Thursday, July 23, 2015


Here’s a “might have been” story from my past, fifty years past.  It takes place in late May or early June of 1965.  There’s no message here, just a little of Grandpa B’s history and maybe a little impetus for reflection.
I had just completed my sophomore year at Aurora College and my friend, Ken, who had come there from Maine, was looking for someone to share driving chores so he could go home for a few days before returning to a job in Illinois.  I was twenty years old and had basically never been anywhere so I jumped at the chance.  Our route took us across Canada so I even got to leave the country for the first time; and then added the states of New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine to the few Midwestern states I had already visited or lived in. Driving straight through, trading drivers whenever one of us got too tired to continue, took about twenty four hours.
Seeing new places and hearing different regional accents were wonderful, as was seeing the ocean for the first time. I still have among my mementos a piece of granite the size and shape of a baseball that I brought home from my day at the ocean.
My friend had a younger sister, Lois, who was just days away from graduating from high school.  She played hooky (skipped school if you are unfamiliar with “hooky”) for one of the days Ken and I were there.  I actually don’t remember any of the things we did that day other than riding around in Ken’s car seeing the local sights which were mostly pine forests and potato fields. 
Late in the day as we were heading back to the little town they lived in I found her hand in mine, feeling as though it really belonged there.  I remember looking at her and seeing her smiling and wondering why.  I knew I was feeling especially good but wasn’t sure what was prompting her mood.
Two days later Ken and I were on our way back to Aurora, she and I never so much as shared a kiss, and I never saw her again.  We did exchange a few letters and in one of them I asked her why she had been smiling so that night.  Her answer was that she had been feeling as I had and that holding my hand had been special for her just as it had been for me.  In time, we each went on in our own directions, but I still think of her some times and may still have the one photo I took of her tucked away with some other memories. 
There is nothing that would induce me to trade the life I have had for any other, or even to wish that I could.  It is simply pleasant to reminisce and maybe spend a few minutes thinking of what “might have been.” I hope life has been as good to her as it has been to me.

Thursday, July 16, 2015


Most of my essays are pretty upbeat.  Life has been very good to me and that is something I want to share. This one is a little different. It's about sadness and the pain of loss.  Life, no matter how good, is not pain free, and the more we have the more we can lose.

About a year ago my oldest son had to take his cat to the vet to be put down because all efforts to fix its health problems had failed.  He knew it was what needed to be done and somehow summoned the courage to do it, but he was hurt terribly by the loss. In talking to him about it, I came up with the phrase, "Grief is the shadow cast by love."  What I was saying is that when grief seems overwhelming it is because we have had the gift of being able to love, to have something or someone fill our lives so much that the loss is a physical pain.

A few months later, I experienced first hand (again) just what I was talking about.  Our beloved Labrador retriever, Rowdy, had been deteriorating physically for over a year and the day after Christmas went into convulsions and then coma.  We cared for him through the next day and night until he died the following morning.  I was spared that awful trip to the vet, but that was small comfort when the space in my heart that he had filled for almost ten years was suddenly so empty.  It's been seven months now and the pain has eased, but still there is seldom a day goes by that I don't feel it at all.

Josh and I could have avoided all that pain by simply not allowing his cat or my dog into our lives in the first place.  We also would have eliminated a whole lot of warmth and joy and laughter.  We would have given up the chance to love and be loved.  Believe me, our pets do return the love we give them.  They offer no criticism or judgement, only affection.

So, is that the answer?  Avoid the pain by forgoing the joy?  I certainly don't think so.  Over the years, I have loved and lost many beloved pets, mostly dogs, but also cats and even an iguana who lived with us for fifteen years. Every one of them more than repaid the emotional cost of losing them. I remember the joy much more than the pain.

Kahlil Gibran said it best in The Prophet, "without love you laugh, but not all of your laughter; weep, but not all of your tears." Thank you to Rowdy and all his predecessors, for my laughter and for my tears. The shadow, grief, is only there because of the substance, love.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Like a Kite?

