Monthly Archives: May, 2021

Life Is Story

Another beautiful day in the neighborhood. A cool Memorial Day Weekend is to be prized. Last year at this time we were in the midst of our Pandemic and vaccines were months away. We had canceled our Maine Holiday and soon would cancel another before the year was completed. At First Presbyterian Church in Carbondale, we on the Session had voted to close the church for in person attendance in February and little did we know that we would be closed for 15 months… Twenty-Twenty was the year of the pipe for me. Having purchased a pipe package at a Tobacconist in St. Charles, Missouri during November, 2019…I busily puffed away on the corn cob pipe that was included with some pipe tobacco and pipe cleaners and the all important instructions on how to smoke a pipe. I so enjoyed the experience, as I have been a Sherlock Holmes fan for most of my life, that I asked for a pipe for Christmas from Aaron. He gifted me the most exquisite cherry pipe and I was on my way to the, ‘ smoke encircling my head like a wreath.’ Then the Pandemic struck and I…as well as all of you…was left with spare time…which I devoted to my new found pleasure. Many happy thoughts and plans ensued from my smoky solitude and thoughts of the future. As I sat in my vintage Toyota Camry and enjoyed a bowl or two or three…Two elderly ladies looked at me suspiciously each day as they passed my car on their afternoon Pandemic walk. Some days I bowed my head and smiled…and they smile back….while other days they averted their gaze at what was obviously a sinner…with an obsession.

I have had few richer or more rewarding pleasure than to be able to offer a good paying job to another human being. Often I was able to bring into the University Community people who had been marginalized by society and forgotten by the elite. My friend, Astrid, admired my axiom…that I was not hiring people for a job…I was hiring people into a career. During my 25 years in management/administration at Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale Campus leaders had an appreciation for the value that their housekeeping organization brought to the mission of SIUC. On one occasion Chancellor Samuel Goldman said that if he could just get the rest of the University to work together as well as Building Services did on the night of the derecho when they prepared the foot ball stadium for commencement for the Saturday after the devastating destruction that was wrought on Southern Illinois. In 2009 Southern Illinois was hit with what was termed an inland hurricane or a derecho. We cleaned Abe Martin Football Stadium’s metal bleaches under constant lightning and with our only light the flashlights that our staff carried. The Story of Building Services was renown though out our Community.

Story compels us to action. Story captivates our imagination. Jesus was born of the virgin Mary and laid in swaddling clothes in a manger because there was no room for him in the inn. Dr. Billy Graham told millions of people over his multi-decade ministry that Christ wanted them to be saved and that they should walk down to the stage where he was preaching as an illustration to the world…of their commitment to Christianity. I attended a Billy Grahm Crusade in Carbondale, Illinois that was held at the Campus Arena. I had been a Christian for many years…and also had been a life long admirer of the ministry of Billy Graham. There was an African American preacher that was the keynote speaker and I was mesmerized by the feeling in the large Arena that held nearly 10 thousand people. There were no histrionics or overtly emotional appeals…and yet the the call to Christ was palpable in the building. Much later Jonathon and I saw Dr. Graham speak in the football stadium in St. Louis, Missouri. He was 80 years old and his shock of white hair glistend in the spotlights. He spoke a simple story of Christ love for mankind. He spoke as an 80 year old would speak…and it was compelling and magnificent…and other worldly. Dr. Graham did not have an overtly political message nor an involved theological treatise. He presented the simple story that Jesus loves the little children…all the little children of the world…and we are all children…

The Big Comb

Our Neighborhood Co-Op is an interesting and eclectic emporium of healthy foods and unusual baked bread and delicious pizza. I discovered today that they also had a big comb like mother used to have. As mom and I were going it alone after she and my dad divorced…I noticed her big blue comb that she kept on the sink in our only rest room. Mind you the days of two our three rest rooms in your house were light years away from my reality. I had friends who had outdoor toilets with the ever present Sears Catalog. But mom had the indestructible big blue comb that I combed my young hair with each morning before walking to Hillcrest School. The comb had big teeth and I had thick black hair…and they worked well together. Over the subsequent years I have not been witness to the big comb…until today. I was so excited to procure a vintage Big Comb…that I neglected to buy a slice of wonderful and healthy pizza.

