A SMOOTHER JOURNEY

The older I grow,  the more I come to realize that life resembles a ride on the biggest roller coaster in existence, and it’s a ride that travels much too fast for my taste. Those rides that make stomachs rise to throats and frazzle nerves aren’t things I find particularly fun; more my style is a slow moving boat on a waterway that flows through an amusement park’s grounds. Nevertheless, as long as folks take breath on this planet, they’ll encounter the highs and lows that come with each day. The ways they handle those lows that come determine what kind of lives they will have.

We all will face disappointments in life. They occur when events don’t match expectations. Yep, we often set ourselves up for disappointments when we are unrealistic about life. Dreaming is not a bad thing. Thoureau stated, “"If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be.”He then added, “Now put the foundations under them.” Too often we skip that second part and then wonder why things didn’t work out.

Sometimes our disappointments are the end results of losses. We might lose jobs that provided us with the security we need in life. We go from the happiness of employment and the benefits it brings to the fear of uncertainty. Maybe we lost the job because of re-organization of a company. It might have occurred due to poor performance, or perhaps office politics lowered the boom as a higher-up chose us to take the fall for his incompetence.

The loss of a loved one through death or divorce can drop us to our knees. We wonder what could have been done to stop our partners from leaving. We punish ourselves for not spending enough time with the person who has passed. Many people cry out in anger and simply ask “Why?” The height of frustration swallows us when no answer comes.  

One action during the down times is to make every effort to correct problems. An individual can look to himself for answers of how he contributed to the situation. That self-examination might lead to the discovery that actions or attitudes contributed to the negative results. If that’s the case, he must decide if a personal change is worthwhile.

Sometimes, a person investigates those downturns in life too much. He wonders why things happen; he worries that something wrong within himself has caused the problem. Fretting over disappointments or events in uncontrollable situations accomplishes nothing. At some point, beating up oneself is unproductive and excessive.

The truth of the matter is that at times there is nothing any of us can do to “fix it.” Our abilities to heal, mend, or understand run out. It is at those moments that we can look outside ourselves. We can call on a power greater than we are. Yes, our prayers go up for help or understanding. Then we turn loose of those things completely. That’s the hard part. We just can’t stand not being in control, even if we can do nothing to change things.But if we step out and take that leap of faith, we might just be surprised how things turn out.
The good lord wants the best for all his children. He will shoulder the unbearable; He will take on the worry; He will lay out a new path that is better. Our jobs are to simply get out of His way. That means waiting for His time, not our own. Doing so might be the most difficult task. When that brick wall  of conflict appears, we surely can’t run  through it, so why not let it go?  


No, I don’t mean to preach. It’s just that in the last few years, I’ve faced such things, and I’ve eventually asked for help with them. It came in ways that I didn’t expect, and I’m grateful. My roller coaster ride then became a smoother journey.
   



STEAMED KITCHEN WINDOWS

This time of year always makes me sit back and think about times gone by. I grow a bit nostalgic, and just a fleeting thought can fill my eyes with tears.

The weather cools too quickly for my aching joints, but years ago, it never bothered me a lick. We boys in the neighborhood would arrive home from school, change into our old play clothes and shoes, and let the screen door slap the jam as we ran to the side yard for a game of tackle football. Games lasted until dark. We’d stop only when the call “Supper” drifted out of doors in the neighborhood. We swept off the dust with our hands and rubbed grass-stained knees before turning toward our houses. It was a sad time because we knew that night would swallow the rest of the day and deny us more plays of glory until the next afternoon.

Even though fingers and toes numbed from the drop in the temperature, we boys were covered in sweat from the game. The smell from a young boy is a mixture of dirt, exertion, and hormones. Feet proved to be so smelly that shoes were required until bath time. We quenched our thirst during those epic football battles with water straight from the hose. The taste of plastic flavored the water, but no one care; it still revived us enough to continue the game.

When Jim and I walked toward the door that opened into a hall next to the kitchen, we noticed that the windows were steamed. That was the sign that supper was cooking and almost on the table. No matter what the menu included, we were always ready and willing to eat. To the right of the door was a huge oven, an oversized appliance that could cook six pies at a time. The same pots with which Mother began housekeeping sat on eyes of the stove. They’d hold such things as stewed potatoes, hominy, soup beans, and corn. Another vessel would be filled with meat or spaghetti and sauce.

At the far end of the room sat a large round oak table. Chairs surrounded it, and as soon as we sat, the warning not to lean back in them greeted us. Plates and silverware were set and ready for the onslaught of three brothers who could devour all the prepared food and still be hungry. A large glass of milk was poured for each of us, and they would be filled again midway through supper. Mother warned us to hold our forks correctly and not to use them as shovels.

The best thing in that kitchen was Mother. She sat upon her S&H green stamp stool, and in front of her were a cup of cold coffee, a pack of cigarettes, and a pad and pen. While she
yakked on the phone, her right hand pushed a pencil as she drew doodles that covered the page. On that stool, she found the first rest she’d had after a day of teaching, cooking, washing, and cleaning for her family. She never uttered the first complaint.  

After supper came time for homework and baths. We’d sit on the edge of the tub as the water ran and splash it in an effort to make Mother believe we were washing ourselves. Sometimes we were caught and sent back to “do it again.” We donned pajamas, watched a little television, and then made our ways to bed.

