Saturday, December 29, 2007

HAPPY NEW YEAR

New Year's Eve and New Year's Day have a way of sneaking up on us. Usually, we are still trying to get accustomed to winter weather. And we have had no chance to get rested up from a somewhat hectic season of Thanksgiving-through-one-week-after-Christmas. A time of running around, shopping for gifts and returning gifts. A time period punctuated by Christmas parties, and featuring broken diet plans and almost non-stop eating. And here we sit on Dec. 31 with a lot of TV football to watch and not one single New Year's resolution on paper.
Some optimistic folks just naturally assume that the coming year will somehow be even greater than the preceding glorious 12 months. Devout pessimists know that it will be even worse. Much worse! Lukewarm pessimists guess that it will be at least a trifle better than last year. It darned well better be. How the hell could things get any worse?
And a few people like myself will expect 1998 to be a year about like any other year. Most years have a lot of bright spots. A fair amount of successes, a lot of happy times - great times shared with family and friends - many that will add pages to our lifelong album of memories. And, hopefully, we will continue to enjoy good health.
But, with the world, the universe, and human beings built as they are, there will always be a few flies in the ointment. A few bad times to punctuate the good. As one old friend says, "That's God's way of reminding humans that they aren't in heaven yet, and that the Pearly Gates are a great goal to shoot for."
Another friend has a different way of wording it. I have probably quoted him before (we old-timers repeat ourselves a lot). He says that every hound needs a few fleas, just to keep him too busy to have time to worry about being only a dog.
Putting New Year's resolutions down on paper sounds like a great idea. A lot of people have good success with this method of self-improvement. I've tried writing out a few goals from time to time. But with little success. Old habits die hard. This year I might try again.
Some people don't really get too concerned about what the new year will bring, or how it will compare to last year. And some of that group have learned that New Year's Eve is the greatest time of the year to party.
Happy New Year! Have a great one!

HAPPY, REWARDING NEW YEAR!

Another day, another year,
Should we anticipate ... or fear?
What surprises will this year bring?
Will it cause us to cry or sing?

Another year, a brand-new day,
Will life go on the same old way?
Or will we face progress and change?
Must we our lifestyle rearrange?

If the new year brings strict commands
Insists we change, makes strange demands,
A change of pace will suit me fine.
I'll be the first to get in line.

One thing not popular with me
Is day-to-day monotony:
The same old work, the same old line,
Like: "How are you?" and, "I am fine."

So many things I still don't know.
I love watching young people grow
As they prepare to carry on
When folks like you and I are gone.

New things they'll learn, great sights they'll see,
So strange to dinosaurs like me.
So many years I've let drift by,
This gray old head now wonders "Why?"

This New Year we so soon will face
May not allow running in place –
Working away on life's treadmill –
Puffing, sweating while standing still,

But demand we meet fate half-way –
Work, think, and learn – waste not one day.
Enjoy these 12 months, as we come
One year nearer millennium.

Monday, December 24, 2007

HAPPY HOLIDAYS FROM OUR HOUSE TO YOURS

MAY YOUR DAYS BE MERRY AND BRIGHT


As it so often
Has before,
Christmas-time rolls
Around once more,
A time for friends
And family
And many a
Great memory.

Not knowing what
Life holds in store,
We hope and pray
For many more
Christmas seasons
And may God bless
Us, everyone.

With our Very Best Christmas Wishes!

Gloria and Emil Schmit


Friday, December 21, 2007

CHRISTMAS EVE - Proud Grandparent

Old memories and traditions are an integral part of the Christmas season. They often help us to get a full measure of enjoyment out of the Great Feast Day. When I was a boy, most traveling was done in automobiles, but I do remember a few teams of high-stepping horses that could really make their sleigh bells jingle as they pulled bobsleds or cutters along the snowy country roads. For many of us, the merry sound of sleigh bells, whether actually heard or dredged up from memory, is about all that is needed to establish a Christmas mood:

CHRISTMAS PAST

Sleigh bells sing on country lanes,
Christmas carols, candy canes,
Sparkling tinsel, giant tree,
Gifts galore for you and me!

Age may turn my hair to gray,
Steal my zest and zeal away.
Time may rob me of my gold.
Christmas memories I'll still hold.

Christmas is a time for youngsters. And for families. When our children were small we did our main celebrating on Christmas Eve. We began with a large evening meal. Santa Claus was not a major contributor at our house, but by the time the dishes were finished he had usually left a bag of goodies and small gifts on our front porch. The rest of the evening was spent exchanging gifts, playing with new toys, admiring new clothes and singing a few carols.
We still try to continue that tradition, but each year it becomes a bit more difficult for our group to get together for the Great Season. With family members now scattered from the East Coast to the West and from the Twin Cities to Dallas, and with winter travel conditions being what they are here in the Midwest the odds are against our all being together again this year. And the grandchildren have a way of growing up and having classes and getting jobs that make it all the more difficult to plan. But once again, we'll do the best we can. We'll gather wherever we can get the most of the group together and then keep the telephone lines buzzing as we compare notes and share greetings on Christmas Eve.

CHRISTMAS EVE

Turkey roasting in the oven,
Coffee brewing in the pot,
And the clan will start to gather
Any minute, like as not.

One more snowy Midwest Christmas –
Outside cold chills to the bone –
First we'll line up the grandchildren,
Look them over...how they've grown!

We'll eat supper, do the dishes,
Then all gather 'round the tree;
Exchange gifts and sing some carols.
See what Santa left for me.

Thank you Chad and Zac and Justin--
Jared, Riley, Gabe and Jake--
Thanks, Michelle, Mikey and Noah,
What a precious group you make!

Life provides us joys a-plenty,
But none greater, I believe,
Than being a proud grandparent
On this Blessed Christmas Eve!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

CHRISTMAS IS FOR US YOUNG ONES



Oh, I don’t wait up for Santa,
half ecstatic, half in dread
on that Great Night, I sleep soundly
in my warm and snuggly bed.

Christmas morning, see the presents,
dolls and balls and brand-new sled,
then there’s turkey with the “fixin’s”
till each hungry mouth is fed.

With the family here together,
we all talk and play and sing.
Through the crisp, cold air of winter
we can hear the church bells ring.

Christmas time finds me excited,
happy as I used to be.
On the snowy side of eighty,
there’s still lots of kid in me.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

ROCKING CHAIR




We don’t see a lot of rocking chairs in motion these days. Maybe people don’t have time to just sit and rock anymore. In my childhood days, a mother rocking a small child to sleep was a common sight. Or a busy farm wife taking time off from her work to rock and comfort one of her small tots that was not feeling well. Grandmothers would rock and knit and recall the old times when their children were young.
Grandfathers would rock while smoking their pipes, and grumble about all the confounded changes that had taken place in the world. Some blamed all or most of the country’s problems on the high-lines that brought electrical power to the rural areas. The weather certainly was not the same since they started taking all of that electricity out of the air. And every time they graveled or oiled another road they were just asking for more trouble. All those people on the move and the exhaust from all of those Model T Fords certainly couldn’t be good for anything. “Now they’re even putting big boxes on those contraptions and hauling hogs to market! It just don’t seem right.”
Rocking in a chair was often referred to as “being on the move without going anywhere.” Today’s senior citizens have a whole different set of options than their parents and grandparents had. And most of them like to “go somewhere.” For some it is 18 holes of golf every day. For others it is a bus tour down to Nashville to see the Grand Ole Opry or to Branson, Missouri. Some enjoy weekend tour to Dakota or Mississippi to one of the gambling casinos. Or to Las Vegas, Reno, Tahoe, Laughlin, or Atlantic City.
Amusement parks and theme parks are now scattered across the country. And big-time sporting events are within the reach of most.
We often saw pictures of President John F. Kennedy in a rocking chair. Some said he found that rocking brought some comfort to his injured, aching back. Song writers have found the chairs to be good subjects for their work. One famous song title said, “Old Rocking Chair’s Got Me.” Another set of lyrics told of rocking away troubles and cares by “just sitting doing nothing in an easy rocking chair.” And a more recent song hit by Country Music icon George Jones proclaims, “I Don’t Need Your Rocking Chair.”

ROCKING CHAIR

The old lady likes to look out –
When a long day’s almost done –
From her westward-facing window
She watches the setting sun.

Then at dusk, in the big parlor,
Over near the open stair,
She greets her last true companion,
Her old platform rocking chair.

