IN TRAINING


I’m sitting on the couch and watching the rain fall. The weather is too cold and raw to travel outside for some kind of activity like mowing the leaves for the eighth time or taking the dogs to the park. Instead, I’m doing my best imitation of a lump. At the same time, I’m stuffing my face with one food after another. Yep, I’m in training for the holiday eating. I’ve done it for years.
Mother began her food preparations soon after Thanksgiving. She stood at the stove and stirred her fudge concoction. It always looked to be a chore as she mixed the stuff the way I’ve worked concrete; however, I’m positive that that her fudge was tastier than my walkways.  
She also made peanut brittle and a candy she called “divinity.” I never
cared for the stuff, but neighbors who received a container of it raved.
Other snacks littered the table. Loaves of pumpkin bread and zucchini bread were stacked in one corner. Rice crispy treats stayed fresh in a large Tupperware container that was so old that the plastic
no longer was clear. The top was worn from hundreds of openings. Another huge tub was filled with “nuts and bolts,” Mother’s recipe for Chex mix.
Always believing that dessert was an important item for holiday meals, she baked at least two pumpkin pies. Days before Christmas dinner, she baked a white cake and then iced it with coconut and cream sour cream icing. The whole thing stood almost a foot tall, and it sat in the refrigerator so that
the cake could soak up the icing and make the entire cake a heavenly delight.
The real eating began Christmas morning. When we were kids, Mother made pancakes and bacon for breakfast. We left the table in a semi-diabetic coma caused by rivers of syrup on stacks of carbohydrates.
When all family members arrived that afternoon, dinner was spread across an extended table, on kitchen counters, and even on a table on the screened porch. All filled their plates with mounds of food that included
turkey, ham, dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, and rolls. Not a tinge of green was visible on most plates; people swore that vegetables only took up room that was better used for heavy food.
Everyone finished and searched for a comfortable chair or couch where they could moan until sleep overtook them. In no more than half an hour, the kitchen was again alive with people looking for dessert. After that, the crowd thinned and left a mountain of dishes to wash and tons of leftovers that we attacked before going to bed Christmas night.
I don’t eat as much as during my youth, but I can still put large portions away. With a month of training on all sorts of snacks and extras, I’m ready to eat attack that big meal, loosen my belt, and have a holiday nap.
May your Christmas be filled with plenty of food, family, and fellowship. I’ll see you at the YMCA with the arrival of the new year.

COLD OUTSIDE


Thanks to one group or another, Christmas celebrations are now under attack. Even with enormous amounts of energy spent to stay out of the fray, I’ve finally had enough. That means I’m coming out with guns blazing.
In 1964 when I was twelve, the special “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” aired during prime time. It was an animated show that featured the reindeer, Santa, Cornelius, and Hermey. The original song
fit the narrative; however, an elf wanting to be a dentist, a prospector, and a surly monster, and a doe girlfriend were added to the show to more fully develop the plot.
After 54 years of airing a Christmas special that adds to the season’s joy and brings memories rushing back to millions of adults, critics have now decided what is a favorite program for many of us is nothing more than a display of bigotry, racism, homophobia, and abusive behavior. Give me a break.
Yes, plenty of those things exist in our world every day, and each of us should do his best to fight those social ills. With that said, it is absolutely absurd to view “Rudolph” and attempt to convince the public that it’s filled with such terrible things. Surely these evaluators can find something better to do with their time than to bash a children’s Christmas show.
If that weren’t bad enough, another group has attacked the Christmas song “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” A Cleveland radio station banned the song as too offensive for 2018 airing. The Urban Dictionary tags the song as the “Christmas date rape song.”
The 1944 song lyrics present a man who is trying to keep his date from leaving. She says “no” to all of his objections until the end when she decides to stay for a little longer. How in the hell is that “date
rape?” What critics are saying is that women are helpless beings who are incapable of saying “no” and meaning it. In no place does this song present the idea that a man sexually attacks his date. He does what men have done for years: tries to sweet talk women. I figure women are truly wise enough to keep from being tricked by that.
Folks, all sorts of bad things exist in our world. They have for all time. I despise racism; homophobia is a ridiculous reaction to those who live different lives; abuse of wives, children, workers, or animals is abhorrent. Rape is a crime that should be taken seriously and one that our court system must address with swift punishment.
What is unacceptable is the rise of something that is every bit as harmful to our society. Political correctness is a result of overly sensitive reactions to events, words, or programs. Sure, some things just shouldn’t be said, and some things shouldn’t occur. The kicker is that these people who make a living as world-wide censors are causing all of us to trip over ourselves to keep from hurting anyone’s feelings. They go to battle over such ridiculous things as labeling a child’s Christmas program or a Christmas season song as wrong, hurtful, and unacceptable. Who died and made them the final authorities over what is appropriate?
Okay, some of you find programs on television or songs on the radio offensive. I agree that you have the right to that opinion. At the same time, millions of folks love those same things. How can the problem be settled? Don’t tell me that my children shouldn’t be subjected to such things; that’s a ton of bull poop, and you don’t get to make that decision. If these critics are so upset about “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” or “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” they have a remedy available. Turn off the television and don’t watch or hit switch on the radio to a different station and don’t listen.
Leave my Christmas season and favorites alone. I assure you neither of them promotes any kind of social or criminal intentions in my life. I hope critics can figure out a way to enjoy at least one part of the season without being offended. If not they will find the world in which they live is cold outside.

PAW PRINTS AND HAIR


Amy, Dallas, and I sat down the other night to watch the first episode in a Netflix series about dogs. Of course, granddog Harvey and our pooch Sadie watched with us. Every bark led to their ears perking up and their heads looking around the room in search of a fellow canine. The show was about service dogs, and Dallas and I could only take one episode at a time. Our emotions seemed to have gotten the best of us.
OUR DOG SADIE
Most people know that there’s something special about dogs.  A puppy makes even the grumpiest person smile; I should know because my family tells me I am that obnoxious person. The majority of folks have more positive views of those little four-legged creatures than they do of the  two-legged variety. Dog lovers delight in snuggling with a pup, and nothing quite matches the softness of a little dog’s fur.
We dog owners know the value of a mutt. The truth is that all dogs are service dogs. They keep many of us sane when our worlds are spinning out of control. A short session of having dogs sit by our
sides eases the tensions and stress that build as we go about our jobs and relationships. When those times that we lose someone close come, dogs are sometimes the only living creatures that allow us to grieve unchecked until we recover.
A child never finds a better friend than a dog. It is always glad to see her, and playing for hours on end never grows boring. A dog’s energy also can outlast a parent’s. A nap is much easier to survive when a stinky, shaggy dog is curled up in the crook of a tiny body. No dog ever resisted the chance to lick a “boo-boo” until it felt better. That dog becomes the best security guard. Any attempts to hurt a small person will result immediately in the sinking of teeth into a culprit’s arm or leg.
We older folks love our dogs as well. Just sitting on the couch and watching television is satisfying, as long as the dog is there. We swore we’d never have a dog in the bed with us, but somehow, they wormed themselves from the floor to the foot of the bed to a place between couples, and the hounds always stretch out their legs so that they become the worst of all bed hogs.
What is saddest of all, we tend to lose those animals that we love every bit as much as another human. Their lives are so short, and when they die, we grieve as much as we might do if a family member passed. Years of memories flood back to us the same way they do with our children or our spouses. The loss of a dog leaves us not quite knowing what to do. Our daily routines are interrupted and seem empty. The pain subsides, and then we go out and do the whole thing over with a new pet.
My wife says that dogs are God’s gift to us to make our lives better. I agree, even if they dirty the house with paw prints and hair. I hope heaven if full of dogs.