"I saw the brightly coloured kite yanking hard at the thread that held it tethered to the Earth. It was obvious just how much its heart yearned to break free and soar with the sea breeze.
'You are like that kite. Tied down by the limitations created by your own mind. Break free. Live!' "

I read this lovely bit of writing in another blog and my cynical mind immediately flashed back to when I flew kites as a boy.  What I remembered was that when the kite string broke the kite did NOT fly free; it fluttered to earth where it would lay helpless and inert.

Being fond of metaphors, I then thought of how this actual behavior of kites was a more accurate reflection of our lives. We need something that tethers us to reality if we are going to soar, without it we crash. What is the string that keeps us "flying" at the same time it binds us to one spot? Who is holding the string?  Who can stretch a metaphor to the breaking point?

There certainly is a time in our lives, usually our teens, when we want to cut all those strings.  We question why our parents and society have told us to act certain ways and we may even actively rebel against many of those rules.  Good for us! With no questions and no rebellion, there would be no progress.  The tricky part is in learning what things to rebel against and what to embrace.  Maturity, in part, is learning what parts to hang on to;  what strings do we need to keep us airborne.

My generation, coming to maturity in the 1960s was one of the most rebellious in history. We questioned everything we were told was true. One of our most notorious protesters famously said, "Never trust anyone over thirty." We challenged many things, like the Vietnam war and racial segregation, that needed to be challenged, and we also tended to "throw the baby out with the bath water." If parents or government or church said it was good, we rejected it.  So along with equal rights and an end to that particularly hideous and pointless war we also promoted indiscriminate sex and drug use.  We broke the string, and many of us crashed to the ground.  We also soared.

I've been trying to finish this for some time now, to bring it to some sort of conclusion, to make some point.  No such luck.  I've had some fun playing with a metaphor, and touched a couple of old memories, so I'll just have to be satisfied with that.


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

I Wish I had Told Her

The title of this piece is a comment I made to a post written by Pam over at  She had written about the women who were "mothers" to her when she was a child and of course this made me think of my own.

My grandchildren, I watch your mother raising you, and I am in awe of how much she does.  She works hard and consciously at the task of being a good mother, devoting her time and talent to providing you with all the opportunities, experiences, and education possible.  On top of this she shows you and tells you over and over that she loves you.

Rural women like my mother, who grew up in the depression, were different in many ways.  They were, in someone's words, "made of sterner stuff."  Working hard, all day every day, to provide a home was pretty much their "raison d'etre." I'm sure Mother never thought she had a hard life, it was just life.

Washday was a once a week all day affair.  Clothes were put one load at a time through the washer, then one piece at a time through the wringer into the first rinse tub, then through the wringer a second time into the second rinse, and finally a third trip through the wringer into the laundry basket.  Then it was out to the yard with them (a basket full of damp clothes is heavy) to be hung on the clothes line. Once dry they were brought back in to be ironed, and there was no such thing as permanent press

 Many long summer days were spent in a kitchen that would have done credit to a steam bath, canning hundreds of jars of tomatoes, corn, and beans.  Hens that were past their prime for egg laying also ended up in canning jars, another job that took a full day to accomplish.  After they were killed by a quick blow with an ax they had to be processed.  First they were dipped in boiling water (steam bath again) to loosen the feathers; then the feathers were pulled out by hand. Wet feathers stink! Next the entrails were removed and the whole birds went into a huge pot of (again) boiling water where they stewed until the meat could be easily removed from the bones.  Finally the cooked meat and broth went into the canning jars, which were once more heated to boiling and sealed for storage.  Fruits were either canned or turned into jams and jellies.  (More than a half century later I still can't abide strawberry jam, which we had in abundance.)

Of course this work was all in addition to the continuing tasks of preparing three meals a day, cleaning the house, tending the yard and the garden (where all those fruits and vegetables came from) and the flock of chickens.  Raising two boys also made demands on her time.  It was she who taught us responsibility, supervising us as we completed our "chores," tasks that she could have done more quickly herself, so that we not only learned how to do them but also that we needed to pull our own weight.

All of this hard physical work didn't leave much time or energy for playing games and reading stories; my brother and I learned to entertain ourselves. We also learned that "I'm bored" would most likely be met with an opportunity to add to our assigned tasks.  At best we would be told to go outside and play.

