You Did Your Best

Expectations are high in our world. You can not have too much education we are told. If you want to get ahead just working one full-time job is a prescription of ‘Idel hands are the devil’s workshop.’ With promotion you can obtain the elusive prestige that you have been instructed is essential to being evaluated as a success. Often we are a square peg being jammed into a round hole.

The modern standard of excellence that we are striving to obtain is elusive. No one feels this more than women. Having both the stress of a job and a family and the societal expectations that they can do both with flare is a bit preposterous. Women are admonished that they must excel in their chosen careers while at the same time raising exemplary children…as well as being witty and adroit and always prepared for the next challenge. I wonder how we macho males would feel if women were leering at us while expecting excellence in our work product and home life and to be the fulfillment of adolescent fantasies?

Idols we seek to pattern ourselves after. Having grown up on John Wayne westerns we look for Jesus who must have watched them too and fashioned himself after the Duke’s example. We seek approval and validation from people who are like us. Shoot them up movies and cops and robbers and hard drinking at the bar to fulfill our idol of manliness and male achievement. Men want to cry but have been taught not to. Men need someone to listen to their deepest fears and challenges but that does not fit the template.

Everyone is not like you. We did not all hale from your neck of the woods. Perhaps you enjoy wearing red trousers with a smart bowler hat placed jauntily upon your head. Indeed you may march to the tune of your own drummer and speak your convictions to an audience of blank stares…be proud of who you are!

Judge, too closely we do. We assume that people are doing one thing or another with malice in their hearts when in reality they are feeling their way along the dark and windy road of life. We seek to diagnose the maladies that are in our neighbors…while we seek autonomy in our actions and purposes. We stumble often and at times fall. It is not about the stumbles and falls…it is about getting back up again and putting one foot in front of the other as we walk our life road.


‘Virtually the entire University is undermined with tunnels,’ Chet told Billy B. ‘You mean like the buildings have basements,’ Billy B. asked? ‘No, some buildings have basements but all have tunnels that are often under the basements,’ Chet replied. ‘Have you been in any of them,’ Billy B. asked? ‘Yes, last night,’ Chet said with a grin. ‘What is in them,’ Billy B. asked? ‘Some have Civil Defense candy and crackers from the 1950s and 60s’,’ Chet said. ‘I tried the candy and it is still good,’ he continued. ‘I wonder if anyone lives in those tunnels,’ Jane said. ‘It would be an excellent place for the homeless to stay warm…I imagine many heating pipes in them,’ Neva J. said. ‘Some of them are as large as a massive corridor while others you have to crawl on your belly to make your way through,’ Chet informed them. ‘Are they well lit,’ Jane asked? ‘Yes the University tunnels have lighting throughout them and periodically I have found couches and upholstered chairs and vintage furniture in them,’ Chet answered.

‘To the Tunnels, we shall go,’ proclaimed Neva J. as she loaded the picnic basket and packed the Merlot! ‘My goodness it is dark today…almost like night,’ said Jane as they loaded into the 57′ Chevy. ‘It has been a bit dark since the Crisis,’ Neva J. responded. ‘You just do not see the people that you used to on Campus,’ Billy B. mentioned as they locked the doors of the Old 57′ and entered the Tunnel. ‘It feels like air-conditioned comfort in here,’ said Charles who had decided to join the group at the last minute. ‘Both the heat and the AC are produced by a Steam Plant that burns coal and there are AC vents throughout the Tunnels,’ Chet said.

As the group walked for over a mile it occurred to Jane to ask Chet what he was doing in the Tunnels last night when he ate some of the Civil Defense candy. ‘Well, Beth and I enjoyed some after we watched Succession on HBO,’ Chet replied with a wink. ‘Beth who…Billy B. asked with a start…and what is Succession or HBO?’ ‘Oh I do not know where to begin…after the Crisis, we all came down here and now are in our mid-60s’…it beat the radiation sickness,’ he said with a strange look in his eyes. ‘But we are just kids now…what do you mean the mid-60s…that is the age of my grandparents,’ asked Jane with an exasperated look on her face.