SUBBING SURPRISES


Variety is the spice of life. I’ve discovered the truth of that statement again during the days of substituting. Some days I know in what subject I’ll be substituting, but many days are filled with surprises.
On many days, I enter the school knowing what the day will be like. Maybe it’s because I’ve done a good job or because teachers are familiar with me, but for whatever reason, I walk into rooms and students automatically groan or shake their heads. They know that I am friendly but demand that they do the work left from them, even if we all know the assignments are nothing more than busy work. Sometimes I allow students to listen to music on their phones; however, some teachers instruct me to have students keep their phones in book bags or pockets.
Young people have much smaller bladders than folks in my generation. Otherwise, why would so many ask to go to the restroom sometime during class? I learned the first day of subbing that refusal to let a child go was frowned upon by school offices. What I do insist is that each person who leaves lays his or her phone on my desk before exiting. That causes some arguments as students want to know why I insist they leave them. I answer that if I have their phones, I know they are coming back. Enough said.
On other days, I arrive at a school without having any idea what subject I’ll cover. Upon picking up the sub folder, I sometimes laugh and sometimes groan with the news of what my job for the day is. Underclass courses are sometimes painful to endure. I’m not much into immature behavior, and those classes often have students who try to be funny or to challenge a sub. I’m not usually amused with their humor, and I don’t plan on allowing any student to take over a class.
It’s ironic that some of my jobs are in math classes. People who know me realize I am a weak student in that discipline. On one occasion, a class was taking a test, and one student came up and asked me to help him. I declined, he asked again, and I declined. On the third request, I told him that I couldn’t help him even if I wanted to because I had no clue what he was doing.
I’ve also subbed in biology and chemistry classes, two other areas in which I am deficient. The students worked on their assignments, but at some point, they all mentally wandered away from them. Who can blame them? I remember how confusing biology was in high school and college. I didn’t bother with enrolling in a chemistry course; I figured that learning symbols and working labs would end in a failing grade.
Just the other day, I sat in for a teacher’s human studies classes. Old folks, that’s what we once knew as home economics. The new name goes along with the educational jargon that systems now use. The students worked in groups. Some of them completed information on nutrition, food borne illnesses, and parenting. The other groups were in the kitchens. They whipped up batches of zucchini bread during the period. I spent my time supervising as they cooked and offered suggestions, such as to be careful using a grater so that they didn’t bleed into the recipe. Some of my time was spent folding wash clothes and towels and washing and drying pans and utensils. I fit right in.
Not every day is a winner in the subbing business. However, some are fun or bearable enough to make the job worth doing. I like walking into something different each day, as long as the students aren’t behavior problems. Even after all the years away from the classroom, I still enjoy the company of teachers and the vitality of students.

WHAT ARE WE WILLING DO

Predictions for the fate of the world are dire. According to scientists on the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the temperature will rise 2.7 degrees by 2030, and that can lead to catastrophic floods, droughts, wild fires, and food shortages throughout the world. Most of those things already occur in our country. We’ve witnessed unprecedented hurricanes, downpours of rain, and fires.
The simple sounding solution to the problem requires that all of us drastically reduce carbon emissions. The difficulty with that is most folks love their cars too much to give them up, and they don’t want to give up the convenience of throw away packaging made of plastics. Our immediate comfort is more important than keeping this planet in a state that will sustain life.
I remember the past and don’t want to go back to it. However, we might learn a couple of things from that simpler life. The first deals with recycling. Yes, that activity has been going on for a long time.
These days, we throw plastic containers in recycling bins, and the materials are re-used to produce other items. That is a logical step since it takes approximately 450 years for a plastic bottle to completely degrade.  
In an earlier time, most bottles were made with glass. The price charged for soft drinks included a deposit on every bottle. We boys used to walk the ditches on Ball Camp Pike in search of ones that had been tossed from passing cars. We’d return them to the store down the road and collect a few cents with which we bought candy or bubble gum.

A huge dent could be made in the garbage that is produced if companies returned to the use of glass bottles and deposits on them. In 2010, 25.7 billion cases of Coca-Cola were produced. Just think of the amount of energy demanded to produce the plastic bottles for even a fraction of them, and think of how many bottles have been discarded in dumps where they will exist for the next four centuries. Returning glass containers makes more sense in the overall scheme of things.
Energy demands increase yearly. Our thirst for electricity to run appliances, televisions, and chargers requires plants to release more pollutants into the atmosphere. Not so long ago, air conditioning was a luxury that few homes had. Now, we all have it and rarely leave its comfort. I’m not necessarily calling for a return to electric fans and open windows, although both could be used during spring and fall seasons. Instead, I suggest that folks
adjust the thermostat. Instead of keeping the house a bone-chilling 68 degrees in the summer, a family might turn the temperature to 70 or even 72. In winters, the reverse would hold true— 68 degrees instead of 72. The savings for the consumer would be substantial, and the amount of life-killing carbon dioxide would be cut.
If we are to survive, one thing holds true: we must develop vehicles that run on something other than gas. Many electric cars already travel the highways. Our citizens must demand that manufacturers produce these vehicles so that they can travel longer distances. Yes, we might also insist that those electric cars have more appealing body styles.
The average passenger vehicle coughs out 4.6 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year. Multiply that by millions of cars we in the U.S. own, and some idea of the problem comes into view.
We are choking ourselves, other animals, and plants to death with our cars. Car manufacturers, like cigarette companies, have addicted us to gas-guzzling vehicles, and deciding to rid ourselves of them will be an enormous problem. However, the alternative is that in the near future, our lives will become miserable as all sorts of disasters befall us.
If the threats that are predicted are real, the time is short to make even a modest 

