Friday, November 6, 2009

Father of the Carpenter

Long, ago, more than 90 generations in the past, the world struggled with power money and greed much as it does to this day. And, like today, most of those early inhabitants were occupied with the daily task of providing food, shelter, and trying to make ends meet. What money they earned was taxed by the governing power and whatever remained was used to maintain one’s standard of living. The story which follows reflects conditions known at that time. Historically, there is limited information about day-to-day activities of individuals who lived in New Testament times. Many were fishermen, farmers, bee keepers, barbers, hair-dressers, merchants, seamstresses, wine-makers, and gardeners. Some were slaves. Others tended livestock, poultry, herded sheep, or operated grain mills. A small percentage of gifted citizens were artists, sculptors, writers, and musicians. Many worked as government employees as census takers, tax collectors, accountants, and a sundry of political jobs.. A number of the population was craftsmen: shipbuilders, blacksmiths, metalworkers, and carpenters. These individuals took raw materials of nature and transformed them into necessary, useful items for both workplace and home. The focus of this story is a woodworker.

He was known as Joseph, son of Jacob. Although born in Bethlehem , no one knew

exactly when he had arrived in Nazareth , but he had been there for a number of years. Perhaps Galilee was a favorable place to ply his trade, and family financial circumstances necessitated a earning a living. A polite, quiet, righteous man, Joseph went about his work with dispatch and efficiency. By trade, Joseph was a tekton –a mechanic of sorts, but in particular, a carpenter. Most of the houses in town showcased his craftsmanship: tables, chairs, bed frames and cabinets of various sizes and design were testament to his skill. No one could remember when he did not live alone.

He was well into his maturity when he announced his intention to marry a young woman from Nazareth . Years later, learned men would write about circumstances surrounding his engagement, marriage, and birth of a son, but at the time, it went almost unnoticed. Joseph was a God-fearing servant. He was most troubled when it became known to him that young woman he betrothed was with child. He quietly made plans to separate himself from her. However, when Joseph was informed by an angel as he slept to be not afraid and take Mary as his wife, for that which is conceived in her, is of the Holy Spirit; Joseph, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took unto him his wife.

A few months later, a decree issued by Caesar Agustus, required Joseph and his expectant wife go to Bethlehem to be counted in the census. Arriving in the town of his birth, Joseph found no room for them in the inn. How troubling it must have been for this holy man at the time of his wife to give birth. What were his thoughts about the coming of shepherds, and the wise men? Whatever wonderings anxieties and uncertainties Joseph faced, he never spoke about them. The historical record is silent.

After the birth of Jesus, Joseph was told by an angel to flee into Egypt to escape the jealousy and wickedness of a ruling tyrant. Once again, Joseph waited until directed by angels to return to Palestine , eventually settling again in Nazareth . With sublime simplicity and obedience, Joseph returned to his trade and supported himself and his family by skillfully crafting useful objects from wood. He spent time teaching his young son the skills of his trade not fully understanding all which would be asked of the boy named Jesus. As a devout, pious man, he observed that which was commanded by the Law, living out his life in an uneventful manner. He was to die before Jesus began his public ministry.

How many people alive today would have followed the example set by Joseph? So many individuals seek prominence, celebrity, and display a flamboyant lifestyle: too many misuse their abilities, talent, and skills. Rampant in today’s society is the “Me-me-me” mind set. Selfishness seems to be the norm rather than the exception. Those who are privileged to be called “teacher” are fortunate indeed. When one thinks about it, we are all teachers.. We learn from each other. When the final accounting of our days is recorded, what will our “permanent record” record reveal? Will it be one of faithful servant: compassionate, understanding, obedient, and charitable goodness? Will the performance of our duties serve as a guide for others who follow?

The father of the carpenter would have it no other way. He understood that those who build and those who teach, use many methods and materials. He understood, too, that when the lesson is well designed and presented, the strength, purpose and beauty of one’s lifetime endure. Although historical information is limited, remembrance of the father of the carpenter and is vibrant and strong over 90 generations later.

Again, the question: What will a review and remembrance of our “permanent record” reveal
to those whose lives we touched?

Friday, October 2, 2009

Things That Have Passed Into History

Americans have a voracious and insatiable appetite for all things modern: technology, fads, clothes, gadgets--everything and anything that fulfills our wants and needs. As time moves forward; days fly by and decades seem but a brief pause at the speed of life. New replaces old, improvement begets obsolescence, and creative inventiveness fills windows in the “I Want That!” store.

A pensive glance in the rear-view mirror of seasons past provides a varied litany of items that have passed into history—illustrating the brief shelf life of our conveniences. Now it is time for you to dust off your memory, clean the lenses of your retrospective rose-colored spectacles and fondly remember a more simple, less sophisticated, and blissful naïveté we affectionately refer to as “the good ‘ol days.” Do you remember?