The outside temperatures quickly cooled the block and plaster walls. We curled up underneath quilts that our Mamaw had made. They warmed our bodies, and we drifted off to sleep.


Those were good times, but I don’t want to go back. I love my life now, my wife and family and friends. Still, I miss those carefree times. I also miss Mother and my brother and several of the boys with whom I grew up. This evening I’m going to walk down to the yard where so many football games took place and just spend some quiet time remembering. I’ll look on my way back inside my house to see if the windows are steamed.

THANKFUL FOR WHAT I DON'T HAVE

Yes, it’s Thanksgiving time again. The world has spun around the sun and brought us once again to a day during which we count our blessings. We are supposed to pause for a moment to reflect upon the things for which we are grateful. This year, however, I’ve decided to list what I’m thankful NOT to have.
First off, I am immensely thankful that I no longer have the presidential election with which to keep up. You see, I’m a political junkie, and for the past two years I’ve had a daily fix of the lead stories from both sides. I rise early to view the latest news on “Good Morning Joe” and CNN. Now the election has been held, and a selection has been made. I’m now free to turn my attention and concern to much more important things, such as spending time with my wife, catching up on my reading, or raking and mowing mountains of fallen leaves.
Along the same lines, I’m thankful that I don’t have to run this country. Why anyone would want to be the President of the United States is beyond me. The decisions to be made come in waves each and every day. It’s a job where the person is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t take a certain action. I have enough difficulty taking care of my life; being responsible for the well-being of millions more is too much. Look at presidents when they take office and then leave it. In a short time, they’ve aged far too quickly. Besides, the pay scale for the job isn’t that grand.
I am thankful not to have to worry about my children’s education. Lacey and Dallas have graduated from college and are established in their careers. I am glad that they aren’t part of the public school system as it exists these days. The pressure on students to excel and make all A’s is so intense. Many young people suffer from anxiety and depression over school and future admissions to colleges. They also fret over the escalating cost of higher education and the mountains of debt with which they might graduate. My children worked to help with college expenses, and Amy and I paid for their studies toward a Bachelor’s degree. I’m not sure we could do that today.
I am also glad that I do not teach in today’s schools. I now substitute for teachers in high schools, and my sympathies are with them. The demands on them to meet each item on an evaluator’s checklist
many times keep them from being effective teachers. Sure, some teachers play the game, and then teach what they know students need. I would never achieve a passing evaluation grade these days.
I’m thankful that I no longer must work every day. At this point in life, I choose when I want to substitute. Most of the time, three days a week is plenty. The rest of the week is mine to complete “honey-do’s” and other jobs around the house or on my computer. My stamina isn’t enough so that I can put in a full work week, and I’m glad not to have to.
I am thankful not to have any serious health condition. Friends are now facing difficult times as they battle illness. Some family members slowly drift away from us as Alzheimer’s takes them over. My life is filled with aches and pains in joints and muscles. I don’t enjoy dealing with them, but they do serve as a reminder that I’m still alive and kicking, even if my pace is somewhat slower.
Last of all, I am thankful that I don’t have hundreds of thousands of words trapped on the computer’s hard drive. The Knoxville Focus has for several years allowed me to publish my thoughts and opinions and recollections and to share them with folks. Whether or not readers agree with me, I love to write and have them react. Writing is a supreme gift from God, and I am blessed to be able to have a forum for presenting them to the public.
I hope your Thanksgiving is filled with family and good food. Give thanks for your what you have and don’t have. Blessings are bountiful in both areas.


GET OVER IT

Life is full of surprises. Most of us like them, but sometimes they are too overwhelming to take in. When that happens, we run into problems.

This presidential election took many folks’ including me, by surprise. After all the vitriol that President-elect Trump spewed for two years, I thought for certain he would be crushed in the election. I’ve never been so wrong about anything. In fact, I still find it incredible that the man was chosen to run this country.

No, I don’t like him. I don’t like his entourage, and I am none too fond of his choices for cabinet posts. I fear his policy decisions will further sink this nation in a swirling sea of debt. The rich will get richer, and the rest of us, well, will be left to gather scraps that are thrown to us. The environment will be under attack as regulations are rolled back or dumped; alliances with long-standing friends will be bruised or severed.

Right now, many of us who were stunned by the election results are playing Chicken Little; we fear that the sky is falling. Perhaps such a feeling is just one step in the process of grieving. Yes, folks are grieving over their losses, and it is not all right for winners to poke fun of them. I don’t suspect anyone would be so cruel if a person were upset over the loss of a loved one. So, let’s hope that the folks who supported Donald Trump will knock it off.

At the same time, it’s time for protesting groups to accept the fact that this election is over. No amount of marching or rioting or looting will change the results. Those who call for the electoral college to vote contrary to what is right need to hush. Trump and his supporters whined that the election was rigged. They were wrong; however, you are calling on folks to rig an election by changing their votes. Give me a break about holding sessions for young people who are distraught over the outcome. From news reports, at least half of the protesters didn't even vote.

The time has come for us who suffered a loss in this election to stop sniveling and get on with life. It’s time to get over it. Let's say our prayers and give this duly elected individual a chance. Let's see how he performs. Yes, we must stay ever vigilant. At the same time, let's see how much the members of congress stand up for us in the middle. Donald Trump said he would work to help us; let's keep his feet held to the fire of that promise. If he fails to follow through on his promises, then his constituency will see him for what he truly is.



