Congratulations to Kevin Tracy

August 26, 2009

Kevin and his bride, Sandy, recently took a trip to the Dakotas. I’m not sure which state he visited last, but either North or South Dakota became number fifty for him. He can now proudly say he has seen all fifty states!

I’m one of those fortunate individuals who can not only say, “Well Done!” I can also say, “Welcome to the club!” However, I don’t know if there is such a club for people like us.

I completed the tour in 2002

I completed the tour in 2002

I’m not sure when I was smitten with the idea of visiting all of our United States, but I know from whence the bug came. My sister, Gertrude Cronin, became aware of her possibility to achieve that goal after her children were grown and she started traveling with her husband whose job took him to many different parts of the country. In addition, her elder son made a career of the Air Force and found himself living in numerous states. My sister had no choice but to travel to see her grandchildren.

As it turns out, between IBM sending me to the far reaches of the continent and a family vacation taken in 1984 (twenty-nine states and 10,000 miles in six weeks) I quickly caught up with her. In fact, I beat her!

And she is still sitting at forty-nine. The one state that has eluded her is Hawaii. I returned to the island state a few years ago, but was unable to convince her to join us. I keep hoping to hit the lottery so I can take her while she is still able to enjoy it. Gertie is now 86 and remains in excellent health with a good clear mind. We need to get her there while she still looks good in a bathing suit!

Perhaps someone with the Hawaiian visitors and convention group will offer her a paid vacation. But let me forewarn them: she refused to go with us because we visited three of the islands… staying in hotels and condos, and flying between the islands. She wanted to take a cruise so she’d only have to unpack once at the beginning of the trip and pack once at the end.

Picky! Picky! Picky!

In any case, I know how I felt after seeing my fiftieth state. I imagine Kevin feels the same. Well done, Kevin!


On Turning Sixty-Five

August 21, 2009

I made it! All those companies that have been trying to sell me Medicare gap insurance had faith that I’d eventually become eligible. They were right.

But today, rather then dwell on the evils of aging (which is far better than the alternative… maybe) I thought I’d share a bit of humor with a great underlying message.

One of my friends from IBM, Ivette Lake, sent me a link to a video. I’ll let Jack Rushton take it from here.


Medical Inflation

August 18, 2009

I keep hearing how one-sixth of our economy is devoted to health care and can’t help wondering how much the hospitals are to blame.

A year or so ago I found myself in the hospital because we erroneously thought that I had suffered a heart attack. I was kept there for a few days and underwent a chest X-ray, a CAT scan, and a stress test on a treadmill with some radioactive material injected into my veins.

I was eventually transferred to another hospital where a cardiologist performed a heart catheterization and determined that there was nothing wrong with my heart.

A week or so later I received a bill from the first hospital. When I went to settle up, I learned that my insurance company had paid $1,200 and I was expected to pay $250. The total bill was around $20,000.

I asked about the difference (more than $18,000) and was told the hospital would write it off as a bad debt.

Now, multiply that amount times the number of people who pass through the many hospitals throughout the country.

If the hospital knew between me and my insurance the most they could hope for was less than fifteen hundred dollars, why inflate the bill? If the hospitals are routinely inflating their prices to create bogus bad debts simply to avoid paying taxes, I would think this practice is a large part of the health care costs problem.

I would think this would greatly upset politicians – those hospitals are taking away tax dollars that could be spent on ear marks!

On top of all this, consider those poor souls without insurance. They’re expected to pay the entire inflated amount. No why has no one mentioned anything about this?


Another busy week behind us

August 17, 2009
Nostalgia performing for throngs of fans

Nostalgia performing for throngs of fans

While we expected about a hundred and fifty Lutherans to show up for the Thrivent picnic, the fifty or so who did come were enthusiastic.

My personal groupies

My personal groupies

My oldest son, his wife, and son enjoyed the hot dogs, corn on the cob, and playground equipment. They, as well as the other attendees, also thoroughly enjoyed the North Georgia Barbershop Singers.

These men sounded as good as they looked!

These men sounded as good as they looked!

This was our first attempt to sponsor a good old-fashioned summer picnic. It wasn’t a smashing success, but the people who came seemed to have had a good time. Maybe we’ll try it again next year.