Pay phones, dial telephones, phone booths (a.k.a. Superman’s dressing room), TV antennas—rooftop and rabbit ears, reel to reel tape recorders, Kodakrome, Brownie box cameras, VCR’s, VHS and BETA video tape, cassette and 8-track tape, UHF/VHF,
studded snow tires, seat covers for automobiles, Polaroid cameras, black & white television, reel push lawn mowers, typewriters, mimeographs and ditto machines,
carbon paper, erasable typing paper, Bell & Howell 8mm & Revere 16 mm film projectors, 8mm home movies, chrome bumpers and trim on automobiles, phonograph records: 78, 45 and 33-1/3 rpm, carousel slide projectors and slides, incandescent light bulbs, flash bulb cameras, magic cubes, lava lamps, vacuum tube electronic devices: radios, television, amplifiers; wringer washing machines, wooden step ladders and extension ladders, ink wells, ink pens, desk blotters, Dictaphones, shorthand transcription, CB radios, Ham radios, steam locomotives, inner tubes, automobile seat covers, hub caps, automobile vent windows, Sears catalog, Montgomery Ward catalog, telephone books with understandable Yellow Pages, fountain service at drugstores and dime stores; deposit bottles worth 2 cents, glass soda pop bottles, bottle caps that needed an opener, “church key” can openers for beer, steel cans for soda, beer and everything canned, coal-fired home furnaces, coal bins, coal chutes, wristwatches that required winding, Christmas tree icicles, bubble lights, family dinner hour, comic books, Walkmans, Pac Man, radio shows—kids and adults: adventure, mystery, comedy, soaps, quiz, sports and entertainment; Watkins salve for First Aid, Merthyolate, Cabbage Patch Kids, brand names: Rinso, Duz, Babo, Ipana, Gleem, White Rain, Toni Home Permanent, Dr. Lyons Tooth Powder, Halo Shampoo, Oldsmobile, DeSoto, Henry J., Kaiser/Frasier, Nash, Charles Antel’s Formula Number 9, Hair Arranger, Wildroot, Fearless Fosdick, Lil’ Abner, Dick Tracy, Sal Hepatica, Kellog’s Pep, Argo laundry starch, Melmac dinnerware, Shoppers’ World, E.J. Korvette, Topps, Shoppers’ Fair, Jupiter Stores, Woolworth’s & J.J. Newberrys, Goldblatts, Edward C. Minas, Rabin’s, Morrie Mages—your store for sports; schoolbags, tin school lunch boxes with thermos adorned with favorite heroes; home delivery: milk, bakery, poultry & produce, door-to-door salesmen: encyclopedias, vacuum cleaners, pot & pans; The Fuller Brush Man, a photographer with a pony, S&H Green Stamps, American Family Flakes, Perfect Plus nylons, clothes that had to be ironed after laundering; wooden clothes pins/clothes poles/and hanging laundry outside to dry, automobile tune-ups requiring plugs, points, and condenser. Home electrical panels that used screw-in fuses, neighborhood grocery stores that ran a “tab” for their regular customers, metal coat hangers, High top canvas sneakers, Buster Brown shoes, Red Goose shoes, Hula Hoops, Knickers, Bowling alley pinsetters, full service gas stations, jalopies and hot rods, TV trays, pole lamps, polyester suits, beehive hairdos, balloon tire bicycles, Drive-In movie theaters, Drive-In restaurants, Saturday matinee movies—double feature, cartoons, News of the day, Coming Attractions, and intermission games on stage. How’s the memory?

Here’s more: bobby socks, saddle shoes, blue suede shoes, penny loafers, crinoline petticoats, duck tail haircuts, slide rule, metal toys made in Japan, ironing boards and irons, pinball machines, men’s felt hats, Selective Service: military draft, lickable postage stamps, baby chicks and ducks at Easter time, party line telephones, telephone operators, phone numbers that included letters of the alphabet, street cars, street dances, pencil boxes, wooden produce crates from the A & P, metal cleats for shoes, wicker laundry baskets, Hollywood movies without swear words, burning autumn leaves, and most poignantly--family, loved ones and friends who touched our life.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Life’s Field of Dreams

I love baseball—not just the game itself—but what it symbolizes and the impact it has had on my life. Baseball is more than nine players between the lines trying to out best an opponent. Baseball is emotion, dedication and commitment. The game is an individual challenge fused to a team’s effort to achieve victory. Baseball provides kids of all ages with dreams. Regardless of one’s talent, ability or skill, the “WELCOME” mat is always on display at home plate.

What boy hasn’t fantasized about hitting one out in the bottom of the ninth to snatch triumph from certain defeat? What kid hasn’t pictured himself making a leaping game-saving catch against the outfield wall, or spearing a sizzling liner just as it tries to leave the infield? What tousled-haired slugger hasn’t dreamed of stepping up to the plate with the game on the line, the roar of crowd in his ears, with the winning run on base? The pint-sized all-star faces an opposing pitcher who throws baseballs that shatter the sound barrier. Our hero, narrows his eyes to razor-sharp focus, tightens his grip on the bat, and coils his muscles like tightly wound clock springs.

