Sunday, February 7, 2016

Cutting the Grass

Dad kept his kids busy with chores.  We washed dishes, dusted the house, washed and polished the car, painted the house every year, and cut the grass every week.  Giving children some responsibilities is a good thing.  The problem, however, was that in Dad’s eyes, at least, we could never do anything right.

In my eighteen years at home I had a 100% failure rate.  According to the old man I couldn’t even wipe paint dots off the floor in a way that would meet his standards. 

About twenty-five years later, long after my three siblings and I had escaped Dad’s clutches, I was called upon once more to do a chore.  Our father was recovering from an operation; the doctor said that he could not do any physical labor for several months.  Therefore, I was asked to mow his lawn.

Remembering the hassles of the past, I decided to outsmart the old man.  First of all, I brought my own lawnmower.  One could never get his mower clean enough after using it, so I decided to bypass that potential problem.

Thinking deeply, I remembered that in years past he had gotten on my case for walking too fast; he said that I wasn’t giving the blades a chance to cut the grass!  Also, I planned to lap halfway over what I’d already mowed, because Dad said one needed to do that to cover the wheel tracks. 

About every ten minutes Dad would come out of the house to see how I was doing.  I moved at a snail’s pace and made sure to overlap.  He didn’t say anything until I was finished.

After completing the job I walked around the yard to make certain that not a blade of grass had been missed.  Then I put my mower into the trunk of the car and was ready to leave.

“You didn’t mow the section between the sidewalk and the road!” Dad exclaimed.

“I did mow that part, Dad,” I replied.

He continued to insist that I had missed that spot, so there was nothing else to do but get out the mower and do that area over again.

 Later Dad tried the same stunt with my older brother, but he handled the problem in a different way.

My brother adjusted the blade to its lowest setting and then proceeded to scalp that small piece of the lawn.   Dad stood there dumbfounded as he and my brother were enveloped in a thick cloud of dust.  When he was finished there was no grass left on that section.

With a sly smile on his lips, my brother said, “It’s cut now, Dad.”

For once Dad had nothing to say.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

A Mini-Trip to Boston

Although I’m a small-town guy, I absolutely love to visit large cities.  Just like human beings, in general most cities are pretty similar, but each has its own unique personality.

A few days ago my wife Bev and I excitedly packed our bags, filled the car’s gas tank, and headed for the airport.  This would be our third trip to Boston, one of my favorite cities.  The only bad thing is that we had to get out of bed at 4:30 a.m.

The flight took only one hour and twenty minutes.  This was just enough time to read the airline-sponsored magazine, devour the “free” pretzels and drinks, and then catch another forty minutes of sleep.

We landed in Boston at 8:15 a.m.  After taking a shuttle we arrived at the car rental area.  For some reason I recalled an old Madd Magazine article about renting automobiles.  The punch line was: “It hurts (Hertz) to rent a car.” 

Until a few years ago the Boston Celtics ruled the basketball world.  Unfortunately, Bev barely knows the difference between a basketball and a hockey puck.  During our last visit to Boston she spied a sign and commented: “Let’s go see the Boston Gardens.  I love flowers.”  I didn’t have the heart to tell her that it was a gym.  So after a two-mile hike we arrived at the Gardens.  To say that she was not a happy camper was an understatement.

As we drove along we noticed that some pedestrians, despite the 45- degree temperature and a chilly wind,  were wearing shorts.  What brave (foolish?) souls.  We also noticed that some of the Boston drivers were doing their best to uphold their negative image.  At least some of the city’s drivers are crude, rude, and impatient.  It’s a wonder they don’t wear out their horns!

Our first stop was near the Charlestown Navy Yard: “The Charlestown Navy Yard is nearly as old as the United States Navy itself.  Established in 1800 as one of the six original U. S. Navy shipyards, this facility built, repaired, and outfitted naval ships for 174 years. 

“The working Navy Yard closed in 1974, yet the yard remains active as both a location for new business and residential development and as an historic site within Boston National Historical Park.”

At this Navy Yard rests one of the most famous ships in American history: “The frigate USS Constitution is the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world.  She has a long association with the Charlestown Navy Yard.  Launched at a shipyard in Boston’s North End in 1797, Constitution was one of the first six ships authorized in the Naval Armaments Act of 1794.  She served in the Barbary Wars, the War of 1812, and at various duties around the world prior to the Civil War.  Later she became a training ship and barracks ship.

