💫 I have a large drawing of the coal camp I grew up in (Page) hanging over my desk. An old friend (Reese) gave it to me, and I cherish the memories it triggers. It looks exactly as I remember it. When I make the yearly trek back home to visit family and friends, I always drive up to where that camp was (it was torn down in the late 1950s) and think about the people who lived there. My aunt Beulah is the only adult from that camp still living, and most of the children from there have lost touch with each other or passed away. I still stay in touch with many of my high school classmates, but very few from the coal camp I spent my childhood in. We were stuck between two mountains that only let the sunlight in for about 6-7 hours each day. Our fathers went to the coal mine each morning, and our mothers cleaned the house, washed clothes, and read a lot. We, kids, were always looking for a game to play or something naughty to do. Life, at least to us children, was simple: find someone to play with. My mother would send my brother and me out of the house after breakfast (during the summer) and instruct us not to return until lunch. She was cleaning the house and wanted it to remain that way until dad got home. If we wanted a snack, we snuck in the back door, grabbed a biscuit, and then dashed outside before being discovered.
I recall how slowly time passed during those summers and how eager I was for school to resume. I was also keen to become an adult and make my own decisions. Adulthood arrived quickly. I remember boarding the bus in front of our home in southwest Virginia, headed for San Antonio, Texas, and basic training in the US Air Force (1959). I remember looking out the window of that bus as it drove away and thinking that part of my life was over and a new life was beginning.
Now, I’m sitting here at my desk, looking at the drawing of the Page Coal Camp and reminiscing about my life of long ago. I see myself as a nine-year-old boy with a bag of coal slung over his shoulder, struggling up the hill to our house so there would be fuel for the furnace to keep us warm. That was back when all kids had work assignments, and no one was excluded from contributing to the family’s survival. Those assignments were always in addition to schoolwork and were accepted without protest. I never remember protesting to my parents about a task I was assigned. It would have had a minor effect and likely resulted in a severe tongue-lashing.
I recall telling my dad that I wanted to play high school football (9th grade), and his automatic answer (continually) was, “No!”. I immediately walked down the hall to the kitchen and implored mom to convince him to change his mind. In a few minutes, he called me back to the living room and said that I could play football, but “It damn sure better not interfere with your chores!”. I hastily assured him it would not. On a lot of nights, they were finished at 10 pm. No, I didn’t feel sorry for myself, that was just the way life was. I felt my father was justified in expecting me to carry my part of the family load.
So, I’m left wondering why I choose to think about “the good old days?” Maybe, it’s not because they were better than my life as an adult, but because of an inner need to believe that my core values were derived from that period in my life, that morals were better back then, people were more honest, friendships more lasting, religion more ingrained, and happiness was always just around the corner?
That certainly begs the question, would I want to return to that life? After all, moving back to my hometown has always been within my power. Why haven’t I done so if my life back then was much better than it is now? Of course, the answer has to be that life wasn’t really better; it was only so in my memories of that time.
Janet Malcolm said it eloquently, “The past is a country that issues no visas.” I agree with Janet, except to say that it issues large satchels of memories 😊.
💫 I was watching “Yellowstone” on TV the other night, and one character, a cowboy, told another cowboy, “We’ve all been thru things that other people will never understand.” That’s a pretty astute observation for a cowboy. I understand he was only repeating a line of the script, but someone thought that cowboy was up to making a point in that way. Most of us are guilty of thinking anyone with a cowboy hat and a horse is a genuine cowboy. Probably, some people walking around with just a cowboy hat on, never having ridden a horse in their life, think they are the real McCoy. The same could apply to a young man that drives a pickup truck, wears jeans, and speaks profanely, thinks he’s a “Redneck.”
Many of us go thru life wanting to be what we’re not. It could be the aforementioned cowboy/redneck, a sports coach, or the most essential, hard-working person in your office. Then the time for a layoff comes, and you are one of those included to receive the dreaded “pink slip.” If you’ve ever received that piece of paper telling you your company no longer needs your services or tells you the college you wanted to attend has rejected your application, then you’ve been thru something many people will never understand. If you call your father to wish him a happy 89th birthday and he says the doctor told him he has two months to live (that actually happened to my wife), you know he’s going thru something you will probably never really understand, unless something similar happens to you. That’s when you know you’re in over your heart. That’s when you feel guilty about acting like a nice person instead of being one, knowing you should get in your car and drive the eight hours to be with him during his time of need.