The pitcher sends the horsehide sphere spinning toward the plate. In the blink of an eye, the diminutive DiMaggio sights, senses, and signals his body that this fast ball is destined for outer space. The sound of swinging bat colliding with thrown ball fills the stadium with an exhilarating CRACK! Like a true Major Leaguer, the little guy hesitates a brief moment before beginning his homerun trot around the bases. He displays no outward evidence of his feat, but inside his heart is bursting with pride. He acknowledges his accomplishment by tipping his cap to an imaginary crowd as he returns to the dugout where teammates wait to greet their champion.

How many times have boys played the greatest baseball game of all time in their hearts? Soaring like an invincible Olympian, against outfield walls, hearing a welcomed thud as the glove interrupts the flight of a would-be homerun—turning it into an instantaneous, rally-ending out?

What other game provides a kid with such diversity of greatness? Why else do young boys clear vacant lots, mark off bases, tape coverless baseball, mend cracked bats, and fill sandlots with their spirit? Why do thousands of youngsters compete each year to earn the privilege of wearing a Little League uniform—to be part of the team? It’s because the game of baseball offers each youngster a chance to perform on the Field of Dreams. Baseball encourages dreams. It stimulates the imagination, exercises the mind, touches the heart, and leaves an indelible mark on the spirit. Baseball is more than just a game. Baseball is a metaphor of life.

There are players everywhere, with various levels of ability, talent and skill. Some make it all the way to the Majors; a few, to the Hall of Fame. Most, however, exhibit their limited talents in sandlots and local stadiums. The important thing about baseball is not the level of achievement, or, if you make it to the big leagues, but the quality of play. Each individual brings to his or her field of dreams; a specialness unmatched in the world. As in life, we’re granted a certain number of times at bat. Our chances for success are limited and the opportunity to advance life’s teammates—even more so. There are times when we are called upon to sacrifice ourselves for the good of the team. Once in a while, we are given the green light—to swing away—to do whatever we can for others. And, there are times, in spite of our most valiant effots, we are not successful—and fail to make a difference. And, sometimes, we make errors.

A productive life, like baseball, demands personal dedication, preparation, commitment and energy to meet unforeseen challenges. At times, we’re on the defensive, perhaps beyond our range, trying to keep opposing forces from victory. Even so, we are held responsible for our actions, and expected to do our best. Life’s Manager has done everything to prepare us for the game. By Word and example, He taught what must be done to win—to achieve victory—to make it safely home.

In spite of our fragilities, He readily forgives errors and overlooks our shortcomings. He keeps all the statistics and always knows the score. His coaching staff does their best to keep us alert, in the game, and watchful. Occasionally, we lose our concentration, resulting in miscue and injury. When we get down, He’s there to renew our spirit and strengthen our Will to win.

When He decides we’ve played enough “innings,” he takes us out of the line-up. Hopefully, when that day comes, our scorecard will reflect our best efforts, and fellow teammates will applaud our performance—and long remember our contribution.

We are all alike when it comes to baseball. Regardless of what position we play, what role we fill on the team, or what place we’re assigned in the line-up; each of us wants to make it home safely—and hear our manager say: “Well done! You’ve been a credit to the team and gave a good account of yourself during your time on the Field of Dreams.” May we all be granted “extra innings”.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

What's Important?

We spend so much time deciding what’s important. Year to year, we adjust our “inventory of importance” adding new, discarding old, elevating and diminishing priorities of our life. At various stages of life, the ranking of importance reflects our current station and age. Like flowers, some are perennials others are annuals. For some matters of importance there is a growing process of maturation required until the full measure of value is revealed. Some are things; others are matters of the heart, but regardless of form or function we guard, cultivate, and nurture what’s important in order to give added substance and meaning to our days. Along the way, some matters of importance emerge unexpectedly demanding immediate mindfulness and total focus. Other unforeseen arrivals of importance intrude commanding attention like a broken tooth robbing one of time, effort, and emotional energy as accompanying stress and anxiety challenge our inner resolve. But regardless of manner, form, magnitude or origin, all matters of importance tap into one’s moral, physical, and spiritual strength.

If one carefully reviews what was important as a child through hindsight of adult perspective, the remembrance of those items generates feelings of melancholy, naiveties, selfishness, and even some degree of embarrassment. Viewed through retrospective glasses tempered by age, the important things once so critical no longer have the same intensity or urgency they did at the time they were part of our life. And, one wonders, at this point in life, how these trivial items ever warranted or coveted such concern.

Throughout life there are a number of individuals who will volunteer to tell you what’s important. Some are well-intentioned; others attempt to involve you in their personal agenda. Some people back up their authoritative-sounding “Most Important” list with documentation drawing upon historical records, past precedence, written words, learned teachings, and personal experience. Various methods are used to convey the necessity to adopt life’s important edicts: fear, violence, food, counseling, guidance, concern, and love. “Do this or else!” If you do not do (important thing here) you will be punished.” “If you do this you can have (treat/bribe here).” “Because I said so!” “Because this is best for you.” “Because I love you.”

Occasionally, there is neglect in submitting a completed form or finishing some task as scheduled. Usually, this tardiness is followed by a directive from a supervisor who pontificates and magnifies the oversight coupled with a stern reminder of how important the completion and compliance of the task is. They posture to extreme in order to make clear: “This is important!” In reply to them in all due respect they should be reminded that: ”Winning World War II was important, the missing form in question is just a piece of paper that will have little consequence--if any.” So, what is important?

