Preparing for Another of Life’s Milestones

May 14, 2013

In a few months, my bride will retire from her job and I will change my status from “semi-retired” to “fully retired.” In the past I’ve written about “Rites of Passage” and this is one for which we’ve been preparing for many years, but it’s a bit more frightening than all the previous stages of my life.

In the first place, there are the retirement savings accounts. My oldest account was started more than thirty years ago. It saw me though a long period of unemployment when I had to borrow from it to pay my bills. I’ve managed to repay those loans and add to it. But in a few months, I will stop adding to it and, (GASP!) begin withdrawing from it.

At the same time, we will transfer my bride’s 401K to a dividend paying mutual fund and virtually end the growth of that account. Hopefully, the dividends we collect from our retirement accounts will supplement our Social Security payments so we won’t have to move in with our kids… for at least a little while.

Many people who retire, do little more than sit in front of the TV and wait for the final curtain. I doubt if my bride could ever do such a thing, which means she won’t let me do it either. That’s one of the reasons we bought our new toys.

Our new travel trailer.

Our new travel trailer.

Our new tow vehicle

Our new tow vehicle

Some retirees go out and buy a two seater sports car and drive off into the sunset – stopping at fancy hotels along the way. Lu and I prefer to travel more frugally, and also hope to be able to take a few grandkids along with us to some of our as-yet-to-be-planned destinations.

To give those grandkids and their parents something to think about… our potential destinations include Tybee Island, Georgia, various parts of Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Yellowstone National Park, Illinois, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, New Jersey, Texas, and a number of Canadian provinces.

In 1984, I dragged my first wife and our four children on a cross-country camping trip. That was done with a pop-up camping trailer and an 8-passenger van. We saved a lot of money by staying at camp grounds, but strained a lot of relationships by having to deal with a daily allotment of chores, dirt, flat tires, dead batteries, lost pieces of the trailer, and spartan meals. I think I’m the only one who absolutely loved the adventure, but, then again, it was my idea. I had to love it!

That 1984 trip was carefully planned almost down to the number of miles to be driven each day.

Now, we’re looking at a trip that has no definite destination and no detailed advanced planning. However, technology has advanced significantly over the last 29 years. We now have cell phones, GPS navigators, Wi-Fi computers, and 29 years of experience in the art of living. We also have a better financial picture and hope to keep that improved picture by keeping our travel expenses as low as possible.

Some of my readers may take that last statement to mean “We’re coming to visit you and expect you to house and feed us for some period of time.” I promise you that we won’t stay long. So don’t worry.

In 1984, I had to estimate how many bills would be delivered in our absence, and how much we would owe. I paid most of the bills in advance and wound up with credit balances on most of them. Today I can review my bills on line and pay most of them by simply making a few keystrokes on the computer. Hopefully, our bank account will not run out on us.

Needless to say, even with all the advancements in technology, our additional knowledge and wisdom that comes with age, and all the other assets in our possession, our future remains a vast unknown and leaving home is a somewhat scary proposition.

Fortunately, we have family, friends, and neighbors who we can count on to drive by the homestead from time to time to let us know that things are OK, but I’d hate to be in Timbuktu when we learn that a tree has fallen on the house. Perhaps that is why many RVers sell their homes and take to the road on a permanent basis.

Perhaps that will be our next significant rite of passage.


Who You Gonna Call?

December 7, 2012

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This is the house in Northfield, New Jersey my grandmother lived in until her death in 1943. As of two days ago, it is still standing and appears to be in good shape. It appears to be unscathed by Hurricane Sandy.

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This home was not as lucky. It is no more than twenty miles from my grandmother’s house. That’s the way hurricanes do their thing. Some places appear virtually untouched while others look like a fleet of bombers came through.

The news media had a field day with Hurricane Katrina and the victims in New Orleans. They ignored the victims in southern Mississippi (especially Waveland) where the people took the brunt of Katrina – because people stranded on bridges and stuck in an overly crowded superdome were far more newsworthy. Beside, they could quickly illustrate that FEMA and the President were failing to do their jobs.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the President and FEMA are once again falling short.

