400 Edition

For the time being, I’ll use this page to post the articles I’ve written for the 400 Edition Magazine… starting with one I wrote in December of 2007 (which is now at the end of this page!) To save repeat visitors from having to search down the page for additional articles, I’ll just stick them in between. Thus, the story below is one that I wrote in March of 2008.

Cooties – A Valuable Commodity

I doubt the 1940’s outbreak of cooties was confined to Schaeffer School. My guess is the same species of cooties that clung to the young girls in my neighborhood were scaring away young boys in most parts of our country. In fact, the nasty parasites may have been a worldwide obstacle to many boy-girl relationships.

Having raised a daughter of my own, I believe the fathers of the girls I knew in grade school were glad their little girls had cooties. In fact, they probably wished the cooties would’ve hung around at least until their daughters completed their high school education. A few of the young ladies who managed to rid themselves of cooties disappeared before graduation day. In the late 1950’s, such girls found themselves in homes for unwed mothers… and most of their classmates had no idea what happened to them.

In grade school, girls couldn’t – or didn’t want to – play sports; they didn’t collect baseball cards and squealed in the presence of worms, insects, and the gross activities of little boys. A boy who could noisily pass gas or burp portions of the alphabet was seen as a hero to the other boys. Such brilliant performances were seen as crude and immature by the fancy-pants members of the opposite sex.

In the case of especially priggish little girls, boys would do everything they could to get their feet off the ground to avoid being infected by the girl’s overabundance of cooties. Girls were to be avoided at best, and tolerated at worst. We pitied the boy whose assigned seat forced him to be surrounded by classmates wearing dresses. A boy talking to a girl could result in hours of teasing by the other boys, and the unfortunate lad who was caught was ridiculed and embarrassed… unless he also happened to be the class bully.

I was in the eighth grade when I was first smitten by a girl who had cleansed herself of the invisible bugs. Until the age of thirteen, I saw girls as nothing more than nuisances. Some of my classmates began taking an interest in girls around the sixth or seventh grade, but I managed to hold out for as long as I could.

The “romance” I shared with that young lady involved my walking her home after school. Of course, I carried her books. After a week or two of this, I found myself shopping for a “friendship” ring. I didn’t bother going to a fancy jewelry store because I knew I could find the perfect symbol of my devotion at the local five and dime.

My walking her home continued for a few more weeks until things began to dawn on me. In the first place, she lived in the opposite direction of my home. We both lived about a half mile away from the school. Thus, I was walking a mile and a half to get home every day. In the second place, she didn’t like playing sports and I was missing the games my friends and I always played after school. Careful consideration caused me to decide the affair needed to come to and end. I swore off girls. I figured they’d just get in my way. I could do without them until after I finished college and was ready to consider settling down.

My celibacy lasted until eleventh grade. It was then that I was faced with the looming Junior Prom. All my friends were going and I didn’t want to miss out on a good time. Eventually I got up the nerve to ask a tenth grader to go with me. She was thrilled, which made me feel pretty good about myself.

The evening I spent with her was all right, but I think I had more fun joking around with my male friends. I still hadn’t learned all the intricacies of boy-girl relationships. Perhaps that’s why, within a day or two, the young lady I escorted that evening announced she was “going steady” with the younger brother of one of my friends.

Life would’ve been much easier for me if all the girls continued to have cooties. Unfortunately, most of them had been freed of the pests and I found them to be quite attractive. I dated a number of girls in my senior year and continued the practice into my college years. I did manage to wait until after my college graduation to get married, but must admit that females occupied a goodly portion of my thought processes.

Years later when I had a daughter of my own, I discovered that cooties had been totally eradicated. I was shocked when my daughter came home from the second grade and informed me that she was “going out with” a young male classmate.

“Where is he taking you?” I naively asked.

She looked at me as if I’d lost my mind. “Nowhere,” was her reply.

“Does that mean you’re taking him? Is he too cheap to buy you dinner and take you to a movie?” I was beginning to wonder where I had failed her.

