Twenty years ago it was a peaceful Monday. Life was following its careful rhythms. We had just moved to Carbondale from the little village of Elkville in March of 2001. We had purchased our first new home. We had been living in it for almost 6 months. Aaron was attending John A. Logan College and Jonathon was in his senior year of high school. Mom lived with us…she had Alzheimers Disease. She could not be left alone.
I was thinking about the last chapter or my career at SIUC. I planned on retiring either in 2009 or 2010. I had been the superintendent of my department since 1997. During the last 3rd of my time at Southern I wanted to make a difference. MJ had resigned her position at the University to take care of Neva June. The fear of Y2K had been a recent issue and many feared the shut down of modern society due to our computers not working. The Supreme Court had decided that George W. Bush had won the presidential election. Our new President seemed to enjoy going to his ranch in Crawford, Texas…and chopping wood. Chancellor Jo Ann Argersinger had been unjustly terminated in the summer of 1999….and I still was not over it…she was my friend.
Tuesday, September 11 was a beautiful day with the sun shinning in cloudless skies. In those days I watched the Today Show on NBC each morning as I was preparing to go to work. I remember Katie Couric saying that a plane had hit one of the towers of the World Trade Center in New York. During the next few minutes fear gripped our nation as terrorist flew jets into both towers and the Pentagon…and the brave passengers foiled the hijackers of their plane and it crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Night fell on our country. We did not know who had attacked us…or why…or when the next attack was planned. I watched, as did the nation, the rescue efforts of the first responders and many from every state who travelled to New York to help. As the gruesome days went by…we came to realize that there were no survivors. The band at Buckingham Palace in London…played the Star Spangled Banner. Congress and the Senate met on the Capitol Steps to sing the National Anthem…there was no political party division.
Let us look back 20 years…to chart our future of unity and peace…and not hatred and strife…
I watched two of my friends today on a YouTube video. Their message was chilling and compelling and courageous. They spoke of abuse and being groomed by the abuser for some time. They spoke of the insidious questions that a person in authority or an authority figure will ask the person that they are grooming. Questions such as, ‘Are you trustworthy?’ ‘Can you keep a secret?’ What is happening…you must take to your grave.’
There are churches that abuse. If your town does not have one…you are an anomaly. Pastoral abuse can range from simple nosiness…to church leadership inquiring into your personal finances and requiring you to give at least 10%…and often 20% or more of your hard earned dollars that you need to support your family. Cults…or wolves that masquerade as sheep…want to be in the middle of couples married life. Commenting on everything from a persons weight to their perceived loyalty to the all knowing leader…who insists on a daily basis that only he/she hears from God…and all else is heresy.
Churches that abuse tell their honest hearted parishioners that they must continue to follow the teachings of the God ordained pastor…or suffer illness and early death…if they leave the flock. A hallmark of a cult is the public ridicule and singling out of people in the congregation if they are even slightly thought to have a different idea that the leader. Fear of God…not favor of the Creator…is the hallmark of a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Cult leaders demand the obeisance of all of the groups members. This slavish servitude often extends to whether or not a member of the group is approved to purchase a new automobile or is able to go on vacation.
Sexual abuse is found in cultish churches on a regular basis. When you have groomed a group of people to believe that every word that you speak is as if God was speaking to them…the crossing of sexual boundaries happens often.
Churches that abuse are closed societies. When all of your friends are subservient to the same perverse doctrine that you are…it is extremely difficult to see the forest for the trees. Many have been inextricably hurt by abuse and mind control and brain washing. If you are told enough times that you are no good…you begin to believe it. If you are abused enough times your entire physical and mental structure will suffer damage. Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and nightmares and depression and nervous breakdown…are suffered by many.
Mental illness is attributed to demons or the devil in churches that abuse. Pop psychological dribble is applied to a person that is ill. Since their mental illness has a physical basis in them…the approach of Norman Vincent Peale’s book, The Power of Positive Thinking, is not affective in wellness of people that need a trained clinician and the appropriate medication.
Memory is a time machine. I wrote of Malones Taffy at the DuQuoin State Fair, the other day, and I not only could taste the taffy but I could smell the sweet State Fair Aroma of corn dogs and elephant ears and lemon shake-ups. I could see the dusty paths of the fairgrounds and remember the excitement of attending a Barbara Mandrel concert…where she sang a song to MJ and her sister…that was about sisters.