We recently took a trailer load of food and other supplies to King of Kings Community Church in Manahawkin, New Jersey. There we learned that a group of Amish men from Lancaster, Pennsylvania were volunteering to travel to New Jersey to help in the rebuilding process. The men wanted to build their own temporary housing to maintain their religious beliefs, but the local government insisted they needed a building permit that would require weeks to go through the bureaucratic process. When the state was asked to intervene to speed up the process, they declined… as did FEMA.

The Red Cross? They had already left the area.

I did not stop at Grandma’s house to inquire about the damages. But I did learn from people living nearby that many homes that look like they made it through the storm without damage had considerable damage caused by the wind and rain.

Many homes had flooded basements. In some cases, the flood waters reached the first floor. The fact that it was salt water added to the problem. While a home may look good from the outside, the wallboard had to be ripped out and replaced. In addition, many homes had to be treated for mold. (Many are still waiting for those steps to be taken.)

Another problem was caused by the sand blowing underneath homes that did not have basements.

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A home such as this had the heating ducts and, in some cases, electrical and plumbing lines destroyed. In order to repair the damage, the sand must be removed. This is not an easy task.

Yet, because the home is still in reasonable condition, the owners are moving back in. There are not a lot of shelters and the people feel more comfortable in their own homes. However, without light and heat, they are at risk from the elements as the temperature drops. A propane area heater (and carbon monoxide) can be deadly… more so than freezing temperatures.

Our church out-reach committee sent a number of labor parties to the Gulf states to help in the rebuilding effort following Katrina. We hope to do the same for the victims of Sandy.

The recovery work in New Jersey has already begun.

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People are emptying their homes and businesses of the useless furniture and building materials destroyed by the hurricane. That is Step One. The next step is to see what the insurance companies, FEMA, and other groups can provide in the way of money to repair or rebuild the structure.

In the not too distant future, these communities will welcome volunteer laborers to help restore and rebuild what was lost. In the meantime, they need help in the way of food and shelter. Cash donations are more than welcome. When people learn they cannot count on FEMA or the insurance companies to finance their rebuilding efforts, they will desperately need the help of generous fellow Americans. (One would think our government that sends billions of dollars to foreign countries to be used to purchase military weapons could stop those payments long enough to help out American taxpayers in need, but perhaps that is expecting too much.)

I recently heard one person say he was more than willing to help the poor, but the millionaires who own the ocean-front properties should fend for themselves. On the surface, that is a reasonable statement. However, a closer examination should shed new light on that thought.

Let’s assume that the million dollar home on the shore is jointly owned by two or three families who combined their resources to buy it. They share the rent it brings in to supplement their social security payments. They are now looking at a need of thousands of dollars to repair it so it can be rented out again. They may not have that money.

In the meantime, there is that “rich guy” who owns the restaurant a block away from the beach. His business was badly damaged by the storm and he needs thousands of dollars to repair the structure before he can reopen. Of course, when he does reopen, if the million dollar beach houses are not available to rent, he will have very few customers. So, he needs the tourist trade to remain in business.

Finally, we have the working class citizens who live several blocks away from the beach or on the mainland. Without the beach front rental properties and the tourist eateries and gift shops, there is no employment.

In plain words, South Jersey relies heavily on tourists. All areas of the coast must be rebuilt or the entire economy of the state is toast.

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I included this picture because it seemed so ironic. Our church annually has an Angel Tree and we encourage our members to buy Christmas gifts for underprivileged children. This year we asked for a number of bicycles. Here are at least three bicycles that will never be ridden by children again.

The two groups we encountered in New Jersey that are making a difference and honestly providing for those who truly need the help are: King of Kings Community church in Manahawkin and the Ocean City, New Jersey C.A.R.E. project.

I encourage you to make a monetary donation to either one of these groups, or send your donation to Christ the King Lutheran Church in Cumming, Georgia and we’ll see that it goes to the people who are in the most need.