The simple fact is that democracy worked. No, it did not come up with the candidate I supported, but the process is much more important than any single person. The people have spoken, the election is over, and it is time to turn our attention to the actions and events that are to come. We might just be surprised how this presidential choice might lead to a congress that finally works together. Let's hope so at least.

HOVERING

Thwack! Thwack! Thawck! The sound grows louder as the sky fills with the same sound coming from hundreds or even thousands as they hover. What can it be? Helicopter parents are either constantly present or on call to sweep into any situations that might arise. It’s a different world from the one in which most of us grew up.

The smothering by parents begins early. Take a look at any sporting event. For instance, t-ball fields are loaded with players. Ringing the field is an army of canvas chair toting parents. Most of the participants have little knowledge of the game and even smaller attention spans. They dig in the dirt, sit in the outfield, or chase each other.

Moms and dads are steely eyed spectators. They expect to see their children on the field, not in the dugout. Dads are convinced that their offspring are superior athletes and should always be in the line-ups. They won’t hesitate to corner the coach to give him an earful about his incompetence. All parents are keenly aware of the score and urge the coaches to play to win, even if that means leaving someone else’s child on the bench for the entire game. Meanwhile, the most important thing to those little ones is finishing the game so that they can claim their snacks and drinks.

Parents circle the classroom and wait for something negative to occur. Then they dive
bomb teachers;.the attacks come in the forms of emails, phone calls, and principal visits. An assigned low grade on a report card is viewed as a declaration of war by moms and dads. They demand to know what the problem is. Before long, the line, “My child has never made a grade below an A or B” booms from the parent. They also declare that a bad grade keeps their young scholars from obtaining scholarship offers from colleges. And even when kids go off to college, some parents continue to hover and will attack over low grades or make-up work policies .It’s not unheard of for parents to call or visit professors to discuss material content and grades.

The blame for such unacceptable grades is laid at the feet of the instructor. She is too hard; she doesn’t explain the material well enough; her classroom management prevents the child from learning. Nothing is ever the fault of students, those who refuse to pay attention in class or those who simply refuse to turn in assignments. If these two things are the reasons for low grades, moms want to know if their children can make up the work they’ve refused to do in the first place.

Even when young folks enter the workforce in permanent jobs, some moms and dads are sticking their noses where they don’t belong. They contact employers with concerns about their policies. Reports have aired that describe situations where parents come into businesses
to argue with bosses over the disciplinary actions they’ve meted out to children, even though the “child” is a college graduate and an adult.

Some young adults can’t escape parents at all. It’s especially bad when they can’t afford to pay rent and end up in the basement of their parents’ house. Some moms snoop in their children’s possessions. They critique wardrobes and nag about personal hygiene. Dads still shotgun questions about groups and boyfriends or girlfriends. Both parents inappropriately inquire about finances. They want an accounting of every dime spent. Sometimes they contact bosses to plead for a bump in salary for their children.

Things are surely different from how most of us grew up. Our parents sent us to school with warnings that we’d better complete our work and behave. Trouble at school meant trouble at home. Moms and dads worked hard; they had little or no time to fit in our ball games that were nothing more than play. If we made it to college, already we knew not to mess around or any financial help that came from home would dry up. The last thing we wanted was to live at home again. Our time had come to spread our wings and fly. Parents felt the same way, and, as Bill Cosby put it, they wanted us out of the house before they died.  

Life would be better all-round if parents quit over-protecting their children. The best way to survive in this world is to meet it head on. Mistakes become invaluable learning tools. They will never happen, and children will be forever handicapped in adult life if helicopter parents hover over their children.



HOW WILL WE CHOOSE?

By the time this piece appears in the paper, the national election will begin in less than a day. Plenty of people are saying, “Thank God!” Others, like me, who are political junkies, will pace all day long and fret until the final vote counting is finished. In the end, a new president will be elected, and a void will exist where, for the last two years, campaigns, ads, debates, and bad news have flowed. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the entire country could take a two-week vacation to recover?
One of the first things we’ll all want to do is take a long, hot shower. Over my adult life, I’ve seen
some dirty campaigns. Candidates typically throw jabs at each other, but this cycle has seen both sides fling mud and other nasty substances on the walls and hope that they stick. What I wonder is whether we voters will use common sense and the intrinsic knowledge of right and wrong in making our choices. Name- calling and has done little to help us know what the truth about each candidate is.
I don’t recall an election when both candidates were so disliked. One has no experience in government; he defames minorities, berates immigrants, and disrespects women. He has questionable business ties to governments that don’t espouse democratic values. The other candidate is barely keeping her head above the flood of emails. She’s battling investigations and accusations of improprieties with the foundation she and her family have been involved.
The electorate is divided, even polarized, more than at any other time I can recall. Sure, being for one candidate is fine, but folks have gone beyond that. Rallies are rife with fights and hecklers, and those in attendance chant slogans that reflect more emotional bias than intellectual discernment. An underlying anger bubbles just below the surface, and it has little to do with the issues. It comes more from fear mongering. The idea seems to be to whip up those fears so that people no longer can use common sense to make decisions. Votes are cast not for an individual but against those things and groups that are claimed to be taking away freedom and security, even if such thinking is irrational. 
My concern is where our country is headed after the elections. So many people are deeply entrenched in their beliefs, and I don’t see how in the world they will accept results that don’t fall in their favor.
Some have been told that the process is rigged, even though only a few examples out of billions of votes have been recorded. Anything other than victory will occur because the election was stolen. The other side warns that the opponent is not fit to be the leader of our country. They swear that we will “go to hell in a handbasket” if he is elected. Forget the fact that he must have the support of both sides in the government; his own party has thumbed its nose at him and refuses to stand up for him.

