Bellbottom Blog

Scratching A Writing Itch From Time To Time

Archive for the month “May, 2012”

Families……

I know I still have a part 2 to deliver about my Dad. It hasn’t been easy to do that because a little of it is like looking into a mirror and I am not sure if I want to take that journey just yet.

Here is a story ripped from today’s headlines, if we had a family newspaper that is.

Yesterday, my dad called to let me know one of his sisters had died on Tuesday.

She had been battling cancer, diabetes and dementia.  She was 86.

He told me that I didn’t have to come to the funeral service which was today (Friday) at 10:00.

It was nice of him to give me an out. For one thing, we haven’t really been that close to her portion of the family over the years. Also, it is Memorial Day weekend which means the round trip to his town and back would be five hours of driving hell. Dodging travel trailers and boats. Families with 8 people stuffed into vehicles meant for 5.

So, I set the alarm for 6:00 and prepared for the trip.  Nothing noble on my part, this is just one of those “oldest child ” responsibilities.  There are a few with funerals being one of the top ones.

On the drive up, I listened to some Sinatra. The average age of my remaining aunts is 88 and Dad is 85 so Frank helped put me in the right frame of mind.

To add a little tension, Dad informed me that the obituary neglected to mention him or his two remaining sisters as survivors.  Understand, the four of them have lived in the same town for over 80 years.  It would be hard to forget about all of them.

In addition, his oldest sister (Babe) has been feuding with him and his other remaining sister(Ruth).

I was always under the impression that older folks mellowed as they aged.

I was misinformed.

I asked what the problem was.

Dad said, “You know she lives in an assisted living place, right?  Well, when I would call her, we would be talking until someone would knock on her door, then she would say she had to go.”

Me: “Yeah…?”

Dad: “I don’t need that. So I stopped calling.”

My dad has a saying, “I may forgive but I never forget.”

He isn’t kidding about that.  And I don’t thing you can call it forgiving if you don’t let it go.  But, I am not going to be the one to challenge him on his pet theory. That is how you remain the oldest living son.

So, when I get to the church, Dad and Ruth are standing around near the entrance while Babe is at the other end of what is, according to Dad, the longest church aisle in Fort Wayne. How he knows that is beyond me but i can go along with it.  It seems like a long way down to the front.

As I walk up to him, Ruth’s son Tim, catches me and asks if Dad knew I was coming. I told him no, I didn’t want to promise anything unless I was sure I could get up there.

I pat Dad on the back and ask how he is doing. He tells me the obituary story again. This will happen a few more times before I head back home.

I should mention that this church is one of the oldest Catholic churches in the city. Dad and his family know every nook and cranny.

Back in the old days, there was even a bowling alley behind it on the church property. Dad worked as a pinboy for some extra money. It was before automated bowling pinsetters were invented.  The kids would put the pins in a rack and lower them by hand for the next frame. A skill that required quickness for two reasons.  One, the faster they worked the more games people could get in. Which meant more money for the parish. Two, bowlers are rolling a sixteen pound ball at ten pins that are within inches of your legs. Got to be quick and aware back there.

Well, enough of that, back to the funeral.

Dad and Ruth went up to the front of the church to find a pew and to at least say hello to Babe.  She has trouble seeing these days, so Dad put his hand on her shoulder and said, “Hi.”  She took his hand for a moment and as it started to get a little dusty in there, she looked at his hand and said,”You’re getting old.”   So much for reconciliation.  Dad came back to the pew muttering,”Same old Babe.”

The service starts and being a Catholic ceremony a lot of standing and sitting is involved.  That didn’t matter so much when I was a kid but just watching my dad and his sister get up and down about a dozen times in a half an hour seemed cruel.

One moment of strangeness occurred when one of the hymns chosen was Morning Has Broken .  Yes, the Cat Stevens song.  I know it was a church hymn first, but the idea of these older conservative types singing a song made popular by a guy who was on a no-fly list not that long ago made me smile.

As communion was being given, Ruth and Dad were plotting their escape. The funeral procession was going to form and proceed to the Catholic Cemetery.  These veterans of skipping official functions passed the word along that when our row was let out we were heading for the side door.  It was the slowest moving church break ever. But it was effective.

