Author Archive: bjaybrooks

Story

It is another late fall day in the neighborhood. The Woods were in good order today and changed a bit from yesterday. I pondered this morning how many humans had walked where I was trodding. I had a colleague who told me that he often went to the woods on Sunday…that was his church. The older I get the more I understand his philosophy. We humans love words and those who can speak them well captivate our minds.

Story… is the constant of life’s narrative. We love our jobs…if indeed we do…due to the story that our employer tells. We are Christians due to the story of Jesus. We raise our family in emulation of the story of a family that has been mentored for us. In art and literature and theatre… the story is what we seek to expand our understanding of who we are and why we are here.

Illness is like hitting a brick wall in our story. We are reminded of the temporal nature of our position as an actor in the grand story of humanity… The scripture asks…’What is a man that thou art mindful of him…’

Old age creeps up on us almost unawares. We walk slower and see dimly and hear…what we want to hear. Looking back we see the story more clearly. How many times did our Guardian Angel protect us at the last minute when we were confident that we had the master plan and did not require any additional advice from the Peanut Gallery.

Fascinating it is to see people follow a good storyteller. I am watching an HBO documentary regarding the NXIVM Cult that is led by Keith Raniere. Mr. Raniere was so adept at spinning a compelling story that many women followers of NXIVM allowed themselves to be physically branded with his initials to prove their loyalty to him. His title was Vanguard in the movement and his second in command was called Prefect. The teachings of Raniere were so persuasive that actors and the well-educated and the rich followed him. When you look at the Cult from the outside it seems patently obvious that it was a bizarre lie and abusive in the extreme. But there. is something about being inside that is brainwashing and identity removing and evil that can not be seen…similar to not being able to see the forest for the trees.

Simplistic answers do not solve complex problems. Beautiful words are spoken by evil people…at times. ‘And the devil said to Him, ‘All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish.’ Luke 4:6


Winter Is Knocking On Our Door

The chill factor is 33 degrees… which is 1 degree above freezing. Yet I am on the Writing Porch…cold. We just had our cedar tree trimmed and now I have a perfect view of our pond. If it keeps this up…it soon will be On Frozen Pond.

I traveled to Eldorado yesterday to pick up the two tiles that I had purchased with Eldorado Scenes from my youth. I bought two more…another trip back to Bountiful…Eldorado. Cynthia and Marlene were there and when they found out that I have journeyed to our hometown many times over 2022 to take photos…they suggested that I share some with them and asked if I had ever considered capturing some images and asking the question…’Where is this at in Eldorado?’ I like the idea and plan on doing so before the end of the year.

Our dog groomers have a new Bull Terrier…and he is adorable. Perhaps you recall Spuds MacKenzie. As I walk the streets of Eldorado I am transported in time to the days of my youth. I can see my Grandma Askew and my dear mother and my good friend Jackie Brooks. When I look at the Orpheum Theatre I recall entering and exiting the wooden and glass doors…hundreds of times and watching flicks that formed much of my worldview at that time and even today.

Margo and Jeff are coming…and we are excited! They are dear friends from the United Kingdom. We met 50 years ago in the little village of Elkville. They are coming to visit and enjoy Thanksgiving with Margo’s mother…Thelma…who is another dear friend. I am certain that we will tell tales and spin yarns…and simply enjoy each other’s company.

Teeter-Totter Days

The past few days have been more springlike than fall. Parents and grandparents had their kids and grandchildren at Giant City to slide and swing. I remember the teeter-totters. Where did all of the teeter-totters go? When I first met Jackie B. and we would play on the seesaw on the playground at Hillcrest School… he could hold me in the air until he grew bored of doing so. When I protested that I wanted to come down he looked up with squinted eyes into the sun and a large grin. Neva J. bought me a hat that buckled up in the front and the ear flaps connected to the top of the headgear. The idea was to unsnap the ear flaps and re-snap the strap under your chin. If I was not wearing this weird hat I was wearing a sock hat. I hated sock hats…they had no character. As soon as I was financially able I began to wear classic fedoras and hats with some class. Almost no one in Little Egypt wears these types of hats. The most loved hat in Southern Illinois is a ball cap. I have never worn a ball cap well. I had a pastor who advised me that I should bend both sides of the straight brim of the ball cap down severely. He assured me that was what the style of the day demanded. I chose not to do so and subsequently forgo to this day…ball caps.