The answer to that question is within each of us. Whatever items make your personal list of “What’s Important” needs to be surrounded by laughter and love. Whatever one does needs to be delivered—each and every time--with goodness, understanding, joy and kindness. What’s important should be presented without strings attached, without self-aggrandizing motive, without threat, without qualification, without demand and without hesitation. Keeping in mind that what is important to you may not be as important to others Paramount to your delivery of “important stuff” is the way it is delivered. We advertize to others what is important to us by our words, actions and demeanor. We validate to ourselves what’s important by our thoughts, attitude, and deportment. There’s an adage that states: “Things are to be used, but people are to be loved.” What’s important begins with us. “Watch your thoughts; they become words; watch your words; they become actions; watch your actions they become habits; watch your habits they become character; watch your character it becomes your destiny.”

Find a few quite moments and ask yourself what’s important—to you and others. Check to see that there is sufficient goodness and kindness; laughter and love; and that each item of importance is shared and presented with trust, honor, respect, and responsibility. Over a lifetime, there are so many things that seem so important to us; and so few that really are. Those few are the real gifts of life. Now, what’s important to you?

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Summers Of A Lifetime

Summer has magic all its own. Just the sound of the word sets off remembrances of summers past: ordinary, insignificant, everyday, snippets of people, places and times of one’s life. Days of endless recess from school, countless idyllic hours at the park, crowded beaches, sandlots and daily domestic chores that interrupted youthful adventures flip across the mind like entries in a scrapbook whose dog-eared pages have faded with age. Blue skies from countless Junes, warm July rains that foreshortened displays of baseball skills and newly waxed automobiles. Hot August nights that pulsed with the soundtrack of youthful voices while September announced summer’s last call for sunscreen and sunglasses. Throughout summer, rods and roadsters jockeyed for position at Art’s Drive In, the Fat Boy, Kelly’s and Pow-Wow promenading street sleds with highly buffed lacquer, polished chrome and purring Laker pipes. Cool cats sporting shades after sundown worked push button dashboard radios for disc jockey banter hyping the latest one-hit-wonder to invade the Top 40. Romantic couples parked under starry skies at Bobby Beach where adolescent Casanovas checked out Submarine Races or, the Hammond 41 Drive-In where movies took second billing to more desirable activity.

Memories ricochet from season to season, age to age. In one scene, a four year-old boy plays aimlessly on the driveway of his Lincoln Avenue garage-flat home poking at ants with a twig then, examines multi-colored pebbles studying variations of color, shape and texture. In another, Whiting public schoolrooms dominate summers with remedial reading and math instruction in the Primary and McGregor buildings. Temporarily sheltered from summer’s sunshine, blue skies and fresh air, Miss Stewart and Mr. Snap teach struggling scholars fundamentals of language and calculation.

Many of life’s summers are categorized: the summer of Little League, the summer of Inland Steel, and the summer of ’57 prelude to senior year at Whiting High. Activities and obligations, duties and responsibilities, objectives and goals fill days and nights under sunshine and stars, all part of life’s recipe. How many days were spent when the plan consisted of clothes poles for newly laundered sheets and bamboo poles for unwary bluegills residing in Wolf Lake ? How many grounders, fly balls, and line drives were captured by a Rawlings baseball glove on the sandlots and diamonds of Whiting-Robertsdale? Who can count the hours at Whiting Park ’s beach or the swings near the pavilion? Mid-summer 4th of July celebrations parade across the memory recalling our personal parade of seasons. As a high school teen, warm summer evenings were like magnets drawing us to street corners of 119th or the Community Center where classmates gathered to share friendship, pop tunes, soft drinks and adolescent concerns.

A number of summers are defined by a single event: the end of World War II, a first major league baseball game at Cominsky Park, the Standard Oil fire, graduation from high school, the 4th of July when ownership of a new convertible ushered in days of top-down good times, the summer drafted for the military; man landing on the moon, a June marriage, graduation from college: important turning points in one’s lifetime which made indelible marks on mind and memory. And all days that fill the mosaic of one’s summer are no less significant. How does one organize and catalog 68 years of summer: sixty-one hundred and twenty days of solstice celebration tucked within the months of June, July, August and September? From the 21st of June to the 21st of September, the playboy of the seasons teases and tantalizes challenges and cons, energizes and exhausts, possesses and bestows the delectable banquet of living. Each of us confronts this season with our own unique mind set and readily accommodates and adopts modifications to meet change as years accumulate.

With the arrival of another summer there is time for reflection and remembrance. Summer vacation from school, summer work in the mill, sharing summer family and friends—bits and pieces—hours and days that have sped by at the speed of life. Today the pace is a little slower. Each day is viewed as a gift. The 1440 minutes of each 24 hours are precious and valued. Time is to be used and moments savored in such a way they leave a pleasant afterglow in the mind.

As before, duties warrant attention: flowers needs moisture, the lawn waits mowing and a sundry of tasks that constantly pop up like pesky weeds need completion. But with all summer’s demands one gains the exhilarating sense of belonging, of partaking in Heaven’s plan to give a good account of our days so to enjoy the bounty of the harvest: such are the summers of a lifetime.

