THEY'VE MADE LIFE FULLER

If a person lives long enough, he can find himself smack dab in the middle of bunches of different folks. With a little luck, he might even build relationships and friendships with folks in those groups. From first grade to retirement, those people make meaningful impacts on our lives. 
Elementary school was a scary time for lots of us, especially those children who had spent most of their early years confined to their yards with occasional trips to church. My first cousin, Brenda Balch, was in my classroom that first day, and I was glad to see a familiar face. Before long, I’d made friends with Steve Buffalo, Cathy Prater, and others. Those three were much smarter than I was, and they always sat in the advanced reading group. However, at recess, all of us were equal.  
A group of grubby boys formed in our Ball Camp neighborhood. My brother Jim and I spent hours playing football and baseball in one of the yards. Among those boys were Joey Wallace, Pat Wright, Tommy Robinson, Clebert Roberts, and Steve Ritter. It seemed that part of each game was spent with a couple of boys fighting, but no one ever held a grudge too long. Regardless of the fits of anger, we were good buddies and stayed that way for years.  
Of course, high school is where some memorable groups were formed. I was never an athlete, so, for a couple of years, my time was spent as the manager for the football team. Wayne Pearman, Carl and “Spud” Weatherspoon, Wayne Norman, Mike Hill, Mike Guinn, and Joe Kennedy were just a few of the players that became friends. Those guys were heroes back in the day as they won plenty of ball games and county championships.  
During my senior year, I left football for band. Since my mother had sold my cornet to buy a better clarinet for my brother (he was a serious musician), I became a band manager. We went to football games and marching competitions. In that organizations, I made some of the best friends of my life. Ken Mills, Mark Large, Randy Allen, along with Jim, formed a close-knit group that enjoyed hours of fun, legal and illegal, during that year. Today, I still count them as close friends, even though we see each other rarely.  
I made no real friends in college, other than my wife, whom I began dating my senior year. However, during the year I began my first teaching job, I developed friendships that still are precious. Bob Shoemaker was the closest friend, but plenty of other folks were in that circle. Linda Lyle and John Gilbreath were two fellow English teachers. We ate lunch most days in the tea room where culinary arts students prepared and served food. Jim Pryor, Bobby Campbell, Jim Talley, and Robby Howard walked to the baseball field every day during lunch. There we smoked or chewed tobacco and “shot the bull.” 
At Karns High School, I joined an even larger circle of friends. Terri Runger was my next-door friend for more than twenty years. Amy Jennings became like a daughter to me. Dwight Smith, Dowell Bales, Geoff Davis, Lee Henson, and a whole bunch of other guys sat in the commons area each morning. There we talked about sports and funny stories from classrooms. The major topic of discussion one day each week was the matches that aired on WWE.  
Yes, this column has listed lots of names, but I’m sure I’ve omitted some important ones. The point of the whole thing is that I’ve been blessed with being a part of several groups over my life. The people in them have made my life fuller and for that I am eternally grateful. Yes, I have much to be thankful for this and each Thanksgiving.  

IRRITATING WORDS

I taught English for 30 years. During that time, I corrected students’ grammatical mistakes and writing errors. Sometimes, they filled essays with flowery language or words which they couldn’t define. While I always believed that expanding a student’s vocabulary was a worthwhile endeavor, I refused to allow the person to write in ways that made understanding content difficult. Today’s business world is paving the way to vagueness through its adoption of buzz words that are unnecessary.  Some of their words drive me nuts. 
The first one is “transition.” People transition from one job to another; departments transition from one type of software to another; students even transition from one school to another. It hasn’t been that long ago that we used a different word: “changed.” That word works just as well as transition, but I suppose that changing doesn’t sound as sophisticated or technical as transitioning.  
Today’s world is caught up in “experience.” At least it seems that way. Many companies are interested in improving a customer’s buying experience. I’ve listened to recordings that ask if I would participate in a survey about my customer service experience. In my opinion, any time I have to spend time on the phone to listen to a recording instead of talking to a human, my “experience” is going to be rated poorly. Do companies think that using “experience” will in anyway improve the time I spend with them or their representatives? It “ain’t” happening! 
Businesses have decided that they need to “reach out” more. They do so with customers, employees, and other companies. Taken literally, “reach out” means to extend or stretch out. I don’t need a company to stretch out to me. Instead, executives and company spokespersons might try “contacting” those people and entities that important to them.  
The news media is always analyzing things. When that happens, someone will state that she is “unpacking” the information behind a story. Sometimes they will work to “pull the threads” of breaking news. To them, I would say that what they are presenting is the news. One of their goals is to present information objectively; they want to give the facts. When stories are important, reporting them by analogies and figurative language is of no value. To the contrary, adding such things weakens stories. As Joe Friday used to say, “Just the facts ma’am.” Better words for what they do are “analyze” or “examine.” 
I’m also more than a little tired of all the made-up words coming at the public. A reporter talking about the fires in California referred to “flamage.” The meaning is actually “vitriolic arguments or rants in email messages.” What the reporter was discussing was the wall of flames spreading across the hills in the area.  
Another practice today is adding “ing” to nouns to make them verbs. “Gifting” is an especially irritating word. These days, some folks are engaged in “conversating.” Folks seem to think it is all right and correct to add the suffix to any words that they choose and that they will sound correct and intelligent. Sorry, folks, such use shows an ignorance of the English language.  
Yes, I’m old and cranky; some call me a “grammar Nazi.” Perhaps I am, or possibly, I am a person who knows that the more times the rules of language are broken, the more difficult it is to learn. We have plenty of words in the language, and room is available for the new ones that name a process or item. We just don’t need people making up ones willy-nilly because they are deficient in grammatical skills.  