She recalls her faithful husband –
They’d shared years and smiles and tears –
Until at last he sagged and fell
Beneath the weight of the years.

She recalls how proud he had been
Of the six children she bore.
Feels a bit sad, thinking how she
Seldom sees them anymore.

‘Cause years raced by, as years tend to.
Before long, the kids had flown,
Leaving just her and her husband
In the big house, all alone.

When he left this world for heaven –
A life she could not yet share –
She did much praying and grieving
In this same old rocking chair.

She’s sure she feels more content here
Than the richest millionaire.
She has one friend she can count on,
Her old true-blue rocking chair.

At times the nursing home beckons,
But she refuses to go.
Why trade one’s own home and hearth for
A life you don’t even know?

So she sits and reminisces,
Now and then says a short prayer,
Thanks God for His every kindness,
And this faithful rocking chair.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

MIDWEST WINTER






Every now and then I come across a new word - one that I don't know ... or know the meaning of. Usually my curiosity will eventually get the better of me and I'll go to the dictionary to look it up. A recent discovery was the word "rime." No, it has nothing to do
with writing or rhyming. It simply means "frozen water vapor." Just a short, nifty word for frost. Perhaps one we could use in late fall when – freezing becomes more and more common – and frost grows thicker on everything outdoors. Until, at last, winter takes command and we find "rime" even on the inside of our window panes.
After going to the trouble of finding out the meaning of this cute little word - and adding it to my meager vocabulary - can I find a use for it? I already have quite a few autumn poems ... about brightly-colored leaves and dark gray skies and the sad, haunting cry of those spear-shaped formations of wild geese heading south and leaving us here behind to cope with an angry, cruel winter. Autumn is a beautiful, wonderful season. The only thing I don't like about it is the fact that it leads directly into winter.
I've never cared much for that season, and still don't look forward to the cold, to the snow-clogged and icy roads, driveways and sidewalks, to appointments that must be canceled and plans that must be postponed, and to the fuel bills. But when it finally "winters in ," I usually find that It's not really so bad after all. Then we are never at a loss for conversation material: “How deep is the snow in your yard? My thermometer said 20 below. What do you suppose the wind chill factor is today?”
And then there is always the anticipation of Christmas, New Year's, Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day and Easter. Before we know it we will be counting down the days until spring is here. As with almost everything else, winter is about as good or as bad as we expect it to be.
Rural youngsters of my generation lacked organized entertainment activity, but we managed quite well on our own. Some of the kids in our neighborhood had ice skates and skis. Almost every family had at least one "store-bought" sled. And most farm boys could build a "single bob" sled from scrap material. Barrel stave skis were only partially successful. I often wonder how many "blue thumbnails" have resulted from trying to fasten a leather strap to the unyielding wood of a barrel stave with a hammer and roofing nails.
Flying down a steep hill, with the metal runners of a Flexible Flyer sled roaring over
ice-covered snow was a big thrill in our young lives. After supper and evening chores, we sometimes took our sleds back out to our favorite hill. A kerosene chore lantern worked well to mark the end of our trail at the ,bottom of the hill. Curves and other hazards were
often marked by torches made from tin cans, using old rags and waste oil for fuel. The light of a large, bright moon had a way of turning our familiar pasture hill into a strange new, wonderful world, or planet. Nighttime sledding parties were "just about as good as it gets."
And now to see if we can get some use out of our new word "rime."

MIDWEST WINTER
New dainty lace of autumn rime
Foretells approach of wintertime,
When soft, white snowflakes' restless shift
Creates an ever-growing drift.

Ice crystals on the pond join hands
To build a stratum that withstands
Not only the large grownups' weights,
But pressure of their sharpened skates.

The young folks laugh and shout with glee
And race outdoors with sled and ski.
No alpine mountain do they need;
The pasture hill gives breakneck speed.

When chore-time interrupts their fun,
They plan a later, evening run,
Hoping the night's full moon won't fail
To light the rugged upper trail.

Their old, coal oil chore lantern will
Target the bottom of the hill.
They speed through shadowed, eerie land,
Then climb the steep hill, hand-in-hand.

The icy air, at last, takes hold;
Their toes and fingers ache from cold.
They'll seek, after one final ride,
Hot chocolate and the warm fireside.

Then, off to bed, and peaceful sleep
With dreams of hills, where snow's piled deep.
Winter's gray skies, the cold and snow
Bring joy to those who'll have it so.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

THANKSGIVING



In grade school, we always looked forward to Thanksgiving. We made new decorations to take the place of the construction paper witches, black cats, and jack-o’-lanterns that held places of importance on the walls and windows a month earlier. Now we traced or drew, and cut out Pilgrims, corn shocks, pumpkins, and turkeys. And we looked forward to a day or two off from school.
Thanksgiving is nicely spaced, about midway between Halloween and Christmas. And looking forward to “Turkey Day” kind of helped to break up the dull fall season. President Roosevelt once tried to change the date, and have us celebrate the great autumn feast earlier in order to give the turkey producers a longer season to prepare and distribute their products for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. But the majority of the people wouldn’t stand still for that. So we still do our celebrating on the last Thursday of November. At least here in the US, but in Canada it is celebrated earlier.
Our schoolbooks told us that turkey is the main item on many people’s Thanksgiving dinner table, but a lot of us had never tasted the big bird. Most farms produced their own chicken, pork, and beef. Some also had ducks and geese, but back in those days, turkeys were difficult to raise. And, as a scarce item, the big birds were a real luxury food, and expensive to buy in the stores and meat markets.
We all seemed to enjoy learning as much as we could about the first Thanksgiving. As farm and small town children we could identify with the Pilgrims and their efforts to make a living off the strange, harsh land. And we saw the pictures of their Native American neighbors coming to that first celebration, carrying deer and wild turkeys they had stalked and killed and brought along as their contribution to the menu.
We learned of the Pilgrims hardships during those first years. And how the friendly Indians shared their seed corn with them and taught them how to grow, harvest, store, and use the crop. We were told that without the new corn, the people and the colonies would most likely not have survived.
The warm, happy story of people with such different backgrounds working together, and then joining to feast and celebrate and thank God for their success always caught and held our interest. And helped make us all feel thankful for our blessings.

THANKSGIVING PRAYER

We thank you, Lord,
For this great land,
For rolling plains
And mountains grand,

For fields, and strong
Farmers who toil,
For crops that thrive
On fertile soil.


For working men
And women who
Take great pride in
The work they do.

For colleges,
Teachers, and schools,
Officials who
Enforce our rules.

For our leaders,
Many whose strong
Efforts move our
Country along.

For those who at
An earlier date
Led the way, made
This country great.

Pilgrims, Indians,
Who, hand-in-hand,
Paved the way for
This day so grand,

Their efforts, at
That early stage,
Purchased for us
Our heritage.

Thank You, for all
Who’ve shaped our land,
Devout clergy,
Great churches, and

Men and women
Marching in ranks.
For all of these,
We give Thee thanks.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

KICKAPOO ESCAPE


The Creator has a sense of humor. And is not one to let anything go to waste. Left-over bits and pieces from the creation of the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains were swept together to form the Ocooch Mountains in southwestern Wisconsin.
Excess silken shards from our country's great rivers were spliced into a shimmering skein, and embroidered, zigzag, down a tortuous valley, toward the Wisconsin River. Early Native Americans named this little river "He who wanders here and there." Usually a placid stream, occasionally a roaring demon, it has, down through the years, been alternately loved and hated, adored and worshipped, blessed and cursed--and all for sufficient reasons.
Boaters and water lovers find the waterway too small for large craft or for commercial traffic, but exceedingly "canoe-friendly," except when prodded, irked and irritated by prolonged heavy rainfall.
Landlubbers have learned to live with the meandering stream and share its beautiful valley. To travel there, they built Wisconsin State Highway 131--playing hopscotch with the winding river--erecting a bridge to meet its each and every errant whim.
An effort was made to control and domesticate the river just above LaFarge. But we fools and our money were soon parted. The giant recreational lake involving 6,000 acres never materialized. About 18 million U.S. taxpayers' dollars erected only half-a-dam. And half-a-dam is no better or worse than no dam at all. The stream still remains unfettered and un-neutered. The water still flows free...toward the sea.

KICKAPOO ESCAPE

In the little Ocooch Mountains
With their gushing streams and fountains
There is a place that's
Very near and dear to me.

