October 24 was a fun day for Billy Bump. It was his birthday…and a week before Halloween. He had a brainstorm of an idea and decided to make his birthday party a Halloween party. For this transformation he would need the help of his buddy Chet and Sally and Daryl. Now Daryl’s dad was the 3rd grade teacher at Hillcrest School and he liked to be called the Wiz. He even dressed in black and wore a cape and a pointy hat. They had moved to Eldorado from Bath, England. Daryl was just about as close to a genius as Billy B. had ever encountered. He literally seemed to know the answer to a question before you could ask it. Of course it would be a costume party and Billy B. would attend his own Birthday Monster Bash as Frankenstein. Chet continued to be dedicated to portraying the Lost in Space Robot and Sally would be “Sally from Peanuts,”…while Daryl was coming as Albert Einstein.
Orpheum Theatre, where Billy B. spent countless happy hours, was to be the venue for the celebration. Billy’s mom, Neva Jane, had rented the theatre for the evening and Lou, the owner of the movie house, had obtained the original 1931 Frankenstein movie directed by James Whale and starring Boris Karloff as the Monster. Billy B. had borrowed his cousin Gene’s Frankenstein mask. It looked just like the movie makeup that Karloff wore.
October the 24th arrived and Billy B. was officially 10 years old. He thought to himself that there would not be many more years of this childhood business…soon he would be out on his own and making his way through life. The birthday cake and the balloons and the kool-aid and the cheeseburgers were in the Cry Room. The Cry Room was lit by a dim red light. It was a bit difficult to ascertain which was birthday cake and which was cheeseburger. Chet gleefully announced that he had spiked the kool-aid with vodka….and that there was a bottle of Peppermint Schnapps that was under the gift table. Sally asked Chet where he had gotten the booze…and he said that Lanny his neighbor had given it to him. Lanny was older than the party revelers. Soon the party started rocking and the red light seemed so appropriate for a Birthday/Monster spooky event… Daryl told Billy B. that his dad had arranged a special surprise for him during the movie.
Ooooh, whispered Sally as the movie began. She told Billy B. that she had taken a drink of the Peppermint Schnapps…and that she felt as light as a feather… Einstein was near the silver screen with his dad…The Wiz… Everyone began to laugh at the portion of the movie where Frankenstein is enjoying a cigar….and Billy B. realized that they were watching the Bride of Frankenstein rather than the original 1931 Flick. Soon each of the partiers had fallen asleep under the gentle sway of vodka spiked kool-aid…and Schnapps. When the lights came up there was a full sized Frankenstein sitting in their midst. Sally asked where Billy B. was… Frankenstein was smoking a cigar and he said with a large smile on his face…’Smoke…Good!’
Southern Illinois is still much too warm for October 14th. Today is forecast for a high of 81 degrees. Storms are in our forecast with a cool down by the weekend. Many years, at this time, the leaves have already changed their color and are brilliant reds and yellows and gold. This year pales in comparison. One of the benefits of being retired is the enjoyment of quiet. Now don’t misunderstand me as I do enjoy excitement…in moderation. However an asset of our home in Carbondale…in the country…is quiet. When we moved here in 2001 there was only one other house on Ash Wood Lane. Over the past 20 years our neighborhood has grown by leaps and bounds…but it still remains peaceful.
Quiet has been a good practice for me over my adult years. I served on a number of committees for Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale over my 32 + year career. I found it useful and enlightening to listen to other members of the group before I offered my opinion. Quiet is a virtue when dealing with an angry person. Hot emotions and rhetoric are diffused by a calm demeanor. ‘A soft answer turneth away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger.’ Proverbs 15:1. KJV
Noise and chaos are often the order of the day in the political arena and pop culture. Strident and pervasive persuaders are in our ear 24/7 telling us what we need and who can provide it. It is possible to be very content until you compare yourself to the standard of the moment…that blows away like the wheat on the threshing floor. At about the instance that you conform to the standard of your supposed peers…they change the standard.
SIUC has a quiet quality to it. Since my beginnings with the University I have heard that many students come to Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale for an escape from the hustle and bustle of Chicago. There is time for thought…perhaps deep thought…and an atmosphere that is devoid of the din of a thousand voices with a thousand agendas…vying for your attention…
Carbondale and in fact all of Southern Illinois is sought out as a retirement mecca. Many from Chicago and northern Illinois and neighboring states come to the pristine beauty of Little Egypt for their golden years. A slower pace of living is conducive to a happy sense of place.
