Personal Eulogy

January 18th, 2018

First, let me explain. I'm in as good of health as can be expected. over recent years and months, an increasing number of family and friends have been passing away. I told Robin about this idea for what I would like to say at my own funeral, but I kept balking at writing it down. Well, here it is.

Make it into a sign to display as people come around for one last look at me. Print it up as a handbill, or even read it out loud in the service. who knows, maybe I'll record a version of it to live on in posterity to be shared in my absence.

Eulogy

Sorry i couldn’t be there for your gathering. Too bad it takes something like this to bring so many of us together.

You probably know i haven’t been doing so well lately. It got pretty bad there for a little bit, then i had to leave you. Trust me. Ever since that moment, I’ve never felt better... ever. It was a little confusing at first, but all my senses are sharper than i ever remember them. I have a new home now. Sorry I don't have a forwarding address to give you, but it isn't as far away from you as you might think. This new place and new body are unbelievable. There’s no words i can use to describe the feeling of peace and love over here, or how beautiful it is in my new home.

If there was a way i could be there with you today, i would, but I don't think it's allowed. plus, it might be a little awkward. But you need to know, I've been having a great time getting to see family and friends who left before I did. don't cry over me.

I’m serious, you just can’t imagine this new body, or how incredible I’m feeling right now, so stop crying over me, I mean it, unless those are happy tears.

I know that the body i left behind is old and broken. Do with it as you wish. Spend lots of money to dress it up, drop it in a box, and cover it up in the ground. Or you can be more practical, and cremate it to ashes, and dispose of it. It doesn’t matter. It’s not me, so don’t cling to it. I’ve been having so much fun over here. I’d love to bring you all with me so we could enjoy this party together, but there’s no rush. You only get one go round in your life, and you all still have time to make the most out of yours as you can.

We’ll meet again, and it won’t be long. No matter if it takes another 10, 20, 50 years or more, it won’t be long. Time is short, and runs out faster than you expect.

I should say this to clarify though, for those of you who know in your heart there is a God, and that Jesus was sent to pay for your sin, I’ll see you again shortly.

For those who are here who have heard of God, and his way to buy each one of us back from sin, and know it in your head, it’s time to take it to heart. It takes more than just knowing about God, it takes wanting to be like him, and live with his spirit in your life. In a word, obey when he calls. If he has your attention, he's calling you.

It’s the plan that has been foreknown since the beginning. The price that buys us out of rebellion and sin. The call is for all who hear it. If you’re listening today to these words, or reading them if you have a print copy of this... that means you have the chance to join me now. Well, OK, not that you'll be joining me right now, but when it's your time, I'd really love to see you here.

Let this seed of faith take root in your heart. Do you want to believe, but can’t? Do you want to believe, but aren’t sure how? Do you want to believe, but don’t know if you’re doing it right? The Holy Spirit is standing by for all who want him to do his work in you. Just let him.

Do you still think this whole Jesus thing is silly? Do you still think that there's nothing to God, or that his kind of heaven is to unreasonable or far fetched? That's your choice. But don't keep making that choice. It's a regrettable one. But if after taking all the evidence of the word that God has left for you in his bible, and in the lives of his people who are around you, you keep choosing to stay far from him, he'll let you. Your decision is your own, and the responsibility will be entirely yours.

Jesus still paid your price though. All that’s left is the Choice you make. are you breathing? it's not too late.

I’d love to see you again, but all i can do is encourage you to be here once it’s your time.

I’m not kidding. This place is awesome. I'm still getting checked in, so I don't have time to leave more words for you. I wish I could be there with you, but honestly, I'm glad I'm here. Keep seeking for Jesus. If you know him, keep seeking ways to become more like him.

Gotta go! Cool! More new stuff!

Waterlogged Wedding Night

January 8th, 2018

The events leading up to our wedding, the ceremony, and even the reception went as well as can be expected. We were married on November 21, 1981, at 2PM. Afterwards, we had a small reception with only a few of our closest friends and family. We aren't much for big parties anyway. The festivities were over with plenty of time to make the drive to our rental house before it got too late in the evening. .

In late November the weather was getting cool enough for winter coats. We pulled into the driveway just after the evening sun had set. We had only been gone a couple days for the wedding, and preparations leading up to it. Neither of us thought about how cold it had become. It wasn't icy or anything, but we didn't know how well the house was insulated. Actually, how well it wasn't insulated.

We debated whether we should do the traditional thing of carrying the bride over the threshold. Robin had already been living in the place for a month, but this would be our first time in the house together. Sure, why not?

Let me play out the events that unfolded in slow motion.

