Sometimes, you come in contact with people that astound you with their approach to life. During our recent trip to North Carolina & Tennessee, we stopped to visit our friend Millie in her retirement home. She just celebrated her 92nd birthday and recently lost her sight. She is an excellent artist and pianist, and shared those talents with us all. I expected to see someone disillusioned by life’s unexpected twists and turns. Instead, she was her usual, cheerful self, discussing all manner of subjects and very little about the fact that she could no longer enjoy the benefits of sight. As I sat in my chair, across from her, I noticed that she smiled a lot, and I wondered if I could do that under the same circumstances. I have a hard time smiling with just the slightest adversity and here sits a woman with a disability that would overwhelm most, smiling and chatting with perfect contentment. I left her apartment realizing that I really never knew how special she was before that visit. I know that I lack the ability to handle life’s extreme hardships with grace. But, when you encounter someone that does, you recognize it immediately. Makes me a firm believer that you can’t turn back the clock, but you can wind it up again. Thanks, Millie, for being a wonderful friend and role model!
Clay Barbour wrote an interesting article that I would like to share with you: “Disconnecting is not easy. Jobs, family, friends; each finds purchase in a corner of your mind and demands attention, and escape is problematic when you willingly, obsessively, carry a Wi-Fi-capable ball and chain around in your back pocket. But there are places still beyond the reach of cell towers, where the only twitter is in the trees, and moments are experienced, rather than captured. Take a breath…. the world ain’t going anywhere”. Sometimes, someone will reach into the air, grab words and place them in exactly the right order to make a point or clarify something in such a poignant way and it makes you think, wow, that really makes a lot of sense. Sadly, few of us have that talent. I can only wish that I did.
One of our local churches had their annual flea market and my wife and I always enjoy attending. They lease plots of land around the church on which people can place the items they have for sale. Seems like a lot of people have things to sell, and it’s like hitting the jackpot for those of us that enjoy yard sales (tag sales up north). As I browsed thru their offerings, I was aware that, at my age, I should be downsizing but there I am, buying things I will probably never use, or not use very much. For $25, I purchased a pair of new gloves, a couple of clamps, a set of forged stamps for punching letters & numbers into things like wood or metal. Whenever I build something, I like to punch the date and my name on it and wonder what the fella will think 50 years from now when he decides it’s ready for the dump and he sees when it was built and by whom. As I was dismantling our old picnic table, replacing it with a new one that I had just completed building, I wondered how old it was. Now, when the one I have constructed is replaced, that guy won’t have to ponder that question. Anyway, back to the flea market thing, the last item I purchased was a metal stand that is used primarily to support lumber that you are cutting, sorta like an adjustable saw-horse. Those five items proudly sit in my workshop waiting for me to pay attention to them. I will be using the stamps within a few days to proudly & discreetly stamp the picnic and end tables that I have just completed, the gloves will come in handy this winter, and the clamps and stand will just have to wait until my next project. Aside from the apparent glee of buying things on the cheap, there is a more beneficial aspect to this experience and that is it gets me out of the house, away from my computer, and allows me to meet interesting people. The banter that’s present at events like this is uplifting and gratifying. As my wife and I got into our truck and drove away, we both had interesting stories to tell about our experiences and anxiously awaited “Show & Tell” when we got home. Life doesn’t get a whole lot better than that.
We have been planning a cruise from Quebec, down the east coast, which stops at nine ports before arriving at Fort Lauderdale, Florida. To be eligible for a $250 military discount, I needed to present Princess Cruises with a copy of my Department of Defense Form (DD214). Since my discharge from the US Air Force was in 1963, that form was no longer in my possession. Nothing left to do but go to the website of the National Personnel Records Center and print out their request form and mail it to them asking for a copy of my record. I was told it might take 4-6 weeks to get the document. In about three weeks it arrived. As I sat at my desk opening our daily mail, I was surprised upon opening their letter because as soon as I saw it a flood of memories spread thru my mind like an overflowing lake spreads into the surrounding communities. I was a young airman (22) in the Personnel Unit at the US Air Force Academy (Colorado Springs, CO) and my four-year tour was coming to a close for I had chosen not to re-enlist. There I was, in the far corners of my mind, typing this form for my commanding officer to sign, looking out the vast plate glass windows that encompassed our office building, wondering what surprises my future had in store. I had no job lined up when I arrived back home, and I had a wife and two children (ages 2 & 3) to provide for. Alas, that 22-year-old fellow wasn’t the least bit concerned, he had 47 days of vacation pay and plenty of time to find a job. I was tempted to reach out, touch that young fellow on the shoulder and say, “psst, I can tell you exactly what will happen for the next 53 years so you can logically decide whether to stay in or get out”. As I sat there pondering over those days of long ago, I decided not to interfere with that young man’s decision, admonishing myself to never let adverse facts stand in the way of a good decision. After making a copy of the form and mailing it, I tucked the original back in the envelope and marked it for my “Permanent” file, to be opened again somewhere in my future, and revisit again that time of long, long, ago.
I have been on a mission since December 2014 to lose weight, and I am, slowly but persistently, accomplishing that goal. What I have observed during my journey is that the numbers are in a constant battle with each other. For example, right now 198 and 199 are battling each other for supremacy on my weight scale. I never know which one will win out on a particular day, but I know that eventually 198 will be in a battle with 197 and those battles will continue until I reach my goal of 192. I believe we go thru life with similar battles, making decisions, vacillating, deciding on a course of action, and moving on to the next daily challenge, repeating the process until we plop down to eat dinner and relax by watching something on TV. I discovered several years ago that the only way to get off that treadmill was to leave town. That may seem to be over-simplistic, but I have concluded it is my only escape from the tribulations that often encroach upon my life. Sitting in the car as my wife and I tool along some remote highway looking for a flea market or junk shop (my wife prefers to call them antique shops) seems to make me happy. Visiting different parts of our wonderful country is indeed a joy and there are so many interesting people to interact with. Going somewhere every 3-4 months seems to be just about the right schedule for us and we always return refreshed and ready to return to our normal daily routine. That daily routine is important because it imparts a sense of security, the confidence a feeling of independence conveys. Some wise person once said, “Optimism is a cheerful frame of mind that enables a tea kettle to sing though in hot water up to its nose”. That perfectly describes my optimism.
I have been retired for 3,650 days (10 years). I read an article in Time magazine recently that said most of us, after having been retired a few years, are not identified by our working careers. I have found that to be absolutely true. As a younger man, my self-worth was tied to my career and the two were inseparable. Now, my feeling of value is tied to how much I can impact the ones around me in a positive way. For some, my wife and I help them financially; for others, it’s words of encouragement and perhaps pitching in with a helping hand when needed. The Times article stated that “the years three to fifteen are typically the most satisfying because you are still relatively young and have gotten through the sometimes brutal discovery phase and found your new self”. I’m not sure that I found a “new” self. I think what I am now was always there and just needed the right time and place to become apparent. To quote the recently departed Arnold Palmer; “Home is not a place you go to, it’s where you got your core values”. So, yeah, I think my “new” self was there from the time I got on that bus in Oakwood, Virginia in 1959 (age 18) and headed for the US Air Force training facility in San Antonio, Texas. No doubt I have changed a lot in those 57 years, but that little guy that was sitting on my shoulder then, well, he’s still there and he hasn’t changed a lick.