Category: 2011


We’re almost done!


A few weeks ago I had to have an upper rear tooth removed.  It received a root canal and a cap many years ago and finally its lifetime of use expired.  I’m sitting in the dentist’s chair, and he walks in, gives me a shot of Novocain and says; “I’ll be back in 10 minutes”.  As numbness slowly crawls all over my face, I sit there wondering just how painful this is going to be and finally conclude that if the shot works, there should be no pain.  But, I also know that whether it works or not is entirely dependent on the skill of the dentist.  This guy says he does 30 extractions a day so I’m guessing he is pretty good.  In about 10 minutes, he walks back in with his assistant and starts to work, using a pair of vice-grips in my mouth.  At first, it sounded like someone breaking up rocks, but he assured me everything was ok.  Then it felt like the roots of the tooth had expanded into my lower chest cavity and my lungs and heart were trying to come out with them.  “We’re almost done!” he exclaims with a big smile, as he removes the offensive tooth and its root.  Quickly, they insert gauze into the crater left by the tooth to stem the flow of blood and encourage clotting.  “Well”, says he, “that wasn’t too bad was it?”  Well, no, if you’re the person standing there with this humongous tool, and it has done absolutely nothing to harm you.  As I get up to leave he pats me on the back and says with enthusiasm; “Have a good day!”  If you’ve ever had a tooth pulled, you know that’s not going to happen.  As Joseph Barbera once said; “Faced with the choice of enduring a bad toothache or going to the dentist, we generally tried to ride out the bad tooth.”

My left hip has started bothering me as of late.  I suspect it is arthritis, but that diagnosis has not been proven yet.  We have stopped running our local trail and started using our bicycles on our local streets.  That seems to help, but I’m still hoping to get over this thing and get back to running (which I love).  I would settle for being able to walk the trail if that’s necessary.  I suspect that we settle for a lot in life.  I have a friend that has settled for looking after his wife who has a disease that mandates a wheelchair for the rest of her life.  He does it willingly and without complaint.  I’m not sure that I could do that, although I would like to think I could.  I have a cousin that has lost a leg and the possibility remains that he may lose the other one.  I talk to him on a weekly basis and his courage is remarkable.   I have a 2nd cousin that needs a kidney and recently rushed to the hospital thinking one was waiting for him.  Upon arrival, he was told it wasn’t a good match, and he returned home somewhat despondent.  He has been doing nightly dialysis for a couple of years now.  I don’t think he has settled for it always being that way.  I guess the point I’m making here is there are some things in life we have to accept and then, some things can get better, and we can get on with our life.  I’m hoping my hip problem is one of those things.  While important to me, my problem pales in comparison to those that others face.  R. Fuller once said; “The one common experience of all humanity is the challenge of problems.”  Sadly, that seems to be all too true.

I ran across a quote the other day that intrigued me: “Believe those who are seeking the truth.  Doubt those who find it.”

That was written by French author Andre Gide, who won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1947.  It appears the author does not believe that the truth can ever be found and if someone says they have, then they are untruthful.  In my lifetime I have discovered many truths.  For example;  Mom and Dad will love you no matter how badly you behave;  if you drive too fast, or drink too much the end results are always bad;  if you eat a lot and exercise very little, misery is just around the corner.  Now, I’m sure that Andre  was referring to truths deeper than my examples, but nevertheless, all those things are important.  Mom & Dad used to complain because I didn’t call home often enough, and now I haven’t talked to them in almost 25 years.  Fast driving can end a good life in a heartbeat, as well as can alcohol.  That overeating thing has plagued me all my life.  That little sucker follows me around like a Blue-Tick hound follows a coon scent.  For some reason, I think God made us as imperfect beings to see how we handle it.  Whatever our character flaw(s), it’s important to constantly strive to overcome them, else it will overcome us and as we age, we will pay the price.  But, as Andrew Jackson so famously said: “ One man with courage makes a majority.”  I prefer to think that I have the courage to overcome my shortcomings so that puts me in the majority J.

We recently decided to dig a well and install a sprinkler system in our yard.  The guy we contracted to do the job has done reasonably well, but as Jerilyn has watched them systematically destroy years of hard work, she has gotten really stressed out.  Now, don’t get me wrong, this woman is a brilliant butterfly in a black & white world, but she can be tough when she gets upset.  Our contractor’s 30 something son (Skippy-who we nicknamed Zippy) gets under her skin the most.  His favorite line to her starts with; “Ma’am, you just don’t understand….” and then he continues with the rest of the statement.  She has done reasonably well in controlling her frustration, but she watches them intently as they plow thru the yard and into her flower gardens and wild area.  We now have a large fake rock to cover the well pump and necessary accessories, but she is not happy about the well location since it is directly in front of the front porch.  I have no doubt she will think of some way to camouflage it.  The well driller had to try four locations before finding a place to drill the necessary 125 feet to hit water.  We have been assured that our well water will not contain the dreaded iron that stains everything it touches, or salt that kills the shrubs.  If it does, I will be a very unhappy camper!

