Wednesday, June 27

"You're Kidding Me... That's It!?!

My wonderful wife, Judi, is big on celebrating special events. Christmas, Easter, and immediate family member's birthdays rank at the top of her list. National holidays also get special attention, especially our nation's birthday. Long before the 4th of July dawns, Judi is scanning the "Up-coming Events" in the local paper to determine where the best parades and fireworks display are scheduled. Then she starts plotting our day's celebratory activities. This well-crafted plan has been implemented every summer without fail, but the summer of 2005 was most memorable, as it included a scheduled inclusion of the annual and infamous Kenneth City Fourth of July Parade.

Pinellas County (the county in which we reside) is comprised of twenty-four incorporated municipalities and twenty-one other "wide spots in the road" that to date have opted not to embody a stand alone government. It is the most densely populated county in Florida. Not the most populous. That distinction belongs to Dade County in which the City of Miami and the new Republic of Cuba co-exist. There are approximately 608 square miles of land mass in Pinellas County where one million of its residence fight daily for an available parking space. And right in the middle of this hustle and bustle sits little Kenneth City, its official name, I suspect, a well-intended misnomer. Calling itself a "city" is an exaggeration of gigantic proportions considering that only 4,400 folks reside within (give or take a birth or death every so often) the total town limits that only measure 7/10ths of a square mile. But boy howdy, do they put on one heck of a Fourth of July parade!!

Wishing to be the "first city" to roll out it's parade, Kenneth City slated its event to kick off at ten in the morning. We arrived around 9:30, set up our folding lawn chairs beside 58th street among a growing throng of other fellow attendees that numbered slightly above double figures, and settled back to await on what the pre-event promotions promised to be "a one of a kind event." And we waited. And waited some more, chalking up the delay to the admonition that one can't rush perfection. Uninterrupted vehicular traffic continued to travel the parade route, making us wonder whether some technical difficulty had befuddled the otherwise well-choreographed planning, or worse, the entire gala event had been unexpectedly canceled...perish the thought. Finally arriving at the intersection to our immediate left, a Barney Fife look-a-like emerged from his vintage 1960s squad car and proceeded to halt traffic from entering from the adjacent cross street. The festivities now appeared to be just moments away.

With a barrage of blaring horns and screaming sirens in the distance, Judi and I detected discernible movement among the larger parade units making their way slowly in our direction. Slowly they approached...creeping along. We calculated that at the rate they were flying down the parade route it would be close to noon before the first unit passed in front of us. The entire length of the route was perhaps a half mile in length at best, and that was spotting them a couple of hundred yards for good measure. The typically hot July sun was bearing unrelentingly down on us when our waining patience was rewarded with the arrival of the first unit in the parade; "His Honor The Mayor," riding in an open topped convertible that appeared to be in desperate need of a good washing. As the mayor waved enthusiastically to the on-lookers thinly dispersed along both sides of the road, his driver was engaged in tossing out rolled up pieces of paper that were tied with red, white, and blue ribbon. Several landed in our general vicinity and, upon closer inspection, turned out to be a 10% off coupon to His Honor's local barbershop. 15% off if you brought a friend. Such a deal!

The next convertible in line behind the Mayor's displayed a hand-lettered placard that announced the occupant was the Vice-Mayor of the city. However, unless the good citizens of Kenneth City were very liberal in the age limits as to whom they approved to hold office, the person listed on the sign was not the Vice Mayor. Instead sitting gaily on top of the back seat was a very young girl who was engaged in the fine art of blowing gigantic, pinkish bubblegum globes, her cheeks bulging like an over-inflated innertube. (We learned later that the Vice Mayor had been over come with another attack of gout and, rather than pull the entry from the parade, had solicited his 12 year old niece to fill in in his stead). Be that as it may, she was, nevertheless, quite the expert at blowing bubbles. She received several sporatic rounds of approving applause for her efforts.

The final automobile in line contained, according to the printed placard, the whole of the city council. Apparently they didn't warrant a convertible, but were consigned to a sedan wherein appeared there were a half dozen sweating and disheveled men and women trying with minimal success to extend their arms and hands out the windows to wave at we on-lookers. There seemed to be a goodly amount of jostling and heated disagreements among the vehicle's occupants. So much so that the distracted driver was having some difficulty in attempting to maintain the car pointed in a straight line.

We were expecting a marching band. What kind of a parade is it without a marching band? But there as no marching band in this year's Kenneth City Fourth of July Parade. We later learned t the tuba player had taken ill, the trumpet player had been arrested the previous night for getting an early head start on the up-coming holiday festivities, and the chief majorette had eloped with the drum major, who absentmindedly had packed the band's music in his luggage along with the couple's tickets to Bush Gardens. Substituting were two children dressed in clown suits who were more or less twirling batons, followed by a third smallish child-clown leading a pony in tow with a monkey on its back. The monkey was waving an American flag and perfoming back flips. Judi and I made side bets that the band, had they been able to perform as planned, wouldn't have been able to hold a candle to the monkey.

Then the blockbuster segment of the parade came rolling by, comprised of two firetrucks (one of which belonged to an adjacent municipality) with their emergency lights ablaze. The Public Works Department followed next with their entry, a garbage truck festooned in patriotic bunting. What these units lacked in originality they more than made up in noise. Both the firetrucks ceaselessly blared their horns and sounded their ear-piercing sirens. The garbage truck, not to be undone, answered with a steady blast of its window-shattering air horns. None of the onlookers waved. We were too busy covering our ears.

