The New Year Suprise
Fifty-nine degrees in Little Egypt…while it had been below zero just last week. It was a bit difficult to know how to dress for this peculiar winter. Two days left until the New Year and the decision of how Billy B. wanted to conduct himself in this New Year and his new world. He thought of his dad a lot and wondered how he was and where he was. Billy B. had a mental photograph of dad with his motorcycle hat on and his leather jacket and a Pall Mall cigarette hanging from his lips. Dad was a bit of a tough guy and had a little Al Capone in his genes. He was not a tall man but he cast an imposing figure. He carried a concealed handgun before they were in vogue and he did not have a license to carry. Billy B.’s dad’s passion was his Harley Davidson Motorcycle. Dad seemed to always have a wallet full of cash and he was generous with it. The last time that Billy B. saw him he was driving an old Cadillac that had silver dollars affixed to the trunk. He dislodged the silver dollars and handed them to Billy B. and he drove off into the sunset…
‘I have been looking at the Sears and Roebuck magazine and I want a motorized bicycle,’ Chet announced. ‘They are $159 dollars and mom told me to wait for New Year…for a New Year Suprise,’ Chet explained. ‘Chet, if you had one of those you could easily ride from your house in Parrish Addition to my house on Sixth Street and then we could go to the Orpheum to see more movies, Billy B. commented. ‘You know…Chet…we will all want one of those motorized bicycles if you get one on New Year’s Day…gosh we could ride to Broughton and Wasson and even Muddy…on the back roads’ Jane exclaimed!
‘Your dad loved his Harley Davidson Motorcycle…do you remember riding between him and me all over the country…and even a trip from Chicago to Eldorado,’ asked Neva J.? ‘I not only remember the Harley trips but I remember dad telling me that he would buy me a motorcycle when I got older and bigger,’ Billy B. answered. ‘I can not think of a more happy and complete memory of dad than when he was riding his Harley,’ Billy B. added.
1964 is going to be an interesting year with Johnson as our new president and the war in Vietnam raging…I fear that both you and Chet will be drafted one day and sent to fight in the jungles of Vietnam,’ Neva J. lamented with a tear in her eye. ‘Your cousin Gene received his Draft Notice and he is endeavoring to go as a Conscientious Objector, Jane said. ‘What does that mean…Conscientious Objector,’ asked Chet? ‘It essentially means that he refused to carry a weapon because he does not believe in killing,’ Billy B. said. ‘What if someone shoots him and he does not have a gun to defend himself,’ asked Jane? ‘Then he is dead as a doornail…I think that I would want some protection if I was in a war zone,’ Billy B. answered with a serious expression on his young face. ‘A lot of young men are moving to Canada to Dodge the Draft…they will be prosecuted when they return to the United States,’ Neva J. remarked. ‘I hear Walter Cronkite tell how many Americans were killed in Vietnam each evening on the Evening News With Walter Cronkite…and he announces how many Vietnamese
were killed as well,’ Chet said in a whisper.
‘McLintock is on at the Orpheum with John Wayne,’ said Billy B. ‘If John Wayne was in Vietnam fighting for us…the war would be over in a few days,’ said Jane.
‘Mom this is just what I wanted…a bicycle with a motor on it,’ announced Chet! ‘Well you must be careful Chet and only ride it on country roads…and do not forget your hand signals that Carol taught you before he died,’ Thelma said with a slight smile. ‘I believe that Billy B. and Jane are both getting the same thing…which was originally for Christmas…but was delayed due to Western Auto not being able to receive them from their manufacturer in time for December 25th,’ Thelma added.
January 1st, 1964 contained the joy of the late Christmas presents and freedom that they brought…while also holding the winds of change. The war in Vietnam went on throughout 1964 and escalated until 50 thousand Americans lost their lives in the conflict. Billy B. moved away from Eldorado and Chet stayed to care for his mother. John Wayne continued to portray courageous American heroes who never lost a battle.
Guard Your Dignity
The snow is melting. It is forecast to be 60 degrees on New Year’s Eve. The Old Year is exiting our view and the New Year is waving at us as it approaches us with a smile and an extended hand of friendship. I listen carefully when I hear people exclaim that they are glad the year is ending and hope the New Year is better. The years fly by like a weaver’s shuttle…each one represents a significant chapter of our lives. Although each of us experiences difficult times there is always the opportunity to find roses among the thorns.