ACTIONS AND CONSEQUENCES


Life decisions are often difficult ones for us humans to make. Unlike our dogs, who wile away the days sleeping, sunning, playing, and eating, we must make choices. The tough part about making those choices is having to also accept and live with the consequences.
As small children, we learned as we grew. Sure, life was easy in comparison to the one a grown-up led, but lessons were many times difficult. I came from a generation that quickly learned what was appropriate. A wrong course of action many times resulted in a swat to the bottom. In most cases, I understood what the expectations were and what the difference between right and wrong was. Not once was I placed in time-out and instructed to think about what action would have been better, nor did I ever hear from my parents what amounted to “stop…our I’ll say stop again.” So, when I did choose to do something that broke the rules, I knew I had to suffer the consequences.
The same held true just a few years later. Part of being a teen included our making bad, often stupid decisions. Staying out passed curfew (that’s that time when we were to be home) meant opening the door to a worried, fuming parents. Drinking alcohol with friends most often ended in the dry heaves over a toilet. Racing the car led to wrecks, tickets, and loss of driving privileges. Teenagers were too big to spank, so parents “grounded” them instead. Being trapped at home with no hope of escape was much worse than the temporary pain from corporal punishment. In all cases, we teens made conscious decisions and knew that we deserved whatever consequences came our way.
During our adult lives, we’ve acted in ways that sometimes have run counter to our best interests. We’ve associated with the wrong groups of people who enjoyed doing things outside the lines. We took the chance of running afoul of the law. At other times, we lived a life well beyond our means and then discovered that the debts we’d incurred would take years to be paid. Sadly, some of us made the wrong choices in personal relationships. They ended with the pain of divorce or separation, and other our lives were forever impacted or colored by the broken bonds.
What is common about all of these situations, as well as life in general, is the principle of “action equals consequence.” The same hold true for the political elections that just occurred. People made choices of candidates. I’m afraid that instead or researching the persons running to discover their truths that most people chose based on what they felt (emotions) or what they saw (negative ads). In either case, the American electorate acted in choosing their representatives. This year’s race inspired a flood of voters, something not usual for a midterm election. That is the positive of our democracy. People determine the face and body of this government. Sometimes, it’s beautiful; sometimes, it’s monstrous.
The part to remember is that now that folks have made their decisions, they must be willing to accept the consequences of their actions. No one needs to whine about losing rights; not a single person needs to carp about a spiraling national debt; never should people snap about “how corrupt the folks in Washington are;” no worries should be uttered about the plight of others less fortunate or of our world affairs. The majority spoke to elect the ones who are in; they must now live with the things that those elected officials do.
It might prove to be wise for people to remember that choices always have consequences. That might prevent them from selecting poor leaders the next cycle. If not, then those folks will certainly need to sit down, shut up, and accept what is coming.

SHORT ON SYMPATHY


Sometimes, fits of honesty come over me, even though I try diligently to fight them off. It’s during those times that being truthful makes me see and admit my shortcomings. Upon reflection, I finally have to admit that my negatives are glaringly obvious. At the top of the list is my lack of tolerance for some folks.
I am less than kind to bad drivers. You know the ones to whom I refer. They drive in the passing lane at less than the speed limit. Not for a minute do they think of moving over so that others can pass.
At the same time, the folks that drive as if the Interstate were a racetrack infuriate me. They insist that
everyone yield to them, and if a car is traveling at the speed limit or a bit over, these morons tailgate the person. They think that maneuver will force the car in front to move. My ire rises as my foot lets off the accelerator. When I have passed the cars who are in the other lane, I “ease” over, never hurrying to get out of the speeder’s way.
I am most prejudice against those drivers who zip down the right side of the road and then cut into a packed lane of traffic. Under no circumstances will I allow them to pull in front of me. On some occasions, they’ve come within inches of hitting my vehicle because they thought I would just stop when they turned on a signal light. “It ain’t happening.” Call that road rage if you want to, but I refuse to allow drivers with no regard for others to take what they want when they want it.
I also have no tolerance for lazy students. Yes, I was a one of the worst students in my high school class. Even with that, however, I did enough to make it to college. There I studied constantly and struggled as the result of my poor efforts earlier. The world now is a much more demanding place for
people. Without an education, individuals become a part of to 8-40-52 club. That stands for $8.00 an hour, 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, equating to $16,640 a year before taxes are taken out.
Young people who refuse to work in school are dooming themselves. I have no patience with them and want to grab them by their collars and tell them that being lazy now will result in hours of hard labor for years to come. I want them to become proficient in something. If college isn’t for them (it isn’t the great panacea that some paint it to be), they must learn a trade of some kind. Their skills must be such that the closing of an assembly line or a fast food restaurant doesn’t doom them to a life without income.
I reserve my greatest anger for those who abuse animals. I’ve seen so many photos and stories about the mistreatment of pets. Owners fail to feed them. They are housed in deplorable conditions. Some
are beaten or kicked for doing what animals naturally do.
The abuse of a child or another adult is unconscionable; the acts of cruelty to an animal are every bit as evil. No pet should ever be placed in the hands of such a disgusting person, and it is the job of each of us to report abuse when we discover it.
I am not much of a forgiving person. Admittedly, I easily identify others mistakes while being blind to my own. Maybe more time should be spent on my personal faults and less on others. That’s a nice thing to say, but the truth is that I’ll still steam at the acts of these groups. I’m a work in progress, but the work is much and the progress is little.

EXHAUSTING LIES


The past weeks have been exhausting. No, working hasn’t been difficult; home is still the same, even with son Dallas and his dog Harvey staying with us for a while; the grass has slowed down so that I can keep up with it now. What’s just plain sucked all the energy from me is the political scene and the lies that dominate it.
The Kavanaugh debacle filled the airways with lies. The Republicans and Democrats both spun every
aspect of the affair to their own advantages. Allegations by Dr. Ford rocked everyone on both sides of the aisle. The problem became figuring out how to confirm a man who had been accused of sexual assault . If the victim were as credible as all declared, how could Kavanaugh be confirmed? If he had been unjustly accused, apologies were owed to him.
On the heels of that event came the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Saudi Arabia took time to cover their tracks in the commission of this murder. With the entire world watching, Saudi leaders lied over
and over as they struggled to find a story that would stick. Next, some government officials tried to tie Khashoggi to extremist groups in an effort to discredit the horror of his death. What remains is the fact that the man entered the Saudi consulate in Turkey and never came out. Neither the leaders from the Middle East nor the ones in our country can put a spin on this story that will make it acceptable.
What is most important to all politicians is that their sides come out on top. For some reason, “the common good” has been erased from the workings of the government. In its place, the self-serving actions of representatives who are hell-bent on keeping their jobs are witnessed every day.
Right now, the airwaves are bombarded with political ads paid for by candidates or PACs. They spend millions of dollars telling voters that opponents running for office are liars. The worst about individuals is spread across television screens; however, most of the stuff consists of half-truths or out-and-out lies. Our politicians now appeal to the public’s baser instincts.
Even the executive branch of the government is filled with lies. Leaders of government departments have been caught using “alternative facts.” They’ve lived in luxury at the taxpayers’ expense, and when questioned about their actions, these people either swear they didn’t know the acts were wrong or that someone else led them astray. Their actions defraud the American people and damage the agencies which they oversee.
When we were children, our parents told us that lying was bad. It was that simple. Some of us were punished for fibbing. As parents ourselves, we’ve passed along to our children the wrongness of telling lies. How are they to believe us when after witnessing the folks who lead our country telling untruths or bending facts to support their agendas?
According to legend, George Washington stated he could not tell a lie when asked if he cut down a cherry tree. The principle of telling the truth is, in large part, firmly fixed in that story. How disgusted the first president would be if he were to experience the rapid-fire lying that has become part of the country’s leadership. We owe it to ourselves to demand better from the country’s elected officials and to insist that they serve as models of truthful individuals. In short, we need the president and our representatives to speak out and be true leaders.