 

“Talent hits a target no one else can hit; genius hits a target no one else can see.”- Arthur Schopenhauer.  How true that is.  I have known quite a few people with talent but very few geniuses (exceptional intellectual ability).   I know, perhaps, two or three people that come close.   Those people know they are smarter than average and are more than willing to let others use their abilities to resolve problems in their lives.  In other words, they share the genius they surely know they inherited from someone else.  I think most of us will agree there is nothing more disagreeable than an arrogant smart person.  Wait a minute, maybe an arrogant idiot is more disagreeable!  As a kid growing up in a coal camp, the smartest person I knew was the camp superintendent, and he could not read nor write.   When I did chores for him, he would reach into his pocket, fetch some change, extend his hand with palm open and tell me to take 50¢.   How many of us today knows someone that’s illiterate?   I have known two people in my life that were.  Today, that is unthinkable with the educational opportunities available to every American, there is really no excuse to be uneducated.  I believe the really important thing, no matter our smartness, is how much common sense we have and how well we use it.  So, if  I can’t qualify in the genius area, do I have any talent?  Alas, I fall far short in that area also.  I’ve been practicing guitar and taking lessons for well over a year and Jerilyn puts on her earmuffs whenever she sees me headed for the thing.   I am an utter failure at making things grow and carpentry might as well be some foreign language.  I guess I do all those things because I have fun trying.

“Among those whom I like or admire, I can find no common denominator, but among those whom I love, I can: all of them make me laugh.” – W. H. Auden.  I reflected on this quote a bit, and I must say that I agree with it.  I have people in my life that lift me up.  I always valued their relationship, but I was unaware of exactly why I valued them so much until I ran across that quote.  I’ll bet you have people in your life that fit that description.  Some radiate with happiness and a positive attitude while others never see anything good in life and something is always wrong.  I am sure that all my readers are the radiate type.  I have a childhood friend that passed away recently (so long, Les) and by all accounts, he was wonderful Christian and a thoroughly good human being.  A couple of years ago he came by unexpectedly for a visit.  He and I sat out on the park bench in our backyard and gazed down the creek as we talked of old times.  I had not seen Les since 1959, and at that time he was a mere 16 years old.  Here two old friends sat reminiscing, at the ripe old age of 65 & 67.   I was impressed at what a nice guy he turned out to be, full of energy, enthusiasm and a strong desire to enjoy life.  His life was taken instantly by a massive heart attack.  I strongly suspect that Les was an integral part in a lot of peoples lives and will be sorely missed.  My memory of our conversation on that park bench is that there was a lot of laughter, just the way old Les used to make me laugh as a kid.  I sure hope I make my friends laugh, and I strongly suspect Les is doing the same in Heaven.

I hope you have enjoyed this missive and that wherever your corner of the world may be, you enjoy the life you have so diligently carved for yourself.  If you have the time, I would enjoy hearing from you, and I close with a quote by Benjamin Franklin: “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing”.  I hope I have accomplished both

……Tommy

 

 

Would the boy you were be proud of the man you are?


The last WOW I sent out was on April 19th and this one was to go out in May but a lot has happened in the interim.  Starting in April, we made a trip to NY to visit Jerilyn’s sister-in-law (Marion), then in May my youngest granddaughter (Chelsea) graduated from high school.  Jerilyn’s mother (Gladys) passed away on the last day of May and Marion passed away in July while we were  out west on a National Parks tour.  We visited my family in Southwest Virginia at the end of June when we went back for my 1959 basketball team reunion (we went to state that year).  At the beginning of August we went to a memorial service for Marion in NY and on August 27th hurricane Irene roared into town and wreaked havoc.  We have spent the days since then cleaning up debris in our yard.  The first day of cleanup I lost 3 lbs.   The second day I lost 2 lbs.  There is nothing I know as silent as the sound of growing old.  After about 4 hours of work, I have to rest for a few minutes then each ½ hour thereafter.  When hurricane Isabelle came thru in 2003 (I was 62), I worked non-stop for days cleaning up the mischief it left.  After seeing the flooding Irene caused up north, I know we are blessed.

 

Everything below this paragraph was written in early May.  Needless to say, the lean-to on the shed has been abandoned for other priorities.  The sadness of Jerilyn’s mother and sister-in-law passing away has cast a shadow over our lives that will stay for a long time.   We were on our way home from TN when we got word that Gladys had passed away and would be joining her beloved husband Henry (her prayers were finally answered).  Seven weeks later, we received word that Marion had passed away and was on her way to join Jerilyn’s brother, Wayne, in heaven.  We visited her in the hospital in April & June and knew that she was a very sick person, but still, the news was unexpected and depressing.  She was near and dear to our hearts and thoughts of her will fill our hearts for years to come.  It seems that someone we love has died every year for the past five years.  Someone long ago said; “There may be the accident of birth, there is no accident of death”.  I believe that is true and is all a part of God’s plan.

