Monday, January 22, 2018

It's The Little Things...

Maybe it's just me but when I start to remember my youth I always focus on a small, insignificant event, place, or time. Today I started thinking about my dad's redwood woven fence. You remember those from the 50's don't you. All the really cool people had them. My dad was the first in the neighborhood to build one and all the envious neighbors quickly followed suit.

Building that fence was the first opportunity I had to actually help with a project. Of course I had tried to help before but my efforts were declined.....I think it had to do with the time I wandered into a freshly painted room, saw the trim paint sitting there opened and waiting to be used. I decided I would "help" by repainting the walls with the trim paint. Hey, I was like three at the time. The fence project was too big for one man and I was the closest thing to a helper my dad could come up with so I got to help.

"We" built the fence over the course of a week. We set the posts on a weekend and added the woven redwood during the evenings of the following week. It was a wonderful experience and I gained a whole new respect for this man in the family who could do absolutely anything he decided to do....and do it well! The fence was beautiful...in its early 50's kind of way. When it was finished my dad added a deep redwood stain to the already red redwood. He was an artist with paint. He then announced a rule....just one rule...easy to follow...DO NOT CLIMB THIS FENCE. I think he actually chiseled the command into stone but I may have imagined that part.

Now in fairness to all the boys who have ever been five and seven years old, it is a proven fact that fences are meant to be climbed. Fences with horizontal weaves all through them are especially in need of climbing. The fact that our dad added a 1 x 6 cap all along the length of the fence added the responsibility of not only climbing the fence, we must walk all along the top of it. We had to. It was our job and our destiny.

Glenn and I waited until the next weekend was over before trying out our balance on the fence. Maybe we waited that long to give the stain enough time to dry. Or maybe we waited to make sure all the posts were set properly. Or just maybe we waited that long because it was that long before our dad went back to work. At first we just climbed up and down the fence. We had a six foot advantage in height when we stood near the top. We yelled at our friends. We waved and showed off for the girls...not that we cared anything about girls then of course.

After a few days just climbing to the top became mundane. We decided that in the interest of manhood the top should be walked. I was older than Glenn by a couple of years so naturally I was more manly than him. I made the first trip down the fence balancing myself with youthful stupidity. Glenn quickly followed and made the trip successfully as well. After that, the top of the fence became a much traveled trail. We had a ball but sadly, even walking the top became boring.

After seeing a couple of knights facing off in a joust on horses and long poles in some movie, Glenn and I decided to do the same on top of the fence. This was a short-lived activity though because I was taller and had a longer reach. After a couple of falls off the fence Glenn decided it wasn't fun anymore. I thought it was a blast but I couldn't get anyone else to play the game with me.

As is the case with all toys, eventually the "new" wore off our fence. We went on to other adventures. And it wasn't because our dad led us out to the fence, pointed out all the scratches and lose boards, and said he was going to have to kill us. We just got bored with the fence....really.

I was sitting in the backyard a few years later feeling kind of blue. I was growing up too fast. After all, I was already twelve. I got to thinking about all the fun Glenn and I had on that fence. I decided to climb up and walk the top again. I made it all the way to the back of the yard without falling. On the way back, and just as I was over those vicious metal trashcans, I lost my balance. As I began to fall, I mentally ticked off all the rescue moves I could make to save myself from real pain.....actually all I thought was "oh no" (this is a family site) while wildly waving my arms in all directions. In one swing of my arm I touched a cable reaching from a tall pole to the back of the house. I grabbed it tight to stop my fall. It did not stop my fall. It snapped right off the house with exposed wires falling to the ground with me. I was a dead man. I hit the ground with a thud and expected the high voltage to fry me on impact. Instead, my sister came storming out of the house yelling at me and wanting to know what I had done. Her telephone call died in the middle of important gossip. Okay, there were two wires stretching across there. Fortunately, the high power line was well out of a twelve year-old's reach.

See, it's the little things...