Last evening I was watching a documentary regarding our obsession with ‘Keeping up with the Joneses,’ or who has the most possessions and money. We endeavor to focus on our own life…but our eyes wander to consider what our colleagues have. Sadly we have not escaped the Class System. Money has become so intertwined and interwoven with all facets of society including the church. ‘Love Jesus and get rich…,’ is the proclamation of many religious groups.
2023 is full of possibilities! The greatest among these is the expansion of your world. Make a point of having lunch with someone of a different race or nationality or ethnicity or religious affiliation…than you are. Search for the marginalized and the forgotten and those who are not seen…and see them and befriend them and help them.
Guard your dignity and let no one convince you that you are lesser than or not equal to them. Do not let anyone…as the great quote from the movie Dirty Dancing…’ No one puts Baby in the corner,’ put you in the corner!
Find the good in people. Be a good finder. If you look… you will see something that you like and respect in most folks that you encounter.
Get out of your own head! Take an interest in someone other than your own wants and needs and inner thought life.
Stop listening to your assumptions. Quit judging others by negative thoughts that you make concrete in your reality. As a popular Seinfeld episode extolled us regarding a Black & White Cookie…’ Look to the Cookie!’
A new Congressman has been found to have grossly lied on his resume. Never feel the need to obfuscate or mislead where you have been or what you have done…or who you are. During every day of 2023…You Are You…not who others want you to be or expect you to comply with. Authenticity is refreshing.
Curious it is to see people around you as they carefully stay within their lines of demarcation according to religion and wealth and prestige and perceived power. The author G.K. Chesterton said, ‘We are all in the same boat in a stormy sea…and we owe each other a terrible loyalty.’
A New Year Is Coming
This has been a good Christmas. Christmas Eve began with a trip to Cape Girardeau, Missouri for a great lunch. Not only was lunch delicious but I was able to park directly next to Mary Jane’s Restaurant, which I have never been able to accomplish on our numerous visits. Christmas Eve Church Service is a perennial favorite for us. I swear that some Old England Magic is contained in the observance. Each person has a bit of a glow about them and some Christmas Etheral Vibes ensue from wishing each other…Merry Christmas…
It has been bitter cold over the past few days with a light snow cover. Or as someone said Christmas Day…this is what we have been singing about and dreaming of. I continue to be in awe of the magnificent Fleeman Family. Tara and Mike and Paige and Tyler are a joy to be around and an uplift to my holiday! Ron and Ira Kay graciously hosted us for Christmas Dinner and it was delicious.
Jonathon showed me a photo that Paige had taken of him while he was enjoying a Christmas Nap. I thought that his face looked unique and about that time she told him that she had used a filter on the image. The filter transformed his face as well as his uncle Ron’s face into a humorous caricature. I subsequently joined Snapchat to endeavor to find the coveted filter.
The pursuit of happiness continues. Pastor Kerry preached a timely Homily on Christmas Eve. Kerry spoke of Jesus’ ministry to the poor and the primary focus of his ministry focusing on the marginalized and on those who have. no voice…the invisible of his day. Pope Francis’s Christmas Eve message focused on the poor and the homeless as well. I was inspired to hear the words of hope commemorating the birth of Christ…to be the message that he came to the world to deliver and the foundation of the Christian Faith.
Christ’s message was not about the flashiest or the wealthiest nor who gives the most money to the church. It has always been about the widow and her mite…
‘Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth, but she gave out of her poverty, put in everything…all she had to live on.’ Mark 12: 41-44
Winter With a Bite
Right now it is zero degrees Fahrenheit and it feels like 21 degrees below zero. Overnight the temperature fell to five degrees below zero and chill factors were around thirty below. This winter in its early days reminds me of my youth. We had very cold weather and quite a lot of snow and ice when I was a youngster in Eldorado.
‘Do you think we will be able to drive to Grandma Askew’s house for Christmas Dinner,’ asked Billy B.? ‘We will have to put the chains on the tires of the 57′ Chevy…that will give us traction on the ice and snow,’ said Chet. ‘Did it really snow fifteen inches,’ Jane asked? ‘Yes and the drifts are three feet high in places,’ Neva J. noted with wide-eyed wonder. ‘We still must get to Muckley Ben Franklin Dime Store to purchase a present for your Grandma,’ Daryl added.