We were spellbound. What could possibly be next? Apparently nothing. The end of the parade was unceremoniously concluded with the arrival of another early model Ford police car driven by the town's Chief of Police. The Chief had an enormously large, lit cigar between his grinning teeth and his regulation uniform cap pulled two inches down over his ears. His sideburns flapping in the breeze was a nice added touch. Undaunted, he went determinately about his assigned task to clear the street of parade revelers so to open the road once again to commerce. That was it! Unless you count the little old lady that was still driving the very first car she had ever owned, a 1949 Buick, and who appeared hellbent on passing the Chief's car at the very first opportunity that presented itself. We were pretty sure it was a little old lady, or else a very short elderly man wearing a blue wig.

All Judi and I could do was look at each other...and laugh. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. We were all set to return to our car and head home when a loudspeaker announcement came from across the street. "Join us in the Kenneth City picnic shelter for free hot dogs and lemonade." "Why not," we thought. What's a Fourth of July celebration without a good hot dog and a cold glass of lemonade?

Post Script: Kenneth City didn't have a fireworks display scheduled for later that evening. Based on the parade, it's probably a good thing.

Tuesday, June 26

The Roads From Whence I've Come...

I am named after both of my grandfathers; James on my father's side and Allen on my mother's. I don't remember much about my father's parents except they were apparently old to begin with. My grandmother, according to my father, began the popular movement "Hypochondria." She was either really ill or thought she should be all of the time. Whether for real or imagined, Grandmother Latchford refused to follow any of her many physician's orders, particularly as it pertained to taking her prescribed medications. She just flat refused. This irrational approach to her personal well-being exasperated my father to no end. "She thinks she knows more than her doctors!" my father would lament. "She'd just as soon cut off her own nose to spite her face!" This latter sentiment, in one form or another, remained an oft repeated stable of my father's philosophical outlook for years to come. Whatever in fact were grandmother's real ailments, when combined with her unwavering stubbornness, the ultimate end result was to bring to fruition one of my father's more dire predictions, "If she keeps this up , she'll be dead in six months!." He pretty much nailed that one.

Now my Dad's dad, on the other hand, was of much heartier stock; he having labored in the steel mills and on the railroad in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania throughout his adult life. "Grandpap" Latchford abhorred idleness. One of my most vivid memories was watching him clipping the individual blade tops off the grass in our front yard. He remained diligently at that task for hours and appeared genuinely contented in doing so. He passed away at 93. Knowing how feisty he was throughout his long life, I wouldn't have been surprised to learn that the morticians had to use duct tape to keep him in the casket.

My most endearing and fondest recollections of "grandparents" came from my mother's side of the family; Allen and May D Brown. These were people of the "good earth." Farmers. They resided on a spread of some considerable magnitude approximately fifteen miles northwest, as the crow flies, from Statesville, North Carolina. "Going to town," in the time of my early youth, meant a trip to the "City" of Statesville, containing within its city limits a population of around 25,000, and its principle enterprise being to cater to the surrounding agricultural communities. Once one ventured in any given compass direction beyond the town limits, one was immediately immersed in "the sticks." May D's and Allen's farm could best be described as being significantly beyond that designation, so far out were they from urbanized civilization. Still, for my younger brother John and me, it was an oasis of limitless opportunities to explore and find ways to get into mischief.

My Grandfather Allen, to be generous to a fault, was in today's parlance "a player." He sired three children with May D; my mother, Emily Sue, the oldest - son Cecile Albert - the middle offspring, and his youngest daughter, Shirley. Allen also allegedly made frequent forays into the hills and valleys of rural Iredell County to pay his respects to other female acquaintances, these indiscretions ultimately being the root cause that lead to May D and Allen eventually declaring their marriage a lost cause. Although we didn't know it at the time, my brother and I most likely met one of Grandfather Allen's female dalliances, Ms. Beulah. Ms. Beulah defined what it meant to be poor in the rural south. I do not recall that she was much of a looker, but I do remember her to be slender and cute in an unkempt sort of way. She apparently had an aversion to wearing shoes, and this dislike spilled over to her offspring who came pouring barefoot out of their dilapidated house upon our arrival like circus clowns clamoring head-over-heels from an impossibly smallish car. I do not recall the final count of the smudged-faced children of all sizes and ages that ran to greet "Uncle" Allen, but any decent sized pot roast would be hard pressed to survive a meal with that bunch. If there was a Mr. Beulah, he was no where to been seen, and Ms. Beulah appeared to be more than passingly enamored with Allen's presence than otherwise would be the case had the visit been merely a courtesy call from her landlord. Brother John and I, oblivious to the real intent of these on-going visits, spent many a happy hour playing with her gaggle of kids (some of which I must faithfully admit may have been "kin") while "Uncle" Allen ensconced himself indoors with Ms. Beulah counting and recounting the rent receipts.

My most endearing memories encircle Grandmother Brown. "May D," as everyone called her. The ruling patriarch of the Brown clan. The "D" was to connote her maiden name, Douglas, another prominent family name that had established deep roots sunk into the fertile soil in that particular part of North Carolina. If "Grandpap" Latchford was rightly declared to be "feisty," May D in turn could pin him to the mat in a best two out of three wrestling match. I do not recall ever seeing Grandmother without an apron tied loosely around her diminutive waist that she would use in turn to wipe either her hands or brow. She was always in the midst of cooking a big meal or getting ready to do so. Her clapboard house was filled with the combined aromas of roasted peanuts, fried chicken and pound cake, the latter being so sweet as to persuade the most hardened criminal to reject his misguided ways. She cooked on an ancient wood-fired stove that gave off enough heat to fry an egg fifty feet from the back door. It was Brother John's and my responsibility during our frequent visits to provide May D with an ample and constant supply of chopped wood to keep her cast iron monster sated. I wasn't any less capable of fulfilling that obligation than was my brother, but I was usually more readily at hand while Brother John was off to places unknown devising more ways to get into trouble. Like the time May D caught him trying to stuff one of the family's farm dogs into the top of an open milk can."John! John!" she screeched as she came flying out of the house. "Get up from there and let that poor dog loose! I'm gonna get me a switch and tan your hide!!" When May D got riled her voiced elevated several octaves, sounding like rusty hinges on a broken screen door. But you had best "mind" her then and there or most assuredly she'd cut a stout sprig from the nearest available bush and come after you with fire in her eyes. Brother John had more than just a few occasions when the promise of grandmother's wrath came to fruition on his bare backside.