Fall is a peaceful and quiet time…and is my favorite time of the year. It is a time of reflection…of pausing…and of considering the road ahead and what is important to take on the journey. My buddy, Ron, told me one time that I really did my own thing… It has been said that some, ‘Dance to the tune of their own drummer.’
We have lived at our present address for over 20 years…and we still call our home the New House. The dwelling suits us and the location is wonderful. For the first few years I watched a television program about estates and mansions…and I felt like I lived in one. Now of course that was not the case…but I had to periodically pinch myself…and sing the popular TV show of the 1970’s The Jeffersons, theme song, ‘Oh were moving on up to the east side…we finally got a piece of the pie…!’ So, when I see repairs that are needed…I wonder what happened… I think I am of the same mind when I witness the changes in my body…and the aches and pains of age…and the snow on the roof. Time passes all to fast. Our home is no longer new…and neither am I.
Thanksgiving is only 6 weeks away. MJ is already planning the feast. A month later…Christmas. I remember Christmas at Grandma Askew’s home. Our extended family would all gather in to her moderately sized house…and there would be so much food that you could not say Grace over it all. Each Christmas I would recite, from memory, the poem titled, A Visit from St. Nicholas.
‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse; The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there; The children were nestled all snug in their beds; While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads; And mama in her kerchief, and I in my cap, Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap, When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter, I sprang from my bed to see what what was the matter. Away to the window I flew like a flash, Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash. The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow, Gave a luster of midday to objects below, When what to my wondering eyes did appear, But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer, With a little old driver so lively and quick, I knew in a moment he must be St. Nick. More rapid than eagles his coursers they came, And he whistled and shouted and called them by name:
Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now Prancer and Vixen! On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donner and Blitzen! To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall! Now dash away! dash away! dash away all! As leaves that before the wild hurricane fly, When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky; So up to housetop the coursers they flew With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too-And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof The prancing and pawing of each little hoof. As I drew in my head and was turning around, Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound. He was dressed all in fur from his head to his foot, And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot; A bundle of toys he had flung on his back, And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack. His eyes-how they twinkled! his dimples, how merry! His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry! His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow, And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow; The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth, And the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath; He had a broad face and a round little belly That shook when he laughed like a bowl full of jelly. He was chubby and plump, A right jolly old elf, And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself; A wink of his eye and a twist of his head Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread; He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work, And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk, And laying his finger aside his nose; And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose; He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle, And away they all flew like the down of a thistle. But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight-
Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!’
Clement Clarke Moore
My most vivid impression of my mom’s siblings and their relationship with their mom was that the adored her. They were well into their middle years…and yet we gathered each Monday evening at my grandmothers to visit for at least a couple of hours. Mom and her sisters were not only close with their mom…they were close to each other. The feeling at Christmas was of love and unity and family. I recall playing with my cousins who lived in the Marissa and Belleville area, Craig and Terry, and I remember my cousin Cyndi when she was a babe in arms… My good friend Debbie…from next door would come over and we would commiserate on what presents that we had received for Christmas. We were not rich…but we felt like that we were…
If we ever, ‘Need a little Christmas right this very minute,’…we need it now.
Billy B. wanted to branch out this Halloween. He had been The Creature From The Black Lagoon for two years in a row and the mask was great…especially with the Creature Hands…but he needed a new schtick to impress the kids on Illinois Avenue. Chet agreed but was reluctant to give up his Lost In Space Robot persona…as it had impressed the girls. They had wondered what was in the new Halloween Emporium that was housed in the old Grand Theatre. It was only 2 weeks and 5 days until Halloween and they wanted it to be the best Trick or Treat that they had ever experienced. It was 1963 and the future looked bright for a scary October 31.