What might well be the probable end to this election is that our government remains gridlocked. The good of the country will take a backseat to partisan politics, demagoguery, and hypocritical principles. Many of us who have been around a while view this election as a defining one. The choices that we make might well spell the end of our democracy as we know it. The two-party system is so broken and dysfunctional that new models might be created, ones that none of us want.
Yes, the election will be over soon. Its results won’t make everyone happy. However, for the sake of our country, citizens, and children, let us hope that our so-called leaders will decide the era of partisan politics is over and that they will replace it with a new commitment to working for the good of our country and a better life for all citizens.

One last thing I will add. Voting is a privilege and a duty for each citizen in the U.S. You are defending this country when you cast a ballot. However, anyone who chooses not to vote HAS NO RIGHT TO COMPLAIN ABOUT OUTCOMES OR POLICIES. Make your voice be heard tomorrow. VOTE!

HALLOWEEN WAS WORK

As soon as October arrived, folks were decorating houses and purchasing costumes for the celebration of Halloween. I’ve always been amazed at the keen interest poured out for the day. It wasn’t like that in my world.

Halloween was simply a time each year for kids to get out of the house and walk around the neighborhood in efforts to rustle up candy and treats. No one had hordes of cash, so many
of the things that fell into our trick or treat bags were either homemade or items that were grown there. One neighbor passed out apples and pears. Those weren’t so well received by kids. The pieces of fruit became missiles boys hurdle at cows in pastures or cars cruising down the road. Other adults passed out popcorn balls glued together with molasses. It was a good treat for children who many times ate the balls so that they wouldn’t be squished in the bag.

Back then, no one ever thought about whether or not treats were tainted. Neighbors knew each other. Many of them watched over other families’ children. In fact, they would fuss at youngsters and try to keep them from finding their ways into trouble. To harm one of those young people through treats would be too much like harming the adult’s own children.

Costumes were simple. Old clothes sometimes turned into outfits for hobos. Shoe polish outlined scruffy beards to go along with the clothing. Other children used bed sheets. They cut two holes for eyes and left the house as ghosts. The costume was a hindrance to trick or treaters because they too often hung low and tangled in little shoes; falls were bound to happen, and spilled candy was difficult to find in the dark. Sometimes, children wore a simple mask like the one the Lone Ranger wore.

Moms and dads didn’t accompany their children most of the time. The searchers for treats left home in groups or, in the case of boys, packs. They started walking to houses which were separated by large yards. That meant long hikes to secure enough candy that might last at least for a couple of days.  No subdivisions were located in the area, so a Halloween night’s walk could add up to several miles. The dark made that walking difficult, and missteps led to slips and falls into ditches. Kids would arrive home and soon fall into bed from exhaustion. They knew that the next day would bring a full day of school and class work.

The only decoration for most houses was a jack-o’lantern. A parent would carve eyes, noses, and mouths. A candle was placed inside the pumpkin to light up those features. For
older children, those orange orbs became highly desired things. Kids would steal pumpkins, and then they’d smash them in the road. If one survived, a mother might scrape it and cook the content so that it could be used for pumpkin pies.

Other simple acts of vandalism occurred as well. Egging houses of hateful neighbors or soaping windows took up some of our time. Community store owners refused to sell those items to packs of boys, so we sneaked them out of our houses. Eggs landed on roofs and soap was confined to the windows, not the screens.

The biggest efforts of vandalism called for several rolls of toilet paper. We boys would work on a yard until it looked more like a snowscape than a fall, leafed-covered one. Most of us arrived home to discover our yards were in the same condition. Our parents sent us the following day to clean up the mess, but we were to roll the paper up for our families’ use in coming months. Adults didn’t believe in wasting anything.


Halloween is a big deal these days, much more so than in my younger years. I just can’t get into the swing of it, nor do I feel the same spirit that comes with true holidays like Christmas or Easter. If kids today had to work as hard for their treats as we did, perhaps they wouldn’t think the Halloween was such a grand time. As it is, trick-or-treaters will pile up huge stashes of candy and never walk far at all from home.

DREAM A LITTLE DREAM WITH ME

When I was just a wee lad, I lay in bed at nights and dream. On some occasions, they were interrupted by warm streams that ran down my legs and soaked the sheets. No, I wasn’t dreaming of a bath or a swim in the ocean; I had not yet conquered the battle with my bladder. However, it did come before too much longer. Those nighttime events either exhilarated me or scared me to death.

Many nights I dreamed that without effort I could rise and fly into the sky. My soaring in the blue took me to views of our house and yard that I’d never before experienced. I suppose that being confined to the home place brought security in the dream. Sometimes I pretended to be a Superman as I jumped from the roof of the house. At other times, I ran along the yard and felt a sense of weightlessness take me over.