A whole world of peace and quiet--
Were I a rich man, I'd buy it--
Where the Kickapoo
Flows gently toward the sea.

When pressures of city and town
Weary my soul and grind me down,
I find there's just no
Place where I would rather be

Than in this rugged, peaceful land
With its lush greenery so grand,
Where the Kickapoo
Winds gently toward the sea.

Pack some lunch, grab up your paddle,
Load the canoe, we'll skedaddle,
And go a-drifting
Down the river, you and me.

On this winding and wondrous stream,
We will find time to plan and dream
As the Kickapoo
Wends its way toward the sea.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

PARK BENCH WISDOM

Most of even our tiniest towns have at least one comfortable bench where a weary traveler may sit down and rest. And where the local old-timers can gather and talk over all of the current events including all local, county, state, national, and international happenings.
Such benches are often located in a shaded, park area. Other times we may find them right on the sidewalk of the town’s main street. And just outside the front door of a local pharmacy, restaurant, pool hall, or tavern. When the older natives gather at the bench, we can often benefit from some of their high-level conversation. We can glean a lot of their hard-earned knowledge and wisdom, provided we can winnow the chaff from the facts. We may find that many of their old tales have been altered and contaminated by years of retelling and by dimming memories. Also deliberately distorted by exaggeration, politics, religion, prejudice, good humor, and/or just plain orneriness. Also the love of being able to tell and get away with a good lie now and then.

PARK BENCH WISDOM

The old cowboy sat and whittled
On a stick of soft white pine.
He said, “Though the world’s changed, your life
Will be much the same as mine.

“You will wake up lots of mornings
Kind of dreading the new day,
But it’s best to face up to it.
Don’t let time just waste away.

“When you go to work, remember
You’re not a boy, but a man –
Know exactly what’s required, then
Do the best job that you can.

“Don’t just shy away from troubles
Or new problems that you fear.
You will have to face them sometime,
Such things don’t just disappear.

“If you ask for my advice, Son,
This is what I have to say,
There just ain’t no substitute for
Doing today’s tasks today.

“Life’s like a badly spoiled bronco
When it hits its bucking stride.
We really don’t have much choice but
To just hang right on and ride.

“Whether we’re alive and kicking
Won’t concern the world a lot.
It will keep right on a-spinning
Whether we’re aboard or not.

“Now, when you’re dealing with others –
The Good Book says what to do –
Treat folks to the honest kindness
You would like them to show you.

“Never put too much importance
On just who you think you are.
“Sure, you’re no pro football player
And no famous movie star.

“But don’t ever get discouraged
By your lack of strength or size.
Focus on the whole picture, not
You, as seen through your own eyes.

“Avoid things foolish and stupid
As you travel down life’s way.
Mix your work and progress with a
Bit of pleasure every day.

“You can’t hide behind a bottle –
I’ve tried that out and I know –
Problems wait around to greet you
When you’ve lost that rosy glow.

“The next morning, when you’re sober,
Those troubles still lie ahead.
it ain’t easy coping with life
When you have an aching head.

“Of things I tell you, this may be
The most important of all –
Mountains have been moved by the faith
Of folks who were weak and small.

“Oh, sure, you’ll feel unimportant,
At times, in this wide world’s scheme,
But you can make a real difference
If you hang on to your dream.

“Live so that one day you’ll look back
On these bygone days, and smile
At a lifetime filled with living –
One that’s really been worthwhile.

Friday, October 19, 2007

MY REAR-VIEW MIRROR



People my age tend to complain occasionally. We find that tasks around the home and lawn now take longer. A job that once required one hour now uses up two. In addition to the several hours (or days) we spend convincing ourselves that the job really needs doing. Age often brings on some aches and pains. And more frequent bouts with assorted illnesses. And more trips to the doctor. Then there are the ensuing clinic and hospital bills. And the Medicare and health insurance forms to deal with. At times a veritable mountain of paper that we try to understand and make sense out of. And, before we know it, we are complaining that the “Golden Years” are not all that we were told they would be. Kind of like that new coin we call the “gold dollar” (or “millennium penny”), they look more golden from a distance than they do up close.
But then, age also has some good points. If we keep an open mind we start to notice some things we should have recognized years before. We suddenly find that much of what we once thought to be of the utmost importance really doesn’t matter at all. At one time it seemed almost a necessity to try to please everyone. At work, it was often fundamental to stay in the good graces of superiors, fellow workers, and our employer’s customers. But after retirement, we can re-think that one.
It’s a free country. And everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion. If someone doesn’t like me, so be it. It is that individual’s privilege. I certainly won’t waste any time or lose any sleep worrying about it. Or trying to solve the problem.
I prefer to spend my time counting my blessings. My wife, family, my home, my writing, and all of the other things that make life worthwhile. And I am thankful for an ample supply of friends and probably the best assortment of good neighbors that can be found anywhere. Also tons of memories.

MY REAR-VIEW MIRROR

Days and years I’ve left behind
Tend to clutter up my mind,
Various memories and
Thoughts of days gone by,

Some times happy, others sad,
Good experiences, and bad –
I could not forget them,
Even if I’d try.

Trekking down life’s long, hard trail,
Striving to succeed – not fail,
Often my best efforts
Were not quite enough.

Times when persistence and pluck
Needed help from Lady Luck.
Looking back, some of those
Days were fairly rough.

Now and then nothing went right –
I’d have to hang in and fight.
At times, everyone this
Bitter cup must quaff.

Later on, I came to know
Time softens most any blow.
Looking back now at most
Bad times, I can laugh.

In our youth we crave and yearn,
Work and slave and save to earn
To buy things we feel we
Just can’t do without.

Age and years open our eyes,
Then, in time, we realize
What this thing that we call
Life is all about.

Each morning the eastern skies
Now are a treat to my eyes.
I’ve been granted one more
Chance to pass life’s test,

‘Though some things may go awry,
I’ll just give it my best try.
I’m sure I’ll be all right
If do my best.

If good fortune smiles today,
Or just bad things come my way,
I’ll smile and play all the
Cards dealt to my hand.

There’ll be actions I must take,
Some adjustments I must make,
I may need to “hang tough”
And take a firm stand

One fine day you, just like me,
Will smile and look back to see
Works and deeds you’ve done that
You can view with pride.

For, as near as I can tell,
If we have spent our time well,
Life will have been worth this
Rough and the bumpy ride.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

STEP ASIDE

A silvery-haired fellow
Said, at work, one day,
“Son, you’d better get the
Hell out of my way.”

He said, “I just ain’t one
To move around slow
This day grows short – we’ve still
A long way to go.

“This work must be finished
Before setting sun,
We must get a move on
If we’d see it done.

“For me, time is fleeting,
So once more I say,
‘Speed up, or get plumb the
Hell out of my way!’”

-- Emil Schmit

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

LOVELIGHT


Every now and then I face questions like, "Hey, how come you don't ever write any love poems?" and "You claim to be a writer. Shouldn't a writer be kind of a romantic and write mushy, wimpy love stuff?" Or, "You always refer to yourself as a poet, but I never see any love sonnets, or anything even close. Why?"
Most likely it has a lot to do with the time I was born. Little boys who first saw light of day in the early twenties learned early in life that you don't wear your heart on your sleeve. Real big men stand tall. And they never cry. Expressions like ,"I love you," weren't commonly used (at least in public) by heroes of that time. And, to this day, they still don't come easy.
And then when it gets right down to the mechanics, or the nuts-and-bolts of the thing. We writers who use the English language have two-and-a-half strikes on us right from the start. We have only four words, five at the most, that rhyme with "love." French scribes have more than 40 words that rhyme with "amour."
Oh, I suppose I really am a romantic at heart. I have been known to cry at sad movies. And I wrote a real honest-to-gosh love poem once. A young nephew asked me to write something for his wedding and to read it at the ceremony. I later used the rhyme for one of these columns in 1996. And I felt honored when a minister friend who now lives in California asked for a copy of it. She considered using it for future wedding ceremonies.
I was once asked to put together and read a eulogy at an old friend's funeral. Some of this was in rhyme. Not exactly a love poem, but a labor of love. I received a number of requests for copies of it. Several of my more serious and/or religious, poems have "made it to church," having been used by ministers as pulpit-material.
When I started playing around with various computer programs, I really didn't have any intention of making my own greeting cards. And then one day I decided to design a birthday card for one of the grandchildren. Naturally, I had to include an original rhyme, a few Clip Art pictures and designs, and finish with, "With love from Grandma and Grandpa" (in flowing script, even). The first one was well received, so that required another for the next family birthday, and then another and another. Soon there were graduation cards, anniversary cards, and even Christmas cards. Now they all seem to be expected and much appreciated, and my expenditure of effort is well repaid with love.
For me, life, happiness, fulfillment, and all those good things depend pretty much on family and friends - warm, honest people - folks we can trust. The kind we feel comfortable with and whose company we enjoy. Some of my better greeting card efforts go into birthday and anniversary creations for my wife Gloria.