Let me warn you that the scam artists are already at work in the area. One family was taken for $2,000.00 by a guy who claimed he could remove the water under their home by setting up two fans to blow the water out. Obviously, he was a blowhard who stole their money!


Take the Time

June 17, 2012

Sixteen family members vacationing in Hilton Head, South Carolina

My bride and I have been to many places over the last decade, but our most enjoyable vacations have been the ones we’ve shared with family and friends. Unfortunately, I had come to take those “shared times” for granted. Then, a woman I worked with at IBM sent me the following:

A young man learns what’s most important in life from the guy next door. 

Over the phone, his mother told him, “Mr. Belser died last night. The funeral is Wednesday.” Memories flashed through his mind like an old newsreel as he sat quietly remembering his childhood days. 

“Jack, did you hear me?” 

“Oh, sorry, Mom. Yes, I heard you. It’s been so long since I thought of him. I’m sorry, but I honestly thought he died years ago,” Jack said… 

“Well, he didn’t forget you. Every time I saw him he’d ask how you were doing. He’d reminisce about the many days you spent over ‘his side of the fence’ as he put it,” Mom told him. 

“I loved that old house he lived in,” Jack said. 

“You know, Jack, after your father died, Mr. Belser stepped in to make sure you had a man’s influence in your life,” she said. 

“He’s the one who taught me carpentry,” he said. “I wouldn’t be in this business if it weren’t for him. He spent a lot of time teaching me things he thought were important. Mom, I’ll be there for the funeral,” Jack said. 

As busy as he was, he kept his word. Jack caught the next flight to his hometown. Mr. Belser’s funeral was small and uneventful. He had no children of his own, and most of his relatives had passed away. 

The night before he had to return home, Jack and his Mom stopped by to see the old house next door one more time. 

Standing in the doorway, Jack paused for a moment. It was like crossing over into another dimension, a leap through space and time The house was exactly as he remembered. Every step held memories. Every picture, every piece of furniture. Jack stopped suddenly… 

“What’s wrong, Jack?” his Mom asked. 

“The box is gone,” he said 

“What box?” Mom asked. 

“There was a small gold box that he kept locked on top of his desk. I must have asked him a thousand times what was inside. All he’d ever tell me was ‘the thing I value most,'” Jack said. 

It was gone. Everything about the house was exactly how Jack remembered it, except for the box. He figured someone from the Belser family had taken it. 

“Now I’ll never know what was so valuable to him,” Jack said. “I better get some sleep. I have an early flight home, Mom.” 

It had been about two weeks since Mr. Belser died. Returning home from work one day Jack discovered a note in his mailbox. “Signature required on a package. No one at home. Please stop by the main post office within the next three days,” the note read. Early the next day Jack retrieved the package. The small box was old and looked like it had been mailed a hundred years ago. The handwriting was difficult to read, but the return address caught his attention. “Mr. Harold Belser” it read. Jack took the box out to his car and ripped open the package. There inside was the gold box and an envelope. Jack’s hands shook as he read the note inside. 

“Upon my death, please forward this box and its contents to Jack Bennett. It’s the thing I valued most in my life.” A small key was taped to the letter. His heart racing, as tears filling his eyes, Jack carefully unlocked the box. There inside he found a beautiful gold pocket watch. 

Running his fingers slowly over the finely etched casing, he unlatched the cover. Inside he found these words engraved: 

“Jack, Thanks for your time! -Harold Belser.” 

“The thing he valued most was… my time” 

Jack held the watch for a few minutes, then called his office and cleared his appointments for the next two days. “Why?” Janet, his assistant asked. 

“I need some time to spend with my son,” he said. 

“Oh, by the way, Janet, thanks for your time!” 

————————————————————-

Sadly, I have no idea who wrote those words. Likewise I have no idea if it’s a true story or not. What I do know is that they are words of wisdom. We all need to devote more time to those we love, and to recognize and appreciate the time they spend with us.