Laurence Peter’s ask the question; “Would the boy you were be proud of the man you are?”  After some deliberation, I concluded that he would be proud, not necessarily about what I have accomplished, but instead the kind of person I have become.  I can name any number of people that have accomplished more, but I can think of few that have more friends and more fun.  I remember the adults in my youth, and I can distinctly recall that some of them were not fun to be around.  But then again, their life was harder than mine and they had more reason to be unhappy.  Like everyone else, I have my faults, but the feedback I get from my friends is they enjoy my company.  My experience has been that people stay away if you aren’t fun to be around.  So yes, I think the boy I was would be proud of the guy I am.  I know my mother was because she told me so shortly before she dashed off to be with Dad in heaven.  OK, mom was a little prejudiced, but I believed her anyway J.

I recently started building a lean-to on the back of our shed.  I calculated the dimensions and then determined how much of my yard maintenance equipment I could place in their new home.  My best guess was: 2 riding mowers, 2 push mowers, one yard vacuum and 2 bicycles.  I then started calculating how much lumber I needed to get the job done, and what I would use for the floor.  All of this carpenter stuff reminded me of my maternal grandfather (Lonnie McCoy).  He was an excellent carpenter and always amazed me with the way he could cut angles without making a single mistake.  He never had to do anything over again.  I always have to redo things, and I’m constantly trying to make something fit that won’t fit.  I remember being about 5 years old as I watched him pour concrete to make about 8 steps down the side of a bank and then form a wall of concrete to hold back any dirt that might try to wash over those steps.  They led to a porch entrance of the house below.  A couple of years ago, while visiting my folks back where I was raised, Jerilyn and I stopped at that home and I got out of the car and walked over, and sure ‘nuff, those steps were still there 65 years later, looking as good as ever.  I could see my grandfather’s hands smoothing the concrete as he puffed on a cigarette and warning me about trying to put any kind of mark on his work.  Standing there on that bright summer day, staring down at his handiwork, I attempted to think of how many days had passed since that time and how much my life had changed.  As I turned to walk away, there was sadness in my heart for all that I have lost during my journey thru life from that long ago day.  Yet, I know I have a lot to be thankful for! I have many good friends and lots of wonderful relatives, and people like you that enjoy reading my ruminations.  Who knows, maybe grandpa McCoy is making steps over on the other side and warning his son (KD) not to make any marks on his work.  

Jerilyn and I attended Sunrise Service Easter morning, arising at 5:30 am and rushing thru our morning ritual to get to the service by 6:15 am.  The outside temp was a very nice 68°, and our minister’s sermon was very enlightening.  Afterwards, all of us filed back into the church for a breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, and pancakes.  The people we sat with at breakfast were fun and interesting, one being our assistant pastor and her family.  As a retired guy, I sometimes forget how much fun it is to be around people and listen to their ideas and concerns.  Jerilyn and I left church that morning with a sense of renewal in our faith and in the link we have with all that share our faith in the rebirth of Christ and the forgiveness of our sins.  As I sat, eating my breakfast, a young 15 year old boy sat across from me eating his breakfast beside his dad, with his head bent down as if he wanted to ignore everyone around him.  My attempts to make him feel more at ease around strangers fell harmlessly on the floor, and he staunchly refused to be lured into conversation.  Then, I noticed the cross on a chain lying on his chest.  I glanced around the table and observed that no one else had one, including myself.  I remarked to him that he had a beautiful cross and that he was the only one in our group that thought to wear one on this very special day.   A big smile swept across his face, and he became instantly more sociable.  No longer did his face tilt downward toward his plate as good conversation swirled around him.  I hope he left church that day knowing that even strangers were interested in him, and that he could make friends just as easily as talking about a cross he wore and someone noticed.        

