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Wednesday, December 3, 2014


I thought of my Dad the other day. This in itself is not so unusual; as I think of my Dad often. What set this particular series of thoughts in motion was unique, however.

The other day my Lovely Bride and I made a journey from Lake County to the local cell phone center located in Woodmere. As this entailed crossing the Lake/Cuyahoga County line, we made certain all our papers were in order and up to date.  While not quite as involved as making the trek to the western bank of the Cuyahoga River, it was still quite a cultural undertaking.  Fortunately, having grown up in the Hillcrest area (how many of you remember your phone number beginning “H-I-2-****”?), I could still pass as an Eastsider.\

After spending some time resolving the i-phone issue, we wandered about the other stores. Then, as we were exiting the parking lot, there it was; gleaming like a diamond on a black velvet drape; that distinctive script logo-type: Davis Bakery/ Delicatessen.

For those readers who have lived in the Eastern suburbs of Cleveland within the past 70 or so years, you may recall Davis Bakery. For those who have grown up elsewhere; I can only extend my condolences for not having known this true gem.

Frantically,  I pointed to the beckoning lights as LB patiently awaited the traffic signal to change. In my excitement all I could emit was a primate like “Oooo! Oooo!” similar to a spider monkey spying a ripe banana.

LB nodded, and pulled across the boulevard into a space directly in front of the door. Barely able to contain myself, I yanked on the  car door handle, only to realize it was yet locked. Nanoseconds before I began a simian type tantrum, she unlocked the door. I scampered into the welcoming arms of fresh baked Jewish rye bread, rich deli aromas, and heaps of baked goods.

I must have looked like a madman when I acknowledged the middle-aged lady’s greeting with a desperate “Do you still have rye bread?!” She chuckled and asked how many loaves I wanted. I expressed my desire for one loaf, and headed toward the dairy case, to grab a dozen jumbo eggs which were on sale.

Clutching the eggs, I turned toward the register. And then I saw them; Ladylocks.

 Instantly, I stopped, transfixed by the golden brown, and delicately tapered shell filled with a rich butter-cream. Instantly, memories of Dad came to mind.

I don’t know if this pastry is widely known beyond the Lower Great Lakes and some East Coast regions. They consist of a very delicate, flaky pastry, approximately 5 inches long, tapering from the large open end, to a smaller bottom. The void is filled with a rich buttery cream, usually vanilla flavored although chocolate and other flavors are seen. Finally, the whole concoction is dusted liberally with powdered sugar.

 Basically, it is a diabetic-cardiac patient’s worst nightmare.

Dad practiced self-control fairly well (see Dad’s Hammer November, 2013  for more about his legendary self control), except when it came to Ladylocks. Put a Ladylock before him, and he would be tempted to dicker with the Devil.

There are men who cannot pass a sporting goods store, men who cannot pass a hardware store and men who cannot pass a drinking establishment.  Dad couldn’t pass Davis Bakery without picking up a box of Ladylocks.

I don’t know how or when his addiction to this confection began.

Was he tempted into a dark alley by a seedy character in a ratty trench coat beckoning “Pssst, hey kid. Wanna see a really nice little pastry?” 

Was it peer pressure from school pals “Hey, Hoppy! Go ahead, take a bite! All the kids are eating Ladylocks!”

Could it have been during a time of dark despair, deep in the Great Depression that he stumbled into a dimly lit storefront, leaned upon the counter, and demanded “Give me some of the good stuff.” ? With a glint in her eye, the lady behind the counter reached for the most potent thing available; “Here, Bub. This will help you feel better.”, while pushing the seductive form toward him.

Or, was it innocently enough, while at a wedding reception a careless adult left their dessert unattended, and he took a small nibble?  BAM! The floodgates were flung open; the sugar rush began, never to be slackened.

Whatever the circumstances, he became a lifelong Ladylock junkie.

 I remember many times when he would burst in the door from work, a white cardboard box tied with white string in his hand. We knew by the tell-tale grease spots on the bottom what was within; Ladylocks.

Mom would sigh in resignation, knowing her lovingly prepared dinner would be ruined by a husband and houseful of kids bouncing off the walls from the sugar highs. But, what could she do? She had unknowingly married a Ladylocks Junkie.

Between bites of pastry and slurps of coffee, Dad would often reminisce of bakery trips long past. He told of setting foot on American soil again upon his return from the War in Europe. Most sailors and GIs went off in pursuit of a good stiff drink, or a steak dinner, or female companionship. Not Dad. He set his sights upon the nearest bakery and Ladylocks. He bought half a dozen, found a bench to sit upon, and devoured the entire box.

Throughout my growing up years, Ladylocks have been there; like a well worn, favorite coat. In good times, in bad times; Ladylocks have materialized from a white box tied with white string.  Some families have macaroni and cheese as a comfort food, others homemade chicken and dumplings. Dad found his solace in Davis’ baked delights.

My Lovely Bride was introduced to Ladylocks early in our dating relationship. If I am not mistaken, the circumstances were eerily similar to most appearances; Dad coming through the door, a silly grin on his face, grease spotted white box in his hand.

We knew that it had been either a particularly good day, or a particularly bad day at work. Or, it was just a run-of-the-mill day and he could no longer resist the Siren Song wafting across S.O.M. Center Road as he drove past the bakery. Although the Interstate had been long completed and taking the secondary state route was not necessary, his Pontiac would find its way to a spot outside Davis’.

LB and I married; college took us far from Northeast Ohio, to a land devoid of Ladylocks. We soon discovered other delectable treats, such as sugar-crème pie and fresh picked musk melons.

But, when we would return, Dad would typically have Ladylocks waiting for us. To him, there was no higher, finer offering than fresh made Ladylocks.  

Sadly, it was then I discovered my taste had changed. What was once light, fluffy and delightful had now become heavy, sodden, and just okay. I had never noticed the residual sensation of grease upon my tongue and roof of the mouth before. I had paid no attention to the unbelievable sweetness before. Now, it caused my teeth to ache and throat to constrict.

I didn’t tell Dad, I knew it would break his heart. It may very well have resulted in disinheritance and banishment from the family. So, I kept silent. For the sake of unity and harmony, I endured Ladylocks when we visited with Dad.

I cannot recall the last time I had a Ladylock.
 It has been decades.

Which now found me standing before the display case; vacillating between “to buy or not to buy”? That was the question. Several times I caught myself about to signal the lady patiently waiting at the register. Several times I thought how much Dad would enjoy that one with all the frosting in it. To buy….or not to buy, I wrestled within myself.  Above the counter was the old familiar string dispenser, a length just beckoning to be wrapped about a box and tied securely. Boxes were lined upon the back counter. It would be easy… oh so easy.

I turned, took two steps… and turned back to the display.

I stared at the pastries, my heart awash with memories. After what seemed a semi-eternity, I whispered, “No, they are all yours, Dad. You enjoy them.”  Turning my back upon the tempters, I walked quickly to the register.

“Do you want some pastry?” the middle-aged lady politely asked.

“No thank you, Ma’am. I was just enjoying looking.”

Gathering my bread and eggs, I glanced at the gleaming bakery case, the treasure safe within, as I exited the store. With a smile, I began to hum Bob Hope’s theme song; Thanks for the Memories

Friday, November 14, 2014

What is in a Name???

The other day, a friend of ours made a rather thought provoking post on his social media page.No, it wasn't a cat chasing his shadow, or a dog sliding down a hill on a garbage can lid.

Most apropos is the fact Northeast Ohio is experiencing the first snow fall of the season. To lend a degree of interest, it is a Lake Effect storm. (I take a more detailed look at this phenomena in my book; 1850: Death on Erie)

It said, in effect: the Polar Vortex has been renamed. It is now called Winter. Ever heard of it?