Saturday, January 13, 2018

As the bitter north wind blew across the prairie...

...that we called north Tarrant County, a lonely individual sat by a tiny pine tree trying to keep it alive. That sounds like the terrible start to a terrible novel but it is history.

When Christmas came for my first son, Jamie, I wanted to do something special to remind us of the wonderful occasion. I bought a tiny pine tree down at Homer's Hardware store for us to decorate for our new son. My plan was to plant it in our yard after Christmas so Jamie could watch it grow along with him. He would be able to point to the tall tree and tell his children that the beautiful pine had been his first Christmas tree. Heartwarming, is it not?

The tree spent two weeks in a warm house before being planted outside. I didn't know much about planting trees but I knew this would be special. I had a hard time digging the hole for the tree because I kept stopping to pat myself on the back....such a thoughtful, sensitive man.

I finally got a hole dug deep enough to plant the little tree. I watered it as the north wind began to kick up then went inside to warm up. We lived as far north of town as we could get and like the saying goes, "there was nothing between us and the north pole except a barbed wire fence". It was a particularly hard winter that year. We had driving wind, dust storms, sleet. In fact, we had everything a winter can throw at a person except rain.

The next morning as I left for work, I noticed the little tree didn't look very well. In fact, it looked like it might actually be close to death. I went inside and got a bucket of water for it before heading out and slowly let the ground soak up the moisture. I was late for work that day. When I got home the tree hadn't improved but it wasn't worse. I worried about it all night and got up earlier than normal to check it the next morning. It's needles were turning yellow and curling up at the ends. I ran for more water. This went on for nearly a week until I was about to give up on it. I hated that my plan for planting a tree for each of my kids might be a failure. On Saturday, I clipped off a small branch and headed over to Homer's to see if anyone could help me save the tree.

It is true that most people working as clerks are just that...clerks. Not only have they not been training for the products they sell but they also have a distinct apathy for those products. I was disappointed to hear that the "Tree is dying dude. Have you considered watering it?" As I walked out of the store an old man stopped me and asked to look at the small limb. He examined it and told me the tree needed iron. I bought what I needed and memorized all the old man had told me:

  • Mix the iron with water.
  • Water the tree slowly, very slowly, once each week on the same day.
  • Try to water the tree at the same time of day.
  • Be patient.
I followed the old man's instructions to the letter. I chose Sunday at 3:00 o'clock for the watering because I knew I would always be home at this time. I had to feed the water very slowly so it wouldn't run off on the wind-baked soil. Some days it was cold. Some days it was okay. Some days it was so bitterly cold and windy that only idiots and tree lovers would be outside. I was one of the latter but always felt I was one of the former....especially when I would notice neighbors peering from their windows at the idiot sitting on the ground next to a twig. 

The tree didn't respond to my efforts. As the winter wore on it lost all its needles. There was nothing left of it but the tiny little trunk. It would have been easy to step on. A normal, sane person would have pulled it out of the ground. It was even too little to bother putting it in the trash...just pull it out and let the wind carry it away. Did I do that? No, I did not. I spent every Sunday afternoon watering my little twig sticking out of the ground. Debbie told me I was crazy. My neighbors stopping speaking to me. People passing in their cars just shook their heads, feeling sorry for the young lady married to the insane guy. 

When spring approached I will admit I was ready to give up. I couldn't see mowing around a dead twig. On the day I went out to pull it out of the ground I looked at it closely to make sure it was dead. I saw dozens of tiny buds sprouting. Jamie's little pine had survived the bitter winter. I was beside myself. I ran in and told Debbie, then I ran to Jamie's room and told him as I bounced him in the air. He said, "Gaagah googoo" which I interpreted as " Way to go Dad!" 

As it turns out, we sold that house a few months later and moved into Hurst. I drove Jamie and our newest bundle of joy out to our old house one day and showed them the Christmas tree. Cody just slobbered on his thumb and Jamie replied, "hmm". Impressed indeed!!

