, and she has.  Her faith never waivers.  She keeps a good outlook and does what she has to do to fight it.  She shows much the same strength, determination and bravery that Yvonne has shown all these years.  To me it is incredible.  I don't think I could have the strength or determination that Yvonne and Carol have.  I am pretty sure I wouldn't.

All of these people have shown what it is to be strong and brave.  They have set an example for others who are ill or feel lost in life.  They have shown what it means to live.  Rachel, Alesia, My uncles, my Aunt June and my sister and Yvonne.   I am thankful to know these people who have set an example of what it is to live life to it's fullest.

One day we will find out how to beat cancer.  The sooner the better.