The poultry population that had free range on the Brown farm had learned to be especially wary of May D. John and I learned this early one Sunday morning when Grandmother came flying around the house at full bore just behind a flailing hen. Reaching out with the business end of a metal clothes hanger, May D precisely matched every move the chicken devised to allude its determined pursuer. To no avail. With a quick jerk of her wrist, the open hook found its mark around the hen's neck and the chase came to an abrupt conclusion. With a quick snap of the hens feathery neck the poor bird was rendered among the newly departed and one step closer to finding its remains in a boiling pot of water. Said Grandmother, "How 'bout that boys? We're fixin' to have fried chicken for Sunday dinner!!"

May D had few opportunities for relaxation and even fewer personal vices. As for the former she most enjoyed a bit of television and for the latter she most thoroughly enjoyed "taking a dip of snuff now and then." The two were most often combined when she would settle herself down in her well worn easy chair, aligned in front of her black and white television set, and tune in Saturday Night Pro Wrestling. Packing her lower lip with a goodly wad of snuff, she'd begin to narrate the action in the ring. It wouldn't be long before her emotions had elevated to a fever pitch and she was screaming at the screen. She'd hurl herself forward in the recliner, grab her Maxwell House Coffee spit can, deposit an oily stream, and shout, "Lord God, Jimmy! He's a gonna kill that poor man!! Help him! Oh him!!" Nothing the wrestlers could do on screen could come anywhere close to the entertainment value Grandmother provided us on a Saturday night pro wrestling night.

A road trip with Grandmother Brown with her at the wheel was always a harrowing adventure. She owned a 50-something Bellaire Chevrolet. It's exterior paint scheme being an undecided blend of advancing rust and "I think it use to be some shade of green." It was operated with a standard three speed transmission on the steering column, a simplistic means to shift from one gear to the next, that May D never ever mastered. Raw coffee beans are ground with less ferocity than she employed trying to select any gear that would finally and decidedly get the car moving forward. Often times she could be seen, but more often than not, heard cursing at the top of her lungs as she mercilessly ground through the gears, lunging the car either backwards or forwards in a feeble but determined effort to finally point the vehicle towards the end of the driveway. Depending upon the level of success she experienced on any given day, a few minutes or upwards of a half hour would transpire before the daunting task was accomplished, and with highway 115 looming just ahead she'd yell, "Let's go!" Into the passenger side's open door we would bound, with me in the middle on the bench seat next to May D and Brother John holding down the "shotgun" position. With the accelerator smashed to the floor and the brake nearly so, we'd creep ever so slowly and hesitantly to the very end of the driveway. There we would pause again for an indeterminate period of time as Grandmother would repeatedly scan in both directions, making sure, we supposed, that Patton's 3rd mechanized army wasn't about to suddenly appear coming over the rise. Finally, with a renewed roar of the engine and another half pound of gear changing, we were headed "up the road" to wherever May D deemed was to be the destination of the day.

Seat belts were as foreign in passenger cars in those days as were Republicans in the tobacco fields. May D gripped the steering wheel as though it would be wrenched from her hands at any moment ands discarded out her open side window. Brother John and I were constantly casting about for any available secure handholds, trying to remain in an upright position as May D darted back and forth across the road at the breakneck speed of 35 miles per hour, desperately trying to keep the car out of the ditches and away from the mailboxes along the way. And to make things even more interesting, Grandmother had a very specific and well devised plan at the ready if and when our travels would require crossing railroad tracks, the necessity of which she attempted to avoid at any cost. Stopping right in the middle of the road at the ultimate safe distance of at least a hundred feet before crossing the tracks, May D would instruct either me or my brother to exit the car, run up to the tracks, and making sure no train was approaching, wave her on across. She even encouraged us to put our ears to the rail to listen for the distant rumble of an approaching train...just to be on the "safe side." Whichever one of us was selected as "scout" had the better end of the deal, as the other one was left unbuckled in the car with a mad woman!