We continue to attempt to improve and modernize and streamline…when we really are looking for the joys of our youth. The days when you assumed that you would always have thick hair to comb…and mom’s big blue comb would be at its ever present place on the sink. When I arrived home from school…there was mom with the widest grin on her face and a joy in welcoming my return from the big mean world. I never wondered if mom loved me…I knew it. I had seen her get mad at others and lash out and she was somewhat frightening when she was angry…but when I upset her…she smiled and became silent and reflective and never cross. Mom apologized for not telling me that she loved me or her infrequent hugs…but I was perplexed because I understood that I was her world… She became ill and began loosing blood though her bowels and she was convinced that she had cancer… I called her every day from the pay telephone at the Junior High School and enquired as to her health of the mid-day. I was worried and frightened and afraid of loosing my mom…who loved me so. Later during surgery it was discovered that mom had an obstruction in her colon and not cancer…and Earl and I were both relieved and thankful for the good news. Neve June…a little girl from Mt. Vernon, Illinois…was our light and our reason for getting up in the morning. She never met a person who was down on their luck or who needed a hand or a leg up…that the did not take on as her personal project to help and assist. Neva June taught me the meaning of Christian. Her family seemed to discount her and marginalize her and it made me so angry… I thought that she is more a Christian than the group of those whited sepulchers combined…

Mom smoked Salem Cigarettes… not because she liked to smoke but because every adult that the knew smoked at least a little… She incessantly worried about her and my dad’s divorce and felt that it was all her fault and that she had permanently marred me. She was the most powerful example of courage and fortitude and grace and humility that I ever knew…and she could do no wrong.

So today I bought a Big Comb…and when I comb my hair…I will see Mom…

A Chilly Memorial Day…Friday

The temperature is 61 degrees with a 17 mile per hour wind…making it feel like 57. That is unusually cool in our neck of the woods for the Memorial Day Weekend or the unofficial kick off for summer. Also, there is a light rain falling periodically, that is. It is just my kind of weather! I was watching the President and his obvious grief for his deceased son, Bo, who had served in the military. His expressed love and respect for our troops was palpable and a testament to the supreme value that they have for our country. I remember my dad who served in the Pacific Theatre during World War II. He bought back the most lovely hand crafted jewelry boxes.

I watched a most interesting documentary on Hulu, the other night, regarding the largest retirement community in the United States, The Villages in central Florida. In the beginning of the the piece it seemed that The Villages were Nirvana on Earth. In fact one of the residents stated that they were… However as the movie continued it became apparent that although, as a resident said, that if you lived in The Villages you never had to leave the community for anything as it was all contained within…yet there was no panacea for our human condition. One couple featured in the program had been married for 43 years but the husband was determined to experiment with illegal drugs and was a slowly losing his mind. A recent widow had to continue working full time to afford to live in The Villages and was constantly reminiscing about her former home in Massachusetts. She was lonely…although she noted that it was difficult to be alone in the community. The third man that was focused on was living in his van and seeking a well to do widow to support him. It appeared that there was constant entertainment and unlimited opportunities to drink your favorite alcohol and the opportunity to drive, incessantly, your golf cart…which is considered a necessary luxury in paradise. Google calculates that the monthly expenses of Villages living is $4,254 dollars and $200 for expenses and $8000 for a golf cart and painting your home.

Summer was not my favorite season when I was a youngster. I have never cared for hot weather. If it were not for our bi-weekly swimming trips to Pound Hollow, which was about 20 miles from Eldorado…I would have been miserable. I did enjoy being out of school. I so enjoyed swimming that I even ventured into my neighbors pond, that their hogs also enjoyed, on more than one occasion. Thankfully, I am still alive to tell the story. For the many years that I was working…work did not adjourn for the summer…it was just the hot time that I had to go to labor. Upon retirement I made my peace with summer. Now I enjoy what it has to offer. After all it is a quarter of our year. We have made a number of hot weather holidays. After five Caribbean cruises and one extend visit to the island of St. John…we understand the complete meaning of…hot. Three of our four visits to Europe could be characterized as hot holidays… When we spent a month with our friends, Margo and Jeff, and stayed with them in their flat in Nice…I was without my trusty hat. After being in the Mediterranean sun for a couple of days…I began to furtively seek a hat. MJ and I finally discovered a hat store in Nice and I purchased a white beach hat. The friendly owners of the haberdashery told me that I had chosen the perfect hat for my head…and so I believe the they must know what they are talking about. We even kicked off my retirement at the conclusion of 2010 with a January visit to Jamaica. I was so enthralled with my new freedom that I felt like a rich man who did not know how to spend my money. We went with my brother-in-law, Ron…who is more like my brother, and he showed us how to enjoy Jamaica. The Sandals Resort that we stayed at was all inclusive and I did not fully appreciate the terminology until I ordered a drink at one of the many bars and the barman kept pouring alcohol into my Vodka tonic. When I mentioned to the broad smiling gentleman that he certainly made drinks stronger than where I came from he replied….’We are a drinking country…mon!’ We went on an excursion to Dunn’s River Falls and Ron assured us that we would enjoy the experience. At first we had to stop off for some water shoes…and I found one pair that would fit my size 15 feet. Then we walked down many steps to only look up at a 90 degree angle wall of slick rock and algae covered rock with water running down it in a copious manner. I looked around in an effort to see if this must be a joke on the tourist…but it was not. Many in our party were obviously older than we were. I wondered if this was where I was gong to die. We began to climb and slip and grab on to the slick wall of rock and algae and water as if our life deepened on it…because it did.