Around the corner were Chet and Beth and Jane and Neva J. and Billy B. and Charles enjoying the quiet life of the retired. They often delighted in going around the corner to relive the memories of their youth and the unique opportunities of living in the Tunnels…and on the edge of two parallel universes…

Toilet Knowledge

We all have need of them…but no one talks about them. We hope that others will think that perhaps we have found a better way. I learned today that most toilets sold in Lowes are ADA compliant…they are a bit taller…and sometimes a bit can make all of the difference. It is a long way down for a seat on the low toilets…for a tall person.

The lids when released by your hand…come down slow. Slow is good rather than the hard crack of the old composite seats banging against the porcelain bowl. Have you tried a bidet? They can be attached to your toilet. It is a wet wild ride!

We looked at a self-cleaning toilet this morning. I gave it a thorough examination but could not find the little man or woman who was doing the cleaning work. Many years ago I worked with a student custodian who told me that he could not lower himself to clean toilets. He had taken a job in housekeeping. I asked him if he thought that we had self-cleaning toilets. Having spent my career in Building Services I told my colleague in a staff meeting that I was indeed concerned about the ply of toilet paper and that he should be glad that someone was concerned about it.

Believing that I had a working knowledge of toilets I was amazed when we visited Italy and in the town of Collodi, which is the home of Pinnochio, that the toilets at their town park were floor level…it appeared that sitting was not an option.

We are proud of our restrooms. We put a lot of money into them. We hang fine art on the walls and pipe in music and mount television and assign them a theme… It is no wonder that we have our water closets as a point of pride for our accomplishments…it has not been that long ago that we had a path to the outhouse and read the toilet paper before its necessary use.

Cloak Room

Stories are the framework of our lives. Without them, we have nowhere to hang our hats or retrieve our coats. We all begin in the Cloak Room…

‘Chet, you need to place your hat in the Cloak Room,’ Mrs. K. said. Chet dutifully arose from his first-grade desk and marched into the Cloak Room and subsequently came back without his hat. Billy B. had never heard the term Cloak Room. He thought what an interesting title for your hats and coats and at times your gloves and scarves and snow boots…the kind with the three buckles down the front.

‘What is the little door in the back of the Cloak Room and where does it lead to,’ Billy B. asked Jane? ‘I have heard that it leads to the band room…but someone entered it once and was never seen again,’ she said with a wicked wink. ‘Do you think that is where Buddy went as we have not seen him in class for two weeks,’ Billy B. asked? ‘Buddy was rambunctious enough to explore what is beyond the Cloak Room Door but if he were in the band room he would have been found by the custodian, Mr. Watson, that evening,’ Jane mused. ‘I asked Mr. Watson if he has ever seen anything strange happen in the building and he said to never enter the little door at the back of the Cloak Room,’ Chet said as he placed his hat on his head and they all peered into the darkness behind the little door of the CR.

‘I am reading the most interesting of mysteries,’ Neva J. said to the group as they piled into the 57′ Chevy. It was an exceptionally warm May 17 and she had the ragtop down on the car. ‘What is the title of your new novel,’ Jane asked? ‘The Cloak Room,’ Neva J. said with a wide smile. ‘Would you like to accompany us as we explore the secret door of our Cloak Room,’ Billy B. asked? ‘Let’s come back after dark and slip in through the back door and see if there is anything to the myth of the CR,’ Chet said.

Mr. Watson was busily buffing the hallway tile floor. It gleamed under his expertise. As the kids got down on their hands and knees to enter the half door at the back of the CR Neva J. followed with a large flashlight. Suddenly it was morning and Mrs. K. said,’ Chet please place your hat in the Cloak Room…and there was Buddy in his assigned seat.