If the rails transversed any of the many dirt roads that proliferated in that neck of the back country, the task of crossing the tracks became even more of an ordeal. This unexpected event occurred the first time John and I were accompanying Grandmother on a trip to visit "Little Grandmother," May D's mother. Suddenly she slammed on the brakes for what we thought was for no apparently visible reason, and as the trailing cloud of dust filled the interior of the car, Grandmother shouted above the roar of the engine, "Get out of the car, John!" No doubt believing the previous incident with the dog and the milk can was about to have a final retribution, John asked with no little concern in his voice, "Why, Grandmother?" "Cause there's railroad tracks up ahead and I want to make sure we ain't about to get run over!" We both scanned the road ahead as far as we could through the remaining remnants of the dissipating dust cloud and could just begin to see the faint outline far in the distance of the distinct cross buck sign warning of a railroad crossing. She gave brother his instructions and John leaped from the car as though he'd been given permission to consume all of the hard candy at the local country store. About a minute later, John was standing atop the rise in the road where the tracks crossed. Then, a few seconds later, he flashed the "Come on ahead. It's clear" signal. "Hang on!!"shouted May D, and after a few predictable fits and starts, she found a gear that began to propel us forward. Steadily gaining speed it became frightfully obvious to me that we were about to break May D's all time best miles per hour record, as the distance between where we started from a standing stop to where Brother John was even now fleeing for cover was diminishing rapidly. We just didn't cross the railroad track...the car literally went airborne as we topped the rise. I knew but few snatches of Christian hymns in my early formative years, but "Nearer To Thee Oh God" came to mind as May D's Bellaire left the ground and pointed skyward. What seemed to me like an eternity before coming to ground once again occurred with a resounding thud with May D slamming on the brakes with all her strength. The car slid to a stop more or less sideways while the engine continued to scream at the top of its RPM range. Brother John came bounding joyously through the returning dust storm and shouted, "That was great, Grandmother!! Let's do it again!!" And we did...on the return trip back to the farm. But this time I got to be the "scout." I figured that I shouldn't be the only one in our immediate family that summer's afternoon who came face-to-face with a near death experience.

Then there was the time a number of years later when May D discharged her 22 caliber revolver through her front door at me and my best friend. But that is another story for another time. Suffice it to say that visits with May D were a genuine "hoot!" It's admittedly a well-worn phrase to say that "they broke the mold" after God made May D. Brown. But as far as unique personalities go, she indeed was "one of a kind."

Saturday, June 23

"Dang...That Was Close!!"

I live in the "Lightening Capital Of The United States." Don't believe me? Check out the map at left. Admittedly it isn't the best map to illustrate my point, but if you look closely - find Florida first, then the Tampa Bay & St. Petersburg area, which is about half way up the state on the left - and you'll see this is the only location throughout the entire United State that gets graded 100 on the scale. Rwanda, Africa, however, holds the distinct honor of being the Lightening Capital of the world, receiving 2.5 more strikes per year than our area. God help those poor, unfortunate souls if their storms are any more intense than are ours...because we get some duzzies!!

The weather here is pretty docile from late fall until late in the spring. However, when the "rainy season" kicks in and the humidity starts to climb to the point where it's literally running off the tip of your nose, then it's "Katy bar the door" for your daily, garden-variety thunderstorms. Florida, being a peninsular state surrounded on three sides by vast expanses of water, has sea breezes coming in off of the Gulf of Mexico on the west side and from the Atlantic on the east. Depending on which way the breeze is blowing on any given day dictates from which direction we are most likely to get clobbered. And when the two sea breezes complete for dominance, that's when all hell usually breaks loose.

I'm not a fan of lightening and have not been since before I can remember. My parents told me that when I was just a toddler I was standing between them at the front window watching a particularly nasty storm when a lightening bolt struck just across the street. They said I jumped back, knocking both of them over. I'm pretty sure they embellished the story a bit, but that first up close and personal encounter with lightening apparently left an indelible impression on my psychic that had ample opportunity to blossom into a full-blown phobia in my later younger years.

I grew up in rural North Carolina. We lived on a small, six-acre tract of land that my father nourished from being woefully dilapidated into a show piece of horticulture excellence. If a particular fruiting plant had any chance of growing in our area of North Carolina, my father would stick it in the ground and dictate that my younger brother and I were to cultivate it and harvest the resulting crop. One of his favorite plants were strawberries and we had a "patch" just this side of being the size of Rhode Island. My brother, three years my junion, and I could start on one long row and by the time we got to the other end more strawberries had ripened from whence we came. At the height of strawberry pickin' season it was a never ending battle to try and stay ahead of these little red boogers. And the height of the strawberry season was also dead in the middle of summer thunderstorm season!

As my fate would plague me, Thor, the mythical god of thunder, conspired on one particular summer's afternoon to whip up one of his better efforts while my brother and I were in the middle of the patch. It only took a hint of thunder to get my undivided attention and with the first faint sound of a distant rumbling I was ready to head to the house. My father, however, had other ideas. We were to remain at our task until he declared that the approaching storm was of sufficient intensity to warrant immediate shelter. I had always regarded my father as being fearless, but on this particular day I was convinced that his personal bravado was most assuredly going to get my brother and me killed.

The low distant rumbles steadily evolved over a very few minutes into what sounded like a thousand crazed musicians vying to out do each other on kettle drums. The skies continued to darken, boil and lower ominously with the storm's advancing wall cloud rolling steadily in our direction like an unstoppable tsunami. A rush of wind swept past us and the air suddenly became charged with static electricity. My mind was filled with terror as I recounted all of the safety tips one is suppose to know if unfortunately caught out in the open in a thunderstorm. "Avoid being the tallest object and stay low to the ground." I was already blending in with the strawberry plant's root system! "Avoid holding or being near any mental object." "Great," thought I, " I'm going to die holding my Mother's metal cooking pan filled with strawberries, and when they find me I'll be nothing more than blackened charcoal and the strawberries will have turned into congealed jam!"

And then it happened...the mother of all lightening strikes ripped out of the sky and a struck a pine grove not 50 yards from where we were. Bolt upright I shot, strawberries being flung in all directions, and Mother's cooking pan landing some yards behind me as I turned tail and fled like a crazed maniac toward the safety of our house. My brother and I reached the back door at approximately the same instance where our Dad greeted us with a less than pleased look on his face. "Where's the strawberries? " "Pick your own damn strawberries!" my brother shouted as he pushed his way past Dad and me into the kitchen beyond. Even at the tender age of nine, I recognized brother John had a promising flair for the English language.