Sally wanted to join Chet and Billy B. Her name was Sally and she actually looked like the Peanuts character ‘Sally.’ As they walked up to the ancient Theatre Marque they marveled that the strobing lights were on…and an Emporium Employee, dressed like President Kennedy, said to them, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you…but what you can do for your country.’ The President then opened the doors and bade them to enter. Sally immediately noticed the Marilyn Monroe Masks and costumes. She grabbed one of each and said with some self satisfaction, ‘One of each for me…please.’ Chet saw a Haunted House display and a door to enter the spooky dwelling. It took a minute for their eyes to adjust to the dim lighting. It seemed that since they were in an old movie theatre that the Emporiums owners had made good use of film. On their right was a film of a horse drawn cassock and there was the First Lady, Jackie Kennedy, and her two small children…and John John…saluting…as the funeral procession passed. When they walked a few steps further…before them was African American men pointing at a hotel balcony…and crying. Finally they saw on there left a film of a group of people huddled around President Kennedy’s brother, Bobby, and blood was on the floor with him…and again…people were crying.
Billy B. said…’What was that?’ Chet responded that perhaps they had seen something that most people had not seen…
Autumn breezes have made life more pleasant in Little Egypt. At this time of year the temperature high should be 70 degrees…while yesterday it was in the mid 80’s. It is 13 days until my birthday. When I reflect on how I reached this great age…I realize that a lot of good people helped me on my journey. Success is attained by hard work and the good will of others… The old sage, Forrest Gump, said…when quoting his mother, ‘Life is like a Box of Chocolates…you never know what you are going to get.’ I have found this adage to be true…but your happiness and contentment with the chocolate that you get is directly related to how you react to them.
Advertising has brainwashed us. Media has told us that life’s enjoyment and fulfillment is more easily attained by enjoying an alcoholic beverage…or 2…or more. When the reality of drinking any more than occasionally has proven to have deleterious affects on health and wealth and social relationships. The commercials depicting beautiful people laughing and partying and in general with not a care in the world….changes in the extreme at the end of the event when some are vomiting…and others are fighting…and others are crying…
Hype tells us that our political leaders are acting in our best interest. They tell us that they are telling us the truth…when all we have to do is go to the videotape to see their lies. Recently one of our political parties wanted to abolish Obamacare…of which millions of their constituents have as their only insurance…and they had no plan to replace it.
Ministers tell their hard working and poor congregations that if they give until it hurts of their money…god will make them rich. This hype works well for the minister…not so well for the congregants.
Selling is the soul of our society. ‘Buy my snake oil,’ the huckster said…’it will cure what ails you!’ Many people seek any cure for COVID 19 accept what has been proven to work by our world renown scientist and epidemiologist. Proponents of conspiracy theories have their own agenda and are the primary beneficiaries of garnering followers to their cause.
We look to the Hype…for our happiness…when it can be found in the faces of our loved ones and friends…and a beautiful breezy fall afternoon. We are a bit like the Israelites in the wilderness…we want a calf of gold…something that we can see and touch…and believe that we are better than our brother and our sister…that do not have such a fine…and shiny calf…
October 10, 1978 was much cooler than today. MJ and I had been married a little over 6 months. I had interviewed at Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale for the position of Building Service Worker I…over a month previously. I was working with my friend, Brent, installing carpet. When I think of the time I spent crawling around on various floors to perform the installation work…I wonder how I did it then…when I certainly could not do so now. When I interviewed with the Superintendent of Building Services, George O’Hara, he had explained to me that he had several shift vacancies and that there were 2 openings on the 11 – 7 shift and 5 on the 5 – 1 shift. Up until that moment I felt that the interview was going very well. Mr. O’Hara was smiling and so was I. I desired to seal the deal by saying that I would enjoy being chosen for one of the most difficult work time slots. So, I said that there was nothing that I enjoyed more than getting up early in the morning and reporting for work. Mr. O’Hara’s face fell… He began to fold his papers and place them in what I was now certain was my ‘Dead File.’ He went on to say that all of the new staff in Building Services were hired for night shifts and that the senior staff held the day positions. The five to 1 shift was not 5:00 A:M:…but beginning at 5:00 P:M:. I stammered and announced that there was only one thing that I enjoyed more than getting up early to go to work…and that was working late at night. He laughed and said that the decision should be made in about a week and that he would be calling me if I was chosen. I left my telephone number with my pastor’s wife, Mickey, since I and MJ were both out of our trailer during the day. There were no cell phones. I asked Brent if I could walk down to the corner, in Carterville, Illinois, and call Mickey to see if she had any job news. When she picked up the receiver she was happy to inform me that I had been hired and that they wanted me to come in that afternoon. I was overjoyed and MJ was ecstatic!