Christmas Hamburger

I grew up thinking everyone must have fried potatoes each night for supper. Southern Illinois is close enough to the south for the evening meal to be referred to as supper. In our part of the world after supper at a restaurant, the waitress or waiter would ask who wanted a cup of complimentary coffee. Yes, we consumed fried green tomatoes long before the movie was filmed. We also loved a big ripe red tomato fresh out of the garden as we plucked it and rinsed it off…if we had time…and took our trusty salt shaker out to liberally sprinkle it. Did you know that the tomato is a fruit?

Earl swore that there was no better steak than Hamburger Steak. Neva J. laughed each time he said this and informed him again that Hamburger Steak is just a hamburger with gravy on it. Earl also loved Chili-Mac and swore that you could not get good Chili-Mac around Eldorado…but that central Illinois had some delicious Chili-Mac.

Shawneetown had wonderful fried catfish. Shawneetown had been famous and had declined to have the railroad run through their booming town and thus lost the opportunity to Chicago… Neva J. and I often drove to Shawneetown for the catfish. It was fried at a bar and I often thought how fun it would be to get some beer to go with the Cat.

Photo by RDNE Stock project on

Eldorado had several little family-owned restaurants. When I was a boy I do not think we had any franchise eateries in town. When I would see advertisements for McDonalds I assumed they were located in the big city. The little restaurants in town were fun and served you your lunch or breakfast on a heavy plate and your coffee in a large white mug. It was a bit like a family sitting down for a meal. As the popular television show Cheers theme song says…’Where everybody knows your name.’

Smorgasbourghs were the ticket in my youth. Two Tonys had one in West Frankfort and one in Carmi. Earl and Neva J. considered them the epitome of fine dining and I agreed. All you could eat…that said it all. I soon discovered that the bread and vegetables and sweets were at the beginning of the line and the succulent meat was at the end. I endeavored to save space on my overburdened plate for the meat. One Christmas Neva J. swore that we were going to enjoy Christmas Dinner out that year. Earl assured her that there would not be anything open but she proudly proclaimed that she was certain that Two Tonys would be open and ready for business. Christmas we drove first to Carmi…it was a bit closer…and found it closed. Next, we drove to West Frankfort…closed. Finally, we found succor at Poor Boys Market in Harrisburg and purchased some ground beef for some wonderful Christmas Hamburgers.

The children of the Great Depression had a great respect for having enough to eat and a restaurant with a bar of food that was available for the taking was like Christmas in July! Earl and Neva J. loved Ponderosa Steak House in Harrisburg. Often Neva J.’s sisters Guelda and Wanda would accompany them and Earl and Neva J. would buy their meal. They rejoiced in the Food Bar that had sundry kinds of delicious salads and hot food as well. Finally, their stomachs got the best of them and they began taking some home for later…as they knew that they would be hungry again. They performed this feat by wrapping the culinary treasure in several napkins and placing them in their purses. Earl and Neva J. stopped taking them as the management told Earl what they were doing.


I have a new application on my iPhone that identifies different trees and bushes that I encounter on my Woods Walks. Today I crossed over the 50 new species that I have identified. I am now a Seeker. I like the title very much. I have considered myself a Seeker for most of my life. I have wondered what the Secret is…

As a youngster, I knew that there must be more to life than what was before our eyes. While many suffered terribly with illness and lack of resources and domestic strife…others seemed to fall into a barrel of shit and come up with a rose clenched between their teeth. Many people were pleasant while others seemed ‘Hell Bent For Leather’ determined to create as much difficulty for their neighbors as their strength would allow. So often good people were judged by the color of their skin rather than the content of their character…Dr. King told us.

An article in the Washington Post tells us that we have become a country where swear words are freely used in the general population and in front of children. This is at the highest levels including President Biden.

Acting ugly is not a beautiful thing!

We suppose that we understand a person’s motives without ever asking them what they are. Placing our enemies in a tight form fitting concrete container of our prejudice and bias. Our conspiracies fuel our endeavor.

