Flavor of the Month

If you’ve been watching television at all you’ve been learning another language. Have you noticed this?

One hears, for instance, to “Is the worst election year for the Republicans in the history of our state,” from different location. If I’ve heard that phrase once I’ve listened to it a hundred times. And from dozens of news announcers, male and female, using the same words.

Living through as many presidential elections as I have in my eight decades, I cast my recollection lines along the past years to try and reel in some scenes of other candidates and their nicknames and phrases that became attached to their races.

Some of the candidates have nicknames, others “hidden’ first names; not that it makes much difference, but pundits like to repeat them often. Another oft-heard two-word news bit is “Flip-flop.” Still another, someone trying to cover all bases in one mouthful: “Its within the realm of possibility although not likely.”

With more than half a dozen Republicans clawing their way toward the primaries, a lot of mud fills various air pathways. They wonder if so and so can “Make the sale.”

And some of those sales include the “Flavor of the month.”

I am making a decision here and now. No matter how much they beg and plead, I will not run for president!

I would have to learn what it means to have “Boots on the ground in Iowa,” not to mention come up with a suitable nickname. I have none.

Watching the pundits talk about “Building a firewall against So-and-so,” and over and over I hear certain hopefuls are “surging,” others “collapsing,” according to polls, polls, polls and more polls. I don’t like polls.

I like to make up my own mind, not mimic what some other folks are doing. But the most mentioned group I’ve heard through the long, unbearable process is a group close to my heart. Plenty others agree. The group is the “Middle Class.”

I hoped the elected person, be it Republican or Democrat, does not forget that group.



I’m waiting for President Obama’s annual State of the Union address; he’s scheduled at 9p.m. I feel a great deal of sympathy for him these days. After all, the battle is numerically skewed in favor of the GOP (which I can only think stands for Grumpy Old Persons.)

Politics, which has come to sound more like “follytics,” has always carried taints of mudslinging and lying and a great stretching of facts. For instance, one TV talk show host said the GOP candidates (those left in the race) tell so many falsehoods about the President they make him out to be a fictional person so they will be able to aim more nasty slings and lies at him.

Although more than half a dozen candidates of the other party promised to shove the President out of office at the beginning of the contest,  I always want to refer to President Barak  leader of “America, this great country.”  Both the country and its head deserve respect from all the citizens. 

If I began to list all the ugly things broadcast in this race, I’d run out of space quickly; besides I don’t feel comfortable using the kind of language they let loose in the radio and television air. 

I long for office-holders who can be described with these three words: “decent, honest and compassionate.” At the very beginning of this conflagration, I was talking to my eldest brother, a dedicated Republican, on the phone.

“What?” I whined, “is happening to our nation?”

He’s a wonderful man, as are all my five brothers. “I’ll give you a one-word answer,” he replied. “Greed.” That word has reverberated through the roller-coaster ride of all the weeks leading up to this point, just before the Florida votes are to be cast.

It’s almost time for the President to arrive; Gabrielle Giffords is entering the crowd to a standing ovation. She looks lovely.

What I wish for at this moment is that something, ANYTHING, can be done to make all sides work together for this embattled government.

Obama takes a while to hug and shake hands and kiss his way down the long, long aisle to the lectern. John Boehner introduces him calling it “ distinct honor and a privilege.”

I must turn now to the television to listen to our President.  I call listening to him an "honor and a privilege."


I keep seeing a Mark Twain quote flash on the TV screen when I’m just surfing around.

“The more I get to know people,” he said. “The better I like my dog.”

I liked that. It made me recall a few weeks ago when my two daughters and a 13-year-old granddaughter were going about an hour’s ride away to have a birthday luncheon for the 13-year-old.

All the way the new teenager regaled us with one-liners she had collected in a notebook. We laughed until we could hardly breathe by the time we reached our destination.

Take Garrison Keillor and listen to his tales of Lake Wobegon: “It’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon,” he’ll begin, then continue with: “It was cold this week and windy.”

Now there’s nothing profound in that thought but I felt the need to keep on reading, knowing there was better thoughts to come.

Among the collections I’ve gathered over the years I’ve come across so many that apply to today’s politics. For instance, “Don’t burn your bridges, you’ll be surprised how many times you’ll have to cross the same river.’’ Well, yeah! Some of them are wet to the kneecaps already and just in the beginning of a presidential race.

Was it Harry Truman who said: “If you can’t cook, don’t go in the kitchen?” I take that quote so literally I haven’t turned the stove on in years.

A couple more could help some of the voter-cravers if they took them seriously: “Never swap your integrity for money, power or fame!”  “When declaring your rights don’t forget your responsibilities.”

Martin Luther King Jr.: “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

May Sarton whom I have read over and over, went on writing after becoming ill. This saddened me: “In the country of pain we are each alone,” she wrote.

In the pages of Dorothy Parker’s “What Fresh Hell is This?” I learned how stinging was her wit, how painful were some of her words toward the society in which she lived. Certainly she hobnobbed with some of the most well-known writers of her time.

Speaking of “time,” one quote from a friend of my mother’s I’ll always remember. He lived alone in the southeastern Kentucky countryside. A curving driveway welcomed a driver to his home. Rushing out to greet the visitor, he would exclaim “Get down and rest your saddle!!” The phrase remains in my head to this day as an  extremely friendly hello.

I can’t leave Winston Churchill out of this. It wouldn’t be right. Here is one of his quotes:

“What is the use of living if not to strive for noble causes and to make this muddled world a better place for those who will live in it after we are gone?”

Could I list this recalling of thoughts and quotes among my strivings for a better world?

Good Spots

Some days reading the headlines is almost more than I can bear. Fatal shootings in schools, for instance.  Children are so precious, the pain reaches quickly toward   those losing their lives, and too, to the troubled one with the firearm.

Television brings us instantly terror and pain from all over our planet. Into our hearts and minds come scenes of wars, starving populations, natural disasters.

So we try to cope. And we clutch at scraps of good news if we can find them. One headline noted that North Korea with its new leader, is suspending nuclear work in exchange for food. I find that good news.

The words from Sen. Olympia Snowe as she retired her from her post in the Republican party. An Associated Press story said her action “highlights the great paradox in American politics.”

I am not the only voter in this country, I’m sure, who is saddened and discouraged at the see-sawing of our law-makers. One yearns for honest, decent politicians to replace these who line up like unmovable soldiers on either side, never giving in.

I have long admired Snowe along with others to take a stand when they are sick and tired with what’s going on.

When we look back upon our childhood times, they seem delightful. For me, mountains loomed close by so that I could take off alone and climb to the top, checking wild animal dens, birds’ nests and small trails just wide enough for my feet.

Atop one hill that rose behind our dwelling was a huge stone out-cropping. If I traveled around the high reaches of the hill, I could step up a couple of rock ledges and find myself on a very high stone floor.

Far below a silver ribbon of Polls Creek glittered in my line of sight. I remember those little trips to the mountaintop.

But you know, we had no television, no radio, barely a newspaper to bring us news from around the world. This is one reason we could exist in quiet peace, close with our families. The travails of the earth did not encroach because we had no access to the technology that brings it all to us now.

