Category Archives: Just for Fun Stories

Fun With Chemistry

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I think this blog has been a little too serious lately. I was going to share the last in our series about long marriages, but it can wait. As you know, if you have been keeping up, we are in the editing process with our memoir. Sadly, a few of my favorite stories have been lost in this process, and will not make it to the final draft. That’s bad for the book, but good for the blog. I will share one of my favorites with you now. My junior year at Bradley University was easier than the first two years but not without challenges.  

One Thursday afternoon I took a quick nap with my friend Dianne after lunch. We were just nap buddies.  We both had the time between classes and I wouldn’t have to go all the way back to my apartment. I very rarely actually fell asleep during the day but just rested. Unfortunately, this day was the exception. I was late. When I rushed into the lab, my partner George was there and set to start. He had not given up on me, but had started some homework on one of the lab benches. I apologized and explained my dilemma. He was fascinated and asked me to share some of my worldly wisdom on women. While a good example of the blind leading the blind, unfortunately, this became the predominate topic of conversation that afternoon. We probably should have paid a little more attention to properly interpreting our instructions.

            We had an idea about the identity of the unknown compound. In order to prove it, we needed to make a derivative. As we began, one of the professors brought a group of freshmen students into our lab, to take a test. Sitting at the benches, they could be spread apart properly to eliminate temptation.

We were still quietly discussing our topic of the day when we reached the part of the procedure which, was marked in quotes, “A vigorous reaction will occur.” If we had been focusing, we probably could have anticipated what happened next. As we added one compound to the other, the mixture started boiling rapidly. We stopped the addition, and turned off the flame. This only seemed to make it mad. A fume of white smoke was now filling the hood. That particular hood never seemed to work very well. Soon the beaker was sputtering and then began jumping up and down. The smoke was now pouring into the lab. We were still trying to control the reaction when one of the professors came in and rescued the freshmen, who had started to cough and wheeze from the smoke. The dense white smoke had now covered the entire ceiling of the lab. When I say cover, I mean, you could not see the ceiling.

             Another professor came in and yelled, “Who is pumping hydrochloric acid into my instruments?” He stopped only long enough to give us a dirty look and disappeared again. We finally threw a couple of handfuls of ice on the mess and left the room coughing and gagging. To this day, it still bothers me a little, that, while the precious Freshmen were quickly saved, us poor Jr. Chemists were left by two professors to die. By the time we re-entered the lab, George had explained, in great detail, the reaction which had occurred and all the noxious gasses generated. George was even higher on the geek scale than I. Think Sheldon Cooper with more personality. The lab experiment that should have taken about three hours, wound up taking about six. It was at that point that I realized, even the topic of girls, can cause problems.

Get Your Mirrors at Walmart

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            New Years Eve was spent alone watching an old movie, there was some sparkling cider, a smooch or two with Crystal and then to bed shortly after midnight (cause that’s what older couples do). I woke up bright eyed and bushy tailed on January first. Crystal was still in bed. I decide to pick up a couple of things for dad at Walmart (where else?). The difference struck me immediately. At ten AM the parking lot was practically empty. I parked directly in front of the door. Gone was the annoying (sorry) Salvation Army bell ringer; no gilt ridden Merry Christmas today.  As I walked in the contrast from just a few days prior was amazing. Where were the multitudes of people busting down every aisle. There were no lines or employees to speak of. I also noted the dramatic change as I entered. All of the colorful toys, gifts, and the multitude of candies, cookies, cakes and decorations had been replaced by yoga mats, exercise balls, and protein powders.

            Oh Walmart, ye know us so well. We Americans are a fickle people in need of constant direction. It is now time to give all of those New Year’s resolutions some life, all be it temporary. I promise that by the third week or so in January those exercise balls will once again be replaced by some less expensive TVs. The yoga mats and protein powders will give way to valentines’ decorations and ironically chocolates. The time for fasting will be over; we will once again be looking for a sweet treat and an excuse to celebrate.

             All year long Walmart stays one step ahead of us. After the Valentine’s Day love fades the ugly Christmas sweaters will be replaced by ‘Kiss Me I’m Irish’. Corned beef and cabbage will be on sale. Then the Easter bunny will be displayed in multiple aisles and once again it will be candy time. Though I do look forward to those Cadbury eggs and jelly beans. Then it will be time for the Fourth of July and all of the stinky, smoky stuff, flags and red white and blue shirts, etc. Immediately after Labor Day we will be getting ready for Halloween. Finally, the day after Halloween out comes Christmas. Oh Thanksgiving is in there somewhere. But how much can you do with turkeys. The cycle is complete.