In another dream, my family rode in our old ‘54 Chevrolet on our way to some unknown destination. The ride always included a climb up some steep incline. Sitting in the back seat, I never could see the road ahead, something that made me feel nervous. We’d finally reach the top, but to my utter horror, the road would end, and the car plummeted to the ground hundreds of feet below. That same sense of weightlessness existed in this dream, but it was anything but thrilling.

As ridiculous as it sounds, I used to dream that I had been shot. Yep, I could feel the pain from the blast, and when I looked down, there in the middle of my stomach would be the shell casing from a shotgun. What was even weirder was the fact that the would-be assassins were cartoon characters, usually cats from the old “Mighty Mouse” series. The pain from the wound subsided, but I spent most of the dream trying to dig the thing out of me.

I’ve heard that this next dream is common. To my fright, I would arrive at elementary school wearing nothing but my “whitey-tidies.” I’d look down to discover my awkward plight and try in a thousand ways to cover up my naked, fat body. I suffered through the entire ordeal and
found relief only when something awakened me.

In later years, I dreamed of girls, but let’s just skip that. In adulthood, I’ve most often dreamed about being once again with my parents or older brother who have been gone for years. Just seeing them was a joyful experience, although I never remember having touched them, and they rarely, if ever, spoke. My lowest point would be when I awoke to realize that all had been but a dream. That made me miss them all the more.

According to psychologists and other folks who have studied dreams, these night-time mental movies are products of our subconscious. Interpretations of dreams abound. Flying in a dream symbolizes either freedom or lack of it. Falling in a dream might symbolize the feeling of being out of control in life or in a particular situation. I think it just reaffirms my fear of heights and of all roller coasters. Everyone has heard that appearing naked in a dream is symbolic of the fear we all have for being our real selves in life. It has also been said to represent our fear of being ridiculed or disgraced. Being shot indicates that a person wishes to get rid of some aspect of himself. I think it might simply be a fear of weapons. Last, dreams about loved ones who have died is nothing more that missing those folks and wishing that they were still around.


These days, my trouble isn’t the dreams I have. Now, I can’t remember them. I might have had a spectacular venture in a night, but all that’s left the next morning is a clouded memory or fragments of the entire thing. Supposedly, some dreams last only short periods of time. They seem like epic movies to me. I’m in no hurry to find out what it’s like, but someday I hope I receive a pair of wings like Clarence did in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Then I’ll know for sure that exhilaration that has only been present in my dreams.

KICKED TO THE CURB

Isn’t it wonderful to land that first full time job? The security that comes with a steady paycheck and affordable insurance is life-changing. We start off planning to be the best employees in the organization and want to stay with the company until retirement. Somehow, that doesn’t happen as much these days. Too many workers are being “kicked to the curb.”

Businesses aren’t as stable as they once were. They are subject to moves to other states or
countries whenever better deals for investors comes along. At the end of the week, pink slips are passed out, and workers who have poured years into a company are suddenly unemployed. Many have limited education and few technological skills that might make them marketable as they look for new jobs.

Mergers also lead to massive reductions in forces. Employees are cut loose because duplication of jobs isn’t cost effective. An individual can find himself odd-man-out, even though his abilities far exceed those of the person who has been kept in the position. Politics in the workplace doesn’t necessarily promote fairness. The outlook for a long-time employee is bleak when competitive companies merge into one giant corporation. The move is wonderful for investors but lousy for the employees who have been let go, even though their efforts helped the company to become such a success.

In present times, a meaner, dirtier thing is happening to long-standing, dedicated employees. CEO’s and managers in too many instances look for ways to get rid of older workers. Forget the fact that they are excellent workers. Never mind that they have a wealth of knowledge and experience in their positions and about customer bases. They are old,
and too many of them make the company look old as well. The desired appearance for these companies is one that exudes youth and energy. So, the plan is to replace the old workers with young people. This new work force can fill the positions, but can they be as productive? Ask management in most businesses this question, and you’ll be told that too often young workers come with high expectations for salaries but weak or nonexistent work ethics. The training period also is long, and that means too many hours are unproductive and unprofitable.

Some might say that replacing old workers with younger ones is an act of age discrimination. Possibly that is true, but companies have figured out ways around the law. They simply declare that positions have been eliminated. Then they post the same basic jobs under new titles. The companies then save on salaries and benefits paid out to older workers. Meanwhile, a seasoned veteran with years of experience is out of a job, and because of his age, the prospects of landing a new one are slim at best. The golden years of retirement suddenly fade as part time jobs are taken to pay for mortgages, bills, and health insurance.

We all realize that times and conditions change. Companies grow and modernize. Somehow, however, it doesn’t seem right to dump experienced workers in the process. Maybe doing so makes good business sense, but it lacks any trace of concern for humans. Of course, ethical behavior too often negatively affects the bottom line. Let’s hope that those who make the decisions for companies will discover their consciences and try to find a happy medium between profits and human welfare. No, older workers can’t hold back a company’s efforts to growth with the future, but they deserve some kind of consideration after all the good they have given the business for so many years.


IF I KNEW NOW WHAT I KNEW THEN

I like mowing the yard. Sitting on a riding lawnmower or pushing a mower or trimming with a weed eater is when I do some of my best thinking. I’ve solved some of my own problems and come up with answers to world dilemmas while cutting blades of grass. The only hold up for me is that my luck with small engine equipment is nil. Most of the time, at least one of my machines is idle due to some malfunction.

