MEMORIES OUT WITH THE FLOOR

The week before Christmas and the one during the holiday, workers completed laying new flooring in our house. They tore up the first-generation laminate stuff and replaced it with much sturdier, prettier flooring. I watched Matthew, Randy, Tyler, and Jimmy carry armloads of the stuff and toss the scrap into the back of a
pick-up truck; it took at least three trips to haul the old flooring to the dump. I caught myself thinking about what that old covering had seen over its lifetime in our home. 
Twenty years ago, the kids were still at home. They padded around the house in socks or on bare feet. Sometimes the house almost shook when Lacey would stomp from the kitchen to her bedroom after another argument she and I had back then. The slower paced lumbering of Dallas echoed down the hall as he made his way to his bed after a baseball game or workout.  
Throughout its entire life, that floor covering felt the quick steps of my wife as she shuffled from bedroom to bathroom to kitchen each morning before leaving the house for work. It even felt the thump of my heavy feet as I made my way to the outside to leave for work or to complete a long list of tasks outside.  
The manufacturer promised that the laminate would hold up for years and wouldn’t scratch. Such are the product claims as merchandisers try to convince customers. In fact, the floor did hold up well, but across the years, it took some terrible punishment that eventually showed on the surface. For 13 years, our Jack Russell Terrier, Snoop, spent much of his time on that floor. As a pup, he would chase a ball thrown from the family room and across the living room. His attempts to come to sudden stops were never successful, and little paws failed to keep him from thumping into the wall. His claws swatted at the floor as he tried to gain traction.  
Snoop let us know when he needed to go outside. He’d bark and jump until I’d get up and let him outside. However, because the dog was a male, he had a natural instinct to mark his territory. We lifted his leg to christen table legs, the base of a couch, and corners of rooms. We always tried to find his targets, but seeing them was sometimes difficult against a light-colored floor. His offerings sometimes cause a dulling of the finish of the floor. 
I never like to leave a room in the same order for too long. Over the years, I’ve also moved my desk and belongings from one room office to another. Help wasn’t available, so the bigger items I scooted on blankets to new locations. That saved the finish of the floor, but sometimes, the weight of an item broke the laps between pieces, and that left gaps in the floor or areas where the pieces would bend.  
I’ve worked to keep the flooring as clean as possible. We installed a vacuum system several years ago, and it has helped keep dust and dog hair to a minimum. I’ve used a variety of cleaners on the surfaces as well. Most of them appear glossy until I see a certain angle that reveals spots that have been missed. Eventually, nothing would clean well enough or cover the scuff marks and scratches and years of wear. 
Our new flooring is a much heartier product. At least that’s what the experts say. I’m not sure about the claim, but the house looks so much nicer with a new floor. I hope it lasts, but I probably won’t be around for the next twenty years to see if it has been as good as the old flooring, and if I am, I won’t much care. One thing is for sure: this new stuff won’t have anywhere close to the number of tales to tell. Our family did a lot of living on the old floor. 

AN UNEXPECTED TURN OF EVENTS

Last week, I didn’t send in a column for the paper. Christmas was a hectic time for us, even more so than in years gone by. We planned to have new flooring laid in our house sometime around Thanksgiving, but a three-week delay in the product delivery meant the guys installing the stuff arrived the week before Christmas. They finished the job the day after Christmas.  
Because of the workers presence, the removal of old flooring, the moving of furniture and “stuff, and a thick layer of dust from cutting the boards, Amy and I decided not to put a tree up or put out any Christmas items. Yes, that was a bummer as the holiday just didn’t feel right.  
We left for Gallatin to spend the holiday with our daughter and her family and our son. We arrived the Saturday before Christmas and were thankful to be out of the hubbub occurring in our house. Lacey contacted us on Sunday morning to let us know that grandson Madden was at the Urgent Care facility in Huntsville, Alabama, where her in-laws live. He tested positive for not only strep-throat but also the flu. We waited to see if he might feel better in a couple of days but then decided that we’d return to Knoxville on Christmas Eve. Our son Dallas spent Christmas with us. It was the first time in about 15 years that Amy and I have been in our home for the holiday.  
Christmas was strange. I missed my daughter; it’s the first time we haven’t been together on that special day. We talked, but I certainly ached to have her around. I missed Madden too. It was the first Christmas we haven’t spent with him as well.  
What I learned from this holiday season is that the most important ingredient to a good holiday season is “flexibility.” Families face all sorts of changes during this time of year. Sometimes flights are delayed or canceled. Maybe a winter storm hits and keeps folks from traveling to other cities or states to spend Christmas with families. Illness, minor or major, can also separate families during the most anticipated day of the year.  
In any of those cases, people are disappointed, even broken hearted. Still, they have to figure out how to make the best of a not so perfect situation. That means enjoying the folks who are present. It also means that Christians celebrate the birth of a savior that symbolized the complete love of God.  
Nobody ever expects things to derail, especially on Christmas. However, they will. The time will come when one of the persons we love so much is no longer with us. A pall is cast during the holiday, but we owe our other family members and friends the same love and joy that they've enjoyed for so many years.  
If snow blocks our paths, we must adapt and share a wonderful holiday with those who are with us. Isn’t that part of the message of Christmas anyway? 
Amy and I missed Lacey and Madden and Nick, but we enjoyed time with Dallas and being home for the first time in years. I hope that many more special days lie ahead and that I can spend them with my family and friends. Either way, I learned this year to be flexible and to adapt. It didn’t kill me, even though I always thought that a break with traditions would sure bring an end to the world.  