Well… this set me to thinking; which is dangerous at best and disastrous at worst.

What is in a name, I pondered. Would a rose still be as red, smell as sweet were it not called a rose?
Then, it struck me…there is a lot in a name.

POLAR VORTEX:  has an air of foreboding about it. One envisions Darth Vader returning in The Polar Vortex of Doom. Only Indiana Jones can save us.

Winter: predictable, while at times annoying, it is far from malevolent.

POLAR VORTEX:  wild, out of control, and Life Threatening. As in “It came from the Arctic! The POLAR VORTEX!”

Winter: mostly complacent, with the occasional wild flare up. Somewhat of a sluggard compared to Spring tornadoes
POLAR VORTEX: blizzards, white-outs, snow-clogged highways, and airports at a stand-still.

Winter:  a landscape cozily blanketed in white, smoke curling from the chimneys of warm, snug homes.


Winter: Peace

POLAR VORTEX: frozen pipes, frozen cars, and calling AAA

Winter: putting on a sweater, enjoying a cup of hot chocolate, and watching the snow fall

POLAR VORTEX: the Stone Age is just around the corner

Winter: Spring is just around the corner

POLAR VORTEX: Be Afraid! Be VERY Afraid!!

Winter: Oh Look! The Sun makes the snow look like millions of diamonds!

POLAR VORTEX:  the end of the World as we know it

Winter: Let’s go sledding! The Snow isn't going to last forever!

POLAR VORTEX: Stock up on milk and bread (why load up on milk and bread? Are people going to have a French Toast Eat-a-thon?)

Winter: Maybe I should pick up some eggnog in case people drop in, I want to be prepared

POLAR VORTEX: The wolf is at the door!

Winter: The wolf is smart, he is snuggled up in his den

POLAR VORTEX Do NOT leave your home!

Winter: Let’s go! There is a birthday party at the home of Farmer Gray. It will be the perfect ending to a perfect day.

POLAR VORTEX Nothing good happens this time of year!

Winter: Don’t count on it. Look how many birthdays there are in August, September, October….

The thoughts meandered through my mind like frozen custard through an ice-cream machine. 
All in all, I prefer Winter. 
It is far gentler on the mind.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Can O' Coffee

The other day my Lovely Bride came home from a trip to the Super-Dee-Dooper Mega Acres Exclusive Warehouse Shopping Club. I am struggling with the concept of “exclusive” when it appears to me every time I go there as if everyone and their dog is a member. 

I have a definite love-hate, approach-avoidance relationship with our Mega Acres warehouse. I detest the crowds, I detest the fact everything comes in Infantry Battalion sized packages, I detest rummaging through empty boxes in search of the perfect one (not too big, not too small, not too flimsy, not too laden with spilled jelly) in which to pile our stuff.

I do like the fact they have the best dog food we have yet to find. I do love their Sharp Cheddar cheese. And the samples. I love the samples. One can dine rather well on a Saturday just on the samples. One day, however, I chose to stay home.

I was busy doing the sorts of things husbands do while LB went to the cavernous store. You know, things like stare out the back window, pet the dogs, fiddle with the little pond on our patio; all those mystical “guy things”.

When she returned, I somewhat halfheartedly  watched as she unloaded this, put away that, and kept up a narration of the wonders of the store. Suddenly, she withdrew from the appliance sized box she had loaded stuff in, an actual honest-to-goodness can of coffee.

Sure it was the Club brand, but I didn’t care. I was mesmerized. An honest, full three pounds of coffee steel can. Who cares if it said “Such and such land” brand?  That guy with the big hat, moustache and his donkey are on the front, so it has to be good. This, dear reader, was the real deal.

The can sneered at the little, under-weight plastic “flavor saver” tub of coffee in our pantry.  This bad boy does not have any ergonomically molded handle on its side. No siree, Bob. You grasp this with two hands, reveling in the full 48 ounces of caffeine bearing goodness within. Your fingers nestle easily, naturally, into the five indented grooves circumnavigating the can.

My mind raced back to my earliest memories of coffee cans. 

Every garage, barn, shed and work bench had a random collection of old coffee cans being used (the new politically correct word is “re-purposed”) to hold nails, screws, nuts, bolts, springs, and the ubiquitous dried out paint brush; hardened into a permanent curve.  Invariably, these cans also would contain a spider or two, maybe some dead flies, and bits of unidentifiable dust and debris that came from God only knows where. They were glorious in their ignominy.

However, prior to being relegated to the various shops and sheds, they once proudly served to convey coffee to the kitchen tables of Americans far and wide. These were heavy steel, the type used to stamp out the hoods of Fords and the fenders of Chevys.  The only way to get at the dark treasure within was with a can opener. There was no easy-peel piece of ultra thin foil for a lid. This took an old fashioned, press-the-handles-down, hand-cranked can opener.

Now, there was a unique bit of whimsy associated with opening a can of coffee. Even back in the dark ages of the 1950s, the cans were sealed under a vacuum. This would elicit the most hilarious “PFFFTTT” when the can opener began to do its job; the end result of which would be a case of the giggles for me.  

And, the aroma…nothing compares to the aroma of a freshly opened can of coffee. Regardless of one’s age, or the time of day; try to resist inhaling deeply, and exhaling with an “Ahhhh”, followed by a smile.

However, opening a can of coffee posed hazards that would give the willies to a Consumer Product Safety inspector in today’s world. The vintage cans did not have an easy snap on-snap off plastic lid to contain the coffee once the can was opened. Therefore, the object was to open the can sufficiently to access the grounds, yet leave a portion of the lid unscathed to serve as a hinge.

One would attempt to open the now jagged, razor sharp edge of the can without slicing a finger. The standard procedure was to hook the end of a fingernail under the edge, and pry the lid back upon the hinge. For its part, the lid would raise about a third to half the way, then slip off the fingernail. In its descent, the serrated edge would commit all manner of atrocities upon the unwary fingers.

Following the application of mercurochrome and a couple bandages, one would then remove a butter knife from the drawer, repeat the hook-lift-bend maneuver, and gain access to the object of their desire. Upon making a pot of coffee, the lid was then pressed in place over the coffee. Invariably, after several of the open-close cycles, the hinge would succumb to metal fatigue and the lid would snap off. Now, the blasted thing would drop into the now half filled can, doing nothing more than to provide a booby trap to inflict injury when someone tried to fish it out.

It was with such a degree of nostalgia that I eagerly awaited the “Time of the Opening”. That ridiculous little blue tub seemed to take forever to become empty. I was beginning to feel as if I were living with the Miracle Tub Of Coffee; akin to the widow’s oil and flour, or the loaves and fishes.

Finally, the time came.

The roaster/packager of the new can did make an outward concession to the 21st Century. A glossy plastic lid was firmly in place atop the can. I gingerly placed the un-defiled can upon the kitchen counter. I extended the hand-cranked opener to my Lovely Bride, asking if she would like the honors. Graciously, she declined; allowing the pleasure of the “PFFFTTT” and initial burst of fragrance to be mine.

I removed the plastic lid. With nearly trembling hands, I lifted the opener. What’s this?

The hermetically sealed steel lid had been replaced by…. I don’t know what. It was silvery, had a metallic appearance, but was flexible. Upon tapping, it went “doink, doink”, not a solid metal “tick tick”. Then, I saw it. A little pull tab on one edge of the covering. Dejectedly, I placed the opener back in the kitchen tool basket. I grabbed the tab. I tugged. There it was; that satisfying, giggle producing “PFFFTTT”, that heavenly whiff of fresh coffee.