So I have learned to love the summer and the gifts that it brings. I have discovered that the feeling of fulfillment in retirement can be found in Southern Illinois…just as well as in The Villages in central Florida. Happiness comes from within. It seems that.a peaceful heart comes from a settled mind.

Often when I return from an enjoyable holiday and where I have seen things that I have not seen before or experience adventures that are new to me…I remember the smallest and obscure details. We purchased some Tumi luggage at Miramar Beach and the Asian lady that helped us was simply a delight! She made us proud and excited to be owners of Tumi! I visited Edinburgh and saw the varied mysteries and dreams of the hundreds of dramatic performances during the Fringe Festival…and yet I vividly recall a gentleman that I spoke to at a Chinese Restaurant on the first evening that we were there. He was in a wheel chair and he asked me if I could help him up in order to facilitate his order at the counter. He was such a kind man and inquired with interest as to our impressions of Edinburgh and where we were from. He mentioned how he wanted to visit the United States…but had been denied on an occasion and yet he was going to resubmit his application for a Visa. Activities and events and friends and fun are standing in line for those of us who are up for little adventure…

Life Among the Potsherds — The Jazz Man

‘Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes.’ Job 2:8. NIV Have you ever considered what life would be without man’s inhumanity to his sisters and brothers? Recently a Congresswoman has equivocated the wearing of face masks to prevent the spread of Covid19 to […]

Life Among the Potsherds — The Jazz Man

Stormy Weather

During our time in Miramar Beach, Florida, earlier in the month, we experienced some lovely temperate days and several showers and storms. Some might not like rain and inclement weather on their holiday…but I enjoy it immensely. Storms fascinate me. They remind me of life and the vacillating vicissitudes of our day to day struggle. I had a pastor, many years ago, who enjoyed fitting vacillating vicissitudes into his sermons. If they are not property damaging or life threatening I find storms, strangely peaceful. My stepfather, Earl, was so frightened of storms that he would rise from his bed in the middle of the night and announce to my mother and I that we must escape by car as there was a tornado coming! As I grabbed a shirt in one hand and pants in the other…he reminded me to not forget Cheetah, his loving Chihuahua. Cheetah hated the air that I breathed. Each time that I attempted to pet her…she displayed all of her old teeth and snarled menacingly. She did the same when I fed her. So, when I picked her up to the Great Car Escape…I whispered in her good ear…’If you bite me I will leave you for the tornado.’ She came compliantly.

Earl told mom and I that if a tornado came we should run out the ditch and jump in it and cover our heads. I wondered how we would breath…under the water. When it was not storming I would ride my bicycle, that looked like a motorcycle, into town. We lived on a country road with semi large gravel that did not agree with my knobby wheels. Nevertheless I was no deterred and made this trip every day that we did not go swimming at Ponds Hollow. Mom and I loved Ponds Hollow. She would drive her 1957 Chevy Bel Air convertible the roughly 20 mile trek to what was nirvana for me and my friends. The day was spent swimming and floating on the cool water and being on the lookout for Water Moccasin snakes. I witnessed several during my years of being there, and I was not afraid as I was young and invincible. During our return journey we drove through Harrisburg, Illinois and thus right by my favorite eatery…the Moo and Cackle. We bought 5 hamburgers for a dollar…and I consumed 3 of them.

Orpheum Theatre was my favorite summer time hangout. Sadly it was only open on Friday nights and Saturday and Sunday. On the weekend I attended for a 35 cent ticket and could stay all day if I liked. I liked! I saw every movie that came to our little coal mining town. I saw Barbarella, with Jane Fonda in the title role, all day Saturday and went back on Sunday for a return engagement. The owner knew me by name and seemed to like me, I was a good customer, and his wife sold the tickets and there was an ancient gentleman who tore the tickets in two just before you entered the darkened theatre. On one occasion he asked me if I would mind going to the Dairy Queen and buying him a pack of Marlboro cigarettes. I told the old sage that I would be happy to and when I arrived at the DQ I ordered two packs of the cigarettes that had the cowboy as their advertisement…1 for me…and 1 for my buddy.