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Procedure

Every five years since I turned forty, part of my annual physical exam involves screening for colorectal cancer. Such screening involves a graduated approach from the simple to the complex, beginning with the Digital Rectal Exam. This cursory exam is less than ten percent effective in finding colorectal cancer.

In concert with the digital exam, you may take the Fecal Test. You do this test at home and return the goodies to the Lab for further testing. If this test comes up positive, the next screening may be a lower G.I. For this test you are given a sandbag size quantity of liquid that makes your colon glow on an X-ray. The doctor looks at the X-rays for abnormalities in your entire colon.

I celebrated a portion of my fiftieth birthday by having a Sigmoidoscopy. For this procedure, the doctor puts a thin, flexible hollow tube with a light on the end into the business end of your exhaust. There is also a tiny video camera so the doctor, you and a group of your closet friends can see if any nasty polyps are hiding in Mr. Colon’s crevasses. I found out later that color photos, suitable for framing are available from the local camera store for a nominal fee in case you want to include them with your annual holiday letter to family and friends.

Now past the age of 65, it was time to go for the “Cadillac” of diagnostic tests the dreaded colonoscopy. Most men do not like going to the doctor. Unless we have one foot in the grave, guys figure they can ignore, endure, or tough out physical maladies and discomfort by self-doctoring with home remedies and/or over-the-counter medicines.

Having the average guy volunteer for a colonoscopy is noteworthy. There is nothing glamorous about having a masked medical stranger inspect your personal plumbing. If that is not daunting enough, there are a series of legal forms one signs giving approval and permission to take samples of whatever suspicious materials are found residing inside the sphincter-guarded opening for further testing.

To be honest, though, the most uncomfortable part of this procedure is the preparation. The patient is instructed what not to eat, when to stop eating solid foods, when to curtail medications, and when to start the cleansing portion of the test. This is the part I call: fun with fluid.

My doctor wrote me a prescription for flavored human drain cleaner I had to drink the night before the test. The jug holds 4 liters of liquid. For those unfamiliar with the metric system, a liter is a little over 33 ounces. Four liters amounts to 132 ounces of fluid. The patient is directed to drink 10 ounces every ten minutes until the jug is empty. It is suggested you refrigerate and shake the mixture well before drinking every glass full to improve the taste. I chose orange flavoring from the selections included with the prescription because I like orange. As a kid I always loved a cold orange NEHI. The bottom line is this: flavored or not, chilled or not, the stuff tastes like rancid sweat wrung from socks worn by someone with a serious case of athlete’s foot.

When you arrive at the medical center, really nice nurses make you feel comfortable as they prep you with the IV and monitors needed for the test. A few minutes later they are wheeling you down the hall to the procedure room. You know the game is on when the nurse asks you to lay on your left side and draw up your knees. Instructions like that make one aware that action time is not far behind (no pun intended). I’d like to tell you the rest but the next thing I remember is being back in the room hearing everything went well and the test turned out fine.

Whatever the name of that happy juice they sent through my IV did the trick. There was no discomfort, anxiety, or after effect. I was so pleased I was inspired to write a song parody about the whole procedure. Initially I was worried about having a tough day at the orifice. Those worries were unfounded. What I experienced was the satisfaction knowing I do not have colorectal cancer. And I have opportunity to encourage others to take this test—especially men past the age of 40.

To help get you in the mood, I want each of you to sing the words of the little ditty that follows:

(To the tune of: Get Me To the church on Time)























To each of you I wish good health.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Work Ethic

From little on, my parent’s children were taught to work. There wasn’t any formal employment application or anything like that, one day you simply became aware of using a dust cloth, scrubbing floors, vacuuming rugs, scrubbing pots and pans, washing dishes, cooking, baking, assisting with laundry, and sanitizing the porcelain lifesaver in the family’s comfort station. On other occasions, we were introduced to the cleansing power of vinegar on dirty window glass, detergents for basement concrete and Johnson’s Paste Wax for furniture. As part of our domestic apprenticeship, we became intimately acquainted with products such as Fels Naptha, Climalene, Kitchen Klenzer, Lysol, American Family Flakes, Duz, Rinso, Lava and Linco Bleach. Our family never owned a car, but if we had there would have been a bumper sticker reading: “SEARCH FOR DIRT!”

By age ten we were quite skilled in the use of dish rags, dish towels, irons, ironing boards, washing machines, vacuum cleaners, rakes, reel push lawn mowers, brooms, mops, garden hoses, shovels, buckets, and garbage pails. Before the age of reason, I was instructed in the fine art of chicken feather removal. Standing on a crate in front of a laundry tub filled with hot water, plucking feathers from the latest candidate for our dinner table, one acquires a lasting impression from the perfume of soaking wet chicken feathers. By the time I was in sixth grade my work ethic was well honed. It happened unexpectedly a couple of years earlier—I used the wrong word talking to Mom.

