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 it would be safe to say that we have all been touched in one way or another by the COVID-19 Pandemic. I have stayed home more than ever before in my lifetime. I’m not complaining, for I consider myself one of the blessed to have not caught the dreaded virus. Each day I read or hear about another family who has been left to grieve for a loved one lost to this ugly virus. This week it was the loss of a beloved pastor who was well known in our area. I attended a church when my children were young, where he ministered. I always enjoyed hearing him, not only preach, but share his talent of singing. I learned a lot from him and was very saddened to hear the news of his passing. This ugly monster named Covid took this dear man in less than three weeks. He was only 45 years old. He passed away in his home, unable to breathe. He left behind a wife, four children, and two grandchildren. What a tragedy.
A loss like this one makes me question, yet again, why so many people are complaining about wearing a mask in public, or around others. It astounds me that people are so selfish, or ignorant. It is difficult to comprehend someone being ignorant after all the months we have had to educate ourselves on the protocol. Every time I turn on the television, someone is talking about Covid and its dangers. Every time I open my laptop, the virus is headline news. Unfortunately, I have also watched many videos online of people having complete meltdowns in public places just because they were asked by management to put on a mask. Grown adults acting like toddlers who don’t want to give up their toy. I don’t understand.
It has always seemed to me that wearing a mask is one of the simplest things each of us can do to protect ourselves and others. Nurses and doctors have done it forever. What’s the big deal, right? Well, apparently there are just as many people who don’t want to wear a mask, for whatever reason, as there are who are willing to wear a mask.
I live in a small rural town, surrounded by many other small towns, and even though there is a sign posted on every public building explaining the need to wear a mask inside because of the mandate, I have witnessed with my own eyes, more people unmasked than masked.
I do not know exactly why the rules are not being followed or enforced.
I can’t help but wonder if just one person had worn a mask, would that lovely man still be here to minister to the flock he so dearly loved? That is a question for which we will probably never know the answer.
I hope each one who reads this is taking the simple precaution to stay safe and wearing a mask. My purse holds extras.
⚽I got out of bed on a Sunday morning a couple of weeks ago and went through my normal routine of getting ready for my day’s journey: down the hall to power up my old pal Einstein (my PC), then off to get my daily cup of “Morning Joe.” My wife came by my desk a little later on her way to the garage and we spoke briefly before I turned back to the task at hand. A few moments later she came back and, with dread in her voice, said, “Tommy, the water heater in the garage is leaking.” As most of you know, your heart immediately sinks when you hear these words because you know it can’t be good.
So out I head to our attached garage with a flashlight in my hand. I looked in the closet where the hot water tank is that supplies our kitchen, laundry room, and guest bathroom, and sure enough, there was water on the floor. We then surmised, without a doubt, that it needed replacing. I turned off the water valve and walked over to the electric panel to throw the breaker that sends over electricity so it can perform its magic, then I walked around to the back of the house for a water hose, which I attached to the faucet at the bottom of the tank to begin draining it out into the yard.
I did some research and found a highly rated plumber, called him on the phone, and he informed me that he would come over immediately and give me an estimate on how much it would cost. A few hours later he arrived, looked things over, and said it would cost $1,200. That seemed a little high, but I reluctantly said okay. He informed me that it cannot be done the following day because it’s a holiday (Memorial Day) but said he can do it the next day (Tuesday). Fortunately, we have another hot water unit at the other end of the house so we can still shower when needed. On the appointed day, he arrived and busily sets about working his magic. Within a few hours the task was completed, I pay him, and he leaves. As he drove away, I calmly reached into the jar I keep by the door, rummaged around, and pull out my happy face. Within a couple of hours, our faucets were filled with hot water and life got back to normal. With that I am reminded of an old Bulgarian proverb, “Two happy days are seldom brothers”.