 I was 15 years old in 1956 when Elvis Presley’s first #1 record was on the airwaves.  “Heart Break Hotel” had converted all my teenage friends to a new type of music called Rock & Roll.  My mother looked at me one day as I turned the volume up on the radio, smiled as she said; “Tommy Joe, Elvis is just a flash in the pan”.  That was one of the few times, to my knowledge, she was wrong about anything (maybe some of the times she whipped me were wrong J).  Of course, Elvis later became known as “The King” and had fans all over the world.  There are a lot of wonderful singers in the world today, (Cher, Dion, Barbara?), but I still enjoy listening to Elvis.  Music is such a vital part of my life.  As I write this missive, there is music in the background, sometimes it’s easy listening or gospel, but most of the time its country (very seldom Rock and never Rap).  Yet, I know people that seldom listen, and a few that never listen, to music.  To them quiet is more important.  I think, probably, that quiet should be given more credit than it receives.  If a psychiatrist analyzed those who preferred continual music to no music at all, they would in all likelihood  conclude that music listeners are easily bored and in constant need of some form of energy surrounding them.  I definitely prefer listening to, “You Ain’t Nothin’ But A Hound Dog”, to sorting thru the shopworn thoughts that bounce around inside my head.  I think Charles Darwin said it best; “If I had my life to live over again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once a week”. 

 I recently read about the American man’s change in weight and height within the last 300 years, and was surprised to learn that the average adult man in 1850 stood 5’7”, weighing in at 146 pounds, with a life expectancy of 45.  In the 1980’s, a typical man in his early 30’s was 5’10” tall, weighed 174 pounds, and was likely to pass his 75th birthday.  There are a lot of discussions as to why the big change, and they mostly revolve around the improvement in healthcare and nutrition.  Jerilyn’s mother would have been 93 in August, and even though her health had declined significantly the past year she was doing quite well otherwise.  I think we are living longer, but not healthier, because of over-nutrition (those DQ Blizzards will be the downfall of me yet).  As Albert Schweitzer said so eloquently; “Happiness is nothing more than good health and a bad memory”.

When my younger brother (Jerry) and I were small boys, Mom would often fry chicken for supper.  Grandpa & Grandma Hale raised chickens and we would come home with fryers after eating Sunday dinner at their place.  My brother, upon learning that liver was my favorite part, would always ask for it first.  In our home, asking first was mighty important, sorta like taking a number at the local DMV.  He got the livers for perhaps 5 meals in a row.  His secret was finding out what Mom was cooking hours in advance, and then asking her for the livers before the chicken was served.  I can still see the wicked look in his eyes as he munched on those livers as if they were delivered to his plate by dispensation from the Pope.  One day I let mom know how unhappy I was that Jerry was getting those livers every time.  “Tommy Joe”, she said, “Jerry’s favorite piece of chicken is a drumstick, he just doesn’t want you to have the livers and you know our rule (first come, first served)”.  Now, let’s fast forward to our next meal with chicken; Jerry sat across the table from me licking his lips over the liver, and I slowly reach into the chicken plate and take both drumsticks.  He continues licking his lips but the smile is slowly fading from his face and appearing on mine.   I glanced over at Mom and detected a suppressed smile.  I never again had to share livers with my brother, but know this much, if he were alive today he could have all he wanted from my plate.  Jerilyn and I often stop at KFC’s to eat, and I never eat a liver without thinking of him.  That story happened 60 years ago, and I wonder why I remember it now? 

 John Tierney wrote; “When I look in the mirror, I worry that I am merely fidgeting until I die”.  I try not to fidget.  I think fidgeting is for people that can’t make up their mind, and I have gotten pretty good at doing that over the years.  As most of you can attest, I have opinions on just about everything.  For instance, I think Congress and the President are fidgeting over fixing the budget, over bringing our troops back home, improving the economy, and finding jobs for the unemployed.  I agree this is a restless time, but our political leaders need to step forward and do what is best for our country.  If they don’t, the one thing they can be sure of is that I will not fidget while in the ballot box.  Our country is really struggling right now and everyone needs to be pulling on the harness to get our problems resolved.  I remember seeing a sign in my boss’s office in the 70’s and it said; “If you aren’t part of the solution, you’re part of the problem”.   At the time, I couldn’t see how I was part of the problem but as I have gotten older, it makes sense.  See, I thought that if I did my job well, I was doing my part to make the company successful.  What I really should have been doing, in addition to my assigned duties, was helping devise meaningful improvements.  So, I say to my representatives and my President, get busy or be prepared to find a new job come Election Day.

Thanks for reading my monthly missive.  It has taken me a long time to prepare this one, but I hope to get better at jotting down my thoughts to share with you.  I hope everything is fine in your corner of the world, wherever that may be, and that you will find the opportunity to share some of your life with me.

Until next time

…………………………………………Tommy  

 

To send a letter is a good way to go somewhere

without moving anything but your heart…..Phyllis Theroux

 

If my life was made into a movie


A few weeks ago, I sent my youngest great-granddaughter (Taylor) a birthday card for her 5th birthday, and I told her about the one thing I remembered as a 5 year old.  My mother called me into the kitchen one day and handed me a coal bucket and said, “Tommy Joe, go down to the basement, fill up this bucket with coal, and bring it in and set it right here (pointing to a spot beside the stove)”.  To get into the basement, I had to go outside, circle around the front of the house, and go in thru the door under our front porch (our home set on the side of a hill).  I had to get the coal out of the coal bin that was used to stoke the furnace which kept our house warm.  This chore was mine now, and I was expected to keep that bucket full of coal because she also needed it for the cooking stove.  That was a sad day for me, up until that time I had no responsibilities and expected never to have any.  Life for me was all fun and games and now all that had changed.  As I told my great-granddaughter, it seemed so strange after a million chores later, telling her about that very first chore.  I wonder if you remember your very first one?  If you do, drop me a line and tell me about it.  I like this quote by William James (American philosopher): “Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task”.