“Between 1800 and 1835, Constitution was repaired six times at the Charlestown Navy Yard, including her first major overhaul beginning in 1831.  From the late 19th century and continuing into the 21st century, she underwent several major restorations here, including one partially funded by the ‘pennies’ campaign in the 1920s which collected coins from schoolchildren.  Constitution commemorated her centennial at the Yard in 1897, and in 1997, for her bicentennial, she sailed in Massachusetts Bay under her own power for the first time since the 1880s.”

Remember that Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz was told to follow the yellow brick road?  Well, when in Boston one should follow the double-lined red brick along the sidewalks.  This is the Freedom Trail, which leads to the important historical sites in Boston. 

Not far off the Freedom Trail we came to the Warren Tavern, which was built sometime before 1780.  It is said to be the oldest remaining building in Boston, and was a favorite hangout of Paul Revere.  Now and then George Washington stopped here for a good meal and some lively conversation.  Unfortunately, neither patriot showed up during our lunch visit.
A plaque on the tavern wall states: “The Tavern, a favorite hostelry of Paul Revere, was named in honor of his friend, Dr. Joseph Warren, an ardent patriot, who fell at the Battle of Bunker Hill, June 17, 1775.”

After devouring turkey, dressing, and cranberry sauce, we began following the Freedom Trail: “Over two hundred years ago, colonial Bostonians led New England and America on the road to freedom and independence.   Today, Boston’s Freedom Trail is a 3-mile walking path connecting sixteen historic sites from Boston Common to Bunker Hill, that tells the story of Boston’s colorful and rebellious past.  The Freedom Trail shows how the American Revolution was born, and how our new nation was created and defended by ordinary people under extraordinary circumstances.”

Despite a steady downpour, we visited Breed’s Hill( Bunker Hill was nearby): “Site of the Battle of Bunker Hill, fought June 17, 1775.  Although orders were issued by the Committee of Safety to seize and fortify Bunker Hill, the Colonial officers after consultation fortified this hill on June 16, 1775.”

Eventually the British were able to take the fortification, but they paid a heavy price.  Of the approximately 2,400 British troops, 1054 were casualties.  The Americans, on the other hand, suffered only 441 casualties.  This battle gave confidence to the Rebels, for they realized that the British army, the most powerful military unit on the planet, was not invincible.

That evening we shared a hamburger, fries, and a chocolate milkshake at the 5 Napkin Burger.  Then, once again, we went out into the rain, walking several blocks to Symphony Hall to see and hear the Boston Pops perform.  Beginning in 1885, the orchestra is well-known for its light classical and popular music.  The most famous conductor of the Pops, Arthur Fiedler, served from 1930 until 1979.  Under Fiedler, the Pops visited my hometown in 1955 and again in 1959.

The holiday program was terrific.  During a segment of the show the audience was invited to join in, which made the occasion even more fun.  Attending a Boston Pops event was on Bev’s bucket list and on my own.

The next morning the alarm awakened us at 3:30 in the morning.  After quickly dressing and devouring a couple cups of coffee, we checked out and headed for the airport.  This was a wonderful mini-trip, but again referring to Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, there’s no place like home.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Reasonable New Year's Resolutions

*The other day I read an article in which the author argued that too often we make New Year’s resolutions that are impractical and thus are not kept for long, such as promising to lose forty pounds or to be nice to the mother-in-law.  Therefore, this time I’m making resolutions that have a good chance of success:

*I will watch no more than three football games simultaneously.  My record is four, but with effort I can cut down in this area.

*I will reduce my breakfast consumption of cold pizza to twice a week.

*I promise not to fall asleep during our minister’s sermons. This is an easy one, for our minister, while inspiring us with important messages, is also very entertaining.

*I will not go for second helpings no matter how good the food is (Of course, I can always heap more on my plate in the first place).

*I will no longer complain when my better half runs the gas tank down to empty (Of course, I can’t control my thoughts).

*Although I have his voice down pretty well, I will quit driving my wife crazy with Barack Obama impersonations.  Instead, she will get as steady dose of Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter.

*When going to the bathroom in the middle of the night I’ll use the one down the hall so that my wife will not be disturbed.  I promise to raise the lid before I begin and lower it when I’m finished.

*I will not smoke cigarettes or cigars.  This should be easy; I haven’t smoked during my first 65 years, so I can hold off for whatever time I have left.

*I will love and honor my wife.  I’ll do this one even if it gets difficult.

*I will not beg my wife to take in a fifth cat-unless another orphan comes along.

*I promise to watch the Lawrence Welk Show with my father-in-law.  Actually, this is a rather pleasant experience.

*I will not go ballistic whenever one of “my” teams loses unless, of course, if it loses a championship game.

*I will try to see the glass as half full instead of half empty, except when I’m in a pessimistic mood.

*I will love my children (This one is easy).