Those memories remain one of the good spots where I can turn to when I choose. And around us these days are starlit people who spend their lives doing good things

Many things make life sweeter.

Spending Time to Dig

Before the news people were finished with their reporting on the United States

Supreme Court’s ruling on President Obama’s Health Care law, a commercial blasting the Supreme Court’s action flipped onto the television.

If there ever was a time when this country’s journalists needed to be at the forefront of reporting the news succinctly and fairly, it is now. I am 82 years old. Recently, I’ve had a personal depression looking at the fighting among the so-called leaders of the land.

I have developed a practice of turning the channel as soon as the hard newscast ends—that way I don’t have to listen to the dog fights and cat fights. If I move away I from all the partisanship I get to make up my own mind.  The action of the Court encouraged me. It seems to me we certainly need three functioning branches of government for Democracy to work.

Reading Daniel Schorr’s book, “Come to Think of It,” let more light in on our dilemma as we try to make sense of where we are. Schorr was National Public Radio’s Senior News Analyst and as such his reporting included a global span of historic events.

“Journalism has been called a first rough draft of history,” he wrote in the book’s introduction.  Leaf through its pages and watch dates fly by as he kept up with the passage of time.  Some of the last articles in the book are dated in 2007.  See?

I spent my career years trying to fill the journalist’s quest for truth and not always succeeding. Nowadays, since as a retiree I’ve slipped into the middle class category we hear so much about on the news. Technology has made it possible for ordinary people like me to gather news. Unfortunately, we must continually do a lot of thinking and get used to researching on our own for the kernel of truth floating around out there somewhere. (Daniel Schorr said being on the radio allowed him to “do more thinking and less running around” ) to gather news.

US Citizens, especially those who have only one lonely vote to speak for them, must  spend a larger and larger amount of their time digging for what, in their heart of hearts, they feel is the best for our county.

October Follytics

A stubborn string running through both the Democratic and Republican 2012 political conventions made me think perhaps I can still qualify to run for the highest office in the land.

Of course I’m kidding.  Well, maybe half kidding. What convention participants seemed to be doing was trying to find out who had grown up in the poorest conditions; or interview supporters who were at the bottom end of the economic scale.

I must have been four or five years old when I began doing farm work, climbing many steps upward on an Appalachian slope, making my way to a starting point in our family’s cornfield.

When you could count to three you could make your way around the curving cornrows where only three of the slender green stalks should be left in each hill. It was called “thinning corn.”

At that wee age it seemed as though it took days to climb that hill, and the sun got hotter as the day grew older.

However, stop right here. I am not going to fall into the common “sad pit” and continue to tell what a poverty-stricken life I led.  From that early time in my life all I ever wanted to do was write my thoughts.  Growing up in a poverty stricken time as well as a poverty stricken place was not in my young mind.

Much later, when I began to earn my living by writing, I made a firm decision that I would only tell the good parts about that wonderfully beautiful hilly place where I spent my childhood.

Our country was dropping to The Great Depression when I was born (1929). Our family didn’t notice the lack of funds. We grew our own food, canned vegetables, raised chickens, turkeys, and swine and caught wild animals for our meats, cattle for milki

And my hardworking parents had 13 children, most of them delivered by a midwife. One died at 14 months old. And the rest of the children, now parents, grandparents and great-grandparents are still here.

What I remember about those Depression times was several of us children, putting on our homemade plays in the warmth of the front room fireplace for our parents to watch; also among my delightful memories is snow cream, made from freshly fallen snow sweetened with molasses (if we had run out of war-rationed sugar); and riding full-throttle on a hand made sled down the slope continued on from the back of our house, at our front porch.

We had fun. Going to a one-roomed schoolhouse heated with an iron stove in the center that room. A galvanized water bucket and drinking cups we fashioned out of writing paper was how the kids fought off thirst.

In high school, because the bus didn’t come up the curving, rough road under construction by the WPA, we hitched early-morning rides with miners on their way to their workday. At Wooten the school bus picked us up to go to Leslie County High School at Hyden, Ky.

I could go on and on. There were, indeed, hardships adults had to bear, but as parents always do, they tried to see that the next generation would have a better life.

I am not sure being poor qualifies one for high political office, but one thing I believe, IT DOES NOT DISQUALIFY anyone. 


The Embrace Fall

One of the first sounds greeting me when I awoke this morning was a TV statement that some spotty frost had arrived last night. A shock, I tell you. I’m still panting from the hot summer.

Yet, one must stop and check the calendar. Behold! Autumn is near – just a few days hence and it will begin its sweeping color-changing glory. Also, I happened across a quote from Elizabeth Lawrence: “Everyone must take time to sit and watch the leaves turn.”

Well, yes!! October arrives every year with its gifts of gold, red, rusty burgundy, orange and fuzzy shades of all these colors.

“If the Lord whispered in your secret heart that you had but one month to live, and let you pick the month, which would you choose?” wrote widely-read columnist Hal Boyle many years ago. The he answered his own question: “I’d choose October.”

Well, so would I.  And if they wanted to know my favorite tree during that month I’d say firmly the Sweet gum. Be alert now, for autumn slips in quietly: First a small embarrassment of red blush among the maples, then the sweet gums blurt out a burgundy branch or two, emphasizing nearby yellow leaves.

I always stop, stare and marvel as fall creeps over the countryside, spreading like a spilled rainbow across what was recently a green landscape.

Remember Walter Winchell? I ran across an ancient, yellowed scrap of newsprint containing this: “Autumn has a quality of richness and joy that communicates itself to everything it touches. It embraces people as well as products of the soil. . .”

From the time I was little, growing up amid the tall mountains of southeastern Kentucky, I loved the “embrace” of fall. Because a tall slope, into which my father had constructed a sturdy stone home for his family, led to what seemed like a spire into the sky to a child, I could climb alone to the top.

What fun to find a pile of multi-colored leaves gathered at the base of a sweet gum. And that special tree was even more delightful because its branches grew close to each other so even a small child could climb and climb.

This year I hope to see my 83rd October, and, though I am no longer near those tall slopes, I know these days where each sweet gum in my neighborhood stands.

Humans strive with worries, hurts and a thousand little things, but it is time to slow down, to think about October and soak up enough beauty to last another year. There’ll be enough to last.

Trust me.


Mountains in May

A few feet from my kitchen widow a pink  rhododendron swells its buds toward the sky as though  in a race to paint this month a color designed to lift spirits everywhere.

This month has more than this wondrous earth-cleaning renewal by nature’s rainbow coloring of each leaf, bud, tree and sky.

May, where I grew up in the southern Appalachians, brought in house-cleaning time, just in time to chime in with nature’s colorful hallelujahs. While the mountains rose to greet the morning sun, fog crept up the hills, revealing soft pink and white redbuds and dogwood trees.

We washed featherbeds, quilts, lots of quilts, pillows, sheets and pillow cases. Curtains. Everything must be clean, washed like the tall slopes now greening and blooming with the hues of spring.

Gardens began their summer growth, shooting up with every warm day. Wild violets winked in the woods and tender may apple shoots spread white above green leaves.