OUR HEADS ARE SPINNING

I’m not about to enter an argument about the benefits of technology in our lives. That argument would be voided by the fact that I’m using the thing about which I rail to write my rant. So, instead of downing these wonders of modern life, I’ll recall how we managed to live without them for so many years. 
I took typing in high school. Everyone told me I’d need the skill for completing papers in college. What proved
to be my downfall was the inability to type fast. My manual dexterity was limited, and I fumbled with the keys on the typewriter. It felt as if I were pounding the keys instead of skillfully striking them.  
At the same time, I panicked whenever the class took a timed test. Typewriters on either side of me sang as students zipped words across pages. On the other hand, the sound from my machine was more of an uneven series of “clacks,” followed by backspacing to type over mistakes or insert omitted letters.  
These days, I spend hours on a keyboard to complete columns. Yes, I still struggle with my “typing skills,” but corrections are much easier to make now. Striking the keys is also much easier, and corrections are much completed with little trouble; no need for whiteout is needed, and programmed layouts give us much
better-looking documents. Many documents of today are printed out to paper for submission. We could have produced the same information we need back thenbut in much smaller amounts and much larger time frames 
In a different lifetime, the search for information was often cumbersome. If our families fell prey to door-to-door salesmen, we owned a set of encyclopedias. The smell of the new, slick pages of those volumes filled the air as we spent hours thumbing through pages. The photos were wonderful, and we took in plenty of unnecessary bits about unimportant topics.  
Other ways of gathering information also kept us busy. All students in college owned a dictionary. Correct spelling sometimes proved to be a chore when a person tried to find an oddly spelled word. At other times, research papers required students to travel to libraries. There, they searched the card catalog or the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature for things that helped develop research topics. Copies of pages were a nickel each, but they were necessary in order to work at home.  
The Internet drowns us with information. We can find the facts on almost any topic that comes to mind by simply typing in a couple of words. The most difficult task we face is limiting a search to the exact information we need. 
Most families owned a camera. Some were compact, while others were Polaroids that produced instant photos or more advanced ones that required picture takers to set f-stops and other things. Then rolls of film were taken to a store for developing. Folks paid for all those photos, whether they were masterpieces or goofs.  
Our cell phones take photos now. People whip them out and capture images of events, faces, and even plates of food. They are saved on the phone or stored on the cloud. People have thousands of pictures, many of which contain images nothing of significance.  Yes, technology has improved our lives. For many, it frees up time to do more important things, such as surfing the webplaying video games, or texting. For some of us, the overload of information, entertainment, and trivia is more than we ever expected...or wanted. Our heads are spinning.  

A LITTLE LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS

It’s been another hard week for us in the USA. Impeachment inquiries continue, Mick Mulvaney confirmed the “quid pro quo” before trying to deny it, and US troops abandoned the Kurdish allies in Syria. We’re reeling from the bad news, and some feel downright depressed at the way our country is going.  
I’m one who has serious worries about what is going on. To my detriment, much of my time is spent watching news; that always leads to feeling down and out. However, sometimes something occurs that makes things just the least bit brighter. 
Some programs on television include a “feel good story” with each airing. Just the other day, “Sunday Morning” showed a segment about a stepdad and son. The man had been a part of the son’s life from age five. Now he plays college football, and to honor his “dad,” the athlete had the man’s name sewn on his jersey in place his own. The stepdad was speechless, and the embrace and the tears that followed had viewers every bit as teary-eyed.  
Former NFL player Warwick Dunn has quietly given 145 single parents houses. His charity works with Habitat for Humanity to reward deserving folks, but the entire program is kept below the radar. It’s refreshing to hear about someone who performs large acts of kindness
without making sure the press is covering it. Just being interested in giving to others and sharing his wealth seem to be Dunn’s motives. That reinforces my faith in humanity.  
An Oregon high school coach saved the life of a mentally-disturbed student who brought a gun to school. Keanon Lowe grabbed the weapon from the student, but instead of attacking the boy, the man hugged him and later sat down in the hallway with the boy until law enforcement officers arrived. In short, the coach probably saved the life of the student. He also kept an officer from having to choose whether or not to take the life of the boy.  
Somehow, our pets seem to know when our hopes are low or our moods are blue. I can fret about the direction our country is traveling and can let foul feelings take over my mood. My dog Sadie senses those “down times” and takes action. She’ll jump up on the couch and nudge her head at my legs until I raise the recliner. Then she curls between my legs and lays her head on my shin. I begin to pet her, and before I’m aware, the low tide of feelings is gone. An even keel and contentment with being quiet and still takes over. Just being with Sadie is enough.  
The coming weeks will be filled with more news about bad things in our country and in the world. We’re in that kind of cycle right now. However, I still believe that more good people than bad people exist in this life. We all need to put more effort into performing those acts of kindness that uplift others and ourselves. That can be called finding “our better angels.” At the same time, we can learn from those animals who are like family members to us. They teach us to just live and love unconditionally. If we can do those things, a little light will shine in the darkness.