Photo by Mike Anderson on Pexels.com

My wardrobe dream was to own a leather coat. It seemed to me that people took those who wore leather coats seriously and with some respect. I noticed that my doctor had a leather coat. So, I purchased the first of many leather coats through the years. Today wearing a leather coat means little to me…but they still look good. Today the lighter the coat…the better I like it.

Leather gloves were another aspiration of mine in my teeter-totter days. I purchased a pair of leather gloves from the L.L. Bean Store in Freeport a year ago in September and I am pondering wearing them today. We have our first snow of the season. A few days ago we had record breaking temperature of 81 degrees now 31 degrees and snow.

Jonathon and I tried the Bar at the Giant City Lodge out yesterday and found it outstanding! We found ourselves surrounded by a Crocodile Head a stuffed Turkey and an Opossum hanging from a limb…what a unique Restaurant and Bar.

Teeter-Totters remind me of life. One day you are up…and the next day you are down. There is a manifest reason we humans appreciate good times…we fully understand what the bad times feel like.

Raiment is necessary and indeed vital for us humans as we have mostly hairless bodies that do not respond well to the elements. Life clothes are important as well. Early in my life, I discovered that I could be a primarily negative person and that there was some bitter joy and satisfaction in the process. After all…how can a person be blamed for their mistakes or maladies if Life’s Card Dealer has simply dealt them a bad hand of cards…

Focus it takes to wear the clothes of acceptance and forgiveness and mercy and empathy. Sometimes the sweater of optimism does not fit perfectly. Perhaps your hat has to be stretched to allow acceptance of others. Indeed you may be compelled to give your fine leather gloves to the homeless person whose hands are freezing…

Home For The Holidays

‘It is almost Turkey Day…what are your plans…Willy,’ Clarence asked? ‘Well…I have some Wild Turkey in the cupboard…and that should make for a lovely day,’ answered Willy. ‘Wild Turkey…Ha Ha…I hear that old friend,’ Clarence laughed! Billy B. could not believe his good fortune to have been hired at Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale and a little over a month later to be the recipient of two paid holidays for Thanksgiving. ‘What a Country,’ said the Russian Comedian.

Thanksgiving in Eldorado was the prelude to Christmas…in Neva J.’s mind. No plans were made for a Turkey Dinner nor candied sweet potatoes or even Neva J.’s Famous Coffee Cake…those plans were for Christmas. ‘No one comes to see me between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve…I will need that time to prepare for Christmas,’ Neva J. proclaimed. If Billy B. was lucky there might be some Roast Beast slowly cooked in the Crock Pot and the almost daily…fried potatoes. Billy B. assumed that everyone consumed fried potatoes each night for supper.

Macy’s had a wonderful parade…even in the ’60s. Billy B. and Chet and Jane loved to watch the parade with the humongous balloons and the excitement of Santa Claus bringing up the rear of the parade…it appeared to him that Macy’s understood that Thanksgiving was the prelude to Christmas…as well.

One special year Neva J. decided that she and Billy B. would go out to eat for Christmas. Thanksgiving remained the holiday that you mostly celebrated in your mind and soul and spirit…and no Christmas Ham Famous Coffee Cake or even candied sweet potatoes…and what about the homemade fudge and divinity… When Neva J. told of her labor-saving plan for Christmas…Rosie told her, ‘Nevie…I do not think that we will find any restaurants open on Christmas Day.’ ‘Oh, surely there will be some…what about our favorite Smorgasbourgh Two Tonys…I am certain that they will be open for customers to partake of their Christmas Dinner.’ ‘I and my family tried to eat Christmas Dinner out a few years ago and we ended up having Olive Loaf Lunch Meat and Charles Chips,’ laughed Jane. ‘I like Oscar Mayer Wieners…myself…,’ grinned Chet. ‘Indeed that would not be much work since you enjoy them directly out of the package, Billy B. said.

Christmas Day came and the safari for an open restaurant came up short. As Neva J. and Chet and Jane and Billy B. and Rosie were all loaded up in the 57′ Chevy convertible with a ragtop that would not come up due to a malfunction…they saw Gary S. sitting in the Eldorado Pavillion with no one around but the twinkle of the Eldorado Christmas decorations. ‘Are you waiting on someone Gary S.,’ Billy B. called out. Yes…my sister was supposed to pick me up here and take me for Christmas Dinner at her home in Mt. Vernon…but she never came and now I am quite cold,’ Gary S. replied with a forlorn face. ‘Get in Gary S….we are heading home for the holidays and when we get there we will whip up something special for Christmas Dinner,’ laughed Neva J.