I have managed to learn to cope with my abject fear of lightening over my maturing years. I've pretty much given up hiding under the bed and sucking my thumb when a "really bad one" comes rolling through. However, I'm not quite ready to give up ear plugs or my snuggle bunny. Even now, as I gaze out my window, I hear Mother Nature cranking up yet another ear-splitter!

DANG...That Was Close!! Gotta go!!

Thursday, June 21


Wide awake at two a.m. again! Seems like this is getting to be more and more of a pattern. I climbed into bed around 11:30 last night convinced that I would have no difficulty drifting off to sleep. Wrong. It's really starting to get on my nerves. Seems like no matter what I try to do to induce sleep, the mere act of will power to do so defeats me every time. I read somewhere that if you worry about falling asleep to quit worrying. This type of inane advice is about as useless as telling as person that has just struck their thumb with a hammer that, "It'll feel a lot better once it quits hurting." kidding Sherlock!!

Not that this difficulty occurs every night, but often enough that I'm growing tired (pardon the pun) of the frequency. I can be watching the late night news and am aware that my eyelids are growing heavy. Switch off the TV and I'm instantly wide awake. Even if I put on the timer...when the TV turns itself off, it turns me back on! Reading a book, I find myself unable to focus. Turn off the light and "I'm good to go" to read another ten chapters. Frustrated doesn't quite describe my utter sense of frustration.

I envy our two adult house cats. These two creatures have the uncanny ability to fall fast asleep at any time and in any place...and they do so the majority of their days and nights. I'm thinking that these felines are revealing to me an important lesson. Their existence comprises little more strenuous activity than to lounge around all day. In other words, they are permanently retired. They have no stress in their responsibilities other than to occasionally take sustenance, visit their litter box, and keel over from apparent exhaustion. I should have such a life!

Perhaps in a few more years I too can adopt such a life style when I retire from the work-a-day world. No need to set the alarm, or check my appointment book, or worry about the work still remaining to be accomplished in my "In Box." Just take on sustenance as required, visit the litter box when the occasion demands, and keel over from exhaustion.

In the mean time I'm in desperate need of sleep. Pardon me while I go lie down. Keep your fingers crossed. I am.

Wednesday, June 20

"You Win Some...And You Lose Some..."

I was asked to "sit in" on a session of Divorce Care last evening, a support group that is hosted every Tuesday in my church. The purpose and reason for this invitation was so that I (and next week my wife, Judi) could become familiar with how a session is typically conducted. The stalwart leaders of this most needed and well attended program wish to be out of town on Tuesday, July 3rd and need two devoted and caring substitute leaders to "step in" and facilitate the class on their behalf. Since Judi and I are trained as "facilitators" for a self-improvement course entitled "Dynamic Marriage," we were recognized as being the most optimal choice. We are honored and proud to be of that limited service.

Last evening number twelve in a continuous series of thirteen sessions was presented, the topic being "reconciliation," a tough nut to crack for many in the room who are either in the throes of an imminent divorce or who are now beyond the final decree of its permanency. To ask these men and women to consider the idea of reconciling with a "life partner" who has inflicted at minimum deep emotional pain on their psychics and the lingering pain and anger that results challenges even the most benevolent and caring human being perhaps beyond the realm of possibility. Still, there are varying and specific degrees of reconciliation, all of which were highlighted and discussed during the course of the sharing session, from learning to be and practicing cordiality towards one's former spouse, to full restoration of the relationship. Each type, each level, if you will, has its own inherent benefits to one's ability to move forward with their lives. And to move forward with their individual lives, without languishing in their past, yet learning from their past, is the only course by which a divorced individual can face and conquer each new day with a true sense of purpose, expectation and hope. To that degree and to that desired end result I offered those in attendance the following story.

Every spring thousands upon thousands of sock-eyed salmon leave the vast ocean waters surrounding Alaska and seek the tributaries from whence each was spawned. Swimming in mass they make their way laboriously up the rivers then streams in quest of their origin of birth, to spawn and then to die. Yet still they pursue that finality with a determination not to be denied by any obstacle that may lie in their watery path. The perils that lie before them are numerous and many succumb before completing their journey. Onward the survivors swim, swelling the narrowing streams with their numbers until they reach a series of rapids where each must muster whatever strength may be left within them to leap upwards and over the impeding falls.

Striding atop these falls await dozens of ravenous grizzly bears that have come to feast upon the bounty that literally leap into their waiting jaws. The most favored spots above the falls are jealously held by those bears who have gained their cherished spots through physical dominance, many displaying the tell-tell scars of past fierce conflicts to proclaim their right to perch in expectant anticipation of the promised meal of fat salmon coming their way. For those bears less dominate, they must resign themselves to other less desirable and productive locations along the stream, having to work harder, expending more energy, to catch their fill. And so the salmon the dozens...and by the dozens they are snatched into the waiting jaws and outstretched claws of their waiting predators. Yet, by the dozens, many salmon successfully navigate the falls and escape to swim to their final destiny.

So, what is the lesson to be learned from this story? Many salmon survive to continue onward to dance the dance of renewed life for a new generation of salmon. And true, as is the way of nature, many meet a premature demise. Some of the bears eat their fill while others go wanting. Not all journeys in life are going to have favorable outcomes. There are no guarantees in this life that our lives will always be endowed with only good blessings...nor can we through our own devices and schemes guarantee such favorable outcomes. We are human and fallible...far from perfect. In life we risk ourselves and by doing so we leave ourselves vulnerable to the possible slings and arrows of rejection. Far too often we blame ourselves unmercifully for these soul deadening shortfalls, thus turning inward on ourselves to embrace self doubt and mind numbing anger. Reconciliation, therefore, only becomes truly possible on a grander and more palatable level when its pursuit begins far closer to home than many are willing to recognize or accept.

