It has been two months since my last missive, and I have missed the daily jotting down of things that roam aimlessly thru my mind. Hopefully, I have mended my wasteful ways and am now back to allocating the 15 minutes each day I use for writing. Whenever I lose interest, I go back to 2007/2008 and read some articles I wrote then, and they give me so much pleasure. Things long forgotten are instantly brought back to memory. Therein lies my motivation.
⌘⚽ I’ll bet you are unaware that the most widely consumed meat on Earth is pork. Personally, I thought it was chicken, but pork is consumed by 36% of Earthly residents and chicken is 2nd with 33%. My favorite (beef), comes in at a mediocre 24%. The average person in our country eats 51 lbs of pork each year. You guys are eating a lot of pork!
I’m confident my family doctor thinks I eat too much meat because each time I go in for my yearly physical he always hands me literature on healthy eating, and it never includes very much meat. I probably wouldn’t be taking a cholesterol pill if I consumed less meat. I used to eat a lot of steak, but after choking on it back in 2014 and almost losing my life, I switched to meat that wasn’t so dense. Mostly now, my meat is chicken, hamburger, or something else that’s easily swallowed. I remember that life-threatening event and it had a lasting impression (thanks to Cindy for saving my life).
Sometimes, I wonder if we see the past as it actually happened, or do we intentionally forget certain aspects of what occurred. I believe that all of us have some type of burden to carry from our past, but I also think our past is unchangeable and we should always try to put it out of our mind unless they are beneficial or beautiful memories.
Anyway, back to the meat thing. We all know that too much of it will eventually clog our arteries and generate all kinds of health problems. I walk around with 200 lbs on a frame that my doc tells me should only have 175 lbs. My only explanation is that, somehow, I believe I’m a healthy 200 lbs. My doctor ordered an echocardiogram last week, so we’ll see what damage all that meat has done to my cardiovascular system. I dunno how it can come back showing problems because I feel as healthy as a horse. We’ll see. I know that I’m a grateful recipient of undeserved grace.
Update: The doctor’s office called and said everything looked good. That made me feel better.
⚽⌘ It seems as if the heat index for our area in Virginia has been over 100° for the past two weeks, thus, our thrice weekly walks really took its toll. It would be easy to say, “to heck with it” and stay inside all day, waiting for cooler weather to prevail. But, upon further reflection, I decided that wasn’t the choice I wanted to make, and it wasn’t a hard decision. Over 200 years ago, families loaded all they had into wagons pulled by horses and trekked all the way from the Eastern Seaboard of our country to the shores of the Pacific coast. They did that in the heat of summer and the cold of winter. Heck, it’s hard for me to visualize anyone today driving a car that far without an air conditioner in it. I wonder what the settlers of that time would think of the people we have become today. Yes, I’m confident we still have strong, sturdy people that roll out of bed every morning and work outside in the extreme heat and cold, but a lot of us don’t, we stay inside and find things to do, rather than open the door and walk into a heat index of 110°.
Well, I decided that I don’t want to be that guy, the one that stays inside and cowers from the heat, I want to stand straight and tall, breathe in that hot humid air and say, to no one in particular, bring it on, I can take it! What I may have failed to mention is that part of my motivation comes from my wife. She heads outside in just about any weather, except the rain, doesn’t want her hair to get wet, other than that she’s finding something to do out there. The odd thing is, she never sweats, nothing, nada, not a drop of salty brine glistens on her forehead. Turn your head and look in my direction and you would assume I was just in someone’s swimming pool with all my clothes on. I don’t quite understand why a person doesn’t sweat when the temp is nudging 99°, but then again, she doesn’t have a lot of meat on her bones, unlike the more than plump guy standing beside her, apparently preparing for his role when Satan opens the gates of Hell. I’m thinking the Lord believes that if he turns up the heat some of this fat will melt from my body, if only I have the willpower to step into his oven.