“What are you talking about?” She was giving me the exasperated look that only a daughter can give her father.

“Well, if you’re going out with him, I want to know where you’re going, how you’re getting there, and when I should expect the young man to bring you home.”

“Dad-dee!” (That’s the way she’d say it when she was especially frustrated with my ignorance.) “We’re not going anywhere. We’re just going out together.”

Eventually she made me understand that “going out with” was nothing more than a phrase to indicate a boy and a girl liked each other and wanted others to see them as a couple. My daughter was in the second grade… seven years old… a mere babe in the woods… and some young stud had already claimed her as his own. What happened to the confounded cooties? Where were they when I needed them?

My daughter is now an adult and a mother of four. Two of her children are girls. In fact, seven of my grandchildren are girls. The way things are going, those little girls will be “going out with” toddlers at pre-school, and engaged before they finish grammar school. Instead of going to proms, they’ll be attending their friends’ weddings… or worse yet, their own!

Where are the cooties when we need them? I’m sure there are parents who would prefer their daughters and granddaughters suffer through an infestation of cooties rather than be preyed upon by a group of hormone driven boys who would be better served competing in burping contests. We need to get back to the good old days when children had plenty of time to be children. If cooties are what we need to make that happen, I say bring them on!

Family Circles

I was recently chatting with Diana Wilcox from the Alpharetta Welcome Center. She was complimenting me for my article about gadgets in the February-March issue of this fine magazine. Okay, so I’m stretching the truth a little. In fact, she was complimenting me on my newest grandson, Daniel Alexander Leeds.

Diana’s mention of that article reminded me that I had to get to work writing this article. When I told her I’d have to come up with some ideas, she suggested I simply write about family. The more I thought about her suggestion, the more I liked it. So, here’s a story about family.

I spent my first thirty-three years in Pittsburgh. I was the youngest of six children. On the surface, that statement doesn’t sound much different from many other families. The ‘except’ in my case is the vast difference in ages between my oldest sibling and me. Wilda will celebrate her eighty-seventh birthday in April. Gertrude will turn eighty-five in July. In June of 1928, my mother gave birth to twins. They would have been eighty this year. I say ‘they’ because we lost Bill in 2002. His twin, Lew, is still with us, but has a lot of health problems. My other brother, Doug, will be sixty-six by the time this article is printed. And I will end my sixty-fourth year later in the summer.

If you do the math, you’ll learn that Wilda is twenty-three years older than I. Gertrude has me by twenty-one years and Lew has me by sixteen. Doug and I are almost like a second family for my parents.

As a result of this peculiarity in our ages, most of my cousins are much older than I. In fact, the cousin I’ve come to know best is Ruth Morris who recently celebrated her eighty-ninth birthday. If you read my column on a regular basis, you might recognize Ruth as the cousin who has been providing me with a vast quantity of genealogical data and family relics.

I have one second-cousin with whom I went to school. I don’t remember the details surrounding the incident, but I was involved in only one fist fight within the confines of a school building. My second-cousin was my opponent!

On the other hand, I have nephews and nieces who are closer to my age. In high school and college, I’d often double date with one of my nephews.

By the time I graduated from college, all of my siblings were married. My brothers and sisters were the parents of a total of nine children – my nephews and nieces. The number of nephews and nieces was actually much higher because my brother, Lew, married a widow. The widow, Dot, had four children. That’s when I discovered I had dated one of my nieces and graduated high school with a nephew! To make life even more interesting, Dot’s oldest daughter, Elizabeth, had six or seven children of her own. When my bother got married, I became an instant Great Uncle! How about that!

The numbers continued to increase. By 1977, when I moved my wife and three sons to Georgia, I’d lost count of my nephews and nieces. One of the things I disliked the most about making the move was taking my children away from their cousins. In truth, my brother, Doug, had already moved to California. His four children and my four children have seen each other less than a handful of times. The same is true of my brother, Bill’s, children. There are five of them and they have four children between them.