A smaller, but just as important, group at Edisto Beach.

The other day I had lunch with a man who is planning his fiftieth wedding anniversary. He has already told his children that he and his wife do not want a big fancy dinner or any other “surprise” party their children might think of planning. What he and his bride want is to repeat a vacation they took several years ago. Their entire family rented a large house near the beach and spent a week together. They took turns preparing meals and cleaning up and thoroughly enjoyed their time together.

I think he and his wife have already recognized and appreciate the value of time spent with loved ones.

New Jersey 2006. A great time with great nieces and nephews!

Whoever came up with the “quality time” phrase needs to spend “quantity” time with loved ones. They are much more important than the job or anything else.

So, get started in planning that big family vacation. You’ll be glad you did!


Hilton Head 2010

August 3, 2010

Paul, Dominic, and Anna

Last week, my bride and I traveled to Hilton Head, South Carolina and spent a week with her sister and brother-in-law, and various children and grandchildren.

I’m not a big fan of Hilton Head for a number of reasons, but the thing I dislike the most is all the private property between the public roads and the public beach and waterways. Unless you rent a place with beach access, there are very few easy paths to the sand and surf. We were fortunate in that the house we rented was next to Bradley Beach Park.  However, had we not rented a house in that area, we would’ve had difficulty recognizing that there was a parking lot and walkway to the beach at the end of the road. There is a sign, but one that can easily be missed.

The beach was nice – everyone else in our party was fine with that – but I wanted more. I love crab and crabbing. Crabs do not spend time in the surf; they dwell in the marshes and streams away from the waves. Trying to gain access to those back-water salt marshes is next to impossible; they are surrounded by private property.

The only place I was able to find was a large bay between Hilton Head Island and the mainland. It wasn’t the optimal place to catch crabs, but it was better than nothing.

The first day I tried, a family had already laid claim to the best spot and I had to go to the end of a dock where the water was much deeper.

A side story: In many states, the use of crab traps is perfectly legal and that’s how we caught them during my childhood on our annual vacations to New Jersey. However, in Maryland (and this may no longer be true) traps were only permitted for the commercial crabbers. Everyone else had to tie the bait to a line and slowly draw the crabs close to shore where they could be captured in a net. Thus, when I go crabbing I’m prepared to catch crabs using both methods. Using the baited line is less boring than simply checking the trap every five to ten minutes.

So, as I’m walking to the end of the dock, a small boy of five or six asks me if I’m going crab fishing with my net. When I told him that was my plan, he said, “You’re never going to catch a crab with that net.”

Out of the mouths of babes! On that first day, he was absolutely correct. As a matter of fact, he could’ve said the same about my trap and would’ve been almost correct. I caught nothing with the baited lines. As for the trap, I caught one small crab – too small to keep – and one medium sized fish. That was a first. I’ve caught turtles in a trap, but never a fish.

The next day I arrived earlier and claimed the better spot, but the tide was wrong. Nonetheless, I caught one crab in the trap and two using the baited line and net method.

It can be done!

Unfortunately, only one of the three crabs I caught was big enough to keep. Eventually I gave up and released my sole captive. My feasting on fresh crab meat will have to wait.

When we first arrived at our rental house, we all made fun of the swimming pool.

Most of the pool is in this picture.

Our group consisted of nine adults and five children. There is no way we could’ve all fit into that pool at the same time. Yet it was perfect for the children. They were always close to a side that they could grab on to if they encountered any difficulties.

The shallow end was a series of steps down to about three feet. The deep end was perhaps four or five feet deep… just deep enough for a rotund grandfather to do a cannon ball without hitting the bottom of the pool too hard.

Most of the time, I simply borrowed my granddaughter’s flotation device and enjoyed the coolness of the water.

Chilling in the pool

The most difficult part of the vacation was trying to get the children out of the water. They all loved the ocean and the pool. By the end of the week, they looked like a bunch of prunes, but we did manage to get them to sit still for about 30 seconds for a group photo.