We stood on the porch, and I unlocked the door, and opened it. I lifted my bride into my arms. Being careful not to bump a head on the door post, or drop her, I stepped through the door, trying to decide whether to show off, and carry her all the way to the bed room, or just stand her on her feet in the living room, my decision was made for me pretty quickly.

"Put me down! Put me down!" she cried out.

My first thought was that Robin figured she was too heavy for me to carry around very far. As her feet hit the ground running, heading straight for what I thought was the bed room, happy thoughts sprang to mind as I reached behind me to close the front door.

Then I realized it wasn't our bedroom that was her goal. Robin ran past it, and to the back door.

"Don't you hear that?" she called over her shoulder, reaching the door in the kitchen that led down stairs to a landing. From there you could exit to the back yard, or turn to continue to the basement.

I didn't hear anything out of the ordinary. Not until I took a few steps. It was the sound of rushing water. By the time I got to the back door, Robin had already shouted the news. A pipe had frozen and burst.

How bad could it be? How long had the pipe been pouring water into the basement?

Fortunately we had both been in the house enough, we knew exactly where the shut off valve was located. It was just at the bottom of the steps, in the overhead joists. Even on the bottom step, not standing on the basement floor, the water was 3 feet deep.

I got the water turned off, and it was time to assess the damage. Neither of us had enough household goods to store in the basement. The biggest thing that concerned Robin was the deep freeze. In the darkened basement, I could see it floating on our indoor lake.

With the flood, the pilot lights to the furnace, and hot water heaters were out. How were we going to get this pumped out? If it weren't for the need for heat, we could consider just letting it drain slowly through floor drains, if there were any, or if it would drain at all.

Fortunately, our neighbor was our landlady's son. He had an industrial strength sump pump, and told us that he'd get the water pumped out for us, and to go out to eat somewhere. By the time we got back, he would have it all done. Being early enough, we went to a local steak house for our first dinner together. With the thought of a basement full of water, it wasn't particularly romantic. We just talked, wondering how to deal with the watery mess at home.

Things didn't go entirely well once we got home. The water was gone, but the furnace and water heater were too water logged to get working. Fortunately we did think to pack some of our wedding gifts in the car. An electric blanket, and a crock pot being the most handy.

Once the damage was repaired as much as possible, we spent the next couple weeks keeping warm together under that electric blanket, with quilts piled high on top. You aren't supposed to do that, but we were careful to keep an eye on the settings.

The crock pot came in handy as a miniature hot water heater. It was kept in the bathroom, on the countertop, to use for washing up at the sink. For the kitchen, water could be more easily heated on the stove to use for washing dishes.

Within the month, probably about a week or so later, the heat was restored. We only lived there for the following month, maybe to the end of January, but due to other changes in jobs and schooling, it wasn't going to be somewhere to stay for long.

With all the water that was piped in for the flood, we worked out an arrangement with the water company, and the landlady to whittle the expense down, and get it paid off before we moved.

Through the years, especially if we've just moved to a place, when our anniversary rolls around, we joke that we ought to knock a hole in a water pipe, so we can snuggle under the covers, without heat or hot water. Just for a little while, but certainly not to fill the basement, or actually put out any pilot lights.

Baby Names – Nathan Part 4of4

December 30th, 2017

Baby names, the finale. Read the previous articles in the series for the full account of how our kids got their names.

After having three kids, all boys, I had reached my limit on how many children I thought would be appropriate for our little family. Not to mention, I had just left active duty in the military, and was trying to carve out my niche in the civilian world with boys ranging in age from 2, 4, and 5 years old. I joined the National Guard, to keep my foot in the door of the military, and as it turned out, to provide an occasional boost to my income over the next few years. Without a regular job, and no health insurance just yet, the thought of another baby was out of the question.

While I waited for a slot in the next training school for my new, Air Force National Guard military occupation, I managed to make a little money as an ice cream truck driver. Trust me, the pay sucks, the hours are long, but it is still my most favorite job ever. You're a rock star with all the Kidds, everybody knows the ice cream man, and kids come running out of the woodwork at the sound of the ice cream bell. The celebrity status is only secondary to Santa Claus, and you never have to hide behind a red suit or beard. Of course, outside your truck, you have the anonymity of Clark Kent, and your secret identity means your private life is all your own. But I digress from my saga of baby names.

So, amid being grossly underpaid, and with few prospects, and waiting for a year long school to come my way to interrupt any job I might find anyway, Robin started showing the telltale signs of a woman with child. She vehemently denied it, but went to see her doctor, and the news was confirmed. Fast forward a little, and I get my orders to report to begin my training. We calculate the number of months before child #4 is to arrive, and it falls smack dab in the middle of my school term. How cool is that? The family can move to the base, since I'll be activated, and be on base for so long. We get full benefits to the base facilities, including the hospital. Though the kid in later years might like to claim he was an accident, we have to point out that an accident is what happens when parents aren't married when the unexpected event happens. He was a surprise. Not only that, but a surprise who happened to have the impeccable timing to be born at the most convenient time, regarding to employment and benefits.