In 2011 we had our screened in porch built. What began as something that I considered would be nice…it became my favorite place in/outside our home. One of the first times that I sat in its high splendor…I was transported to Maine and the Clarks Point Bed and Breakfast that we enjoyed on Southwest Isle. I was peacefully staring out at our pond, which we call Brooks Lake, and a cool breeze was blowing and I was enjoying a glass of. wine. When I shut my eyes and then reopened them…I was on the front porch of the bed and breakfast on Sunday…drinking wine and peering out at the ocean.
Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale welcomed me to a wonderful career on the evening of October 10, 1978. I was 20…and felt old. It was a cool and crisp afternoon and I was excited to be hired into a job that would become my home for 32 years and 2 months and 3 weeks. Our little offices were located in the old fire station that was next to the coal pile. The Accounting building that I was assigned to..was filthy. I was overjoyed…what a way to make a first impression…just by doing my job. My immediate supervisor was a little bald man who was friendly and enjoyed drinking coffee. His boss was an African American gentleman who walked with limp and smoked cigars. Both of these gentlemen made me feel like I was most important to the success of SIUC. I subsequently performed like my work made a difference…and it did…
I just saw a video of chancellor Lane giving students a ride to their classes in a golf cart. The students were pleasantly surprised and the chancellor was moved by their joy in his reaching out to them.
Life is good…if you give it a chance.
September is well planted with 7 days in. Our weather can not decide if it wants to be cool and crisp autumn… or fight to retain the warmth of summer. Leaves are already changing on Campus. Our next holiday is my birthday…at least in my mind. As I strolled the walkways of Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale this morning I thought of the untold ways that our University helps our entire Southern Illinois region…and how we suffer when SIUC…suffers.
Hamlets and villages best describe Little Egypt. During my travels across our country and in Europe…I am often asked where I am from. When I say Illinois the response is immediate in that almost all say, ‘Chicago?, and I answer that I am from Southern Illinois and that we are much closer to St. Louis, Missouri rather than Chicago. Many of our little towns replaced their closed businesses with antique stores…20 years ago. Families with children live on poverty wages and count on their ability to eat with the assistance of government subsidies. Little Egypt is a beautiful place to live…but a hard place to make a living.
Our Pandemic has left economic devastation in its wake. It has affected everything from church attendance to restaurants that have been able to remain open. There are affluent people in our area and people who are homeless…but the great majority of families live from paycheck to paycheck…and if there is a $400 emergency…they do not have the money. It has been said that assistance is not necessary and promotes laziness of the underprivileged. Many people that I know work 2 and often 3 jobs to make ends meet. While others have great difficulty in finding and securing jobs for many reasons. Many of our wonderful young people can not survive on the minimum wage pay that they receive. Perhaps if we paid people a living wage…we would not have so many job vacancies?
Southern Illinois University is the economic engine that propels our region. Carbondale has turned into a mirror image of many of our little towns and hamlets and villages. This is why I was so pleased to see the enrollment bleeding slowed to a trickle. We need a vibrant University like we need air to breath and water to drink.
Joy you carry with you. Contentment is a daily garment. Peace flows from your soul…outward. September causes me to reflect on happiness. Life is replete with the rollercoaster vagaries of human existence. It is a bit like playing roulette or the slots…or following the Stock Market….it produces a lot of mountain tops…and more than its share of valleys. You are young and then you turn around and you are middle age…and then with one more turn…you are old. You may think as the African parking garage attendant asked me in Philadelphia when I was upset with his request that I leave my car window down, ‘What you crying about Mon?’
Labor Day has finally arrived. From now until years end….I grip each day with a hard grasp. For many years I watched the Muscular Dystrophy Telethon hosted by the popular comedian and actor and filmmaker, Jerry Lewis. The Labor Day Telethon told me that my time of year had arrived…and that it would pass like the blink of an eye. Jerry’s love for children that were stricken with MD captivated my attention. I remember MJ and Aaron and Jonathon and I traveling to Cedar Creek Lake to swim one last time…on Labor Day. When we arrived…it had already been closed for the season. We checked another swimming hole or two…and all were closed…a day early as far as we saw the issue. Since our retirement we have holidayed in the warm months and those being primarily in the summer. We have journeyed to the Caribbean for at least four separate Cruises and one weeks stay on the Caribbean Island of St. John. All were extremely hot. We do not function well in heat. We have taken to traveling in the spring or fall…or winter. Maine should be lovely in the autumn.