When we moved to Georgia, we had no family here. We had a few friends – people I’d worked with at IBM in Pittsburgh – but we were basically alone. Fortunately, we had friendly neighbors and developed many strong friendships through our church. But, friends aren’t the same as family.

So, what have we done about the situation? Have we simply sat around feeling sorry for ourselves since 1977? Heavens no!

Our children grew up. That’s a great thing for children to do. Then, they started getting married and having children of their own. My oldest son, J, was the first to take the step into matrimony. He married a young lady named Lisanne DePriest. She joined our family along with her parents, Roy and Trish, and her brother, Jamey. Jamey brought along his wife and child. In one wedding ceremony, the size of our ‘family’ doubled.

Kenn soon followed his brother. He married Amanda Bakinow, daughter of Steve and Cathy. Amanda also brought along her siblings and our ‘family’ continued to grow.

Becky married Joel Ruff and we added Joel’s mother and sister. My son, Matthew, has yet to find his mate, but the other three have done their share of extending the ‘family’. Becky is the mother of Tyler, Alexis, Ariana, and Landon. Kenn is the father of Rachel, Maggie, and Ellie. J is the father of Daniel. Obviously, our grandchildren have a lot more cousins in their age ranges than I ever did… and they all live reasonably close.

Now for the rest of the story. My first wife, Sally, and I divorced in 1993. I married my current bride, Lu, in 1999. Lu had three children from her previous marriage. Her older son, Paul, married Amy Sparks, daughter of Craig and Pat Sparks. Amy has a sister and she and Paul have a son, Dominic.

Lu’s younger son, Steve, married Aimee Mize, daughter of John and Debbie. Aimee has a sister and she and Steve are the parents of Emma.

Lu’s daughter, Lori, married Tim Knight. Tim is also a member of a ‘blended’ family. He is the step-son of Peter Wilcox. Tim and Lori are the parents of Anna Grayce.

From all of this we see that there are three more cousins who love to get together to play with each other. With any luck, ten of those children will take part in the annual Easter egg hunt at our home.

Our little family of five that moved from Pittsburgh in 1977 has blossomed into an extended family of which we can all be proud. Come to think of it, that’s how I ran into Diana Wilcox. We were celebrating the first birthday of Anna Grayce Knight. Did I forget to mention that Diana is Tim Knight’s mother?

Yes, I consider Diana to be part of our extended family. And I’m glad she suggested I write an article about families. Now I’ll have to get her to tell me what to write about next month.

My Kind of Gadgets

It’s been a while since I’ve unleashed my imagination. Some might say I use my imagination in every thing I write. I like to think of the normal dose of my imagination as simple creativity. No. This article will be a little bit different. For one thing, I’ll basically stick to the sub-focus of this month’s issue. Secondly, the topic of gadgets is one that I find irresistible.

If I were a genius and could invent any gadget I could dream up, the world might be quite a bit different. By the time we review my list of the gadgets I’d love to own, we’ll probably all agree – it’s a good thing I’m not a genius.

The first device I’d like to have is one that would be installed at my home. It would be a Litter Deflector. The litter deflector would be nothing more than an invisible shield along the perimeter of my property. Whenever a litterbug tossed his or her trash on the ground, my Litter Deflector would spring into action. It would catch the object before it hit the ground and fling it back at the thoughtless moron who thought he or she could dispose of it in that manner.

These thoughtless morons include the teenagers who dispose of their beer cans late at night as well as the smokers who see nothing wrong with flinging burning butts out of their car windows… even when we’re in the worst drought conditions of the century. I also have to include the lunkhead utility company employees and contractors who carry their lunch to the job site but haven’t figured out the part about taking their trash to the nearest trash receptacle. I live a good ways off the main road, but I can always tell when a telephone or electric company crew has been working nearby.

Speaking of thoughtless smokers, my next gadget would attach to my car. It would be an Ashtray Dumper Stopper that would automatically activate when my car was stopped at a traffic light. If any driver in the area decided it was a good time to open his or her door and dump the contents of the car’s ashtray on the ground, my device would create a gust of wind that would blow the cigarette butts and ashes back into the thoughtless driver’s car.