His entire situation was nothing short of a gift... hence his name... Nathan. Continuing our bible themed names, we tried out a few possibilities, and thought Daniel gave a nice addition, and nice ring to his name. After my nicknaming of the previous kids, Robin insisted, "You are not going to give this kid a stupid nickname like all the others." What? Me? Why mother, I don't know what you're talking about! None of my beloved children have anything but well thought out names, and nicknames. There's nothing stupid about them.

Out loud I said, "That's fine. This one is all yours to give a nickname as you see fit. I just don't feel inspired to extend a prophetic name to him, as I've done in the past."

Right up to the day he was born, I remained clueless on any kind of nickname for him. Within hours of being born, I was in the hospital room, mom was cradling the newborn, and a nurse entered to take some routine statistics or other. I have to admit, she was an attractive young nurse... and apparently Nathan thought so too. The instant she crossed the threshold of the room, he looked up at her, tracked her movement across the room to glance at the charts, move to the bedside to make note of some new vital statistic to record, and leave. The whole time, he never took his eyes off her. I still wasn't inspired to come up with a nickname for the kid, but somehow I knew the moment was prophetic. It was.

The kid had a knack for wrapping womenfolk around his little finger as he grew up. Little old church ladies would offer him candy because he was just so cute. Despite Robin warning them off. Somehow he would come home with the forbidden goodies in his pockets, and a cheesy grin on his face in rendering the power of mom useless.

Robin somehow came up with the name, Nater Tater. Which morphed into variations. Nate Tate. Tater Tot, TT, or just T, or Mr T. (No relation, or resemblance to the star of the well known TV series, the A-Team... I pity the foo' who thinks so!)

I tried my hand at it with a tough sounding name. Nate the Snake. It just didn't fit. Skunk Face? Hey, the skunk in Bambi is a cute little critter... but no, it didn't fit either. Besides, by the time I thought of it, he was old enough to toddle around, and gave me one of those classic, little kid eye rolls, with an exasperated, "dad. Don't call me that." I didn't do it anymore.

I know this isn't a long article, but there isn't much else to tell in the naming story of Nathan. Combined with the full story of "The Brothers" as they collectively became known, the whole saga is a bit too long for one article to handle, but if you haven't already done so... go back and read the other articles for the complete story.

Baby Names – David Part 3of4

December 29th, 2017

Yet another chapter in the saga of choosing baby names. To get caught up to speed, read the previous articles on baby names.

With 2 sons, I was content to stop;, and just raise my little family. There's 14 months between the two boys. But after 2 years or so from the birth of son #2, another birth was in store for us. By this time I was on my second enlistment with the Marines, and stationed overseas in Panama. Given the exotic location, and hooping for a girl this time, we planned on the arrival of little Dominique Noel.

Instead, we found out we were to be blessed by another little boy. Turning to the pages of the Bible, because by this time we thought that would be our theme for baby names. David was a name we both liked, and there wasn't any family members with the name, other than a cousin who lived in a different state than our home of record. Little did we know that Robin's sister was about to marry a David, and others would creep into the family over time, as would other Michaels, and Christophers.

For a middle name, we landed on Isaac. I don't remember the reasoning behind it, but whether it was a foretelling of his personality or not, we liked the idea of what it meant. Davidmeans beloved, and Isaac means man who laughs. It turned out to be prophetic, even if he may disagree.

During Robin's pregnancy for the first two sons, her belly swelled up, nice, and round, and smooth. Babies are naturally active, and prone to kick, and move around, but generally mommy's tummy doesn't show many outward signs of the activity . Not so with kid #3.

The little bundle of joy was very active from early on. Kicks could not just be felt if you put a hand on the belly, but if too much pressure was applied, and it didn't take a lot, a hard return kick could make your hand jump. Just think of what that means for mom. As the little guy grew, and room inside got less, the kid would push, and stretch. Sometimes you almost expected to see a little face outlined on the outside of mom's tummy... or the image of a butt crack looking at you. Little, misshapen lumps frequently appeared, and the kid would suddenly shift to one side or the other. Robin already walks with a slight limp and waddle, due to back and hip trouble. When large with child, the waddle is increased as a natural result from the growing bulge in front. Add to that even further, a kid who insists on clinging to one side, poking her belly out noticeably further on that side than the other.