I continued to pull the tab. The faux-lid came free, curling upon itself. Then, about halfway across, it stopped moving. I tugged. It stayed put. I tugged harder. It stayed put. I let my inner Neanderthal come out. I grasped the flimsy metal with one hand, crumpling it together. I gave a mighty tug. I emitted a mighty shout as the scalpel sharp edge of the covering sliced through my finger.

While I was staunching the blood flow with half a roll of paper towels, my Lovely Bride calmly completed the task.  After administering anti-biotic cream (I have not seen mercurochrome in decades. Is it still made?) and a bandage, I reflected upon the can of coffee.

While it may not say it is good to the last drop, or better coffee a millionaire’s money can’t buy; the packaging  from Super-Dee-Dooper Mega Acres Exclusive Warehouse Shopping Club did meet the criteria for a proper can. It is constructed of steel. It made a giggle inducing sound upon opening. And, perhaps most critical to nostalgia; it rendered a dandy slice upon my finger.

Long live the good old days.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Old Man on the Mountain

Hemingway has his Old Man and the Sea. Vermont had their Old Man in the Mountains. Heck, I have even heard there is supposedly no country for old men. 
This is nothing on me. I am the Old Man on the Mountain.

About two weeks ago, my buddy Jim O. and I journeyed to Northern Pennsylvania. We were meeting my son-in-law Eric, his Grandfather Cliff, and Eric’s life-long buddy Chris at the cabin. The cabin is a nondescript place at the very edge of the Allegheny National Forest, and is now going into the fourth generation of Eric’s family.

I was looking forward to a Friday off of work, a long weekend in which to get a lot of writing done. Between working on an “as told by” biography of a local luminary and businessman and re-writing our church’s Christmas drama, I have a lot of writing to do.

The cabin, nestled near the summit of a mountain, provides the nearly ideal combination of solitude, nature and quiet which super-charges creativity.

The others were looking forward to preparing firewood for the Winter, honing their marksmanship skills, and getting away from the 21st Century for a few days. There is no phone, Internet, satellite TV, or Wi-Fi on the mountain. In order to get sporadic cellular service, one has to stand out in the meadow on the summit.

Saturday dawned clear, crisp, and glorious; as only an early Fall morning in the mountains can.  I settled in with writing pad and pen in hand; the words flowing as freely and clear as the spring behind the cabin.
Then, it began…..

A little voice saying Get outdoors. You can write anytime.”  No, I countered. I need to get this done. You need to get some exercise. Enjoy the forest and nature.”  Well….maybe. “You haven’t been here for over a year. Get some fresh air.” Alright, alright; let me get my boots on.

So it was that I found myself trying to assist with the firewood project. I met Cliff and Chris in the side yard with their little trailer load of freshly cut wood behind the lawn tractor. Grabbing a few pieces, I turned toward the wood pile.

Feeling the toe of my right boot catch on a log, my first thought was “This ain’t good.” The ground was covered with long, soft grass, scattered with new fallen leaves. I pitched forward. Wisely, I chose to use the edge of a freshly split log to break my fall. My right femur absorbed approximately 95% of the impact, with the balance being un-equally divided between my left femur, knee, and hand.

“Golly gee, Fellows! I seem to have fallen!” I exclaimed. Any reports to the contrary are pure fabrication and vain attempts to besmirch my reputation.

Gathering up the pieces of my dignity, I arose to a standing position. Yanking up the leg of my pants, I was relieved to see I had not torn my camo hunting pants. I was nearly as relieved to see I didn’t have a hunk of broken bone sticking out of my skin.

Hobbling into the cabin, I assured the others I would be fine. Some backwoods first aid of soap, water hydrogen peroxide, and antibiotic ointment on the scrape was applied.  I found I could put my weight on the leg (with the assistance of the table), therefore it must not be broken.  The remainder of the weekend I spent with my leg elevated, applying cold compresses, watching it change colors and swell, as well as writing. I also felt a good bit like a fool.

Come Monday afternoon, after a fun day of Show and Tell at work, I limped into my doctor’s office. Yeppers, it was infected alright. Take this anti-biotic and put this ointment on the scrape. Keep an eye on it and keep them posted.

Tuesday, I spent primarily in bed; fending off fevers, chills, and really, really weird dreams. I was flying an old WWI era bi-plane (a pretty little craft; robin’s egg blue fuselage, yellow wings), and it was growing dark. All I had for instruments were the fuel gauge, the airspeed indicator, and a hand held compass. Oh yeah, and a flash light. No matter where I tried to land, there was some reason I couldn’t; barbed wire fences across fields, swampy areas…weird.

But, I digress.

Back to work the remainder of the week.

By Sunday I was cooling my heels in the local Doc-in-a-box office, my leg the color of a Red Delicious apple, swollen to the size of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow man’s leg.  By this time, I was wishing I had recorded the first telling of my miss-hap; it would have saved a lot of breath. The doc came, took a look, ordered X-rays and blood tests. “Well, you have this going on. Stop the prescription you are on, and take this one. Take these water pills for fluid in the leg.” (Note to self: do NOT take Lasix before going to bed, unless you enjoy waking up every stinking hour!)

I stayed home on Monday, due to not sleeping on Sunday night, and a ridiculous amount of pain. I also made up a song; I fought the log, and the log won. Promptly forgot how song goes.

Went to work on Tuesday, listened to the oohs and aahs, milked having people get coffee for me as much as I could. Come Wednesday, there was still no sign of improvement. Only now, it felt as if I had taken a Rory McIlroy three-wood swing to the calf. There was also a collage of purple, black, red, and yellow extending from my knee to my toes. I hobbled into the doctor’s office again. REALLY wished I had recorded the first account of my little miss-hap. For entertainment’s sake I was considering tossing in a wrestling match with Sasquatch; but opted not to.  This time, the doctor ordered new blood tests and an ultrasound-STAT-of the leg.

By Wednesday afternoon, we know what it was not; it was not broken, it was not a staph or other bizarre infection, and it was not a blood clot in the arteries or veins. All in all, it was not bad news. Oh yeah; another day from the office.

Come Wednesday evening, I received a call from my doctor’s office. While talking with the lady, I was amazed by the phenomena of her voice becoming a deep, manly bass in an echo chamber announcing: “You have a Deep Tissue Hematoma.Da-da-da daaaaa.
A Deep Tissue Hematoma” she repeated, this time without the musical accompaniment

I was then made to understand my leg had bled a good deal. Except, it had bled internally; the blood seeped into the tissue and fibers of the muscle. This explained the interesting discolorations, the other-worldly swelling, and incredible pain.  She told me to stop the medications, except for the Lasix if it swells.

I learned a couple of things during the past fortnight. One involves the use of prescription pain medications.

Just prior to this time, my trusty beard trimmer began to act up. Naturally, being a guy, I knew I could fix it. (Another note to self: “No User Serviceable Parts” means just that.) Following the repairs, my trimmer had magically transformed into a puller/pincher. I quit using it. My beard refused to quit growing. I was beginning to feel like a ZZ Top tribute band member. I bought a nifty new trimmer. I commenced to trim my beard.

My Lovely Bride noticed one side was shade longer than the other. I took a pain med.

Here is where I would like to advocate for a change in labeling of medications. The forms always state, to the effect; “Do not operate motor vehicles, heavy machinery, or command a nuclear powered submarine until you know how this medication affects you.”

Well…I am here to call for the addition of “or use electric beard trimmers” to the list.

See, I went upstairs to prepare for bed. I decided to even up the facial hair while I was in the loo.

I removed the new clipper from the storage bag, switched it on, and took a swipe at the somewhat longer area.

It was only when I saw a fleece of salt and pepper hair cascade off my face that I noticed my slight oversight.
My old clippers had the correct length trimmer attached to the head. My new ones did not. There, on my right cheek, was a nice, new valley shorn in the middle of the whiskers. Boy, did I feel silly.