October 10, 1978…a whole new door of opportunity opened for MJ and I. I more than doubled my pay and the University had wonderful benefits. I saw that I now had more than a job…I had a career. During my 32 years and 2 months and 3 weeks of being a member of the SIUC community…I never thought that the University was fortunate to have me…I knew that I was blessed to be a part of such a vibrant and exciting mission.
My greatest education came from the thousands of students that I worked with and met during my time at Southern. I learned that my human family was electrifying in its diversity and inclusion. There was never a dull moment…and there was always something new to learn. I was humbled and proud that colleagues from 70 nations called me…friend.
We retired folks have to remind ourselves when it it the weekend. Our days have a somewhat similar pattern and scope. It is easy to fall into the plan that there is no plan. One day follows the next or as I heard a relative of mine say a few years ago, ‘Sun comes up…Sun goes down.’ The truth is that something is coming…next. The greatest chess masters look ahead on the board for several moves. They anticipate what moves that their opponent is going to make…and how they are going to respond. Life has a way of shrouding us in routine…when our shared reality is that change is inevitable.
Planning is a virtue and good planning is almost a lost art. Ron often says, Failure to plan is to plan to fail.’ All to often we live our lives as if we were playing the lottery…and that we expect to soon win big. Preparing for what is next…hinges on truth or sound facts. When we bank on conspiracy theories and lies…we have only shifting sand to build our preparation for the future.
Chapters of life tend to segue into each other. We had Boston Terriers for over 30 years. We also had a Black Labrador. Within 18 months we lost all three of our current canine residents. When you are a dog person for 30 years…it is a way of life. Loosing our beloved friends over 18 months gave us some time to get used to the idea of their absence.
A major change in life for me was retirement. I was with the University for over 32 years. I thought about it..morning…noon…and night. But…when I left…I was ready for my next chapter. Travel and writing and photography and time to enjoy the many hidden facets of our wonderful existence…are precious.
Our Pandemic has held on longer than we expected and our loss is immeasurable. Our scourge will finally pass. It has revealed a frightening amount of our fellow human beings who do not believe in science…and believe that they should persecute those who do. Pain and suffering and the devastating affect of COVID 19 is universal to our shared human experience. At the beginning of 2020…our Pandemic was ‘Next,’…and we did not believe that it could happen to us…and we thought that our political leaders would protect us by their false promises…and we assumed that being on the right religious/political side provide safety. Some assumed that they were children of the real…god…and that no harm would come to them.
Pandemic has taught us one bitter lesson…we are all equal in the rage of the Virus…and one precious lesson…that we are all children of God…leaning on the strong shoulders of each other…as we anticipate…next…
Autumn rain is gently falling on the backyard pond. The October rains aid the leaves in their departure from the trees. Campus has returned to a peaceful rhythm of study and fellowship and the joy of youth. I was reading earlier that the Ocean Point Inn in Booth Bay, Maine is in the midst of the last week of their season. Three weeks ago we were there.
We humans love routine. We measure our lives by the season that we are in. Fall brings us three months of significant holidays…and when we experience them…we take stock of ourselves and we know where we are at…and where we are going. So much the more so for the changing seasons of our lives. Sunday, October 10th will mark my anniversary of being given a tremendous opportunity. Forty-three years ago on October 10, 1978 I was hired at Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale. My life and MJ’s life changed on that day. Before that we were not only not in the Ball game of Life…we were squinting through a knot hole in the fence surrounding the playing field. The suffering and deprivation of poor working people is not lost on me…as I was one. October 10 is a major holiday at the Brooks home. It is added to the 3 holidays that I mentioned earlier in this piece… Suddenly…SIUC…provided a vehicle for all of our dreams to come true!