With all the prenatal gymnastics, and constantly rearranged lumps on mom's belly, I told Robin, "I know you don't like my choices for nicknames, but it's a good thing this kid is a boy. Otherwise it would be weird to call a girl Lumpy."

"You can't call him that," she protested. "that's not a nice name."

"What's wrong with it?" I asked.

"I don't want any child of mine named Spud." She said.

"Spud?" I confirmed. "Sure thing, I promise I won't call him Spud."

Months pass with me intermittently referring to the kid as Lumpy, and my bride saying I can't call him Spud. The day came and son #3 was born. I was surprised that his little baby muscles were pretty well defined, and buff. But what else did you expect from a kid who just spent most of the past nine months using mom's insides for his personal gym?

"That does it," I said, "this kid is definitely going to be called..." Robin cut me off, "You are not going to name him Spud, or Potato Head, or anything like that."

I couldn't help laughing. "I never said anything about Potato Head, but that's funny. Fine, on his birth certificate, he'll be named David Isaac, but to me he's going to be Lumpy Spud Potato Head."

"No," Robin protested. "You promised me you wouldn't name him Spud..."

"I never had plans on calling him Spud, and I never said anything about Potato Head... until now." I said. "That part was all your doing."

I think that Robin thought a name like Lumpy was kind of frumpy, or maybe belonged to the kind of a kid who was chubby, and built like a sack of potatoes. I get that, but Lumpy describes who the kid was while inside her tummy, and his little, lumpy muscles when he was born. Spud, and Potato Head was just a couple of unfortunate add ons. I don't know where Robin got them, but it really was her who kept bringing those names up... not me.

Ever since that day, the kid has been any thing but frumpy or chubby. He was the fastest runner in his grade school classes. He has always been buff and thin.

But that's the story of how we came to have a kid named Lumpy Spud Potato Head David Isaac. By far the kid with the biggest name ever in the family, and the smallest of his brothers once they reached adulthood. Mike is a little shorter, but lets just say, a bit more robust.

Baby Names – Michael Part 2of4

December 28th, 2017

Another installment in the saga of how our kids got their names.

I wrote earlier how our #1 son got his name, nickname, and even an alternate nickname that followed him through his childhood years. When our second child was on the way, the ordeal began again. Not sure whether he would be a boy or girl, his name could have been Amber Ashley, but as it turned out, he didn't qualify for a name like that, and besides, my sister found out about the name and staked her claim on it for her second daughter, only she reversed it to Ashley Amber.

We settled on Michael pretty quickly, but couldn't come up with a middle name. Should we name him after a grandparent? Come up with something that complimented his name? With such a common name as Michael, maybe we should tag him with a middle name that was unique, but not the kind that's going to start any playground fights, should he want to go by it instead.

When son #1 was born, Robin already made it plain she didn't want a Keith Jr running around. I honestly can't remember any of the Alternatives we choose for Michael's middle name, but it would definitely not be either Keith, or Eric.

As the time for the due date rolled around, i was facing a change of duty stations, and the race was on. My travel date was set. My date to report in was set. The thing that wasn't set in stone was the date the baby was to be born.

Would he arrive before the movers came to pack our household goods for shipments? No.

Would he come before my leave was up, and shorten our stay in the base Hospitality House? No.

Time was running out fast.

I calculated the travel agenda to get me to my next duty station. I needed to drive #1 son to stay with grandparents, then make a return drive to the East coast where the car would be shipped from Charleston, SC. From there, I would hop a flight from the local air base.

Still no kid. I had to go, and so Robin moved off base to stay with friends and wait for the baby to decide to emerge.

It turned out the kid arrived about the time my flight was to lift off. I wouldn't find this out for another 3 days. For the next few months, all I saw or heard from the kid was those initial baby pictures, and his little baby cries in the background, when making long distance calls. From all Indications, he looked like a Butch. A name I knew Robin was adverse to, but I knew it was going to be his nickname. Besides, Robin gave him his middle name, even though I thought we had decided against using my name. Michael's middle name was Keith.

Robin told me she had second thoughts, and figured she'd give him my name after all. "What? No Keith Jr?" I probably asked. I suppose it would have been too much to ask. Plus we'd have two sons with the same middle name. We had already settled on the name Michael, so I guess that was enough to ask.

Time marched on and little Moose and Butch were filled with animosity towards each other from the beginning. Well, not so much from Mike to Chris, he was good with life, his big brother, and rising to the challenge to do more than kids his age were supposed to be able to do. Butch was a good nickname, even if Robin still wasn't keen on it.

I think Moose was a little resentful that he wasn't an only child any more. For the story on Moose, refer to the earlier article: Baby Names - Christopher Part 1of4.