Dominic, Anna, Emma, Zack, and Ty

It’s plain to see the children enjoyed the trip to the beach, and I assure you that at least one adult also had a wonderful time. I’m sure my bride and the others also had a good time.

We definitely have to do it again… real soon!


Jeremiah Was Kinfolk

March 29, 2010

Jeremiah Leeds, the first white settler on Absecon Island (now Atlantic City, New Jersey) was a great-great-great uncle of mine. I may have omitted a “great” or two or three, but that doesn’t matter. I’m more interested in the bullfrog today.

Actually, the thought that is stuck on my craw is the idea of being “King of the World.” Have you ever given that any thought? If you were “King of the World” for even a day, what would you do?

After careful thought, here is what I, as a hard-working American, would do.

Number one: Cut off all foreign aid.

We are paying Egypt the same as we are paying Israel for only one reason. Egypt will leave Israel alone as long as we continue to pay them. This is thanks to Jimmy Carter.

And what is Egypt doing with the money? They’re supporting schools that teach the children to hate Americans. And what is Israel doing with their payola? Besides paying spies to spy on the U.S., they’re using the money to kill Palestinians, which give the Arab nations a good reason to hate Americans.

I’m not sure where else American tax dollars are going, but my guess is they are having a similar effect regardless of where they are going. We pay people to do things the way we want them to do them. Ask yourself, if the government was paying you to do things a certain way, would you? Even when the government isn’t looking?

Consider all the cash we sent to Saddam Hussein when he was fighting Iran (to our benefit) and how he used it to build palaces for himself – ignoring the Iraqi people and encouraging them to hate Americans. Are other recipient nations doing less? I doubt it. The leaders are taking the money and feathering their own nests and the poor people of their countries are left wondering why the United States of American has abandoned them.

So, my solution is simple. Let’s eliminate the middle-men. If someone in Iraq needs help paying the rent, they can fill out an application and we will consider each applicant on an individual basis. Deserving people will be helped. Undeserving people will be encouraged to go pound salt.

While we’re at it, we’ll use the same approach for welfare in America. People who have physical or mental problems that keep them from earning a livable wage will be helped. The rest will be told to go suck eggs.

As for health care, the same rules will apply. If you are unable to afford health insurance – for a legitimate reason – we’ll use tax dollars. If you are too lazy to work, or consider yourself immortal, you will be left to prove it.

As for companies, the adage “Too big to allow to fail” will be erased from the American psyche. If your management screws up, your company becomes part of American History. It’s that simple.

Pre-existing conditions will mean nothing. If you have insurance when you are struck with a chronic or terminal illness, your insurance company will be required, by law, to pay your bills. They gambled on you and lost.

On the other hand, if you saw no need for health insurance until you were struck with the chronic or terminal illness, you gambled, and you lost.

For the sake of your family, I’ll encourage the tax payers to pick up your tab. But I won’t force an insurance company to go bankrupt due to your stupidity.

There is one other major area that I, as King of the World, would look into. We may have the best equipped and trained military in the world, but I believe we could attain the same results with a lot less money. Therefore, I’d force every high ranking military official to justify every penny that is spent. I’ll bet we could achieve the same results on half the cost.

As for other government run entities, I’d sell off AMTRAK, the Postal Service, the V.A. Hospitals, and a number of other programs to the private sector. There is no doubt in my mind that people trying to earn a profit could do a much better job.

To me, the major problems with government involvement are two-fold. For those living on the dole, the government has removed the shame that would encourage them to get off the dole as soon as possible.

As for government run entities, there is no incentive to make a profit. In fact, there is no incentive to break even. Thus, the tax payers are stuck with the annual bail-out programs that aren’t even reported by the mainstream media. Either the media are trying to protect the politicians who are bringing our country to ruin, or simply see no reason to report old news.

I don’t have a telephone like Glenn Beck to encourage people to point out the flaws in my assessments, but I do encourage your feedback. If I’m wrong, tell me where! But don’t deal in generalities. Give me specifics!


Is there a Family Resemblance?