It was my ninth birthday, January 21, 1950. It was a cold Saturday morning and I was complaining there was nothing to do. After all, one’s birthday should be filled with fun activities. I was in the midst of my personal pity party as I walked into the kitchen where Mom was doing some chores. “What’s your problem?” She asked. Before I considered my answer I blurted out: “I’m bored! There’s nothing to do!” “Bored, are you?” Mom replied, “I have something for you to do.” “This floor needs a good scrubbing. Get the pail, scrub rags, scrub brush and the Fels Naptha. You won’t be bored scrubbing the floor.”

There I was, birthday boy, on my hands and knees removing scuff marks and soil from the well-worn kitchen linoleum. I knew that this was just phase one of a two-room scrub. After the kitchen, there was the dining room, and after the dining room the back stairs to the basement would be wiped down completing Mom’s housekeeping triple play. This was not work for pay—it was service for service. Household chores were rewarded with clean clothes, meals, and comfortable accommodations. There was one good thing about all this. I never used the word bored again! Foolishly though, during my freshman year in high school, I tested Mom’s authority again. Elbow deep in Climaline detergent as I wiped up the basement’s cement floor I complained about what I believed to be excessive chores: “Mom, haven’t you heard, Lincoln freed the slaves!” Her reply was quick and needle sharp: “Maybe so, but Lincoln doesn’t live in this house, keep working!”

In order to earn spending money I did odd jobs. In winter, there were snow covered neighborhood porches and walks to clear; in summer, an abundance of weeds to pull and lawns to cut. This was truly a minimum wage affair. My highest pay, twenty-five cents weekly, came from cutting Mrs. Harmon’s lawn on the corner of 118th and Cleveland . Included with mowing was trimming the edges, sweeping off both front and back porches, sidewalk and driveway.

Then, in the summer of 1952, opportunity knocked and the job of paper boy arrived. Route 6B, Cleveland Avenue , from 119th street to the railroad tracks was available weekday afternoons: The Chicago Daily News, The Chicago Herald American and The Hammond Times needed delivery. I would also be responsible for collecting bi-weekly payments from the customers. Following a brief interview with “Dutch” Serafin and Mr. Chrustowski at The Whiting News Company, I was given a shoulder-strap canvas sack to carry papers and route book containing the names of customers and the paper ordered. The job paid $5.90 a week.

My tenure as paper boy lasted only until school began. I decided to become an independent contractor. Instead of delivering newspapers, I collected old ones. Scrap paper was worth a penny a pound and I would go door-to-door throughout neighborhoods asking for old newspapers and magazines. All through the autumn, winter and following spring I collected papers and tied them in 25 pound bundles. The forty-three dollar check from Hammond ’s Lake Iron & Metals Company more than paid for my glove and shoes from Neal Price’s in time for Little League Baseball season. I also bought a new baseball bat from Whiting News. The rest I saved for ancillary expenses.

In addition to work ethic training I learned how to organize, manage, plan, and accomplish goals. At home, I regularly demonstrated previously learned scrubbing, laundry, and housekeeping skills; and continued to “Help Mom with the Dishes.” To this day, I believe I was the only Whiting Little Leaguer with dish pan hands.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

iPods, Cell Phones and Ear Buds

As humans, we crave contact. Since prehistoric time, our species has used drawings, sounds, and words to communicate. With each technological advance, we readily embrace and integrate the latest gadgets that puts us in touch. At times, such communication is one way—listening to recordings, watching television, viewing movies and videos. Interactive devices caught on immediately because humans love to exchange “in the moment” ideas, thoughts, and news.

As one who grew up in the 40’s and 50’s, communication consisted of books, radio, records, television and face-to-face contact. The telephone was always available, but its use was closely monitored by parents. Phone use by children and teenagers was restricted to “necessary” calls. Our primary means of interactive communication was our daily togetherness at school. We couldn’t wait to see, talk and listen to what friends and classmates had to say. Walking home from school, sharing hallways on the way to class, cheering at sporting events and informal street-corner seminars were all part of our communicative, socialization and personal development. Later, when separated by geographic distance, phone calls helped supplement our need for contact until our next visit. When telephone calls were not possible, we sent cards and actually wrote letters to loved ones and friends. That was so long ago. Today, immersed in technology, we use electronic gadgets and devices to communicate. In school, during passing periods, students fill hallways with their ears plugged with ear buds. Although walking side-by-side, they prefer to listen to other sounds rather than friendly voices. In self-imposed solitary confinement, students shun opportunities to socialize, trade comments, and share memory-making moments with classmates. Some are so offended and self-centered they engage in argumentative outbursts when told in classrooms to pay attention, turn off their electronic toys, and de-bud their ears.

Regardless of circumstance or distance, someone is always in contact with someone. Many are so addicted to self-importance they have a phone hanging on their ear! Others multi-task in a desperate attempt not to be alone with their own thoughts: whether driving, shopping or walking their phone is glued to their ear. Not too long ago at a wake service, someone’s cell phone provided a musical interlude in the midst of the memorial prayer service. Occasionally in church, one of the purses in the pew will signal an incoming call. These examples of one’s inconsiderate self- importance are mind boggling. I hope one day should they try to contact Heaven they’re not greeted with a ‘busy’ signal.