But wait, there's more in the way of nicknames. Just as with Chris, Michael ended up with an extra nickname.

It was dinner time. The kids were playing in the sand box in the park behind our base housing. I called out, "Chris! Mike! Time to eat!" Nothing. I tried again, "Moose! Butch! Come inside, its time to eat!" Nothing. Remembering my other nickname for Chris, I tried again, "Hey you!" Mike looked up. "Don't you know your names? Your brother's name is Hey You... you're 'No the Other One' now both of you get in here."

Thus was born the name and nick names of #2 son. Michael Keith, or Butch, or No the Other One.

Baby Names – Christopher Part 1of4

December 27th, 2017

Note: Before I get started, I want to say that I wrote a series of articles quite some time ago about how we named our kids, but after doing an online search of the site, I couldn't find it. What follows, and following articles, is a rough recreation of that original series.

One of the benefits, probably the single best benefit of being a parent is naming rights. The name you give that little bundle of joy that you've just created with your spouse will stick with them forever. It's going to be how they are known for life, so choose wisely.

Names have meanings, and you want that child to have the perfect name. A unique name, setting them apart from other kids. A name that's descriptive of their personality. A name that everyone will be proud of carrying, and referring to for posterity.

The trouble is that almost every kid, at some time or other, reaches a point where they hate their name, even if it's a cool, well thought out name. "Why did you name me that?" They may ask with a disgusted eye roll. Maybe it's a common name like John, or Bob, or Bill, a name that a lot of kids are named. Maybe the reason was so they could blend into the crowd. Maybe the name is a rare find, unearthed from the deepest, darkest bowels of a baby naming book. But a kid named Wolfgang, or Griselda might end up in a lot of playground fights. The same could be said for family names like, Throckmorton or Lucretia.

With our own kids, I kind of wanted to have a son named after me, but Robin didn't like the idea of a Keith Jr. She wanted each child to have a name that was theirs alone. Eventually, we settled on sharing my middle name when sone #1 was born. We thought a name from the Bible would do, but somehow Mephibosheth didn't set well. We wanted one that might project the kind of person we wanted him to be, a good Christian adult who would carry on the good ethic of Christ like living. A bearer of Christ, which is what Christopher means. The only person in the family with that name, or one like it was a female cousin. That being the case, we figured that we could keep them separated when talking about Chris in conversation. We figured with some of the trendy names of the time, there might not be too many boys in his grade with the same name, so Christopher Eric got his name.

Once he was born, or maybe it was during the last months of pregnancy, we were watching a movie where the tough guy in the story was named Butch. I commented to Robin, "that's pretty convenient that movies give characters names to suit them in the story. A tough guy named Butch, or a mild mannered guy named Wallace, or something. How did their parents know how their little 6 pound bundle would turn out 10 years later?"

" Her response, "You are not going to name our son Butch!"

"OK, I promise I won't name him Butch." But I thought it might make a good nickname..."

Robin's mental telepathy kicked in, and continued, "And you're not going to even nickname our son Butch!" How did she do that? How did she know what I was thinking.

I agreed, and Chris got another big,, manly, nickname... Moose. Robin was resistant at first, but eventually caved in. I just hoped the name didn't prove out to be an ironic one. I could fore see a scrawny little kid in a middle school gym class with the monicker Moose. A far cry from the star of the sporting fields. Fast forward to the future, and Chris may not have ever been a sports star, but he's a pretty tall guy.

There was a slight problem with this kid though. Chris didn't seem to want to respond to his name, or nickname wall the time. Granted, some of that had to do with the need for tubes in his ears for proper drainage, and fighting off ear infections.

One day, he was playing with a house plant. Robin was in the kitchen, and warned me to keep an eye on the baby. "Don't let him play with the plant. She said.

Just then I looked up to see little fingers reach for the plant. "Chris!" I admonished. "Get your hands off that!" What does a 1 year old know about not playing in the dirt... but he ignored me, being focused on the inviting flower pot. I tried again "Chris!" I called to him, but he didn't even look up from his mission. I tried again, this time switching to his nickname, "Moose! Stop; it!" Still no indication he heard me. Finally I called out, "Hey! You!" He stopped in his tracks, looked up at me, and grinned. Chris had a new nickname.

Most of the time, our Kidds were known, and called by their given names, but even today they still get called by their nicknames. Usually in fun, and in memory of those early days. For Chris, he has revealed in not only being known as Moose, but the Wild Moose.

The Twelve Days After Christmas

December 26th, 2017

I'm sure some better qualified poet and lyric writer has already done this, but here's my shot at it. You know how the song goes, so here's my list of the aftermath of Christmas.