I learned a lot from this experience. I learned perseverance in the face of strong difficulty. I learned patience. I learned little boys could not care less about a tree you kept alive just for them. I didn't plant a Christmas tree for Cody. I am quite sure he couldn't possibly care less.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Gentle Annie....

...I apologize for that outburst just now. When my grandpa got upset he would yell "Gentle Annie". We had no idea who Annie was, why she was considered gentle, or why our grandpa always mentioned her when he was agitated. My grandpa didn't use profanity and he raised all his kids to avoid the same. All his kids followed his advice....except for Uncle Frog of course. Uncle Frog could weave a line of cuss words together better than any poet could ever put the words together to create a beautiful poem. But, I'm getting away from why I'm agitated and had to blurt out those foul words.

I had determined to write an eloquent story today. It was going to pull at your heart strings and probably cause tears to fall. At the end of the story I was going to wrap it all up as a lesson for all and possibly offer an idea for an excellent New Year's resolution. That's what I was going to do. And I did. The problem came when I tried to transfer the story from an unfamiliar publishing software to my blog page. The entire story transferred just as it should with one exception. The whole thing printed out as one line. I scrolled as far as I could to find the end of the story but eventually another blogger told me to get my words off his page. (That's not true....I made it up.) I tried to edit the job by pulling it up and resetting it in parameters for my own page. This took half an hour. When I tried to check the edited version, the whole thing had printed out in four lines reaching to the neighbor's blog again. At this point I cursed the computer with a good, strong "Gentle Annie" and deleted the whole thing.

I may write that story again someday....I promise, it made me want to laugh and cry at the same time if you can understand that. It was one of my better stories I must say...and I must say since evidently no one else will be able to read it any time soon. Before I rewrite the story I need to spend a little time removing some irritating software from my computer.

Have a wonderful and prosperous New Year. Please remember that prosperity isn't measured in dollar signs.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Christmas Present Building Past....

The last of the Christmas orders have been picked up. The tools have been cleaned and put away and the sawdust swept. It's quiet in this Santa's workshop today. Every year about this time I promise myself I will never make Christmas presents on order again. Around the approach of spring, which usually occurs around March 1st and lasts until the 2nd, I start looking forward to having a busy shop again. I have other orders to fill but nothing required before Christmas. I will start on the new projects after a short break until the first of the year.

Today I had planned on focusing my attention on the tons of fallen leaves in my yard. The neighbors would appreciate it and I would enjoy being outside. As luck would have it, today is the coldest and wettest day of winter for us so far this year. I guess just sitting here next to the fireplace is as good a place as any to waste time. The only thing better would be if Debbie would go out to the wood pile and start us a fire. That would be just wonderful but I'm not expecting it to happen. Since it's been so warm we've had only one fire this year so Deb stacked Christmas presents on the hearth. I guess I'll hold off on that fire until Christmas day when everything has been distributed to the little...and not so little grandkids.

I was sitting here reflecting on my 'Christmas present building past' with warm memories. I kept saying during those stressful days just before the deadline that I would look back on those days someday with fondness. I didn't believe myself at the time but now I do enjoy thinking back. Mainly because the days are past and I don't have to relive them ever again. My mailman asked earlier this week how I learned to make things out of wood. That started the memories. I'll give a quick summary:

It all began on a hot day in August, 1950. The place was All Saints Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas.....

oh, sorry....Debbie told me not to go that far back.

It all started in 1979 when my doctor told me if I didn't learn to live with the stress of my job I wouldn't live to see 30. I was 29 at the time. Since I wasn't interested in starting a new career, he suggested I find a hobby to be accessible to me every day of the week. I could do anything as long as I did it daily. That ruled out most hobbies. No one....well, no one back then could play golf every day and fishing was out of the question. I could learn to cross-stitch and help Debbie with projects or I could learn to do something manly. Hunting was my first instinct but the city didn't think that was a good idea. I explained there was plenty of wildlife that needed thinning out around us but they said "no". Then I remembered my grandpa and how he let me help with his woodworking projects. Even though most of my help involved sweeping sawdust I enjoyed the time spent and thought, "Hey, that's what I'll do! I'll sweep!" Then I decided actually doing the woodwork would be more enjoyable. I came home from the doctor's office and told Debbie exactly what I had been told: "Go immediately to the hardware store and invest way too much money on quality woodworking equipment or you will be dead by your 30th birthday." It may have not been those exact words but that's the message I received from the doc.