Fried baloney and Charles Chips and Oscar Mayer Weiners along with Squirt and Coca Cola and Coffee…made for a wonderful feast that was full of laughter and fun and even an aluminum Christmas Tree with a blue rotating light shining on it… Then came the Balloon Wine that Neva J. and Billy B. made themselves in their basement.

Indeed there were never a merrier lot of folks in the little town of Eldorado…and few that understood the meaning of Christmas better than they…

Decisions For Life

Fall is racing along much too quickly for my taste. My favorite four months of the year are over half gone. I looked forward to our holiday in Maine for most of 2022 and it is two months in my rearview window. Life whisks by so fast that it makes my head spin!

I decided many years ago that I was going to be an advocate for those who have no voice. I vividly recall how it felt to be marginalized and considered lesser than my colleagues. I tried to obtain the favor of the elites for a short time and decided that my lips were sore from attempting to ‘Kiss Ass’ so I began to follow my own path. Following my own way has been richly rewarding and fulfilling. What others think of me is of little to no consequence to my happiness. Frank Sinatra sang the famous song I Did It My Way, which is my philosophy. It is exhausting to attempt to divine and foretell the wishes of your betters. I have taken many University courses…but no mind reading.

We are born alone and we die alone…we are answerable to no one but ourselves as to our life’s path. Love is the answer to the riddle. When we do things to help others and not worry about what others think of us…we have balance and serenity.

Courage is a rare commodity. Courage is in short supply. Courage is so seldom seen that when it is on display we all raise our heads and perk up our ears and marvel that it is still on display in our somewhat self-centered world.

Humility is lovely. Servants/Leaders are almost a thing of the past. Those who help with no thought or desire for reward are precious. A humble human is compelling. They draw mentees for their mentorship. They love with open hearts and extended hands.

Braggadocio and bluster and Me First…are admired today. The biggest lie that agrees with our conspiracy theory worldview…is accepted with open arms. The Bully in the schoolyard was the loudest and the most illogical.

Decide for the homeless and the hopeless and for those who have no voice. Let love be your guide. Let peace be your placard.

The Mystery Of The Woods

The mystery is the order of our days…rather we realize it or not. It is a two Blog day and both begin with a reflection on The Woods. For the past month and more I have been journeying to Giant City State Park for exercise and reflection and photos. The Woods are eternally mysterious. Woods offer a changing palette to paint upon each day. Spiritual questions and answers for knotty dilemmas…are contained in The Woods. Stripped away are the artificial creations of the human family and all that is before the explorer is God’s Creation.

We worry as to rather we should buy or sell…or how large and well apportioned our home or homes are…and we lay up riches in solid cellars where no one can break in and steal.

Wonder we do as to which man or woman will lead our government and who will best fulfill our personal ideology and wants…not needs.

Glimmering we are in all of our lovely spun cloth. We see the poor soul who has dirty raiment and no shelter and we are offended at their penury. How did they not have enough ambition to better themselves?

From an early age, we are placed on the Success Track and told to follow it for a good life. Being rich does not in itself make a good life. When I was in high school it was understood by educators that University was not for everyone… now we assure all young people that they must have a College education.

Arrogant we are in our higher education and its path to elitism. We know that we have the inside track to knowledge…while those who do not have our education…do not. We seek to explain logically to the great unwashed that they are wrong and that we are right…and they must only trust us.

Mimic we do…those who we admire. Ape…we do those with whom we want to ingratiate ourselves. A class system is what we are comfortable with. For heaven’s sake, we worked hard to be in the upper class.

Proclaim we must our success and our possessions and our wealth…as an impetus for others to seek to be like us.

The Woods remains untouched by human avarice or greed or lust or envy or pride… It says softly…come and sit awhile and rest…and I will sit with you…

Vinyl Recording

It is a blustery day once again in my neck of the woods. One day hot and the next day cold. My sojourns to Giant City State Park have been numerous. I am becoming familiar with all of the nooks and crannies of the Woods. I have been there for the changing leaves and then for their fall. Bare limbs have their own unique beauty.

Photo by Andrea Turner on Pexels.com

‘Be sure to wear your Autumn Jackets…it is chilly and the wind is blowing,’ Neva J. admonished. ‘I live to hike,’ Chet said. ‘There is nothing nicer than a November Hike and the thoughts of Thanksgiving and Christmas swirling in your head,’ Jane said with a laugh. ‘I think that I will wear the new woolen socks that I bought at the L.L. Bean store in Freeport, Maine when we were on holiday in September,’ Billy B. said. ‘The temperature in Boothbay Harbor today is 40 degrees. ‘I will be thinking of Maine when we are hiking at Giant City…it is never far from my thoughts…it is my happy place,’ Neva J. said with a smile.