As most folks now know, I am void of any knowledge of engines. On some occasions, I’ve tinkered with that little screw adjustment on the carburetor. Most often, my attempts to play Mr. Fix It end in the engine not running at all. Any sputtering that might have occurred is replaced with silence; the darn thing won’t start.

I own two mowers. The first is a twenty-year-old John Deere riding mower. For years it cut my mother’s grass, as well as mine. That equated to about two and one-half acres. Now the
mower is used only at my house, but since I bought a piece of land that my mother had sold neighbors years ago, I still mow a bit more than two acres. This old mower is used to cut grass and weeds in wooded areas on either side of my house. In the fall, I grind up piles of leaves from the small forest. It’s dusty work, so frequent oil changes and air filter replacements are needed. Those simple things I can perform.

This summer, the belt tension rod broke. Actually, the thing wore away from constant rubbing on other metal and from years of vibrations that come with driving over root-filled, uneven ground. I purchased a new rod assembly which consisted of a metal rod and spring; the cost was $95 plus tax. Sticker shock hit, but to fix the mower, the part was necessary.
After getting the thing on the mowing deck, I couldn’t put the belt back on. I even printed out a diagram of how it should go on, but only when my good friend Joe Dooley came by did I see how the thing weaved itself around the pulleys.

I reattached the deck to the mower and put the drive belt back in place. It seemed too loose, so I called Bill Pate to ask if some adjustment should be made. He stopped by on his way home from the doctor, took one look, and informed me that the clutch was shot. Another trip to the parts store ended with pouring out another $200+. Of course, I was at the mercy of Bill to come by and remove the old one and install the new one.

My other mower is a zero-turn John Deere. I use it on the yard around my house. Sometimes I am forced to use it on the rest of the yard when the old mower is broken. Right after the warranty expired, the mowing deck cracked. I was informed that the cause was my washing it off while it was hot. HUH? I’m not handy, but neither am I an idiot. However, the
store from which I bought the machine would not stand behind the thing. (No, I won’t buy anything else from that dealer located on my side of town.)

Lately, the engine has been burning oil. I have to add the stuff every time I mow. This mower has approximately 275 hours of use on it, and it has been serviced as recommended. New mowers cost about $4000, so my only recourse is to run the one I have until it blows up. Then a new engine can be put on the thing...by someone else to whom I will pay a labor bill.


Blowers, weed eaters, pressure washers, and hedge trimmers all sit on shelves until I can afford to have them repaired. My inability to fix those machines is costing me a small fortune. This is another instance where I only wish I’d have taken a small engine class years ago; if only I knew then what I know now. As it is, my equipment sits idle and my yard looks awful until spare cash is found.

OLD TEACHERS AND TECHNOLOGY

The other day Joe Dooley and I substituted at Hardin Valley Academy. We sat on benches in the foyer, and before long, Rick Collett ambled up. The three of us spent many years together on the faculty at Karns High School. We looked like the old guys that sit in the shade of a small town courthouse. All that was missing were whittling sticks and knives. We’re relics that don’t fit with the modern technology of today’s schools.

For most of my teaching career, I instructed classes by writing on a blackboard. The trays for the boards were filled with dust, erasers, and half a dozen pieces of chalk. At the end of the day, the blackboards were cloudy from the erasing of material and needed to be cleaned with water and a soft rag.

Toward the end of my teaching years, white boards were installed. They weren’t of the highest quality since the low bids on everything were accepted in the school system. I bought my own markers since the one we received soon ran dry. That stuff never came off the whiteboard easily. I cleaned with alcohol, water, and even lemon furniture polish, all things that other teachers recommended. By the end of the year, the white board looked more like a gray board.

We teachers had to check out overhead projectors. They were bulky things that ran hot quickly and needed to be moved to the back of the room to fit the screen that we pulled down over the boards. Material also had to be oriented a certain way or it projected upside down. Without fail, the bulb for the contraption burned out in the middle of a class, something that blew up a lesson plan.

If we showed a video, our first move was to reserve a television and VCR or DVD player from the library. With help from another teacher or student, I sometimes managed to get the red, yellow, and white connectors plugged in the right holes. At the end of the day, I had to rush the cart and equipment back to the library and hope that it would be available for the following day so classes could finish viewing the movie.

Technology crawled into the classroom. Teachers received desktop computers. They were heavy, bulky machines with tiny screens. Faculty members were excited to have technology that would help us become better teachers. The kicker was that no or limited Internet services were available. The computers crashed too often, a fact that led to our having to redo much of the work on which we had already spent large chunks of time.

Today, schools are high tech places. Smart boards have replaced blackboards and white boards. They are attached to projection systems that allow teachers to show movies, worksheets, and other materials. Connected to DVD players, they function like televisions. In some classrooms, large flat-screen television, in addition to the boards, are available. Overhead projectors’ called “Elmo’s,” are now the size of a cell phone. Telescoping parts set up and a small light on a worksheet sends the material onto the smartboard. In addition, a calculator can somehow be displayed and all functions can be performed.

Every student seems to have a smartphone. They use them to recover classroom assignments or to research assigned topics. Who’d have ever thought that a phone could be used as a teaching tool? Not me. When I retired, teachers took up any phones that were out during the day. Now, they are vital parts of the classroom equipment. When students aren’t completing school requirements, they pull out their phones to text friends, play games, or enjoy music.