I slapped the shortest comb on the new clippers and tried to minimize the damage. It had the net effect of hiding the Cumberland Gap by trimming the trees.

This was all due to the mislabeling of prescription pain medications.

I have learned a couple empty copier paper boxes stacked up under my desk make a passable support for my leg while at work.

I have learned to not wear socks when swelling is going on, unless you like the indentations in your leg.

I am constantly reminded that a Bulldog ramming his head into my leg is not conducive to pain management. It does, though, offer plenty of opportunity to practice patience and long suffering.

I have gained a deeper respect for what my Dad dealt with; a painful leg injury from the Battle of the Bulge.  It finally stopped  hurting upon his death.

I would like to state I feel great now. My doctor, the Stent Guy, informed me this is going to be a long process, with good days, and bad days.

But, as I told my Lovely Bride this morning; today is a Genesis Chapter Two day.
In response to her quizzical look I chortled; “It’s the best it has felt since before the fall!”

Some people just don’t get a good theology joke.

Sunday, September 21, 2014


I have reached a very disturbing conclusion recently. I am at that awkward age.

A series of events over the past few weeks have served to underscore this hypothesis Like all earth-shaking theorems, this began innocently enough.

After all, it was being conked on the noggin by an apple that led Newton to that whole “Law of Gravity” thing.

Einstein was fiddling around with his bowl of Alpha-Bits one morning, dawdling the time away. He glanced at his spoon to see “Emcmc”; and we all know where that led.

Descartes', pre-bathing pronouncement “I stink, therefore I am.” (although wildly misquoted from the original ever since), was the impetus for the 17th Century Scientific Revolution.

So, it began for me. An innocent Summer evening picnic with our local Senior Citizens group. I prefer the appellation “The Elderly Flatulence Club”, however, my Lovely Bride takes a bit of umbrage to that.

But, I digress

We joined a nice sized group of…well….old people at our local pool/picnic pavilion. Like most of the men, I followed along bearing our burden of food for the communal table.  Along one side of the pavilion were several guitar cases. “Well, well,” thought I, “this may be alright after all. “

We enjoyed our repast and the accompanying gay repartee, and the instruments came out. Do you realize that with nearly 8 or so pickers and players; there was not one ZZ Top, Lynryd Skynrd, or Creedance Clearwater Revival number played?

I gazed about as those surrounding me were all rocking to Pete Seeger; Peter, Paul, and Mary; and similar genres. Wistfully, I looked across the grassy area observing some young men playing basketball.

I longed to run, dribble (a ball, that is), and shoot some hoops. Alas, the realization of the flesh being indeed beyond such activities descended as softly as a ton of bricks.

I knew how The Man Without A Country felt. I was no longer able to be with the young men; running, jumping; and high-fiving, Nor was I ready to swap my sandals for support hose and ortho shoes.

It was shortly after that LB and I went somewhere. I can’t recall where, at the moment. I suppose I should take more ginkgo biloba; bur for the life of me, I can’t remember why I take the stuff.  The point is, the smiling young man taking my money automatically gave me the “Senior’s Discount”! I was mortified!

Then, on my birthday, I had another confirming incident. See, the State of Ohio has a very warm, thoughtful way of recognizing one’s special day; your vehicle registration tags expire.  Not at the end of the birth month. Not a week later. No, for a special gift to yourself, you get to fork over money to the State.

While dutifully observing this annual ritual, the perky little  girl (I think she was 11) behind the counter announced:” Oh! I see you are (CENSORED). Have you checked to see if you qualify for Medicare?” Then, she smiled at me! I simply replied I had not, and I will have to look into that. All the while, I wanted to ask if she checked to see if she could swim with a cement block tied to her waist.

One day, after Worship Team practice, one of the more observant members of our team pointed out;”Hey! You’re the oldest one on the team?” I thanked him for his astute powers of detection.

I have noticed young people who used to call me “Jim” when I directed them in plays, now refer to me as “Mr. Hopkins”, or the kinder, gentler “Mr. Jim”.  Well, hush my mouth and pour me a sassafras.

All the preceding provided further evidence in support of my original assertion. Then, much like Einstein inserting an “=”, ditching one of the “mc”s, and using a “2”, the final conclusive event took place.

My Annual Physical.

It began with the nurse. I picked up some subtle conversational changes. Things like, “most people your age don’t have as good blood pressure.” And, “Doctor will want to talk with you about some age specific tests this time.”, and so it went. Eventually, the Doctor came in. She listened, poked, and looked here, felt there; all the while interjecting things like “No arthritis pain? That is great. Most people your age…”. Followed by “I don’t see any alarming spots on your skin, a lot of people your age…”. Finally, she asked if I had ever taken a specific, humiliating test. No; not that humiliating test, the other humiliating test.

Vainly, I tried to change the subject. Doggedly she came back to the subject. We volleyed back and forth like a verbal tennis match. Finally, she returned my deft back-hand with a blistering smash right on the side-line. “Look, you can either take this little kit home with you, or you can drink yucky stuff to prepare for some guy to take a look with his telescope and flashlight.”

Game. Set. Match.

So it was that I found myself doing the Walk Of Shame toward Bess, my Jeep, clutching a plain brown paper bag which screamed;”HEY!! Guess what I have?!?!”

The other day, I received a call from the doctor’s office. The lady apologized for the delay in getting back to me. I was told this was actually good news; they call patients who have problems first. There was a glimmer of hope.

For the most part, my numbers are very good. Oh, sure, I am a bit under-height for my weight, but I am not going to lose sleep over it. And, she claims my cholesterol is a bit high; but the vascular guy isn’t concerned over it. Before hanging up, the pleasant sounding lady told me “You are in very good shape for a man your age.” 

All of which sealed my hypothesis; 
I am at that awkward age.

Sunday, August 24, 2014


For decades, my family has labored under the ludicrous belief that I am a bumbling goon. They have even taken to referring to me as “Clark”, not in reference to Clark Gable; no, it is homage to the fictional Clark W. Griswold, Jr.  To which I offer a hearty “Horsefeathers!”

I began this line of thought after wheeling into the bank-in-a-box to grab some quick cash. Of course, the person at the machine ahead of me was attempting to apply for a mortgage via the keypad of the ATM.  Twenty minutes later, I was on my way. This caused me to think of the absurdity of some things.   Not the least of which was the above assertion. Such a comparison leaps entirely over “Sublime” and lands squarely on its keister in “Ridiculous”

It certainly could not have been from the time I was striving to get our young daughters off to school. Of course, it was a time fraught with pleading, cajoling, even bribery, to get them all into the car at the same time. While backing out of the drive, someone announced they had left something in the house. I put the car in park, shut off the engine, and took the key. I told the girls to “wait here, I will be right back, and DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING.” I was a young father then; I did not realize “don’t touch anything” translates into “goof around, push buttons, do what you want.” One of the things our daughter Char opted to touch was the garage door opener. As the door was open at the time, its list of options of what to do next was pretty limited.

Now, this was not a “hip style” door, which is a series of horizontal sections, hinged to flex and roll up or down within the confines of its track; nice and orderly. No, this was a “Marquis De Sade” style door, a single piece of steel, slightly less formidable than an Abrams tank. It was not hinged; it did not roll up and down in a confined track. No, this monstrosity would swing out, up and back to open. Closing was the reverse; the mammoth slab of steel would move forward, down, and swing inward to close.

While walking at a pretty good clip, I suddenly felt a tremendous pain in the center of my forehead, saw a brilliant white flash, and heard the sound of the door continuing to close.  I sported a dandy gash and bruise in the middle of my forehead for some time.

Naturally this brought to mind the Great Luminaries Incident.