The pastor of our church asked us during his Sunday sermon if we remembered our very first job interview (my wife and I were watching his sermon online). Pastor Jeff is exceptionally good at engaging his congregation with thought-provoking questions. As I pondered the question, my mind went back to when I was 15 and a job came open at a Chrysler dealership about 10 miles away from our home. It was in the small village of Royal City and the owner needed someone to do odd jobs around his repair shop. I walked up to him and asked if I could have Elwood’s job, whom he had fired just a few days earlier. “How do you know Elwood?” he asked, and I responded, “He’s my cousin.” He said, “If you’re anything like him, I don’t need you!” That caused panic to race through my heart because I needed this job! I immediately answered him by saying, “Let me work for you for one week and if you don’t like what I’ve done, then you don’t owe me a dime.” That was a deal he couldn’t turn down and he promptly told me to start work on the following Monday. I worked the entire summer at that dealership, repairing flat tires, washing cars, sweeping garage floors, and helping the mechanics. When the summer was over and my last day on the job was ending, the staff gave me a little farewell party and wished me well. As I left the shop and walked across the road, I stuck out my thumb to hitch a ride home. I felt good about myself. I was paid 50¢ an hour, worked ten hours each day, six days a week, and gave half of my money to Mom. She was grateful and put it to good use. Dad controlled the purse strings in our home, and she had little discretionary income. Back then, purchases were put on your tab and were paid by the husband on payday.
I haven’t had a lot of job interviews in my lifetime because I served four years in the US Air Force and then 43 at our local shipyard. I am aware that the big “Interview” is yet to come, which will happen when I transition over to the other side and Saint Peter kindly asks me, “Why should we let you pass through the Gates of Heaven?” I’m thinking about responding, “Let me in for a week and…” Somehow, I kind of think that’s not how it works. 😊
Martin E.P Seligman said so eloquently in his book, Flourish that “very little of what is positive is solitary. Laugh uproariously, have indescribable joy, and it will always take place around other people.” He goes on to say that people are part of the solution to the ups and downs of life, and the single most reliable up. His theory is that doing kindness produces the most dependable increase in the sense of well-being.
Upon reflection, I agree with him. I have a hard time thinking of anything positive that I did alone. There was always someone in my life to share it with. When my first wife and I divorced, I immersed myself in doing things for others but, because I had no one to share those experiences with, the feeling of self-worth dissipated quickly. Am I trying to say that it’s necessary to be in a relationship in order to have a meaningful life? Absolutely not! But in my opinion, to encourage that feeling to hang around longer you need someone to share it with. Why write a book if no one reads it, why play a musical instrument if nobody wants to listen to your music?
We all need people in our lives to help us handle the curve balls that come our way, to cover our backs when needed, and to give advice when wanted. As a young boy growing slowly into adulthood, my go-to person was my Mom. Being a father of two children, I know I played an important part in my children’s lives, but I also know their mother played a greater and more important part. She was the first person they went to with their problems, and it only came my way if money was part of the solution. With my Mom, it wasn’t the money thing, because I knew she didn’t have any, but rather it was the “what do I need to do to solve this dilemma?” type of problem. True, she was the gateway to Dad if money was involved, or if I was going to be away from home overnight. He was always very insistent on my younger brother (Jerry) and I being home at bedtime every night. I can remember my Mom having to plead with him to allow us to spend the night with our friends. I could never figure out why he was like that. I tried not to be that way with my kids, but I would never allow them to stay with a family we didn’t know, or if the parents weren’t going to be home.
My son told me shortly before he passed away, in the summer of 2018 with pancreatic cancer, that I was the best dad he could have ever wanted. I was glad he told me. You should never assume that a person feels that way about themselves. I was unaware that he felt that way about me. I always knew that he loved me, but I thought it was in spite of my warts. To my surprise, he didn’t think I had any warts! As much as I loved my dad, I would never have said that to him. He wasn’t mean to us, he just caused us a lot of unnecessary worry. But I should have said it to my mother and I didn’t. I will always regret that.
Henry Ward Beecher said, “The mother’s heart is the child’s schoolroom.” Personally, I couldn’t agree more.