Thomas Wolfe said in “You Can’t Go Home Again,” “Something has spoken to me in the night… and told me I shall die, I know not where. Saying: Death is to lose the earth you know, for greater knowing; to lose the life, you have for the greater life; to leave the friends you loved for greater loving; to find a land more kind than home, more large than earth.”
Many of us go through life wanting to be important, achieving great things at work, being a good spouse or friend, and helping those in our lives who need us. Eventually, as we travel through life, we reach the age where we look back and recognize the folly of life’s many stages. Wanting to be a “Redneck” or “Cowboy” is undoubtedly a prime example of immaturity.
C. Adichie said it best, “I think you travel to search, and come back home to find yourself there.”
💫 “Every child is an artist until they are told they are not.” I read that quote by John Lennon and wasn’t sure that I agreed with it. I yanked back into existence memories of my childhood that had long ago faded away, and I distinctly remember wanting to be an artist, to draw the cartoon characters in my comic books. And I remember the moment of reckoning when I realized I did not possess that special talent: I was on the floor in my bedroom with my drawings of Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, and Yosemite Sam spread everywhere. I never showed my drawings to my brother, parents, or friends. It was easily discernable that they weren’t good
As a young boy, I had a grand collection of comic books, almost as tall as I was, and I took excellent care of them. My attempts to recreate the characters within and put my own words into their mouths failed dismally. No one had to tell me I was a terrible artist. I knew it, so I abandoned my desire to become one. When I was a kid, adults did not heap praise on a failed effort. If you weren’t good at what you were attempting to do, you would be told, and it wouldn’t be done politely.
Sigmund Freud (the id, ego, & superego) gave us a lot to think about, but it led us down the path to thinking we had to always encourage our children by telling them they were great at whatever they were attempting to do. My mother and father never succumbed to that tenet, and I didn’t with my two children. If my brother or I came home with poor grades, it usually ended up with a whipping. Those same rules applied to my children.
My son and his wife (JoAnn) have three daughters. I remember him telling me when they were three/four years old that they were going to raise them without spankings. I applauded their efforts but secretly believed they would fail. I was wrong. Three wonderful adult granddaughters are what I have now. I am unaware of how they feel about it: was the replacement punishment worse? My dad only spanked me (whipped) twice as a kid, but in its place, he would get mad at us and stay mad for weeks. Mom would whip my brother and me, and that was the punishment. After a good night’s sleep, she was back in love with us again. I was grateful for that. But my father withholding his love from his children for 3-4 weeks, to me, was unconscionable. I promised never to do that to my children.
Neither of my two children have expressed to me their opinion on how their mother (deceased) and I raised them. I don’t know why I would expect them to. I never told my father how much I disliked his punishment for my brother and me. Florence Nightingale said it well, “How very little can be done under the spirit of fear.” Flo may be on to something.
💫 I read recently that you form your first permanent memories around age four, and I agree with that. But I believe I can go back earlier. I can recall my mother nursing my brother, who was fifteen months younger than me. That is quite a bit younger than four. Science has yet to figure out how we store memories. The human brain is the least understood part of our body. When things start to go wrong with it, the psychiatrist chosen to correct the problem seems to guess. I have a close family member that needed their help, and it consisted mostly of being doped up all the time and walking around in a haze. The medicine had side effects, and they were required to take other medicines to counteract the side effects.
I believe we need a psychiatrist/psychologist, but we must monitor what they do closely. They will never say you are well, and the bills will just keep on coming. I know I cannot control the involuntary part of my brain, but I’m guilty of believing I can control the conscious part of it. I know I can control what I choose to think about, and if any unwanted thoughts creep in, I can toss them aside. What I can’t control is what I dream about, but I have tried to have only good thoughts before I drop off to sleep. Sometimes that works, and other times it doesn’t. Often, I get up in the middle of the night to follow the obligatory bathroom adventure, go back to bed, and resume the dream I had before waking up. I’m still trying to figure that one out.