Maybe if they were 10 years younger, they would have gone to the graveside services.  I know they will find their way over to the cemetery in due time. I don’t count out the obituary slight as having something to do with cutting the day short.

Dad and I went out for a sandwich afterwards.

One other odd thing happened, as he was paying for the meal, I could see he was having trouble figuring out the tip.  He caught me watching and said, “I don’t figure the tip on the amount with the tax included.”  Where does that come from?  I don’t know. I just chalk it up to a “Dad quirk”.

When the meal was over, I walked with him to his car and he said, “Thanks for showing up. I was surprised to see you.”

As he drove away, I remembered a funeral service for my great-grandmother around 40 years ago. Dad and one of my mom’s cousins were pallbearers.  After their duties were done, the cousin said to Dad, in a kidding voice,”You weren’t lifting your share.”  Dad replied, “That’s why I get in the middle.”

Families….

Peace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Going West

My wife, as I might have mentioned, is a native Oklahoman.

When we were first married and she wanted to go visit, I usually stayed home. I wasn’t a big fan of that kind of traveling. Driving for about 18 hours, fueled by pop and all kinds of junk food.  With two young kids.

I didn’t think that would be a relaxing time and I thought vacations should be for relaxing. Plus we would be staying at various in-laws. Which is always uncomfortable no matter how nice the folks are.

The first time we went to that part of the country it was for a job interview in Abilene, Texas.

Abilene is a looooong way from Indiana.

Our daughter was in school, so it was just my wife and I and our very young son.

As we made our way through the panhandle of Oklahoma to my sister-in-law’s house in Texas, a snow storm came up out of nowhere. Drifting snow was making some of the roads a little tricky.  Finally we got to their house and after a few hours of sleep, we moved on toward Abilene.  Our son staying behind.

The road to Abilene was my first experience driving in Texas.

There were two things I wanted to see:  tumbleweeds and the Canadian River.

The tumbleweeds thing was just to tease my wife.  So, every so often, I would start singing about the Tumbling Tumbleweeds. I am a lot of fun in a car as you can probably tell.  But we drove for hours and no tumbleweeds. Disappointed.

But I was sure the river would make up for it.

See, I had watched all those old westerns with the cattle drive always having to find a safe place to cross because of all the water. My mom was a big John Wayne fan. Red River. She Wore A Yellow Ribbon. It was going to be great.

Except that….this part of Texas was suffering through a drought.

The Canadian was a trickle. The other rivers we drove over were the same. No water.

I felt cheated.

No water and no tumbleweeds.  And halfway there no radio stations either.  I had never been in the middle of nowhere, but I can tell you when you get there, you have to bring your own tunes.

The views along the way were amazing. You could see for miles.Over an unforgiving prairie. With a relentless wind. I know I have said this before but I really had a hard time believing there was a place where the wind blew all day and all night. ALL day and ALL night. EVERY day and EVERY night.

Also, on this road, you would go through towns that had managed to hold together and even prosper while others were failing at an alarming rate.

Soon (six hours later) we were in  Abilene, Texas. We had two days to interview for the job offer and look around for a possible house to purchase if things went well. The interview went very well. The people we met were very friendly. Even though my wife kept apologizing for bringing a Yankee down there. I didn’t realize people used that expression until we met a builder who said he had built a home for a Yankee once.

We looked at several houses on our last day in the city. I was surprised that most of them didn’t have any gutters or rain spouts. It didn’t rain often enough to go through the expense of putting gutters up.

The grass in the lawns had a gnarly, twisty consistency to it. It is good for that region because it can lay dormant for long periods.

I was walking around looking at all of these different things looking  just like, well, a Yankee.

The real estate agent had some good news.  The local Wal-Mart was going to be a 24-hour one. The peculiar thing about Abilene was everything closed up around 10:00.  I mean everything.

And the strangest thing of all was when 11:30 rolled around, I tried to find David Letterman’s show. They didn’t carry him on the CBS affiliate there. Too radical, I suppose.

Well, needless to say, we didn’t wind up in Abilene. When we got back to Fort Wayne, a job offer equal to the one in Texas came to us and we took it.