⚽ A merchant in Baghdad sends his servant to the marketplace for provisions. Soon afterwards, the servant came home white and trembling and told him that in the marketplace he was jostled by a woman whom he recognized as Death. and she made a threatening gesture. Borrowing his master’s horse, he fled at great speed to Samarra, a distance of about 75 miles (125 km). There, he believed, Death would not find him. The servant’s master went to the marketplace and found Death and asked why she made the threatening gesture to his servant. She replied, “That was not a threatening gesture, it was only the stare of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad because I have an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.” So, the phrase, “Appointment in Samarra” has come to mean that we may be trying to avoid death, but it will find us.
I have traveled thru life these 79 years not trying to avoid death but ignoring it. I am guilty of doing many foolish things during my younger years that could have brought instant death; driving recklessly, jumping off high places into the water, and mining coal with my dad in a mine whose roof was only 27 inches high. I’ve had 500 lbs of rock fall from that roof within 10-15 feet of me several times. Never once was I scared, fearing that I barely escaped the grasp of the old man. I never gave death a second thought, but little did I know he wasn’t done with me yet. Yes, we all have an “appointment in Samarra”, we just don’t know when that will be. I read once of a man who placed the following epitaph on his tombstone: “Remember friends as you pass by, where you are now, so once was I. As I am now, so you must be, prepare yourself to follow me.”
I’m inclined to believe Friedrich Nietzsche when he said, “The dying man has probably lost, during the course of life, things more important than what he is about to lose by dying.”
⚽ Well, we have switched over to Daylight Savings Time (DST) here on the east coast of Virginia, and I have to say that I’m glad to see it. Darkness has been blanketing our area around 6pm here of late, but now it will stay away until 7pm, giving me more opportunities to do chores you see😊. As we move closer to mid-June, darkness avoids us until 9pm and the day seems endless. I have plenty of time to do necessary things and time left over to do some very enjoyable things as well. One of my most enjoyable activities is to plop down in my favorite chair in front of my workshop after a day of chores and call someone I enjoy talking to, and whom I know will be home at that time of the day. I will normally be drinking a non-alcoholic beer or smoking a cigar. The beer and cigar alternate days because I know the beer is less harmful 😊. It’s surprising how uplifting a good conversation is to one’s spirit. In a time when entertainment is just a moment away, on a device that can transport you to any place on earth via video, talking to others seems to be a lost pleasure. Sure, contact is much easier via text & Skype, but to have a casual 20-minute conversation on the phone with someone you care about is incredibly enjoyable. I try to limit my calls to that amount of time unless the conversation is of a serious nature. I had two close friends pass away last year (Mary Ann & Patty), but I have many of their phone conversation tucked away in memories. I always called Mary and began the conversation with, “Mary, this is the fun police and your neighbor called and said you were having too much fun, and it has to stop”. I could feel her smile drifting thru the line and from there our conversation started. She was suffering from dementia, and my calls always raised her spirit.
To Mary I would like to say, “Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world which I find myself constantly walking around in during the daytime and falling into at night. I miss you like hell…….Edna St. Vincent Millay. She and Patty were wonderful sister-in laws.
⚽ My wife and I were preparing to attend the wedding of two of our church friends (Dana & Carey) at 11 am on a Saturday. We started getting ready around 9:30am, changing our clothes, combing our hair and trying to look good for the new bride & groom as they said their wedding vows. I walked down the hall to our bedroom and my wife had two dresses out, debating on which to wear. I asked her which one she had selected, and she responded that she didn’t know yet. That amused me, and as I turned to walk away, I thought about how long it took me to make up my mind on what to wear. Probably less than a minute, and that would apply to any occasion I would be attending. I believe that is one of the many differences between men and women. For the most part, we men pay scant attention to what we wear. When I go into our closet to get a shirt, I normally grab the first one I come to and then quickly find the pants, belt and socks that I feel would come close to matching. Sometimes, my wife takes me back to that closet and picks out what she believes looks better. Am I offended when she does that? No, most of the time I’m amused and am prone to tease her about it. I started dating her in 1992, and after about six months into our relationship, she headed upstairs to my closet and removed everything I had in there that smelled of polyester. I kinda liked polyester because it never wrinkled, but to her they needed to go because no one wore it anymore. Needless to say, I complied and before long everything was replaced with more modern clothing. I only control what I wear around the house and in the yard. If I’m going out the driveway, then I’m wearing what she thinks looks good 😊. You might be inclined to think that she’s bossy, just the opposite, she wants me to keep my “Tom Cruise” look. If ever an angel came down to earth, it was my loving, caring wife. I am so lucky to have her in my life.