DuQuoin State Fair ends today. The flowers and plants that are on display in the Great Exhibition House…are a bit wilted. The Carnies are hot and tired…and ready to pack up for the next gig. What was once an impressive State Fair has been diminished to a regional event to mark the end of summer. Malones Taffy is still delicious. When I was a child…Mr. Malone…himself…made the taffy…and he called out, ‘Get it now…get it now!’ It is still a great venue to bring the hard working citizens of rural Illinois together for a bit of fun and fellowship.
MJ and I used to attend a church convention is Kingsport, Tennessee over the Labor Day weekend. Tennessee is full of wonderful and friendly people. In restaurants the servers called me honey and baby…and I liked it. We stayed with people in the church that we were visiting and the Shuecrafts treated us like their own family. I am certain that my love for the South began in Donna and Al’s basement. Each night, after church, Al and Donna would take MJ and I out for dinner or at least Fudge Cake at Shoneys Restaurant. Sundays we would attend a very popular restaurant in the mall in Kingsport…Piccadillys. They refused to allow us to pay a dime for anything. Al was a kind Kentuckian. When someone asked him why I never stayed with them when I came to Kingsport…Al said, ‘When Brother Jay comes to Kingsport…he stays with me…’ I loved Al and Donna Shuecraft.
Labor has my heart. I began my working career at Essex International in DuQuoin, Illinois. The factory made wire harnesses for Chrysler trucks. I rode to work with Karen and Carol Dean. Later I was hired by Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale as a Building Service Worker I. Later I became a Building Custodian, which was a crew leader in the housekeeping department. Finally I achieved my career goal of being promoted to a Building Service Worker III…or a foreman. I was 28 years old. Then followed my 25 years in management/administration at SIUC. During my years in management/administration I wore 2 hats. My hat as a manager/administrator…and my hat as a union advocate for my precious staff. My friend, Jerry Raney, who was the Business Agent for S.E.I.U. Local #316. On more than one occasion he invited me to the DuQuoin State Fair Labor Lunch. I was always touched that he invited me…but as a manager/administrator…I wondered if some of the union membership would feel that it was inappropriate for me to attend.
Our nation is full of hard working laborers. We have no pedigree nor degree. Our bona-fides are the callous on our hands and our love for our country and our world. Our University could not have fulfilled their academic mission…without us.
Contemplation is a worthy exercise on Sunday. It is good to think about where you have been and where you are going. I vividly recall that, at least in Little Egypt, we did not work on Sunday…including not cutting our grass. Most retail stores were closed on Sunday. Alcohol could not be purchased on Sunday. But…the theatre was open for business…and that is where I spent the bulk of my day. I loved movies and could not get my fill of them. In the early 1960’s I paid 35 cents for my movie ticket and stayed all day…watching and rewatching the same movie. Even now if I see a movie that I particularly like…I return to the theatre for a second viewing…but not on the same ticket. Sunday is a good day for a nap..but then what day isn’t? It is a prime day for a bacon lettuce and tomato sandwich…especially in these waning days of summer. It is a good day to think about your blessings and ignore your problems. Sunday says to us, ‘Come with me and I will show you special plans for your future.’
I viewed a Swedish movie called, ‘The Unthinkable,’ and it was thought provoking in its primary thesis that although the Apocalypse seemed to be happening all around the main characters…they wanted to take care of unfinished interpersonal relationships. The old saying that we can not see the forest for the trees has never been truer. We seek satisfaction is things…when people who love us are on our right hand and on our left…waiting…
Sunday is good for thought. I wonder if we think about thought…enough? Thought wrote the Bible. Thought wrote the Declaration of Independence. Inextricable and knotty problems are solved through slow and immersive thought. Emotions mislead and misdirect us on many occasions but the axiom of my favorite Star Trek character, Mr. Spock, will aid us immensely if we stay dedicated to its simple question, Is it logical or illogical? Is is logical to ingest the livestock dewormer, ivermectin, rather than a vaccine that has been rigorously tested by the FDA…for the prevention of Covid 19?
Collecting is a passion of mine and somewhat of MJ’s. Many years ago we fancied pewter figures by Rickert Pewter who had a lovely store in St. Louis Union Station when Union Station still had quality stores and restaurants. Mr. Rickert was friends with the popular actor, Leslie Neilson, and mentioned Leslie’s name often. His pewter creations were lifelike and compelling. MJ and I were enjoying dinner at Union Station and we ordered some white wine, which we seldom if ever imbibed wine…prior to this event. As MJ was on her second glass she asked me if I wanted the pewter figure of a man operating a video camera. Now this was a little statue that I wanted very badly due to the artistic rendering reminding me…of me. I literally had the video camera at my eye and running video tape for every event of Aaron and Jonathon’s childhood. So, we made our way upstairs to the Rickert Pewter store. I purchased my prized figurine…and I began looking at another…when MJ took my arm and intoned that the video camera man…was enough for today.
