A Chicago Christmas

Although I only spent 5 years in the city of my birth…I remember it well!  There was a snow on the ground and more in the air, as mom announced that she had retrieved Laughing Santa…and that I must come to see him!

Before me was the little, stuffed, Chief Elf…with his brightly painted face and the crank on his back.  The more that mom turned the crank…the more heartily Old St. Nick laughed.  I watched his antics and reveled in his laughter and wondered how he was able to be so human and yet…seemed not to be so?

There were many, uniquely wrapped, gifts under the 8 foot aluminum Christmas Tree.   Pointing at the shiny artificial  Tannenbaum was a rotating light with a cover of multi-colors that diffused the spectrum of color of the subsequent glow of the beam.

We had returned from our excursion into the city where we saw the new release of Walt Disney’s movie, Lady and the Tramp.  And, the information overload for me, at 3 years old, was tremendous…and ‘visions of sugarplums danced in my head!’

Soon dad and me and mom sat under the Tree as a, mysterious visitor, took our photo…’and that is the rest of the story.’

It was after dark and our outside Christmas lights were lit…and we heard a terrible commotion on the roof of our house in Sauk Village.  It sounded like someone had been on the roof and fell off.  As dad answered the door, I heard him proclaim…’Why come right in!’  There before us…was Santa Claus in all of his red suited, and white bearded, and pipe smoking glory!

Santa laughed, a lesser laugh, than what I had expected…and he wondered if he could use our phone to call Mrs. Claus?  He went on to say that he and the Missus had been involved in a spat when he left and he needed to ensure that there was a home for him to return to…when the Christmas Eve work was completed.  Dad showed him our one phone in the hall…and he began to dial.  We gave him his privacy…he looked like that he needed it.  We heard him say, ‘but…but…but,’ on several occasions, and then he joined us in the living room.  Santa said that he had patched things up and inquired was there anything that he could do for us…before he resumed his journey.  Mom responded that she would like for him to snap a family photo of us under the Christmas Tree.  Santa took her camera and took two pictures…in case the first one did not come out right.

Dad poured the, ‘spritely old elf,’ some eggnog and asked if he wanted something stronger in it…and he smiled with the rosiest of cheeks and said, ‘absolutely!’

As Santa left, on our carport were the reindeer and a bright red glow…from Rudolph’s nose.  Donner and Vixen called out to Santa and asked, ‘where’s ours?’ referring to the spiked eggnog.

So, that is how the Brooks Family Photo…was taken.

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‘Waiting For Godot’

‘Waiting for Godot is a play by Samuel Beckett.’    Wikipedia

”The play is a typical example of the Theatre of the Absurd, and people use the phrase ‘waiting for Godot’ to describe a situation where they are waiting for something to happen, but it probably never will…’    Wikipedia

So, I often say that I am, ‘waiting for Godot!’

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Aren’t we all waiting for many things in our lives…that have not exhibited themselves ever…or at least not on a semi-regular basis We wait for Godot when we seek justice and fair treatment for all peoples…not just the majority or those who are favored by the political class.  We wait patiently for our elected leaders to care more about their constituents than their own interests.  What a treat it would be to witness a concerted focus to address global warming!

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

We live in a country that, by all available measurable criteria, live in multiple realities.  There was a famous book, many years ago, that was entitled, Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus.  This book demonstrated the difficulty in men and women communicating with each other and understanding and empathizing with each others point of view.  Today points of view are dictated by the television news network that you receive your news from.

When I was a teenager, men simply understood that they were going to be drafted and be sent to Vietnam.  My cousin, Billy, was drafted.  The only reason that I was not drafted was due to President Carter abolishing the draft before I became of age to go!

We all watched Walter Cronkite on CBS or Huntley and Brinkley on NBC and we basically received the same news.

We wept when President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963 at 12:30 pm, central standard time.  Somehow, we understood that we would never be the same…and we have not!

We are told by our parents and our elders to work hard and ‘pay-our-dues’ and seek to excel in our careers!  We are assured that if we will apply ourselves…we will climb the ladder of success…and we will be another example of the American Dream!  We are told that anyone can be President of the United States and anyone can be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company…the Horatio Alger story of rags to riches…is ours for the taking….

But, what if the person who is doing the hiring…does not play by the rules?  What if it is not…what you know…but who you know….?

Institutions agonize regarding their low morale.  They engage is studies….and consultants….and large committees…too investigate and conduct in depth research into the quandary of ebbing excitement about the work-place!

The answer is simple….we all wait….much as our Jewish friends wait for the Messiah…or justice and equity and fairness…and recognition of consistent hard work and a passion for the job….and someone who has placed their heart and soul into their career….being recognized for their efforts…rather than being passed over for a friend of the boss!