            In a consumer society, Walmart has our number, or numbers; dollars that is. Sure it’s all about marketing and maximizing profits, but there’s more. Is Walmart really reflecting our increasingly diverse society or telling us what they need us to be. Are we really a culture that lives for the holidays? Do we show love by what we buy or the number of lights and flags we display? Don’t get me wrong; I love driving around this time of year and seeing all of the beautiful decorations. But I wonder what goes on behind the lights. Why are marriages and families in our country under such stress? It reminds me of the movie Elf; when Santa’s sleigh needed extra propulsion because the true Christmas spirit was no longer enough to magically make the sleigh fly.

            I am ever hopeful for this country. But I believe we need to spend less time believing in Walmart and more showing actual, noncommercial love.

            Just one extra note; ugly Christmas sweaters are currently 75% off at Walmart. It will be Halloween before you know it. Just sayin.

Its resolution time entering Walmart
Empty Aisles
Ugly Sweaters 75% off

Riding Henry

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I still remember the first time I got on Henry’s back. He was a bright shiny new blue two wheeler bicycle with classic balloon tires. My feet barely hit the peddles. But it was OK; the training wheels would keep me safe. As I recall, they weren’t on too long. Between my dad and one of my friends, I was free of them in no time. Furthermore, I was free to roam. In those days (1960s) Oak Lawn was a safe community. As long as I told mom where I was going, I just needed to be back by dinner. The few little detours, I took were better kept secret. I was particularly fond of the prairie near Stony Creek. It was there I invented BMX biking. That’s right! It was me! My course had ramps for jumping, sharp curves, hills and valleys, and even a water hazard (Stony Creek) to be jumped. I never got credit for the sport because I couldn’t tell anyone.

Mom knew better than to press me on the bumps and bruises. I did my best to maintain Henry. Bending the metal was easy with dad’s pliers. The broken spokes were a different story. Still, Henry always got me wherever I needed to go. I went all over within about a mile and a half radius. The pet store was one of my favorite stops. About a mile from my home, in addition to a wonderful selection of fascinating animals, it also had the best local assortment of penny candy in the area. Whenever I could scrape together a quarter, I was off to the pet store.

In the spring of 1967, I was riding Henry back from a Scout meeting, when a tornado hit Oak Lawn.  There is a chapter in our book dedicated to the ordeal. To make a long story short, I was fine, but Henry got a few more bruises. It was shortly thereafter that Henry retired as his replacement arrived. By a strange coincidence he was named Henry too. He looked nothing like his predecessor. Henry II was a sleek red 10 speed road bike with ultra thin tires. He was built for speed. I once got him up to 40 mph on level ground. However, he didn’t like my course at Stony Creek. I can’t remember a time when the front wheel rim wasn’t bent. He still rode just fine.

Henry II allowed me to extend my biking radius. Several times a summer I would ride out to the Forest Preserves about five miles from home. I always love the forest. Once, my mom accompanied me. I couldn’t understand why she had so much trouble with the hills; or why she complained about soreness the next day…..Now I get it.

My biggest adventure with Henry came during the summer of my 16th year. My friend, Mark, and I took a fifty-four mile trip (one way) to Starved Rock State Park in Kankakee, IL. I learned a lot on that trip. During the first mile and a half, I learned that riding with a full knap sack on your back is not a good idea. The extra weight and racing seat reminded me, in an extremely uncomfortable way, of my manhood. Fortunately, the knap sack strapped nicely to the rack on the back of the bike. Secondly, as we passed our first multiday old road kill, we realized what we had been missing all those years as we quickly passed in a car. Thirdly, was that wet brakes don’t work. I slid into a car on my way home.

Finally, I learned what I had seen, but missed my whole life. As we went on our route of back roads and former major thoroughfares, state routes, and county roads, the world appeared somehow different. Our journey took us through seemingly endless corn and soy bean fields and through meadows, pastureland and groves of trees. It gave us a renewed feeling of appreciation for how truly great this country really was. We stopped at a somewhat dilapidated truck stop for lunch. The concrete and asphalt was all cracked and the building itself in desperate need of repairs and paint. To us, however, it was an oasis. As we enjoyed our burgers, we talked to the waitress. She was impressed with our adventure. She told us about how this diner had once, before the interstate, been a Mecca for truckers.

The rest of the journey was fairly uneventful. The last few miles seemed to take forever. I still remember our relief when we finally entered the park. We paid the two dollars for the camp site, pitched our tent, and gathered firewood. Mark’s parents and my mom drove down to meet us for dinner (I cooked). Then they drove back and we spent the next day exploring and rock climbing above the Illinois River.

After a second night of camping, it was time for our return trip. We set a fast pace, covering the first 21 miles in an hour. The trip to the park had taken around five hours. We made it back in just three. It pays to have a few adventures as you grow up.