 Back in the late 1980’s softly glowing luminaries were quite the in things.  This was prior to the ubiquitous empty plastic milk jug being repurposed. These consisted of a nifty translucent paper bag, about the size of a brown paper lunch sack, some clean kitty litter and a votive candle. At times, various designs, such as snowflakes, or Christmas trees, would be perforated in the sides of the bags, making a charming display.

The children and I carefully assembled the bags, and set them gingerly along our walk way. In eager anticipation, I struck a match, lowered it toward the candle, and exclaimed “Golly gee! That is kind of warm!” or something to that effect; it was apparent, the candles were too low to reach with a hand held match or lighter. Attempts to extend the reach by grasping the match with a pair of pliers proved to be rather futile.

It was at that time I was seized by a flash of brilliance; why not use a propane handy-man torch?
In retrospect, I can give you a fairly sizable list of “Why not”, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. 

Seized by the prospect of a quaintly illuminated walkway, I cast all aside. Some of which included the basic laws of physics, and thermodynamics. 

Thrusting the brass tube and tip of the torch in the bag, I triggered the ignitor. I chuckled as I saw the needle sharp blue flame burst forth. I became a tad concerned when I saw the tip of the flame curling upward, riding upon the current of hot air rising within the chimney of the bag. I reached the “OH NO” point as the bag began to darken, smoke, and finally ignite. The kids arrived at the “DAD! It’s burning!” point simultaneously.  The unlit candle was nestled snug and secure upon its bed of kitty litter.

Did you know that burning paper bags can spread from one to another when they are placed in close proximity? Especially when a brisk December breeze springs up?  Neither did I.  What we did learn, though, was snow makes a dandy fire extinguishing media.  When it was all over we had the most picturesque pile of sooty snow, frozen kitty litter, and randomly placed candles you could ever hope to see.

This also brought The Christmas Tree Caper to mind.

Years ago, one of my customers was a Mom and Pop hot-dog and ice cream stand. In order to increase traffic and sales, the owner would sell colorful hanging baskets in the spring, perfectly shaped pumpkins in the fall, and Christmas Trees in December. Wanting to support one of my loyal clients; we loaded up our Chevy van and went to get our tree.

The van was a humongous white Chevrolet conversion van. I referred to it as Moby, an unaffectionate reference to Moby Dick, the great white whale.

After enjoying some hot chocolate, chit-chatting with the owner, we found our tree.  The young men working in the lot tied the tree to Moby’s roof.  With a beep and a wave, we headed for home. 

Turning on to the freeway, I accelerated up the entrance ramp. Thirty-five, forty, forty-five….suddenly a scraping sound from the roof of the van indicated that all was not well. Our daughter Aubrey exclaiming the tree had fallen off confirmed my suspicions.   Glancing in the mirror I saw the tree rolling and bouncing along, trying vainly to catch up to the van. Adding a bit of comic relief was a stream of vehicles playing dodge-em with the tree.

I pulled over, and carefully backed down the shoulder about a hundred feet until we were within a reasonable distance of the tree.  For its part, the tree simply lay there, beckoning us to come to the rescue.

LB decided it would be easier to thrust the tree into Moby’s rear-end rather than wrestle it to the roof.  She flung the rear doors open as Aubrey, Gabe, and I went to recover the tree. I didn’t realize Cleveland had so many friendly people; as we were dragging it across the on-ramp, so many folks beeped and waved as they sped past. I am not sure what or who they were saying was #1 though.

We trotted to the van, and began to jam the stupid thing in Moby’s open maw. If you have ever considered stuffing a pine tree into the back of a van, don’t do it. Trust me, it doesn't end real well.

The kids were providing forward motive power for the lousy bush while I was attempting to guide it between the captain’s chairs. At some point, the combined force of two overcame the calm, reasonable, analytical efforts of one. I found myself ensnared by the grasping tentacle branches of this vegetative monster, being pulled into Moby’s gaping rear.

Surely, I would have been lost, were it not for the back of my new leather jacket fortuitously snagging on a door hinge. With the gut-wrenching cry only ripping leather can emit, the brave jacket gave of itself to save me.

After much frenzied pushing, shoving, and cramming we got the bush from Sheol half-way in the van. We were encouraged by the cheerful honking and waving coming from the weaving vehicles passing us. We pulled the doors as closed as they would go, and then tied them securely with the remnants of the dental floss the lot guys had used, and went on our way. A snow squall roaring in off Lake Erie provided some additional levity.

Various events coursed through my mind;

The time I was on the platform at church and realized I had a pair of black and brown loafers at home perfectly matching the pair I was wearing…
The time I traveled to Florida for a week-long business trip on a Sunday evening. Imagine the smile of delight on my face come Monday morning when I discovered the only shoes I had were the deck-shoes  worn on the flight…

I recalled a business seminar in Chicago.  LB had accompanied me. Our plan was to meet with a friend at The Berghoff downtown. As I hurried along, saw what I thought was a hallway and did the old “bird-into-a-window” trick. Much like a bird’s, my beak was also broken.

LB and our friend were amused beyond words by the constantly changing colors of my nose and eyes. My heart was warmed to know I had provided them such joy.

My little mishaps also extend to the great outdoors. It is no secret that I am very fond of woods, mountains, and fields. My skill level is a very well kept secret. For example, while conducting a refresher course in black-powder for our son Gabe and son-in-law Eric, I decided to see if they were paying attention to the proper loading technique. I cleverly loaded in reverse order, placing the lead ball prior to loading the charge of powder. This was to test their powers of observation, which both young men failed miserably. The error was confirmed when the percussion cap "snap" was not followed by the rifle’s "boom".  They did learn the proper technique for tugging, yanking,and  pulling a stuck ball from the barrel of a muzzle-loading rifle.

I pulled my Jeep into the parking spot at work. I shook my head while chuckling at such a silly notion my family insists upon clinging to. I retrieved my coffee cup from the console between the seats. Bemusedly, I watched as the cup separated from the lid in my hands, splashing hot black liquid upon the console, the passenger seat, and my khakis.

You know…they may have a point after all.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

I Still Got It

The other day while straightening up from the drinking fountain at the office, a young co-worker asked if I tweeted.

Somewhat embarrassed, I told her I was sorry- at times sounds do emanate from me, but no one has ever used “tweet” as a descriptive adjective.

“No” she said. “Do you Twitter?”

The light began to raise much like a Cleveland morning on a gray February morning. It took a bit for me to decipher the new terminology. I mustered up my most suave Sean Connery/James Bond smile and Marty Feldman eyebrows, patted her paternally on the shoulder, “Well, I am very flattered, but I am very happily married to my Lovely Bride.”

She gave me a forlorn look, and stomped off.

Poor lass, she couldn't help it. She had simply become ensnared in the “Ol’ Hopkins Mystique”.

See, for as long as I can remember, females have been drawn to me. Not in a “whoa-check-out-that-guy” way; it is more of an “Awww-that-poor-guy” way. It is the same response as seeing a baby bird which has fallen from the nest. They take one look at me, and BAM… the whole nurturing, help the poor injured bird thing kicks in.

While I certainly don’t attempt such an image, it is just sort of there. There is something about either my expression or demeanor which causes people, particularly women, to assume I am either in distress or hopelessly lost.

I recall being a youngster shopping at the Super-Duper Market with my Mom. You may remember the type, with a staggering 8 or 10 aisles. She was down the cereal aisle from me, pondering which jar of Kretschmer’s Wheat Germ to purchase. I was transfixed by the image of Tony the Tiger exhorting the greatness of Sugar Frosted Flakes. My hope was Mom would pick up my telepathic message, ditch the Kretschmer’s, and stock up on Frosted Flakes.

However, my concentration was shattered by the strident, nasal voice of a matronly woman saying “Are you lost, little boy?” Little? For crying out loud, I was ten!