The main thing that happened was I lost all of my reasons for not wanting to travel. We enjoyed it despite the long hours of driving. The scenery was amazing and….

I finally saw a tumbleweed.

Peace.

 

 

Johnny, Garry, and me

From 1:00 to 3:00 a.m. Tuesday morning, I put the remote down because I knew there was nothing else on television as interesting to me as American Masters: Johnny Carson on PBS.

For 30 years Johnny Carson held court on the Tonight Show.

As a young kid, I couldn’t wait to be old enough to stay up for the Tonight Show.

I could hear my mom laughing and I wanted to know what it was she found so funny.

Sometimes in the summer, she would let me stay up for the monologue. Maybe the first guest if I was good. It was a rite of passage.

There wasn’t anything like that on prime time television.

When I became old enough to watch more often. I watched almost every night for years.  Not every night was a gem, but when he was on, there wasn’t any talk show that was  better.

On the documentary, several comedians talked about how their lives were changed by getting a chance to appear on the Tonight Show.

Jerry Seinfeld. David Letterman. Jay Leno. Garry Shandling. Ellen DeGeneres. Ray Romano.

A great documentary. It is online at PBS.Com if you want to watch it. No signup. No paywall. Free.

So, after I watched it that night, I noticed on my Twitter feed that Garry Shandling had tweeted about the show.

Garry Shandling was the star and brains behind a wonderful piece of television history called The Larry Sanders Show. It was about a man who had a talk show and all that went on in front of and behind the cameras on such an endeavor.  The show had a great cast and wonderful writers. Shows like The Office and 30 Rock owe a lot to him. He blazed the trail they are now following.

Anyway, the tweet went as follows,”I think Peter Jones, director of the Johnny Carson doc did a fantastic job. Don’t make me tweet it a third time!”

I looked at that for a while and remembered the story he told near the end of the documentary about where he was the day Johnny passed away and how he felt and reacted to the news. Very moving story.

So, I sent the following tweet, “would it have killed you to wear a tie?”

With that I closed Twitter for the night.

A few hours later, I looked at Twitter to see what everyone was up to.

In my mentions was a response from Garry Shandling.

It said,”yes (Funny).”

Most of my interaction on Twitter is with you folks that come here to this blog and I really enjoy the conversations we have. On a few occasions, I have had something I wrote re-tweeted or Favorited by people who do comedy for a living. It is such a cool thing when it happens.

Several hours before this exchange with Mr. Shandling, I wrote a tweet to Andy Kindler that he retweeted along with eight others.

That tweet went like this,” Stern on America’s Got Talent.Kiss on Dancing With The Stars. Ted Nugent on politics. Maybe the Mayans meant 2011.”

I was happy and as always surprised by the reaction, but it pales in comparison to Garry Shandling saying “(Funny)”.

I guess this falls into the #humblebrag category.

So be it.

Peace.

 

 

 

 

Saturday Potpourri

Usually this would be called Friday Potpourri but it is after midnight. So Saturday Potpourri it is.

Let’s see. Earlier in the week there was quite the commotion on Twitter. It seems the President mentioned his position on gay marriage had evolved to the point that he was okay with it, but it was still up to the individual states to decide on what they wanted. All other news was pushed to the side while Twitter had one of those typical timeline takeovers. On and on it went. A full day of that with no end in sight.

Until a strange thing happened.

Time magazine released the advance picture of their next cover.

The story was about breastfeeding and what the cutoff should be.

I doubt that Time gives a flier one way or the other about this topic. They just wanted the cover.  Which was of a mom with her son. He was standing on a chair. I think he is three years old. And it appears that he is breastfeeding.

As we learned from the Janet Jackson Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction, nothing gets attention like a partially uncovered breast.

Most of the comments ranged from eww to EWWWWW!!

What is interesting here is the fact that the conversation never really went back to the gay marriage topic.

So, I guess that is settled. Good job, Twitter!

While I am writing this, I am listening to Rita Wilson’s debut album AM/FM.

Really well done. She has a very light touch to her singing.

And the song choices are stellar.