One of the reasons I left teaching was that I no longer had much in common with the students of today. Neither of us understood the other’s world or frame of reference. It was time for younger teachers to take over. Since that day of retirement, more than just the kids have changed. Technology has advanced so much that it’s left me in the dust. When I have to call on students to set up things so that I can show a video or simply write an assignment on the board, I feel old and completely left out. I’m just happy that I no longer am responsible for teaching material to teens. It would be a difficult assignment for me without my chalkboard and eraser.  

QUESTIONING EDUCATIONAL MODELS

Ah, the return to the classroom brings about both good and bad memories. It recalls some of the same questions I posed so many years ago. I hope I find answers to them before my time on this earth is done.
First, I still wonder what is the reason for demanding 4 years of English from every student. The same question applies to math and science. Schools should construct their curricula in ways that meet
the needs of each student. If the goal of school is to prepare individuals for life’s work, then perhaps
one person can survive well with 2 years of English, math, or science. Another student might need to concentrate on a core course when it directly relates to the future field of study he or she enters. A student who wants to pursue a specific trade skill might find vocational courses more beneficial than the overkill of so many years of a core courses.
Second, shouldn’t school prepare students for a well-rounded life? If so, then isn’t education much more than core courses? Music and art are those areas that bring joy and spirit to life. It’s also been
proven that individuals who participate in music performance classes perform better in academic areas. These outlets allow young people to develop other talents not addressed in traditional courses of study. A dappling in them can provide much entertainment during leisure hours for the rest of a person’s life.
Along the same lines, shouldn’t a complete education include social aspects? Learning to get along with others is an important lesson. Developing a sense of loyalty and community is accomplished more
effectively through sports, band, and clubs. Those activities might be every bit as important as calculus or physics since success many times is dependent upon effective communication among individuals pursuing a common goal, and they are learned in extra-curricular activities.
Third, is literature created express the passions or musings of authors? So often, the beauty of a novel or play or poem is obscured by the insertion of endless analysis. Does the author tell of the hidden meanings of his story? Does the poet choke his message with attention to correct rhyme scheme and meter? The use of figurative language is simply to make the passage clear through comparison. In and of themselves, personification or metaphors or alliteration are of no value. The joy of literature is the reading of it, not the over analysis of it.
It’s true that I’ve been away from the classroom for several years. However, the same stale school models govern education. The demand that every person go to college is absurd. Just as one size of shirt doesn’t fit everyone, college doesn’t work for all people. Technical schools meet some needs for students. Apprenticeship programs are better suited for others. Another truth is that the old ways of education bore students stiff; they search for way to escape school as soon as possible. Education is valued only when it meets the direct needs of each student.

The good of my new role is that I merely babysit students. Only on rare occasions do I teach them. The lack of change over the last 8 years caught me off guard. I supposed that the high demand for testing and accountability had dramatically changed the educational model. Sadly, it remains the same except for the introduction of technology. I can only hope that those in charge will someday revise schools so that they address the areas that will help to make students successful in their lives. 

THE LAND IS NOT OURS ALONE

By the end of the summer, the new subdivision just up the road will be completed. Forty new houses line the streets. To my surprise, two separate tracks bordering the development have been scraped clean of topsoil, and work on phase 2 has begun. The additional land looks large enough to
accommodate 60-80 more dwellings. Does any governmental official ever look at the impact of all these additional subdivisions?
The stated Knox County population for 2013 was 444,622, up from 432,226 in 2010. That equals a .028 growth rate in three years, equivalent to 12,396 individuals. I’m not sure such a paltry number justifies the overbuilding in our area.
In the 1950’s and 60’s, I could walk to the store a tenth of a mile down Ball Camp Pike. During the journey, I might encounter half a dozen cars. Today, no one walks the s road that is the same size that it was 50-plus years ago. The fear of being struck by a speeding car keeps people from even trying. A study from several years back stated that the road carried approximately 12,000 trips a day. With the addition of so many subdivisions, the increase in traffic will make getting anywhere all the more difficult. The Schaad Road extension, once called the new Ball Camp Pike, aimed to remove most of the traffic. However, the recession choked off funds and the project died. No new road and three railroad crossings can back up traffic for nearly a mile. Just imagine the effects of so many more cars entering the main road from the new developments.
Beautiful views in the area have been wiped out. The fields where this new subdivision is located offered residents a beautiful landscape in the morning when a light fog hung just above the ground until the morning sun steamed it away. Gone is the sweet scent of hay as it lay in wind rows before being baled. Only the memory of crossing that field in search of a perfect cedar Christmas tree remains. The losses of these things bring sadness to all of us who have invested in the community for such a long time.
The most worrisome impact of these developments falls on the lives of wildlife. Nest are turned under by bulldozers and graders. Wildlife of all kinds is left with no place to live or to find sources of food. These creatures move on in an attempt to find new homes. They invade neighborhoods and wreak havoc on gardens and garbage cans. More and more of them meet a deadly fate as they try to cross highways and roads to reach new places to live. Our constant demand for development pushes animals farther into smaller areas that cannot sustain their lives.

The solution to this problem is simple. Folks can choose to buy existing houses. Plenty are available, and many are of higher quality than the new ones that pop up in only a couple of days. The cheaper
prices leave owners cash for remodeling and adding rooms. Animals then have a chance to live in a safer environment. It’s come to the point where me must live and let live. The land is not ours alone.