Sing with gusto.

On the first day after Christmas, my true love Gabe to me
1 ravaged Christmas tree.
2 aspirin tablets.
3 broken ornaments.
4 bags of garbage.
5 unpaid bills.
6 kids a screaming.
7 gifts re-gifted.
8 exhausted reindeer.
9 empty checkbooks.
10 plates of leftovers.
11 damaged decorations.
12 unemployed shelf elves.

Christmas Customs and Favorites

December 25th, 2017

As a kid, Christmas presents were only opened on Christmas morning. That's it. It wasn't until we were older that we could open something on Christmas Eve. and if we ever did, it was one thing, but the rest had to wait. It would take some major begging to open more than one item before Christmas. Then all the joy would be sucked out of it with the ordeal of the begging.

We always had Christmas at home. Easter was always at my grandparents house. (My mom's side.)
When I was a teenager, we made the trip to grandma's a couple times for Christmas. Quite an ordeal, and only done once or twice.

It always amazed me that as we would go shopping, and bring gifts home to covertly wrap them, the goodies under the tree seemed to be more than plentiful. Then over night, on Christmas Day, all the empty stockings would be filled to overflowing, and the presents under the tree seemed to expand and fill not just the space under the tree, but the whole corner, and surround the tree. At first I was thrilled that Santa really came. Later, I was amazed over, where in the world did mom and dad hide all that stuff? I thought my brother and I had snooped into all the crevices in the house where presents could hide.

With our kids, We usually started with reading the account from Luke 2, then I would crawl under the tree to pass out presents. Later, the kids took over that job.

I love those early years when the kid is more fascinated by the paper, and the box the gift came in, than the gift itself. I also learned early on that gifts from Santa are the ones like socks, or long johns. The good toys always came from mom and dad. Why worship a fictional man in a red suit, when it was mom and dad who did the giving. You're throwing away all the praise and love to the air. You might as well revel in it.

We never had cats, or other pets, to make the holiday ornaments tempting to both child and beast. I would have been mortified if we knocked over our tree, but our kids seemed to do it at least once every year. When I had a guide dog for a while, he would lap up the water from under the tree... that's why you put it there, right? He was also responsible a few times for knocking over the tree, intrigued by some shiny, dangling thing or other.

We did pull a trick one year. We had a pile of gifts hid in the closet, and as we got ready to leave to visit grandma, I took the kids to the van and kept them occupied, so they wouldn't notice how much time went by. Robin, under the pretense of leaving her purse, or a last moment trip to the restroom, went back in, unloaded the closet, and we made the trip.

Later, back home, a new pile of toys had mysteriously showed up under the tree, and even though the kids were mostly past the stage of believing in Santa, they did for that year. Even later when we told them how we did it, they still refuse to believe that Santa didn't come for a visit.

Favorite toys, or gifts?

I know that often the most beloved present, or that thing you just had to have this year, fades into memory. After the countless number of gifts I've had, several come to mind. A Monopoly game, a monster making kit, string art, a Hot Wheel track, but the most memorable is an electric train set. It was one of those expensive gifts I had to share with my brother... well, both our names were on it, but we also had to share with dad. After the pile of gifts were ripped open with the typical abandon, we left them all behind, and cleared the kitchen table. The three of us spent all morning putting track together, making sure any assembly was done to the engine and cars, and cooperating in building our railroad with less argument or tension than we might if we were playing a board game, or sharing any other toy.

We all protested when mom had lunch cooked, and forced us to take the track apart so we could eat. . we could have went on playing with the train until supper time. With all the candy nuts, and goodies... who needs a square meal.

Moms... go figure. It's like they want to see you get a balanced, nourishing meal or something.

The train was the focus for the afternoon, then not long afterwards, dad came home with a sheet of plywood, fake grass, and other bits of model scenery to give our track a permanent home.

We agreed on a track layout, and tacked it to the plywood, sat up the street crossings, signs, bridge, and other things a respectable model train ought to have as it endlessly ran the circuit of its course. We even mounted the power pack and controllers on the under side of the plywood, so as to be handy, but unseen. To store it, and return usable space in the basement where we ultimately constructed our masterpiece, we put pulleys on it, and made it so it could be raised or lowered up to the rafters with a pull on a cord.

As much fun, and bonding the train set brought between father and sons, that first morning was the best.

Christmas traditions – Decorating

December 22nd, 2017

For most of the year, all our holiday decorations resided in a big cardboard box or two under the basement stairs. One box had Halloween stuff, and costumes from years past. Another had Easter baskets, fake grass, plastic eggs, and the like. The biggest box of all had the Christmas decorations.