DEALING WITH CUSTOMER SERVICE


I was sitting in the waiting room of the hospital in Lenoir City as my wife had a stress test run. It’s not my favorite thing to do at 7:00 a.m. in the morning, but I’d never let my girlfriend drive herself to such an ordeal. What made the ordeal even worse were some of the folks who checked into the hospital. They would try the patience of Job.
A lady who arrived to have a colonoscopy sat at the desk of one of the persons who fills out intake papers. I’ve had several of those “invasive” test before, so I can somewhat understand why she’d be so “sore.” However, this female was rude and hateful to the woman checking her in. No, I wasn’t eavesdropping; the patient was squawking loudly enough to let all in the waiting room know how unhappy she was.
I’m not sure what the purpose of being rude to the clerk was. She hadn’t ordered that the colonoscopy to be performed; she hadn’t forced the patient to drink that disgusting concoction that led to long
visits to the bathroom. No, the worker was simply asking questions to confirm information already on forms, and she asked other things to make sure the woman across from her understood that she would be responsible for any uncovered costs.
The same type of rudeness can be seen at any business that serves the public. Customers attack workers when they return a defective product. The carping and bad attitude blast the person who is trying to help.
The fact is that the man or woman who is assisting the customer did not manufacture, box, or sell the
product. Yelling and chastising the person does nothing toward aiding the swapping of the item for a new one or securing a refund. Instead, it puts employees on the defensive and causes them to be less than willing to help.
I’ve had plenty of bad experiences with cable and internet providers. Frustration sets in when problems continue to occur. Calls to customer service hopefully resolve issues. What isn’t necessary is unloading a tirade on the person on the other end of the line. Most of the time, those workers follow a script or a set of questions for every caller. Their abilities to help is limited, and sometimes the only thing they can offer is to schedule an appointment with a technician. If a customer belittles and curses the worker, does he think such actions will make the helper more likely to set a quick appointment?
If food doesn’t meet expectations, a customer can complain. She can berate the server and demand to see the manager. A flood of vitriol can wash over the entire staff, and perhaps the unhappy individual will feel better. However, that diner might want to examine any food that is then returned to him. We’ve all heard stories of the little presents that cooks add to the entrees of surly customers.
When I have a problem, my first action is to ask for a manager. That individual is who has the ability to address the problem. It is to her that I lodge my complaint. I ask for a resolution that fixes the problem. Only when that person is rude or unwilling to help do I raise my voice or talk forcefully.

In case of unacceptable food, I call the manager over to complain. I don’t return the food to be better prepared because I don’t trust what might come back, and I never ask for the cost of the meal to be erased or expect a free meal the next time I visit. My goal is to let the manager know that the service is poor and that it will lead to his business losing customers.
Yes, I’ve blown my top at some people in customer service. Most of the time, they are folks on the phone who don’t speak the language well. These folks read the script in front of them and then ask if the problem has been solved and if they can help in any other way. I tell them the problem still exists, but they continue to utter the same lines. That’s
when I lose patience and know that the company has no intention of satisfying customers.
Overall, we all need to be nice to others who are trying to do their jobs. Problems will arise, but our duty is to deal with them and the people who are helping the ways that we would want to be treated. If that doesn’t work, politely ask to speak to a manager. Blood pressures won’t skyrocket and help is more likely to be on the way.



I DARE YOU


Over the past couple of years, the partisanship and resulting animus between political sides has increased to a level that makes me wonder if our country will ever be all right. Politicians have managed to fracture the very fabric that makes American democracy so wonderful. They’ve managed to so polarize us so that we no longer can be civil to one another. I don’t care about the politics any more. The most important thing is for the American people to be kind to one another and to join forces for the common defense and good of the U.S.A. Therefore, I’m challenging each person who reads this and asking them to challenge at least one other person.
Each of us needs to find someone to help. These days, that shouldn’t be such a difficult undertaking. The individual that we search out shouldn’t be a family member or friend. Instead, the subjects for our projects should be folks we either don’t know at all or only know in passing. Yes, co-workers that are not well known can be included.
We don’t want to announce to them that we are about to help them with some situation. No, our goals are to get to know our choices well enough to know what they might need. Doing that will require a great deal of work. We have to spend time with folks enough to discover what areas of their lives need our help. Now, by help, I am not at all suggesting that we interject our opinions on what person should or shouldn’t do or what that we impose our values on them. No, we simply need to find people that we don’t know well and change that situation.
Once we’ve become familiar with those people, our goals are to find ways to offer help to them. Oh, yes, some people won’t need anything, and if that arises, we should choose someone else. For a block of individuals, financial help might be the key issue. Others could possibly need emotional support as they struggle with some area in their lives. Perhaps the most important help for others is simply having someone who will listen.
What is most important about this exercise is that each person who initiates it should observe the differences that his actions make. Does the one helped feel better? Does a friendship blossom? What things are learned by both people involved? Finally, has the act of reaching out to another person made a difference in how he is perceived?
This exercise takes a little effort and time. The benefits might be unmeasurable. In either case, I hope that we all might learn to be a bit more patient and empathetic with those whom we try to help. Who knows? We might help heal the great divide that now eats away at our country.
If you are brave enough to accept this challenge, let me know how it turns out. You can remain anonymous, but send an email to joerector@comcast.net to let me know how things went…good or bad.

GOOFY LOVE


Ah, young love thrives in the halls of high schools around the country. I’ve seen so many couples in the hallways and common areas. Their actions aren’t much different from those of generations that preceded them.
Back in the day, boys discovered females who would pay them brief moments of attention. Freshmen boys still struggled with that awkward physical time when their bodies were growing and their voices were squeaking. Most of them had just recently realized that the other sex existed, and their
fascination and preoccupation with them was intense.
Newly formed couples walked the halls of school tightly holding hands. Females looked comfortable with boyfriends in tow. However, those males traveled on stilted legs and with heads bowed and nerves on edge. They feared that a group of their friends would spy them and begin the teasing. Yelling at them or catcalling were common acts intended to embarrass. In reality, those who harassed were simply jealous of their friends who’d found girlfriends.
Boys walked their honeys to each class, and they were willing to be late for their own and to suffer the consequences. They ate lunch together and sat so close that one seat was all they needed. The couple looked cow-eyed at each other. Girls patted the boys’ legs and males made clumsy attempts to softly brush back locks of hair from females’ faces. Anyone who might catch a glimpse of them was subject to feeling just a bit nauseated at their actions.
In past generations, punishment for PDA (public displays of affection) was swift. Only the bravest of souls dared to exchange hugs. Rarely did a couple kiss goodbye between classes. Teachers tolerated not even a minute of such foolishness.
Sock hops gave young folks the chance to legally hold each other tight, and if the lights were turned down low enough, they might even kiss. They looked forward to slow dancing to such songs as “My
Girl” or “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay,” and the dance ended with “Stand by Me.” Because they were too young to drive, they stood in front of the school and draped themselves around each other until parents came to pick them up.
What stands out most about young couples was the power dynamic. Females definitely ruled the roost. The boy was so thrilled to have a girlfriend that the acquiesced to whatever she desired. In fact, the boy always seemed to walk a step behind her, and others instantly commented that the male looked more like a whipped puppy following its master than an equal in a relationship.
At some point, these romances faded and then died. The girls usually grew tired of the immaturity of the freshman boys and looked in greener pastures for upperclassmen. To their surprise, even older boys displayed the same streaks of immaturity. The females decided that they “could change” their boyfriends into individuals who were more to their liking. That tactic rarely worked as older boys just didn’t have any desire to be “whipped into shape.”
Decades later, women are still dealing with males the same way. We men still have a bit of immaturity inside, and our partners work tirelessly to rid us of it. They are still in charge in the relationship; men have seen the job of being boss and want no part of it. However, the spark that appeared so long ago is still present, and we men experience the same awkward feelings about those special girls whom we have loved so long. It’s an older, deeper, more comfortable love, but it burns just a brightly as ever.