Rickert invited us to a special showing on a Sunday of his plethora of pewter creations. We went and the complimentary wine flowed freely. He had just began working on his first of several Baseball Hall of Famers. He was offering Stan Musial as the first figure. It was much taller than his regular creations and mounted on an onyx base. We ordered one as well as Jesus and six disciples. At the time it seemed like a wonderful executive decision. We have and enjoy them to this day…only Stan Musial of the six that were commissioned and Jesus and half of his disciples.
Love and peace and happiness and contentment is wrapped up in Sunday. We christians renew our relationship with our Creator on Sunday. We consider where we have failed to illustrate the love of Christ and we renew our determination to do better…with God’s help…in the coming week…
Sixty-eight degrees and heavy rain…it feels like a portent of Maine. My pleasure is sublime with the onset of much cooler temperatures. Now when you combine a steady rain with cool breezes…it is to die for. Labor Day Weekend snuck up on me. It has been so blistering hot that the calendar moved faster than anticipated. Yesterday we were at a winery with Ira Kaye and Ron and the server responded when I mentioned that it seemed very busy…she responded that she had expected it to be so due to being Labor Day Weekend.
My mind reflects on many past Septembers. I recall the DuQuoin State Fair and attending on Labor Day, which was the last day of the extravaganza, and looking at the many crafts and animals. I was not much of a carnival ride participant…but I did like the Ferris Wheel. I still enjoy the ‘high ride’ and a few years ago we enjoyed the London Eye, which is a massive Ferris Wheel with enclosed cars that are a bit like those that you would find at a mountain lodge. They hold several participants and from the Eye’s Zenith you can see the entirety of the city of London.
September means a slower and less frenetic pace. It possess the plan for the upcoming fall and winter. It holds the promise of hot chocolate and Pumpkin Spice coffee. September whispers that everything is going to be alright. The hands of Gods time clock are functioning well and it is time to reflect on where we have been and where we are going.
We humans tend to not do so well in the milk of human kindness department if we are overheated. September affords us the opportunity to cool down and consider what matters. Our lives are a series of small things…that when put together…create a major accomplishment. We Baby-Boomers and generations prior to us…were taught that we had to learn to crawl before we could walk. Climbing the ladder of success in carer or life consisted of stepping on every rung. There was no easy money…there was no shortcut to a life well lived. Every day counts….each day matters. A cool down and a good rain…makes me think these thoughts…not by Saturday Nights Jack Handy…but by Jay Brooks…
We Brooks have enjoyed several cruises in our time. We have cruised to Alaska and the Caribbean and the Mediterranean and around the United Kingdom. It takes awhile for an ocean liner to turn around…think Titanic… Nevertheless the university community and the entire Southern Illinois region received some great news yesterday when we read the fall enrollment numbers. We have the largest freshman class in several years. We have been hemorrhaging students to the tune of around 1,000 per year…now only 100 down.
Kudos to Chancellor Lane and his staff who have…finally taken hold of the rudder and are turning our great University around…before it strikes the massive iceberg. I wrote recently about my seeing more students on campus than I have in several years. I walk the campus daily.
For 32 years and 2 months and 3 weeks I saw SIUC at its zenith…and the beginning of its diminution. I recall when Chancellor Beggs was so happy and told me with great joy that the fall enrollment in the latter 1990’s had a 4 student increase. This is the last fall enrollment student increase that I can recall. I was closely involved with more than one chancellor due to my being a member of 2 Chancellor Search Committees and my role as president of the Civil Service Council. Also my friend and former president of the Southern Illinois University System, Dr. Glenn Poshard, asked my advice on many occasions. I was appointed to a plethora of University Wide Committees that were charged with ascertaining what our school needed to do to recruit and retain our most precious University Citizens…our students.
Throughout my career in Building Services I was convinced that our staff could make a profound difference in the most important aspect of our duties…the recruitment and retention of students. Often the new student is looking for someone who represents SIUC and it is the civil service staff that they encounter on a regular basis. Our full time staff of 140 worked with our student staff of 200 on a daily/nightly basis. Among our 30 custodial crews our wonderful student staff found a home away from home. Sub-foreman and Building Service Workers brought their student colleagues food to eat and invited them to their home for holidays. We had a department wide Thanksgiving dinner for our student and full time staff that was a joy to be a part of. The look of joy and the feeling of home was throughout the auditorium and illustrated on the face of each grateful student.