I tried to explain that my Mom was right there, I wasn't lost. My words fell upon deaf ears. This do-gooder tried to drag me off to the store manager, so he could blab over the loud speaker to the entire store about the little lost boy who wasn't.

Fortunately, Mom heard the commotion, calmly told the woman I was not lost, although I tend to look that way.

We returned home, I carefully hid the wheat germ behind the spare tire in her Pontiac Tempest, and then sought out a mirror. With two sisters, the search was pretty easy.

It only took about 10 seconds to realize the problem.

See, I used to wear these super thick, pop-bottle bi-focal glasses. It had to do with having been a preemie, getting cataracts, having cataracts removed…blah, blah, blah.

The result was these ridiculously thick things gave me a wide-eyed, deer-in-the- aircraft-landing-lights look. I perpetually had an expression of extreme shock and dismay on my face; even when laughing hilariously at the Pink Panther.

Add to the above effect the fact my physique (until my late teens) would make a stick-figure look beefy. To top it all off, I was about 5” taller than all my peers until about 10th grade when I quit growing, and they didn't.

All combined, the net effect was that of a baby bird which had tumbled from its nest.

Oh it attracted females alright. Typically the girls who wanted to be nurses, veterinarians, or social workers; they all wanted to help, help me find my parents, help me find my home-room, help me find a book at the library.

It was disgusting. All this attention and not a speck of it like the Man from U.N.C.L.E. got from women. Of course, at 10 I had no idea what to do if that were the case. I guess we would walk hand-in-hand to Connor’s Ice Cream parlor to get a hot dog and chocolate phosphate. For years, I lived with this particular albatross about my neck.

I bugged my parents about getting me these new things called “contact-less lenses”, which could be worn in the eye! What a country! But, they refused, saying my eyes were still growing. Looking in the mirror, I would think “Good grief! They get much bigger, I won’t have a face! I will just be a big pair of eyes walking around!”

However, toward the end of my Senior Year of High School, my dad relented. We went off to my old eye surgeon, Dr. Kazdan, to be fitted for lenses. Finally the big day came; the doctor carefully inserted the lenses in my eyes, I looked in the hand mirror presented to me…. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. “Halloo, Ladies.” My appearance improved dramatically. Adding about 40 pounds didn’t hurt anything either.

Except….my face must have gotten stuck in that “Help! I fell out of my tree!” look.

While not being quite so alien looking, I still found myself being approached by females wanting to help me.

Was I hungry? We could go get dinner, she’d buy.
Was I lost? I could go to their place.
I looked worried, would I like a nice back-rub?

I responded with my ingrained suaveness; 
No, I am not hungry. 
No, I live a couple blocks from here. 
No, I don’t want a back rub. Are you weird or what?

And so it went. No matter where I went; it got to be pretty depressing after awhile.
Which is why I am eternally grateful on the day I asked the future LB to go out, she didn’t act like I was in immediate need of assistance, she simply said “Sure!” ,with a giggle, her blue eyes sparkling.

 I chuckled as I thought of the young lady at the drinking fountain; poor thing.

Say, would anyone have any idea why HR is calling me??

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Baseball and Honor

My…. What a summer this has been. It seems this could be the “Summer of Nothing Really Monumental”;  yet so many things have happened.  

Let’s see… Ike turned a year old in April. Ike has been with us nearly 14 months. Mimi will be 11years old in a few weeks. There have been no devastating floods in town, despite there being some real gully-washing rainstorms. Bess, my old Jeep, rolled 200,000 miles. She now sports a commemorative Chrysler 200,000 Mile Club license plate frame.

Our oldest Grandchild turned 22, and the youngest one turned 4.  

Just for chuckles, the artery in my leg decided to narrow again, necessitating a return to the hospital. Fortunately, like most summer sequels, this was not as intense as last summer’s original release, and I was home the same day.

Yet, to paraphrase James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams: The one constant through all the years…, has been baseball.

My Lovely Bride and I have been very fortunate in that we have been able to attend several games of our own Lake County Captains.

Yes, I know they are a minor league team. Yes, I know they are part of the Cleveland Indians farm system. I know players may be here this week, and traded or moved up next week. None of that matters.

See, I love baseball.

The Caps are our hometown team. They are part of the fabric of our town, as integrated as the Chagrin River flowing through town, as constant as the waves of Lake Erie upon our shores. Recently, the relationship between town and team has vastly improved.

All of which leads to LB and me to standing in a line with several thousand of our BFFs for hours before the ball park gates open; in the hopes of being one of the fortunate 1,500 people to receive a Jobu bobble-head. 

For a primer of who Jobu is, search the film Major League. You will also see a much younger Charlie Sheen as well, albeit I can’t make any claims for his emotional state at this time period.

While I have no warm feelings whatsoever toward Jobu (in fact, my feelings are rather cool toward Jobu), I did have a purely capitalist reason for wanting one. LB and I determined we were going to sell that sucker for the best price we could get that night!

But, I digress

As we entered through the gate, after each receiving a Jobu, we were handed a program by none other than Peter Carfagna, owner of the team. I have never attended an Indians or Cavs or any other game where the owner was at the gate welcoming people. But, that is the type of man Peter is.

For Peter, owning a team is not a mere business venture. It is a passion of the man’s. He sees more than people at the turnstiles; he sees young children coming to their first real ball game. He sees loyal season ticket holders, many the same who bought packages for the Captain’s inaugural season in 2003.  He sees families coming out for an enjoyable evening.

Peter knows baseball is the great equalizer, the great unifier of America.

He also knows baseball truly is America’s sport; as much a part of our nation’s fabric as the myriad of cultures that make America who she is.

Peter also has a quiet, reserved respect for the sacrifice of our young men and women who volunteer to serve in our armed forces. Volunteer; think of that for a moment. We have no compulsory military service requirement.  We have no involuntary draft. Our service branches are made up of men and women who volunteer to put their lives on hold for a period of time to ensure our lives can continue in peace. 

Therefore, no matter if every ticket is sold, an empty seat will be at our stadium. A seat, located directly across from the main gate, overlooks the batter’s box and the start of the third base line. Black in color, it stands out from its royal blue companions. A chrome chain extends around this particular seat. As one draws near, the words “Reserved POW-MIA” are seen.  In partnership with Rolling Thunder, Peter and the Caps have ensured that while these unfortunate ones cannot be at the game, they yet have a place of honor.

Amongst the give-away, the Cleveland Sports heroes of the past signing autographs and the News-Herald’s prize wheel (hint; go to look for Captains August 1 prize wheel photos. You just might see yours truly and LB), there was a more somber moment.

The singing of the National Anthem was somewhat more special than usual this evening. A young Marine, a local boy, who had been killed in Iraq on August 1, 2005, it was his sacrifice, his memory, and in his honor the Anthem was sung that night.

The Men’s Chorus from this young patriot’s home church gathered about home plate, his father standing ram-rod straight in the second row. As the first notes were sung, from our seats 14 rows above the plate, the man’s tears could be seen coursing down his cheeks. The father of two Marines, he sung on; strongly and proudly.  

I stood, trying to choke out the words as thoughts of “What If?” ran through my mind. What if… our son’s submarine experienced an unforeseen hull failure while submerged? What if…his boat (yes, subs are referred to as “boats”) had suddenly, inexplicably gone missing? What if… being a rescue swimmer, he was lost while trying to save a shipmate? Any one of the hundreds of ways a person can lose their life at sea danced evilly in my mind. Would I be as steadfast as this man before us was?

The strains “… and the home of the brave” echoed into silence around the stadium.  The crowd remained standing as the giant flag was carried from the field by a score or so of local youngsters. The umpire called “Play ball!” and life continued.