February 17, 2010

An ancestor of mine was the first Mayor of Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Cousin Chalkley Steelman Leeds

At the same time, his brother was that city’s first Post Master.

Cousin Robert Barclay Leeds

And then there is me.

Do I look as serious as my ancestors?

I have yet to be elected to any city or county office and I let my brother do the Post Master thing. But you’ve got to admit it. We could pass as triplets!


Life’s a Beach

February 16, 2010

Edisto Island Beach

I’ve been going to the beach ever since I was a toddler. Because my father was raised in South Jersey and we had relatives living in Linwood and Somers Point, my family vacationed near the beach every year.

We never stayed at the beach; that would’ve been too expensive. We would rent a small apartment or stay on my uncle’s cabin cruiser (also small) a few miles in from the shore. Most of our time was spent fishing and crabbing in the inland bays and marshes. Once or twice during our stay we’d go into Atlantic City or Ocean City to spend some time on the beach or stroll along the boardwalk.

Fishing and crabbing with nephews and nieces

I recall one vacation when my parents did something different. I believe it was 1955 or 1956. Instead of going to South Jersey, we went to Cambridge, Maryland and rented a cottage along the Choptank River. We arrived shortly after a hurricane had passed through. Not only was the river running fast and deep, many of the surrounding fields were still draining. We saw a number of people holding chicken wire at the end of irrigation ditches. They were catching some very large fish that had been driven inland by the storm surge.

On that particular trip, the beach wasn’t quite as convenient. But on one of our days in Maryland, we drove over to Ocean City, Maryland and enjoyed their beach and boardwalk.

I have been to beaches all up and down the East Coast, Mississippi, Texas, California, and Oregon. I’ve also visited Brighton Beach in England and some beaches in Puerto Rico and Mexico. They all speak the same language as they invite us to either walk along the water’s edge or sit down and watch the waves rolling in.

Without even closing my eyes, I can hear the sound of the surf, the wind, and the sea gulls.

I’ve often thought about living closer to a beach. I wouldn’t want to own a home on the beach. Hurricanes might not hit a particular beach that often, but once would be more than enough for me. I’d like to live about twenty miles inland so it would be an easy trip to get close to the ocean.

However, with most of our children and grandchildren living within thirty miles of us, I’d find it difficult to move anywhere.

Perhaps we could win the lottery. Then we could move the entire extended family.

My bride and I on Tybee Island

I have been to the beach so many times in my life that I consider it a God given blessing and wish everyone – especially children – could visit a beach on a regular basis.

Twice we were able to stay at rental properties right on the beach. Once was in Ocean City, New Jersey and the other was on Edisto Island. My bride and I rented the place in New Jersey at the end of the summer season (reduced rates) and my nephews and nieces chipped in. On Edisto Island, we were fortunate to be the guests of John and Debbe Mize. That was in November a couple of years back.

Based on those two experiences, I’d say the best time to go to the beach is after Labor Day and before June. The temperatures are much milder and there are no crowds.

We’re hoping to get to at least one beach in 2010, but I think I’m already there mentally.


Ramblings

January 22, 2010

Container Ship on the Savannah River

I’d never been this close to a container ship prior to the day I took the picture. I continue to be amazed at how many containers were on board this vessel. When you realize that each of those containers would eventually become part of an 18-wheeler, it’s almost beyond comprehension.

Take it a step farther and think about the TV show, “Deadliest Catch” and try to picture this ship being tossed around like a cork in a storm at sea. That’s when the power of nature becomes even more awesome than this ship.

In case you’re wondering, I’m flipping through my collection of pictures again.

Sunrise at Port Angeles, Washington

The above photo was taken while my brothers, two nephews, and I awaited a ferry to take us to Victoria, British Columbia. The body of water isn’t the Pacific Ocean, but it’s close enough.

I often think this photo is almost “post card” quality. But there are better ones in the collection.

Sunrise at Ocean City, New Jersey

My bride took that picture.

Shore line in Puerto Rico

I captured this image during our visit with a future movie star and his bride.