I read recently that nicotine has a significant positive effect on fine motor skills, the accuracy of short term memory, some forms of attention, and working memory.   The big drawback here is that it increases your risk of dementia.  The holy grail of brain health is exercise.  Walking 45 minutes a day, three days a week improves brain functions by 20%.  Some scientists speculate that one year of exercise can give a 70-year-old (me) the brain connectivity of a 30-year-old.  Yeah, if you believe that, I have a bridge I wanta sell you.  It seems that I encounter memory problems every single day of my life.  Trying to put a name to an actor, remember a TV show, you name it, and it will takes days for the answer to transfer to my lips.  Truth be known, it only bothers me when I forget the name of someone I haven’t seen in a while.  The good news about this memory problem is that I normally go to bed with a clear conscience, and that is usually the first sign of a bad memory.

The thought crossed my mind the other day that if my life was made into a movie (I have no idea why it would be, but neither do I know why I think these things), who would I want to play me, and could it be interesting enough to encourage people to watch it.  The actor I would choose to play me would be Richard Gere, mainly because he seems to be an easy going guy.  He certainly does not resemble me in appearance.  Yes, there has been a lot of drama in my life, more than I prefer to recall, but enough to keep a few people interested.  I think the most interesting aspect of my life would be the people that have played important roles in it, and I would guess, that applies to most of us.   There have been a few times when my life was in danger, mostly due to some action on my part, but I remain persistent in believing it (the movie) would be about the people I have encountered during my 70 years on this wonderful planet.  Of course all good movies have to end on a climactic event.  I have given some serious thought J as to what that would be and here’s how I see that movie ending:  A serial burglar enters our home in the middle of the night, and I am awakened by his rifling thru our chest of drawers.  My German Lugar, or Colt 45  (I don’t have either) lies within easy reach under our mattress. I watch him with eyes half closed so he will not think I’m awake and decide that if he avoids us I will not hurt him.  As he turns to leave, an accomplice joins him and they whisper to each other.  I overhear one say to the other, “let’s get them out of bed and make them show us where they store their valuables”.    Not wanting to take a chance, and not seeing a weapon in their possession, I retrieve the gun and in a calm, gentle, and heroic manner tell them to, “Freeze, I have a gun pointed at you and will not hesitate to use it” (I would, but what the heck, it’s just a movie).   As the little red laser beam thingy lands on one of their chest they know I’m serious.   Later, the police are sitting in our driveway, lights whirling, and the two burglars are led from our home and placed in a police cruiser.   I’m hailed as the guy that stopped the serial burglarization (no such word) of the neighborhood.   Ah, if only life could be so grand.

I read the other day that women are attracted to men that wear red.  It seems red stirs some deep inner emotion that just lays there waiting for some guy to walk by sporting a red shirt or pants.   I don’t wear red much, but I have a feeling that is about to change.   The first person whose response I will observe is my wife.  I am expecting better treatment (if it can be any better) and a more humbling attitudeJ.     I guess that I should expect, as I walk up and down the aisles of our Dollar General store, women will be trailing along behind me.  I also suspect that if my wife ever figures out what is causing all the interest, I will immediately lose all the red that hangs in my closet.  The article also stated that men notice women that wear red, but I cannot recall that ever influencing me.   It would never be wise for me to divulge what makes me notice a woman, but I strongly suspect my wife knows.  As for me, I continue to believe that what ultimately decides who you want to spend the rest of your life with is very complex and involves some mystery.   I suspect that if I were a young 20 something fellow looking for a mate in today’s dating climate, I would have a difficult time finding the right person.  As a young man in the 50’s era, the evils we were exposed to were limited to cigarettes and alcohol.  Today, that list would fill an entire page so it is much more difficult to select a partner for life.    I think we often condemn choices made by our young people, failing to realize the difficulties they face in making those choices.  Oscar Wilde is credited with saying; “I choose my friends for their good looks, my acquaintances for their good character, and my enemies for their intellect.  A man cannot be too careful in the choice of his enemies”.  I would never choose my friends based on their good looksJ.