In the meantime, when I wasn’t involved in getting ready for the picnic I was busy getting ready for our first committee meeting for our church’s scrip program. Seven of us met yesterday afternoon and set the wheels in motion.

Hopefully, we’ll be selling gift cards in the near future and start chopping away our mortgage debt.


Grandsons

August 13, 2009

Between us, my bride and I have thirteen grandchildren – seven girls and six boys. In the past, I’ve displayed photos of them all and written about them all. Today, I’ll focus on just one… for two reasons. First, his father sent us a great picture of him attending his first Atlanta Braves baseball game. Second, I just read a great poem in Looking Back, a magazine about the good old days.

First, the photo:

A number one baseball fan

Daniel Leeds - A number one baseball fan

Now the poem. It was written by Douglas Raymond Rose.

Grandpa’s Mirror

I saw myself today,

Running fast in the sun.

Barefoot and tanned was I,

Having all sorts of fun.

I saw myself today,

Down by the ol’ fishin’ hole,

Pole and stink-bait both in hand,

Thrilled and happy of soul.

“Where’d you see yourself?” you ask,

“That granted you so much joy?”

I’ll tell you: I watched my own grandson,

I watched myself in that dear barefoot boy!


Living off the Land

August 12, 2009

One of my ancestors, Jeremiah Leeds (1754 – 1838), was a master when it came to living off the land.

The following is from “The Daily Union History of Atlantic City and County” by John F. Hall, Published 1900:

Jeremiah Leeds (1754 – 1838), the first permanent (white) settler on this island, so far as known, like many of his fellow-countrymen one hundred years ago, was a man of stalwart mould. He stood six feet in height and weighed fully two hundred and fifty pounds and was a Quaker. There is no evidence that he left the Quaker neighborhood at Leeds Point and came to this island to live permanently previous to 1783, when he was twenty-nine years old. He built his first log cabin and cleared away the field where it stood. He raised several crops of corn and rye and became thoroughly familiar with the very great abundance of wild ducks and geese and many kinds of sea fowl which then were tame and plenty, but are now rarely seen. He no doubt experienced the great pest of mosquitoes where there were so many ponds and swamps among the sand hills, and assisted as a wrecker in those days when many vessels with valuable cargoes were lost on the Brigantine shoals. It is difficult in these days to fully appreciate the advantages and the disadvantages which this stretch of beach afforded a young man who seems to have had no aspirations for political honors, but had his way in the world. The records at Trenton show, that he had risen to be First Lieutenant in Captain Joseph Covenover’s Sixth Company, Third Battalion, Gloucester County Militia, his commission bearing the date of September 18, 1777.

For fifty-five years this stalwart son of the Revolution lived on this lonely island and prospered, occupying log cabins till a more pretentious frame structure could be built in his old age. He raised cattle and grain and sold to passing vessels his surplus products and was under but little expense for taxes or the luxuries of life.

He was careful to build brush fences along the beach to catch the sand and build up the sand-hills to keep high tides out of the fresh water ponds so necessary for the wild fowl which comprised an important part of his food supply. He disliked to have sportsmen trespass upon his estate, though he always granted permission to shoot game under certain restrictions when he was asked.

He was particular to keep away from his sand-hills the cattle and horses which owners on the mainland brought over here in the summer to pasture. If the grass were eaten off, the sand-hills would blow away, which was detrimental to his policy of building up the island. The big sand-hills, which many now living can remember, were the result of the care and vigilance of patriarch Leeds, the original proprietor.

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In case you’re wondering why a Quaker fought in the Revolutionary War (against the Society of Friends teachings of non-violence), we need only consider this additional information provided by Mr. Hall.

Jeremiah Leeds, in his old age, used to tell the story of a visit which his father, John Leeds, received one day from foraging Redcoats, just before the Revolution.

A British vessel entered Great Bay in full view from Leeds Point. Two barges with soldiers and sailors came ashore for fresh meat. The captain ordered the Quaker farmer to drive up his cattle which were grazing in the meadows nearby. This was done, where upon two fat steers were selected from the herd and quickly knocked in the head, their bodies quartered, loaded on wagons and taken to the barges and to the ship.

“All right. That’s all,” was the farewell greeting of the captain to the farmer, who considered himself lucky in losing so little by the uninvited visitors. The steers happened to be the personal property of Jeremiah and his brother, and were worth perhaps at that time six or eight dollars per head. This event had its effect in making a soldier of a Quaker boy in the war of the Revolution which soon followed.