I loved May. And when the housework was finished, I was delighted to climb upward to the top of the mountain that pitched downward to the back side of our house.

Somehow the patchwork of the quilts reminded me of the differences in tree and bush colors along the slopes as they dipped and climbed across undulating mountainsides.

Bending over a huge washtub into which a flat, corrugated metal board caught the soil from shirts and slacks and overalls. Later, all were pinned with clothespins along a strong rope fastened between two posts,

Nowadays, machines do almost everything to clean the clothes – leaving only a few wrinkles to be whisked away by some marvelous concoction added to the drying cycle.

Homemade lye soap formed the foamy cleanser that added to the board in order to whip away any soil left in garments.

Still, my favorite part of May was hiking to the mountain top where I could find a small declivity in the hillside where I could curl up a fall asleep for a short, tender nap.

That was lovely, warm and sunlit and filled with dreams the color of hills.

Mountain Games: A Conversation with Emma and Ella

 Some time ago I interviewed a couple of little girls: Twins, Ella and Emma,  third graders. They were preparing a presentation on “Life in the Appalachian Mountains a Long Time Ago.”

I was used to asking the questions, not answering them. “What kind of games did you play when you were little?” they wanted to know. Now “when I was little” covers a lot of time. I had to get the old gray matter in gear.

All of a sudden a quiet, sparkly pool of water appeared in my mind. I could also feel the presence of two of my brothers with me by the still water of a creek which had spilled into a pool just below my father’s mill dam he had constructed so he could grind corn into meal.

Along the far side of the water about six snakes’ heads rose three or four inches out of the glistening surface.

“We had a lot of fun throwing rocks at snakes’ heads,” I told Emma and Ella. Their chins dropped. “Wow,” they said at the same time.  “Did you kill them?” I told them “No, the snakes ducked their heads back under the water and we couldn’t hit them. They were much quicker than we.”

“Ooooh,” they said, their voices as sweet as the sound of soft ripples on the water.  That’s a bonus of a phone conversation with little ones. I was allowed to speak briefly to their younger sister, Anna, whose words sounded like tinkling bells.

I had a good time asking and answering questions.

My brothers and I invented our own games, carving out slingshot weapons; using small stones as our bullets, just the way we had used bigger ones to battle water-snakes.

I asked: “What would your games be if you didn’t have a television?” I asked them.

“Mostly,” Emma replied, “We read. I like to read.” I just had to get the next question, what books? “Harry Potter, Emma told me. And there are the movies, too.”

I agreed whole-heartedly with her choice, as I did with Ella: “I like to draw,” her twin chimed in.

Then their younger sister Anna wanted to talk. Other family members included a still younger sibling, Avva, who never came to the phone; and there were parents, Chris and Carrie, and grandparents, Paul and Sharon.

I may start a new way of writing stories – get a small, low chair and interview only the wee ones.

Another thing, you can learn a lot from children; everything is fresh.


The Ring

Since my husband’s death nearly five years ago, I have gathered some treasured items that belonged to him; some mementoes of his military service, degrees, certificates and a small snapshot of him and our two daughters still clings to the refrigerator door.

One missing item remaining in my memory carries with it a tiny sliver of hope that it could someday resurface: his high school class ring from Lily High School in Lily, Ky.

Because the history of that ring is so precious, I will repeat below an article I wrote about it all some years ago.

Jumping with a splash into the rocky swimming hole, the young man realized immediately his class ring had slipped off his finger.  Devastated, he began a next-to-impossible task of searching the muddy creek bottom.

Formed by a sheet of cascading water flowing over the edge of a 12-feet-high stone ledge, the pool, when undisturbed, sparkled clear between sloping, tree-covered hills. No road came near the place, so on a hot summer day the recent high school graduate and his friends found fun in the walk down the shady, forested slope.

On the other side of the creek a sheer, rocky cliff was home to tenacious cedars and maples springing from cracks in the rocky cliff. It was an incredibly lovely, isolated spot, but to the youngsters it was simply the best swimming hole around.

In spite of the hopelessness he felt in his endeavor, the boy dove downward. It was shortly after he had received the ring and it was his most prized possession for a lot of reasons. But, strangely enough, he found it as his hands clawed among the mud and rocks at the creek bottom.

After that he never wore his ring again to the swimming hole. The way he got his class ring at a time when the family was getting by on almost no income was this.

His indomitable mother had ideas. She contacted a neighbor who had lots and lots of quilts to warm the beds of her big family.

The neighbor was glad to contract with her for getting her quilts cleaned. For days and days the young man’s mother washed the covers the old-fashioned way, on a washboard. Even laundering one quilt at a time was a heavy task; you had to pull the heavy wetness up an down on corrugated metal, stopping intermittently to rub a cake of homemade soap along the twisted cloth.

Her son was amazed when he learned he would, after all, get a class ring. Years later the little school gave way to school consolidations. But still another mishap smote the ring. The tiny “L” (for Lily) fell off. Another search of the area miraculously turned it up and a trip to the jewelry resulted in its reattachment.

But that is not the end of the story. John George Eaton married, moved to Fairfield, Ohio where he spent his working years at the General Motors Fisher Body plant, took care of his family and retired.

One Sunday while the family was at church, a thief broke into a bedroom window, ripped a pillowcase from and gathered up some small items from throughout our rooms; including my late husband’s class ring.

I may be nuts, but I still cling to that sliver of hope that someone, sometime may think it over and return the ring.

Ropes of Diamonds

Just now, as I write, the United States Air Force Spirit swoops overhead as thousands of Rose Parade watchers look skyward to catch a glimpse of the marvel of flight engineering.

Quietly, at my house, hours moved across from 2011 to 2012. All it is could be told in a few numbers at the top of the page. But of course as one of my sisters called the next day to ask if I had made my New Year’s “revolutions,” I was forced to look backward a bit.

Much of the time these days I feel as though I am inextricably caught in and ever increasing tangle of technology. Quickly, with a flip of some long forgotten memory color in my brain, comes a snow-covered slope; and my brothers and I deep into building a sled with runners to slide like the wind down of one of the slopes. (We could, perhaps have been finished much faster with the aid of a few electric saws and drills.)

If the mountain people who tucked their lives into the isolation of hills and hollows of the Appalachians nearly a century ago knew anything, they knew how to “make do.”

A red-hot iron poker, left a required amount of time half buried in the fireplace embers served well to burn perfectly round holes in the front and back ends of sled runners we had hewn to a slick, curving surface on their bottom. Dowels, fastened into those holes, helped form the sled’s foundation.

Relishing the icy wind in our faces, we’d ride down the hill as fast as we could without falling off.

All around, on snowy days, the mountains offered up their special brand of beauty. One of my memories keeps fresh a scene created by a quick overnight freeze on the heels of an evening rain. A glittering, shimmering, fairy land  greeted us that next morning.

Coated with ice, every tiny limb and branch from the mountaintop down to the creek sparkled like ropes of diamonds, dazzling the eyes. A thousand differently-shaped jewels flung beautiful bounties into the morning air.

