Recently, my wife and I paid a visit to our former church pastor (Jim) and his wife (Phyllis), both who are dealing with cancer. He retired to devote his energy to fighting that terrible disease, and it has taken its toll on his health. He briefly walked us thru the treatments he was taking and the current status of his health. Then, we moved on to other things, and I could tell he did not want us to spend our visit just talking about his health. He has lost a lot of weight and has very little energy, but he tried gallantly to be a good host.
Occasionally, you meet someone who has a natural talent for talking, never at a loss for words, and confident in carrying a conversation squarely on their own shoulders. It is always a delight for me to meet someone like that. Oftentimes, it is a struggle to keep a friendly conversation moving along, but with someone like Pastor Jim, that is never a problem. He possess a sincerity in his eyes that few have and you never doubt what he tells you. We left their home that afternoon feeling that we had brought a little happiness into a home that was, perhaps, filled with the struggle of fighting a fierce battle. A temporary distraction of sorts, something we all need in stressful situations. I have given thought to why God would let that happen to someone that has devoted their life to serving him? I concluded that he never promised that we would be free of life’s problems, just that he would be there to help us thru those tribulations. Seth Godin said, “Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, you ought to set up a life you don’t need to escape from”. Seth, sometimes that bar is a little too high.
A professor did a small experiment with his students.
First, he asked them to read a paragraph about a certain subject and timed how long it took them to finish reading it. The paragraph was deliberately written poorly.
Then he presented a second paragraph on the same subject, one written well, and asked them to do the same. When they finished, he asked them to compare the amount of information in both paragraphs and the time it took them to read each.
This experiment taught his students that it can take up to twice as long to read a badly written text that includes the same amount of information.
Looking back on my high school and college English classes, I realized that my teachers were trying to convey that same idea to me. I remember all of them stressing how important it was to express yourself, in writing and speech, in a manner grammatically correct and simple.
I read a lot, and I’m constantly having to look up words the authors use that I’m not familiar with. I don’t mind doing that occasionally, but I become somewhat annoyed if I must do it often. Here’s a good example: “Senescence comes with aches and pains, but it’s also a time to look back on your life.”
That word is defined as the aging process, or a cell’s loss of the ability to divide. So why not use “aging”?
A year ago, my PhD Candidate granddaughter sent me a thesis paper she had written on E-cigarettes. I expected to see a lot of scientific terms and words I did not know, and I was correct in that assumption. Her paper was written for a scientific community, and I knew that going in. I struggled thru and learned a lot, but it was hard reading. What I enjoyed the most was how well she presented her thoughts on the subject. That is one of the hardest things for me to do with my writings. Kelly Johnson, a lead engineer at the Lockheed Skunk Works in the 60s, is credited with saying, “Keep It Simple, Stupid”. I believe that should be the goal of every writer. I hope I have succeeded in doing that.
I would like to take you on a trip with me back to 1951 when I was a young lad 10 years old. The Artrup family, friends of our family in the coal camp I lived in, asked me to go with them to spend the weekend at a relative’s home about 3 hours away. Mom said “Yes”, and Dad said “No”. As with most families of that era, Dad’s word was final. He always wanted my brother and me in our own beds when darkness descended into our little corner of the world. I headed off to my bedroom and sat on the floor on the far side of my bed so no one could see me, and the tears started to flow. I desperately tried to stifle the sound because boys my age weren’t supposed to cry, but my heart was broken. Mom opened the door and came over to me, getting down on her knees and holding my face in her hands, she gently said, “I will talk to your Dad and see if I can change his mind.” Begrudgingly, he said “Yes”, but whenever he changed his mind about anything for my brother and me, it always had a big “BUT” added and it always included extra chores.
I cannot remember the chores he added, but early the next morning (Saturday) I was in the car with the Artrup family, and we were off to visit their dad’s sister. I lost track of time but eventually we pulled over to the side of the road and all of us got out (5 kids in the back seat). Mr. Artrup locked his car, and we started following a trail down the hill. There was not a home to be seen anywhere, but we kept walking for what seemed like several miles and finally I saw a big house with several barns and a large plot of land fenced in as a corral. In the barns were several horses. I loved to be around horses, and as soon as we got settled in, all 5 of us kids headed for the barns. I fondly remember Mr. Artrup’s sister placing each of us on the gentlest horse she had and walking along, holding the bridle, as we imagined ourselves as Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Johnny Mack Brown, or the Durango Kid. What a great memory!
The nearest highway was several miles away, and I have no idea how far away the closest house was to theirs. I don’t believe I have ever felt the remoteness that I felt that weekend. It was as if we were the only ones on the face of the earth. There were no other homes, nor cars, nor stores, the only thing available for our existence was within the confines of their homestead.
We left there late Sunday afternoon and drove home. All of us kids were sad that the weekend had ended. I told my Mother when we got home what a great time I had and she said, “Maybe you can go again sometime”. Sadly, that never happened. Within a few months, Mr. Artrup had a heart attack in the mines and passed away before my father (his boss) could do anything to help him. Since the homes in the coal camp were for active workers and their families, his family had to move away. I often wonder what happened to their kids (JC, Peggy, Joe, Brenda). Peggy was my 9-year-old brother’s girlfriend. She was bigger than he and was always beatin’ him up. I always smile when I think about them playing together and how she always won their arguments, one way or the other ??.
I go back home every summer, and I always drive up to where that coal camp existed. Every board and nail have been removed, and the landscape has been changed, but I see it all so clearly. I see a 10-year-old boy with no idea what the rest of his life will entail. I want to reach out and tell him about the pitfalls he will encounter in the life ahead, but I know that kid’s only worry is about how many crawdads he would find under the rocks in the nearby stream so he could do some fishin’.
Our trip is over now, so you can go back to whatever you were doing when I invited you along. I hope you enjoyed reading my story as much as I enjoyed remembering it.
Salvador Dali said, “There are some days when I think I’m going to die from an overdose of satisfaction”. I have some days like that, and I’ll bet you do too ??.