We have phones that record messages, take photos, and reduce one’s privacy to unsettling levels. Electronic data is permanent—cyber-space is unforgiving; its memory is fantastic!

It is understood that talking on the phone while driving is risky, nevertheless, there are folks who even text while they drive—periodically taking their eyes off the road to punch in their vitally important message. They jeopardize the safety of themselves and others in order to satisfy an egotistical mindset of self-importance. Truly, they are a legend in their own mind. Student’s texting in classrooms has become a major concern in schools throughout the land. Kids definitely learn by example.

Now that computers, cell phones, iPods, blackberries, iPhones, television, GPS and TiVO’s, are all integrated into unified communication devices, one wonders what will become of individuality. Texting, ‘sexting,’ electronic photos, and all kinds of savory and unsavory information now flood cyber-space. Non-erasable data is tsunami-like filling screens of My Space, Twitter, YouTube, Face book, cell phones, iPods, countless computer screens and chat-rooms. People so enamored with themselves share their most intimate thoughts and images in hopes of gaining notoriety, recognition, or fame; unaware of the repercussions and personal damage caused by such action.

Cell phones and other similar devices are wonderful but they do not come equipped with common sense. Overuse, misuse, and unnecessary use of these appliances require responsibility, courtesy, and intelligence. Unfortunately, ego usually trumps common sense.

But the social habit most disturbing is the use of ear buds. Connected to an iPod by wires and ear buds, kids walk around like marionettes attached with droopy strings. They are in the moment as they listen to whatever is being pumped from their iPod to their audio receptors. The unsettling thing is that kids often share ear buds with friends. Taking one of the buds from their ear and placing it in their friend’s ear so they can share the current selection; then, returning it to their ear. We were taught as kids not to share toothbrushes, combs, hairbrushes, cosmetics, and other personal items with anyone to prevent transfer of unwanted bacteria and germs. Today, the exchange of earwax particles, bacteria, sweat, and unknown microbes are part and parcel of the “I’m Cool Ear Bud Profit Sharing Plan.” Can an increase of ear infections be far behind? No pun intended but—“It’s a budding question.”

Monday, February 9, 2009

Working in the Fields

With winter weather, early darkness, and cold frozen snow driven by rambunctious winds, it encourages those of us who are ancient to hunker down inside our home, snugly wrapped in down-filled comforters, close to heat registers sipping honey-laced tea. In the hours east of midnight, old black-and-white television movies serve as company for those who struggle with erratic sleep. On one such night, a movie strikes a chord and awakens thoughts and images that are interlaced over a lifetime.

We learn early, events go by at the speed of life and one does not recognize or is preoccupied with other priorities that detract from fully appreciating the lessons being learned. As each day unfolds there is an agenda to be followed and the ramifications of the tasks, labors, and interactions connected minute by minute go unnoticed. Awareness is usually self-directed toward objectives or goals in order to achieve desired outcomes. Regardless of age or station in life, each of us proceeds according to our means, capabilities, skills, and interest. Subconsciously, we put forth an allotment of energy, effort, importance, and time in order to satisfy our individual standards of excellence. Hectic daily chores, interruptions and random distractions are inevitable causing one to become sidetracked or lose focus requiring redirection as we toil in the fields.

How many activities and duties performed over a lifetime are viewed as insignificant, drab, unglamorous, and unimportant? Like a tenant farmer sowing his fields we follow patterns, routines, sameness—trudge along well-worn ruts as we live out the hours of each day. How long does it take before one realizes that every moment in life is ripe with opportunity, potential, adventure and the magic of human goodness? Once understood, these gifts have to be accepted and embraced. What does it take to change inconvenience to opportunity, disruption to welcome, uninteresting to joyful and work to love? At what point in one’s life does the transition take place changing shadow to sunshine, sorrow to gladness, oneness to unity, anger to forgiveness, selfishness to sharing and sadness to laughter? What does it take to transform meaningless to meaningful?

From our earliest years, we are encouraged to “count our blessings” be humbled by ordinary moments that become extraordinary memories. As we labor in the field we are taught to remove unwanted weeds in order to cultivate good growth. Over thousands of years, Biblical words and parables convey wisdom to insure a bountiful harvest. How many times in life have we witnessed a weed become a rose, an unwanted event become a valuable lesson, a painful experience leave us with renewed strength; and personal tragedy fill us with Faith? What is the magic and mystery of working in the fields, day after day struggling to meet obligations, duties, responsibilities and commitments? From what source is the spirit replenished when fatigue, despair, loneliness, and illness challenge one’s will to continue?