Billy B. and Jane and Chet and Daryl put on their snow boots and their winter coats and their woolen hats. Each wore mittens that Neva J. had purchased for them for Christmas…but gave them to each due to the inclement weather. Mister Rogers had shoveled the sidewalk in front of their house on Illinois Avenue. He had a new-fangled snow remover that ran on a gasoline engine and could shovel the snow of ten men and one little boy. The walls of snow on each side of the sidewalk were taller than our intrepid travelers.
‘Look…there is the Dime Store ahead,’ exclaimed Jane! ‘That is a store…but it does not look like the dime store…we have not walked far enough to have reached Ben Franklin…yet,’ explained Chet. ‘There is a little old woman looking out the window and she is dressed as Mrs. Claus,’ Daryl said.
‘Come in children and get out of the cold..would you like some hot chocolate,’ asked the kind lady dressed in red and green. ‘Where are we…did we take a wrong turn,’ Billy B. asked? ‘The snow is so deep that we could not see anything but what was in front of our eyes,’ Jane remarked. ‘You are just where Santa wants you to be…he is out helping the elves load the sleigh for tomorrow night and asked me to help you pick out a gift for your Grandmas Askew,’ Mrs. Claus said. ‘Grandma loves to read and study the Bible,’ Billy B. noted. ‘What about a Scofield Study Bible…there are loads of notes included in the Bible that assist the reader in learning about the time of the book and the geography of the Holy Land,’ asked Mrs. Claus? ‘Your Grandmas would love that Bible,’ said Jane with Christmas joy written on her face!
‘Let us finish our hot chocolate as we must go and see Chet who is unable to shovel his sidewalk…and we will take him a Scofield Study Bible…you know what a Bible Scholar he has been for the past over 50 years,’ Jane extolled. ‘The cold makes me think of the time we walked through the snow that was over our heads to the Dime Store to buy Granma Askew a Christmas gift,’ Billy B. said with a wide grin. ‘Was it just a dream…or did we meet Mrs. Claus…
The First Day Of Winter
Winter’s First Day in my neck of the woods is mild…but it is the calm before the storm. Rain will rapidly change to snow on Thursday with temperatures dropping 25 to 30 degrees within an hour. This will cause what is called a flash freeze. Wind chills will range from 10 degrees to 30 degrees below 0. Holiday travel across the United States will be negatively affected by this unusual weather event that is called a Bomb.
So…four more days until Christmas. The lights of our Christmas Trees aid us in holding back the darkness of winter. At this time of year, we reflect on life and its meaning. The cold and the dark tend to compel us to pause and consider what has happened and what is to come. We would like to believe that our Pandemic is in our rearview mirror…but is it really… We hope for good health, peace on earth, and food for all hungry. The flickering light of our Christmas Candles shines bright in our eyes and warms our hearts. Remembering the joys of Christmas past and our loved ones who are with us…and those who have traveled across the river to learn the Secret that each of us wants to understand. Some of our support systems are strong…while others of us have seemingly no one to lend us aid and help us when we fall.
Home can be found in many places. When we are accepted and loved and our opinion valued…we are home. Home is the place where we are valued for our authentic selves. The place where no explanation is needed…Love covers us like a warm blanket. We will be traveling across the world over the next few days. We hope for appreciation and love and admiration of the unique human being that we are…not their cardboard cutouts of who our family and friends have in their minds regarding us.
Seeing each other takes focus…and time…and immersion in the project. It requires removing all of the colored glasses that we wear when we are with others. Understanding another person takes time and listening with love and no preconceived ideas.
Christmas allows us to begin again…
Alone At Christmas
It is a lovely almost Winter Day in Little Egypt. The last day of fall is sunny and 45 degrees with a weather forecast of a high temperature of 8 degrees on Friday. Everywhere I look are happy people purchasing their last-minute Christmas gifts and thawing the turkey and anticipating the Christmas Eve Lunch and the Christmas Eve Church Service where we end by singing by candlelight Silent Night…and a tear or two always clouds my vision. We will travel to Salem to enjoy Christmas Dinner with Ron and Ira Kaye and Tara and Mike and Paige and Tyler…and leave warm and well-fed and full of Christmas Cheer!
The Old Gentleman holding his little dog with a blanket wrapped around it…perhaps did not feel so lucky. It is moderate in temperature today but it is still cold to be standing by the stoplight smiling and waving as the plethora of SUVs pass you by. He as well as someone at every intersection of the four-way stop was hoping for a small donation to assist them to buy food…perhaps to enjoy Christmas. The little dog was shivering.