LOVELIGHT

The flickering candle's
Gleam lights up your eyes,
Makes a banquet feast of
Our burgers and fries.

Time we spend together,
Your love and your smile
Smooth out life's rough edges,
Make it all worthwhile.

We don't need a mansion
Or rambling estate.
Our dwelling may be old
But it suits us great

We've no need for limo
Or fancy sports car.
We're happy and pleased with
Things just as they are.

We don't crave to know all
The great queens and kings.
We prefer just common Folks,
and common things.

No champagne or truffles,
Pheasant-under-glass,
We're pleased with our plateau,
Pure plain middle-class.

We don't whine about things
we're doing without.
Contentment is what our
Life is all about.

We need to impress no
Folks we meet today –
Each Tom. Dick, or Harry
Who happens our way.

For us, fame and fortune's
No absolute must,
Or a host of friends,
half Of whom we can't trust.

We prefer the kind who
Are true from the start,
The ones we know have our
Best interests at heart.

Now, close as two peas in
A warm, cozy pod,
We count all our blessings,
And give thanks to God.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

WOODLAND AUTUMN


Each year one of my more pessimistic friends says, "After the
Fourth of July, it's all downhill as far as summer goes." And I suppose he
is correct. Before we know it, it is time for the county fair and for the schools to re-open. And we look around to see a number of summer chores still undone. We recall plans for summer activities that we never got around to.
Sad to say, the older we get, the faster time seems to fly. Each year more and more of those wonderful plans have to be postponed, hoping we get around to them next summer.
So, ready or not, autumn arrives. About the only negative thing we can say about this season is that we know it will be followed by the ice and snow of winter. Occasionally a gray fall day can trigger a bit of sadness as we watch the summer plants and flowers wither and die. But this year it would almost be a pleasure to watch our large lawn turn brown. The frequent rains have kept it green and growing without letup. I don't remember a year when the grass required this much mowing.
Autumn here in the Midwest would be a difficult time not to enjoy, even if we tried. Temperatures are usually mild, neither too hot nor too cold. And the hills and river bluffs take on brilliant hues that are a welcome change after all the lush green of summer. We watch hills covered with maple trees turn red and orange. Oaks take on darker reds and browns.
At times, when walking through stands of birch and aspen trees on a dark, gray day, we almost feel that the bright yellow leaves are emitting a golden light of their own. Plain weeds like goldenrods are suddenly flowers, with their own special color. The red of the sumac decorates many country roadsides, and the leaves of the ivy vines that climb and twine their way high up into tall trees take on their own special eye-catching deep red hue.
I no longer hunt, and don't get out into the woods and fields as I once did. And I don't pick up and hull and dry black walnuts anymore. I wouldn't mind having a few butternuts, but those trees are no longer as plentiful as they once were. Harvesting hickory nuts always seemed to be a matter of beating the squirrels to them. Usually I came in second best. I remember picking hazelnuts when I was younger, and drying them until their fuzzy husks popped open, releasing the hidden nuts.
I haven't seen any of those plants for a long time. I wonder if any or many of the woodland pastures still have sizable stands of hazel brush.
In autumn, our migrating birds leave for warmer climes and the wild geese often honk at us as they fly by overhead. Hibernating animals put on an extra layer of fat to carry them through the winter. The ones that will be out in the cold weather grow denser, warmer fur. And we humans get our snow shovels around, or else tune up our snow blowers. Because winter is now on the way.

WOODLAND AUTUMN

Brilliant autumn leaves all muted
By low fog clouds, hanging gray,
And there's just a hint of winter
In the mid-October day.

Beaver have been busy cutting
Saplings for their winter feed.
Squirrels frisk through final harvest,
Gathering the nuts they'll need.

Red fox looking sharp and sassy,
Fur approaching winter prime;
Chubby woodchuck, fat and ready
To sleep through the wintertime.

White-tailed buck attacks the bushes,
Slashes a defenseless tree.
Soon his antlers will be burnished,
From the itching velvet free.

Somewhere in the hazy distance
Wild geese sound their haunting cry.
A great day for reminiscing;
One more summer has slipped by.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

SMALL -TOWN DINERS OFFER ELEMENT OF SURPRISE

I am not impressed by big, fancy restaurants where the preparation of food often appears to play second-fiddle to advertising, decorating, and fancy menus, also, reprinting menus to keep ahead of constantly rising prices.
Fast food places are usually good and serve the purpose for which they were intended. But they usually lack variety and character.
My favorite stops are the independently owned small-town "beaneries" and "greasy spoons." They often furnish something that home cooking doesn't - the element of surprise. A bowl of chicken soup may be a large, full bowl with lots of meat, vegetables and noodles - a meal in itself. A week later, the same order might bring you half of a bowl of thin soup consisting mostly of canned chicken broth.
Coffee is almost always unpredictable and can rarely be described as good.
Usually it is either excellent or downright horrible. Scalloped potatoes might contain quite a bit of ham, or almost none. Tuna and noodles may contain lots of tuna, or be almost entirely noodles. Cooked rice might have an excellent taste and texture - or might just sit there in one big, solid glob. Beef tips over rice or noodles might be tough, gristly bits of meat, obliterated by strong, brown canned gravy, or might be a very tasty choice. Chili can often be a story in itself.
Some restaurants take on and reflect the character of their owners. If the owner likes
antiques, the walls will be decorated with old hand tools, crockery and other artifacts of
earlier days. If the owner has a sense of humor and likes bawdy stories, there will be an ample supply of printed placards and jokes. A truck stop I once frequented in Viroqua, Wis. was operated by a man who owned horses. His place was decorated with trophies, pictures and statues of draft horses. Usually the main topic around the tables was horse-pulling contests.
An owner in Ontario, Wis. liked to share beautiful and positive thoughts with her customers. She kept her bulletin board and counter top covered with clippings, greeting
card poems and hand-lettered ideas and rhymes she had copied from books and magazines. One busy restaurant usually had as many people shaking dice as they had eating breakfast each morning. It was a tad bit illegal, but the city police chief was one of the regulars in the game.
And then there are the rest rooms – equally as unpredictable as is the food. Some are well-marked, others almost impossible to find. Some neat, others long neglected. Looking for a bawdy joke or naughty drawing? You'll find them on the walls. Prefer humorous rhymes? They're there, too. Seeking religion? You'll often find where a disgruntled Christian has boldly inscribed: "Jesus Saves," along with chapter and verse for recommended reading for the scribbling sinners.
I've developed a great deal of admiration for many of the people who operate and/or work in restaurants. The hours are long and the work is not all fun and games. Yet these folks, young and old, get the job done. And they do it with a smile.

THE HUNGRY HERD CAFE

God, bless that dear old cook down at
The Hungry Herd Cafe.
She's just discovered a new way
To spoil fried eggs today.

She really loves to over-cook,
She's honed it to an art;
Her boiled rice and potatoes, mashed,
Are hard to tell apart.

For brewing coffee, she uses
No recipe or text -
One day it's thin as dishwater,
Removes varnish, the next.

Her bacon's tough as razor strops,
With ham like leather boots,
You cut your gravy with a fork –
Or knife, as texture suits.

German potato salad does
Not impress many Dutch.
Today's special, the corned beef hash,
Just doesn't taste like such.

Hot chili's a good winter choice,
Real tasty, like as not,
But till it's in your bowl, there is
No guarantee it's hot.

The silverware is bent and worn,
Check first for dirt or rust.
"Fresh, home-made pie" cringes and shrinks
Away from greasy crust.

It is not rare, at times, to see,
On bread crusts, flecks of mold.
On toast, we pretend it's just bits
Of tarnish on the gold.

