Monday, May 20, 2019

Not So Very Long Ago

Recently, I have been going through a lifetime of old photographs belonging to my mom and dad.  Mom and dad have passed away and the photographs are now my responsibility.  I am sorting them out to distribute among my brothers and other family members.

The photographs are in boxes and are in no particular order.  Each box contains dozens of envelopes from various pharmacies that developed the film.  Each envelope contains at least 50 or so pictures.  Each picture contains a memory and I have been living in the memories of my childhood and early adulthood for the past 30 days. 

One envelope, in my mother’s handwriting, was labeled “One Easter, not so very long ago.”

The pictures inside the envelope are of my children and my brother and sister’s children having an Easter egg hunt in my mom dad’s backyard.  And, even though that photograph was taken over 30 years ago, like my mom wrote, it seems like only yesterday.

Both of my children are grown now and living on their own.  But wasn’t it not so very long ago that I held them in my arms and told them stories?  

Wasn’t it not so very long ago that we played games on the floor of the den?  

 Wasn’t it not so very long ago that we laughed as we made up silly songs that they sang in the tub?  

Wasn’t it not so very long ago that I carried them up to bed and tucked them in and kissed them good night?

So much time has passed.  But it seems like no time at all.

How is it that I am old and my children are approaching middle age?

My advise to the young is to cherish every moment.  

My advise to the old is the same.  


Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The Big Three

I never leave the house unless I check to make sure if I have the big three- my wallet, my keys, and my cell phone.  These are the three essential things that I cannot go anywhere without.  I keep my wallet in my back, left pocket.  Doctors are now saying that men should not do this because it affects the way they sit and causes back problems.  A wallet, they say, should be carried in one of the front pockets.  Now, that’s a problem because I carry my keys and my cell phone in both front pockets.  To switch my keys to my back pocket would result in tragedy, and I have enough trouble with my cell phone without the added problem of butt dialing someone every time I sit down.

I once tried to switch my keys from my right front pocket to my left front pocket.  When my phone rang I was forever pulling out my keys.  And once I switched my wallet from the left back pocket to the right and I could never quite find the right way to sit.  No, my wallet has to stay in my back left pocket.

As soon as I enter the house I take my keys and wallet out of my pockets and put them in a place reserved for them on the bedroom dresser.  If I don’t put them there I run around the house searching for them, turning things over, saying words I should not say under my breath.  When I finally find them, it is like life is worth living again.  I have imagined life without them and it was not a life that I want to lead.

I used to have a big four.  My glasses were once right up there with my cell phone, wallet and keys.  But now that I broke down and admitted that I needed bifocals, I never forget or misplace my glasses.  I am always wearing them.  So, no more big four.  Just the big three.  When it was the big four, leaving the house looked a lot like I was doing the Macarena.  Now it just looks like I am patting myself on the legs and butt saying, “phone, keys, wallet!  Let’s roll.”


Friday, April 5, 2019

Rules to Live By from Bessie Delphia Helen Griffin Whitley Balkum

I was going through some old Bibles of my mother’s this morning and I found a Bible that was given to her by her mother, Bessie Whitley Balkum.   I thumbed through it, looking for notations in the margin and small things that may have been inserted between the pages.

I found a folded, typed page titled “A Message to My Children”.    It was signed “Written by and lovingly dedicated to my children by Bessie Delphia Helen Griffin Whitley Balkum”.  The text of the “Message” contained some rules for living that she applied to her life and that she wanted her children to incorporate into theirs.

I share the thoughts of my wonderful grandmother now:

“ Be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind.”

“Make your friends see that there is something in them.”

“Look at the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true.”

“Think only the best.”

“Be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own.”

“Forget the mistakes of the past and press on to a greater achievement of the future.”

“Wear a cheerful countenance at all times and give every living creature you meet a smile.”

“Give so much time to the improvement of yourself that you have no time to criticize others.”

“Be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.”

“Think well of yourself and proclaim this fact to the world not in loud words but in great deeds.”

“Live in faith that the world is on your side so long as you are true to the best that is in you.”

My grandmother raised 13 children.  Her husband died before the last one was born.  She did not have an easy life.  She never had much money or material things.  But she never let her circumstances dictate how she treated others or how she thought of herself.  Visiting her, I was always sure of two things: that she loved me and that she was happy.  And now I know why.  I hope that I can pass these things on to my children.





Friday, March 29, 2019

Watching Ice Melt

Let’s get something straight.  Nenana is the town and Tenana is the river.  Each year the people of Nenana, Alaska watch the ice melt on the Tenana.  And its a big time thing.  This year the person who can guess the date and time that the ice melts wins $225,000.00.  That’s right.  The date and time that the ice melts on the Tenana River.  Previous ice melting dates and times all the way back to 1917 are published for people to look at to assist them in making their guess.  In order to guess a person has to purchase a ticket.