Sharon Begley (Newsweek) says; “Never play cards with a man called Doc, never eat at a place called Mom’s, and never sleep with a woman whose troubles are worse than your own”.  I’ve played cards with a man called Doc (Daniels), ate at a place called Mom’s (VA Rt 460 at Salem), and slept with…….ahem, think I’ll skip that one.  I think all of us can look back over our life and come up with at least 3 witticisms.  What would mine be?  Let’s see, the first one would be; “Anybody named Buddy makes a good buddy”.  The next would be, “Making mistakes before age 50 is natural and easy to overcome, after that, they hurt like a bit*ch”.    And the last one would be; “I get to pick my neighbors and I have made mistakesJ”.

Half of all Americans live within 50 miles of their birthplace.  How can that possibly be true?  I currently live 450 miles from my birthplace and have lived 1500 miles from it.   I travel back home at least once every year and have done so for the past 50 years.  I left there at age 18, joined the US Air Force and served for 4 years.  Upon discharge, my former wife (Mae) and our 2 small children (Rusty & Debby) moved back to our small hometown (Oakwood, VA).  After 3 weeks of looking for a job (other than mining coal), we moved to within a few miles of where I live now (Poquoson, VA).  So, since July 1963, I have been traveling back home on a yearly basis, visiting with relatives and friends.   I always thought the propensity to live close to where you were raised was a hillbilly thing.  All my extended family probably lives within 50 miles of where they were raised.  The only reason this hillbilly left was to find work.  I definitely was not unhappy living in those wonderful mountains.  Now that I’m retired, I often wonder if I would like to move back, and I’ve concluded that I’ve been gone too long, become too citified.   Still, I am amazed that 50% of us have decided to stay so close to home.  That speaks volumes.  It says that we enjoy where we were raised and the people that have participated in our life, probably since birth.   The county I was raised in (Buchanan) has 24,000 people.  The county seat (Grundy) has a population of 900 or so.  When I go home, I see countless people that know me.  The area I live in now has a population of 1.5 million and hardly anyone knows me.  O. Henry said it best; “There is one day that is ours. There is one day when all we Americans, who are not self-made, go back to the old home, to eat saleratus biscuits and marvel how much nearer to the porch the old pump looks than it used to”.  Whenever I go home I try to visit all my relatives.  The saddest part is the many stops I make at the cemetery to visit all those loved ones that have finally moved more than 50 miles from where they were raised.   My, I have lost so many.  No wonder my heart feels lost sometimes.

Someone asked the question; “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?”  I have given that some thought, and I think the question was meant to be of a personal nature, not what would you do for humanity.  With that in mind I pondered laboriously trying to figure out what that would be, and I think I finally have an answer.  I would walk from here to Los Angeles.  Now, I realize this is a dream for a much younger man, but what unwritten edict exists that says a 70 year old guy couldn’t do it.  Ok, that was my first choice, what would be my second choice?  I think it would be to climb the tallest tree on earth without a safety rope.  I have always been afraid of heights, and yes, I know that is odd considering I was raised in the mountains. My third choice would be to run in the New York Marathon because of my love for running.  If you would care to share your 3 choices with me, I would love to hear them.

Did you know that one year’s tuition at Harvard costs $52,000 (including room & boardJ) and a mere 7% of all applicants are accepted from the 30,000 that apply each year.  Now, who do I know that can afford that school?  I might say I could list them all on one hand, but fact is, I could list them all on one finger.   That person and I graduated high school together and, heck, he could probably buy the place if he wanted.  Another interesting fact I ran across the other day is that 10,000 new retirees will be added to the Social Security and Medicare rolls each day for the next 20 years.   No doubt in my mind what those GI’s from WWII were doing when they came back home.

The French Novelist, Jean Genet, said that; “Worse than not realizing the dreams of your youth, would be to have been young and never dreamed at all”.   I do know that as a young man I dreamed about what my life would be as an adult.  I seldom was out of the hollows of Southwest Virginia, so my dreams weren’t big because I had so little knowledge of worldly things.  I never wanted to be a fireman because I never knew a fireman.  Ditto, being a policeman, or any other public servant.  Attending college was just that (a dream), and was never a valid option for a family as poor as ours was.   I strongly suspected that I would grow up to be a coal miner just like my dad and every other adult that lived in our coal camp (Page Coal Company).  I still have contact with a lot of people from my youth, and I am always amazed at how successful a lot of them have become.  I think a lot of them had the opinion that inspiration was for amateurs,  just get to work”.   Occasionally, I would see a plane flying low over our mountain tops and would think to myself that I would like to be a pilot.  I believe we all should dream, regardless of age, and want more from life than we have.  The pilot thingy never happened but a lot of good things have happened to me during my life, and I have few regrets.  I think I kinda followed Amy Tan’s suggestion when she said; “If you can’t change your fate, change your attitude”.   I have always been successful at doing that.