All I Have To Do Is Dream.  Never My Love.  Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues.

My favorite tweet of mine over the past week is this one:

If Samuel Adams Boston Lager is so damn good, why do they make 20 other flavors?

Sunday is Mothers Day.

I know how it sneaks up on people.  Maybe there should be more advertising.

Here at the Bellbottom Blog, we have picked up some new visitors according to the stats.

So, let me take a second to thank you for coming here.  It has been gratifying the kind words you folks have shared with me, either in the comments or on Twitter.

The last post had two of my favorite comments since I started this thing.

As I mentioned when I started this blog in  January, feel free to leave a comment or ask a question. I read every comment and try to respond to all.

So, until the next time…

Peace.

 

 

 

Respect

This one comes from a trip to the grocery store.

As I was checking my purchases out through the U-Scan, the woman in charge of the area said,”Did you stop lifting weights?”

The guy at the next scanner and I turned around at the same time.

She was looking at him.

He said, ” Yeah, a long time ago. Do I know you?”

“I remember when you used to work here.”

“That was 13 years ago.”

“I never forget a face, but I have a hard time remembering names. Do you remember that blonde girl you had a crush on? She got married a few years ago.”

He stopped his scanning and turned to face this woman who knew so much about his life from his brief time working at this store. They fell into a conversation in which he got her caught up on what he had been up to since she had last seen him.

It was like watching a reunion of sorts.

There are people like this in all of our lives. They observe everything quietly. Not in an intrusive way. Casually.

We blow by them. Paying little, if any, attention to these folks.

In this case, I am sure it was because he was so young and it never occurred to him that the quiet older  lady might have something to contribute to his life. Maybe her knowledge about working there. Maybe something else. He missed out back then but today he hopefully learned a valuable lesson.

Not every old person is a fountain of knowledge, but it is worth a brief conversation to find out one way or another.

Peace.

 

We’re Finally On Our Own

This post is a little late. But I couldn’t get it out of my head, so here we go.

On May 4, there was a remembrance for the people killed and wounded at Kent State University in 1971.

So , let me take you back to those times.

As a teenager , one of the things that all males of my age had in the back of our minds was the draft. The Selective Service had a lottery to determine in what order young men of draft age could be called upon to serve their country. Your date of birth was the determining factor.

If, for instance , June 4 was called first, everyone with that birth date would be first in line to go into the service.

Every year the lottery would take place.

Why was there such concern about this, you ask?  Well, we were at war in a country called Vietnam.  We had been for several years and there didn’t seem to be any end in sight.

Now there was a way out of the draft using something called deferments.  But as the manpower requirements increased, less exemptions were allowed.

There were protests all over the country, especially at college campuses, where the highest number of people affected by the draft were. Some fairly peaceful protests, some not so much.

This day at Kent State, there were some protests and the National Guard had been called out in response to someone burning the ROTC building earlier in the week.

But, and this turns out to be a very important “but”, classes were still going on.

At some point, the protesters and the Guard found themselves at a standoff.

Teargas canisters were fired into the group and the students threw them back.

A haze developed in the area. The Guard started to retreat and then, for reasons that remain a mystery to this day, the Guard opened fire on the students.

A single volley of bullets killed four young people and wounded nine more.

Not all of the casualties were actively involved in the protest.

Just kids walking past the commotion on the way to their next class.

I can hardly believe,   all these years later, that such a thing happened on an American campus.  But even harder to believe is the school of thought that those kids had it coming. I guarantee you that kind of thought exists to this very day.

A couple of days later, two students were shot at Jackson State.

The title of this post comes from a Neil Young song called “Ohio”.

Tin soldiers and Nixon’s coming

We’re finally on our own

This summer I hear the drumming

Four dead in Ohio

The war continued on for a few more years.  The draft lottery ended the year I would have been eligible for it.

The legacy of that war and time have been argued ever since then, with a begrudging admittance that maybe we should not have been there in the first place.

In my family,my cousin Kurt, was a soldier in Vietnam.

One day in 1969, he was killed while in a helicopter. He had been wounded two times before but went back into combat knowing all too well the risk.