Later, cold to the bone we’d rush back inside to gather around the open fire, feeling the warmth chase the ice, melting frozen jeans from around the ankles. Lunch of soup beans (pintos) and hot, buttered corn bread completed the warm-ups.

Every season held its special treat for the eyes and hearts. And the stone fireplace lining held heat in such comforting measures, one could hardly keep from taking a cozy little nap

No technology needed.

Mountain Christmas

“Black Friday,” seems to have become a permanent part of our language along with “Cyber Monday” and the sadness of learning of pepper spray and fistfights at shopping spots.

But still, in spite of pervasive interest in the purchase of “things,” for this season, there lies at its core hosts of memories of other Christmases.

 “Hey,” said a retired consultant when asked about childhood. “We always had a tree. Trees didn’t cost anything.”  He paused to gaze into space. “It doesn’t take money to have a nice holiday.”

I like to recall my own early holidays. Warmth and tenderness come first to the front of my memory of those early days of mine. Open fireplaces glowing from the fuel of sawed logs, the thumping of a churn dasher moving up and down producing fat mounds of fresh butter.

Tree decorations, fashioned of strips of paper glued into chain forms, stars cut from cardboard and covered with foil. As this took place the excitement grew. We knew for sure Santa Claus was keeping tabs on kids who were good. He sent birds to spy on us.

Surely, as the time of Dec.25 grows nearer, softness steals into the air, a caring, and gentleness creeps into conversations.

Of course the criers of crass commercialism sometimes, perhaps don’t stop to think down below the surface. There they could grasp at the truth that givers gain as much as receivers and more.

Even back in my childhood, six or seven decades ago, delight lingers at the warmth and loveliness of those days. Our family lived in a stone house built by my father who cut building blocks himself, cementing them into a square home intersected by walls forming four good-sized rooms.

Dozing into slumber those Eves, we were lulled by fire-flickers on the walls and I recall always losing the battle to stay awake until the red-coated man slipped down the chimney.

Wakened by our father stirring embers into flames the next morning we all rushed into the main room to gather around the warmth and look into stockings. It didn’t matter that our gifts included a small amount of candy, an orange or maybe a small handmade toy, we were as thrilled as though we had gotten piles of silver and gold.

And there it all stays in our memories, silent and sweet to this day.




Nan Phelps 


Every time I think of her I see in front of my eyes a tiny forest of painting equipment, their bristled upended brushes speckled with many varieties of color.

It was within these colors that Nan Phelps, a long time resident of Hamilton, Ohio, lived her life. Not only was she a dedicated artist while she lived out on Greenwood Avenue, she had begun her career as a youngster in her Appalachian home.

I got to know her when one of her dozens of painting won still another award.  Her artistic talents became known in many parts of the world, causing the quiet, hard-working Phelps to became important to the newspaper where I worked.

Because we had something in common with our roots in Appalachia, I paid close attention to Phelps’ paintings of such scenes as a river baptizing, the little church where her father preached 50 years, and the beauty of her native home environs.

From her rich memories of her Kentucky home she drew paintings of landscapes, children, families, farms, buggies, horses and once I notice a wonderful portrait of Franklin Roosevelt on her wall.

Her husband, Robert, constructed an additional room on their Hamilton home for her work. As soon as she ran out of wall space to hang her work, she began to line them around the floor’s edge, leaned against the wall.

Her strength and determination still stay with me as an inspiration. In her 80’s she continued to paint.

Once she told me of how she began her career in art, nothing she did after that surprised me: As a young woman with a package filled with her paintings she left her husband and kids, boarded a bus in Hamilton and went to New York City.

“I walked to every art gallery I could find,” I remember her telling me during one interview, “and if they had time I would show my work.”

Sure enough, she came away with some of her beloved work on display in New York City. It’s still there, at the same gallery that discovered Grandma Moses. Her work is known world wide, having become a part once was taken on a traveling exhibit through Japan. A painting was recently spotted on the second floor Cincinnati Art Museum.

I talked to her daughters, Wilma Hazlett and Donna Beer, many times over the years.

Nan Phelps died at age 85. Among her last words, her daughters recalled, uttered as she gazed out her hospital window: “I wish I could paint those clouds.”

To read more about Nan Phelps go to:

 Galerie St. Etienne



March had just stepped its windy foot onto the scene when I began to be glued to the television. The worst storm system I had ever seen or known about was starting to cut its outrageous path from the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes.

Frightened, I made my way to the basement, following instructions hastily outlined by every meteorologist I heard. I scanned the TV channels searching for the best coverage.

It wasn’t long until the networks started showing photographs and videos of the devastation. It was the next day before I learned that more than 20 people had lost their lives, according to the papers.

Still with me are scene after scene of families finding their way out of piles of cabinetry, bedding and wooden building materials bent and wrapped into metal ripped from roofs and siding. From one small house two young mothers struggled with very young children across destroyed yards, boards bearing sharp nails and splintery sides.

I couldn’t turn the news off. Even where owners and children had fled, remnants of a family’s life stood mute although it seemed they shouted terror. I saw a drawer from a bedroom, empty, its bright brass knobs gleaming. It rested askew atop a pile of bricks and bed frames.

“What,” I wondered silently, “would I save if my home was scattered over several acres?”

My phone rang. It rang and rang. Relatives and friends in various spots found themselves whipped into terror by this weather.

“I would,” said a friend in answer to my question about what she would save from her belongings, “keep all my family pictures I could gather up.” Another wanted to corral all her books if she could find a way to save them. Others mentioned keepsakes such as dishes, treasured handmade furniture and children’s leftover toys.

It occurred to me how connected human beings get to their places of living; how beloved an old iron bedstead from in-laws was; a painting picked up on a vacation trip; a yellowed wedding gown. On and on the answers came, each different.

The television named the names of small and large towns and cities where the tornados had never struck before. More grief. More folks had to be moved to large public buildings or schools for temporary shelter. Every face appearing on the TV screen was etched in grief, wet with tears.

Somehow, as the phone pealed every few minutes I kept learning from additional friends and family affected by these rampaging storms ripping through Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio.

My day slipped away amid a skitter of telephone calls, roaring winds and my own terror as I tried somehow reach out toward so many whose lives have been uprooted. It was simply heart-breaking.

We Only Get One

I could swear I heard a couple of lawn mowers going at the same time near my house on a recent Saturday. Their throaty sounds surely overpowered the swarms of bees hovering and buzzing around some lilac-colored heather recently planted in the front yard.

It all brought to mind Jesse Stuart’s poem “Hold April.” That poem, falling from the pen of the beloved writer from the mountains of Kentucky, held enough power to become the title of a book of his poems that has graced one of my bookshelves for years. Here’s that poem:

Hold on to April; never let her pass

Another year before she comes again

To bring us wind as clean as polished glass

And apple blossoms in soft, silver rain.

The calendar promises the arrival of the vernal equinox. Or, a better term is SPRING. Outside my backdoor daffodils stand in brilliant yellow and white, offering contrast to a hundred shades of green struggling for dominance of the lawn around them.

Almost by the inch I can spot some new greenery peeking up: feathery white bridal wreath opens soft white ends to curvy stalks from its bed by the east end of the house; clumps of tulips offer up their worshipful hopes for yellow, red and gold and I wait anxiously with them for that miracle.