For me reconciliation must be a two part process. First I must reconcile myself to God and recognize that He accepts me for who I am right this minute...warts and all...past failings and all. It is only through His unfailing love and mercy that my past transgressions can be erased and forgiven. Secondly, having realized and accepted that God is God and I am not, I must be prepared to accept myself as God accepts me. I cannot relive the past nor erase the pain that was inflicted upon me or I upon another human being. What is past is past and I must be willing to reconcile myself not only to that which has transpired, but to that which lies ahead. In this self-reconciliation lies the promise of future wherein the peace of God's providing allows me to come to a place where I can reconcile with others. Bottom line...reconciliation, peace, acceptance and mercy must begin with a far higher power than me. And for me, that higher power is God.

"All of this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of conciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's (and women's) sin's against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation." - 2 Corinthians 5:18-19

Saturday, June 16

Navagating Without A Compass...

I'm in the midst of reading the latest book by Bill Bryson entitled "The Life and Times of the THUNDERBOLT KID." It is a humorous memoir of young Billy's childhood life as he grew up in Des Moines, Iowa in the 50's and 60's. Mr. Bryson is uniquely gifted in his abilities to translate that which would appear on the surface to be the mundane occurrences of coming of age in any given mid-western setting; and, with a liberal injection of journalistic embellishment, translates his youthful journey into a side-splitting adventure. I read selected excerpts last evening to my wife while lying in bed and we laughed so uproariously that it brought us both to tears. These anecdotal musings reminded Judi of the time in our early marriage of a foray we unexpectedly took while visiting our nation's capital. She suggested I recount that adventure as a story to be shared in my blog. I offer it, also with my own admitted embellishments, as follows...

Judi's son Christopher, by her first marriage, had previously returned to Bowie, Maryland to live with his Dad, having determined after three years living with us in Florida that the cooler climes to be found above the Mason-Dixon Line better suited his temperament. It was on the up-coming occasion of his graduation from high school that I, Judi, and our five year old daughter, Megan, would make the trek north to witness this special event. We stayed in Rockville, Maryland with a Mary Kay business acquaintance of Judi's, making daily trips via the Metro subway system into Washington. D.C. proper. Judi, prior to moving permanently to Florida, had spent a number of her early adult years employed "On the Hill." She had fond memories of the city, but, as it turned out, a poor sense of direction.

We enjoyed and were proudly fascinated by all the many historical tourist opportunities that D.C. offers at the dozens of venues throughout the city. We visited all the major points of interest...the White House, the Capital Building, the Lincoln Memorial, numerous museums, and the Washington Monument. It was in the latter edifice, while walking up the 897 steps to top observation level, I encountered a young female teenager on her way down. I asked her in passing, "How much further to the top? " She replied, "You're about half way up." I thanked her and turned to continue my journey upwards when she followed up with a question of her own, "How far is it to the bottom?" My first thought was, "Did I hear her correctly?" I looked closely into her eyes to determine if she realized that she had just asked probably the stupidest question of the day! There appeared to be no recognition of that probability, so I replied, "Well, my guess would be that based on your estimation on how far I am from the top, you should be about half way to the bottom." She thanked me sincerely and continued confidently downward. I wonder to this day if she ever found her way to ground level. But I digress...

I previously failed to note that son, Christopher, also accompanied us on our daily "walks" around the city. He, unfortunately, was somewhat limited in his mobility, being propelled forward on crutches as a result of a severely sprained ankle suffered while playing soccer. No complaints from him, however, as he gamely hobbled along doing his best to stay in close proximity to the rest of the family.

It was late in the afternoon, after having visited the Viet Nam Memorial, that Judi suggested that "we walk a few blocks to China Town and have dinner" in one of the many fine Chinese restaurants that are located in that part of the city, assuring us, as best her memory could recollect, that the "walk" would be but a few blocks. Off we started, the sun beginning to sink in the west, daughter Megan being passed back and forth between Judi and me with son Chris bringing up the rear. And on we walked and Chis hobbled...and walked and hobbled...and walked and hobbled some more, with Judi, less assuredly now, proclaiming that "we had to be close." The shadows between the buildings became deeper and more foreboding. The sidewalks dissolved from the congestion of dozens of people going about their work-a-day business to being sparsely stalked by less savory inhabitants of the evening...all looking at us, we surmised and feared, as likely prey. The street lights flickered on finally...and on we walked...and hobbled...becoming more and more concerned with each passing, dread-filled minute that our destination lay in any direction other than the one by which we were transversing. Desperation now became our watchword. Hunger drove us less forward than our own sense of self-preservation. This nightmare of uncertainty, we prayed, had to come to an end soon.

Finally...thank the Lord...we rounded a darkened corner and Judi proclaimed that China Town lay just ahead!It was hardly what I was expecting, remembering previous visions of China Towns in other large metropolitan cities that gaudily proclaim their existence with an explosion of eye-popping colored lights and banners. This China Town, by contrast, looked more like it had been recast out of the old west, drab in comparison with the few illuminated storefronts appearing to me more likely to house laundries than eating establishments. Yet, each represented an oasis to us, so welcome were we to see the conclusion of our hours-long journey. "See," said Judi triumphantly and joyfully, "I told you it was just around the block!"