Many of us have enjoyed good health during our salad days. We bought and we sold…we worked from dawn to dusk…we enjoyed Christmas Parties and social soirees…and now we are sick and alone. Time and chance happen to all of us. When you gaze at the Christmas revelry from your chair that due to your physical ailments you spend the majority of your time in…the perspective is different. Others of us feel alone when we are in the midst of the Holiday Throng…seemingly no one has included us…no one has said, This will be the best Christmas ever…God Bless us every one!’
Unseen we feel…and magnified much the more at this joyous time of year. Invisible we are to the strong and the ones who are surrounded with a mighty bulwark of loved ones to protect them…and to love them…and to see them. We unseen search for a smile…a kind word…a blanket for our shivering dog…a home that is warm…a bit of turkey and dressing and a woolen cap for our poor heads…and mittens for our frostbitten fingers.
We the Unseen can sing and love to lift our voices in Christmas Carols…as we hope that someone will join us in commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ…who loves us all and cares about the weakest and the loneliest among us…
Christmas In Eldorado
‘Christmas is only six days away,’ said Neva J. I have the roast beast purchased and today I must search for just the right wine for the feast, Neva J. continued. ‘Are you going to make your Christmas Coffee Cake,’ Billy B. asked? ‘Indeed I am and this year a double batch…because you like it so much, Neva J. laughed. Blackfoot and Mumer came into the kitchen to ascertain if they could discover a dropped morsel of food on the floor. They were Neva J.s cats and family as far as she was concerned.
‘I love dressing and mashed potatoes,’ Chet announced as he took a generous portion of both onto his holiday plate. ‘Neva J. your aluminum Christmas Tree is simply stunning…I especially like their light wheel that shows different colors on the Tree,’ Jane said. ‘You know I wondered if an aluminum tree was the way to go this Christmas until I saw that Bob Hope had one on his Christmas Show this year,’ Neva J. said with a smile. ‘I love Bob Hope and consider him the best comedian performing today, Neva J. continued.
‘How about a little Jack & Coke to put us in the Christmas Spirit…it is 1 degree outside and I need a warm-up,’ uncle Gene said with a hearty laugh and his trademark…’Get the Point…Get the Point’ as he danced first on one foot and then the other! Aunt Guelda knocked at the door. Guelda brought Christmas with her wherever she went. She was a bit urbane…she had lived in St. Louis…and she had stories. Next was Susie and Steve from Chicago and Ivy chain-smoking her Salems. Susie brought Missle Toe and subsequently placed it above the kitchen door and took all applicants for a Christmas Kiss…
‘The Roast Beast is wonderful and the coffee cake melts in your mouth, Rosie said as she cut herself another slice of Roast and gingerly grabbed the last piece of coffee cake. ‘Nevie…I do not think everyone is here…perhaps you had best check the front porch…I heard a knock,’ said Guelda with a wide smile. ‘Oh my goodness it is Bob Hope and Bing Crosby,’…said Neva J. with a nervous and joyous laugh. ‘I am dreaming of a White Christmas,’ sang Bing. ‘I met a man who told me that he had not had a bite in three days…so I bit him,’ Bob said with a deadpan look and a sly grin.
Aunt Guelda knew both Bing Crosby and Bob Hope and had asked them to Christmas Dinner at Neva J.s. They were performing at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis. Both of the famous performers had on Santa Suits and large bags that were overflowing with gifts. With the Two was the actress Dorthy Lamour who performed with Bing and Bob in all of the Road Films. ‘I tell you Neva J. I have never eaten a more delicious Christmas Dinner,’ Bob said with a wide smile and a few mashed potatoes on his nose. ‘Indeed my dear lady…this is a wonderful blessing for Dorothy, Bob, and me and we thank you for your generosity,’ Bing said with a song in his voice. ‘Neva J. we would like for you and Billy B. and Chet and Jane to join us in our next Road movie,’ Dorothy said with a grin.
‘Wake up Neva J…Wake up…Jane extolled as Neva J. stood up from the floor of the dining room…
A week until Christmas and really just about six days at the writing of this blog at 9:16 P:M:. MJ and Jonathon and I enjoyed church this morning and the lovely people that comprise our congregation. I notice a prevalent feeling each time I attend church…calm. The church has a wonderful calming effect on me. The hymn singing and the sermon along with seeing the great people that we have been attending worship with for soon to be 25 years. Jonathon introduced MJ and I to Chanmi who has been expertly playing the piano for our congregation for some time. She has completed her studies at University and is returning home at the end of the month. What a great person she is and I marveled as she explained that she relies on God to assist her in her expert piano playing. Her comments were inspiring.
