Friday, July 27, 2007


Having lived almost all of my life in the same general area, seeing people I know is taken for granted. When I walk down the street of any of the neighboring towns I expect to see a few old friends and acquaintances. But not as many as there once were. The years have a way of taking care of that.

In early May, my brother-in-law, John Dale Harris died. At the age of 65, his passing seemed too early. I knew Dale for at least 50 years. It's difficult to believe that his soft voice is silenced. And that his slow, jolly smile is gone forever.

Over the past half-dozen years or so, if I wanted to see an example of perseverance, all I had to do was look up the street. My neighbor Louis "Gene" Werner had been the victim of a damaging stroke, but he was determined that it was not going to completely rob him of the use of his legs. So, daily, he walked a determined course, back and forth, up and down his driveway. And whenever I started to mow my large lawn, I could expect to see Gene and his John Deere lawn tractor coming down the street to help. The stroke had severely limited his ability to do a lot of tasks, but that tractor made it possible for him to still do a "days work." After many years of hard toil, it made him feel good to be able to do something worthwhile. And to help a neighbor.

In June, another massive stroke put Gene into the hospital. And the next one did more damage. He died on June 27. I will miss him.

Late June also brought the death of another old friend. Russ Nash was a writer, poet, retired college instructor, sociologist, etc. to name but a few of his many activities and achievements. But his life was cut short. He died on June 25 after a mercifully short bout with cancer.

Ruth Nash decided to turn the planned tribute into a memorial service for her late husband. The lobby of the Dubuque Museum of Art rapidly "filled to overflowing," with a long line of visitors still remaining out on the sidewalk. People of all ages and walks of life came to pay their respect. There were no long faces and no tears. It did not seem necessary or proper to mourn for Russ Nash. It felt more appropriate and natural to celebrate his life and his accomplishments. And his generosity in sharing his gifted talents with others.

As I elbowed my way through the throng, I ran into quite a few of my old friends from the Dubuque Area Writer's Guild. Every now and then I would hear someone say, "Wow, Russ would have really enjoyed a get-together like this!"

And he would have. All of those people. What lively and interesting conversations he would have engaged in. And then there was a cornucopia of food and beverage. And the speeches. He would certainly have loved the music of the grand piano, violin and cello.

Now and then some of his students of bygone days would compare notes on their experiences with Russ in his college classes. More than a few stated that without Russ' special help or his tutoring they would never have made it to graduation. And there might have been a small number of people in the crowd, like me, who might not be writing today but for the compliment and encouragement we received along the way form Russ and others like him. What better encouragement could this old country boy have received than to have had Russ Nash invite me to take part in a half-dozen of his Artscape and Question Box community access TV programs?


Goodbye, my old friend-
We've reached life's last bend,
And the final parting
Of our ways,

But precious to me
Is each rich memory
Of our many and bright,
Happy days.

Those great times we had
In both good times and bad
Seemed to help make life's long
Trip worthwhile.

The thing, most of all,
That I'll always recall
Is the bright, warming glow
Of your smile.

We knew ups and downs,
Sharing smiles, even frowns,
Around life's quirks and sharp
Turns and bends.

Though years come and go,
You and I seemed to know
That, somehow, we would
Always be friends

Now, although you're gone,
These old memories live on,
Filled with moments and thoughts
We once shared.

I won't feel alone,
I'm so thankful I've known
You, good friend, you were true,
And you cared.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Family Members Push Technology On"Old-Timer"


Sometimes it's a bit difficult for us old-timers to keep up with even a few of the changes that this modern world has to offer. And this computer I am using is one example.
When personal computers first became popular, I was tempted to give one a try. I had the feeling that I might be missing out on something. But I didn't know whether I wanted to spend the money necessary to get involved. A few acquaintances warned me that learning to operate a computer would soon take up all of my spare time. On the other hand, most of my "writing friends" urged me to hurry up and "get with it."
All of my family members felt the same way. A daughter and her family gave me an old PC that they no longer used. We boxed it up and brought it home, all the way from the West Coast. I decided that with a few instruction books and manuals, I should be able to figure out how to operate it. And the great learning process began. Occasionally, it was interrupted by periods of enormous frustration, and even punctuated in rare instances by choice bits of profanity. But, for the most part, things went well. Maybe an old dog can be taught new tricks after all.
Eventually, the old computer died. The family immediately demanded that I begin shopping for a new one, and flooded me with advice as to what I needed. "No, you won't be happy with anything smaller than a 17 inch monitor," etc.
The new machine arrived, and the learning process began anew. I found out all about word processing, cutting and pasting, checking and correcting my spelling. The computer saved so much time and made writing so easy that I soon hated even the thought of using my once-beloved old electric typewriter. Next, everyone demanded to know when I was going to tackle the Internet. "How are we all going to keep in touch with each other if your aren't equipped to send and receive e-mail?" "Well, maybe after I get better acquainted with this new equipment," was my hesitant reply. But a visiting son-in-law wouldn't take "wait" for an answer.
"How do you send your newspaper columns down to the TH?" he asked. "With e-mail, all it would take is a single click of the mouse and they would be on their way. They would be down in Dubuque in a minute or two." He picked up the phone, made some calls, and then physically connected my computer to the phone line. And I've been halfway busy, and downright amazed, ever since.
We hear regularly from all of the sons and daughters, their spouses, the grandchildren, and a lot of nieces and nephews. We also hear from a number of old friends and people I once worked with, along with quite a few new friends and acquaintances, I keep in close touch with a number of other writers. Occasionally, I hear from people in distant parts of the country who have found this column on the Internet. Now and then, there is even a message from someone in a foreign country.
And, at times, I am almost covered up with jokes. Now and then, a young person will proudly send me a "new" joke that I first heard, word for word, in the barbershop or the pool hall 60 years ago or more. I am still amazed that I can e-mail this column to the TH, and often get, several minutes later, a reply that tells me that it has arrived at its destination.


Now and then I'm amazed,
All befuddled and dazed
By some of the e-mail
I receive.

From old friends and strangers
And humor arrangers,
I've run the full gamut,
I believe.

Of the messages seen
On my monitor screen,
Some are serious, a few
Just for fun.

Art and animation
From across the nation-
Almost anywhere
Under the sun.

Many jokes are so old
They must be green with mold-
Tales I heard way back there
In my youth,

But each time they're re-done
They still bring me much fun.
And I swear that's the
Gosh-honest truth.

Before this evening ends,
I'll hear from my old friends,
Relatives and from
Strangers galore.

So, friend, send me a line,
Just to tell me you're fine
Or share with me a few
Brand-new jokes.

Believe me, I'll not fail
To enjoy all e-mail
That I get from you kind,
Friendly folks.