*I will cherish my friends (This one is easy, too).

*I will laugh at someone’s joke even if it’s not funny (Hopefully other folks will return the favor).

*I will refrain from cutting articles out of the newspaper before my wife has had a chance to read it.

*I’ll try not to channel surf whenever my wife is present (Notice that I said “I’ll try“).

*The first thing I’ll do each morning is check the newspaper’s obituary to see if I’m in it.  If I’m not listed I’ll thank the Lord for another day and then go about my business.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Thank You, Mr. Welk

As a “baby boomer” I grew up with “rock n’ roll.“  When Elvis Presley hit it big in 1956 I didn’t care too much for any kind of music, but my older siblings tuned into the new sound whenever Dad was out of the house. However, by the time the Beatles rocked America I had become a full-fledged admirer.  Wisely, I hid my records in the underwear drawer, fearing that if they were detected, the Old Man would take a hammer to them.

Dad, on the other hand, would drive me crazy on Saturday nights, first by watching a corn pone, nasal-twanging group of hayseeds and then, adding insult to injury, by switching channels to the “Lawrence Welk Show.”  Of course, no sophisticated, know-it-all teenager wanted to be tortured by either program.  If  friends weren’t available I’d even stoop to doing  homework rather than submit to Dad’s awful  music.  For years I wondered how such an intelligent man could make such imbecilic entertainment choices!

Many, many years later my father-in-law, Jack, and mother-in-law, Carol, moved to our town so that my wife and I could assist them.  On Saturday nights Jack loved to have a nice steak for dinner before settling down to watch reruns of Welk’s show.  My first thought was that this was “deja vu all over again,” but to my utter astonishment, as we sat before the screen I found myself tapping my hand in time with the music and even humming along with some of the tunes. 

Somehow, someway, I had matured (?) to the point that I could actually appreciate the talented musicians and singers on the show.  Unlike rock-n’ roll, there were no songs calling for revolution or drug usage.  It was simply an hour of clean, toe-tapping entertainment. 

Over the next four years Jack’s dementia worsened.  His wife, Carol, whom he loved dearly, passed away, but at times he didn’t seem to understand that she was gone.  One evening, while talking to his brother over the telephone, Jack stated that she had died, but a few days later he informed my wife that Carol was waiting downstairs for him.  Several days later he asked,  “Now what is  Carol’s status?”

Now it is difficult for Jack to complete a sentence, and much of what he says makes no sense.  Despite the growing confusion, however, there still seems to be a part of his damaged brain that still “gets it,”  for somehow, someway, on Saturday nights, something special happens.  While Myron plays his accordion or Mary Lou (my personal favorite) sings and dances, Jack keeps time with the music and  occasionally even sings along!  Sometimes he will  whistle the tune being played.

More study is needed in this area.  Why is music able to “get through” when not much else does?  Could there be a musical treatment program that could help dementia patients to communicate better?

Wherever you are Mr. Welk, I would like to thank you for giving my father-in-law a way to connect with the outer world.   Your music brings him great pleasure (I kind of like it, too).

No doubt my own father, who passed away in 1996, is smiling, realizing that the kid who would have nothing to do with his music has finally been converted.  During the last few years of his life Dad also mellowed , at least when it came to Elvis.  He once conceded that “Elvis isn’t so bad if you don’t have to hear him or see him.”  Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but I’ll take it.

Monday, December 7, 2015

A Car for Women

 When one thinks of automotive flops, the word “Edsel” almost automatically comes to mind, yet the Dodge La Femme of the mid-1950s was even more of a disaster.

More women were learning to drive, and thus the phenomenon of the two-car family was emerging.  Chrysler realized that most of these second cars were for the lady of the house, so why not capture the market by manufacturing a car that would appeal to females?

In 1955 Dodge began marketing the first automobile designed just for women-the La Femme.  It was a two-door hardtop painted in “Sapphire White” and “Heather Rose.”  On each front fender was a gold “La Femme” nameplate.
    According to a folder sent to Dodge dealers: “The crowning touches which personalize the La Femme are its special feminine accessories.  Two compartments located on the backs of the front seats are upholstered in Heather Rose Cardigan.  The compartment on the driver’s side contains a stylish rain cape, fisherman’s style rain hat and umbrella which carry out the Jacquard motif.  It is fitted with compact, lighter, lipstick and cigarette case.”

 A Wikipedia article added: “The interior of the car also received attention and features.  1955 La Femme interiors were upholstered in a special tapestry material featuring pink rosebuds on a pale silver-pink background and pale pink vinyl trim.  The La Femme came with a keystone-shaped, pink calfskin purse that coordinated with the interior of the car.”