After my first investment I had the basic tools to create tremendous volumes of sawdust. The tools looked wonderful in my garage and I hoped to actually turn one of them on eventually. Since grandpa wasn't around to supervise my ignorance I was a little bit scared of the tools. It took about two days to get enough nerve to turn them on and another week before I actually cut some wood. My first projects were Christmas presents for my unsuspecting family members. They were so kind. A few years later after I actually learned how to use my tools I offered to replace every gift I had given with something less fireplace worthy. My sister Julie took me up on the offer and after I made her another gift we agreed the stupid, lopsided "fern stand" would be tossed in the fire. It was a grand experience.

Learning to work with wood is a dangerous undertaking if you are teaching yourself. Too many times the self-taught have to make notes to themselves about things like not to get too close to the blade while it's rotating...and they usually have to make that note with the less dominant, and less bleeding hand. I was lucky to have spent time with my grandpa because even though my only functioning tool was a broom he drove the safety issues home to me regularly. So far, I've never bled from a cut. I have bled over a few splinters but that just adds to the mystique of a quality woodworker.

A few years into my woodworking saw the building of a shop for my hobby. All my tools laid out in permanent positions with built-in workbenches, overhead lighting, and a lock on the door. I had made my place in the prestigious world of "really good woodworker". Of course there is no award for that status, and I just made it up while writing this.....oh, and the status itself was in my own mind but darn it, I was proud of myself. People actually wanted me to make things for them rather than politely accepting the offered nightmares. I had arrived. My job wasn't slowly killing me anymore and my hobby was completely satisfying.

As I sit here in retirement and laugh at all the stress and worry I put into things that no longer matter, I'm glad I put some time into learning how to work with wood. I enjoy it and yes Debbie, I also enjoy complaining about it. It's all part of the hobby!

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Year We Scared Santa Off...

Christmas traditions come and go as we age and our kids age even faster. It was fun to share the wonder and excitement of our boys when they faithfully believed Santa Claus gave them everything they wanted under the tree. I miss those times but you can't hold onto them forever. I know my parents and Debbie's parents weren't ready for us to leave their Christmas traditions and we held out as long as we could. We would have Christmas Eve with Debbie's family then come home late and get the boys to bed. Then we would begin assembling all the gifts "Santa" was going to bring them. We would finally make it to bed around 2:00 a.m. just to be roused around 6:00 a.m. by two very excited little boys. After we finished our own Christmas we would hurry to get to my parents house early enough for gift-giving with them. After that, Christmas lunch with Debbie's parents followed by Christmas dinner with my family. By the end of the day I hated Christmas. I got over it pretty quick each year.

It was on one of those schedules that my brother Glenn planned a special event for our boys. He was at his own in-law Christmas Eve but left it dressed as Santa. I called him right before we left to head home. When we pulled into the driveway and our headlights swept across the front of our house, there was Santa on our front porch about to walk in the front door. Debbie yelled, "look boys, there's Santa Claus!" They jumped up and looked just as Santa showed surprise and ran away. Jamie and Cody both let out a howl like I've never heard while screaming, "daddy, you scared off Santa Claus!" Although I assured them he would come back after they were asleep they were convinced he would be on the other side of the world by then. There was no comforting their broken hearts.