‘I like the Pin Oak Trail…it is all smooth poured concrete,’ Chet winked. ‘I will say that it is the most user-friendly hiking trail that I have ever taken,’ Neva J. added. ‘I like the benches that are strategically placed along the trail for the purpose of resting a bit,’ Billy B. advised.

Wasn’t it strange when we found that black bassinet next to the stone house when we camped Halloween night,’ Jane asked? ‘Yes…Giant City is noted for strange occurrences…unexplainable and weird,’ Chet said with a learned look.

‘Come over here and look off of the bluff…it looks just like Acadia Park in Maine,’ Darryl said with some bewilderment. ‘I see a lighthouse…and the rocky shore of Maine,’ said The Wiz as he adjusted his binoculars.

‘Man O Man did we ever take a wrong turn somewhere,’ Billy B. called out! ‘Giant City has a bit of a mystical mystery about it…people have entered its gates…and never been seen again,’ said The Wiz. ‘Perhaps we entered a Black Hole,’ noted Chet. ‘Well if we entered a Black Hole…where is the exit,’ Neva J. asked. ‘Let us retrace our steps…if there is an invisible door…we should walk through it,’ Darryl advised.

‘Oh my goodness…we are back at the Stone House and it is Halloween again…’ said Jane. ‘There is a theory in Quantum Physics that when we die we simply return to live our lives over again…and again…and again…somewhat like a flat vinyl phonograph record as our needle follows its designated track…’ The Wiz mused…

For Our Vines Have Tender Grapes

‘The Moon is high in the evening sky,’ Chet noted. ‘Tonight we fall back an hour…that means another hour of sleep Sunday morning,’ Billy B. replied. ‘Yes and it will be dark at 5:00 P:M: Sunday evening,’ Jane retorted. ‘I like the dark,’ laughed Billy B. ‘It is too easy to stub your toe in the dark,’ Neva J. reminded the group. ‘Is uncle Gene going to be staying the night…again,’ asked Billy B. ‘Yes he has nowhere to live at the moment and he is welcome to bunk with us until he can get on his feet,’ Neva J. answered. ‘Why do you call uncle Gene…Fetch…and he, in turn, calls you Nave,’ Jane asked Neva J. ‘Well it began when we were kids,’ answered Neva J.

‘Fetch was my buddy…he looked out for me and I for him…when other kids were less than kind to him I would tell him to, ‘Fetch my bullwhip and I would give them a thrashing within an inch of their lives,’ Neva J. reminisced as she thought of her younger days. ‘Did you really whip uncle Genes’ abusers,’ Jane said with sincerity. ‘Why yes I did…on a few occasions…but it was the threat of the action that was almost as powerful as the real thing,’ Neva J. answered. ‘Uncle Gene has always walked with a limp…he was born with it…and smart-ass kids who wanted to make something of it…had me to deal with,’ Neva J. said with conviction.

Tommy was always being either picked on or shunned at school,’ Chet said. ‘He became reclusive and very quiet…it was difficult to get a word out of him…he drooled a little when he sat at his desk and his back had a curvature due to Scoliosis,’ Chet continued. ‘I determined to make him my friend…and he slowly began to come out of his shell and he could tell the most fascinating stories and even tap dance like no one that I have ever seen,’ Chet said. ‘Tommy went from the class prime person to pick on and take advantage of…to the class star…and he caused every Bully to recede into the darkness,’ Jane said with tears in her eyes.

When people saw Rosie coming down the street…they moved to the other side of the road. She had lost her husband and she talked to herself a little…and due to loneliness… she answered herself from time to time. ‘Rosie and I are best buddies…she calls me every day and we have lunch together once a week,’ Neva J. said as she smiled to herself. ‘Since you have become Rosie’s friend and helped her get some new clothes she is seen all over town helping others,’ Jane told Neva J. ‘Rosie was ‘Rosie The Riveter’…really…during WWII…she worked on making battleships while her beloved husband Ralph fought the Nazis in Germany,’ Chet noted. ‘Often we ignore others because they seem different or at first not friendly…or more often than not they are afraid of the rejection that they have felt on many occasions,’ Chet said.