Through all this, we never doubted that we were loved.  In fact, it was something that we never thought about. Love wasn't expressed with hugs and kisses; the words "I love you" were never spoken, but as an old man, I can look back and see that my brother and I were loved, as much as anyone's children were ever loved.  Mother literally, every day, gave her life for her family; from the time she got up until the time she went to bed all her efforts were for us.  And that's what I wish I had told her.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Let Me Help

“Here, let me give you a hand with that.”  “No thanks, I’ve got it.”  I hate to think how many times the second voice in that conversation has been mine.  Let you help me?  No way!  I’m independent, I’m strong, I’m self-reliant.  I’m stupid.

Not only am I too stupid to ask for help, I even turn it down when it is offered.  I tell myself that I do this because I don’t want to put anyone out; I don’t want to impose.  These are lies I tell myself.  It is really fear that makes me turn away every offer of help.  It may be a reluctance to be in anyone’s debt, but mostly it is fear of admitting weakness or admitting failure.  If I allow someone to help me, I’m telling my ego that I am not superman.  My ego doesn’t like that.

There are, of course, times when asking for help has been made necessary by bad choices I have made.  Those times are especially hard on the ego because the weakness and failure that they illustrate was real.  Many times though, asking for, or at least accepting, help is simply the smart thing to do.

For example, some years ago I went sailing on Lake Geneva.  I belonged to a sailing club and we had a number of boats there that day ranging from 14 to 24 feet long.  The wind was strong and the water was a little rough, but the first half of the day I was on one of the larger boats, enjoying the ride and snapping pictures with the fairly expensive camera I had brought along.  After we stopped for lunch, a woman who had been on one of the smaller boats was talking about not sailing back because of the roughness of the water.  I offered to trade places with her so she could ride in the larger, more comfortable boat.  She quickly accepted and then asked if I would like her to take my camera with her because it might get wet in the smaller craft.  For no good reason except that I always turn down help, I said no.  Well of course, halfway across the lake we capsized the little sailboat and my camera didn’t get wet, it got drowned.   All I needed to have done was accept the small favor she had offered, which would have not imposed on her at all, and I might still have that camera.

Sometimes refusing to ask for or accept help can have much more serious consequences than just a destroyed camera.  In my twelve step group it is vital.  We begin recovery by admitting we are powerless.  “Without help it is too much for us,” but by depending and leaning on each other we succeed.  Equally as important as receiving help, is giving it.  It is by helping others that we strengthen ourselves.  It is only by helping others that we are able to save ourselves.  I frequently admonish the young men I counsel to not reject help.  To help them overcome their reluctance I ask them if they like to help people; I ask them how they feel when they have helped someone.  Always they say that, yes, they do like helping, it feels good to help.  I then ask them to not deny the privilege of helping to others. When you ask for help, you are usually doing the one you ask a favor.  You are giving them an opportunity to do good, and it feels good to do good.  Hopefully, you will never need for that kind of helping to be part of your lives, but the lesson that helping and being helped are both good should be.

Be self reliant, that’s a good thing.  But don’t be afraid to ask for help or to accept it.  Remember, "We are all in this together,” and giving and getting help is how we succeed in life.


Saturday, February 28, 2015

"At The Movies"

"Which movies would you direct me to as 'MUST WATCH'??"

A friend, on learning that Grandma B and I own over 2000 movies on VHS or DVD recently asked me that question. I guess their assumption is that anyone who has so many movies must know something about them.  Never assume.  It did occur to me that knowing something of my taste in movies might help you, my grandchildren, to know me a little better.  This would be in keeping with your Dad’s initial request that inspired this blog. So here is my answer to the must watch question.  

I have an answer, but I must protest that the question is a little vague.  Movies come in all shapes and sizes and there are a variety of reasons why different ones should be on your viewing list.  Do you want warm and inspiring, with beloved Hollywood stars in the lead roles?  “It’s a Wonderful Life” has to be at the top of the list.  A three hanky tear jerker, “Love Story” or “An Affair to Remember.”  Big adventure movies litter the landscape, but you can’t go wrong with “Star Wars,” “Jaws” or just about any of the “franchise“ movies that have spawned multiple sequels.  Horror movies are not my thing but if you must have one the original “Halloween” would be my choice.