We are still, ‘Waiting for Godot!’

 

 

A Simple Life

Hot July is upon us. It is the kind of heat that makes you appreciate air conditioning. It seems hotter to me than when I was a child…but I was hot then…with no relief. In those days I took baths, as we had no showers, and began to perspire prior to getting dressed. Riding in the car was hot as was sleeping in a sweat soaked bed and sitting in front of a box fan that felt like a furnace blowing on you. Climatize is a good word for the young. I dislike the hot weather as badly as the extreme cold that comes with winter. But, I said all of that to say that we Americans as well as most of the industrialized world…are somewhat spoiled. Conditioning does matter. I read of my friend and fellow blogger in Scotland who rides his bike often as transportation. When I read of the loving manner that he speaks of his bike and his new bike…it makes me want a bike. I am sure that he is more healthier than I with my motorized lifestyle. Although I am proud of my continued 10,000 steps per day.

My friend, Jeff, is an inspiration to me. He lives an honest life and is dedicated to the principles that he believes in. I have been friends with Jeff for 50 years…and he has always had a fierce intellect. He questions many things from a standard of truth…rather than what the majority believe and call…truth. Jeff lives his life by his own lights…and I have attempted to do the same. He does not have the clutter and confusion of mechanization surrounding him…and yet he is happy and thinks deeply regarding the challenges that our modern life presents us with. I saw my friend today and it always a joy to talk to a true soul…

If there is anything that can be said about our 2020/2021 Pandemic it would be that we do not know what is coming next. To say that we do understand what is around the corner… would be to ignore what is unfolding before us. It seems to me that neither the health professionals nor the politicians nor the pundits…fully understand where we will be in the upcoming fall and winter. I think that we should be ready for closures again and that may include churches and businesses. It is highly possible that masks will once again be required for most face to face transactions. The ancient term for Pandemic would be Plague…and Plagues are unpredictable. The Bible speaks of the 7 last Plagues. I do not ascribe to the fundamentalist views of these scriptures…but our planet is in a precipitous decline due to our human neglect.

A simple life is a good life. It seems that we seek the answers to life’s persistent problems among the partisan politicians that are more concerned with protecting their next paycheck than protecting their constituents. We look to the minister who has commissioned him or herself and anointed by God…because they told us that they were… We religiously watch the television media to reveal to us the truth….as they define it. And we become sick…and we die…and we wonder why…

Thought is a beautiful thing. Albert Einstein developed the Theory Of Relativity by thought. Think about what you are being told by your leaders and then think about your empirical reality…and see if they square. Air conditioners and televisions and modern industrial life will not produce truth for us. Media will not bring us closer to God or to our fellow man. Someone telling us what to think…will not produce truth or peace or contentment in our daily struggles. Research and wood burning in our brains…will reveal a path that our mothers and fathers and our grandmothers and grandfathers understood as a result of their education and their upbringing.

Itchy Feet

For those of us who like to roam and ramble there is an old saying…’Itchy Feet.’ The prospect of travel has always excited me. I can remember that just going to another town or especially a state or more away from my home state of Illinois…was like a Lewis and Clark Expedition to me when I was a lad. A night in a motel or hotel was so different than what I was accustomed to that I could hardly sleep in view of the strange surroundings that I found myself in. I felt a bit like Aaron who told his mom when we were spending a night in a hotel and he discovered a King James Bible in one of the drawers, ‘Mommy I am going to read this Bible…all night!’ I know that in the late 1990’s when we were in the midst of our Great Eastern Adventure and spending two nights in Manhattan…that there was so much loud and interesting night excitement that was just below our hotel window…that each of us had to look out of our windows on numerous occasions to receive our update on the city that never sleeps.

Travel is the rare spice of life…that you can not find just anywhere that you look. During our early years of marriage and even before Aaron and Jonathon were born we would drive two or three nights journey to the south. We loved Tennessee and still do. MJ and I had breakfast in a Cracker Barrel restaurant this morning in Marion, Illinois. When we were traveling to Tennessee in the 70’s there were no Cracker Barrel eateries much beyond the Tennessee border. Each time that we dined in one…I noticed the life like statues called Tom Clark Gnomes or Cairn and wanted badly to purchase one…but there was no money for such artistic endeavors in those days. Indeed we took short overnight trips because, ‘The gas money could give out in Gurnsey,’ as Cousin Eddie told Clark Griswold in the holiday classic…’Christmas Vacation. Gatlinburg, Tennessee was our favorite destination. We loved to stay a few nights in the picturesque town.that is nestled at the foot of the Great Smoky Mountains. There is a hotel in the town that is built over the Little Pigeon river and the sound of the rushing water from the river is a delight. Many times we have driven into the Smoky’s and visited the old settlement of Cades Cove. ‘The valley has a rich history. For hundreds of years Cherokee Indians hunted in Cades Cove but archeologists have found no evidence of major settlements. The first Europeans settled in the Cove sometime between 1818 and 1821. By 1830 the population of the area had already swelled to 271. Cades Cove offers the widest variety of historic buildings of any area in the national park. Scattered along the loop road are three churches, a working grist mill, barns, log houses, and many other faithfully restored 18th and 19th century structures. ‘ Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We were so enamored with the Cove that we purchased hand made replicas of each of the buildings and proudly display them to this day.