I watched Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg, speak of his twin babies and how he has never encountered anything that was more challenging or rewarding. He went on to say that sometimes he grabs a nap at 5:00 a:m:. I remember those days when Aaron and Jonathon were little scamps. I recall wondering if I would ever work hard enough to rise to a promotion… I worried that we might never be able to afford a adequate home for our family. I know how it feels to be marginalized and rising above that to succeed…when others thought me not capable…
We find our human family still in the dark season of our Pandemic. None of us thought that we would suffer such loss. But…there is light at the end of the tunnel. This page will turn…and what will we learn. Perhaps that love and laughter…are the most important…and that the accumulation of money…has a hollow sound… Understanding and acceptance and patience and hope…are the keys that unlock the door to happiness…
The Moon smiled upon the freshly harvested field. It was unusually cold for October 31st. There was not only frost on the pumpkin…there was snow. Five inches had fallen over the little coal mining town of Eldorado. Billy Bump and his best friend, Chet, had been waiting for this night since last Halloween…1962. They had decided that instead of trick or treating…they would investigate the rumors of the haunted train station. It had been rumored that although the station had been shuttered for many years…that you could hear a train whistle and the sound of the clanging of the tracks at midnight…although the tracks were broken and weeds had grown up through them. Whenever a person would move away from Eldorado or the occasional man left his wife in the middle of the night…that they had boarded the midnight train. Bill B’s dad was one of those missing men. One morning Billy woke up and his father was missing. When he asked his mom where dad was…she responded that he had taken the train to another town…looking for work. Jefferson Brooks was a mechanic trained to work on Semi-Tractors. There was not much need for his skills in Eldorado…the town of 5 thousand people and one old sore head…so the sign proclaimed at the edge of the city limits.
Chet was missing his dad as well. An ambulance had taken him away in the middle of the night. Chet’s mother, Thelma, told him that his father was in a sanatorium for Tuberculosis and that they could not go to see him for fear of catching TB. Both young men wondered if their dads had taken the night train? Also, there was the missing Beautician, Frances, who had been one of Billy B’s best friends. Frances had gone to work at the Beauty Parlor and never returned. She had disappeared the same day that Chet’s dad had.
Coats and gloves were in order as the two Halloween explorers made their way over old timbers and gopher holes. They each had a flash light with fresh batteries and Chet had his Lost In Space Costume on. Bill B had on his cousin Gene’s Creature From The Black Lagoon Mask…but not the hands…as he thought that they would be too cumbersome as he explored the old train station. When they got to the front door…it swung open as if someone from the inside had bade them to enter. Once they had entered the door shut and on came some fluorescent lights. As Chet and Billy B. rubbed their eyes from the sudden illumination…there was Frances behind the ticket counter. Are you gentlemen here for the Midnight Train…she asked kindly. We are said Billy B. The train will be arriving in two minutes on track 666…she said with a wide smile as she gave them their tickets. As they stood on the platform at gate 666…they could hear the peel of the train whistle in the dark distance. As the train pulled up…without a light on the front…and stopped with a loud screech…out walked Chet’s dad with a conductor uniform on. ‘Where have you been, dad?, Chet asked? Carol responded that he had a temporary job on the Midnight Train…
Billy B saw a hand waving at him from the small window of the locomotive. A voice called out, ‘Ho…Billy….I have been waiting for you!, and Billy’s dad’s face filled the window.
October is a lovely month. I was in Lowes yesterday and there were both Halloween decorations and Christmas Trees. I have been walking the beautiful campus of Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale for 43 years and have seldom witnessed what I did a little over an hour ago. A man asserting that he was, ‘A Child of God,’ speaking loudly to around 100 students as he characterized them as, ‘Whores’ and ‘Sodomites.’ He went on to contend that since he did what the Bible said for him to do…he was loved and protected by God…and that the angry crowd listening to him was bound for destruction. A woman who was acting as a spokesperson for the group of maligned students asked how many of the group had been church members but due to being abused and hurt by churches had ceased to attend…almost everyone raised their hands.
I was highly impressed with the students standing up to vile hate speech that the faux preacher of evil espoused. As I listened to several of the students speak to each other regarding the mean and hurtful pronouncements that they were hearing…they ruminated aloud as to why the speaker was doing what he was doing and what did he think that he was accomplishing. His invectives certainly were not a catalyst for the audience to want to partake of the abuse and pain that was obviously his lot.
‘This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.’ John 15:12. KJV
Hate defines many of what are called churches. If you are somewhat different than the congregations narrow view of God’s Love and the message of Jesus…then you are made to feel unwelcome and marginalized by the Pharisees in the pews. I have noticed throughout my 52 year experience with christianity and people seeking faith…that what we need desperately is a bigger table to sit down together and break bread and learn of each other.