The official way of measuring when the ice melts (down to the last second) is done with a large tripod that sits on the ice on a specific spot on the ice. The tripod, which actually has four supports, is usually positioned about 300 feet offshore in the same general spot each year. The people of Nenana celebrate the placing of the tripod with a festival.  A line is somehow attached from the tripod to a clock and once the tripod moves 100 feet from its position the line is broken and the clock stops marking the exact moment that the ice melted.  In 2018, the ice officially melted on May 1 at 1:18 pm.

I was curious as to how this all began and did a little digging.  It seems that it began in 1906 with a group of fellas with names like Gunnysack Jack, Jonesy, and Duke in a bar looking for something to do and they all decided to bet on when the river ice would melt.  The winner that year was none of those guys but was a man named Oliver  (what?) who won a few free rounds of drinks at the bar.  The real, serious contest did not actually begin until 1917 but had its beginnings with Gunnysack, Jonesy, Duke, and of course, Oliver.

So, if you are looking for something to do this coming winter, entrer the Nenana Ice Classic and watch the ice melt on their webcam.  It is better than watching paint dry.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Lost Socks

Today I gave up hope; hope that I would ever see the mates of the socks that I keep tucked away at the corner of the sock drawer.  Why had I kept them these many years?

I was like the father of the prodigal son who scanned the horizon of his fields each morning and night hoping to catch sight of his son returning home.

As each new basket of clean clothes returned from the laundry room I looked through them hoping against hope that I would find the wayward socks that had lept out of the washer and journeyed the world in search of a better sock life.  And finding none, they returned home, flinging themselves into the clothes basket asking for forgiveness.

Where do these socks go?  Some have suggested that the dryer is a portal to a parallel universe where socks rule and humans are worn and thrown away.  And once a sock enters it never returns.

More practical people suggest that socks, full of static, cling to bed sheets or clothes and find their way into dark closets or shelves and lay there for years; hearing their owners walking around calling their names but never responding.

The sad statistics are that the longer a sock is missing the more likely that it will never return.  Quick, decisive action is imperative.   The first 24 hours are crucial.  The entire house must be mobilized.  Clear communication is vital.  A detailed description must be compiled.  A timeline has to be hammered out.  And even if these things are done, there is no guarantee.

And so, today, I took the pile of mates out of my sock drawer and put them into a box and put the box into the attic.  I am sure that if I look in the attic tomorrow they too will be gone.  Free at last to wander.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Goodbye, House

Dear House on Statesman Drive,

You have been a wonderful home for us.  We bought you 32 years ago and moved into you on a February day that was filled with wind and sleet.  Our daughter, Erin, was four years old and our son, Jeremy, was 4 months away from being born.

You had a large, two car garage, an above ground swimming pool, a big yard, three bedrooms, a roomy yet cozy den, and an adequate kitchen.  And we came to love you.  And we called you home.

Our children grew up in you; from toddlers to teenagers to adults.  There were many adventures along the way.

And now my wife and I are moving.  Our children have homes and families of their own.

As I clean you out and spruce you up, moving box after box to the car and taking them to a new house, the voices and footsteps of the past echo in the silence and emptiness of you.

In the hallway between the kitchen and the den I can still see my five year old daughter, Erin, in her dance dress, showing me the ball and change.  By the fireplace I can see the cradle where our son, Jeremy slept as Erin leaned over and kissed him.  In the empty dining room I can hear the chatter around the table as the talk turned, over the years, from dolls and toys to cars and dates and schools.

As I climb the stairs, I see Jeremy constructing his giant hot wheels track from the bottom to the top of the stairs and sending his cars racing downward through two loops before crashing into the front door.

In the driveway the sounds of roller skates and bicycles fill the air and sounds of splashing and laughter come from the place where the pool once sat.

When I was cleaning out the storage room I found, behind the door, some writing on the wall that I had never seen before although I am sure it was there for quite some time.  It said simply, yet profoundly, " Erin loves Jeremy."

The love that filled you is what made you a home.  And we will carry this love into our new house and it will be this same love that will make this new house our new home.

Goodbye house on Statesman Drive.  We love you.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Pinto Beans and Cornbread

Our trip to Europe was coming to an end.  My father-in-law and I were standing on a bridge in Paris overlooking the Seine.  Our travels had taken us through Germany and Switzerland and now we were in France.

We had seen some breath taking sights, eaten some wonderful food, met a lot of different people, traveled by airplane, train, subway, and automobile, slept in a lot of different hotels, been lost in unfamiliar places, hiked down mountains, walked on rocky beaches, looked into the face of the Mona Lisa, and had the time of our lives.

That evening, as the sun was slowly sinking and Notre Dame Cathedral loomed in the distance, my father-in-law said to me, "Eric, we have had a good trip, but right now I would give all the money in my pocket for some pinto beans and cornbread."

It is good to travel; to get out and see the world.  It is a good thing to know that your way of living is not the only way; that you are not the center of the universe.  It is good to feel out of place, to learn new words and do things in a different order.