I kept Henry II through our marriage. As the girls grew, we would ride together. He went with us as we moved from Illinois to Michigan to Indiana and finally here in Ohio. His front wheel was still bent and at best half of his gears worked. Over the years, I rode him on average maybe once or twice a summer, but never far. One day, a couple of years ago, an older man with  ragged clothes and a scraggly beard was passing by and noticed him in the garage. We talked for a while. I asked him if he wanted Henry II. He seemed thrilled. While I never saw the man again, I like to think Henry II is still being ridden around somewhere.

Mark and me at Starved Rock

The Gift Grinch     

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That’s me! I am the Gift Grinch! When it comes to giving gifts I am probably fine. I say probably because I don’t do a lot of Christmas shopping. I generally buy for Crystal and for my dad. Crystal is the real shopper. I think she starts Christmas shopping in July. Of course books are a big part of her shopping list. I think she is just determined that everyone should enjoy reading as much as she does. She is affectionately known as the book nana. She is also happy with whatever you give her. I think gratefulness is in her nature.

It’s not that I’m never grateful. I have a great life. I am blessed with a wonderful wife and family. We live in a nice house in a very pleasant small town. We basically have everything we need. However, I definitely have a problem accepting gifts. It is never the fault of the giver. I know my wife and daughters spend a lot of time planning and shopping.

I am truly grateful for all of the efforts and truly grateful for the sentiments behind them. It’s just the gifts and my reactions, I have problems with. Oh, I often say all the right things and smile appropriately, but that’s not enough. The real problem is that I am surrounded by women. Women can tell when you are sincere, unless you are a really good liar, which I’m not.

You see, I have simple desires. When I need something, I will either buy it or start a prolonged process of searching for it. Often, I will have a list in my mind and when I stumble onto what I need, buy it. For example, I have needed a new golf bag for a while. My old one was still functional, but getting holes and more and more worn. I first went to a few stores. Before long, I realized that golf bags are overpriced. I wasn’t going to pay that for a bag to hold my clubs, and no one else should either. The bag won’t increase your enjoyment of the game or improve your swing. In my research I did however decide on exactly the perfect type of bag. I wasn’t about to mention it to my daughters or Crystal. They would probably spend way too much and buy one. Instead, I just kept my eyes open for a few years. One day Susan, our neighbor, mentioned that her church was having a garage sale. Always trying to be supportive of our Christian community, I checked it out. There it was…my bag. It was slightly worn, but marked down to five dollars. I’ve been using it ever since.

OK, so what happens when I do get a nice, meaningful gift from those who care about me? Maybe the best example which my girls still talk about happened a few years ago. My favorite charcoal grill finally broke down. I had picked the neighbors Webber out of the garbage and used it for another ten years. Naturally, since I grill quite often, I went immediately out to look for a new one. Webbers were too expensive, so over the next couple of years, I tried a few others. None worked as well. My girls knew that and went in together to buy a really good grill. I pulled the paper off and looked at the picture. It wasn’t a Webber. It looked more like one of the grills I had already tried and trashed. OK, I’m sorry. I once again need to apologize to my girls. I can’t help what my face does. They instantly knew I wasn’t happy. All of their planning and conspiring to please me were in vain. So I took the grill back added a few bucks and got my new Webber. I’ve been happily using it ever since. I’ve also been periodically thanking them with grilled food. Somehow, it will never be enough. My initial Grinchy reaction may never be overcome. It does, however, provide for fun stories from time to time with the moniker, Oh that’s just dad.

Another example: A few years ago I got a new set of knives. I didn’t need a set of knives. I still used the same knives I had used for the previous twenty years. They were getting a little smaller from continuous sharpening. I had lost one and the handle was loose on another, but it was still functional. Again I made ‘the face’. SORRY! Finally my favorite knife’s handle broke off. It was time for a new set. WOW, look at that I found a new set of knives under the kitchen table. Didn’t someone give that to me for Christmas or my birthday? Of course, it was from Michelle. I used it for a while and came to a stunning revelation. This set was actually better than my old set. I finally called Michelle and earnestly thanked her. The only problem was that the set was from Elizabeth. OH well….do you see the problem? That’s why I’m the Gift Grinch.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not without hope. If the Grinch could do it so can I.

And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow, Stood puzzling and puzzling: “How could it be so?” “It came without ribbons! It came without tags!” “It came without packages, boxes or bags!” And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! “Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.” “Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”

It is nice to be understood and accepted by your loved ones for who you are. Of course, I will try to be more grateful for whatever I get. After all, it’s really the love of the giver that’s the real gift. Jesus knows that.

Merry Christmas!

The grinch grin

Climbing

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The other day I was with my dad on the bank of the Scioto River watching the boats. He had a place to sit. I went to climb on some large rocks by the river. I didn’t say anything, but I almost fell into the river while trying to sit. While that might have been amusing (America’s Funniest style) it made me remember a few even funnier things about my youth.