⚽ I have made an important decision on how to live the remainder of my life. I don’t know why I didn’t decide to do it years ago. It’s such a simple decision and oh so easy to do. I have decided not to postpone any task that takes less than one minute to do. I started it today, and I already feel better because I don’t have to worry about forgetting whatever task needed doing. As I sat down to write this article on my computer, I realized I had left a note in my work pants, so I immediately got up, walked to the garage, and retrieved it. I can see this having quite an impact on me. As time goes by, I may change the time limit to two minutes and see how that goes, then maybe three? I doubt doing three would work because it needs to be a task that can be done quickly, and three minutes is stretching it a little for me. Sometimes I wonder why I care about such trivial things, but I read something a long time ago that went like this, “All things are interesting to a wise man”. I think we all strive to be wise, but only a few attain that lofty goal.
⚽ I read the other day that the average American consumes 12 pounds of chocolate a year, thanks to Mexico. Mexicans have been cultivating cacao plants since 1900 BC, and the Spanish transformed it to the delicious treat we know today. Later, Hernan Cortes introduced it to Europe, and they are the leading producers of chocolate.
Somehow, as much as I love chocolate, I doubt that I eat 12 lbs a year, or one pound each month. Some of you people must be eating way too much of that scrumptious stuff 😊. I remember that as a young boy of 8-9 years old, my mother took me to the doctor because I had a rash on my right forearm. He looked at it closely, then leaned back in his chair and stared at me for a few minutes. “Mrs. Hale, does Tommy eat a lot of chocolate?” Mom responded that I loved it and ate it almost daily. He politely informed her to stop all my consumption of it and the rash would rapidly depart. Much to my consternation, my mother followed his instructions, and it went away. Since then, I have always tried to moderate my consumption of that wonderfully tasty bit of happiness. I firmly believe the reason it tastes so good is that I know I shouldn’t be eating it. I read an article a while back that said chocolate had ingredients that helped fight certain types of cancer. That was the only excuse I needed to get back on the wagon. About the only thing that keeps me in check now is my wife. If not for her, I would have a rash all over my body 😊.
On March 31st, one of my very best friends passed over to the other side, twenty-six days before she turned 80. I first met Mary Ann when she was 18, and I was 16 and dating her younger sister. Her sister and I married two years later and my lifelong relationship with Mary Ann ensued. She was more like a sister than a sister-in-law, and it was even more special because she was married to my best friend KD (my mother’s brother, only two years older than me). KD passed away in 2007 after a struggle with cancer and before he died, he asked me to look after Mary Ann when he passed, and I assured him I would. She was very independent until she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013. She won that battle by 2016, but started suffering with mild dementia and could no longer drive, nor pay her bills. Her son and his children looked after her, and I took over her finances. This team worked well and Mary Ann was living a comfortable but restricted life. She really disliked the fact that she couldn’t drive, but her family and friends made sure she was able to get out of the house often. She lived about 25 minutes away from me and I visited her often, but I talked to her twice a week on the phone. That happened every week for four years, unless I was out of town. I have known three very smart people in my lifetime and Mary Ann was the first. Probably, all of us have encountered a few people that just seem to have an abundance of brain cells. It is easily detected. She home-schooled her two grandchildren and ran the local Little League organization for 36 years as their president. It would not be an exaggeration to say that she has touched thousands of lives. But the lives she touched the most, her family and close friends, will mourn her passing for a long time. My opening line to Mary Ann when I called her was, “Mary, this is the fun police and I’ve been called several times about the racket coming from your house. That needs to stop! You’re having way too much fun!” She would always smile and tell me she wasn’t having any fun at all. We would then move on to something else and before you knew it, an hour had passed, and it was time to hang up. She leaves a big hole in my life. I hope she misses me just a little. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “There is a kind of contempt of the landscape felt by him who has lost by death a dear friend. The sky is less grand as it sets down over less worth in the population.” That’s how I feel about losing Mary Ann.