MJ and I went to a Hallmark store in Marion yesterday. It was fun to see a packed store of holiday shoppers with the excitement of the Holiday Season in their eyes. A local coffee emporium was offering free coffee and the line snaked around the parking lot with anxious lovers of the Bean. We, humans, love the spiritual and mysterious nature of our existence. There are times that we feel the assistance of something that is beyond what we can see with our eyes and hear with our ears. No matter how much we study or practice or rehearse…we seek the help that comes from the Great Spirit…and the inspiration that transforms the mundane into the magnificent.
Soon we will gather around our Christmas trees and indulge in the annual tradition of giving and receiving gifts to and from our loved ones and friends. The joy on our faces can be attributed to the miracle of life and that we are a part of it. In a vast universe that is only one of the millions of vast universes…somehow we are blessed to enjoy the love of our families and friends and the warmth of our Hearth and Home.
‘Albert Einstein once wrote: People like us who believe in physics know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion. Time, in other words, he said, is an illusion.’
I had forgotten that December 17th is my 12th anniversary of retiring from Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale. I was reminded of Facebook which showed me a lovely note that my good friend and colleague Elizabeth had written me 12 years ago. I can recall the surreal feeling that I had on that day. I had been employed by the University since the age of 20. Throughout those 32 years and 2 months and 3 weeks, I had been involved in many of the currents of University Life and I had relished my time there. I thought as I stood listening to my Director Phil and University President Poshrd say nice things about me…where did the time go… Any success that I enjoyed can be directly attributed to the wonderful people who worked with me.
On December 17, 2010, it seemed that I had just begun to fight and it was already time to move on to the next phase of my life. Through the grace and good wishes of so many of the University Community, I enjoyed all of my years with SIUC. Everywhere I turned there were people who wanted to help me and who were so complimentary of my efforts. I could never give back to the University all that it gave me!
I knew poverty and impoverishment and I wanted to help others who were marginalized and unseen and unheard. Nothing made me feel more of purpose and that I was accomplishing in some small measure what God would have me do than when I was able to offer a fellow human being a career in the economically challenged confines of Little Egypt.
So my retirement years have been good with life’s challenges along the path. MJ and I and our wonderful sons; Aaron and Jonathon…and now Mylo the Maltese are having a good life and excited about the next adventure. The joy is in the journey. Christmas is a week away. It is my favorite time of the year. I have many pleasant memories of the Christmas Seasons past. I wanted my memories of my retirement to be during the Christmas Season.
Stop and smell the roses along the way. This is not just a cute saying…it is the truth. Live your authentic life. I have lived the majority of my days portraying myself. I neither attempt to ingratiate myself with the powerful nor put-on aires with my friends. I remember the man on the Commodity Truck throwing the commodities on the ground and my dear mother picking them up so she and I would have something to eat. The Commodity Cheese is quite good but I could not tolerate the Dried Milk and thus saved my pennies until I had a dime at which point I would walk over to State Street and purchase a glass of cold whole milk from the corner restaurant.
A Winter Breeze
There is a winter chill in the air today. I mentioned to MJ that next week is Christmas Week…at least in my mind since the Saturday of next week is Christmas Eve. Indeed the years seem like months…and the months as days…and the days…well you get the picture. I saw my good friend Al on the walk around Campus Lake and he complimented me on the photos that I post on Facebook. I told him how honored I was as he is an expert photographer. We reflected on the long flight both going and of course, returning from Hawaii.
Slow movies and television shows as well as long conversations that seem full of filler make me antsy… as I have gotten older. A movie that is two hours in length…that is in the theatre…I now find it tedious if it is not engaging. Time is precious when it runs from you like a scared deer. However…I never tire or become impatient with Christmas. I was made for Christmas. The peace of the holiday and the joy that it brings is just my cup of tea. In fact, I have a bit of withdrawal when Christmas is over…until January 1…when the anticipation begins anew!
The mystery is compelling. Christmas is a mystery. The shepherds and the Wisemen and the animals in the stable when Christ was born…were all intrigued by the mystery of how God could become one of us and dwell among us. The Story of The Ages has not yet been told…and we are key players in its panorama.