The dishwashing machine leaves soap
To flavor coffee mugs.
Exterminator's sign tells when
They last fogged out the bugs.

The waitress shows the weight of age,
Her steps, painful and slow.
For waitresses, they say the feet
And tips, are first to go.

'Neath the cash register, a glass
Showcase holds wares to sell,
Like candy bars and chewing gum;
Antacids move real well!

Tomorrow morn, I'll crave caffeine
To start my brand-new day.
I’ll ride my favorite stool down at
The Hungry Herd Cafe.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

COMING EVENTS




Some days can be dull and dreary,

Heavy, dark skies filled with gloom,

No bright promise for tomorrow,

Just hints of impending doom,

Not even one veiled prediction

Of a lighter, brighter day

When the sun will shine down, and will

Bring a few good breaks my way.

I refuse to let this bother

Me, or get me all perplexed.

I’m content to sit and ponder:

What the hell can happen next?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

LIFE AT THE HOME



Nursing homes and convalescent centers, as we know them today, were almost unheard of when I was a youngster. Overall, people now live longer than they did back then. And with our modern life style, most families find themselves too busy to give proper home care to their older members.
A visit to a nursing home to see old friends or family members can give cause for some serious thought. It can be a stark reminder of just how short is our stay here on earth and of how flimsy the thread used by life’s weaver. Also may give us reason to wonder how we will react to all of the aches and pains and infirmities of age.
Some nursing home residents find it difficult to leave behind the freedom to come and go as they please. Others, who once took great pride in their work and other various achievements, find a life devoid of such activities almost unbearable.
Then there are a number who still count their blessings. They appreciate the fact they no longer must cope with the workaday world. Or the outdoors’ extreme heat and cold. They appreciate the comfort of knowing there will be food on the table at mealtime, and that doctors and nurses are readily available to look after them. And many enjoy the company of others their own age.


LIFE AT THE HOME


Twelve residents gather
In the spacious lobby
Of the Stone County Home
On a cold winter day.

Roy James is a talker,
He is seldom quiet,
Greets the home’s visitors
Each day at the front door.


Jim Knight is a walker,
He prances and paces
Spending much of his time
Circling the lobby floor.


Joyce Wilson says,"They serve
The noon meal quite early.
Line up right here when you
Hear them call out our name


“The food isn’t bad, but
As time goes by, it seems
Everything they serve here
Pretty much tastes the same.”


Tex Jones, an ex-cowboy,
Spent years in the saddle –
Long, hard days that left his
Body aching and sore


He says, “This new wheelchair
Has a real soft saddle.
I’m glad I don’t have to
Ride the range anymore.”


Gray-haired Fred Smith looks back
Across the dim past to
Long years working in a
Hot and noisy steel mill,


I sure don’t miss time clocks
Or factory whistles.
With that whole scene
I haveCertainly had my fill!”


Kate Johnson speaks fondly
Of raising her children
In youthful, but now dim,
Hazy days long gone by.


No matter how she tries,
She can’t quite recall the
Old recipe for her
Great sour cream raisin pie.


Floyd Brown joins the group,
but Is quiet, as always
His thoughts elsewhere,as if
Lost in some bygone day.


The one-time mechanic,
And son of a blacksmith,
Often yearns for his red
Fifty-eight Chevrolet.


Thomas Johnson recalls
Days sailing “the briney.”
Tomorrow he’ll ship out,
But only in daydreams.


He smells the salt air,
Sees the breeze fill the sails –
Feels his ship lurch forward –
At least, that’s how it seems.


Josh Kaiser leans forward,
And silently nods off,
With his handsome gray head
Almost down in his lap.


Mae Adams wheels off down
The North Hall to her room,
Says, “I think it’s time now
For my afternoon nap.”


Lester Williams leans back
In a soft recliner.
Thinks of summer and corn
Growing tall in his fields


His years of hard work and
Great pride in producing
Some of Dubuque County’s,
And the state’s record yields.


Clyde Wright shakes his head and
Says, “Life sure does change when
Old age comes and we can
No longer come and go


“But this place isn’t bad.
I’m treated real well here.
Somehow, it’s become the
Only real home I know.”

Friday, September 14, 2007

NOAH - LEARNING THE GAME

Evenings are often a fun time
For both my Daddy and me.
When evening chores are finished, we
Watch Pro-Wrestling on TV.

Daddy teaches me a few holds,
And tells of fun Grandpa had
Long years ago when he taught the
“Iron Claw” to Cousin Chad.

Daddy says, “We never can know
Just what the future will bring,
Maybe, someday, Son, you will be
Up there wrestling in that ring,

“Performing for huge crowds of fans,
Beneath all those big bright lights.
Maybe Mommy can sew you an
Outfit with a cape and tights.”

As we watch TV, I’m learning
New moves, and it is my hope
To one day perfect the deadly
“Powerdive” from the top rope,

Once I’ve perfected the “Sleeper,”
Opponents I’ll “put away”
Into such a deep sleep they won’t
Wake up until the next day.

I’ll use “Bear Hugs” and “Backbreakers,”
The “Indian Death Lock,” for fun.
Once learned, the “Flying Head Scissors”
Should quickly get the job done.

But, right now, I just rely on
The holds I already know
And when I wrestle with Daddy,
He still lets me win, I know.

But I still keep trying a few
New “No Name Holds.” Take your pick.
Right now I am most effective
With my new “Flying Drop-Kick.

With that one great move, I can be
Very difficult to stop,
But first, I must learn to avoid
My Daddy’s “Cannonball Drop.” video

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

WEATHER VANE



Leafing through a magazine recently, I ran onto a picture of an old barn. On top of the roof was an ancient weather vane, a sheet metal figure of a farmyard rooster, badly used by the years and covered with layers of flaky rust, but still looking kind of proud and cocky and master of all it surveyed. I recalled a poem I once wrote about an old rooster; in his prime, a real "cock of the walk," but at last brought down a peg or two by the years. And by his younger, abler competitors.
Writing about real live people is usually not too difficult. Coming up with stories and rhymes about the fields and streams and the hills and valleys and the plants and animals that live and make their homes there is often no great strain. And the changes of the four seasons can readily inspire a few lines. Old memories frequently churn up tales of days long gone by. But writing about an inanimate object – something like a rusty old weather vane – at times requires shaking loose a little imagination. And yet, the staunch old fellow was still standing there at his post after all those years, perhaps it is no more than right that someone should tell his story. What the heck? We'll give it a try:

THE WEATHER VANE

Atop the old red barn's
Steep, shingled roof
Stood a sentry brave,
So proud and aloof.

He was no great hero,
Saving the farm
And the large farmyard flock
From grave, certain harm,

Yet he was lord of all
That he surveyed.
From that high vantage point,
He had never strayed.

For sixty years he'd perched
Up there and so,
He'd seen both the good and
Bad times come and go.

With each change of the wind,
He moved around,
But this weather vane cock
Could crow not one sound.

Crafted by a blacksmith
So folks could know
From just which direction
Each day's winds did blow.

At times he looked lonely –
Sad, now and then –
The blacksmith should have made
A sheet metal hen

To share with him his roof
And lonely life,
To have and to hold, and
Be his loving wife.

He had no feather coat
To comb or preen,
But just stood proudly there
Where he could be seen.

When the rains washed him clean
Of barnyard dust,
He'd be neatly dressed in
His brown coat of rust.

But the world rolls around
And time goes by.
Nothing lasts forever,
Neither you nor I,

And our weather vane cock
Bid us all adieu
When his old pivot post
Just rusted right through.

Then a gusty breeze brought
A blur of brown,
Blew him from his high perch,
And tumbled him down.