That word pops up in my head throughout this season. I remember service trees miraculously frothing the mountains where I grew up. Redbud branches looking like thick rows of embroidery across the tapestry of spring’s paintbrush; and sedum pushing away winter-white stalks to make room for more green growth.

Birds, squirrels and chipmunks keep the lawns astir like a moving river. They dig, they sit up to poke their buried treasure into hungry mouths, then take time out to steal from the birds. Cardinals, gold finches, chickadees, sparrows, wrens, woodpeckers and I could go on and on naming the colorful crowd blessing the scene outside my kitchen window.

As we move into the month of April, we must cherish and revere its days; for it is a month of hope. It is as though the earth bestirs its great, soggy body and begins to dress for the festival of summer, warming, moving, greening.  Winter cannot overpower, nor even blemish the bright spring promise of April.

Pay attention to April’s song. We only get one April a year.

Bob Wessel

Certainly all of us who have spent half a century or so in our Fairfield would not deny that description.

Someone who could leave the horror of the World War II Battle of the Bulge and, during a forced layover overseas before coming home, could arrive on his home shores leading a band of comics patterned after the famous Abbott and Costello, comedy group, had a lot going for him.

Those of us who knew the late Robert Wessel, Fairfield, Ohio’s first mayor and stalwart builder of the city we have come to love, know a lot about the good things he did to start and keep the growth of Fairfield foremost in his mind and strength. 

In the Spring 2012 issue of the Fairfield Historical Society (FHS) issue of  “Cornerstones,” writers Milli Surermann and Lois Kingsley wrote about Wessel, saying he might be called the founding father of the FHS as well as the City of Fairfield.

Bob’s wife of about 60 years gives her husband credit for the scores of ways he helped the area become a thriving, pleasing place to live. “Creative,” she called him when speaking of his way of working with local officials and residents.

“I have what would amount to a whole valise of memories of him,” Helen remarked, speaking of his activities in theatre and other work in making Fairfield a place where families can live happily. “It’s a happy city.”

Helen, a Miami University graduate taught for a time at Lincoln School in Hamilton, Ohio “until,” she related, “the principal caught me placing the students in a big circle instead of rows of chairs.” He let her know that wasn’t the way it was supposed to be done.

Helen and Bob lived on Shady Lane, a lovely lot where they and their adopted son lived so many years.

“If there are marriages made in heaven, then Bob and I had one,” she said, adding that only a few months separated their ages (90). He “loved his law office,” she recalled, “and all his life he remained a creative man.”

She related a time when Wessel appeared before he Ohio Supreme Court to argue that each builder in the city of Fairfield would be assessed a certain amount of funds to be place the parks and recreation department.  Now, for all the fun my family and I had in those beautiful acres over the years, I thank him.  Also for that, and for all the good things he and Helen did for Fairfield.  And, as I ran into the two of them when I was out and about in Fairfield, I could certainly sense those ties between them.

While she was always at his side, Helen was quick to praise her husband. I, as someone who knew him for afar, have always thought of Bob Wessel as a hero.


Hidden Kindness

The two of them boarded the big Greyhound about 250 miles south of Cincinnati.

“It wasn’t easy,” said the attractive elderly woman who recalled an incident in her life about half a century ago.

“The bus was crowded. We had to stand, “ she related. “My friend was the only African American on the bus.“  As the crowded vehicle neared Cincinnati, the woman’s friend began to feel ill.

The story-teller was a good friend of mine. We had known each other at least 45 years. Thinking back across the years, I arrived at some time during the civil rights turmoil as the time of her story. My friend pointed out that no one offered to assist the quite obviously sick young woman with her.

“The bus crowd was entirely white,” she said, “as we arrived at the station in Cincinnati, I tried to find someone to help us. We were totally ignored by everyone I approached, trying to hold her up as I moved about.”

Inside, it was no better. There was no empty seat for the two of them to rest. Some time had passed and an African American waitress came from behind the counter and approached them.

 “I have a small bed in the basement,” the waitress told them. “Let’s get her down there where she can lie down and we’ll get her something to make her feel better.”

So that’s what they did, my friend finished her story. “She felt well enough to go on by morning.”

“Another thing.” my friend related, “I will never, ever forget the kindness of that waitress.”

 We talked then, my elderly friend and elderly me, about the kindness surrounding us all and how purely American the trait of helping each other permeates our country.

Each of us, who had experienced about eight decades on this planet, could recall many times of help and tenderness from those around us.

 One-half of a long-ago-learned sentence ran through my head: “Do unto others. . .”

Hamilton’s Gleaming Arts

A headline in the June, 27 Hamilton Journal News (Hamilton, Ohio) caught my eye and grabbed at my heart all in one swell moment of instant understanding. That our near, neighbor city is growing and growing with arts stuff is a pleasant thought upon which to dwell.

And, speaking of the arts, what about the largest choir in 1`the world moving into the larger metropolis (Cincinnati) south of us? It certainly is another boost to the spirit. For what speaks in kinder words to the soul than music?

I’ve heard from other delighted Hamiltonians how exciting all the art additions to the Hamilton area are for local folks. The page-one  JN headline exclaimed about the newest grant of $2.2 million in tax credits for something called the Artspace Hamilton Lofts project, which will include more than 40 living spaces plus several public offices open to the sidewalks.

The notion of artists, musicians, composers, sculptors, and others using dozens of these special places to advance their art. My imagination comes up with lots of people climbing stairs to view brand new watercolors, touch gleaming sculptures, all the while listening to music.

With the tightening of funds for many public education classes offering all this in classrooms across the country, it remains for the rest of us to help as much as we can, encouraging, donating and attending presentations by the young, talented artists among us.

I’m not just talking about “young” artist. Suddenly I recall interviewing the late Nan Phelps who simply lived to paint. The walls of a special room in her house were lined with her portraits, landscapes, oils and water-colors, acrylics and paints she had invented as she went along her life’s roads. Her work is now known through many countries of the world.

I have recently enjoyed theater at the Fairfield Community Arts Center as well as attending lectures and exhibits at Hamilton’s Fitton Center. A gem in the crown of the area arts is breathtaking Pyramid Hill and its offerings.

Anyway, I’m so proud of what Hamilton has done and continues doing for the arts, and would like to add my voice to that of Hamilton Mayor Pat Moeller, has talked about how exciting it all is for the entire area.

My Birds … Yawn, Yawn

This column is not my idea; it came from the birds. I mean, real birds that gather outside my kitchen window daily. Sometimes I find names for them, for instance on the day in question, sparrows: He was at one of the half-a-dozen or so feeders. On a small perch just below sat the Mrs.

He was feeding her, bite by bite, carrying a beak-full from the feeder, putting it tenderly into her open beak. This went on so long I had to leave my watching place by the table and do some dishes. Just as I turned around I noticed a second female about four inches behind Mrs.

And then something stunned me. The male passed his “Mrs.” and fed the waiting female behind Mrs. on the perch!!

“Well!” I thought, “Is this another lesson for me to learn from them? Perhaps they are just friends.”