As the game progressed, I would think of that empty seat above us. I would think of a young Marine, who gave his all that LB and I could enjoy a Summer’s evening without fear of terrorist attack. I thanked God for America, and for the American Spirit which still lives on.

Following a fireworks display, we rejoined our BFFs making their way to the parking lot.

The Caps had won 8-1.

Oh yeah… we sold the two Jobu bobble-heads.  

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Ninety Candles

Recently, my Lovely Bride and I had the privilege of attending a 90th birthday celebration. No, it was not mine, smarty-pants.  Frank, my boyhood friend’s father had attained this milestone. LB and I were part of an exclusive gathering made up primarily of family and close friends. Some, like me, Frank had known since our childhood.

What can be said about “Mr. E”? Of course, there are the usual vital statistics. He was born and spent his early years in Indiana. Due to the turns of life, the family moved to Ohio. A veteran of WWII and Korea, he returned to get his college degree, and became a lifelong educator. He was the lifelong husband to Marjorie, and proud father and grandfather; the typical grist for the obit pages.

Somehow, to merely do so would be a disservice to the man.

Frank came into my life vis a vis my friendship with Bill. For more background, take a look at “Old Friends”, December of 2013. Frank was amongst the cast of bleary eyed parents.

Being a school-teacher, his Saturday s were sometimes spent grading papers, working on lesson plans, or that most dreaded of all…report cards. Bill and I will never know how many times his concentration was shattered by the sound of a machine gun cutting loose, or a grenade crashing against the side of the house.
Occasionally, he would emerge from the smoking ruins of the German pillbox, or Japanese gun emplacement to exclaim “Hey, you two! Take the battle to the woods for awhile!”  Off to the Ardennes we would go, determined to push back the German offense in our lines.

Mr. E was one of those men who rarely became angry. I can only recall him raising his voice a couple of times. 

  One time, Bill and I had committed an atrocity of some sort. From our confines in the holding cell, we could hear muffled voices; Frank’s at a higher volume than Bill’s Mom’s. Occasionally, we would here “Frank, calm down. They are just boys.” About six months later, the cell door swung open. Setting our comic books on Bill’s bed, we looked at the jaded, cold-eyed guard who ushered the two of us toward the Prisoner Transport Vehicle.  We rode in silence to a court in a new jurisdiction. To me, it was much higher court; my parents.

Standing upon quaking legs, and with voices choked by terror, we offered our ineffective defense. Court was recessed, the accused were removed to the holding cell of my room while the Justices conferred.  After only a three month wait this time, we were hauled back before the bar of justice. The sentence came down; we were both forbidden to play Army (or any derivative thereof), and not to spend Saturdays together for a period of two weeks. We were then remanded to the custody of our respective jurisdictions.

Many years later, I was witness to one of Frank’s more amusing losses of his normal cool.

LB and I were married while I was in college. We lived in Northwest Ohio, at that time a fairly good area for upland bird hunting. It was December; Bill, Frank, and I were all on Christmas break, they came out to visit and hunt for a couple of days.

Dog, guns, and caffeine fueled hunters ventured out early for a nearby hunting area. As we drove along narrow township roads, Frank asked Bill to check the map. Since Bill was a senior at The Citadel, it seemed only logical his military training would be put to good use. Bill fumbled with the map for several minutes, with no success.

 Frank pulled the van over to the shoulder of the narrow road, while exclaiming; “Bleep of a bleep! The bleep-bleep Army hasn't changed since I was in it! Just like in Burma and Korea; the bleeping officers would stare at a map for half an hour and finally hand it to the sergeant! Give me that map!” Frank looked about our surroundings, glanced at the map, and dug his old compass from his shirt pocket.

 In less than a minute, he pointed at the paper; “Here, we are here. This is where we want to be. Here is how we get there.”, while tracing the route with his finger. “Think you can remember that, Lieutenant?” he asked as he flipped Bill the map.   Frank was a Technical Sergeant in Burma, and a Master Sergeant in Korea. With a shake of his head, he muttered “Officers!” and we continued on our way. 

There was one other time Frank was a little upset. I was not a witness, therefore, were I to relate the event; it would be merely hear-say. However, if you see or speak with Bill, you may want to ask him about “The Moon Over Mayfield Incident.”

Frank and Marge formed a very significant part of my life. When I was seven, my mother passed away. The tipping of this domino set an entire succession of not-so-great events in motion. During it all, Mr. and Mrs. E still had room in their hearts and lives for a kid who pretty much hated the world, and nearly everyone in it.
I am eternally grateful to them for looking beyond the anger and self-loathing to see who I could become. They played a large, though subtle, part in my coming to Christ so many years ago.

We stayed in touch over the years. Our young family would join them in Western Ohio at field dog trials. Frank is an accomplished dog trainer and handler, having finished several Bench and Field Champion Brittany Spaniels. The dog bug continues on, as Bill and his son Brett train and work Munsterlanders.

A friend of ours from high-school works in the same building I do. I ran into Harvey a few weeks ago, and mentioned Frank was turning 90. Without skipping a beat, he related that Frank let him borrow the family car to take his driver’s license test. That seemingly insignificant anecdote encapsulates who Frank is.

The years have slipped past, yet we have remained in contact. At Marge’s passing, we shared our sorrow. We have celebrated college graduations and marriages. 

Most recently, we celebrated 90 years of an impactful life, complete with 90 candles on the cake. That alone was something to behold. And, he blew them out with no help.

May you have many more to come, Mr. E. 

Friday, July 4, 2014


Occasionally, I hear a satirical radio commentator who begins his daily musing with “You know what makes me sick?”  The editorialist then launches into a diatribe regarding his peeve of the day.

Not wishing to be accused of plagiarism, do you know what makes me sick?

As of late (defined by the advent of the know-it-all internet), it seems that every time the National Anthem is played, at least one person will exclaim at the end “Did you know the tune is an old English drinking song?”. Typically, this tidbit of can’t-live-without information is delivered with an air of superiority balanced with utter disgust at such a lack of Yankee creativity

Before, all you could do was to roll your eyes and nod your head. Until now…

As we observe our Independence from England today, let’s take a look at a couple of American anthems.
The song “America” also known as “My Country ‘tis of Thee” is another one which gets a bad rap.  Invariably, there will be someone who proclaims; “The tune is the same as ‘God Save the King’!” And right you are. It is also the same tune as the German anthem “God Bless Our Native Land”. Let’s take a look at this song.

Samuel Francis Smith, a young student at Boston’s Andover Theological Seminary, had been asked by the well-known composer of the day; Lowell Mason, to translate several German song books. One number in particular had quite an impact upon Smith; “God Bless Our Native Land”, which, incidentally, was set to the melody of “God Save Our King”.

He then set about writing lyrics to an original American patriotic song.  “America” was first performed on July 4, 1831 by a Boston children’s choir.

Smith hoped to convey the history of America (“Land where my fathers died/Land of the Pilgrim’s pride”) as well as her natural beauty and wonder (“I love thy rocks and rills/ thy woods and templed hills”)
This song became a tremendous success, and was considered the unofficial anthem of the United States until 1931 when “The Star Spangled Banner” was adopted as such.

Which leads me to another song…

Most readers are familiar with the background for Francis Scott Key’s poem “Defense of Fort McHenry”. The British fleet had moved into Baltimore Harbor in September of 1814. They had just come from a rollicking good time (for them) of burning the United States Capital, the United States Treasury, and the President’s residence; along with major portions of Washington, D.C.  Feeling somewhat emboldened by their latest escapade, what better place to inflict insult and injury than to Baltimore?  Somehow or another, a friend of Key’s had been sequestered upon an English warship in Baltimore harbor. Key, in a effort to negotiate his friend’s release, asked to come aboard the British ship. After nearly a week of haggling, the English agreed to free Key and his friend.

