My Life in a Movie

A close up of an old movie camera

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)â€.  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 taskâ€.

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 valuablesâ€.    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 enemiesâ€.  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 ownâ€.  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 buddyâ€.  The next would be, “Making mistakes before age 50 is natural and easy to overcome, after that, they hurt like a bit*châ€.    And the last one would be; “I get to pick my neighbors and I have made mistakesJâ€.

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 allâ€.   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 workâ€.   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 attitudeâ€.   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.


To send a letter is a good way to go somewhere

without moving anything but your heart…..Phyllis Theroux