We never dreamed he'd meet
Such a tragic end,
But still look up, and miss,
Our old metal friend.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

HARVEST GOLD







The weather here in the Midwest is usually pretty much "seasonal," varying only enough from the norm to make for conversation. And this past summer was no exception. First we heard the complaint, "We didn't really have a spring. It finally went right from winter into summer." In quite a few places the crops got planted later than usual. Or at least later than the farmers would have preferred. Some areas had enough rain while others went dry. But that is usually the case. It's been a few years since I last heard that old tale about the rain showers that were really scattered and spotty. One old farmer had been shooting at crows in his cornfield when a rain came up and he took off for the house, leaving his old double barrel shotgun sitting in the fence corner. After the rain, one of the gun's barrels was half full of water. The inside of the other was bone dry.
Most of this year's crops seem to have made good progress despite the fact that we did not have the normal amount of heat. There were a few days with high temperatures and a lot of humidity, but most of the time temperatures were quite comfortable. Or "liveable" as some folks say. A lot of late summer days felt more like those we expect in early autumn.
We are blessed with some of the country's prettiest scenery here in the Driftless Area. And with four distinct, beautiful seasons to dress up the countryside and show it off to its best advantage. Of the four, it seems that summer is the favorite of most people. It is not uncommon for some folks to spend a good share of the other three seasons just anticipating and preparing for the hot weather time with its growing and ripening gardens and farm crops, also the swimming, boating, biking, ball playing, hiking, vacationing and all the other activities that go to make up a summer.
After the Fourth of July, pessimists begin to lament the fact that summer is half over and "on the downhill swing." We optimists prefer to try to hang on to whatever we have left of the great and gorgeous season, at least until school starts. And then we start looking forward to a bright and beautiful fall. Autumn is a glorious season and just the sugar coating required to make the bitter cold pill of winter a bit easier to swallow.


HARVEST GOLD

Between life and growth of summer
And dead winter's icy pall
Stands the glory season, autumn,
Brightly colored, gaudy fall.

Goldenrod, profusely gilded,
A wild beauty to behold,
Combine rumbles through the cornfield
Spewing stream of molten gold.

Stand of birch trees on the hilltop,
All decked out in golden tone
Brighten up early October...
Almost shed light of their own.

River bluff aglow with maples,
Yellow, orange-gold and red,
Quaking aspen make a brightly-
Hued umbrella overhead

And the deep red ivy bravely
Hangs on to defy the frost
While dark green pines, draped in sadness
Mourn another summer lost.

Walnuts wait there for the taking
And the butternuts are free.
Watch the squirrel reap his harvest
'Neath the shagbark hickory tree.

Spear of geese starts heading southward,
Seeking out a warmer clime,
Autumn – brief gold splash of glory –
Harbinger of wintertime.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

SUMMER VACATION




Our summer trip was great. I seldom use the term "vacation" anymore. Too many people who know me ask, "Vacation? From what?" Air travel was uneventful. Except for having to get off a plane and into an air terminal to wait out a violent thunderstorm. But flight attendants assured us, "It is much better to be down here than up there... ."
California is still California. And Los Angeles is still La-La Land. The dry, rugged country was designed to support only a scant population, at best. But it is now covered with and weighed down by far too many people, with the count still growing by leaps and bounds. There are too many buildings and automobiles, and more than enough smog. Highway signs that read, "$1,000 Fine for Littering," seem to go unnoticed and unread. But the flowers are beautiful. And they are everywhere, helping to make up for any other shortcomings the state may have.
Evidence of great wealth is also everywhere. And signs of abject poverty are almost everywhere. Often a whole city block of beautiful new buildings is balanced by one homeless, hopeless person shuffling by with all of his or her belongings in an old, stolen shopping cart.
Parks, schoolyards and gymnasiums teem with youngsters playing soccer, baseball and basketball – sports that, on The Coast, know no season. Grandsons Justin and Jake gave us reason to see a lot of grade school and high school level basketball and baseball practices and games.
We saw a great stage play, "Ragtime." That was son-in-law Jeff's generous treat, and daughter Pam took us to the Museum of Tolerance (perhaps the kids thought this old man's social consciousness and sensitivity needed an up-grade). We also saw a Dodgers-Giants game. We didn't see many celebrities this time, but I had a nice chat with Christopher Atkins who, as a youngster, starred opposite Brooke Shields in the movie "Blue Lagoon." In addition to various chores in front of the cameras and several entrepreneurial projects, Chris finds time to help coach his son Grant's Little League baseball team.
We found a few things out there that reminded us of the Midwest and home. One set of customized California auto license plates proclaimed: GO PACRZ. Another set spelled out the feeble, almost hopeless prayer: PLZ CUBS. And we cranked up the Internet and found an issue of the Telegraph Herald that contained my column titled "Weather Vane."

CALIFORNEE

The urge to roam burns deep and strong,
The need to travel, move along,
Need for variety, to change
Familiar sights for new and strange.
We turn our backs on home and nest,
Take old advice: Young man, head west!

Across the rolling prairie ground
Where wheatfields and cattle abound.
Over the Rockies' rugged rise,
We soar through wild and untamed skies.
At last, reaching the fabled Coast
Of which writers and poets boast.

Tall palm trees sway o'er golden sand,
There soft waves kiss the beaches grand.
Rich homes cling to the mountain's side
Till floods and earthquakes make them slide
Down nearer to the ocean's shore,
Thus making room for many more.

A land of leisure and the arts,
Of actors playing out their parts,
Gold, diamonds, furs, and fancy cars
Entrepreneurs and movie stars.
People, and more. People galore!
With each day bringing hundreds more.

All with big dreams, and working hard
More than a few with no green card.
And no one seems to know or care
About the homeless, always there.
Their treasures, saved since lifetime's start,
Hoarded in an old grocery cart.

Place of imperfect beauty, this,
A land where we find peace and bliss
Too often punctuated by
Gross violence and mourners' cry.
We have, with no more urge to roam,
One great option...we return home!

.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

SEDENTARY OBSERVER

I relax, calm and contented,
In my soft recliner chair.
Through my picture window I see
Nature's wonders everywhere-

Rabbits, birds, and squirrels are some
Of the moving things I see.
They, as well as most of the plants,
Seem active, compared to me.

I sit, watching hyper-looking
Leaves on tall cottonwood trees,
As they jiggle, dance, and wriggle
In the teasing summer breeze.

They won't seem nearly that jolly
When autumn demands they fall.
I'll still be here, just reclining,
While scarcely moving at all.

Monday, August 27, 2007

PRINCESS DI

This article was written in September 1997. This week marks the 10th anniversary of Princess Di's death.

The late Diana, Princess of Wales, was perhaps the best thing that ever happened to Great Britain's royal family. At least in recent centuries.
At a time when the news media and public relations people could scarcely find anything of interest to write or say about the Queen or her family, along came this young, beautiful, willowy blond with the luminous, soulful eyes almost as big as saucers.
The result was somewhat like having a beautiful young bareback rider or trapeze or tight-wire artist join a faded, jaded, and aging circus. Immediately camera shutters began clicking and typewriters started clacking. And a new Cinderella story was born. Everyone sat up and took notice. Soon there was a giant, extravagant wedding that caught and held the attention of millions of people all over the world. Then, in due time, there was a new male heir to the British throne.
Diana made a few mistakes along the way. Apparently the largest being the trading of her future and her happiness (and eventually her life) for a royal title and a diamond tiara and a wedding ring. She apparently loved being called "Your Royal Highness" and all of the other perks that went with the position, but could never learn to accept and live with the miserable lack of privacy that went with it.
Although I was never really a Di fan, I can't help but feel saddened by her untimely death. Just three years ago this September a small group of us stood in the rain outside the iron gates of her Kensington Palace, and jokingly wondered whether or not the Princess would step outside and greet us, or at least wave. But then we rationalized that she was most likely too busy, what with marital problems and all. Tour guides all spoke kindly of the Princess, and often. They proudly pointed out the stores where she purchased her clothing and the shops where she bought her underwear. They informed us that when Her Royal Highness chose to go shopping, the store would be closed to the public, so that she would not be disturbed.
Despite a few critics, Di was widely admired and loved here in "The Colonies." We grew up with and still like Cinderella stories. We empathized with her in her conflict with the royal family. After all, didn't the signers of our own Declaration of Independence thumb their noses at one of the family members, King George III, and didn't our brave soldiers and minutemen put him in his place and send his troops and representatives packing?
The Princess is gone. May she enjoy her heavenly crown much more than she did her royal tiara here on earth.

PRINCESS DI

You brightened our dim and dull lives
With your beauty and your charm,
Helped ease others' heavy loads with
Kind word, willing hand and arm.
If you had some faults and failings
You were much the same as I.
Many folks here sure will miss you,
Princess Di.

Your life could not have been easy,
With many an up and down,
And your blond head never seemed quite
Made to fit that jeweled crown.
As you lived a life bedeviled
By photographer and spy
We all kind of stood behind you,
Princess Di.