 There was just one little hitch; the two Americans had become aware of the English plans to attack the fort, and thus the city. While technically free, they were interred aboard an American ship under British watch, until after the hostilities began. They were unable to communicate with the fort, as there were means to communicate. Perhaps they could have used pig-Latin with semaphore flags; “Atch-way the Itish-Bray” but the chances were the recipient would just think someone was goofing around with the flags.

On the night of September 13, 1814, the English warships opened fire upon Fort McHenry. From the vantage point of a ship’s deck, it appeared as though the fort was being reduced to rubble by shot and shell. Throughout the night, Key agonized over the fate of the fort, the city, and the young nation.

However, when dawn broke on September 14th, the star spangled banner still floated over the fort; not the English Union Jack.  The Americans had won the Battle of Baltimore. Key and his friend were free to go. He set his thoughts to poetic verse. It was then decided to adapt the lyrics to a popular song at the time known by either “Adams or Liberty”, or its original name “The Anacreontic Song” the official ballad of the Anacreontic Society.  At this point, the reader is slapping their forehead, while exclaiming “Of course! How silly of me to have not noticed that!”

The Anacreontic Society was an 18th Century organization of London’s doctors, barristers, bankers and such, who all shared the common interest of being amateur composers.  The melody is attributed to John Stafford Smith, who wrote the tune to fit lyrics penned by the Society’s president; Ralph Tomlinson. The compilation was completed in the mid 1760's.  Due to the catchy tune, and ribald lyrics, the song soon outgrew the confines of the Anacreontic Society.

Other lyrics were set to the melody, both in Europe and America. One Robert Treat Paine composed the immensely popular “Adams and Liberty” to the tune in 1798.  This work consists of 10 verses of Colonial English, with awkward contractions and verb tenses. It is most definitely an ADD sufferer’s nightmare.

Before lam-blasting Paine, Key and Smith for having an utter lack of creativity and disregard for another’s compositions, let us consider the time in question. Songs and music were spread primarily through performances. Once in a while, one song writer would mail a composition to a trusted fellow musician.
There were no iPods, no radio, no MP3 players. There was no “Ben Franklin’s America’s Top 40” being broadcast from downtown Philadelphia. That most rudimentary machine for playing recorded music, the Victrola, did not exist at that time.

Music was carried from cities to towns to hamlets by travelers. These songs would be played and sung at community gatherings, church services, and most commonly; in the local tavern. Before we cast a critical eye at such a gathering place, taverns and public houses (“pubs”) served as the news gathering places of the day.
Before CNN and Headline News, before Fox , text and Twitter and all the other information disseminating venues, if you wanted to know what was shakin’ in the ‘hood, you went to the tavern.

In fact, that proudest of fighting forces, the United States Marine Corps, was birthed at Tun Tavern, on Water Street in Philadelphia. There, on November 10, 1775, Captain Samuel Nicholas began recruiting to fill “two battalions of Marines.”

But, I digress.

Setting words to melody is a very effective means of learning. Recite the alphabet aloud, do you hear the song in your mind?

Given the time and place, what better way to spread a new song but to use an existing melody?
The song “America” as set to a tune a nation of former British subjects would know; “God Save the King” Also, America was obtaining large numbers of Germanic immigrants, who would also recognize the tune.

With Key’s “The Star Spangled Banner”, again, it was put to a well known melody.  It is amusing to wonder if John Smith was somewhat flattered and chagrined to learn his tune was becoming more famous as a patriotic song for a former colony. One can only imagine what his reaction to Jimi Hendrix’ rendering of his composition would have been.

On this day, eleven score and eight-teen years after our fore-fathers set forth a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all Men are created equal; LET FREEDOM RING

May God continue to Bless America.

Monday, June 23, 2014

First Day of Summer

The first day of Summer was the other day, from an astronomical perspective. We have already reached 90 degrees, with a zillion percent relative humidity a couple of times; so from a meteorological perspective a calendar date is somewhat ho-hum.
At times such as this, writers extol the merits, joys, and delights of the season. This ain't one those.
Recently, I have been making some observations. Oh, I know, there are the usual run-of-the-mill observations we all make. Such as cats chase birds, dogs chase cats, angry cat-owners chase dogs. Things like when the needle on the fuel gauge drops about a quarter inch below the “E”, your vehicle will soon cease to function. You know, the little things such as testing 15 year old black powder by pouring some into a small pile and proceeding to drop a lit match on top, producing a POOF of flame and smoke. Perhaps the singed eye-brow look will make a come back soon. (NOTE TO SELF: there is no expiration date on black powder). These are just the normal observations of Life.
I have been noticing some BIGGIES.
For example, did you know people with OCD tend to do things in a certain manner? I am OCD, and never noticed this until grocery shopping one Saturday with my Lovely Bride.
As we meandered aimlessly about the store, placing various items in our cart, I was making a concerted effort to have some semblance of order. You know, the fresh produce over here, the eggs and other dairy go there, canned items have their place, cereals here... a very simple, straight forward approach. What does the woman do?
She grabs stuff from the shelves or the freezer section and chucks it anywhere!
Good Grief! I was appalled to see her toss a bag of frozen peas right on top of a bunch of bananas! Then, without a moment's care or concern, she plopped a bag of frozen broccoli on the peas!
Frantically, I moved these intruders to their proper space, when-WHAM- a box of waffles lands on the canned tomatoes!
My word, our cart was transformed from order to utter chaos within the length of the freezer section! Frozen fish for making dog-food was nestled by the butter. Mixed vegetables were cuddling with the cottage cheese. Somehow the London broil had slipped its moorings with the other meat and was getting cozy with a bunch of curly parsley.
Thankfully, the eggs were spared these indignities, being nestled in the kid's seat. They and the blueberries gazed upon the turmoil below with a sympathetic “there but for the Grace of God” expression.
I abandoned all attempts to restore order somewhere near the deli. I forced myself to repress the disturbing images; which is a classic coping mechanism, knowing the check-out line would offer a chance to set things aright.
I simply trailed LB, all the while in a near catatonic state. I cringed upon witnessing the atrocity of bathroom tissue being plopped atop the eggs and berries. I agonized in silence for the peaches when a miscreant jar of Vap-O-Rub tumbled upon them.
Finally, the check-out lanes beckoned; gleaming with their promise of Hope, Order and Decorum. Like the New World must have appeared to Columbus, they danced upon my sight.
With a great sense of relief, I began to happily arrange items in their proper spots; produce with produce (subdivided by type), cans with cans, frozen items with their kin and so on. I only regret there not being time enough to have all the can labels facing the same way. But....
Reality descended upon me. THUMP!! THUMP! BANG!! My Lovely Bride was-get this now- TOSSING stuff all OVER the moving belt!! I gave her an imploring look while whispering “Please, I can do it.”
Our private moment was shattered by the most grating of laughs. Looking up, I saw a Neanderthal man actually encouraging her! “Har-har-har! There you go, Lady! Just throw that bleep on there! Har-har-har!” Good grief.. talk about waving red in front of a bull! She giggled, all the while commencing to render my neatly arranged belt to a state of total dis-organization.
I could only stand by in stunned silence. I liken it to seeing a train-wreck, you don't want to watch, but you are too mortified to look away. I stifled a sob as canned good mingled with the lettuce and frozen fish.
Finally, we loaded our bags and left this chamber of horrors behind us. We headed to the safety and comfort of our home. I tried to ignore the cries of outrage and despair emanating from the bags in the back of the SUV.
I am making fairly rapid progress now. I can talk about the incident without hyperventilating . The prognosis is positive.

My therapist feels I will be able to enter a grocery store again before Summer is over.