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Another ‘by the way’, the island that Jeremiah occupied is now better known as Atlantic City.

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Sadly, Jeremiah was part of a tiny minority of humans who tried to take care of the land upon which their lives depended. Over the centuries, industrialists and others have taken a far different approach.

For example, starting in the 1600’s, wealthy men decided that ivory billiard balls were far superior to their wooden and clay predecessors. The best source of ivory at the time was the tusks of elephants. And the only way to get the tusk of an elephant was to kill the beast.

Over the next couple of hundred years, thousands of elephants were destroyed so that their ivory tusks could be ‘harvested’. The tusks were the only things carried away by the hunters; the bodies were left to rot where they lay.

One might think that humans eventually came to their senses and recognized the evil of slaughtering innocent animals so men of wealth could strike ivory balls with wooden sticks. That wasn’t it at all. The truth is that the manufacturers of the billiard balls recognized that the world was running low on elephants. For them to remain in business, they had to find a substitute material.

Obviously, animal life has often been seen as insignificant. The great American Buffalo slaughter was not caused by the population’s insatiable appetite for Bison steaks. On the contrary, humans wanted the hides. The leather was perfect for machine belts during the Industrial Revolution, and the winter coats of the animals worked well for winter coats for humans.

The meat of the animals was left to rot much like the elephant’s carcasses.

And the blame cannot be laid at the feet of men like Buffalo Bill Cody. The animals he shot were used to feed the armies of railroad workers.

In truth, the first people to slaughter Buffaloes for the skins were the American Indians who sold the hides to the white businessmen.

I’ve heard of numerous complaints about air and water quality in the United States. Perhaps growing up in Pittsburgh gives me a different perspective.

When I was a lad, people used their headlights during the day and mothers hung their wash in the basement to keep it clean while it dried. Very few people fished in the three rivers because of all the chemical pollutants.

Today, the air is much cleaner and the rivers have become a sportsman’s paradise with trout, pike, bass, and many other species being caught on a regular basis.

Our country has done a tremendous job in reducing pollution. Is there more that needs to be done? Of course, but things are so much better than they were.

I guess you’d have to see how bad it was before you could recognize how much better it is.

As for the senseless killing of animals… unfortunately, the slaughter continues. Poachers are killing mountain gorillas so people can have vases made out of their feet, elephants are still being killed for their tusks, sharks are killed for their fins, bears for their livers, and so on.

It’s very similar to the drug trade. As long as there is someone with a wad of money willing to buy these items, men will kill innocent animals so they can feed their families.

We, as humans, have a tendancy to look the other way to avoid seeing the evils in this world. Besides, we have to keep up with the lives and deaths of people like Michael Jackson and the next American Idol. Those things are far more important.



Freedom of Speech – R.I.P.

August 6, 2009

In England, they call it the “Loyal Opposition”. In President Obama’s America, they call it a “Right Wing Conspiracy backed mob.”

For years we’ve been hearing how protesters have interrupted the speeches of conservatives on college campuses. That has always upset me. To quote a person whose name escapes me for the moment… “I totally disagree what you are saying, but I will fight to my death to defend your right to say it.”

I didn’t like the left-wing radicals refusing to allow someone to state his or her opinion. And I don’t like right-wing radicals doing it either.

Depending on the people doing the reporting, we’re told that the current wave of people shouting down the politicians are either a mob of radicals or a group of patriots who are fed up with our political process.

In many cases, pundits are saying our elected officials should be given the courtesy of being able to explain what they are trying to do. We should listen to them… we are told.

The way I see it, the problem began when the politicians stopped representing the people. If they refuse to listen to the people who put them in office, why should they deserve their constituents’ silence.

There is no way they could possibly explain what they have been doing for decades. The people are finally paying attention and they don’t like what is happening.

It’s time for the professional politicians to start listening. Otherwise, they might want to attend some classes to develop some marketable skills. After the next election, they may need to find a real job.

In the meantime, we might want to look around and find us some real representatives.


Emptiness

August 5, 2009

Uncle Lewis died of a heart attack in February of 1961. We tried to drive to New Jersey to attend his funeral but were turned back by a heavy snow storm. I’m sure Dad was extremely unhappy about that, but there was nothing he could do. Taking an airplane was not an option for a family struggling to get by.