Another device I’d attach to my car would be the Thoughtless Parents Alarm system. It would monitor the vehicles in my general vicinity and activate whenever it detected a vehicle transporting children who were not properly restrained. It would emit a beam that would cause the miscreant’s car’s engine to stall. Once the driver pulled off the highway, a remote speaker would attach itself to the driver’s window and a voice would ask, “Why are your children not restrained?”

I would imagine many parents would answer, “They don’t like to wear their seatbelts; every time I buckle them in, they unbuckle themselves. What’s a parent to do?”

To which the voice would reply, “Take control! You are the parent. To drive around with your children not properly restrained means either you don’t love your children and it won’t bother you if they are killed or seriously injured in a wreck, or you are totally ignorant of the laws of physics, or the laws of the state. One other possibility: you are too stupid to recognize the danger you’re putting your children in.”

Finally the voice would say, “Now, get those kids in their car seats and seat belts and tell them if they want to get home, they have to stay buckled up. Otherwise, I will destroy the engine in this vehicle and you’ll be stranded here for the rest of your lives!”

My next invention would be worn on my belt. I’d call it The Line Starts Somewhere Behind Me Warning System. This device would begin with a soft throat clearing sound to give the offender a gentle alert that he or she has committed a social blunder. If that fails to get the attention of the knucklehead, the system will play a recording of a polite conversation.

Voice 1: “Excuse me, are you in line?”

Voice 2: “Yes. I believe the end of the line is somewhere behind me.”

Voice 1: “Oh. I’m so sorry for stepping in front of you. I will now politely wander off and find the end of the line.”

Voice 2: “Thank you. That is much appreciated.”

If the polite conversation fails to move the air-headed person, the big guns would be brought out. Depending on the size of the intruder, either the mace or the stun gun would complete the job very nicely.

Come to think of it. The last phase goes a bit beyond a warning system. I’ll have to come up with a name for the secondary device.

An invention that no senior citizen should be without is the Boom Box Buster. This device could be used at home or on the road. It would detect an overly loud sound system and emit an ultra-high frequency designed to blow holes in the offending speakers, rendering them forever silent. The sensitivity setting on this device would be such that the owner could make sure that the Boom Box Buster would hear, and eliminate, the noise before it caused pain or damage to the ears of said owner.

I envision these much needed products being sold together as the Pet Peeve Package.

Now that I have made these priceless ideas known, I figure it’s just a matter of time until some genius invents them. When that happens, I will use this article as proof that I had the ideas first. Perhaps I can sue for enough money that my bride and I can retire to some beach-front village and spend our remaining days sipping tropical beverages served with tiny little umbrellas.

I began this article with a warning that I was about to unleash my imagination. It seems I unleashed a few personal annoyances as well.

Perhaps you share some of these annoyances with me. Maybe you have some of your own… like writers who pick on you for being a litterbug or playing your stereo too loud. In any case, I’d like to hear what bothers you and the gadget you’d invent to correct the problem. Write me at jim@400edition.com .

Oh, as Paul Harvey would say, by the way… We’ve added to our collection of grandchildren. Daniel Alexander Leeds was born on January 24th. He weighed in at 8 lbs. 13 oz. He was 20 inches long.

That makes the score: granddaughters 7, grandsons 4. The boys still have some catching up to do.

Pets

If we were to anagram the word “pets” we’d soon discover that we are one “step” away from the word “pest”. There are many folks that see our furry, scaled, or feathered friends as nothing more than pests.

Personally, I’m basically a pet lover. This is especially true if the pet is furry and is known to bark from time to time. I’m not real fond of cats and definitely not one who would consider a snake as something to be held as a loveable companion. I like birds, but since I’ve never seen one that could be house broken, I’d prefer that they stay outside.

Over the years my family and I have owned a wide assortment of pets. My eldest sister holds the family record for exotic species. At various times she has domesticated raccoons and goats. She’s also owned a wide assortment of cats, dogs, fish, horses, and ponies. Fortunately for my brother-in-law, most of the larger beasts were kept in a barn.