Being a Seeker can not be boiled down to a catchphrase. Nor can an internet group or a church or a political party teach what it is to be an empathetic human being. You learn by doing.

The Truth Is Out There the X Files told us. ‘A soft answer turneth away wrath,’ the Bible tells us. The work is a bit ours. Why are we unhappy when we have abundance? Why do we believe that if everyone has a gun we will all be safe? Why do we consider that our little subset of human experience is the way that all humans should act and believe and that somehow we are chosen?

Perhaps there is intelligent life on many planets in a multitude of solar systems and each of them looks different than us.

How big is God…

Mother’s Day

Soon we will be around the table at the historic Giant City Lodge. MJ picked the venue…after all, it is her day. A little bird told us that they have Pappy Van Winkle. MJ says that she wants a shot. I will take a photo! When I think of all that MJ gives to our family I realize that I would be just a husk of a person without her. She has been by my side since I was 20.

My carer at Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale was over 32 years. Of that 32+ years, nearly 20 were either on the evening or night shift. MJ taught Aaron and Jonathon at home for many of those years in order that I might have time with them. MJ is a certified school teacher.

When my step-father passed away in 2001 I was in a quandary on what to do with my mother who was already in the progression of Alzheimer’s Disease. MJ told me that we would take her into our home. She resigned from her job at the University to care for her. We had her for a little over 3 years and finally had to place her in a nursing home when it was painfully obvious that we no longer had the skills to care for her. No one did more for my mom than MJ!

MJ loves a good detective show. She and I watch what we call our Programs in the evening and they are primarily found on BritBox or Acorn TV. We are currently watching Brokenwood which is filmed in New Zealand.

When we first married in 1978 I had nothing. It took some time to get into the ballgame…as I often say. Yet, MJ was there and acted as happy as a clam and sharpened her pencil for budget…almost daily. When I first returned from our Honeymoon which consisted of a weekend off work and a night in a hotel in Benton, Illinois that Margo and Jeff gave us as a wedding gift…I noticed that my lunch sack had two wonderful cheeseburgers in it. The same occurred the next night and I could not help but comment on how wonderful they were. MJ warned that I should not expect them every night…as we did not have the money for ground beef on a regular basis…

Holidays & Life

We say vacation in the United States. Our European friends say holiday. I love holidays. We have engaged in several and some were great and some were small but all were glorious.

‘I tell you, I could live in the United Kingdom,’ exclaimed Billy B. ‘London was wonderful and York and Edinburgh were sublime,’ he continued. ‘Did not you say that when we were in Oxford that you felt as if you had been there before,’ asked Chet? ‘Yes, I had the strong impression that I had been enrolled at University and all seemed familiar to me,’ Billy B. responded. ‘Edinburgh captivated my imagination…being there during the Fringe Art Festival opened my horizons,’ Neva J. proclaimed as she poured each of them another glass of Merlot. ‘I especially enjoyed touring Churchill’s War Rooms,’ Jeff said. ‘As I watched King Charles’s Coronation last week I saw several places in London that we had been,’ M.J. offered. ‘When I get home from a holiday I feel sad that I am no longer there,’ Jane said with a tear in her eye. ‘I have often wondered if I did not live in some countries that I have visited in a past life or an alternate universe,’ Chet ruminated.

‘Are you ready to read history this morning,’ Chet asked Billy B.? ‘Yes, but I had a late night at the Bird and Baby with C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. ‘We were discussing the mysteries of faith and fantasy and their intertwining together,’ Billy B. said. ‘I swear the pipe smoke became so thick and the pints so plenteous that I lost track of time…and even year,’ Billy B. exclaimed as he held his head as if it was very heavy.