Here’s my plan; My mother used to sing to my brother and me as youngsters before we dropped off to sleep, and I never had a bad dream when that happened. I am going to attempt to persuade my wife to do the same as an experiment and see if it holds true with her. I’m not sure she will do it because I take much longer to go to sleep now 😊. John Rockwell said, “There are times in life when nothing happens but in quietness the soul expands.” That seems like something I should try.
💫 There are stories I tell myself about myself. You’re probably wondering why I need to do that since I already know the story, but that’s not entirely true. I have to tell myself the story to focus my mind and force it to recall whatever it is I want to remember. True, sometimes things from the past will just pop into my mind, but that’s always at the mercy of something triggering the thought/thoughts. Recall that in the previous paragraph, I told you about my mother singing to my brother and me before we dropped off to sleep. That memory came alive because I forced myself to recall it. As I was telling the story to myself and you, the memories came rolling in. I often tell stories from my past at our dinner table, and I’m quite confident that my wife and our two constant dinner companions (Nancy & Richard), tire of hearing them. My tales from my youth are meant to entertain them, but I must admit, they also entertain me. I try not to repeat my favorite ones, but I’m sure I do. My mind is not as agile as it was, and so family and friends are forced to endure my musings. I doubt my wife and dinner buddies have noticed, but I have an alter ego, and I have given him a name. I will tell you, but you have to promise not to tell anyone else. My alter ego is aptly named “Fat Boy.” This fellow is nested as far down inside me as I can stuff him, but he’s always fighting to get out. He puts up his most fierce battles when I’m looking at the dinner menu or gazing out over the dessert table. Buffets bring out the beast in my alter ego, and he enjoys dancing on my shoulder as he encourages me to put some of everything on my plate. Before I go to bed, he sometimes tries to force me to get a handful of the peanut butter-filled pretzels my wife has stored in the drawer beside my coffee container. I’m always aware that “Fat Boy” is fighting for survival, but I also know that his survival is not good for my survival. Like everyone else addicted to calories, I’m looking for the “silver bullet” that will put an untimely end to his existence. Every time I approach our scale to weigh myself, I can hear it screaming, “go away Fat Boy.” Oops, even the scale knows the name of my alter ego! I have to get rid of it and buy one that doesn’t know my alter ego’s name. Stephan Sagmeister said, “Everybody who is honest is interesting.” I sure hope that’s true. If not, I’m a really boring guy 😊.
Recently, my good friend, Jerry, passed away. I have only known him and his wife (Ruth) for 18 months. Still, during that time, we became best friends, eating dinner together each day in the dining room of our retirement center. He wasn’t tall, perhaps 5’8″ or so, but he made up for the lack of height with brain power and personality.
At our dinner table, we often talked about the game show Jeopardy. One evening, after a good meal and great conversation, he invited us back to their apartment to watch our favorite 7:30 pm game show. Usually, I can answer five or six questions out of the sixty-one asked, but Jerry answered about 35-40 during our visit. As we prepared to leave, I kindly informed him never to invite us back again to watch that show. That brought a big smile to his handsome face.
Jerry was a wealth of knowledge, having traveled the world as a colonel in the US Air Force, and had countless stories to tell, which always made dinner time more enjoyable. A remarkable quality of his was to somehow not make us feel inferior. If there was something on the menu for the night and we did not know what it was, he was the person we asked and always knew the answer. If we couldn’t pronounce the name of a meal, he was our “go-to guy.” We still wish he was with us when we encounter those situations.
The kindness and attention he gave his wife also touched us. Ruth has health issues, which eventually got to the point of him having to feed her. Each day he wheeled her to the dining room in her wheelchair, her hair neatly combed, and her clothes and jewelry always matched. We complimented her on how pretty she looked, and Jerry would describe to us when and where he bought each piece of jewelry. Typically, it was overseas somewhere. That was our opportunity to interact with Ruth.
He and I attended a “New Car” show over in Norfolk (30 minutes away) back in January, and it was a great “guy bonding” experience. He loved cars, as do I, and we thoroughly enjoyed our time together. We made plans to attend a stock car race at our local track (Langley) this past summer but had to cancel because of Ruth’s health issues. I surely regret, looking back, that it didn’t happen. I would have enjoyed that time with my buddy.