IT'S TRADITIONS THAT MAKE THINGS SPECIAL

Merry Christmas! I hope yours will be a fabulous one. As far as I’m concerned, any Christmas spent with loved ones is good. Maybe the gifts aren’t just right, or maybe “the little lights are twinkling,” but the traditions that we all follow each year give us plenty of reasons to be happy and smile, at least for one day.  
A couple of days before the big day, Amy and I will celebrate our 45th anniversary. Yes, I wonder as well how or why she’s put up with me all these years. Then, we’ll make plans for traveling to family for Christmas day.  
Our holiday will be a bit different. We purchased new flooring for the house, and because of shipping problems, the stuff won’t arrive until a few days before Christmas. All the furniture and those boxes and items that are stowed under beds or closet floors must be moved. I’ve completed the second part of the chore, but for the life of me, I don’t know where to move things like couches, dressers, or beds.   
Because of the hubbub, we aren’t putting up a Christmas tree. That’s an automatic bummer, but worse would be breaking all our special ornaments when we move the tree from one spot to another. Amy also decided not to set out all the other Christmas decorations. I miss them as much as the tree because the festive air they bring is absent.  
Finding the right gifts isn’t as easy as it used to be. In the early days of our marriage, I came up with some truly creative ones. One was an old cedar chest that I refinished. Another was a new rocking chair that I stained and sealed before Lacey’s arrival the following April. On some Christmases I even dared to pick out clothing items, but I was also smart enough to keep the receipts. Yep, most of the things were exchanged, but that was okay.  
I’m in charge of finding things to go in stockings. It’s a challenge to find a few new things each year, but the traditional items still appear. Everyone receives a pair of fingernail clippers each year. I’ve also given tire gauges and dental floss. One of the most popular items was de-icer for windshields. The kids parked outside and appreciated not having to use a scraper to remove frost and ice in the mornings.  
I’ve already watched “Charlie Brown Christmas” and “Rudolph.” I’m looking forward to “White Christmas” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.” When the whole family gets together, we’ll sit down one evening for a viewing of the uncut version of “Christmas Vacation.” Because we all know most of the dialogue, we’ll say things to each other like “Can’t see the lines, can you, Russ” or “Lot of sap,” and we’ll laugh as if it were the first time we’ve heard those words.  
We’ll all eat too much and need naps on Christmas afternoon. Then, we’ll gather one more time to eat too much again so that our misery drives us to bed early. A couple of days later, Amy and I will pack up our stuff and Sadie, our dog, and make the trip back home. With a little luck, the floor will be finished by then. If not, our New Year celebration might be a bit cockeyed as well.  

CHEAP TEMPTATIONS

Young folks have always faced plenty of temptations in life. They are things that help individuals to live and choose and learn. Sure, not having to face temptations would make existence easier, but without them, persons don’t have the chance to mature and strengthen themselves into the solid individuals that they become. I won’t advocate for any person to fall prey to these temptations, but I acknowledge that most people will at some time in their lives experiment with them.  
Back in the 1960’s and 1970’s, the most common tempting agents were tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana. For many of us, the third one was too expensive, and we didn’t have any idea where to get the stuff if we had wanted to. Also, some of us were so afraid of being imprisoned for smoking weed that we chose to stick other things.  
Lest anyone forget, cigarettes are things that stimulate. Nicotine acts as both a stimulant and depressant. Anyone who’s tried smoking quickly discovers that it is “an acquired” habit. The first few puffs from a cigarette provide a hit that quickly enters the body and makes the person dizzy-headed and nauseated. Only with practice can a teen become a good smoker who inhales smoked filled with all sort of nasty stuff that will lead to a variety of health issues. In only a short time, however, a smoker is hooked and becomes a slave to nicotine, so much so that he can go only short periods of time before having to have a smoke break.  
Back in the last century, many of us smoked. I don’t know why we started, other than to look cool, but we did. I rarely ate lunch in high school. Instead, I bought a 30-cent pack of Winstons and filled my lungs instead of my stomach. The smoking pit was a rough place sometimes, but that didn’t cause us hardcore smokers to avoid it. Even in the rain, we dashed there between classes to get a couple of hits from a smoke.  
Beer was another big temptation for us back then. Schlitz, Budweiser, and Miller were around. However, we had limited funds and looked for bargain beer. For us Pabst Blue Ribbon, PBR, fell within our budget. We’d pool our money, buy a case, and put it in the trunk. Many were the nights that friends spent sipping on lukewarm cans of beer while sitting at the drive-in movie. We drank, looked over at cars with fogged windows, and wished that we, too, could spend time with a date instead of a beer.  
At some point that I don’t quite remember, some of us became wine connoisseurs. Our attention turned from drinking the swill that always bloated us and eventually had us “howling at the moon.” Our mature and discriminating tastes turned to those blends that pleased the palate. Yes, friends, I’m talking about none
other than Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill. Oh, other flavors, such as Apple Blossom and Mellon Ball might have been available, but we wine snobs chose what we considered the original, and it only cost about a dollar and a half.  My first encounter, and my last, with that wine came as I sat in the backseat of a Ford Fairlane at the Twin Aire Drive-In Movie that was located on the property where the Clinton Highway Walmart now sits. As I watched “Alice’s Restaurant,” I sipped from the bottle with a screw-on lid, and before long, it was empty. I made it through the first half of bottle two before experiencing a life-altering event.  
The world around me began to spin. Waves of nausea rushed over me. The rest of the evening found me yacking up my stomach, liver and small intestine. The next day I awoke with a headache that must paralyzed me. Not until the following day did I have enough energy to do anything but lie around.  
The wine adventure ended my alcohol consumption and lasted throughout my college years. Yes, I know that sounds strange, but I had no desire to ever be that sick again. Today, I might drink a beer with a meal, but I’ve forever sworn off wine...of any kind. I learned my lessons and have done away with the temptations of smoking and becoming inebriated. I sure don’t miss the spinning bed and a hacking cough that came with those cheap temptations.