We always had an artificial tree. Sacrilege I know, but we did have real trees once in a while, but for years, it was the artificial one. Until we were older, only mom or dad brought the box upstairs. Only mom or dad unpacked it, carefully inspecting for broken bulbs in the lights, or any damaged ornaments. There always seemed to be a couple that didn't survive the round trip into and out of storage.

With the box unpacked, dad built the tree, putting each metal end of the bottle brush looking branches into the appropriate hole in the stand. At best, a kid might hand over the next batch of branches, poked through a numbered card to hold them together, and organize them.

Mom would hang the big Santa head on the front door, and the red, lighted, plastic Christmas bells in the window. Various jobs of helping would be given to us kids, as our skills allowed. Sometimes it was just a matter of the older ones keeping the littler ones in line, and from being too nosey around the box of decorations.

The lights were the next to go up. Always a job for dad, and sometimes mom. It depended on how much they wanted to get into a fight or not. When we got older, helping put the lights on the tree was a huge privilege, and something of a right of passage. Of course, before the lights could go up, each strand had to be untangled. Somehow the light strands managed to do that, no matter how careful they were stored.

The lights were 25 watt bulbs, shaped in a rounded cone shape, and if one bulb was out, the whole strand wouldn't work. The procedure was to take a new bulb, or one you knew worked, and methodically replace one bulb at a time, until the lights either came on, or the whole strand was replaced. If the lights stayed dark, there was at least 2 or more bulbs out. Then, about all you could do is get one strand working, and swap bulbs into it to weed out bad bulbs.

In later years we went to the new kind of lights, the kind in use today with the tiny bulbs that just plug in to the strand.

With the lights working, and wrapped around the tree, next was the tinsel. Usually a job for mom, or any of the older kids. Finally, the ornaments went on the tree. Guided by mom, kids would place one ornament on at a time, until they were all on the tree. Over the years, the number of ornaments grew, despite the occasional broken one, and to put them all on was just too gaudy, and weird looking.

The final piece of decorations were the star, and hanging icicles, and once in a while, spray on snow. Who ever thought up spray on snow should be taken out and shot. Sure, it might look nice if done right, but the coating didn't come off well, and through being stored, it clumped up, and didn't survive well for the next season. Icicles were thin strips of aluminum. A few here, and a few there, and it added a nice affect. Not a thing to over do. They are also tempting to fingers of little kids, and some pets, since they dangle into easy reach. Our "star" was actually a spire, with a light, and a tuft of angel hair inside it. It was the one and only star that I ever remember having, and was always carefully placed on top by dad. It was a rare treat in older years to be the one who got to top off the tree with the star.

The whole while, there would be Christmas music playing on our record player. I know we had two favorite Christmas albums, but there had to have been more. I suppose there was one more thing to go on the tree, but it was usually in the later stages of decorating. Putting on the candy canes. Due to their edible, and consumable nature, they had to be replaced a few times through the season. These days, there are lots of different flavors, but the only kind we had were the red and white striped, peppermint canes. In later years, Canes with cherry flavor were a novelty, and we might use a blend of flavors and colored canes.

Under the tree, a white blanket of cottony material hid the base of the tree, like a bank of snow wrapped around it. Other under the tree decorations included a manger scene, a lighted snowman and Santa. For a while, we had one of those floor lamps that shown through a colored disk. The disk had red, green, and blue, and rotated past the bulb, to change the color of the tree as it turned .

We never had a sat date to put up the tree, or take it down. Some years it would go up before Thanksgiving, some times not until the first week or so of December. Our tree always stayed up past the new year, but not much longer, and it never stayed up past the middle of January. At that time, the tree and decorations would be taken down in reverse order, and get packed away for the next season, finding their home again under the basement stairs.

For family traditions with our kids, things pretty much stayed the way I described, only with a little more chaos, and letting kids do more earlier on, when it came to lights. We had our own ornament collection that grew and shrank in the storage process. Christmas albums on tape and CD, instead of records, and more real trees, just to name a few differences.

Journal: Golf Outing

December 17th, 2017

Or... A day in the life of a blind veteran in a Blindness Rehab Center (BRC).

A page from my personal journal.

2015-07-08 - Hines Day 23. Wednesday

The golf outing is today. Didn’t do squat as far as training. Went to the first class, Kitchen Skills, but since the outing would head out before the end of it, we practiced playing checkers. Does that sound kind of lame? Remember, the Blind Rehab Center is about accessibility for the blind. Not to mention with neuropathy in my hands, it was actually a challenge to play, and have to rely on feeling the shapes of the special checkers and board. Plus having to keep a mental map of the board after every move, or having to explore the board with every move. Weird, difficult, but with practice it just might work out.