I hope you’re enjoying whatever season it is in your part of the world.  Thanks for reading my missive and drop me a letter if you have the time.  I always enjoy reading what you have to say.  For those of you receiving this letter for the first time, take comfort in knowing that unless you ask to be put on the distribution list this will be the only one you receive.

……………….Tommy

 

To send a letter is a good way to go somewhere

without moving anything but your heart…..Phyllis Theroux

 

 

The Lion King


A few weeks ago Jerilyn and I went to Chrysler Hall in Norfolk to watch the Broadway play, “Lion King”.  What a wonderful show!  It was fairly expensive, but we don’t get the opportunity to see a Broadway play often so we decided to go for it.  We were overwhelmed by the complexity of the costumes and the ingenuity of the show’s creators.  There are some really talented people in this world.  I fear that sometimes I’m mostly impressed with people that create technical and electronic wonders, when in fact, there are talented people everywhere.  I have always been in awe of people who write really well, and I have had a few teachers that were impressive.  I have three aunts (still alive & well) that were school teachers, so school teachers have a special place in my heart.  I read recently that seniors may require as much as 10 times the amount of light to see an object as clearly as their grandchildren but that was not the case with “Lion King”.  Jerilyn and I stared intently at every movement on stage, and I doubt that any teenager noticed more than we.  Leaving the play that night we had the feeling that we had witnessed a truly remarkable event and that stayed with us several days.  Someone once said; “Ability will never catch up with the demand for it”.  I’d say the creators of that play caught up with the demand.

I recently started a notebook of words that I encounter during my daily readings that I have to look up in the dictionary.  Believe me, even at my age, there are quite a few.  I have always looked up words but, most of the time I have forgotten their meaning by the next day.  I’m hoping that this effort will help stop that from happeningJ.   Maybe, you are like me in that you dislike writers that intentionally use words the average person can’t say and doesn’t know the meaning of.  One unknown word per article fits me very nicely and is appreciated.  More than two, I become a disgruntled guy and will probably not read anything by that author for many weeks.  I find that I enjoy writers that mix in a little humor and try to entertain me with their wit (Gail Collins – NY Times, comes to mind).  Some writers impress me with the complexity of their thoughts but, alas, being a simpleton, it doesn’t take all that much.   One of my favorite writers (Verlyn Klinkenborg – The Rural Life) has a unique ability to notice everything within eyesight and then describe them in writing effortlessly.  I’m often left wondering, with the hectic pace of life today, how someone slows down earth’s spin sufficiently to allow such minute observations.  One thing a good writer must always do is instill in his reader the love of reading, hence the old saying; “The more you read, the more you want to read”.   My experience tells me this is true.  I also know this is true about you, otherwise, you would not be reading this monthly missiveJ.

Samuel Beckett says; “Probably nothing in the world arouses more false hope than the first four hours of a diet”.   I know the feeling well.  During the holiday season, I was the scourge of the dinner table, eating one serving of everything and returning to eat some more of the best.   The problem, as I see it, is that I’m surrounded in life by people that love to cook, and when I’m surrounded by good food I always cave in to gluttony.   Jerilyn does her best to keep me on the straight and narrow, but she can’t watch me all the time.  I read, a while back, the reason alcoholics continually fall off the wagon has to do with the alcohol killing brain cells in the region that pertains to willpower.  I’ll bet a little research would divulge that good food is also killing my brain cells in that very region.  I’m dreading the next time I get on the scale to weigh myself.  I have a colonoscopy scheduled on the 18th of this month, and I suspect the best time to weigh myself will be right after that procedure is competed.  The doctor expects you to stroll into his office looking like you just emerged from a month in the Outback of Australia without food.  Two days before the procedure, I am to start eating a bland diet, and then by 6pm on that same day, I have to switch to nothing but clear liquids.  So yeah, I’m thinking that right after the procedure is over I’m hopping on the scale. As Amy Tan said so eloquently; “If you can’t change your fate, change your attitude”.   J