I do not recall what we ordered for dinner that night. I do remember that it was around eight or nine o'clock in the evening and we were the only patrons being warmly welcomed and lavisly catered to by our most hospitable Chinese host. The meal I'm sure was a degree above delicious. Even had it been less so, it more than satisfied the pallets of a family of four who vowed never again to allow "Mother" to suggest where we might partake of our next dinner "out on the town" without being assured that she had an up-to-date map. Better yet...she can make the suggestion and I'll provide the navigation.

Thursday, June 14

Fabric Of Honor...

230 years ago to the day, the Second Continental Congress by proclamation adopted "Old Glory" as our nation's flag, albeit with 37 less stars than adorn her field of blue today. In 1916, then President Woodrow Wilson issued a decree that officially established this date, June 14th, to henceforth be recognized as "Flag Day." It wasn't until 1949 that Congress got on board by passing legislation that officially designated June 14th as "National Flag Day." Thirteen years between Wilson's proclamation and Congress acting in concert seems about right for that august body's deliberative skills. But I digress...

I tried in vain to search the WEB in hopes of finding a particular photograph that depicted a explosive surge in "flag waving patriotism" that occurred nationwide following 911. Perhaps it was a commercial aired on television as opposed to a single photograph, but I distinctly recall a long rows of townhouses on either side of a typical American residential street that prior to 911 had perhaps one or two American flags waving in the breeze. The next scene - post 911 - returned to that same street view. This time every home was festooned with Old Glory filling the screen with an explosion of red, white and blue, tugging deeply and profoundly at one's patriotic heartstrings. I wonder if that same street would be as equally decorated with our nation's flag on this commemoration day. Like the fabric on which our flag is imprinted, memories and motivations fade.

I am encouraged, however, by an article that appeared in today's issue of the Detroit Free Press in which it is reported by national retailers that U.S. flag sales are rebounding significantly since the unprecedented sales that were stimulated immediately following 911. The increase in flag sales seem to be attributable to middle America's desire to be more visible in support, not of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan per se, but for the men and women who are immersed in fighting these wars. And the demographics of flag purchasers are also shifting from the more traditional age group base of 35 and over to younger citizens who wish to honor and support friends and loved ones serving our military. Said one young college student quoted in the article, "Flying the flag symbolizes a lot to me. My parents raised me to understand what it means. There are people who die for our freedom."

Eloquent in its simplicity, his understanding of the deep rooted traditional symbolism that the flag represents underscores an inborn sense of national pride of who were are and from whence we have come. As a people we are today a nation divided philosophically, ideologically and politically, engaging in heated and vitriolic debates about the means and methods by which to confront the forces of the radical religion inflamed evil that would purge our way of life. Yet underlying these debates beats the hearts of the true Americans who recognize and honor the goodness that our country symbolizes, a shining light of hope and freedom for a world that would otherwise plunge itself into a darkness of repression and despair.

There remains some among us who refuse to fly our flag in protest to what they perceive as a misguided quest for America to be the sole arbitrator of what is good for the world. There are others that would strike a match to the flag and spit on its ashes to denounce their allegiance to this nation that nevertheless guarantees unwaveringly their right to exercise such a personal protest. I find fault myself with much that our country is doing and has done in the name of preservation. Yet, because America allows me to disagree with her without fear of reprisal, it is this freedom, and for the men and women who stand in harm's way to protect this freedom, I choose to proclaim her as the gift from the God from which this nation was birthed. To fly her flag and proudly so remains an honor for which I will always give humble thanks.

Wednesday, June 13

"It's A Far, Far Better Thing That I Do Than I've Ever Done Before"

It is becoming apparent to me that I am to celebrate Father's Day this coming Sunday. Not unlike my paying attention to any degree to my birthdays that are now coming more frequently with each passing year, I haven't given much personal thought to "doing something special" for Father's Day. My wife, Judi, and daughter, Megan, seem to place more importance on the day than do I. I suppose that's a good thing. Hopefully I'm not coming off sounding like an old fuddy-duddy, I'm just not bent in the direction of having anyone making a fuss over me.

By all means I'm not discounting the importance of there being a strong "Father figure" in the home. Nor do I attribute "Fatherhood" with possessing any greater or lesser importance and significance than there also being a strong "Mother figure" in the domestic mix. Both are equally important and the absence of either diminishes the potential of well-rounded growth for the children under their tutelage. I am also not discounting the many documented successes that single parent families have had and are having in the area of child rearing. But "to go it alone" in this most important arena makes it doubly difficult if not exponentially more so when a parent must struggle to master the task of being both parents. Two less one doesn't equal one when the one remaining parent has to become two. It just doesn't add up...and the child often suffers the does the in-home parent.

Other than the tragic loss of a parent due to death, I grieve and am angered by this unnecessary occurrence when it is as a result of a divorce. The emotional pain that the child experiences in such situations is soul deadening, and the wounds may never fully heal, often manifesting themselves in later adult life when the children themselves fail in their own marriages. We in American have come to accept the epidemic divorce rate of over 51% of all marriages as a tide that cannot be reversed. The casualties of this mind set only serves to fuel future generations who will come to regard marriage as being no more sacred than a contract for services that can be abandoned "for cause." For the sake of our nation's children, our cause need be the re-institution of the family as the glue which holds this nation together. If family fails to be sacred, to be cherished, and in need of fierce protection, then little else will.

Some wise person once said to fathers, "If you want to truly love your children, love their mother." I don't think more profound or worthwhile advice could be offered. Love is all about commitment and commitment is all about sacrifice. Though the work involved at times may seem daunting, the dividends of a happy family make it all worthwhile. God gave me two very special wife and my daughter. I in turn gave myself two jobs to love my wife and to love my daughter. I am happily employed. Maybe this Sunday I will get a nice paisley tie out of this thing called "Fatherhood."