The checkerboard is plastic, with alternating squares indented to keep the checkers in place. The set we used had wooden checkers. Red ones round, and black ones square. When a piece reaches the king row, since they don't stack well, special , taller checkers are substituted, and each color comes with 4 or 5 of them. I don't know what you would do if you got more kings than that.

We didn’t finish the game, and I couldn’t even say who was ahead when the call came to hop on the bus. It doesn't matter. It was just for fun, and to occupy time.

Every year several country clubs donate their course, provide a few volunteers, and a lunch in the clubhouse, so a small group of blind veterans can spend a few hours on the course. The vets come from all branches of service, from all walks of life, and range in age from the eras of World War 2 to the Gulf War. Some, like me have never been on a golf course that didn’t involve aiming for the alligator’s mouth or dodging the windmill blades, while others were avid golfers who didn’t think they could ever step a foot on the greens again. That fact alone makes the donation of the volunteers and clubs deeply appreciated, and inspirational.

When the bus arrived, we were paired up, and each pair of vets were introduced to their volunteers. The time for an outing like this is short, and usually only 3 or 4 holes can be played. With a minimum of introduction, away we went in the golf carts. Don't worry, no blind vets were allowed behind the wheel of the carts.

There’s a lot involved in golfing. Things you might not think about until you can’t see what to do. Our volunteers weren’t just caddies, they went the extra step to place the ball on the tee, get us lined up on the shot, help make sure our feet were in the right place, the stance right, then after a practice swing or two, get the club positioned next to the ball. Sounds like maybe we had an advantage over your typical, run of the mill, sighted golfer, What other kind of golf partner would do that much for you? and I have to say that without that help, my shots would have been all over the place.

The rest was up to us. Wind up, take a good solid swing at the spot where your club just left the ball on its tee. Then focus on trying to bring your club back to that sweet spot as you swing through. In that brief moment you hope for that satisfying snap sound of a ball well hit. Not the sad thud of smacking a chunk of sod into the air, and having to fix the divot you just left on the course. Or totally whiffing the ball. Which means the ball is either left on the tee, or just as embarrassing, you just made a nice, wimpy 30 foot putt off the tee.

Once having the basics of the stance and swing down, I trusted that my helper did a good job in lining me up. He did. Our first hole was a par 4 at just over 400 yards. I made it in 7. Hey, I’m a blind guy. I’ll take what I can get. Once we made the shots, and drove down the fairway on the golf carts, we got to know a little about each other. Good conversation, good exercise, and in between, smacked that little ball around a little. Isn’t that what it’s about? Conversation and exersize? The thing with the clubs and ball is just something to keep your hands busy… right?

I think the volunteers may have been cheating for us a little bit. Somehow we managed to stay on the fairway, no sand traps, no water hazards. My helper, Jeff, says it was all me, once he placed the ball, and got the shot lined up.

I managed to get to the putting green, or at least on the fringe of the first hole. That's close enough for me to switch to a putter. I dug my long ago memories of putt putt courses out, and was able to tap a long 40 foot putt to about 10 feet or so to the hole. The next shot was in. OK, well maybe an inch away. But it sounded suspiciously like it was a bank shot off somebody’s foot. I told you, they were being nice to us, but Jeff vehemently denied it.

With some of the kinks worked out in communication, and the kind of help we needed with accessibility, the next two holes got a little better. Good ball placement, solid shots, and though all the putts seemed to start from the fringe, or involved having to struggle with uphill shots, or ones that broke around a hill, my putts got me within 12 feet, and even a nice 5 footer for my final hole. With every hole, I found I got there in one less stroke than the hole before. I didn’t know this until later, or even that Jeff was keeping track for me.

The final hole was a short par 3, and though my drive was fairly solid, it fell just outside the fringe of the green. Still, we decided to go for another long putt. That’s the one that came to about 5 feet away, and the next shot dropped it in the hole… no banking foot shots required. My one and only par outside the realm of a putt putt course,, or the electrons of a video game.

Time was up, and we were called to the clubhouse for lunch.

After the very nice meal, each of the helpers and golfers had the chance to say a kind word about their game, and Our instructor who was in charge from the Blind Rehab Center shared a word with the club about the various kinds of training we receive there, and in learning the daily skills of life. Kitchen skills, computer and technology training, adjustments to having low vision, mobility training using the white cane and GPS for vets who are willing to use it. There's also plenty of shop classes for manual dexterity. Lettercraft, wood shop, small engine repair, and even music class for those who want to learn something like the guitar, or piano

With that, we parted ways, and returned to carry on with the training.