The biggest mystery at the Orpheum was the Cry Room. I would look at the brilliant neon red sign that proudly proclaimed that the Cry Room was at the top of some narrow and winding stairs and wonder just what went on in the upstairs specialized area. I inquired of my Marlboro Buddy and he responded that the room was where people went to cry… I deducted that it was necessary when a sad movie was screening. On one or more occasions I climbed the haunted house staircase and found the door to the Cry Room…locked. Perhaps it only was unlocked when you are crying?

My classmates are having their birthdays this year…as we do every year. I noticed that we are all turning 64. We are members in good standing of the 57/64 Baby Boomers Club.

A 57 Original

He opened his eyes and wondered if where he was now was real and where he had just come from had been a dream. Or was it vice-versa as his mom had been fond of saying when the tables were turned in life’s events. Where he had been was Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale. He not only had not retired but was working the night shift. The new director would not speak to him and a woman who had been a member of his staff…now occupied his office. He was working covertly to clean the University buildings that were sorely in need of cleaning. A colleague asked him when he was going to retire and he answered that he has put it off for 10 years, but that he thought that he would retire soon…and see the world.

Before being at SIUC he had been enjoying his mystery cruise that he found himself embarking on several occasions over the past 20 years. There were lovely stores and restaurants and cigar bars…and other bars…and quality entertainment. He thought what a life and why would he ever want to leave such easy and satisfying fun. There she was with the two by her side. She had a firm grip on each of their little hands and one called me Di Da and the other laughed each time that he heard the interesting title.

Suddenly he was reading his Bible with the hand made leather cover at his mom’s home. He was in the kitchen and the adjacent coal stove was so hot that the pages of the good book curled upwards. He thought about the opportunity that he had been given…and he arose to retrieve another glass of milk.

As he got out of bed and shuffled into the rest room and looked into the mirror…he thought…A 57 Original…

Your Future Is Now — The Jazz Man

Many of us enjoy procrastination…at least a little. We know that in the future we will have more time and more energy and more inspiration to accomplish those visions of our destiny that we somehow can not fulfill…today. I always told myself that I wanted to write but did not get up the steam to […]

Your Future Is Now — The Jazz Man

The Story

Early summer has arrived in Southern Illinois. It is 84 degrees with 41% humidity. It is a hot day and the Pandemic Prisoners have been released. The restaurants and the bars are open for business and what stores that we have left are in customer service mode. I recall last May. We were scheduled to visit Booth Bay Harbor in Maine and we had to cancel our holiday due to Covid19. We re-scheduled for September, 2020 and found that Maine did not want us due to the Pandemic. This year is quite different than the last. Vaccinations are plentiful and many have been fully vaccinated. A new chapter has been turned in the story of our lives. Our pastor, Kerry, said this morning in MJ and Jonathon, and my Zoom church service, that he wanted to gather photos and memorabilia together between now and Christmas and then for us to secure it until 10 years have passed. Then we could open the collection as a church family and see what we had been doing and what we had been concerned about and the direction our lives seemed to be traveling…way back in 2021. Well, first of all, I thought that it would be a nice goal to be alive for the opening of the time capsule 10 years from now.

I remember become a Christian in 1968 and wondering if would stay with it for the reminder of my life…rather short or long. I had found a lifestyle that suited me like a set of new clothes and I had more purpose than I had ever experienced before. I also had about 100 new friends that seemed to care about me and my mom. I have always been a bit of a loner…as was mother. The Christian life brought so many new and exciting possibilities that it captivated my attention. During those early years I wanted to become a minister. To me there was not a higher calling nor more difficult job to do right…than minister. And the Story continued.