We find solace and take comfort in unexpected places that previously went unnoticed. Strangers thrown together in similar situations develop common bonds and help one another--some become friends: small acts of kindness—giving without hope of receiving; lending a helping hand in moments of need, listening to others who have no one else to talk to; sharing conversation with outsiders who seek reassurance and validation of personal worth. Like tending a garden, each snippet of human interaction nurtures the spirit and strengthens character. Throughout life we carefully tend the fields, hoping our efforts will bear the fulfillment of dreams and reward us with bounty promised ages ago. Like children we are filled with anticipation and excitement savoring the bountiful harvest from our endeavors. After many years, we learn that many weeds—unwanted initially-- are worthy of care because they, too, have importance to our lives. Their diversity awaits discovery by those who follow our labors. We also learn that growing among the weeds are elegant lilies of the field: jewels to tease sunshine from the sky above and within ourselves

The richness of one’s life is a mosaic of diversity: work, play, rest, prayer, and belief in all that is good. The wealth measured is one of purposeful actions, thoughtful considerations of others, moments of conveyed appreciation and kind words; and the abundance of bounty harvested from working in the fields.

Sunday, January 4, 2009


As life unfolds, an automatic compilation of people, places, and things that shape, effect and mark one’s journey are recorded into indelible memories. Each experience enriches and adds meaningful moments. As time moves along, one is consciously aware of the residue from these encounters and the degree they have added to the fabric of life. Some are welcome positive recollections, others initiate less favorable thoughts and awaken unwanted feelings that burden and detract enjoyment from one’s personal inventory of living.

As humans, we live on memories. It is our most treasured keepsake: for it is our memories that define, connect, and nourish us. We use these recollections to reinforce linkage to ourselves. They become a major portion of our identity, value and definition of our humanness. Our experiences bond us in friendship, solidify relationships and fuse the mosaic we display each and every day of our life, providing us with courage and confidence to trust, risk, and love.

From our earliest days through adulthood, we learn to depend on our experiences—they literally become matters of life and death. The people, places, things, and events we integrate within ourselves during our lifetime serve as our physical, social, and moral compass. Each item in our cognitive file carries useful information: guidance, safety, lessons, goodness, sorrow, success, failure, happiness, advice…the list is quite extensive. Each in their own way prepares us to confront challenges and changes presented daily in our lives.

One may wonder how places and things—inanimate objects—could have such effect on one’s life? They do because they serve as the arena and props for the interactions that occurred within their boundaries, and the happenings generated by people sharing that space at that time. As children we are acutely aware of surroundings, soaking up impressions of where, what, why, and how. Often, these childhood inputs of life stay dormant until appropriate processing organizes and catalogs them into usable, viable data. Some are so subtle they take years before the impact is fully savored and understood. Others are so overpowering we store them in places far within us until there is sufficient courage to confront, conquer, and understand their importance.

Early in life, the people, places and things we confront are not of choice. So much of one’s early impressions are due to the choices of others. As we mature, we learn about power, control, and choice. Most importantly, we learn about sovereignty—to be in command of ourselves and to understand the power of individuality. What follows is a small sample from the wonder years of this writer, from the neatest little home town ever—Whiting, Indiana!

In February of 1949, when I was 8 years-old, our family moved from grandma’s house on Oliver Street to Cleveland Avenue . Strategically located in the 1800 block, it was gateway to 119th Street ’s business district. Because our family never owned a car, the main mode of transportation was walking, and later, a Spartan accessorized bicycle. Both methods for getting from here to there turned out to be a Godsend.

It is difficult to name all the “favorite” places in my Industrial Mayberry, but the ones listed here have stood the test of time. Each time I go by one of these locations or recall events from my life, the “movie” that plays in my mind always touches my heart in magical wonderful ways. Granted, many of these places are coated with the idealism of youth, preserved in idyllic childhood and adolescent remembrances, and viewed as hallowed locations brimming with fond memories--so be it. This is my movie and watching it through ancient rose-colored glasses suits me just fine. Get the popcorn!

--Whiting High School This was my dream factory. Within the confines of this educational palace I met classmates who became lifelong friends; teachers who believed in me and changed my life, and where I learn the Power of Possibility.

--Whiting Public Library From first grade on, this wonderful castle-like structure became my Adventure Land . Within these walls the magic of words fired imagination and adventure, opened new horizons, and filled my mind with knowledge, understanding, diversity of thought and human expression.

--Whiting Community Center The Mecca of Industrial Mayberry: a place where kids were not only welcomed, but appreciated. Sport activities, recreation, field trips, social gatherings, theatrical plays, municipal exhibitions, corporate presentations, and a myriad of community functions, was headquartered in this marvelous architectural structure. I literally grew up in this building. As a teenager, I worked as pin boy in the bowling alley. The Community Center is a museum for the mind.

--Neal Price’s Firestone Store The variety of goods made music for the senses.

--Dave’s Drug Store What a menu: root beer floats, potato chips, and Dave’s wisdom.

--Whiting Park Truly a place for all seasons: baseball, ice skating, playground, picnics and the beach. The little stone houses always had their “Welcome Mats” out for visitors.

--Sacred Heart Church and School Lessons for Heaven and Earth. No Free Passes!

--Whiting Post Office 46394: Is there a better Zip Code for cards and letters?

--Nick’s Pool Room An adolescent male oasis featuring snooker, pinball, and verbal expression.

-- Hot Dog Louie’s Gourmet dining at its best! Germs never stood a chance!

--White Castle Hamburger Hall of Fame! Nourish your body; cleanse your pipes, and so much more! I just love ‘em!


Where's Al going to be next???

Check back soon for his next appearance at a location near you!