Wednesday, June 6


I have been a fledgling member of the Blogging community since January of this year. Apparently I am far from being alone in this journalistic pursuit. Since 1999, when a user-friendly platform became widely available for public utilization, over 50 million "blogs" have found their place on the World Wide Web, with that number being approximated to double every six months. That's a lot of folks "just shootin' the breeze."

Since beginning to dabble in producing my personal observations on a semi-frequent basis, I have been able thus far to explore but a small sampling of the myriad of blogs that populate the "Blogosphere." Having just barely dipped my index finger into the mega-multitude of blogs that are but a keystroke away, the conclusion best drawn is that there is no subject under the sun that someone isn't actively expounding upon. The contents of the blogs are as individualistic as the persons penning each, running the gamut from "I got up this morning and brushed my teeth," to scholarly dissertations on the full spectrum of global maladies, to scandalous and malicious rants, and all shades and hues of subject fodder in between. So be it. That is the beauty and, many would just as quickly say, the scourge of this free form method of self-expression.

Opinions proliferate as to why the "blogging" phenomena has become so popular among the proletariat. I offer mine. I think many who have turned to this form of expression do so not necessarily out of a need to be creative or entertaining, but just to be heard...even if no one is listening, or in the case of a blog, reading what one has to say. The average American citizen has become more and more isolated (read "frustrated, exasperated, resigned") from having a meaningful voice in the national discourse. We are marginalized at best and at worse ignored all together. Our elected representatives talk ceaselessly about acting in the public's best interest, but concoct narrow agenda driven solutions behind closed doors that serve only their personal ideologies and/or the powerful lobbies that underwrite their political futures. To "blog" is to cut to the chase, circumventing nonproductive letters to the editor and calls to our government representatives. The end result may be the same - "No one is paying any attention to us" - but at least we've been able to vent our immediate frustrations and take swipes at windmills of our own choosing.

Secondly, unless one is a total recluse, many people seek personal recognition or at least affirmation that they have intrinsic worth, deserve to be counted, and that their opinions and thoughts matter. Deep down in all of us I believe there is a veiled desire to obtain some level of notoriety, to grab the proverbial brass ring, and experience our own fifteen minutes of fame. Through the vehicle of blogging a person is given a stage on which to display their creativity and a world-wide audience that may in turn applaud their efforts. To have a blogger "link" a fellow blogger to their web page is the ultimate compliment. It provides them with instant recognition, affirmation, and an impetuous to "blog on."

Which brings me to my third opinion as to why blogging has become such a gigantic infatuation on the WEB: "community." Within the millions of diverse collection of bloggers there are hundreds if not thousands of individuals who share similar interest and opinions, and by "word of mouth" or just through "surfing," these individuals have and are finding one another. To date my personal blog has yet to be "linked" to another person's blog. Nor have I "linked" another person's blog to mine, although through my own personal explorations I have found several which I schedule reading on a regular basis. I find their outlook on their own slice of life to be refreshing and their style of writing to have merit. Whether or not readers of my blog (if indeed there are any) would hold the same opinion of my efforts remains to be seen. I haven't even received a "comment," favorably or otherwise, for the twenty-five entries I have penned and published to date. So be it.

As long as I find topics of personal interest that stimulate me to ponder in depth, I will attempt to express those thoughts through my blog. I wish not to hold just an opinion "pro" or "con" on a matter, but to contemplate layered reasons as to why I hold a particular viewpoint. To exercise my mind through written word, whether read or ignored, famed or defamed, is of little consequence. To quote from Cicero's essay on friendship, Esse quam videri - "To be, rather than to seem" - shall serve as ample reason for me to continue forward with this endeavor.

Monday, June 4

And So It Begins...Again

Florida had a visitor this past weekend. A fellow named "Barry" who blew in off the Gulf of Mexico just north of St. Petersburg. Thus marked the advent of the 2007 - six months in duration - hurricane season. We citizens of Florida heralded his arrival with mixed emotions.

On the positive side Barry never managed to work himself up to hurricane status, arriving over the coast with wind gusts in the twenty to thirty mile per hour range; far below the seventy-one mile per hour threshold that designates a tropical storm's graduation to bigger and badder things. He also was more of a most welcomed "rain-maker." Florida, like much of the deep south, has been in the throes of a drought, exacerbated by wild fires that, if one believed the daily news reports, were burning uncontrolled just outside every one's back door. For a period of three days, a couple of week's ago, the wind-swept smoke from one of the largest of these fires burning thousands of acres along the Florida & Georgia border was so thick in the Tampa Bay area that the sun was obscured behind a thick haze. Barry, bless his little heart, managed to deposit enough precipitation to quell the majority of these fires.

As insignificant as was Barry's potential threat for even minor property damage, having a tropical storm rear it's head on "day one" of the new hurricane season makes for many unsettled feelings of what may yet lie ahead. 2006 was a season of most welcomed reprieve from what Florida and the Gulf Coast states suffered in 2005 as one after another devastating hurricanes ravaged cities and communities into virtual oblivion. As as result insurance carriers that had previously underwritten home-owner's insurance canceled existing policies by the thousands and, for those who were not unceremoniously dropped, received notifications that their yearly premiums had gone from manageable to rivaling a significant portion of the national debt. The "natives are restless" here in the Sunshine State.

So Barry...we were appreciative of all the most needed rain that you left in your wake, but we would humbly request that as you disappear over the far horizon that you advise all of your brothers and sisters that may be making plans to visit us later this summer, we'd just as soon that they didn't. We find that living in paradise is much more enjoyable without lawn furniture whizzing by our heads.