Don’t get me wrong, I have no desire to be a pioneer, but neither do I want to become a couch potato. I’m going with an old proverb that says, “The best time to plant a tree was ten years ago, the second-best time is now”. My take on that goes like this, “The best time to take a stand was ten years ago, the second-best time is now”. So, tomorrow when that old temperature gauge heads towards 100°, I’m gonna step out into that oven and take a stand, refusing to stay inside where the temps stay around 78° all day and all night. But I will be watching to see if the fat melts away 😊. I am reminded of a quote by Saint Vincent de Paul “Be careful to preserve your health. It is a trick of the devil which he uses to deceive kind souls, to incite them to do more than they are able, in order that they may no longer be able to do anything”. Hmm, maybe I need to rethink this thing?
⌘-⚽ A few months ago, our longtime neighbors (Mary Beth & John) moved about four hours away and their lovely granddaughter (Beth Ann/ Alvin) took over their beautiful home. We now have five handsome boys, anywhere from age 3 to age 12 living next door to us. It saddened our hearts to see our friends move, but we knew it was the right decision. They needed to be near their daughter (Robin/Greg) to get help with their health needs. From experience, I know that as you travel thru life, people enter your circle, stay for a while, and then move on. Some, you miss very little, and then some you miss a lot. Mary Beth and John will be missed terribly. The good news is that when we are finished with COVID-19, we can go visit them. It looks like that will happen in the Spring of 2021 (7 months). By then, we will have been marching in place for a year. That’s a lot of time to relinquish to a virus, especially when you get older and the years you have left get fewer.
Our time “hunkered down”’ here at home isn’t a total disaster. We have visited with family, always using a face mask and social distancing, and gone to the grocery/drug stores for food and other necessities. We spend a lot of time outside working in the yard, hovering over every weed that pops up and immediately sentencing it to the gallows. As soon as a gumball or pinecone hits the ground, it is pounced on and deposited into my handy cart for disposal. As you can tell, I have too much time on my hands. I also spend a lot of time on my PC, but that happens whether we are in the middle of a pandemic, or not 😊.
If I had to decide what activity I miss the most during this stressful time, it would be visiting my family and friends. While all the other stuff is important, bus trips to other cities, dining out weekly, attending church in lieu of virtual services, etc. I miss visiting those dear to me the most. Arthur Brisbane said it best, “A good friend can tell you what is the matter with you in a minute. He may not seem such a good friend after the telling” 😊.
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. I am always grateful that you take the time to read my missives. Until next time, be well….Tommy
⚽ I have discovered over time that some people are naturally thoughtful. They go out of their way to do things for others, to make them comfortable, less uncomfortable, or happy! My wife is one of those people and so is our next door neighbor, Mary Beth. To visit with her and her husband (John) has always been a good experience for me. Conversations flow so easily, and I think that is because she was a schoolteacher for 30 years. Both are near my age, but their enthusiasm for life hasn’t diminished at all. There are, in my opinion, very few homes that are as welcoming and warm when you enter. Mary Beth will almost immediately ask you if you want something to eat or drink. I kinda think that was the type of home she grew up in back in Kentucky. Turns out I grew up about 2-3 hours away from their hometown. My childhood was spent in southwest Virginia. Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina all border Virginia in that area. Of course, the prominent topographical feature of that area is the mountains. Plenty of us old “hillbillies” came down out of those hollers and spread our warmth and generosity all over this wonderful country. Mary Beth and John are perfect examples of our heritage. They have been our neighbors for a very long time, and everyone should be blessed with such kind souls for neighbors. Reminds me of the adage, “God picks your relatives, you pick your neighbors”. We picked really good! William James said, “It would probably astound each of us beyond measure to be let into his neighbor’s mind and to find how different the scenery there was from that of his own”. I think that is probably a very true statement.