Several Christmases we had the tradition of meeting our friends, Faye and Steve, for a three our four night stay in Gatlinburg. Usually we would arrive just before the end of Christmas…after enjoying a wonderful holiday feast with Ron and Mary Jane and Tara and Mrs. Moore. I vividly recall Steve and I standing out on the balcony of our condo that we had rented that was located in full view off the Smokies and the brightly lit town below. As the smoke lay on the mountains and the Christmas lights sparkled in holiday reverence below…I considered that I had not felt a more peaceful feeling.

Travel affords an education that you can not receive in the finest universities. It is a bias and prejudice deflator…if you allow it to perform it’s good work on you. You learn that God has many children…and that he loves them all…

Church

Today I returned to church…that is the church building…for the first time in over 16 months. Now I did attend a memorial service a little over a week ago, but this was my first worship service. The pews were partitioned with bright green ribbon to facilitate social distancing. Most of the congregation were wearing face masks. It was a singular joy to see so many of our church family out to attend their church in the bright summertime. Our ongoing Pandemic has kept us apart…and may do so again. Millions of Americans have refused, thus far, to be inoculated against Covid. That coupled with the Delta Variant of the virus has caused a Pandemic among the unvaccinated.

The church bulletin seemed unusually large to me…today. I wondered if it was because I had not seen one in nearly a year and one half. I had supremely enjoyed the Zoom Church that we have had and still do have. But, there is nothing like gathering together to share a mutual faith with fellow believers and members of our human family. I just read, ‘I guess we should retire the expression ‘avoid it like the plague’ given how little effort people put into avoiding an actual plague.’ The CDC is reexamining its’ mask policy due to the intransigence of the plethora of Pandemic deniers.

Attending church has been an integral part of my life for the past 52 years. When I do not go to church…I do not feel like myself. Something is missing. There was a wonderful special music this morning from Pat and Kathy’s son, Anthony, that transported me to another world for a few moments. His resonate voice caused me to recall the outstanding singing of one of the Wisemen in a Christmas play that we saw at Shryock Auditorium almost 30 years ago. I have been listening to our Music Director, Carlyn’s, lovely voice over Zoom for sometime and it is always wonderful…but it was a special blessing to hear it in person…this morning!

Kerry was behind the pulpit with his effervescent smile and his shock of snow white hair…and his welcoming spirit. When I see Kerry I see a disciple of Christ…who desires to be an encouragement to all that he encounters. I saw many who were not able to avail themselves of Zoom Church…and I was especially glad for the reopening of our building.

So Jonathon and I dropped by Electric Larrys and I found a couple of vintage Star Wars Action Figures from the 1970’s. It takes a vintage old man to appreciate a vintage toy.

Our 2020/2021 Pandemic is more than what we thought that it was and more than we expected.

Movement Brings Hope And Happiness

Upon my first day of retirement I knew that I must remain active. I had worked an average of 10 hours a day for 25 years which included weekends and holidays. I received telephone calls from work when I was on cruises and on every major event including anniversaries and birthdays. I was involved in so many committees at SIUC that I lost count of the number throughout the years. Instead of wanting to do less…I wanted to accomplish more. I was surrounded by the elite of professionalism and courage and dedication of my wonderful colleagues. So I learned over my career that if I wanted something to happen…I had to make it happen. Waiting for someone to take an interest in me or open doors for me was not a practical application of my hours on earth. Waiting for the life to come your way that you believe that you are entitled to is an exercise in futility.

Jerry Seinfeld said in an interview that I saw that when he awakens each morning and is still laying in bed…he feels awful and depressed and totally lacking in the necessary skills to perform his daily task. However he went on to note that once he gets out of bed and begins to move…he feels better and the dark cloud that covered his thoughts at his awakening…lifted. I think that we are all a bit like Jerry in that the process of thinking about all that we have to do or worrying about what needs to be accomplished…without putting legs onto the tasks…is debilitating. We humans are designed for movement. A sedentary lifestyle is bad for our health.