Then, on September 15th, he and Ruth failed to show up at our 6 pm dinner. Usually, there are six of us, including our friends Nancy & Richard. We weren’t alarmed because we occasionally had a reason to be absent. We were later told that Jerry was in the hospital with gallstones. Although painful, we knew he would survive and probably weave his experience into an exciting story, which he could do easily when he returned.
After a few days in the hospital, they sent him to our Health Care unit on campus with medicine to get rid of an infection, after which he would return to the hospital. They would then perform an operation to remove the gallstones. Jerry called me and requested I bring him a pair of my “Fat Boy Pants.” I often kid that my wife calls me “Fat Boy” when I overeat (she doesn’t). He said he couldn’t stand anything tight on his stomach, so we took him a pair of my largest. We sat by his bedside, talked for about 15 minutes, and left, easily discerning that he wasn’t up for company. I had absolutely no idea that would be my final words with him.
Upon hearing of his request for larger pants, our friends Nancy & Richard went to the store, bought him a new pair, and sat them inside his door, not wanting to awaken him. A few days later, we went back to visit again, and there was a note on his door that said he only wanted the family to visit. That was our first sign that he was much sicker than we thought. Before long, he was back in the hospital in critical condition, insisting that only family could visit.
Eventually, to our surprise, we received word that he was under Hospice Care. Then, upon accidentally meeting his daughter during a walk around the retirement compound, we were told that Jerry was in palliative care. His doctor said the end was near. A few days later, he passed away. We were heartbroken. Grief sets on my shoulders like it is an old friend. Occasionally, I knock it off with a clenched fist, but it always clambers back in place.
I have a picture of my good friend sitting in a prominent place in my den, so I see him each time I walk by. It sits beside a picture of my son, who passed away in 2018. It will be there until I stop grieving, maybe even longer. I’m dismayed with him for not allowing us to visit during that painful part of his journey. His daughter said he didn’t want anyone to see him in his condition. I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to my friend. I hope to do better with my friends when it’s my turn. But who knows, maybe I’ll do the same thing. I hope not.
Jerry, old buddy, if you’re listening, Amy still has a shot at being the Jeopardy champion for 2022 😊. The Gang misses you and Ruth. Oh, by the way, can you tell me how to say this item on the menu?… your friend, Tommy.
🎯I think many of us have difficulty “living on life’s terms.” How often do we complain about the perceived misery that appears quietly in our path? Someone we care about is sick, our car needs repairs to make it safe to drive, or our home requires maintenance. Sometimes, our health is in jeopardy, and many doctors and nurses are needed to correct the problem.
Often, it’s hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. I’m guilty of lumping all my problems into one basket, making them all equally serious when some are not as pressing as others. So, I have changed my outlook and turned my troubles into challenges. By making that simple change, I have changed an unfavorable view into a positive one. Admittedly, having a cheerful outlook on severe health or financial problems is challenging. Still, the options are whether to approach them with eagerness and determination or worry.
I must admit that two of my neighbors fighting cancer brought on my change. We all know that cancer is a severe and life-threatening battle. From my observations, these two people are living life on life’s terms and accept their daily struggles with courage and determination. I had carotid artery surgery a few weeks ago, and I used these two ladies as inspiration. By doing so, I’ve been able to remove any lingering worry about what could go wrong after surgery. My doc says there is a 2% chance of complications, and those odds are good, but what sustains me is my Christian faith and the inspiration of my two neighbors. Edith Wharton said, “There are two ways of spreading light: be the candle, or the mirror that reflects it.” My two neighbors are the candle, and I’m gonna be the mirror 😊.
🎯 A resident of our retirement village started a “Writers Club” a few weeks ago, and I joined it. About ten of us are eager to share our writing talent and learn something that will make us better at scribbling our thoughts on a blank piece of paper. My friend, Jane, wrote a story titled “I Am Still Me,” for the class I attended, and I was so moved by the thought and emotion she put into that beautiful article. I enjoyed it so much that I posted it on my website for everyone to enjoy (www.tommyhale.net). Of course, I asked her permission before doing so, and she politely gave it.
Many of us write letters to friends and loved ones, keeping open a line of communication that lends value to our relationships. All of us write, some a lot more than others, but we all express our thoughts on paper. Often, it’s a card that shows our joy at a special event (birthday, anniversary, etc.).