‘I first met Latham in Mrs. Hemphills Remedial Reading Class…I had been sent there due to a bit of dyslexia…and there were some students from Special Education in the class…they were some of the best kids that I ever met,’ Billy B. said exuberantly! ‘Latham was a prince of a guy and could talk about anything…he was unable to take PE due to a physical condition,’ Billy B. said. ‘No one talked to Latham…but I did…and we became friends,’ Billy B. noted happily. ‘It turned out that I did not have dyslexia…but I did have a wonderful experience that has stayed with me for my life,’ Billy B. noted with joy…

‘Catch us the foxes, the little foxes that spoil the vines, For our vines have tender grapes. Song of Solomon 2:15

Whistling In The Darkness

Election Day is 4 days away. We all have an opinion. Our democracy is founded on the principle that a workable answer for all our outstanding citizens comes out of a diversity of opinions. Indeed there is more that unites us than divides us. Violence is never the answer. Hateful rhetoric against a political opponent is dangerous. Departed Senator John McCain wanted to win the Presidency when Senator Barrak Obama was his opponent. Yet when a woman falsely accused Obama of evil intentions…McCain defended him and called him a good man with whom he differed politically. When politicians buy into the lie that the last Presidental Election was stolen…they are doing so for their own political expediency at the cost of ending our democratic form of government…and in favor of Authoritarianism.

A lie that supports our worldview is a damaging balm to our weary and forgotten souls. I have traveled to the towns and villages and hamlets of Southern Illinois for most of 2022. Many of the people that I met do not feel seen by their government. They are the invisible women and men and children of our country. So many of the residents of Little Egypt are food insecure. Many of the children would not eat if their school was not feeding them.

My friend and State Senator Dale Fowler is tireless in his efforts to help the poor…and he is a Republican. Neither political party has cornered the market on…kindness…

Demonizing a political opponent is horrendous and dangerous and is cancer that is taking over our political and religious way of life in our great country. Many Germans during World War II stood idly by and watched as Jews were loaded into cattle cars and taken to concentration camps and gassed. They were not troubled by what they had seen…they thought their Nazi government was doing…God’s work.

Some who are running for office have made campaign jokes regarding the Speaker of the House of Representatives husband’s attempted assassination. Would they laugh so heartily if it was their husband or wife…who was bludgeoned?

The insidious banality of racism and prejudice and the pervasive feeling of us versus them is often not proclaimed from a bullhorn. It is what we say to our friends…or wink and nod approval when those who are different than us are marginalized. We assume that everyone must understand how the game is played and how to succeed in a diverse world. We say that we are not racist or misogynistic…until we are with our group…who nod in agreement as we support fascism and tribalism and seek the…people…who are keeping us from getting ahead…and getting our fair share of the American Dream…

Hoist the flag…we do. Wear it on our lapel with pride. We know that the majority of people want to retrieve America from those who are not in our club…The Land Of The Free And The Home Of The Brave…to Americans…but…how did we get into this elite club…

Ashes…and gravestones…carnage…and corpses…while leaders laugh at the lies that we believed…

Remember The Future

I watched an incredible television series on Amazon over the last few days. The program centered around a man who was handcuffed to a table and being interviewed by a grieving mother who believed that the convict had killed her son. At one point in the interview, he predicted future events that would happen in the sorrowful mother’s life. When she asked him how he knew the future he replied that he ‘remembered the future.’ What a great line! In the spirit of not revealing too much of the plot, I will leave it there…but it was a bit of a unique slant on life.

De Ja Vu is a strange experience. To have the feeling that you have met someone before but to have no memory of doing so…is akin to Halloween. Or to travel to a location and know that you have been there before…but you do not remember when. I experienced de Ja Vu in Oxford, England during our visit in 2016. The University seemed like home to me. The Pubs and the little winding streets I had trod before… It felt like I had sat at one of the tables in the Eagle and Child and enjoyed a pint with CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien…

During my high school days a quiet and unassuming fellow student…who I was not acquainted with came up to me and asked me if she could tell me something. I said please do and she said that she knew that one day I would be the leader of a large department containing hundreds of people. At the time I had not had my first job and I thought about how sweet she was and how unlikely what she predicted would happen.

I was a member of the Chancellor’s Search Committee that brought Chancellor Jo Ann Agrersinger to Campus and she subsequently became our Chancellor. The moment that I met her…I was attempting to place how I knew her. Of course in reality I did not know Dr. Argersinger…but I could not shake the pervasive feeling that I had at some time and somewhere…

As a little more than a toddler in Chicago in Sauk Village…I recall thinking as I perused our lovely little home…’At least we have a nice home…this time…’