I sat back down at the table, picked up pen and pad and began to note the different species. Thought I would just log any idiosyncrasies they might exhibit. There was a nuthatch, that had been the most upset three years ago when we had to remove the huge ash tree that had become the stopover for many different winged creatures on their way to the feeders.

Nuthatch missed the large tree because he needed to eat while upside down. The ash proved ample room for him to sit, head downward, and swallow mouthfuls of seeds and other foods left in our feeders. After a time of adjustment to the absence of the tree, he would get a beak full and find a place at what we call our bird feeding station, perch upside down and swallow.

Also making themselves at home, along with half a dozen squirrels and a pair of chipmunks, were cardinals, chickadees, gold finches, house finches, wrens, woodpeckers, doves, blue jays, tufted titmouse (what’s the plural? Titmice?).

And Ruby Throated Hummingbirds! Love them. I have their nectar in a red glass feeder stuck to the outside of the window.

Some members of the bird world, like the doves, are so peaceful; others fight over their feeding perches, and once I saw a hawk catch a blue jay in midair at the back of the yard.  Blue feathers flew everywhere. It reminded of the time a blue jay flew at my head while I was standing on the back porch, attacked me with sharp claws bringing blood from my forehead.

I discovered a little later I had gotten too near a nest of baby blue jays. He was just being a good Daddy, I guess.

Did I hear a reader heave a long, agonized sigh and say to me: “Get a life?”  



Consummate song leaves

Love’s lacy bruises to teach

The wild, dark wind joy.


Staggering through morn,

Blossoms turn blue as men slice

Time from halls of power



Secret bouquets show’r

Evenings’ tongue with liquid

Tendrils of summer.


Mist-fog sinks amon

Bare winter-black trees like clouds

Of shredded cotton.

Aw, shucks! Why spend time counting in order to fit Japanese literature’s designs for poems. (Haiku).

The way I see it, thoughts need only enough syllables to lift them to the skies. These perhaps.


The Power of Dawn 

Marching along the spider-legged pier

A column of lights

Orders reflections to dance across the water,

Paints many-colored mirrors on the sand

And commands waves to sparkle silver. 

Meantime, darkness cowers at the edges;

Growling, angry in defeat.


Cornstalks, stiff against thickening morning fog,

In silence signal autumn,

While banner-tailed squirrels,

Racing light as air across grassy fields, stop

To dig for imaginary nuts.

As crispy, early sunrise battles fog, humans

Shiver in a chill that somehow whispers

Almost inaudibly, breathing zero degrees,

And hide in secret, barren woods

Waiting to roar on stage in icy fury.

Oak Island, N.C.

Surf sound rises like cooling gray ashes.

Obliterating other noises,

Wind niggles the skin

With sharp, angry caresses.

She steps toward hissing waves,

Following the action toward the

Mountain of ocean; in the silken hiss

Toes taste warm, silvery sea-sparkle.

Ahead, tiny fish rush into their

Life-liquid, wiggling, flipping

Glittering, hurrying as though

Chased by a thousand dry-land demons.

Moonrise paints a silver, tide tickled highway. 

  Memory Store

If the brain is lined with tiny office cabinets

Into which are carefully categorized and filed

Memories of the past, visions of the future

And what is supposed to happen in this illusionary present,

Then how does one gain access to these spaces???

I can’t answer that, but somehow, wraithlike,

Memories slide out of their folders

And into the conscious mind.

One such memory is out of its folder

And is wrapping itself around my now.

Today, I go back many years to a moment in a moving car

And a sentence that still has the power to stab my heart:

“This has to end,” he said.

No answer came from me. I knew he was right.

So we parted. How many times in a lifetime

Can a heart break?

Recently I read an essay by novelist Annie Dillard who

Had questions about life and living and creation.

“We don’t know what’s going on here,” she writes about

Our trying to figure out everything.

“If these tremendous events are random combinations

Of matter run amok, the yield of millions of monkeys at

Millions of typewriters, then what is it in us that is

Hammered out of those same typewriters, that they ignite?”

I must continue her thought here. “We don’t know. Our

Life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery. . .”

I don’t quite know how that little batch of words

Pertain the start of this conglomeration. But somehow,

Both of these thoughts slipped into my fingers

As I tried to gather the lonely pastures of my

Brain into some semblance of sense.

Then I close my eyes the better to pull out that

Other memory. There is a form leaning over my

Desk, whispering “This is real.” And a soft kiss

On my head.

And into my reverie comes the great joy of that

Single moment and I’m thankful that those

Moments get filed and I can get to them when

I need to.


Ode to Swimsuit Season

                                        Yesterday was a Fat day
And the day before that
I was a big, fat cat.
I was eating fat
Like a hungry bat
And I feel like a rat
For eating that fat.
My doctor said that
I should omit all fat
And become more like
Mister lean Jack Sprat.
Maybe weeping about that
Will  make me lose some fat. 

Hawaii’s Iao Needle

The needle jabs

green nose skyward,

peak lost in mist.

Awestruck, I lift my face

while behind me

tender, tangled gurgles

of the stream soliloquize

terrors from the past.

In the legend so many

warriors lost their lives

their bodies choked the

stream, stopped its

downward rush.

I wish I could be here alone,  

listen more closely

to  those silent voices.

The hateful hassle

of buses unloading

disturbs the noiseless sound.

Gawking tourists babble, unaware

of the 200-year-old tale

that crashes in my head.


There is more here

than lush greenness

that lights the soul;

more than the burble of

water-sparkle kissing

ancient stone.

Silent voices

pull like golden thread,

trailing unspeakable

beauty and terrible truth.

. . . beautiful and bright . . .

born of our love?



Red Kerchiefs

Although they blast the summer air with sweetness,

Honeysuckle vines send soft messages of fall as that

Season tiptoes toward us.

Flower shapes copy with tender clarity modern musical

Instruments while their aromas seemingly become smell-sounds 

Of tinkling, soaring horns.

Bell-like orange blossoms shoot their tenderness into the

Soul while loosening silver bullets to strike down any

Fearful beast that tries to crush homes of care and worry.

Never mind. Just as a smile overturns an awful frown

To soften a human face, the sweetness of

Honeysuckle, whether summer or fall, lifts human hearts.

And hummingbirds come swiftly on shining wings

To sip nectar; then add the sight of red kerchiefs and silver

Sides, and sprinkle our days with joy. 




It’s okay

To be alone

If that’s all

You’ve ever known.


But once you know

The unspeakable comfort

Of a strong pair of

Arms, lovingly

Encircling you

In safety. .  .

And once you feel

The wonderful oneness

Of perfect communication

Once you know

The joy of having

Your thoughts understood


Almost before you

Speak them. . .

There is caring –

Intense caring about

You alone–just you.

Once you know the touch

Of loving speech. .


Then the aloneness

Becomes unbearable.

The night becomes


A well of yearning, a time

Of straining toward

All those dear parts

And then, truly you know

What it is to be alone


It Seems to Me....

“Hey, Boo!”

You know how it is, a sentence or a phrase gets dropped into the conversation going on inside a family. Suddenly, it catches on, gets repeated; then becomes a part of that family’s language. From then on.