Mom died of a heart attack in March of 1966. That came as a total shock to me. I’d never been told that she had a bad heart. She died just short of her sixty-sixth birthday. Her death hit me hard and, forty-three years later, it still hurts.

Between Uncle Lewis and Mom, I had a few other aunts and uncles die. I also had a childhood friend killed in a car wreck. Death was not new to me, but Mom was the first person who was so dear to me.

Her funeral turned into a big reunion; that angered me. I grew angrier as people told me they knew exactly how I felt. People deeply grieving don’t want to hear such words.

A lot of years have passed since Mom’s funeral. Come to think of it, so have all my remaining aunts and uncles… and my father. Dad died in 1974. He was eighty-two. Dad’s health was great until the last few months of his life. His health went down rapidly and – as much as I hate the platitudes – his death was a blessing.

Our family was able to go a number of years before we lost any other close members. In the late 1980’s we lost my sister Wilda’s husband, Jude. In the early 1990’s my sister Gert lost her husband, Mac. Those two men were both more than twenty years older than me; they were more like additional fathers than brothers-in-law. Although they had very different personalities and careers, they both served as role models to my brother Lewis and me.

In October 2002, we lost my brother, Seward (known to his friends as Bill). He’s the one who witnessed the atomic bomb test on the Bikini Atoll. He died of cancer and we can’t help believing that the radiation led to his terrible disease. Seward was seventy-four when he died.

Last month, Seward’s twin brother, Somers, passed away. Somers had a myriad of ailments that included Parkinson’s disease, a pulmonary problem resulting from exposure to asbestos, and a bad heart.

While we could pull out that old platitude – ‘His death was a blessing” – for both of the twins, it doesn’t make the void in my life any smaller.

I recently told some friends that losing Somers (known to his friends as Lew) was like losing the last part of a matching set. As long as Somers was alive, it seemed that Seward was there as well.

My brother, Lewis (known to his friends as Doug) wrote a letter to be read at Somers’ funeral. In it, he stated that it was difficult to think of one of the twins without thinking of them both. The family often talked about Seward and Somers. Their friends often talked about Bill and Lew.

The twins never dressed alike, but they often participated in the same events. They both loved sports and attended away games as often as home games. They both belonged to the same bowling leagues and took turns tending bar to supplement their incomes (to help pay for the road trips).

And now they’re both gone.

The twins were sixteen years older than me. In that respect, they were much like Jude and Mac… additional father figures and role models for Lewis and me.

Phil Coulter, the Irish songwriter who wrote the words recited in the video at the beginning of this post, composed a song called “The Old Man”. The words are of a man leaving the funeral of his father. He laments about all the things his father taught him and the wonderful times they had together. His final words…

“God, I miss him… the Old Man.”

God, I miss them… my parents, my brothers-in-law, and the twins.


Youth in Asia

August 3, 2009

Being a member of the Medicare brigade, and having many friends likewise saddled with such silly labels, I’ve been receiving tons of emails warning me of the evils of the proposed health care reform. Some even refer to it as a deformity.

What I can’t understand is why so many of my peers are so concerned about the Youth in Asia paragraphs. To be honest, I don’t think we should be extending medical benefits to anyone outside of the United States… regardless of their age.

Seriously, the way the administration’s spokespeople talk about the required conferences designed specifically for us old farts, they are not required, and they are only trying to get old folks to face the reality of their impending doom.

Since I have yet to have my first conference, I will withhold judgment.

In truth, what upsets me the most with this planned legislation is the same thing that keeps me from getting bent out of shape over the details. At this point, no one knows for sure what will be in the final bill.

What upsets me more is that most of our representatives in Congress won’t take the time to read any of it… beyond the ear mark amendment each of them will add to make the bill even more incomprehensible.

It seems to me that each of our elected ‘professional’ politicians has a large overpaid staff. So why don’t they assign a number of pages to each staff member and ask them to report back? Perhaps because they won’t have a ‘final’ copy until minutes prior to the vote.

This is OUR government working for US.

As a youngster, my father often quoted Will Rogers. The most fitting comment that sticks in my mind is that “We have the best government money can buy!”

I keep wondering what – beyond getting re-elected – will the politicians get out of passing legislation designed to make some individuals rich by milking the tax payers dry?