People being mistreated and marginalized and shut out from the normal branches of power that others seemingly could access with ease, troubled me and I hoped to be able to alleviate some suffering and to bring a smile to as many faces as possible. Aren’t smiles and laughs…magical? Christ said, ‘Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me: for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.’ Jesus did not tell us that he had a Cadillac and if we followed him that we would have one also…

Mom and I were poor. We were especially destitute when she and my dad divorced. I began the first grade carrying my lunch to school in a brown paper bag…and I was the only child in the class that did so. One of my classmates asked if my mother did not have the 20 cents per day for a hot lunch…I replied that she did not. There a number of people in our towns and cities that would be flabbergasted to discover that the financially secure of their hamlet…had an interest in them…

I still enjoy the new clothes of Christianity and have worn them for 52 years. All facets of my life have been better with Christ. I did not say that they had been easy…but they have been better. When members of my family were sick…Christ was there. When I was worried and frustrated in my career…Christ was there. When I have been disappointed in churches…Christ never let me down. I found many years ago that the role of Christian does not need to be explained…it needs to be seen…

The Finest Leadership Group I have Ever Been Associated With

It has been a hot day in Little Egypt. I took Aaron over to get his repaired truck with the new bumper and it looked great. Every time that I am with him I think how proud that I am of him. He is an extremely hard worker and such a kind and considerate person. He often reminds me of the best of what I have sought to be…although I have often fallen short of my goals.

Jonathon and I visited Electric Larry’s and Randall looked like a different person without his face mask. Electric Larry’s is following the CDC guidelines that specify that if you are fully vaccinated against Covid19…you no longer have to wear a face mask. It is a new world in facial recognition. I almost always find something that I desire at Electric Larry’s…and with a lot of purusing…I found a transistor radio with a leather case…that reminded me of one that I had in the 1960’s.

Tuesday I resigned my position on the Session, which is what the First Presbyterian Church calls its leadership board, and I did so with reluctance…as it had been the finest most sincere group of Christian leaders that I had ever served with. I have always been a reluctant leader…feeling that I am woefully unqualified to lead anyone…anywhere. Two years and three months ago I accepted a position on the board with the plan of only staying one year…although the typical terms are three years in length. My plan was to be involved, in some small way, with securing a new pastor for our church. To my great delight our Interim Pastor agreed to be our Covenant Pastor…with a five year commitment. Kerry is simply delightful to work with and once his pastorship was affected I felt that my time was completed. I had the wonderful opportunity to work one more time with my former Session colleague and friend, Rob, who has been a mentor and encourager for me since our early days of association.

I received the sweetest and kind notes from my friends, Sarah and Kathy, as well as a lovey card from, Lisa and Ro, which after reading their heartfelt and generous comments…I had tears in my eyes from their Christian love.

The primary reason that the Presbyterian church appealed to both MJ and myself was their unique form of government…their polity. This is a church that is governed by a board of elected elders that work in conjunction with the pastor to affect representative government on behalf of the congregation. It is a beautiful thing…

My heartfelt thank you to my colleagues on the Session and to Pastor Kerry for making me always welcome and for their sincere patience with my minor abilities…and for making me feel like, one of my favorite terms of endearment, a Champ…

Are You In Inside…Looking Out…Or Are You On The Outside…Looking In?

Jonathon met the Chancellor today at the Student Center. He was impressed with how friendly the he was and the natural manner in which he spoke to him. Believe it or not…friendly goes a long way with we rank and file folks. When you meet us…do you remember our name? If you are our pastor…do you make it a point to know each member of your congregation well enough to hold a decent conversation with them? Do we feel like a few select people run the organization…while the rest of us are along for the ride.

I spoke with a friendly and timid squirrel today. Now before you think that I am daft…have you ever tried speaking with a friendly and timid squirrel? They are actually quite pleasant conversationalist. We humans are bedrock certain that we are the dominate species on earth due to our big brains and advance intellectual capacities. But…how do we know that it true? Has a squirrel ever told you that fact… I watched some dolphins in Destin, Florida last week while we were eating at the restaurant 790. Our fellow diners stood up and peered and postulated in enraptured excitement and joy at the Dolphins that were swimming so close to shore. I was so taken aback that I forgot to take any photos…and I take a lot of photos!

How is it that leaders feel that some people…rather in our church congregation or in the workplace or the company setting…are so much more enabled to be the advisors and the movers and the shakers and those who have the best ideas for the church or the university or the political party? As the organization diminishes and the church dies…how is it that leadership does not seek other voices and new ideas for survival and growth…

Whatever organization that you are a member of…be certain that only a few people are the decision makers…and the rest of us are subject to the decisions of the insiders or the select few. Often the decision makers have money to back up their voice and their authority. Often they have longevity and perceived career accomplishments to carry in their briefcase of leadership advice. Organizations rally around the tired and true leadership that has taken them from church memberships of hundreds to little over 100. University administrators seek the same cadre of wise men that have taken the Alma Matter from nearly 25 thousand to under 10 thousand…and they wonder what the endemic problem is…