As Debbie herded the boys inside and got them ready for bed, I took off to find my brother. I had to get him back to our house to calm those boys down. I wandered the street yelling "Santa Claus! Santa Claus!.....Glenn?" He was no where to be found. I went back home telling myself the Lord would understand all the lies I was about to tell my boys. I walked into their room while Debbie was tucking them in. Jamie had manned up and become very quiet. Cody was still crying as hard as he could. I whispered to Debbie that I couldn't find Santa anywhere. She didn't know what we should do. Our boys thought we had chased off Santa Claus. But suddenly there was a Christmas "miracle". We heard a tapping at the bedroom window and looked over to see Santa peering inside. I opened the window and my brother's magic words calmed them down. "HO HO HO, you boys don't cry! I wouldn't let Christmas pass without filling your tree with presents. Go to sleep as fast as you can and I will come back after I know you are asleep". Thank you Glenn!!

I think that was the best Christmas the boys ever enjoyed as little fellas. The only bad part of it was the experience convinced them beyond doubt that Santa Claus really did exist. We worried as they grew older that they were holding onto that belief too long. When I felt the time was right, I casually mentioned one day how memorable it was when Glenn dressed up as Santa and got scared off our front porch. Cody said, "oh man, I knew it had to be something like that!" Jamie said, "SAY WHAT?" I'm just glad it happened before he left for A&M.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Random Thoughts....

FINALLY....

It's cold enough to have a fire going in the fireplace. Earlier this week our AC was still keeping us comfortable. Now the heater is warming the house and I made the first fire of the year this morning. I should be out in my shop finishing up my Christmas orders but it's just too nice sitting here by the fire and sipping on a second cup of coffee. After all, it's still like forever until Christmas and I work better under pressure. I think I'll just sit here for awhile.

It probably won't be long before we are all complaining about the cold and anxious for summer again. We Texans are a fickle bunch. I admit, the cold does affect my leg but other than that this cooler weather is a welcome relief. When my leg starts aching too much I'll be thinking about those good old 100+ temperatures with fondness.

THE BLESSINGS.....

I'm amazed at how much the Lord has blessed Debbie and me over the years. Aside from the fact that the prettiest girl at Bell High School agreed to marry me nearly forty-seven years ago, we have two fine sons who have now grown to mature and successful men. It was touch and go with Jamie for a while. He wanted to be an English major. I would have been proud because I know he would have been the best English teacher in the history of education but I am so thankful he took that one accounting course as a "test". He changed his major to accounting and is now a CPA and partner in a well-known accounting firm. He will now be able to support us in our old age instead of the other way around.

Cody told us when he was five that he planned to be a doctor. We gave him the "uh huh" response and didn't think too much about it. As the years progressed it became obvious to us he was serious in his pursuit. He worked so hard and was so broke as he went through med school, internship, and the opening of his own small practice. Now he enjoys a large successful practice in Southlake, Texas. He too can support us in our old age. It makes me wonder why I bothered to save for retirement. As much as I love my two daughters-in-law, and how blessed my sons are to have their respective mates, I'm pretty sure they are thankful that I did save for retirement.

More importantly than my sons' success in their career fields, Debbie and I are amazingly blessed by our sons' faith in God and their active work in the Lord's kingdom. So very blessed....

I won't even begin to tell about each of my eight wonderful, talented, and beautiful grandchildren. I might just brag about them individually in separate posts. Hey, it's my blog.....you don't have to read it. (Just kidding. It would break my heart if you didn't read it!)

THE FUTURE...

No one knows what the future holds for us. The clowns in Congress do their very best to assure their future is secure at our expense but we still live in the greatest nation in the world. Those who served and those who continue to serve in the various branches of the military have given us peace and safety in a world that 's crazy at it's best. We owe them all a tremendous debt and it breaks my heart to see pictures of homeless veterans. That should never happen...ever! Money funneled to those who aren't even citizens should be used to help and protect our veterans....my opinion, don't get mad at me. It would be nice for the USA to be able to help the whole world. We've tried. We can't.

As for my and Debbie's future all I can do is trust in the Lord. We will continue to do that and I hope we are just as faithful if, or when, things go bad for us.