TIGHT-LEGGED JEANS


Anyone who catches even a glimpse of me immediately recognizes the fact that I’m not much of a dresser. Neither am I in the least bit interested in the latest fashions. So, it would surprise no one that I balked at the wearing the pair of jeans my wife brought home the other day. She told me to try them on, and when I did, they were so tight around the legs that I felt smothered. Amy explained that the
pair was tight-fitting in the legs. My legs are so skinny that folks have made jokes about them for years, so it was not surprise that I wasn’t at all interested in wearing them to accentuate that characteristic. The truth is I’ve never been able to wear the nicest, most popular clothing items.
My brother was nearly four years older, and when he was in high school, guys wore peg-legged pants. They were so tight in the legs that just pulling them over feet was a difficult task. However, the look was stylish, and Dal wore them. Jim and I, on the other hand, had no chance of owning such a pair. We both possessed round body shapes, and mine was more so than his. To get a pair of jeans or pants big enough in the waist required buying “husky” cuts.
That term was code for “fat boy” jeans. Wearing them with such skinny legs would have made us look like lollipops. Our pants were big, and the seats and legs were baggy.
Only during my senior year did my body change. Some of it was due to maturity; the other part was the result of surviving on a diet of cigarettes, cokes, and peanut butter, mayonnaise and mustard sandwiches. Even though I lost several pounds, I didn’t buy new clothes. Instead, pants that were too large were cinched up with a belt. The look wasn’t good, but I survived.
In college, I owned a couple of trendier items, and my shoes were in style, even though they hurt my
feet. Jeans were the rage, and most folks wore earth shoes. I sported a bush jacket with a belt that always hung loose. No girls came rushing up to me because I was dressed so well, but that was all right since my pursuits were aimed at studying to make sure I earned a college degree and to perform better than I’d done in high school. Okay, I suppose it would have been nice if I’d made an impression, but I lucked out my senior year when I met Amy, and by then, I wore regular stuff without regard to the latest fashion demands.
Since Amy and I married, she has become the one who chooses my clothes. Left to me, my wardrobe would consist of sweat pants, t-shirts, and tennis shoes. My wife thinks that, on occasion, a better mode of dress should include a pair of slacks that aren’t so old that the ends are frayed and, at the minimum, a polo shirt that hasn’t faded to a color different from the original. She’s given up on my wearing a tie or a suit. I reserve the right to wear those things only for the most special occasions and for funerals.
So, Amy returned the tight-legged jeans without bringing home a different pair of slacks. That’s fine with me. The pairs I already have are comfortable and plenty good enough to wear most places. On my return home each day, I rush to once again put on my shorts and worn out t-shirts. It’s only then that I am suitably dressed. Oh, and those items are from places like Walmart or Costco. I’m not trying to make an impression on anyone these days. Comfort is more important.




TOO MUCH TO DO


I walked into the workroom early the first day of school after Labor Day because I like to arrive early to find out what I’m supposed to do for the day as a substitute. Some teachers were already present and readying their rooms for students in 7:00 a.m. classes. Others arrived a bit later until all were on hand by 8:00. So began another day of educating the young, but these teachers today have much more piled on them than just a few years ago.
No, this isn’t a piece that bemoans the salaries we pay our teachers. Yes, they are underpaid, but most of them knew the low wages of the job before they went into the profession. That doesn’t make it right, but I see other things that are discouraging.
One is the expectations of teachers to perform extra duties. Bus duty has long been something that teachers despise. It required them to arrive even earlier than normal and to stay until the last bus
arrives to pick up students. If a bus breaks down, those teachers must remain with the waiting students until another type of transportation can arrive. On many occasions, administrators might have already headed home as the teacher hangs around with bus riders.
Some teachers are expected to serve lunch duty roles. They make sure students don’t act up and that
they clear their tables of all trash and trays. It’s shocking how many students will walk from the table with the expectations that someone else cleans their messes. I always wonder if they do the same thing at home but know that the answer is “yes.”
In some schools, teachers are required to stay in touch with parents about a variety of things. When students miss a set number of days, the teacher is required to call the parent to inform them that the
child has missed days. Yes, parents need to know when their children miss excessive numbers of days, but calling after three or four takes more time from teachers. It’s a redundant task since most schools have programs that automatically call home when a child misses a school day.
Teachers are also expected to call homes when students’ grades become D’s or F’s. Parents’ knowing about poor performances of their children is important. However, they have access to the grades of students through the school’s computer platform. All that is necessary is for them to get on line and look. If they have questions or concerns about the grades, then they can contact the teacher for a meeting or conversation. The onus of responsibility for the child’s maintaining a passing grade should fall upon the parents, not the teachers.
Most teachers have large classes. For a high school teacher, that can mean 120 or more students per term. Tests and essays and worksheets must be graded. A single planning period is not enough time to complete the grading, especially when teachers must sometimes meet with administrators or cover other classes. That means they spend hours marking those papers at home.
The fact is that teachers work hard. Oh sure, some are lazy and rarely hit a lick, but for the most part, teachers put in plenty of energy and time to make sure students are exposed to concepts of classes. When additional duties and tasks are added, the job can become overwhelming. Again, most teachers knew what they were headed for when they accepted a job. Still, it would be nice if they could teach classes without having to complete so many other assigned duties. Give a teacher a thank you for the work that he or she does. Then make sure your child takes advantage of the opportunities to learn and be ready to face the college or technical school that waits in the future. 