You gave birth to two strong young sons,
Fit heirs to the royal throne.
We're told you did a great job as
A single parent, alone.
To us, motherhood is sacred,
Much like flag and apple pie.
Most Yanks here loved and admired you,
Princess Di.

Tabloids dogged each move that you made,
Never leaving you alone.
Some saw you a shameless hussy
With a heart as cold as stone.
We were not impressed the least bit
By such furor or such fuss.
We thought of you, not as a Brit,
But more just like one of us.
Now your tragic death has left us
With tears in many an eye,
As our thoughts and prayers go with you,
Princess Di.

May the angels guide and guard you,
Princess Di.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

FARM BOYS LIVE AMERICAN DREAM










The Big Boot: College degree is now more important than experience and integrity.


During my later working years, some of my fellow workers and I often discussed, and sometimes joked about, our “degree of obsolescence." We considered ourselves "dinosaurs just waiting for the Ice Age." We all felt certain that we would be the last non-college-trained people to hold our positions, or jobs of a similar grade level.
Most of us had the same background. We were farm boys who had "worked our way up through the ranks." We had all slogged through the mud and heat
detasseling corn. We had shoveled tons of ear corn, processed, and piled warehouses full of bagged seed corn back in the days when forklifts were
still unheard of. And we'd driven trucks over many miles of roads, both paved and unpaved, to deliver our finished product to farmer dealers. Our job qualifications consisted mostly of experience, integrity, the willingness to take on a job, and the ability to get it done."
My younger friends, all insisted that I was the "lucky one." Being the oldest of the group, they always assured me that I would make
retirement before the ax would' drop. In the future we could see nothing but changes, mergers, downsizing, and the dropping of our beloved old "Pride" trademark.
A few of the younger fellows are still working for our parent company. Quite a few of the rest of us were fortunate enough to stay with that company until retirement. And, I'm happy to say, most of those who didn't, landed on their feet and found jobs as good or better with other employers.
I've crossed paths with quite a few unhappy people, though, who were terminated or forced to take early retirement long before they were prepared to face it. For some, this is often a crushing blow financially or to their self-esteem, or both.

THE BIG BOOT.

His boss said, "Duke,
I know I'll miss
'You, but time must move on.
What I mean is .
You're out of here .
We've downsized, Duke, you're gone!"

Poor old Duke's head
Began to spin;
His mind was in a fog.
He couldn't help
But feel that he'd
Been treated like a dog.

The loyalty
He'd given to
His employers, and boss –
Forgotten now –
The book showed Duke
As not "profit, "but "loss.”

He'd done his best,
Worked hard and dreamed
America's Great Dream,
But now he found.
His paycheck gone,
Worse yet, his self-esteem.

The promises,
The pension plan,
Were more things sure to go?
Dreams of happy .
Retirement, now,
Something he'd never know.

Duke thought, "I guess
Life ain't quite fair.
No matter where you're at.
There's always some
Guy primed to kick
You when you're down and flat.

"I've slaved and worked,
My poor fingers
Down to the bone, and yet,
Now too old to
Dig ditches, that's
The one job I can get!”

Perhaps old Pap
Was right when he
Told young Duke, years ago,
"Always guard well
Your backside. Be
Alert. Watch where you go.

"And turning 'round
Too quick’s much like
The flipping of a coin.
That big boot aimed
At your backside.
Will nail you in the groin!"

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

LIVING WITH CREEP, CRAWLY SPIDERS

ARACHNIDS: The black widow and brown recluse have a dangerous bite.
Spiders have never been my favorite kind of bug. They are sort of messy critters, I dislike walking through spider webs. And, as youngsters, a lot of us were taught to avoid the little rascals, as some were believed to be poisonous. Especially the large, colorful ones that we often saw in the gardens.
Somewhere along the way, I've been informed that, technically, spiders are arachnids and are not to be referred to as "insects" or "bugs." That they have eight walking legs instead of six. And they have two feelers and two poison fangs. I've never really been interested enough to inspect them carefully.
My "bug expert" friends tell me that spiders are strictly carnivores, that they eat only living prey that they capture. And that they are not equipped to handle solid food in their stomachs, so they must digest it outside their bodies. Crushing their victims, often injecting them with poisonous venom, and then ingesting the resulting liquid is their way of feeding.
There are many thousands of species of spiders scattered over most of the world. A few even live in the water. Their basic design seems to have been very successful, judging by the large population and the way that they are distributed. We find them almost everywhere, in the woods, the fields, the lawns, our homes and especially our garages. Most species are harmless to humans, but the black widow and the brown recluse are considered dangerous, as they are capable of inflicting bites that quite often require immediate medical attention. Such bits are usually very painful and, in certain cases, can even result in death.
Spiders don't appear to be very sociable animals, and seem to prefer to be left alone. An individual seeks out a corner or area where it doesn't expect to be interfered with, and where there appears to be a ready, steady food supply. There the arachnid begins the tedious task of constructing its home. It actually creates a small world of its own. A world built of silk. Fine silk with more flexibility and tensile strength than steel. A spider's carefully woven web furnishes its weaver with safety and isolation, much as does a moat around a castle. Anything touching the sticky network creates vibrations, an advance warning system that alerts the architect and builder of possible impending danger.
The intricately crafted spider's web also is a device for trapping its food. A fly or other insect, on contacting the sticky threads, is soon hopelessly entangled in the filmy mesh. The hunter, alerted by the vibrations, then comes out to harvest, and to feed on its victim.
A "lifeline" of silk can enable a spider to lower itself from a ceiling, or catch itself in a fall. And, in some cases, is used as a sail, allowing its spinner to travel long distances by "riding the wind." A single strand is said to be strong enough to stop a honeybee flying at full speed. And it is said that, in theory, a cable of spider web as thick as a pencil would be able to stop a Boeing 747 in mid-flight!
I remember times when our dairy barns were not whitewashed and sanitary as the are today. In cases where de-horning or other animal surgery resulted in excessive bleeding, one of the more common home remedies was to apply a large handful of dusty spider webs (which were usually plentiful). The "theory" was that the strong fibers formed matting that slowed the blood flow, giving it a better opportunity to begin clotting. And, believe it or not, the treatment usually seemed to work!

SILKEN STRUCTURE


Dew drops, jeweled
By morning sun,
Light up the web
My spider's spun.

Graceful thin lace,
A beauteous thing,
More flimsy than
Gossamer wing,

Silk threads stitched in
Dainty design
That put to shame
Artworks of mine.

Once this spider
Traveled alone,
Destined to face
Life on its own,

Its first need was
A home, of course.
The second, a
Ready food source.

It had no wood,
Nail, hinge, or pin,
Just its own silk
That it could spin.

The spider knew
It must proceed
To weave a web
That filled each need.

Between window
And stairway brace
It filled up its
Allotted space

With a design
That proved good sense,
Both food trap and
Line of defense,

Welcome thrill to
Artistic eye,
But killing field
For careless fly.

Monday, August 13, 2007

AND THE RAINS CAME


After long months with no rain
on either foothills and plain,
storm clouds closed in
on our tiny town.

Bright lightning and loud thunder
ripped the wild skies asunder,
heaven's blessing soon
were pouring down.

A preacher, both old and wise,
smiled up at the stormy skies,
said, "Last Sunday we
all prayed for rain.


"We know the Lord's at our side
and He will always provide.
Our fervent pleas
were not made in vain."


An elderly native chief
clinging to an ancient belief,
proudly says, "Each time
these big rains come,


"it's by the Great Spirit's grace.
For this, I painted my face,
danced the rain dance,
and beat on my drum."


After thinking for a spell,
one wise old ne'er-do-well
said, "I'm not one to
trouble my brain.


"Why should we get all upset?
Why not just take what we get?
Long dry spells always
end with some rain."