One such little quip happened in my family. To this day it is used as a greeting, or the announcement of a surprise, or other reason.

Of course, the scene pops up in most folks’ heads upon hearing it. The movie is “Too Kill A Mockingbird,” the youngster uttering the two words is nine-year-old Scout, daughter of the town lawyer, Atticus Finch.

We’ve forgotten almost by now that it took author Harper Lee a long time to get the book published. Goodness knows how much influence her brilliant words had on the turmoil rocking this country about the time “To Kill A Mockingbird” hit the sales stands. This happened in the midst of prejudice, hatred, obsession, cruelty and division.

A few days ago I got my hands on a television documentary about the writing of that amazing book. Interviews with Lee, her older sister, editors, marketers, a dozen or so famous authors and more—everyone from Oprah and Roseanne Cash to Tom Brokaw.

In the story a young black man is charged with raping a white woman. I read the book long before I saw the movie, but I still chilled at the huge shadow of Boo Radley as he moved across the porch of the house where he lived in self-imposed isolation.

In all those years (the book came out in the early 1960s) millions of Lee’s books continued to sell. Andrew Young said he refused to read the book at first because he had seen it all in his real life—“I felt there was too much horror in my own life, to absorb any more.”

But he was later to tell an interviewer the book “gave us hope that justice would prevail.”

This little documentary traces the story, from the book and the movie, as the little town of Monroeville, Ala, caught in the raging fires of segregation, watched in fascination as the trial took place. As Scout and her brother passed the Radley house again and again, each time trembling with fear, they still ached to see and talk to the mysterious neighbor.

Touching heartstrings with sadness and stress, two scenes particularly stood out, it seems to me: The one where Atticus tries to explain to his young children why he was defending a black man, (although the documentary and the movie used a much rougher word as it was in those days in the South) the meaning slapped across the face of the audience like a horse whip.

Sadness follows the story through to its end and the young innocent man was declared guilty and killed. Many of the documentary interviewees tried to explain why Lee never attempted another novel. It did, all agreed, have a major influence on our country.

One friend remarked: “She came on stage, sang her song, played her solo, and walked off forever.”

“We may live eventually in a world where this prejudice is unimaginable,” said another who talked freely for the documentary, “but we are not there yet.”

We need more books and movies. 

John Muir

Some years ago I became the owner of a 1000-page book: “John Muir - His Life and Letters and Other Writings.”

What a blessing to the reading public who are lovers of nature that Muir had a kind of magic way with words, a burning passion to learn and explore and record the earth about him.Over the years I have gone again and again to those pages, opening at various points in the writer’s journey.   Biographers, friends and admirers contributed to the some half a dozen separate books contained in this omnibus. Many of the stories read like a journal, kept minute by minute as he climbed towering mountains, once with a sheep herder and more than two thousand sheep.

I am constantly enchanted by his accounts of rolling fields of wild flowers, towering Sequoias, the sparkling tumble of streams of rushing, bubbling water cascading downward.Among all the letters, diaries, biographical material and accounts of world travel in the Muir book, one of my favorite pages is about the wonders of the magnificent Sequoia trees. The page illustrates so well his intense feelings.

“Do behold the King in his glory. King Sequoia! Behold! Behold! Seems all I can say. Sometime ago I left all for Sequoia and have been and am at his feet, fasting and praying for light, for is he not the greatest light in the woods? In the world?”

“Where are such columns of sunshine, tangible, accessible, terrestrialised? Well may I fast, not from bread, but from business, book-making, duty-going, and other trifles, and great is my reward already, for the manly, treely sacrifice. . .I am in the woods, woods, woods and they are in me-ee-ee. . . “(Here I find myself putting music to his words. It’s as though he cannot hold in his joy.)

“I never before knew the virtue of Sequoia juice. Seen with sunbeams in it, it’s color is the most royal of all royal purples. No wonder the Indians instinctively drink it for they know not what. I wish I were so drunk and Sequoical that I could preach the green brown woods, descending from this divine wilderness. . .like John the Baptist, crying ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of Sequoia is at hand.’ ”

Muir spent time with his family, but he never stopped roaming the earth, gathering unknown specimens of plants, marveling at the skies, the clouds, measuring glaciers, taking sleds across endless icy miles.

Be Awake Early

Comes a time when the years sit solidly on the shoulders and begin whisperings too urgent to ignore.

“You know this,” they hiss in the ear. “Your years have fine-combed experience until the good grains are left an the chaff  is gone.”

Still, it is easy to question those nearly silent voices, murmuring as the day moves on, niggling unceasingly until it is time to give in to them.

Change has come and gone, come and gone, as more than eight decades have plowed the furrows of life, lifting up dead leaves and stones as hard as some hearts are hard.

Lessons rise like August fog.  We acquire clearness to know that variables of time laced with love and compassion fit a well-lived life. We learn that a solid connection between human beings, woven of threads of understanding and unselfishness, enrich and fertilize the years.

We don’t learn early enough it seems to me, to take good juicy bites out of the days. To chew and swallow and know the upswelling of joy as we taste the essence of living.

Looking backward to 40 years ago, I marvel at how dumb I was, how misplaced priorities tumbled me around like clothes in a dryer.  But I tried. Always I tried. I searched and read and pored over every self-help tome I could get my hands on.

If I gleaned one little tidbit of wisdom I could use, I considered that book a bargain. I was weaned on Bible verses and spent a goodly portion of my life’s weeks in church listening to the sacred verses, memorizing and marveling and questioning.

Our place on this earth among the earth’s people is  almost overpowering with its message. Reach out and touch other creatures, including humans;

Weep for starving children, scream at the unfairness and the indignities of war,  take whatever action that is open to try and make a difference .

And stop. Stop the rushing headlong toward . . . .what? Of course thousands of others have said this in words too numerous to know. But I believe it is the noticing of the days, no, the hours, even the minutes to see what is there and not wait for shattering news to shake us awake. Be awake.

In a chapter called “Endings,” Ivan Doig wrote this in his book “This House of Sky,” in the late 1970s.

“Split the tongue of the silence that beats in you when you first know a parent is dying, and it will begin to recite everything unsaid across a lifetime.”

But if you start early saying all that needs saying . . . .

Noodle  Doodles

Lots of folks, those with art in their souls, seem to draw little stick people or flowers or rainbows when they are in a meeting and are too bored to be still. It’s called “doodling.”

Often sneaky little ideas crawl around in my head, wanting out. The only way I can let them out is like this: Just write them. From time to time I give in and allow my fingers to roam over the keyboard. Perhaps this won’t make it into print, but, Oh, well….it’s  just my way of doodling.


**For instance: In a television commercial a line of folks is waiting at a cash register.  A man moves up behind another man who is ready to check out.  “May I go ahead of you?” the newly arrived person asks the first in line.  Though he is ready to check out, the kind man moves aside so the fellow behind him can go through. Just then bells ring, balloons burst and an announcement is made that the person now checking out represents a million customers to the store. If I had been that hasty customer who won $50,000 in that instant, I like to think I would have turned it over to the guy who so kindly gave me his spot! Does anybody in the world agree with me???!!