I have a cousin back home (Grundy, VA) who sends my wife and me a monthly letter. Mike always warns us his writing is not perfect and that he hopes we can read it. My good friend does not realize that we warmly welcome his thoughts into our lives. He provides us with updates on what’s happening within our family and other tidbits of interesting information. He keeps me connected to an extended family that’s far away. I hope that what I’m doing with my writing is keeping in touch with family and friends far removed from my environment but with whom I still want to be involved in my life. The most unfortunate thing about writing is that you seldom get feedback. There is a smattering of responses, but mostly, few do. I think that’s something writers get used to, believing that those we write to are enjoying our thoughts and opinions; they just don’t have the time to respond. I’m guessing it’s a little like when I buy something from Amazon, and they continually want me to rate their service 😊. I often ask my readers if they want to be removed from my mailing list, and few have requested that be done, so I’m encouraged by that. Oh, I forgot to mention that in the Writers Club’s last gathering, we were tasked to write three short stories of about 850 words for our meeting this month. I’m gonna try to squeeze in two 😊. Maybe, I should follow Joan Didion’s advice, “Do not whine… Do not complain. Work harder. Spend more time alone.” Geez, I thought I had spent enough time alone!
🎯 My wife and I went to the Seafood Festival of the small town we used to live in (Poquoson, VA). Because of Covid, they have not held it for a couple of years, so we were eager to attend. It started on a Friday and ended on Sunday. People came from many miles away to attend, and everyone had fun. There were food tents everywhere, and art & craft tents abounded. There was entertainment, usually a big-name band on Saturday night, and a place for the kids to cavort. We always purchase something while there, and this visit was no exception. We had planned to eat lunch, but they didn’t have the fried oysters we enjoy, so we wandered over to the soft-serve ice cream tent and plopped down $15 for two plastic cups of their delicious offerings. The young woman working behind the counter said to my wife, “What do you want, sweetheart?” and she promptly told her. She then turned to me, and I calmly asked her, “how did you know that’s what I call my wife?”. She replied anyone could tell that she was a “Sweetheart.” I agreed that was indeed a correct statement.
I think many men have pet names for their wives & girlfriends, but I haven’t noticed that so much with women. Maybe men don’t take too kindly to being called pet names. Perhaps it, somehow, takes away from their masculinity? My wife said the soft-serve lady called me “Honey,” but I was unaware of it. Three hours later, having walked over two miles, per our Fitbit, we headed for our car and home, exhausted from weaving around several thousand people, all determined to have a good time. On our way home, we quickly calculated how much we had spent while there, and it was close to $100. Regardless of how tired we were or the money spent, we had a good time, and that was the purpose of the trip.
I think it’s essential that we have something to look forward to, if not every day, then at least every week. Sometimes, that’s hard to do, but we must not forget to make it happen. The past month has been a whirlwind for us, with each of us having surgery. But that’s behind us now, we have a one day trip planned for next week and a trip up north (PA, CT, NY) to visit family and friends at the end of the month. We know the time will come when we’ll be too old to travel, but it hasn’t arrived yet thank goodness. Richard Restak (neurologist) said, “We are what we can remember.” Richard should know that we are really trying to make memories, and so far, we can remember most of them 😊.
🎡 I ran across this question the other day: What would your sermon be about if you had the opportunity to preach to Christ? I gave that some thought, then, on my next visit to our Sunday church service, I asked our minister (Pastor Bob) that question. He thought for a moment and said he really didn’t know; he would have to give it some thought. That was good advice.
After long deliberation, I know what my sermon would be. I would tell Jesus how much his wisdom has affected the world, making us strive to be better than our innate self wanted to be, thanking him for sacrificing his life to atone for our sins, and expressing our gratitude for our many blessings. Then, I would ask him what Heaven’s like since there isn’t a detailed description of it in the bible, to my knowledge. If I get in, will I see my parents, grandparents, and other loved ones? Since they don’t have their earthly body, will I be able to recognize them?
I would ask him if he would revise the Ten Commandments or leave them as they are. Then I would ask him about the elephant in the room: Am I living a life that will get me admitted into Heaven? Heck, I might even ask him about John the Baptist or if he (Christ) had any siblings. How old was he when he knew his Father had given him special powers? Does he let his angels visit us occasionally? Has he really counted every hair on our head, or is it his way of saying he’s watching us closely? Does he really know what’s in our hearts, or does he judge us based on our actions?