BACK TO CLOTHES


School started not long ago, and I’ve already been able to serve a couple of days as a substitute. Many of the days I’ve scheduled have 7:00 a.m. classes, but I don’t mind starting early so that I can finish before the traffic rush at the end of the day. Being around a school filled with teenagers isn’t uncomfortable for me either since I spent thirty years in front of English classes. For me, the worst part of the school year starting deals with clothes.
All summer I’ve lived in shorts. Most of the time, I woke early, put on a pair of them and a t-shirt, and drove to the YMCA to complete an “old man workout.” Then I made my way home to complete the day’s list of chores. Sometimes I changed into older pairs of shorts that were covered with stain or paint from earlier tasks. No one much cared what I looked like as I mowed the yard or pulled weeds. By mid-morning, every article was drenched in sweat.
The rest of the time, I wore a bathing suit. Hours were spent sitting by the pool as I read a book or jumped in the water to cool down. On some days, I spent all afternoon there and returned to sit with Amy in the evenings after she arrived home from work. One drawer in the dresser is filled with bathing suits, but for some reason, I like best the two that Amy bought for a bout $5.00 a pair. If smudges of dirt or grease from machinery swiped across them, it made no difference.
Along with those shorts, I wore old t-shirts. Most were several years old, and they were dotted with paint or stain. Some were so old and faded that Amy begged me to toss them out, but like most men, I refused to discard the most comfortable tops that were in my wardrobe. Amy bought several sleeveless shirts in hopes I would clean out the raggedy ones, but they were simply added to the rotation.
Back in the grind of school, I have to wear slacks and a decent shirt. Nothing is worse than the first couple of days after returning to the regular wardrobe. The weather is still stifling hot and humid, and those long pants smother my skinny legs. Polo shirts and dress shirts just don’t “breathe” like my old tops, so I feel as if I am in a sauna the entire day.
Even shoes are miserably uncomfortable. After a couple of months of wearing flip flops, my feet feel swollen and pinched in shoes. Socks don’t help the matter any at all.
I was more than a little shocked on the first day back at school. Boys were clad in shorts and t-shirts, which was normal attire. However, the girls’ clothing was a different story. Too many of them wore shorts that were so short that they barely covered and legs or behinds. Tops were cut much too low or had openings in the back that allowed them to show of the latest sport’s bras with intricate webbing. In addition to the shock, I admit to being a bit jealous. No, I’d never wear some of those items, but I longed to return to my shorts and t-shirts that were of better quality.
Before long, the cold weather will blow in, and everyone will be covered from head to toe with warm clothes. Summer dress will be long gone. Yet, as spring arrives and warm temperatures move in, I’ll look forward to the time that I can again spend the day in my comfortable clothes.

JOHN McCAIN


John McCain passed last week. Since then, many Americans have thought about the man and the services he gave to his country. He is in the truest sense of the word a patriot and a hero.
First of all, I wasn’t an avid supporter of McCain. When he ran for president, I did not vote for him. His ideas were, in many instances, just a bit too hard line or conservative for me. The man’s decision
to choose Sarah Palin as a running mate was the deciding factor. I’m not sure whether he chose the woman or his campaign strategists convinced him to take her, but her addition spelled the end of McCain’s chances for the highest office in the land.
Even though I didn’t vote for him, I respected him. I knew his love of country and commitment to it were genuine. His bid for the office was grounded in a desire to serve these United States and to keep the country on a correct course. At the same time, McCain campaigned fairly in the election; he played tough, but he wouldn’t allow half-truths and innuendo the slightest bit of oxygen. Nothing better shows that than when he corrected the woman who called Obama an Arab and a Muslim. Yes, John McCain played hard and wanted to win, but he always played within the rules.
During his time in the senate, I sometimes cursed his over-the-top demands for more defense spending, tax cuts, and right-to-life issues. He railed against many social issues, and too often, the man attacked those who disagreed with him. However, McCain was one of the most well-liked persons in the senate. Folks on both sides of the aisle remember that he often apologized for being too harsh with them. Most important, he seems to have left disagreements at the door of the chamber; when he exited, McCain was a friendly and likable individual.
The stance he took on the vote over Obamacare was one of the most courageous acts I’ve ever witnessed. Senators on both sides stood and cheered his return to the Senate chamber on the night of the vote to determine the program’s fate. In dramatic fashion, he turned thumb’s down and defeated his own party. He voted to protect his constituents, and in the process, might have protect millions of others who would have lost healthcare coverage.
It was also that vote that further made Trump hate McCain. While running for president, Trump refused to recognize McCain as a hero. “He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.” Such an ignorant statement from a man who avoided service because of bone spurs would have been the opening shot to a long, loud, noisy war between two men. McCain never allowed that to happen. Instead, he went about his business of serving the people of the country the best way he saw fit.
John McCain died from the cancer that attacked him a year earlier. America grieves over the loss of one of its greatest heroes. The picture of his desk draped with a black cloth and adorned with a bouquet of white roses stings. A true leader has died. A man who stood up for principles, order, and the rules of governing is now silent. He gave 60 years of service to this country, but the man in the oval office denied him the flying of our flag at half-staff and only spoke positively about him after the American Legion sent a scathing letter and demanded the respect that was due to McCain. Republicans and democrats will both deliver eulogies during services; they are rivals and friends of the senator. The sitting president will have to find something else to do because he wasn’t welcome at the funeral.
So, another statesman has left us. Who will replace him? The next senator should be someone who is just as much of a maverick as John McCain. That means he or she will work for the good of the people, not for the party or a petty leader. We need more people like McCain on both sides of the aisle. If they come, congress just might once again work as it should. Thank you, John McCain, for your service to all the people of the United States.



KEEPING THE OLD AND THE NEW


Well, the day finally arrived. I gave in and purchased another vehicle. Doing so was a difficult decision because I struggle with the idea of having to make a car payment. However, times arrive in life when such actions must be taken.
I bought a “new old car.” Ever loyal to Nissan, I chose a 2011 Pathfinder. It has plenty of miles from the previous owner, but otherwise, the vehicle is in good shape for a car so old. Amy and I don’t buy new cars for several reasons. One is that we can’t afford new cars, nor can I justify paying more for a car than I did my first house. (Yep, I’m old.) The second reason is that new cars lose so much value the moment they leave the lot. Many times, a used car has been driven long enough to work out the bugs so that it can be a more reliable one with a few miles on it. The third reason for buying the car is that I’m tired of dropping into and climbing out of the Nissan Sentra that I now drive. I need something that allows me to either sit straight into it or step up just a little to enter the car without having to promise an arm or a leg.
I’m passed the excitement that comes with a new car, including a new used one. It’s a thing and a means to move from one spot to another. If I fail to get one car I like, I don’t fret much anymore because another one will come around before long. Oh, I like having something to drive that’s a bit more up to date, and I only require three options on a vehicle: electric mirrors, intermittent wipers, and a working radio. All the other gadgets are nice to have, but not necessary.
I’ll sell my 2012 Sentra at some point. It only has 56,000 miles on it, and the car is a perfect first vehicle for a teenager or a second car for a family. I will keep my other car. My 1987 Nissan
Pathfinder stays parked under the carport. It’s one vehicle we bought new, and we added a back seat, radio, and air conditioner at later times because it was cheaper to do so. Over the last 31 years, my old Pathfinder has traveled to hundreds of baseball games and has pulled a trailer filled with mulch, flooring, and building materials. The inside shows the wear of so many trips and years. The arm rests are split, and the dash is now covered with a material to hide the deep crevices in the vinyl. Charlie Muncey, our hero mechanic, worked hard to fill in the rusted out areas under the back seat. The air conditioner and radio no longer function, and sometimes the engine runs too rich.
Even though that old car has more than its share of problems, I can’t let it go. In fact, my son just a couple of weeks ago implored me not to sell the old Pathfinder because it is so much a part of the family.
I’ll enjoy driving an updated Pathfinder that has plenty of bells and whistles and three rows of seats. The worries of arriving on trips out of town won’t linger as they did when I drove the old car. Still, I’ll take my favorite vehicle when I need a load of mulch or want to haul a load of materials. We have too much history to just part ways so quickly. Wave at me if you see me in either of my Pathfinders. I’ll be the guy driving down the road with a smile on his face.