Comedies offer a whole subset of choices.  If you would have a rounded exposure, some of the classic oldies where the stars were the reason to see them are important (and they are classics because they are so good). I’m talking about the Marx Brothers, W. C. Fields, Abbott and Costello, and others whose name on the marquee was all that was needed to sell tickets. Modern romantic comedies or “rom coms” provide a glut of forgettable movies, but a few stand out.  “While You Were Sleeping” is one we have watched many times.  Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan teamed up for some really good ones.  “When Harry Met Sally” is marvelous.  My personal favorite comedy across all the subsets is “Young Frankenstein” but it probably helps to see the original “Frankenstein” and “Bride of Frankenstein” first (They are worth seeing anyway, even though they are “horror” movies).

The Western movie at the top of my list would have to be, “The Magnificent Seven.”  Favorite war movie, “The Enemy Below” (not the best, whatever that means, just my favorites).

Musicals are not to everyone’s taste, but if you like them or just want to give one a try, “Singin’ In the Rain” would be my first choice.  It’s fun and funny, and great dancing and songs you will find yourself humming the next day.  Most musicals are adaptations from Broadway shows so if you want a taste of the Great White Way without going to New York and dropping a week’s pay on a ticket these can give you that.  “Camelot,”  “West Side Story” and “My Fair Lady” are timeless and wonderful.  Some others are kind of dated and may seem to promote social attitudes that are no longer acceptable.

Dramas, dramatic movies, are a whole different thing. They move us emotionally and at their best help us grow as human beings.  They can help us see the world differently, through other people’s eyes.  They teach us. Sharing the triumphs and tragedies of screen characters is why we go to these movies.  Some allow us, for a few hours, to vicariously live lives that seem bigger than our own, and they don’t get any bigger than “Gone With The Wind.” 

Now I will end this essay by actually answering the question. There is one movie that I believe everyone on Earth SHOULD see.  I only watched it once, and can’t bring myself to watch it again, but I will never forget it.  The movie is Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler"s List.”  It shows us the darkest side of humanity in a way that can’t be forgotten, but also lets us aspire to be good men as Oskar Schindler was a good man. I don’t suppose many people would call it the best picture of all time, but it has my vote for most important.

So there are some of my thoughts on movies.  I love romantic movies and rom coms (aka chick flicks).  I don’t care for 99% of what are called horror.  I think movies can be socially important, but first and foremost they are entertainment.  Silly comedies and mindless action movies also deserve to be made and should not make us feel guilty for watching them.  Enjoy the movies, and as Siskel and Ebert used to say, “Save me the aisle seat.”


Monday, November 24, 2014

Barns Revisited

I haven't put up a new post for some time, mostly because I just haven't felt like I have anything more to say.  This picture that I took a week ago has made me want to at least try.
It's just an old abandoned barn, slowly crumbling away, but looking at it makes me think about life, and long ago; fond memories and melancholy recollections too.  I wrote about "The Old Barn" in one of my early posts, how it was the playground of our childhood.  That barn is long gone now, like most others of its kind.  The old has been torn down to make room for the new or just allowed to decay because it isn't needed anymore.  The value of these old buildings that can be measured in dollars and cents has dwindled to nothing, and sentimental value doesn't pay the bills on a working farm.  I can't fault the owners for getting rid of a tax liability and returning the land to productive use;  I am just saddened a little that the way of life that flourished around these structures is gone and that the memories of it are fading too.

Old things are preserved in museums so that we can catch a glimpse of the past.  Limited space and limited resources dictate what can be preserved.  There are a few "historic" farms that survive by selling tickets for that glimpse.  I'm not sure it works to visit these places unless they were once a part of your life.  That old barn is just a pile of boards unless it contains memories.

It was on my seventieth birthday that I took this picture and I suppose that that milestone has something to do with the mood of it.  The longer ago "long ago" becomes, the more precious (and more romanticized) the memories become.  "Three score and ten" was long considered a man's allotted time.  I feel grateful to have been given my full allotment and have a reasonable expectation that I have a decade or two left.  I do not intend to spend all of that time reminiscing about what has been;  I look forward to adding to my store of memories and to sharing some of them.  But, the memories are a warm place to visit and sometimes long ago doesn't seem very far away at all.