⚽ Last week I took our 2017 Nissan Titan to the dealership and had them install a “lift kit” that would raise the truck three inches. Now, I realize that doesn’t sound like a lot, but when I went down to pick it up after they had completed the work, I climbed inside and it felt like I was sitting on the top of Pikes Peak! Wow, I exclaimed to myself, I can see over the top of everything.! As I drove home with my wife following me, you would’ve thought I was one of those trucker guys driving a big rig across the country. The only thing I needed, I told myself, was a big set of horns that scare everybody to death. The dealership tried to convince me to buy a bigger set of tires to compliment my big truck look but I refused, determined to wait until I wore the ones out that, at this time, only have 25,000 miles on them, and now are looking a little smallish. I arrived home in about twenty minutes, and as always, backed the truck up the driveway and parked it in from of our garage. We have a two -car garage and two vehicles and both are refused entry into the garage. The truck is too big, always has been, and the Prius fits nicely, but we have too much stuff inside to allow our vehicles entry. Anyway, before I got out of the truck, I looked out at the wing mirrors to see if my head was even with the top of the house 😊. I guess that no matter how old a guy gets, he still likes to have his “man toys”. Now, I just gotta figure out how to mount the gun rack on the inside of my back window.
John Oliver Hobbes said, “Men are all the same. They always think that something they are going to get is better than what they have got.” That stings a little!
⚽ When I was a young lad and got into scuffs with my friends, it was customary for the loser to “cry uncle” when he wanted to give up and stop fighting. The battle we are all fighting now is an opponent we cannot see, but we know it’s out there, waiting to attack us if we are distracted. COVID-19 scares the bejesus out of all of us, and we have to be careful and not cry “uncle” and let our guards down. This fight began in earnest in early March and is projected to last the rest of the year, at which time we are told we should have a vaccine. My wife and I strongly feel that, at our age, we would have a hard time surviving such a strong enemy, so it is imperative for us to take stringent precautions.
In my 79 years, I can only remember one other such scary time and that was in the late ‘40s & early ‘50s when there was a polio scare. They had a drive called “The March of Dimes”, started in 1938 and interrupted by WWII. We would get a “March of Dimes” card when Mom and Dad would go to Grundy, about 15 miles away, to buy groceries on Saturday. That small town was always bustling on the weekend and I loved that trip. It had three movie theaters, so entertainment was always at hand. There was a pool hall underneath one of the barbershops, and of course, my Dad’s favorite place to go was the local ABC (whiskey store). He would avoid alcohol all week long, but when the weekends came all bets were off. I lose focus easily, so back to the March of Dimes. We would get a card that had about 10 slots for dimes and my brother and I would do chores all week to fill our card and turn it in on our trip to town the next Saturday. I remember my mother being scared of Polio, so that made my brother and I scared as well. For some unknown reason, my Dad never, ever, showed fear. I always admired that about him. He wasn’t a big man, standing about 5’7”, but he wasn’t afraid of anything. I mean anything! In hindsight, I think all young boys strive to be that kinda guy. Children seem to follow the lead of their parents. In 1954, Dr. Jonas Salk, a young scientist at the University of Pittsburg, developed a vaccine and it was tested on almost 2 million schoolchildren. On April 12th, 1955, it was approved as “safe, effective, and potent”. Thereafter, Polio was practically wiped from the face of the earth. I was 14 years old at that time and I remember the collective sigh amongst the adults in my world. In 1958, The March of Dimes changed their focus to the prevention of birth defects and that focus prevails today. I firmly believe we will conquer this marauding foe, but we have to be careful and not “cry uncle” too early. Bill Mauldin said, “To a soldier in a hole, nothing is bigger or more vital to him than the war which is going on in the immediate vicinity of his hole. If nothing is happening to him and he is able to relax that day, then it is a good war, no matter what is going on elsewhere.” Ahh, but we know we cannot relax in this war
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.
Skunk & Coffee
Some of my most favorite memories of younger years come by way of road trips. When my dad took a new job in a different state, regular road trips "back home", became a common habit. We would make the long trip from the coast of Virginia, to the Northeast mountains of Tennessee at least three times a year.
There are a lot of things that continually remind me of those happy road trips with my parents and sister. But one in particular always leaps out front of the others.
Science tells us that a smell can be one of the strongest catapults that emotionally thrust us back to our past.
I warn you, the smell for me is strange. It's the aggressive smell of skunk, and fresh brewed coffee. I'm not talking about the smell of skunk spray and coffee, but skunk with coffee! As if the two smells are blended together in one of the most potent of nature's perfumes.