LESS FOR MORE


Some kind of critters managed to sneak their ways into a box of cereal at the house. At first, I thought, “Mice,” but on further inspection, I decided that some kind of little bugs had gotten into the stuff. Off I went in search of plastic containers to hold cereals and other types of foods, and before reorganizing the cabinets, I scrubbed them with soap and vacuumed everything. The problem has been solved.
What I have noticed during this cleaning exercise is just how much smaller boxes of cereal are. I remember back when I was a boy and my dad, who died August 31, 1965, would eat cornflakes. He’d grab a bowl that resembled a washtub and pour the stuff in. That box fed a family of five for at least a
week with some to spare when the next grocery store trip rolled around.
Today, a box of most cereal is about twelve ounces. That makes for too few servings. Oh sure, a family can pour a meager serving of flakes or oats or shredded wheat into their bowls and stretch the box over a longer period of time, but I thought the reason for eating cereal for breakfast was to have a meal, not a snack. Yes, I know cereal isn’t the healthiest choice for the morning meal, but sometimes I’m in a rush, and at other times, I don’t have an appetite for bacon and eggs or some other larger menu item.
Chips are other food items that have shrunk over the years. Back in the day, a large bag of Fritos or Lays Potato Chips was a treat at hour house. We three boys would fill ourselves and still have the majority of the bag left for other times. I discovered Cheetos when I was about thirteen and have since loved them. The old bags were stuffed with big pieces, unlike the scrawny products today that
have more air than food in them. The Cheetos are tiny morsels that do little to satisfy a craving.
I almost laugh out loud when I watch the Payday candy commercial. The announcer talks about the giant size of the bars. He evidently was not a child of the 50’s and 60’s. A Baby Ruth or a Payday was so large that a child could only ingest about half of the candy. The leftover part was stashed in the
refrigerator for a later time. Sugar Daddy suckers lived up to their claims as “all day suckers.” Mouths and jaws tired long before the pure sugar treat was eaten, and the remaining part was good for later if the wrapper didn’t stick too tightly to the surface.
The only things that haven’t shrunk over the years are prices. I suffer from sticker shock every time I look to purchase a treat. My favorite candy is Reese’s Cups, but I just can’t bring myself to spend a dollar or more for an item that is half the original size. On occasion, I will break down and buy some kind of candy, but I’m so traumatized by the price that the joy in the treat is gone.
I do realize that time has marched on and that things are different. I further recognize that prices have increased for everything we buy. What I don’t understand is how we’ve allowed companies to
increase prices on products while reducing the amount that a container holds. Even toothpaste prices have soared, but the tubes hold much less than they once did. It would be nice to occasionally be able to buy an oversized Reese’s Cup and feel I’ve gotten my money’s worth. However, that’s not going to happen in this lifetime.

SCHOOLS AND TRAFFIC


If you were out and about early on Wednesday of last week, the chances are you were stuck in a major traffic jam. Yes, friends, schools opened in Knox County on that day, and for the next year most of us must acclimate ourselves to the travel woes that go with education. Plenty of things contribute to the inability to easily travel from Point A to Point B.
I’m all for growth and progress. Knoxville and Knox County are sprawling more each year. A drive in any area of the county will reveal how many subdivisions and apartment complexes are sprouting up. The problem with those developments is that they all dump traffic onto the roads. A recent survey indicates that the average household has 2.28 cars. So, even if a small development has 40 units, it unloads about 90 more vehicles on road surfaces.
Taking into consideration that most new developments are built on side roads, the problem grows even stickier. For instance, I live in the Ball Camp area. Every morning, a line of traffic backs up from the railroad track below the house and snakes its way up Ball Road in one direction and across another set of tracks on Ball Camp Pike. When a train comes each morning, the back-up makes sure that students are tardy to work, parents are late to work, and drivers lose their patience and tempers.
I attended a hearing on allowing a nearby development to proceed. One individual who would determine its fate answered a concern about inadequate roads by saying, “There are a lot of narrow roads i
n the county. That’s just something people have to deal with.” Really? Wouldn’t it make sense to develop the infrastructure before allowing hoards of new developments to begin?
Another factor causing traffic problems is parents. For some reason, moms and dads insist upon driving their children to school. They load up the kids and hit the roads. School zones are clogged like sink drains. Other vehicles trying to maneuver through the quagmire to reach other places are unable to move at all.
I passed the Cedar Bluff school zone just before students got out at noon on the first day. Even though schools wouldn’t end for about forty minutes, cars were lined up going both directions on Cedar Bluff Road. Even worse, some jerks had zipped down the line of waiting cars and then tried to cut
line. That blocked another lane of traffic. Don’t these people have better things to do than to sit in cars for long periods of time and snarl traffic?
Buses run throughout the county every morning of school. They stop to pick up students, and such frequent stops can back up traffic for a mile. The sad thing is that many of these big yellow limousines carry too few students. Parents won’t allow their children to ride buses. They believe that buses aren’t safe in so much traffic. Hey, if these folks would put their children on school transportation, the number of vehicles swamping roads and school zones would significantly decrease. Folks, tax dollars are paying the contracts for these buses. Not using them is a waste of money. Think about that the next time you have a conniption fit about how your tax dollars are spent.
Yes, school is back in session, and the traffic will be crazy. My suggestion is that any of you parents who can should put your children on buses that drive right to the schools. Of course, I know that’s not going to happen, so my best advice is that you all drive carefully, obey the traffic laws in school zones, and be patient. Summer will return a few months. 


THE LAST GENERATION TO ...


While I was sitting poolside the other day and pondering life in general, I was struck by the fact that my generation, the Baby Boomers, are unique. Oh, I know we’re old now and should be given patronizing smiles and then be ignored. Those of us in this generation, however, are the last generation to have experienced so many things. Here’s just a short list of them.
We’re the last generation to have experienced the early years of television. During that time, many of
our families didn’t even own a tv, and when we finally got one, it was a black and white set that weighed as much as the kitchen stove. Those old sets received three stations; around here, they were 6, 10, and 26. Rabbit ears on top of the set could bring in two of the stations, but an outside antenna mounted on the roof was necessary to pick up the ABC affiliate Channel 26.
We are also the last generation to have to rise from the couch, walk across the room, and change the channel. No remote control was available. In fact, we often declared that our parents had us so that we could serve as human remote controls.
Our age group is the last consumers to enjoy the sounds from an 8-track tape player. I f we were lucky, one of the machines was wired into our old cars, and we popped in tapes to play music by Chicago, Iron Butterfly, or Three Dog Night. Holes were cut into door panels to insert speakers that worked until a wire shorted or a solder gave out.