The obvious question I need to ask myself is: have I asked him these questions in my prayers? The answer is a very positive “NO.” That doesn’t seem like something I need to include in my prayers. I have read the bible from cover to cover, looking for the answers, and could not get them clearly resolved.
Sometimes I feel that I’m not sure of anything. As a young boy, I loved the smell of snow. As an adult, I’m not sure I have ever smelled snow. What would I do if I saw an angel? Would that convince me beyond doubt there is a heaven?
How would Christ feel if I delivered a sermon in his presence? He would feel like it was an inquisition instead of a sermon. Arthur Conan Doyle said, “There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.” Maybe that’s my problem 😊.
🎡 I read an article that said a Yale research study found that listeners have a good chance of discerning whether someone has a college degree by listening to the person speak just seven words. At first thought, well, what are the seven words? Turns out it can be any word; it makes no difference. Within seven of them, you can tell if a person has a college degree. The people that performed the research did not talk to me because, regardless of my many years on this planet, I cannot determine if a person is college educated within their first seven words. I don’t believe how intelligent you are is determined by the sheepskin on your wall.
Today, college is more important than when I was a youngster. Back in the mid-20th century, a high school diploma was all that was required to land a job that paid a decent salary. Today, an undergraduate degree often isn’t enough to get great jobs. I’m more inclined to believe you can discern someone’s educational level by their bearing, not their choice of words. My granddaughter, Christine, has a Ph.D., and I challenge anyone to tell that by talking to her. She always talks on the level of the people she is with and is never condescending. Many of us think that if you are well educated, it automatically qualifies you as being intelligent, failing to understand there are many worthless college degrees, some available with minimal effort.
I’m more inclined to judge people by their ideas and how they express themselves than anything else. I enjoy people that speak concisely and thoughtfully. I grew up as a “hill Billy” and used the colloquial words “han’t” (I have not) and “ain’t (am not, has not, have not, is not, are not). I dropped the former(‘han’t’) by the time I was in the 7th grade, but I still use the latter often 😊. I’ll bet if the Yale surveyors interviewed me and I used “ain’t, they would drop me in the bucket that said, “no college,” and they would be wrong. I wonder if it would surprise them that I have listened to 743 audiobooks since January 2007. I have been a lover of books my entire life. I remember reading comic books at age five, trying to figure out the words hovering above the mouths of the characters within. By the time I was in the third grade, I had a stack of comic books almost as tall as I was. No one in my circle of friends could read better than I, and that love of reading has been with me all my life. No, I don’t have an enormous collection of physical books, but I have a database filled with audiobooks and the ratings I gave each. I can tell you when I purchased it and when it was read. I have traveled the world, been into outer space and plunged ocean depths, by listening to these books. Come to think of it, I would rather judge someone by the books they read than by whether they went to college. In Matthew, Chapter 7, verse 1 of the Bible it says, “Judge not, they ye be not judged.” I need to pay more attention that verse 😊.
🎡 My wife is often amused that I use hand gestures as I talk. I was unaware of it, so I started paying attention, and sure enough, she was right. Now, I pay attention to others to see if they do the same thing, and so far, it’s a mixed bag. I have concluded that those of us that do, are using our hands to illustrate what we’re trying to say. I believe that we are more intense in trying to convince someone of what we’re saying, and we bolstered that belief with the movements of our arms and hands. A crude but prime example would be if I used the F*** word and flipped you the bird. I have never made that obscene gesture.
Along with hand gestures, I’m impressed with people that laugh easily. I think the ability to laugh reveals a personality that is open to humor and resistant to depression. I have known quite a few depressed people, and none smiled easily or talked positively. When I meet new people for the first time, I look for an amiable smile and a cheerful outlook. I have an extensive list of friends with those qualities and a few that don’t. I think cheerful people have a light in their eyes that rejoices the heart and renews a belief that something good lies in wait just around the corner. They believe no exercise strengthens the heart more than reaching down and lifting someone up. So, look for those traits when looking for a friend. It has always worked for me. Now you know my secret. 😊
Jean-Jacques Rousseau said, “People who know little are usually great talkers, while men who know much say little.” Hmm, that’s probably not the quote I wanted to use here. 😊