It has been said that one of the worst reproaches in the world is to be called a coward.  Courage, of course, is the ability to overcome fear.  There are few people born without fear.   The ones that lack fear cannot, in my opinion, be courageous.  The fireman that dashes into the burning building is courageous because he overcomes the fear deep inside that says stay in a safe place.  As a boy, and then later as a man, I have never known any male that could tolerate his name being followed by the adjective (or is it an adverb?); “coward”.   I remember, as a senior in high school (1958), walking with several of my fellow football players (Jimmy, Hubert, Benny, Larry) to the local drive-in restaurant (The Green Dragon) after playing a Friday night football game.  The drive-in was about ¾ of a mile from our high school.  After our bus arrived back at the school, we quickly showered, donned our clothes, and headed by foot for the Green Dragon.  All our roads were nestled in between mountains with a small creek running along beside it.  Street lights were non-existent in our small community, so the only light we had emanated from the moon.  As we walked, exchanging small talk about the just completed ballgame, a car raced down the road and screeched to a halt beside us.  Eight football players from the team we just played bailed out of the car and their leader informed us they were going to “kick our ass”.  Since they outnumbered us by 3, it was entirely possible they could accomplish their stated goal.  That’s when something totally unexpected happed to me.  A little guy deep inside was yelling at me to “RUN, RUN like you’ve never ran before”!   The leader of their group shoves a smallish guy toward me (I was co-captain of our team and 5’11”) and tells him, “You have that guy”.   I’m a good 4 inches taller than he is, so I know I can whip this guy, but I’m also aware that three of their guys are available to help wherever help is needed.  In the meantime, that little guy in me is belting out the same old refrain about running away.   My best friend (Jimmy) steps forward and says to their leader, “Look, we realize that you guys can probably whip us, but know one thing, we are going to inflict some damage before this is over.”  I would guess that Jimmy was the least courageous of our group, but he overcame his fear and attempted to reason with our aggressors.  Not one in our group broke and ran, which is what I suspected they wanted us to do.  I grabbed the little guy in front of me by the front of his shirt and was ready to start throwing punches when their lead guy says; “Okay, okay, I guess you are probably right, we’ll leave”!   They did, and as 17 year old boys are prone to do, we bragged about scaring them away as we walked slowly toward the Green Dragon.  By the time we reached the restaurant, our bravado had quadrupled, and I’m sure we were intolerable the rest of the night.  I was proud of the courage we showed that night.  If I had fled, like my inner voice wanted me to, the “coward” monicker would have followed me the rest of my life.  As Eddie Rickenbacker said; “Courage is doing what you’re afraid to do.  There can be no courage unless you’re scared”.  As a side note, Jimmy went on to be a leader of men.  He sold the company he founded many years ago  for over a $billion.  If the truth be known, he was probably the most courageous of all on that night of long ago.  I often wonder if he and the others remember it.

I read that a dog or cat owner spends roughly $10,000 on the care and feeding of their pet over its lifetime.  Dogs cost more per year, but cats make up for it by living longer.  We don’t have a pet.  Notice I didn’t say, “we don’t own a pet”, for fear of offending my readers that have pets.  After all, I would never say I own a son or a daughter.  The point being that more often than not, pets are treated as children.  I have dear neighbors that dress their dog (Kobe), and talk to him as if he understands everything they say (maybe he does, I dunno).  My Aunt Helen has a wonderful dog (Oreo) that keeps her company all day long.  My cousin, Harold, has a dog (Little Bit) that’s treated like the head of house and our friend, Joann E has two cats (Patches & Silky) that have the run of the place.  Do they know, or care, that their pet is costing them $10,000?  I would venture they have never thought of their relationship with their pet in terms of money.   Alas, I cannot say the same!  When my children were small (early 70’s), they had a cat named Ralph.  Well, ole Ralph was a tomcat always looking for a fight (he preferred dogs).  I’d let him out the front door every morning, he’d go down the walk, stop at the street, look right then left, and if he spotted a dog, he’d make a beeline towards it.  Within a week, I would have him at the vet’s because of an infection from wounds inflicted.  Well, after three visits prompted by his fightin’ ways, I’m in the vet’s office and the vet says; “Mr. Hale, Ralph needs an operation and it’s going to cost $300, or we can put him to sleep for $25.  Ralph’s a tomcat and likes to fight, and my guess is he will be back here often”.  I told him that I’d take Ralph home and hope he makes it.  Instead, Ralph and I headed across the James River to a sparsely populated area where I stopped, opened the door and placed Ralph beside the road, encouraging him to head off into the wilderness, and he did.  I don’t know what happened to Ralph after that day, but I felt like I gave him an opportunity to live, rather than give into the vet’s offer to put him to sleep.  I often wished that I could’ve afforded the operation because my children dearly loved that cat.  When asked by them where Ralph was, I said that he had to be put to sleep.  They seemed to understand.  I know they would have been very upset if they knew what truly happened.  I thought about Ralph all the way back across the James River that afternoon, and to this very day, I wish I could’ve done something else.   I can remember as a young man my father drowning a complete litter of pups because no one wanted them.  He would put them in a sack with several heavy rocks and throw them into the river.  I wonder if that influenced me in any way later in my life.   Arthur Schopenhauer (German philosopher) said; “ Man is the only animal who causes pain to others with no other object than wanting to do so”.   I hope that’s not me.

      I hope that wherever you live on this wonderful planet, you are safe from harm, secure in a happy life, and that you have enjoyed this view from, “My Window on The World”.  If you get a chance, drop me a line, I would love to hear from you.

 

To send a letter is a good way to go somewhere

without moving anything but your heart…..Phyllis Theroux