According to marketing brochures, the car was manufactured “By Special Appointment to Her Majesty…the American Woman.”
A few changes were made for the 1956 model.  The Heather Rose and Sapphire White paint job was replaced with “Misty Orchid and “Regal Orchid” colors.  The purse was no longer an accessory. 
Over this two-year period less than 2,500 models were sold, so it is not surprising that the La Femme was discontinued at the end of the 1956 manufacturing season.

Why did this car not sale?  It’s hard to believe, gentlemen, but back in those ancient times many husbands actually were the “kings of their castles,” and as such maintained  veto power over large purchases. 

A typical guy back then might be thinking (yes, even back in those days, at times guys would actually think!) : “You know, if we buy this thing, at times I’ll get stuck driving it!  I’d have to drive this “girl-mobile” to work if my car was in the shop, and I’d be stuck with it whenever Martha needed the bigger car to take her friends someplace.” 

No self-respecting, he-man of the mid-fifties would be caught dead in a pink and white car that came with a purse, compact, lipstick case, and a rain bonnet.  Besides, the dashboard was pink and black!

The guys at the bowling alley might even kick the poor slob off the team if they saw him puttering down the street in a La Femme.  It was bad enough being caught in an Edsel!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Big 6-5

I remember distinctly, so many years ago, when my grandfather became eligible for Social Security and a then-rather new government program-Medicare.  As far as I was concerned, he had always been an old man, but at that point he seemed downright ancient.  Most certainly he had  been born not too many years after dirt was created.

But now, lo and behold, I’ve hit the big 6-5!  Upon turning 50 I could always convince myself that it was the new 40, and the age of 60 was the new 50, but when one receives both a Medicare card and a Silver Sneakers card the game is up.  Remember when Michael Jackson sang, “I’m bad; I’m bad?”  Well, now in my thoughts I’m humming: “I’m old; I’m old!”  I guess it beats the alternative.

No doubt that if the word gets out, at every street crossing some do-good-er boy scout will grab my arm and help me navigate to the other side.  Even worse, folks will get closer to my face and speak much louder, figuring that since I’ve entered my “golden years” I must be stone-deaf.

Unfortunately, some of my friends are aware of my birthday, so they sent me little jokes about aging, such as, “You’re getting old when you forget to zip up after using the restroom, but you’re really old when you forget to unzip before using it.”

Or, how about this one?  “ You’re really old when you realize that your Social Security number is 3.”

Somehow, these jokes are not quite as funny now that they refer to me!

A famous comedian once said that age is simply mind over matter; if you don’t mind it doesn’t matter.  The problem is, it does matter!

I’ve noticed in the last year or two that people have been addressing me differently.  For the first time in my life I’m being called “honey” by perfect strangers. Waitresses, salesladies, and receptionists have been calling me “sweetheart” and “dear.”  Why didn’t they address me that way when I was 30?  Maybe it’s meant as a compliment, but I hear aides and nurses using the same terms of endearment for 90-year-old guys in assisted living. 

During my childhood years I couldn’t understand why Dad, after a hard day’s work, wanted nothing more than to plant himself for the rest of the evening in his favorite chair.  Didn’t he realize how much fun it was to play touch football, softball, or basketball after supper?  Now I understand, for my “get up and go” has gotten up and gone.  Now my idea of a satisfying afternoon includes at least an hour for nap time, and I’ll take hot soup over a hot date any old time.

My wife, bless her heart, recently stated that I look as good now as I did 30 years ago.  Of course, that’s not true, but I appreciate the sentiment.  Perhaps she believes what she said, for being no spring chicken herself, her vision is not what it used to be. 

Denial is a handy psychological tool when dealing with senior citizenship.  Last week, while cleaning out the basement, I came across a pair of bell bottomed pants that must date back to at least the 1970s.  Just out of curiosity I tried them on.  The waist and the thighs were tight; in fact, I had a hard time breathing until I loosened some buttons.  Putting the pants aside, I rationalized that over the last forty or so years the material has shrunk. 

On the positive side, I’m now able to get all kinds of good things at discount prices, including food, drinks, and hotel rooms.  Of course, when the person working at the desk tells me that I’m getting a discount, he or she gets very close to my face and practically yells, but at least I get called “honey” or “sweetheart,” or “dear.”  That’s fine, just as long as they call me for supper.

One thing’s for certain: If I had known that I’d live this long I would have taken much better care of myself.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Laughter: The Best Medicine

* A farmer and his family lived an isolated life.  For the first time they visited the big city.  While the wife was shopping in another part of the department store, the father and son were mesmerized by two steel doors that opened, revealing a box in which people would walk into before the doors shut once again.  As they watched, an elderly lady went into the box.  The doors shut, but in thirty seconds they opened again, and out walked a beautiful twenty-something gal.  This seemed like magic to the farmer.  Looking at his son, he commanded: “Quick, go get your mom!”