Stir up the juices. If you want to travel…it is time to do so. If you have hobbies that are a passion…indulge your’ passion. We often say to ourselves, you know that inner voice that says you are not good enough or smart enough, that we could never accomplish what many of our peers have…or media celebrities that appear to be somewhat god like in comparison to we mere mortals. Everything that you admire that someone has accomplished was by a human being that is made from the same materials that you are. To refer to someone as gifted is a somewhat overused phrase. The famous inventor, Thomas Edison, said that success was 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. Life is taken by the horns by those who are willing to get up and go grab the horns… Leadership is taken by those who want to help others and to inspire others by their example. The wrong people ascend to leadership positions when there is a vacuum…

Ten years has gone by like the Biblical reference of a ‘Weaver’s Shuttle,’ or as the singer James Taylor extols us, ‘The secret of life is enjoying the passing of time.’ Life is most enjoyed when we are immersed in it…not setting back and contemplating it. I love the saying to stop and smell the flowers…and there are a lot of flowers…

Make Someone Smile

Yesterday I had the most lovely experience of being able to get several photos and short videos of a Great White Heron flying. Although we have a Great White that visits our pond, at home, I have never been able to snap a good photo of the majestic prehistoric looking bird. However at Campus Lake yesterday I had my golden opportunity. Watching the fantastic fowl take flight made me smile.

I have been taking photos for many years in Campus Woods and Campus Lake…but I have not had the good fortune to snap as many pictures of one of my favorite birds before yesterday.

Few things make me happier in a day than something that causes me to smile. When I smile my entire day is uplifted and brightened. I saw my friend, Sarah, this morning on Campus walking her beautiful dog. The dog licked my hand and I petted her and remembered what it was like to have 1 dog and 2 dogs…and 3 dogs…and I smiled.

Smiling people make those whom they are smiling at…smile. It is hard to remain discouraged when when a fellow human traveler smiles at you. Their smile says volumes about them…and about you. They are saying that they are glad to see you and that they value you. When you smile back you are responding that you recognize their goodwill and that you feel good to be seen by them…and appreciated for your shared journey on the pathway of life.

Laughing is just a herculean smile…that takes over your entire body… The scripture says that, ‘Laughter does good like a medicine.’ Laughing is good. medicine. It is difficult to recall what you were so worried about…when you laugh.

Do you want to know what universally makes people smile…babies…

I hope that you smiled when you read my humble blog…

Lifetime Subscription

SIRUS Radio is provided for 4 months for free in our new Subaru. When I purchased the 2007 Toyota Camry in August of 2010 I had a Lifetime Subscription for XM Radio which was, at that time, the rival Satellite Radio to SIRUS Satellite Radio. This wonderful subscription came with the installation of hardware to facilitate the transmission of satellite radio. When I asked the installers if lifetime meant my lifetime or the lifetime of the Camry…they remarked that it must be for the lifetime of the car. I drove the 2007 Toyota for just short of 11 years. So, MJ is reading an email that she received from Marion Toyota regarding their signing us up for our 4 months free SIURS/XM Satellite Radio and somewhat costly plans…but reduced from their regular price for the first year of the subscription. I noted that we must subscribe to the Platinum Plan as it offered a Sports Package and it included MLB…which she loves. She read on. Suddenly I heard her hooping and hollering that my Lifetime Subscription was really for my lifetime…according the the fine print from SIRIUS/XM and that there was a telephone number to call to facilitate having my lifetime subscription transferred to the Subaru Touring. This can not be done until November 20th…we have the date marked on our calendar.

Have you ever wondered how many lifetime subscriptions you have in our game of life? Christianity and my quiet faith in Christ has given me lifetime peace and happiness. I do not mean trouble free…’Troubles…boy I got them,’ but rather a settled sense of place and purpose and a comfort that is constant.

I have a lifetime subscription to the joy that MJ and Aaron and Jonathon bring me. They are the center point of my life and and I revolve around their awesome presence. I have never experienced the time that when I think of my family…I am not centered with contentment and a sense of purpose and a reason to be in the world.

People who are kind to me…purchase a lifetime subscription to my affection and admiration. Each kind word that I have received in my life…I have never forgotten. Anyone who has ever taken a genuine interest in me…has a lifetime subscription in my heart and mind and soul…

I have a passion to write and reach out to someone who is hurting or depressed or beaten back by the 100 foot waves of life. I remember what it felt like to be all alone and lonely and afraid of the requirements of what was necessary to produce what I needed to to succeed in this world. I recall how it feels to be underestimated and under appreciated in our world that is the accumulation of money and power and academic success.