**My mother used to say, when us kids had committed too many misdemeanors , “Enough is enough! And too much is nasty! Now, stop it!” (Mothers, take note. Your words and teachings last longer than you think.)

**Two stickers on one bumper read like this.  First sticker: “Peace is possible.” Second sticker: “So, Evolve.”

**Quote from my 13-year-old Granddaughter: “Why do they call it a “civil war” when there was nothing ‘civil’ about it?”

**My father, many years ago was known in our area as a peacemaker.  He was called on from time to time to settle disputes at a WPA worksite. Persuasion, he believed, is better than force. I think of that phrase as his life’s motto.

**I think I’ll doodle some rain. Maybe it will make me feel hopeful. This has been, without a doubt, the hottest July I’ve ever known. Even the light bulb by my reading chair is making the air steamy.

**Overheard: “You crossed my mind, but you didn’t stay there.”

**Why does it seem, when you feel yourself running out of time, time flies faster than ever?

**Why do questions always multiply faster than answers?

**“A penny saved is a penny earned,” could have been one of Ben Franklin’s sayings.Anyway I try to be careful with everything so I won’t be wasteful. But what can you do with creams, salves and tooth paste when they ooze out in amounts greater than you need? I wish the great innovators could come up with another way to market and package things other than tubes. And what about plastic. Some of the pills I must take are so powerfully wrapped in heavy plastic you could run an Army tank over them and the wrap wouldn’t budge. Besides, we need to get rid of pennies anyway.


**Our family members have a raging habit of making puns and coining new phrases and words, such as plurals and past tenses, like “He clumb the tree.” “Flunce,” could possibly a brand new word invented by one of us. It’s a term to describe the flowing sheet as you prepare to spread it on the bed.

**Comic strip star Charlie Brown gets credit for this quote: “Life is like a ten speed bicycle. Most of us have gears we never use.”

(Perhaps we should transfer credit to Charles M. Schulz.)

I’ve got your 6

TV guy Dylan Ratigan, explaining to television viewers what, “I’ve got your six” means, remarked that only a small amount of Americans understand the term.

The first time I heard it was from the set of “NCIS,” one of my favorite shows. It is supposed to join scores of other organizations designed to help us care for our returning military service people who are serving or have arrived back on our American shores.

Experts say one million soldiers will be returning to civilian life in the next five years. I can recall years when nearly every family I knew welcomed back a wounded or dead family member from a war.  Not that it was recently. I’m 82, so my memory reaches back across a number of wars

Parents, kids, youngsters, all of us pitched in to help our military folks. I recall the austerity during World War II when we used ration cards which allowed us to purchase a limited amount gasoline, sugar and shoes. Young and old alike pitched to help: my sister and I would carry a couple of grown chickens to the local grocery to trade for food we didn’t grow on our hillside home; our brothers hunted and turned over to the government scrap metal.

Austerity hit hard in those times (I was born in 1929). Yet, these days we pray to see our forces return to America and hold hope that our leaders will make that happen. Too long these recent wars have stretched across our souls.

Still, wars since that time have changed so very much. Nowadays technology comes into the warfare, and takes over the ancient practices where soldiers once fought in trenches, replaced in later wars by u-boats and airplanes. Technology continued its frightening advances in ways to conduct wars.

Side effects continue to maim, damage and sicken those young Americans who travel in tour after tour to Afghanistan, to unfamiliar terrain and unspeakable terror.

I hope those of us left back home will come to feel the obligation and duty to say to each and every one of them, wherever they are: “I’ve got your six,” and carry intense hope we can make it be true.

The Helping Trait

The two of them boarded the big Greyhound about 250 miles south of Cincinnati.

“It wasn’t easy,” said the attractive elderly woman who recalled an incident in her life about half a century ago.

“The bus was crowded. We had to stand, “ she related. “My friend was the only African American on the bus.“  As the crowded vehicle neared Cincinnati, the woman’s friend began to feel ill.

The story-teller was a good friend of mine. We had known each other at least 45 years. Thinking back across the years, I arrived at some time during the civil rights turmoil as the time of her story. My friend pointed out that no one offered to assist the quite obviously sick young woman with her.

“The bus crowd was entirely white,” she said, “as we arrived at the station in Cincinnati, I tried to find someone to help us. We were totally ignored by everyone I approached, trying to hold her up as I moved about.”

Inside, it was no better. There was no empty seat for the two of them to rest. Some time had past and an African American waitress came from behind the counter and approached them.

“I have a small bed in the basement,” the waitress told them. “Let’s get her down there where she can lie down and we’ll get her something to make her feel better.”

So that’s what they did, my friend finished her story. “She felt well enough to go on by morning.”

“Another thing.” my friend related, “I will never, ever forget the kindness of that waitress.”

We talked then my elderly friend and elderly me, about the kindness surrounding us all and how purely American the trait of helping each other permeates our country.

Each of us, who had experienced about eight decades on this planet, could recall many times of help and tenderness from those around us.

One-half of a long-ago-learned sentence ran through my head: “Do unto others. . .”

I Have Hope

News blasting forth from a TV channels yells that campaign spending has reached two hundred million dollars (I’d rather spell it out in letters because it is difficult to gather in the impact from just plain old numbers.)

How far would that amount go toward eradicating hunger and need in this country? I mean THIS country, not to mention the distress in other parts of the world.

Sometimes I grieve the death of common sense in this country. I would like to think a person of the middle class could run for president and win. Nothing makes a human being want to help out his species more than having experienced the things that need to be corrected.

We spend several fortunes getting elected; then we hit the campaign trail right away, raising money for the next one.  What a waste.

I caught a couple of sentences from TV personality Ali Velshi the other day. He is involved in trying to get Congress away from the devastating bipartisanship now strangling our lawmakers in those bodies.  Among things I recall from that conversation of Velshi’s is this statement: “Congress can’t compromise.  Congress has wasted the lasted two years by short-term idiocy. “

And this bit of wisdom from Anna Quindlen’s new book: “Lots of candles Plenty of Cake.” Asking why, she states, is the way to wisdom. I have admired her writing for many years. Here’s how she detailed her ‘asking why’ thought: “Why are we supposed to want possessions we don’t need and work that seems beside the point and tight shoes and a fake tan?”

Along in the news these days (and by the way, it has been about two weeks since I started writing this column) voter ID laws have sprouted and grown insuring an uprising of anger at the purpose of keeping some folks away from the polls.

Some candidates take the old fashioned way of campaigning. For instance, I ran into a local candidate the other day who asked me what I would like in someone I would vote for.

“Integrity, honesty and compassion,” I said to him.

“Well, I have all three . . .” he began. Then he looked down for a second . . . “Sometimes.” He replied in a low voice. I didn’t say it aloud, but thought to myself at least he got one right.

It seems to me, sitting face-to-face with any candidate for a talk would bring about a greater understanding of the person hoping to be at the helm of this beloved land.

It also seems that manners and politeness with our fellow citizens have a possibility of raising two or three notches; and I think bigotry will decline as the decades pass.

But I have hope. I absolutely know miles of goodness run through it all and millions

of our people. And yes, I have hope for this country. 


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