* A burglar was sorting through a bedroom drawer when he heard a voice: “Jesus is watching you!”  Seeing no one around, he continued to do his thing.  Once again the voice said: “Jesus is watching you!”  Eventually, the burglar located a parrot in the corner of the room.  “Did you say that Jesus is watching me?” he asked the bird.  “Yep,” the bird replied.  “What’s your name, bird?”  “My name is Moses.”  “What kind of family would name a bird Moses?” the burglar pondered.  The parrot replied: “The same kind of family that names its rottweiler ‘Jesus.’”

* The teacher, a big Michigan fan, asked how many students would be rooting for the Wolverines in their big game against the Buckeyes.  Only little Jimmy did not raise his hand.  “For whom do you root?” the teacher inquired.  “I’m a Buckeye fan,” Jimmy proudly announced.  Indignant, the teacher asked, “How can you possibly root for the Buckeyes?”  “Well, my father is a Buckeye fan, my mother is a Buckeye fan, and my big brother is a Buckeye fan, so I‘m a Buckeye fan, too.”  “Well, if your father was an idiot, your mother was an idiot, and your big brother was an idiot, what would that make you?”  “That would make me a Michigan fan,” little Jimmy responded.

* Two juveniles were apprehended yesterday.  One had eaten stolen  candy while the other one had eaten a box of swiped fireworks.  The police charged one young man, but let the other one off.

* The church elders took bids on painting the exterior of the building.  One gentleman’s bid was so low that he easily won the job.  He was able to work at such a low rate because he had watered down the paint.  However, after the first hard rain, the paint was washed away.  When confronted, the man admitted his guilt and prayed to God:  “Please forgive me Lord, for I have sinned.”  In a few seconds he heard a booming voice from the sky:  “You are forgiven my son.  Repaint!  Repaint!  And thin no more!”

* A young couple was hiking through the woods.  Suddenly an angry bear appeared in front of them.  “What shall we do?”  the woman asked her husband.  “Slowly turn around.  Do not make eye contact with the bear.  You must walk slowly.  If you run you’ll excite it, and no human being can outrun a bear!”  A minute later the wife zipped past the husband.  “Dear,” he said, “remember, you can’t outrun that bear.”  “I’m not trying to outrun the bear,” she remarked.  “I’m trying to outrun you!”

* Recently I went to see a psychiatrist.  Her diagnosis was that I’m crazy.  “I want a second opinion,” I indignantly replied.  “Okay, you’re ugly, too!” she said.

* An elderly lady at a party confronted Winston Churchill.  “Sir, you are disgustingly drunk,” she said to the famous man.  Without missing a beat, he replied: “Yes, but I’ll be sober in the morning, but you’ll still be ugly.”

*I was so ugly that when I was born the doctor slapped my mom.

* A woman approached President Calvin Coolidge, who was known as a man of few words.  “Sir, I made a bet with my friends that I could get more than two words out of you.”  With a slight smile, he replied: “You lose.”

* I went to a fight last night and a hockey game broke out.

* Show me a man who opens a car door for his wife and I’ll show you a man who has either a new car or a new wife.

* A man is not complete until he’s married.  Then he’s finished.

* An angry wife packed her husband’s clothing and ordered him to leave.  As he was walking out the door, she exclaimed: “I hope you die a slow, painful death!”  Turning, he asked, “So, you want me to stay?”

* Did you ever wonder why a chicken coop has two doors?  Well, if it had four doors it would be a chicken sedan.

* I was on a diet for two weeks.  A friend asked how much I had lost.  “Fourteen days,” I replied.

* Recently I read that a champion horse was being retired to stud service.  Later, I said to my wife, “I think they should do to us retired men what they do to retired horses.”  “So, you want me to send you to a glue factory?” she asked.

* On a very cold night two Eskimos were paddling along in their kayak.  After stopping along the shore to gather wood, they started a fire on the floor of the boat.  Sadly, the kayak soon sank.  The moral of the story: You can’t have your kayak and heat it too.

* A three-legged dog limped into a bar and ordered a drink.  Turning to the other patrons, he announced: “I’m looking for the man who shot my paw.”

* A little boy was taken to the hospital after he had swallowed two nickels, a dime, and a quarter.  Upon seeing the nurse, the mother asked about her child’s condition.  “No change,” the nurse replied.

***  Now, go conquer the day with a smile on your lips and joy in your heart.