PASSING THE TORCH

I began a new job as a substitute teacher at the beginning of the school year. The first couple of days were rough as I reacquainted myself with teenaged students. I’d spent 30 years as a teacher but had been gone from the school setting and the classroom for a long time. What surprised me was the fact that my generation no longer was present except in rare cases. We’ve left the educating of the young to a new group of teachers. Our time has passed.
For the past year, I’ve watched the presidential race. From the primary candidates to the party
nominees, most of the individuals are either too old or too tainted to be effective leaders. They preach divisiveness instead of unity; some openly show their dislike for others who have different color or different language from theirs. Our two candidates are Baby-Boomers at the age of 70 or close to it.
John F. Kennedy became the youngest president to take office from the oldest sitting one. In his inaugural address he declared that the Eisenhower generation had passed the torch to a new generation of leaders. He called on citizens to “ask not what you can do for your country; rather, ask what you can do for your country.” The time has come for that same kind of change to come once again.             
New, young leaders must come, and with them they must bring new ideas and open minds. Most importantly, they must also arrive with a willingness to reach across the aisle in order to work together. Continuing gridlock promotes political ideologies while injuring the country and its citizens.
These new, young minds bring with them possibilities and solutions that my generation can’t imagine. Perhaps they can formulate new approaches to the questions of entitlements, how to pay for them and how to check their out-of-control growth. They might be able to bring a fresh approach that discovers a way of stopping the pollution of our planet before it no longer can sustain life. Tech-savvy leaders can implement educational programs in the work place that retrain workers for the jobs of the future. It’s imperative that they do so because those old manufacturing jobs aren’t coming back nor will they offer a living wage.
Too many young people complain about the shape the world finds itself. They throw up their hands and declare there’s no need to even try to get involved. That kind of thinking just won’t help this country to remain strong. The sad fact is that too many Americans have already given up; they no longer participate in the process. Our country’s hope lies in the willingness of the young to participate in all areas of government. Yes, it involves sacrifice in that our brightest must delay some of their own goals and instead become servants and stewards of this country. It is an act of unselfishness that can bring with it rewards for generations to come.
We Baby-Boomers must step out of the way. Let’s allow the next generation to save the country. They have more energy and more years left than we do. Their new and bold ideas are our only hope for a better world. We mustn’t be a “helicopter generation” that spares them from adversity. Our generation survived the hard times, and this new generation will grow and overcome the obstacles before them.

Our older generation has accomplished some good things. The country has been a world leader for years because of our efforts. It’s time to usher in that new generation and to allow them to lead and make this country their own. Maybe we can serve as mentors to them until they find solid footing. The things that they accomplish might well surprise us all. 

COOLING OFF

Weather forecasters predict that temperatures will cool into the 80’s in the coming days. The summer of 2016 has been the hottest we’ve had in the last few years. Perhaps global warming is finally giving
us a preview of what’s in store if our pollution of the planet continues. At any rate, we have had a steady stream of days with highs in the 90’s. I don’t pay attention to the “feels like” temperatures because 90 degrees is plenty hot without add-ons. A pool in the backyard is the place where we retreat to escape those blast-furnace temperatures. As a child, we turned to different things for cooling off.
At home, we resorted to a using a water hose or sprinkler for relieve. Jim and I put on our bathing suits and ran in and out of the spray. Sometimes, we’d put on masks and walk straight into the water blasts. One downside to the activity was that the water attracted bees and wasps, and they shooed us
inside with stings. Another was that we wore bare spots in the yard with constant stomping in the same place.
We also walked across a hay field next to the house to reach a small creek. A long board reached from bank to bank, and we sat on it and held imaginary club meetings. Before long, we broke out the snacks and ate peanut butter crackers and washed them down with water or Kool-Aid. That place offered at least a few minutes of relief from the scorching temperatures.
Just up the road passed the railroad tracks, a small bridge spanned Ball Camp Pike. We boys gathered our fishing poles and walked to it. The bridge was so low that we had to stoop to pass under it. For a couple of hours our backs stayed hunched over as we fished for small blue gill. Just drowning worms was okay as long as we could remain by the water and out of the sun.
As we grew up, our neighborhood gang of boys biked across the ridge and toward Beaver Creek. Arriving at our destination, we parked our bikes at the edge of the field, trekked across the land, and
skinny-dipped in the water, which was much cleaner than it is today. Eventually, the group reluctantly dressed and biked home as our clothes stuck to wet skin. The bonus was the dampness felt especially good as we traveled down the roads.
When all else failed, we sat under one of the sprawling maple trees in the back yard and hoped for a breeze or a cloud-filled sky. The sound of thunder spiked our hopes of a summer shower that would drop the temperatures. For one of the few times in our lives, we boys sat as still as possible to keep from melting in the heat. The fact remained that after those showers the combination of the sun and humidity returned and turned all outside into a sauna.

Too many people now whine about hot weather. Most never experienced a life where the only cooling thing in the house was a small box window fan or wide opened window with a screen to stop mosquitoes from getting inside. Air conditioning has put an end to people’s ability to tolerate any kind of warm temperatures. What they fail to remember is that in only a few days, temperatures will begin to drop until they plunge. Frigid conditions will replace hot ones. Then they’ll gripe and complain about how cold it is. That’s when I might join them because I never warm up until the spring thaw arrives. I’d rather cool off than warm up.