THE COMEDY...

I write stories about my past and the past of those I love. I have been trying to update some and write more about the present. There just isn't that much funny stuff going on in our lives. I could write about daily stuff but I would probably lose my twenty-three faithful followers. When I was a kid my granddad used to buy old houses to restore. He was one of the first flippers. When he would buy a new project house my brother and I or one of the other grandsons would go over to help him clean it out and get it ready for renovation. Glenn and I were assigned the attic on one of these old houses. We found all kinds of free stuff. Our grandpa said we could keep it all and our dad said we absolutely could not. I found a diary written by a teenage girl probably fifty years prior. I was excited to read about the wild exploits of a teenager in the early 1900's. It was exciting:
Day 1: Got up. Ate breakfast. Went to bed.
Day 2: Got up. Ate breakfast. Looked out the window. Went to bed.
This is not made up. The whole diary was this same thing. Finally the entries just stopped. I figure she probably shot herself. I promise I won't post entries like this. If nothing happens I'll make something up, which several of you have accused me of already.

Thanks for bearing with me and my ramblings.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Listening to the oldies....

I've gotten to the point where I try to avoid listening to the music of my youth because the grandkids think I must have rocked with the dinosaurs. I sometimes get nostalgic which easily leads to depression over a youth not appreciated but surely missed. I couldn't wait to get past the teens. I craved being all grown-up. Maybe I thought I would receive some respect from my dad. That didn't happen til I was in my late fifties so if that was, in fact, the reason for my craving I should have craved a red Corvette.

Sadly, I chose to listen to the music from the early sixties this morning. There was some wonderful music back then....like Candy Girl by the 4 Seasons....and there was some not so great stuff. I won't mention any of those though because they might possibly be your favorites. In order to keep from drifting off into depression I will tell about a day in the spring of.....well, I don't remember. It must have been '62. My sister's best friend was a girl named Cathy from down the street. I secretly loved Cathy and planned to marry her if she would promise to never see her insane brother, Gary, again. Since I never revealed my love, she never had to make that promise. I am sure she would have agreed if the subject ever came up.

My sister, Cindy, was a shy girl without an ounce of rebellion in her body. Cathy was wild and crazy before wild and crazy was cool. I never knew how they could be best friends but I was glad they were. Cathy was always at our house....probably to avoid the insane brother. If Cathy came to see Cindy I made it a point to be in the same room. Cindy was a pretty good older sister. She rarely threw things at me to drive me off. Looking back, I was for sure a royal pest.....I did not care.

Cathy loved to dance which was another contradiction to their close friendship. Cindy didn't dance. None of our family danced. My mom was certain dancing paved the way straight to....well, you know.

I loved to watch Cathy dance to whatever Top 40 was playing on that little AM radio. As a side note here, and Cindy might correct me if I'm wrong, she and Cathy made matching moo-moos. Cindy's was modest and conservative. Cathy's was.......whoo-hoo....it was amazing. She was wearing her moo-moo when some Llano cousins came to visit. My cousin Roy fell in love with Cathy ten seconds after they arrived. We were in Cindy's room listening to music, laughing, and having a great time. All of a sudden Chubby Checkers suggested we all get up and do the Twist. We all jumped up and started working out to the only dance my mom didn't condemn (no touching). We all danced like the good Christian children we were. If you've ever watched an old movie where the kids were dancing to the Twist, you would have noticed the nerd in the corner grinning like a goof and barely moving his hips to the music. That was us. Cathy did not have that inhibition. She got so revved up she split the side right out of that moo-moo. If Roy and I hadn't already been goofy enough, we sure raised the bar then. We both started giggling and ran from the room. As we ran I asked Roy why we were running away. He didn't have a clue so we turned around and ran back but it was too late. Cindy had already helped Cathy out with something else to wear....stupid sister.

Sigh....yep, I sure should have taken the time to be a kid.