I have a lifetime subscription to help somebody along the way. I want to lift the heavy burden and make the load lighter. I desire to hear the, ‘weak say that I am strong and the poor say that I am fed.’ I wonder how a poor boy like me…has been so blessed by others who cared about me…and the tender mercies of the Great Spirit…

Nice People…Make Life Pleasant

My last two days have. been marked and made better by nice people. You may not believe it…but there are a lot of nice people in our world. Our Subaru Salesperson, Alex Carter, is a gentleman and a scholar. We purchased a Subaru Forester Limited from him in December of 2020 and enjoyed it so much that we returned yesterday to purchase a second Subaru Forester, Touring, from Alex. Of course needing 2 new vehicles is the result of trading in a 2006 Honda in December and a 2008 Toyota Camry yesterday. We drive our vehicles a long time. We now have our 5th new automobile in over 43 years of marriage. The conservative manner in which we drive and put miles on our cars over the past 10 years…may mean that the Subaru Fleet will last us forever… What sold me on Subaru is their excellent safety features and the comfort and easy access of the cabin. When we were speaking with the Credit Manager, Grant, who is another nice person…he remarked that our Camry would be a good ride for a friend of his as he noted that he was certain that we took good care of it. I thought of the little old lady who only drove her car to church on Sunday…

On our December Forrester we had been struggling to sync our garage door opener to the button for that purpose that was in the Limited. When we picked up the Touring, yesterday, Alex asked if he needed to show us how to sync the SUV to our garage door opener…and we replied…with forlorn faces…that we had attempted to sync the Limited to our garage door opener for 50 times or more without success. Alex proclaimed that he would be happy to come to our home and sync both Subarus to their respective openers. He did so today at 10:00 A:M: and now we are in garage door opening nirvana… Alex Carter is the nicest and most helpful car salesperson that I have ever dealt with.

After over 10 years I needed to return the scrapings of my Gold Southern Illinois University Parking Decal as I finally traded automobiles. Johnell Agee waited on this old retiree with such kindness and good will that I must mention her lovely customer service… here. I had received new license plate on my Forester yesterday when I traded my Camry Hybrid. I had neither memorized the new number nor written it down prior to the long walk to the Parking Division. Johnell was kind enough to give me a note with her email on it to facilitate my emailing her the new number. I felt welcome from her first friendly greeting and I was impressed with her genuine customer service skills.

People can make people feel welcome and at home and glad to be in the business or church or Academic Institution that you represent. MJ and I visited Marion Subaru in December with no preconceived expectations. Our opinion of the dealership was an open book. I was struck with how the manager spoke to us at some length and recounted some of his history. I felt relaxed and I felt that I was dealing with honest people. That is worth it’s weight in gold…

Parking Division is not a place where every customer is a happy camper. Often they have received tickets that they want to complain about or contest. I spent my career in Building Services which is the housekeeping department of the Physical Plant. We had many happy customers and our share of disgruntled ones. My management philosophy was that the, ‘The customer was aways right.’ When I was given the charge of the entire department in 1997 I determined that we were going to make our enemies our friends and our friends…love us. My colleagues performed herculean tasks to make this departmental policy a demonstrated reality. I loved to shop at Famous Barr Department Stores. Virtually all of the sales professionals in the Carbondale store called me by name and welcomed me each time I was in their establishment. I felt like that I was a part of and a member in good standing of… Famous Barr.

The Holidays Are Coming

Now I am certain that you think that the title of this blog is a bit unusual. It is July 20th and when someone refers to the approach of the holidays it usually begins with Thanksgiving. However, you must remember this…my favorite months of the year begin with September. The former Muscular Dystrophy Telethon with Jerry Lewis was a touchstone for me and the beginning of my season. This September a holiday is planned to one of our favorite destinations, Maine. After Maine comes my birthday on October 24th. This is a major holiday in the Brook’s home…with me fully enjoying every minute…and the family going along for the rollercoaster ride… I used to have 3 birthday dinners…and sometimes 4…this year it may just be 1…but it will be a good one! Then comes Halloween. I have become a Halloween aficionado in recent years.

Aaron’s birthday is in November and will we celebrate…as it is a special birthday with a special number. As my mom often said…’We will open a keg of nails…and count out 40…

When I was a lad Thanksgiving was but a precursor to Christmas. We had neither turkey dinner…nor turkey leg…but we did have the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade…and, ‘dreams of sugarplums dancing in our heads.’ MJ will hear nothing of not observing her favorite holiday…Thanksgiving. She has hosted Thanksgiving Dinner for 30 years. When Turkey Day arrives…she is in her element!