Compromise is the oil that makes the engine run. Each of us have to stand on our fundamental beliefs of right and wrong…good and bad…ethical and unethical…but the normal rhythm of success in life and the promise of accomplishing worthy endeavors is anchored by compromise….and watching out for icebergs…
The beginning of my favorite third of the year is finally here. Autumn and early winter have been my nirvana since I was a child. I purchased Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Coffee today. The entire rhythm of the season engulfs me…and I enjoy the immersion. I am annually amazed at how quickly the time passes from September 1 until January 31. We shop at Sams, which is Walmarts giant wholesale store that is named after the founder of Walmart…Sam Walton, and I mark the season according to the retail displays. Christmas Trees will be appearing shortly…if not already…at Walmart and other retail establishments. This troubles many people…but is welcome by me…I am a Christmas guy throughout the entire year. I think that my mental acuity is better and I am definitely more focused from now until the end of the year. September 1 signals for me the beginning of the fun time of the year. Our family has 2 birthday celebrations during the fall, mine on October 24 and Aarons on November 16, as well as Halloween and Thanksgiving and the big Kahuna…Christmas.
For my birthday…at one time I had 4 to 5 celebrations. MJ took me out for a birthday dinner, usually at our favorite restaurant, Cunetto’s House of Pasta on the Hill in St. Louis, and there was another dinner on the day of my birth. Also, our good friends, Jo Ann and Peter, hosted us at a local restaurant for Peter and my mutual October birthdays. And often my wonderful staff at SIUC would have a recognition of my birthday at our offices. Spoiled you say…you are correct…
MJ’s and Aaron and Jonathons Christmas celebration was of paramount importance to me throughout their childhood. I wanted each year to be a memorable event. We began, early on, taking them to the headquarters of Famous-Barr in St. Louis to see the animated Christmas Bears. These were robotic bears that were dressed in holiday regalia and were busy trimming their Christmas Trees. Almost an entire floor of the massive Famous-Barr building was devoted to this Christmas extravaganza. The line for viewing the Christmas Bears was long…but it moved fast. My mother-in-law, Fernie, enjoyed the Bears as much as her grandchildren.
Christmas at First Presbyterian Church in Carbondale is a major event. The first Christmas Season at First Presbyterian was a revelation for me. I had been a christian and a church goer for nearly 30 years…but the churches that I was familiar with had not made a big deal about Christmas. Christmas to me is the big event in the Christian Calendar. I took note that our church trimmed the Christmas Tree and purchased gifts for children who were members of families who were not financially secure. The Christmas Eve Service seemed to be taken directly out of Charles Dickens famous book…A Christmas Carol.
Cool and brisk temperatures…inspire me. As nature draws in its life force…I feel comforted and secure and renewed for the year that is on our doorstep. Halloween was much fun for me as a child. I enjoyed Monster Movies and my cousins monster masks. There were even Monster Magazines in those ancient days of the early 1960s. I had put together Monster Models of Frankenstein and Dracula and the Wolfman…and the Creature From the Black Lagoon. They sold them with the model cars. I was proud of my work. I made an 8 millimeter movie with my cousin. I was wearing his full head and face covering of the Creature from the Black Lagoon, Universal Studios, Mask. I was also wearing the Creature’s hands. We filmed it at the Eldorado Spillway. It was a work of art!
On one of the boys earliest Christmases we purchased a Fischer Price Farm for them. I was so proud of this purchase as I knew that Fischer Price produced a good and safe product for young children. Later when we bought a Teddy Ruxpin, which was a talking bear, for Jonathon, he did not last Christmas Day. We had scrimped and saved to afford Mr. Ruxpin…and we had succeeded in acquiring one. As the early sun set on our revelries …Jonathon came to me and asked if I could fix Teddy Ruxpin…as he had ceased to communicate. Now Teddy had a moving mouth that slightly corresponded with a cassette tape that fit in a compartment in his back. Jonathon had been unhappy with the speed that his Bear was speaking and had subsequently removed his bottom lip. There was no hope for the loquacious bear.
Tara, our nice, wanted a Cabbage Patch Doll. They were rabidly popular and we could not find one anywhere. We went to our local K Mart and participated in the Blue Light Special. The announced that there was 1 Cabbage Patch Doll available and that it was first come and first serve. The struggle was incredible. Clothes were torn and fists were felt and running and jumping and screaming…and no Cabbage Patch Doll for us. We traveled to St. Louis and finally succeeded in obtaining the Christmas Doll for our nice.