My first dog was given to me when I was no more than a toddler. My family was vacationing on Lake Erie and the owner of the cottage we were renting owned a beagle named Leda. By the end of the week, Leda and I were inseparable… which my parents and the dog’s owner discovered when it was time for us to leave. They were faced with a crying little boy and a whining little dog. Finally, Leda’s owner explained that the beagle was gun shy and useless for hunting, so we might as well take her home with us.

Leda was an important part of our family for the next few years and even gave birth to a litter of puppies. Unfortunately, a week after my family gave the last of the puppies away, Leda died.

A year or so later, Duke joined the family. Duke’s story was rather interesting. Duke was a cross between an Irish setter and a cocker spaniel. We were told that the Irish setter belonged to a man named David Lawrence – then Mayor of Pittsburgh. Mr. Lawrence later became Governor of Pennsylvania. The owner of the cocker spaniel remains a mystery as does how we wound up with one of the puppies. I can only guess that my oldest brother’s job working in the Prothonotary’s office had something to do with it.

This memory of mine is more than fifty-five years old and, until I looked it up a few moments ago, I never knew what a Prothonotary was. In case you’re wondering, it is the chief clerk of a court. That means my bother was working in the City County Building in Pittsburgh when the Mayor or someone else was trying to give the puppies away.

Duke was one of the best dogs we ever had. He could beat most of the other dogs in the neighborhood and, considering how often he disappeared for days at a time, he probably followed in his father’s footsteps as a womanizer. He was especially protective of my brother and me and lived for at least fifteen years. I was a college student when we finally had to take him to the vet for the last time.

The best behaved dog I ever had was a Shetland Sheep dog, better known as a Sheltie. Windy was the only full-bred AKC registered dog I ever owned and was given to my family by my sister who raised Shelties along with her raccoons and goats. Windy’s official name was “Win-dee Acres Kimmy”. She was named after my sister’s kennel and our two oldest sons, Ken and Jimmy.

The only problem we had with Windy involved overcoming her instinctive herding behavior. She would run behind our two boys and nip at their heels to get them to go where she thought they should go. Other than that problem, which was solved within a day or two, we never had a single problem with her. We never had a fence around the yard, but we didn’t need one. If Windy crossed into a neighbor’s yard we called her home and told her to stay in the yard. Within a few days, she recognized the boundaries and stayed within them.

Windy lived to a ripe old age and it broke my heart when we had to put her to sleep. Come to think of it, the passing of Leda and Duke had the same affect on my heart.

Shortly after I moved into North Forsyth County, I obtained three dogs from the same litter. They’re a cross between a rottweiler and an Alaskan malamute. Bridget, Mitre, and Snowball were born in 1993. I buried Bridget and Mitre a while back, but Snowball is still running around like a young puppy. She especially loves the cold weather.

I’ve told myself that when Snowball passes on I’ll never get another dog. It hurts too much to lose such faithful friends. But I have a sneaky suspicion that I’ll eventually change my mind.

Dogs are not only good and faithful friends, they can teach us a lot about life. For example, while I was spending a weekend retreat at the Monastery in Conyers a few years back, I noticed two young boys and their dog. They were obviously out exploring and at one point the two boys crawled over a wall that was about five feet high. The dog could not follow, but ran back and forth looking for another way to get to his companions. He had no luck, so he lay down and looked as sad as any animal could possibly look.

About an hour or so later, the boys returned. As soon as the dog saw them, he ran to greet them… tail wagging as though it would fall off! He jumped for joy and was thrilled to be reunited.

It made me think of God’s unconditional love. We so often ignore Him and yet, whenever we decide to return, we’re not met with angry words. We’re not chastised for leaving Him in the lurch. We’re greeted as the long lost children who have returned to the fold. Let’s slaughter the fatted calf and have a party!

I could never consider a dog to be a pest. I love dogs just as much as I love snow.

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