You see, every time I drive or ride down the road and smell skunk, I smell fresh brewed coffee with it. I'm sure you will understand when I tell you that never, have I ever, shared this with anyone. Needless to say, for the risk of being thought of as completely bonkers 😊. I have always had the impression that people tend to think of me as being on the weird side anyway. I usually shy away from intentionally offering information that might confirm this opinion.
So that being said, I have kept this skunk and coffee thing to myself. Surely thinking I am the only person in the world that would think such a peculiar thought and never speaking of it out loud, until I met someone new.
A few years ago, I needed to make a long road trip to a new job. I was going to a brand-new city to care for an elderly lady that was the aunt of an extended family member, and my latest travel buddy. She had generously offered to drive me herself to my newest home and place of employment. Although she was an extended family member, we were complete strangers, having never met or communicated with each other until now. I was a little nervous and uncomfortable to be with a stranger on such a long road trip, but I smiled and planned to make the best of it.
Lucky for me, my newest acquaintance was very comfortable taking the lead with our conversations. But my anxiety did creep in after a couple hours on the road. Just when it did, she said something that would flip my switch and make her an instant best friend.
As we proceeded along, suddenly, the car was filled with that ever-familiar smell. I let out a "Whew!". She responds with "I always think that smells like skunk and fresh coffee!"
Whaaaat?! She didn't! Did she?! I was speechless, but my heart was joyfully calmed. Right then and there I knew that Lisa June and I would be lifelong friends! And we have been.
But after doing some research, I found out this skunk and coffee thing is not so extraordinary. It seems that when a skunk has been dead for a while, it's mercaptan levels (sulfur compounds that cause the powerful, offensive odor), have faded considerably, thus giving an aroma similar to fresh brewed coffee.
As the 1940's radio star Edgar Bergen use to say, "Who would of thunk it?"….JoAnn
Do I Know You?
When we first moved to our little Tennessee town in 1992, I jokingly told family and friends that we had moved to Mayberry. That seemed to be the only way to accurately describe where we had landed.
In many ways, it felt like we had time traveled back to the fifties or sixties. It was a culture shock for someone like myself, who had just spent the last 20 years of my life in the loud, bustling city of Newport News, Virginia. We lived within walking distance (and definite earshot) of the world-famous shipyard.
In the city, people or neighbors, pretty much kept to themselves. We all had the attitude, I'll mind my business, and you mind yours. Oh, we could be friendly if we were in the mood to nod or introduce ourselves to a new neighbor. But mostly that was for the young mothers on the street so their kids could become acquainted and be playmates. Or this was my experience in the particular neighborhood where we lived.
I quickly realized that in this small, Mayberry like town, everyone knew everyone. And I was the new stranger in town. I had never felt like an interloper before, but found myself in that position. Looking back, I couldn't really blame the citizens of our new home town. After all, their families had lived in this area for generations!
Many of the kids that attended the small elementary and middle schools were cousins. Their parents, and their parents, had all gone through school together in these same two buildings. It was not uncommon for a teacher to have taught several generations of the same family by retirement age.
Early on, I was quite puzzled by something that kept happening to me. It seemed every time I drove on Main Street, drivers that passed me would wave. "Do I know you?", I would think to myself as I waved back with what I'm sure was a bewildered look on my face. I wasn't use to this friendliness. Surely, they had me mistaken for someone else. That's it. I must look A LOT like another lady that lives here and they think I'm her! Perhaps my doppelganger is right here in my Mayberry. That had to be the explanation. Why else would I be receiving waves from strangers? I had never received them in the city unless someone was trying to warn me something was wrong with my car.
After a few months, I learned that I was not being mistaken for my twin. The waving was just their culture. A way of being friendly to us strangers. I met many people along the way that were truly kind and neighborly. Who accepted me into their fold I guess you could say. But I also met many who never quite let the stigma of my being a stranger go.
It's been 26 years, and honestly, not a lot has changed in our little town. I still get waved at when driving and still find myself asking, "do I know you?". Sometimes, if I'm in a playful mood, I'll flip things around. I'll wave back in such a way, that just maybe, they will be asking themselves, "do I know her?". Ha, ha!