As a lot of you know from my previous missives, I enjoy playing acoustic guitar and my playlist currently has 57 songs. I lean strongly towards “Country”, but I do have some “Country Rock” scattered thru the list. Throw in a dash of “Bluegrass” and you pretty much have me nailed. I try to practice daily and that does happen most days. Last summer when my son passed away, I refused to practice for months, and I lost the callous on each of the fingers on my left hand. They are back now, but it was a painful process. My wife occasionally suggests that I sing along with the music, but I very seldom do. As Bill Anderson says in one of his songs, “I couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket”. I am not a very good guitarist, and I attribute that mostly to the fact that I started playing at age 53 (1994) and didn’t get really serious (I use that term loosely) until I was 70. I am content to allow the original artists to sing their songs as I strum along, struggling with that darn “F” chord. I am guilty of trying to sing occasionally, but not too often, frightened that someone will overhear and then the ridicule commences. Henry Van Dyke said it very well,
“Use what talents you possess: the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best.”
Early last month (March) my wife and I visited some old high school friends of mine that live about three hours away. It was a wonderful reunion. We spent two nights with Elsie Dee and husband Rene in their attractive home where they made us feel comfortable and welcome. The four of us enjoyed brunch with two other classmates (Roger/Delores) on the 2nd day of our trip, and we met another classmate (Janet/Lennie) at a dinner theater, had a delicious meal accompanied with good conversation and an entertaining play. The evening covered me with a warmth that only comes when you reunite with old friends.
Janet and I had not seen each other in sixty years. Yes, she and I have changed a lot in all those years, but I could easily have identified her if I had bumped into her on any city street. Unlike me, she has aged well, and it is difficult for a stranger to imagine we are so close in age. On our trip home, I lamented the end of being so close to old friends from long, long ago. The good news is that I have it on our calendar for next year. An old Czech Proverb says, “Do not protect yourself by a fence, but rather by your friends”. Now that’s a bell I can ring.
Spring is just around the corner for my little corner of the world. We have already had a few days in the 60s and expect some more of the same this week. Some unattractive weeds poked their ugly heads high above the grass so I headed to the shed and retrieved my Husqvarna weed eater, intending to cut them off at ground level. The darn thing would start and run a few seconds and then stop. I struggled with it for about 30 minutes then decided to take the carburetor apart, clean it, and see if that would resolve the problem. But first, I came inside to my computer, headed for YouTube and located a video on how to take it apart and put it back together. A big smile spread rapidly across my face as the thought raced thru my mind, “I got this, it’s gonna be a piece of cake”. Well, as usual, the “piece of cake” thing didn’t work out. After working on it a few hours over a couple of day, I decided to take it to the local small engine repair shop, figuring he would charge around $75. I don’t like the fellow very much, seems obstinate, but he’s the only game in town, so I tolerate him. Suddenly, the thought occurred that I could go online and order the part I need for less than I would pay the grinch to fix it. Sure ‘nuff, I found a new carburetor for $45 (shipping included) and it is on the way to my home as I write this. There are times when I think I’m just too smart for my own good! My children’s mother used to say to me, “I would like to buy you for what you’re worth and sell you for what you think you’re worth!” The way I’m feeling, I’m thinking she could have made a lot of money.
Wherever you are in this world, I hope your family loves you as much as mine loves me. I know you will return their love abundantly. That is my intent as well.