Richard Pastush - the future star

Our friend, Richard Pastush is the fourth from the right – the guy in the purple tank top. These folks are part of the cast of the movie, “Men Who Stare at Goats”.

The wall around Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

I think it’s rather obvious that my bride and I enjoy visiting places close to the water.

I’ll have to dig up some pictures taken before we bought the digital camera and see what memories they invoke. Watch this space for future entries!


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.


What’s Come and Gone in my Life Time – Part 1

June 15, 2009
My first home - beginning in 1944

My first home - beginning in 1944

As I race toward my sixty-fifth birthday, I find myself wondering how much I take for granted each day. Many new things have appeared during my life-time. And a lot of things have quietly disappeared into the past.

I began listing them alphabetically.

A = The Apple Computer is obviously new; all personal computers are. As for the big old mainframes, they have also come into existence after I did. Alaska was a United States territory until I was a teenager. Air conditioning was around, but not very common. More common were the air vents located just in front of the windshield on many cars. A lever below the center of the dash board was used to open and close the vent.

B = Box top premiums were big when I was a lad. We’d send away for plastic submarines that could be loaded with baking soda and played with in the bath tub. Bon Ami was a cleanser used to remove the ring around that same tub after the dirt on my body was transferred to the water. Bonomo’s Turkish taffy came in three flavors – vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry – and could be eaten in one of two ways. You could try to bite off a chunk which left a long stretchy portion in both your hand and your mouth. Or you could slam the bar down on a hard surface causing it to shatter. Then you could eat the small peices and make much less of a mess.

C = Carburetors were found under the air filter on most cars until electronic fuel injection took over. Any one who has had to try to adjust the fuel and air mixture on a carburetor appreciates the advancements in that area.  The CRT (also known as the CAT scan) took the X-ray to a new level and has become a powerful diagnostic tool. The other CRT (Cathode Ray Tube), has basically come and gone during my time on earth; It was new technology when we sat around watching that thirteen inch television, but has since been replaced by the flat screen Plasma, LCD, and others. Coal furnaces were everywhere in the North when I was growing up. Natural gas has replaced them all.

D = Disk memory is something that is still around, but utilizes totally different technology. In fact, I have ‘flash’ drives that hold more data than all the disks I ever installed while working at IBM. Dick Tracy, as far as I know, bit the dust many years ago, and took Prune Face, Flat Top, B.J. Plenty and all the other characters with him. Decoder rings offered by the Little Orphan Annie radio show, Captain Midnight, and others were among the Box Top premiums that are not longer available. The DeSoto automobile left the scene before I was old enough to drive.

E = The Edsel somehow became equated with all automotive lemons. As far as I know, that is a terrible mistake. I knew one person who owned an Edsel and he was very fond of it. Unless my memory is totally off base on this one, I’d say the Edsel was a fairly decent car… but the Ford Motor Company did a lousy job marketing it. Electric eye head light dimmers were a standard feature on Cadillacs for many years. When the device picked up the light from on-coming cars, it automatically switched the car’s headlights to low beam. It was a nice device – when it worked properly. Maybe they were never able to get it to work properly, because I haven’t seen it in years.

F = Full Service gas stations not only checked your oil and the air in your tires, they cleaned your windows and gave you saving stamps. Today, we’re hard pressed to find a station that will pump your gas… period. Unless, of course, you’re driving through New Jersey. In that state, self-service is against the law. Talk about strong labor unions. Floor mounted dimmer switches have long ago been replaced by an added feature on the turn signal lever. Would you believe that turn signals were not standard equipment in my youth? We had to put our arms out the window to signal our intentions. Frozen custard is the thing I miss the most. It was similar to soft serve ice cream but tasted far better. My guess is it contained raw eggs.

G = Gas grill. That’s right. We didn’t have the argument among the Bar-B-Que kings. The only option was charcoal. Wait, I’m probably wrong on this. Some folks might have used wood.

Look for Part 2 sometime in the future.