But it is also good to know that there is a place for you, a place that fits you like a glove, a place that is yours, that you know and you don't have to think before you act; a place that feels, and smells and tastes like home when you return- like pinto beans and cornbread.



Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Moms and Pops

Some of the best restaurants I have ever eaten in are known as Mom and Pops.  These are typically small, independently owned  (sometimes by a family) restaurants, that are usually one-offs (not franchised) and can be found at only one location.  They specialize in foods eaten by the people who live around them and they cook them with secret family recipes that made them famous.

There used to be one such restaurant that specialized in hot dogs with a sign that stated "Famous since 1946".   It must be nice to be able to point to the date of your notoriety.  Fame usually happens so incrementally that it is hard to tell when you got that way.

The waitresses at Mom and Pops all call you Shoog and Honey and Sweetheart, even though you don't know them and have never been there before.  They will encourage you to take your time when you are ordering, and when they bring your ticket to your table they will apologize and say something like, "I'm sorry.  I'm just laying this right here.  Now y'all stay here at this table as long as you want to, I'm just bringin' this so you will have it, but if you want anything else you just holler."

Some of the waitresses even have their own clientele who ask if they can be seated where "Jamie Sue is waitin' on tables".  Once seated, Jamie Sue will come to their table and greet them with a hug.

Some (but not all) of my favorites:

The Dam Restaurant near a dam in Baltimore, Maryland where we had Dam ham sandwiches, Dam french fries, Dam potato salad and Dam iced tea; and where the waitress asked if we were ready for our Dam ticket.

Bob's Grill in Kill Devil's Hill, North Carolina whose restaurant motto "Eat and Get the Hell Out" is on their sign out front.   Nobody seems to pay any attention to the motto.  The restaurant is always full.  Nothing else needs to be said.

The Four Corners Diner in Atlantic Beach, NC .  The name does not come from the owner's love for UNC basketball, but from the fact that the Diner sits at a crossroad.  This is where my father and brothers and I used to go and drown our fishing sorrows in bacon, eggs and lots of hot coffee.

The Shiny Diner in Rocky Mount, NC.  It has another name (The Highway Diner) but everyone I know that eats there calls it the Shiny Diner, because it is shiny, outside and inside.

The Conscious Coffee Cafe in Talkeetna, Alaska.  They advertise that the average person spends 25 minutes to 1.5 hours there.  My wife and I ate there for 1.35 hours several years ago and we spent most of that time talking with the owner who told us her story of moving from Maryland where she was a veterinarian and how much she loves Alaska, and the 35 feet of snow they had last winter and how her home is off the grid and she powers everything with generators.

The Soda Pop Shoppe in Savannah, Georgia where we ate hot dogs and we met a lawyer at the table next to us who told us about meeting Tom Hanks when they filmed the movie "Forrest Gump" and how there was not really a bench in the spot where Forrest sat with his box of chocolates.  And then he told us about meeting Clint Eastwood when he directed the movie "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil",  and how nice Clint was to everyone and how he got to be an extra in the movie.  Exciting stuff.


You can find these restaurants almost anywhere you travel, but you have to search them out to find them or you have to have luck to stumble upon them, and then you have to be there at just the right time.  But, if this happens, you will never forget it.







Wednesday, January 2, 2019

A Walk in the Rain


I went walking in the rain the other day.  I had on a waterproof jacket with a hood, old running shoes that have seen better days but were used to getting wet, a pair of faded jeans, and a T-shirt I got back in the days when I was running in races with the face of a Viking on it.

The rain had turned into a slow, steady drizzle and I quickly realized that my glasses were of no use so I took them off and put them into my jacket pocket.  The world looks different when you are nearsighted and not wearing your glasses; foggy and mysterious, soft around the edges.

The fall rain, combined with fallen leaves has a unique smell that is only present that time of year, that I associate with high school and wrestling season and endless running drills in a sweaty gym.  And on this particular day, I was back in that gym, on those mats; young again with boundless energy.  And I wasn't even aware that the drizzle had turned to downpour and that I was soaked from the waist down.

Despite the rain, I crossed the highway and walked into the park across from our neighborhood. Because of the rain I had the entire park to myself.  I walked the trail that wound through the woods and listened to the sound of the rain coming through the trees, like whispers on the wind.  And then I walked to the small stream that was near overflowing, its waters reaching the top of the bridge.  Rain changes things.

Soon, I found myself in a road near the field that months ago during summer was planted with corn.  This was the field that I had walked to the day before my sister died three years ago and had been followed by a dragon fly.  I had told my sister about it and she said that lately dragon flies had swarmed her each time she went outside.  And now, every time I see a dragon fly, I think of that day and this field and the quiet summer corn, and her.

From the field I walked back home, and the rain fell steadily all the way back.  And as I unlocked the door to my house, I was thinking about what a good walk it had been.