‘I definitely recall being here…I remember the old stone structure and the surrounding woods,’ Abigail said. ‘Dear this is some of the ruins of what was once called…Illinois,’ Willam B. IV…said. ‘I know that but I can not shake the explicit memory of you and I having dinner here with our sons and in those days you called me…MJ…’

Old/New Walks

So I was in Eldorado again today and thought this was becoming a habit. Well you see I had been tasked with retrieving Take-Out for MJ and me at 2:30 P:M: and Giant City Woods is in a completely different direction than Marion…where the Cracker Barrel is located. So it was Eldorado first and then back through Marion for the fried chicken. Good fried chicken by the way. Marion has a Federal Prison and when it was first built I was told that it replaced Alcatraz. But that is another story. I noticed today on my halting walk…as a bad leg impeded my success somewhat…that my photographic paths are becoming familiar. MJ asked me if my leg hurt and I replied no it had just been naughty.

I drove by Washington School which was Washington Junior High School when I attended and it had a wonderful little market just across from it. Mr. Seagraves was the principal of Washington Junior High and he reminded me of a Mafia figure. He dressed in a three-piece suit every day and had a handsome head of salt and pepper hair which he wore slick backed…probably with Vitalis. He told me in a mid-year conference that he had with the eighth graders that I should work on improving my math grades. I then asked if they would impede me from graduating he smiled and said just keep working. Shortly before Commencement Mr. Seagraves met with the class and told us to examine our diploma envelopes when we got home to ensure that there was a diploma in them and not a note that said we would be repeating the Eighth Grade in the fall. I was pleased to see that there was a diploma in my envelope.

I received a stereo record player for my graduation gift and joined the Columbia Record Club where I purchased a Long Playing Vinyl Record a month. I gathered quite an assortment of good listening but lost them in the fire…of Mom’s Burn Barrel…when I moved. Since then I have worked to achieve as good as and in some ways a better Vinyl Collection as I had 50 years ago.

I drove down the Raleigh Road that goes through Raleigh. It has 1.8 square miles of land area. The population is around 300 people. It is a village. I lived in the Village of Elkville for 26 years. The villages are nice…very calm and centered. They are ideal for reflection and thinking and friends and napping. There was the most wonderful Ghost House on Raleigh Road between Raleigh and Eldorado. I did not see it today and believe that it has been torn down. At Christmas, the owners put one candle in each of the many multi-floored huge windows of the Victorian manner. Yes, I did say Christmas but it always engendered in me the thought of Halloween.

Eldorado had a sense of community. There were several family-owned restaurants and businesses. Both the Orpheum Theatre and the Starlite Drive-In were bustling. A town full of churches of which several remain today. They have a wonderful Museum that is dedicated to keeping the memory of this proud town alive in the hearts of those who love her. I remember the peaceful and easy feelings on the Saturdays that MJ and Aaron and Jonathon and I would visit Grandma Neva J and Grandpa Earl. Stress melted away and thoughts of work and all of the demands thereof seemed to evaporate. In their place were thoughts of Mimos Pizza and Franzia Boxed Wine…


Sometimes you just wake up and feel upbeat. You know the feeling it is one of those times where you can’t quite put your finger on it but you know something is different and in a good way. Routine and the aging process can cause life to be a bit of a battle until the light break in through the cracks of our souls. We know that there has been a change.

Chapters we read…and Chapters we live. Often we do not have a clear perception of where we are in the Chapter. Maybe we are at the beginning. Perhaps we are in the middle…or could we be on the last page and God’s Hand is already lifting the page?

Symphonic music fascinates me. I discovered when I was much younger than today…that at times I did not realize when the musical score had been completed. Yes, I applauded a little once or twice before it was time to do so. So it is with our journey.

What I thought of as my Golden Years chapter is really a section of my story. As there are numerous chapters in my middle years and younger ones as well…so it goes for the senior thesis. The secret seems to be the ability to adjust to your new chapter. The story is as rich as in the beginning and in some ways even more. Different but powerful and fulfilling and as real as the day that I drew my first breath and cried out lustily to get the show on the road…