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

HANDYMEN ARE A DYING BREED


Almost everyone seems to have some special talent. The ability to handle one particular job or activity much better than average. With some, it is athletic ability, or musical or acting talent. And others are so good at parenting that they seem to have been born just to bear and raise children.
And then there are the mechanically inclined. Those who can use their talented hands, eyes, ears, and minds to seek out and solve problems that occur with automobiles, machinery, tools, appliances, and most or all other the other artifacts that make us such a large part of our daily lives.
The old-times said that it took a special talent to "time" a grain binder. When operating properly, the machine not only cut the grain plants off above the ground, but also "packaged" the crop in bundles, neatly tied with twine - bundles that workers could stand up in "shocks" to cure in the field. A binder that left a lot of untied bundles was a major aggravation that could be quickly remedied only be someone who "had the knack."
In more recent years, even today, twine-tie hay balers still uses basically the same knotter mechanism that the old binders did, often giving the same problems and requiring the same tender loving care from one of the few people qualified to make the proper adjustments to solve such problems.
I remember a few itinerants who used to travel around the territory sharpening knives and saws and scissors. Some of these carried along a blow torch and soldering irons so they could repair leaking milk pails and cans, also kitchen pots and pans. And on rare occasions, during the Prohibition fiasco, they were known to solder up leaks in the copper equipment of a few of the local moonshiners' illegal stills.
Some towns were fortunate enough to have a "fix-it shop" where people could take their small equipment for repairs. If memory serves me correctly, even TV's Mayberry had such an establishment. As electrical power became common, there soon were toasters, fans and other small electrical appliances that were in frequent need of repair,adjustment, or new cords or plugs.
And then things changed. Much of the equipment we use today is not designed to be repaired. Most of it is too computerized and complicated to be repaired by anyone who is not properly equipped and frequently re-trained. And it becomes more and more tempting to purchase a new Taiwan-made replacement. So, one-by-one, I fear we will be saying good-bye to our few remaining friendly fix-it-shop operators and shade tree mechanics.

MR. FIXIT

Old Andy, the handyman,
Does the best job he can
In his shop on the cobblestone street.

He repairs old wheelbarrows,
Builds traps to catch sparrows,
And half-soles shoes for numerous feet.

He solders leaky old pails,
And with glue, screws and nails
Can fix anything made out of wood.

Can fine-tune a lawnmower;
Fix a sick snow blower
So it slings slushy snow as it should.

He can oil up old leather,
Long exposed to weather,
Till it's supple and soft, just like new.

He'll fix a bicycle brake,
And, in a jiffy, make
Most machines do what they're built to do.

He seldom will question why,
But most jobs he'll just try,
Though some may seem quite trifling and small.

He can install a new latch,
And even re-attach
The arm of a small sobbing child's doll.

At times, he's re-glued old books,
Sharpened dull fishing hooks,
Once re-wove my old trout-fishing creel.

The last of a dying breed
He's filled many a need
Helped keep many lives on even keel.

As his steps now grow more slow,
Seems the townsfolk all know
Time will soon come for him to move on.

His loss we surely will feel.
We all wonder how we'll
Get on without Andy when he's gone.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

PEOPLE OFTEN MAKE THEIR OWN LUCK


Persistence: It's natural to focus on bad breaks, but it shouldn't prevent us from giving it the old college try.
Only too often, I hear people use the expression, "But with my luck..."
"But with my luck, things won't go that way." "But with my luck, it will rain." "But with my luck, I can't help but fail." Occasionally, I find myself using that expression. And that can be a bad habit to get into.
Most of our good fortune doesn't just fall into our laps. Oh, sure, now and then someone wins the lottery or unexpectedly inherits a large wad of money, or even comes out on the long end at one of the local gambling casinos. But such occasions are rare. These are definitely the exceptions to the rule.
Usually, success and happiness begin with thoughts and daydreams, which we build into plans and schemes. As we build these "air castles," we often begin to foresee various problems that could arise should we begin building the real structure." We would be foolish not to look for such snags and begin thinking about solutions for them, should they arise. But if we are too easily discouraged and consider these problems as barriers to our progress, and as insurmountable, we will most likely let our golden dreams fall to the ground.
It's so much better to keep the dream alive. To keep the faith. And to keep our eyes open. A successful baseball batter doesn't just close his eyes and swing, but follows the pitch all the way in to the plate. If we see potential problems in our future, and consider them as challenges rather than roadblocks, we often can find solutions for them.
Thomas Edison's idea for the incandescent light bulb was a great one. Something that could benefit all of mankind for many generations. But its success depended on its inventor's persistence. He was forced to try almost every imaginable material before he found one that did not burn out immediately. But he did not consider these attempts as failures. He listed each as a success. With each burned-out bulb, he felt that he had successfully proven one more material as being unacceptable. And he continued looking for the one that was. He remained in the laboratory and created his own "luck."
One old fellow I know doesn't care too much for listening to others' sad tales and sob stories. Or hearing them tell about the negative things that are certain to happen "with their luck." His usual reply is ungrammatical, but short and to the point: " Them's the breaks."

Saturday, August 4, 2007

THEM'S THE BREAKS

Lately it seems to me my luck
Just isn't worth a lick.
No matter how I try, I get
The short end of the stick.

I never seem to fail to get
The raw end of each deal.
The shopping cart I pick is the one
That has a wobbly wheel.

Just the mere thought of vibrant health
Ignites some brand-new pain.
No one comes to my picnics' cause
They all know it will rain.

It seems, at work, my buddies all
Get the tasks that are fun.
I am assigned the dirty jobs,
Chores that are never done.

Out in the parking lot, my car's
The one with the flat tire.
And should our plant ever downsize,
I'll be the one they'll fire.

For years I've grown a large garden,
But wonder, "What's the use?"
The bugs, rabbits, raccoon and deer
Will eat my fresh produce.

I don't drink as much as my friends-
Considerably less-
But who suffers the hangover?
Care to venture a guess?

I once thought gambling would be fun,
And gave the cards a try.
Now with my money gone-flat broke-
I sit and wonder, "Why?"

A friend offers his sympathy,
Says, "I know how you feel.
I've been there myself once or twice,
That's the luck of the deal."

"Breaks will come your way if you pray,
You'll be kept safe from harm."
I prayed, but all the"break" I got
Was a fractured left arm.

I look back on great plans I've had -
Still unused, on the shelf.
Have I, by focusing on bad
Luck brought it on myself?

My future many times so bright
And rosy, quickly paled.
Was focusing on failure the
Real reason that I failed?

I pray that one day I'll arrive
At heaven's golden gate,
But, with my luck, they'll say, "We're filled.
You're two minutes too late!"

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

BAR PLAYS DIFFERENT ROLES TO MANY



I've always enjoyed the TV show "Cheers". Not only the first time around, but also the re-runs. Like most successful sitcoms, it had not just one star, but quite a large cast, consisting of talented, humorous, interesting, and lovable characters. The scene was almost always the same, a Boston bar, where "everybody knows your name." For all of Cheers' patrons, it seemed to be a "home away from home." A place where they could go to meet and associate with other friendly people, good-natured folks who, like themselves, were trying to escape at least a few of the pressures and problems of life in the real world.
Member of the Cheers cast were solid characters, and well thought out and crafted by the show's writers. All were at least a bit bizarre, but believable and recognizable as types you just might rub shoulders with in any friendly neighborhood bar. There are usually at least a few Sam "Mayday" Malones around-good fellows who have never quite outgrown their athletic world. And tavern patrons who possess, and are ready and willing to share all of the answers are seldom in short supply. Quite often you can find a small group that includes members vaguely resembling a Diane Chambers, Cliff Clavin, and Dr. Fraiser Crane, all fully qualified experts. At least one member of the group is sure to be armed with complete details regarding any subject that may happen to come and can explain them at great length. And there will always be a Norm Peterson around--the least successful but most popular guy in the place. With luck, you may be able to avoid a Carla Tortelli LeBec, who just can't resist agitating and antagonizing certain people.
It is not my purpose in life to promote the use of alcohol. I have witnessed some of the sad and serious problems and damage that result from the abuse and over use of the spirits. And I've known quite a few cases that were less serious, yet good examples of occasions where a person and his or her family would have been much better off had that guy or gal spent less time at the pub and more evenings at home.
Overall, though, I don't see anything wrong with the basic idea of the neighborhood bar. Some people seem to have a real need for a place to unwind. A friendly haven for relaxing and a bit of socializing. A place to meet old friends, and now and then a complete stranger. A place to discuss politics and compare notes on the local weather. To learn how hot or cold Efren's thermometer registered yesterday. Also how hot or cold it was last year at this time. It's nice for everyone to be able to find out how much water all of their neighbors had in their rain gauges on any given morning. A country bar is often a meeting place where farmers can talk about hog and milk prices. And to learn what each of the area grain elevators is paying for shelled corn and soybeans.
For working people and for unemployed job seekers it can be a valuable place for exchange of information regarding employment opportunities, pay scales, job conditions, etc.