Another thing that’s gone by the wayside is the cassette tape player. It proved to be more compact and allowed us to have a Walkman player to listen to music anywhere we wanted to go.
No other group will ever have to deal with rotary phones or party lines. Folks won’t have to listen to a ring to know if a call is for them or their neighbors. Nor will teenagers be embarrassed as
they talk to boyfriends or girlfriends while standing in front of parents or younger brothers or sisters. Today, some of us don’t mind leaving the house without a phone stuck in our pockets to be in touch with contacts or to connect to the Internet.
Just recently, I heard that car makers will phase out straight shift cars. If that’s so, we’ll be that least generation to learn to drive a vehicle with a stick shift. Sure, changing gears might hang around for a while, but Baby Boomers are the last folks to have cars with gear shifts as standard equipment. We had to pay extra for an automatic transmission. Those who learned to drive a car with a clutch and shifter were always able to drive any car that might be
available. Today, young people are limited to vehicles that have automatic transmissions, and they miss out on some of the fun of driving other types vehicles.
Baby Boomers are today’s senior citizens, and we will take with us many marvelous creations and inventions…for our time. Younger generations have developed their own items that are considered second nature—cell phones, video games, laptop computers, and Bluetooth devices. They will never know the joy of banging out a letter or term paper on a typewriter or spending hours in a library while they search for information on a topic. In a blink of an eye, however, these youngsters will be oldsters, and their toys that they hold so dear will be relics. I just hope those things are as important in their memories.
I’ve only scratched the surface of the out-of-date things we Baby Boomers used. Let me know if you think of others. I’d appreciate the memories that they bring back.


A GOOD LAUGH


Mildred Simcox, my wife’s aunt, passed away recently. She’d suffered the cruel effects of dementia for several years and finally found relief and release from a life trapped in a mind that faded away. What hurt so much was the fact that this woman loved to laugh. She taught all of us in her life that
laughter is one of the best things that we can experience.
During the celebration of Mildred’s life, her nieces and nephews shared stories about her levity. A particular time that brought on ripples of laughter from family occurred at someone else’s funeral. One account recalls that shouting began as the spirit moved mourners. Another declares that Mildred broke out in a smile and then a guffaw after an individual tripped and fell.
Mildred was like at least one person in every family. She was prim and proper most of the time, but on occasion, she let down her guard and allowed her true being to shine. She’d been a school teacher, so God had granted her “the look,” the one that seared the very soul of the person at whom it was directed. When something amused Mildred, the teacher fa├žade evaporated, and a smile, devilish grin and cackle replaced it.
We all could use a bit more laughter in our lives. I don’t ever laugh at folks who fall because my first concern is whether or not they are hurt. I’ve also experienced those times when I found myself sprawled on the ground or at the bottom of a set of steps and never found the situation particularly funny. I find humor in the things that people say. Expressions can set me off, and when a person spews ridiculous lies that are beyond belief, I lose it. Some comedians and a small number of goofy movies can bring on belly laughs. Those times always help me to realize that life truly is good.
We need to stop taking our lives and our situations so seriously. Sure, times arise when our attention to events requires our full concentration, but for the most part, life is just a casual thing. In a few hours or days or years, the things over which we stress so much will be the stuff of funny stories or won’t be important enough to remember. When we laugh, even for a minute, our bodies produce endorphins that relaxes us and allow us to simply breathe.
Right now, our country is fractured. Folks are divided into polarized camps and refuse to budge an inch from their beliefs. Our lives are “hard” because every event becomes another battleground for sides. No one smiles; instead, we squawk against the stupidity of our opponents. A much more effective act in those instances would be to consider the absurd contentions and then laugh loudly at them.
I’ve missed Mildred and her laughter since that vile disease struck. She became one of the persons whom I most liked in this world. Her silence will leave me sadder. What this former school teacher, aunt, and friend leaves behind is the image of a smiling face that reveled in moments of life and expressed that joy through a hearty laugh. That’s a legacy we could all wish to leave behind.

NANU-NANU


HBO aired a documentary about Robin Williams last week. Anyone who knows me well can quickly assure folks that I watched it. Since the beginning of his career, I followed him and lauded his creative and comedic abilities.
Williams hooked me with the first episode of “Mork and Mindy.” I’d never seen anyone who could
fly through jokes, change personalities, and keep his audience laughing hysterically. The Orkian handshake and catchphrase “Nanu-Nanu” spread throughout the nation’s population. I remember using both during my teaching days at the time. Some students thought I’d lost my mind, but others who’d viewed the show smiled politely or laughed aloud as they recalled a skit from the show.
Other comedians became favorites of mine over the years. Tim Allen and his shtick had me rolling in the floor with laughter. I loved the way he grunted like a pig in his imitations of men. The irreverent comedy of the Punk Magician shocked everyone, but his warped sense of humor kept viewers laughing. Lewis Grizzard transformed his newspaper columns and books into stand-up acts that sold out as soon as they were announced. Yes, I was a fan of Bill Cosby and his “Cosby Himself” routine. His spot-on comments on parenthood had those of us with little ones realizing that we were normal.
Still, Robin Williams remained my comedy hero. When his “Live at the Met” video came out, I
watched it and copied it to watch time and time again. Sure, Robin Williams was sometimes vulgar; at other times, he was crude; and on occasion, he bordered on disgusting. Even so, I always understood where he was going, which might say volumes about my own moral compass, but more than likely, it says that I could see that his intent was the humor, not the offense. In it all, he managed to keep fans laughing during his 2-hour long concerts.
I always wanted to see Williams, and in 2002 he scheduled a concert in Nashville. My older brother Dallas called and asked if I would like to see the show. I responded “yes” but that I couldn’t afford the ticket. He told me to be in Nashville the weekend of the event and that he’d get two tickets for us.
I made the trip on that weekend and spent some of Friday night sitting with Dallas on his screened porch. We talked for a bit about the concert, but then he uncharacteristically said he was going to bed. The next day he didn’t feel much better; his head was spinning, and he felt nauseated. The show was on Sunday evening, and Dallas rose that morning but didn’t stay up long. He stayed in bed all day, and when he was up for any reason, he apologized for not keeping me company. Closer to the concert time, he told me that he just didn’t feel well enough to go. I told him that was okay and that I could go by myself.
I saw my long-time favorite celebrity that August night, and he left the crowd at the grand Ole Opry House screaming for more, I saved the ticket stub and put it in a frame. It was a wonderful night.
That weekend also turned out to be the first inkling that my brother was seriously ill. On Labor Day, his wife Brenda called to tell me he was in the hospital. Dallas had developed lung cancer that had metastasized to his brain. By January 2003, he was gone. I placed a photo of the Dallas in the frame that held the ticket stub to remember the entire circle of events.
I miss Dallas and thought about the concert and his illness as I watched the Williams’ documentary. My heart broke when I learned the comedian had committed suicide. The one hope I have is that these two men have had the chance to meet in heaven so that my brother can laugh as I did all those years ago.