20 years old. One of the 55,000 names on a wall in D.C.

I don’t write about politics even though I have always had an interest in the subject.

But I almost always end these posts with one word because I really believe in it.

Peace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dad: An Appreciation Part 1

He is fine. Still alive and kicking.

I just think lately we see too many posts about people who have just died.  Followed by memorials, most very touching, that include the phrase, if only I had said this while they were still around.

I am going to talk for a little while about my dad today.

Born in 1927, he was the youngest of five.

The family didn’t have much money. His mom was a hardworking woman who took in laundry from neighbors to help make ends meet.

His father was a difficult man. He squandered most of the money he made. His selfish attitude in monetary matters was not looked upon with favor by the different landlords they had. Dad said, they moved a lot as kids “one step ahead of the sheriff.”

His dad worked on houses often using his kids as unpaid help. My dad, and all my aunts and uncle, could wallpaper, paint and do simple carpentry, at a very young age.

Growing up in Fort Wayne, during the Great Depression, was not something that the kids look back on with any bad feelings. They often talk about how they had to make their own fun. I have teased them that over the years most of their childhood stories end with, “and then we picked up your Dad  and ran.” All harmless childhood pranks, but running was involved.

They were all raised Catholic and went to Catholic schools, that were full of the discipline those schools are legendary for.  Nuns with rulers and the like.

Eventually, Dad was ready to graduate from high school and enter into the Navy.

The year was 1945. By the late spring of that year, Germany had been defeated, but Japan was still fighting island by island.

But before he left home a disturbing incident happened.

First, a little background, in those days it wasn’t uncommon for extended families to live under one roof. Such was the case at Dad’s house. his sister and her husband lived with them.

One night, his father came home in a particularly foul mood. Screaming about wanting to kill everyone in the house.

He was met on the front porch by Dad’s brother-in-law, who was wielding a shotgun. My uncle had a furious temper which came in very handy that night. He convinced my grandfather to leave by promising him he would shoot him right there and then.

As the rest of the family watched and listened from the inside of the house, my grandfather left, never to be seen again. He moved to Ohio and raised another family.

Dad went into the Navy and while his ship was sailing across the Pacific to Japan, Pres. Truman dropped two atomic bombs on the Japanese mainland forcing a surrender and ending the war.

Dad finished his year in the military.and went to a school in Chicago to learn about being an auto mechanic.

Came back to Fort Wayne and was working at a filling station, when a chance encounter would change his life.

In the olden days, dear readers, at a filling station the attendant would come out to your car and do the following: ask how much gas you wanted and while filling it to the requested amount would clean the windshield, check the oil and water, even check the tires.

On  this occasion, when he was completing the transaction, the woman said that he had shortchanged her. Giving her change back for a ten when she had given him a twenty.

That moment led to a date and then another and another.

He went to work for International Harvester.

They eventually got married. June 6, 1953.

They bought a house.

Three years later,  I came along.

He left Harvester and got a job with the Post Office as a letter carrier. There was less money but better job security.

My younger brother came along in 1959.

One constant of my Dad’s life was his love for bowling. Every Wednesday night for as long as I can remember he would join his buddies in a bowling league. NOTHING got in the way of his bowling night. And once or twice a year, they would travel to a bowling tournament for the weekend.

It wasn’t until my own adulthood that I fully appreciated what must have went on during those trips. I just knew that the entire car reeked of smoke. Let’s say these guys were a thirsty bunch too.

As far as being a Dad doing Dad things, he took us to baseball practices and a youth bowling league. Taught us how to throw and play catch.

He was a little gruff.

One day when I was about ten, my mom said,”Why don’t you kids ask your Dad anything? You come and ask me. He wants to know why.”

I said, ” He always says no. Why would I ask if I know the answer.?”

“Oh,” she said and left it there.

Later she had me go ask him something and for the first time he said yes.

That was a special moment for us.

As I learned about his father in my later years, I began to understand how difficult it must of been for Dad to be a father himself.  He didn’t have an example to follow. He learned what not to do, but he had to learn the rest of it on his own with considerable help from Mom ,of course.

I have more to talk about , so we will pick this up next time.

Peace.

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