Two things I was an absolute natural at growing up, were swimming and climbing. I was quite young when I decided I didn’t want to stay in the shallow end of the pool anymore. I sat by the edge of the pool and watched someone doing the crawl. She obviously knew what she was doing. I watched her hands and then her feet. I watched how she turned her head for air. Then I got in the water and just did the same thing. I wasn’t perfect at first, but in a few minutes, I could swim the width of the pool. Mom’s jar dropped as she watched. She couldn’t believe it. I later took lessons, but that was just for fun.

The second thing I took to almost as soon as I could walk was climbing. If mom were alive, she could tell you when I fist conquered the coffee table. I can’t remember. The first experience I remember was when I figured out how to turn kitchen drawers into steps. With the aid of the toaster I was on top of the refrigerator. Mom’s reaction was classic, the expression of horror (which I lived for), a few words in German, and a rush to my rescue.

When I was eleven, mom and I went to Europe for six weeks. While in Austria, I got the idea of mountain climbing. Mom reluctantly agreed. She picked a relatively safe well traveled peek with a well maintained trail to the top. It was during that hike that I first realized that mom was getting old. While she was in relatively good shape for a forty-one year old, she couldn’t keep up with my young legs. I was continuously outdistancing her and waiting. We would talk for a while and then I would again jog ahead. I was excited and couldn’t wait to see the next overlook or see what lay ahead. Finally I reached the end of the trail. Mom was nowhere in sight. However, there were another hundred feet of slightly angled rock cliff to the very peak. Excited, I began climbing. I was about at the half way point when the relative silence was broken by mom’s scream. She ordered me down immediately. I pleaded, but she would not relent. This was the first time I had looked down. All of a sudden I was aware of how high I was. It took three times as long to get down as the climb took. I now know why a cat gets stuck in a tree. After a brief lecture, we both enjoyed the view and rested before the trip down.

Then there were the trees. From the first time I found an easy climb tree (one with a lot of low branches) I was hooked. The world looks so much different from 20, 30 even 40 feet up. You start to see things from a different perspective. The world seems like a different place. Even as a child you start to realize, how did Einstein put it, everything is relative. From the top of the apple tree in our back yard, I could see the roof tops of over thirty houses, plus my grade school (yuck), plus my favorite baseball field (yeah!). My average sized mom (5’3”) looked tiny, as did all of my earthbound problems. From his point of view, God must laugh at how serious we take ourselves.

I used tree climbing to my advantage whenever I could. In scouts, I would climb a tree when lost to figure out which way to go. In college, I would demonstrate my skills to impress the ladies. I was sure that’s what they were looking for. When I looked down, I knew they had to be thinking, if he’s that good at climbing what else is he good at? Or maybe that bewildered look just meant this guy is crazy, what am I doing here? However, most of the time the tree climbing ploy work in, if nothing else, starting a conversation.

Then there was rock climbing. I took two girls (individually not together) to Staved Rock State Park for rock climbing. First there was Jan. She was athletic and a photographer. We spent the day climbing freestyle up and down the moderately inclined cliffs over the Illinois River taking pictures as we went. We cooked out and drove the eighty miles back to campus before dark. It was a fun day until I got to my fraternity party that night. I had missed the football game. It was probably the only game we might have won if I hadn’t been AWOL. It was a great day and I was OK with a little condemnation.

The second girl’s name was Crystal, whom I wound up marrying a few years later. This time the only condemnation came from her. Oh she had a great time. She wasn’t nearly as athletic as Jan, but I was careful to keep her close and keep the climbs easy. We rested frequently. I also took a multitude of pictures. She loved the adventure and kept saying that her family wouldn’t believe it. That might have been true, if I hadn’t documented the entire adventure on film. The problem came after I had started the evening fire. I finally realized that I had been shooting the entire day without changing film. 35mm film has at the most 36 exposures. I must have shot fifty before I checked. You guessed it. For the first time in my life, I had forgotten to load the camera. I blame Crystal. I was obviously so excited that she agreed to go that……OK it was totally my fault. To this day, that is one of the only stupid things I have done for which, Crystal has yet to forgive me. We have gotten a lot of mileage out of the story though. I think when you’re married for as long as we have been, you learn to look at your lives a little more like you are seeing them from the top of a very tall tree (and with a little humor).

Jan at Starved Rock 001

 

This is Jan about 100 feet above the Illinois River at starved Rock State Park. It would have been Crystal but ……………….

Boys and Girls

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Misconceptions about the sexes have been going on since God created us. However, each individual must learn those painful lessons for themselves. When I was in sixth grade I became a Patrol Boy. I would stand on the street corner and tell the apparently blind, younger children, when it was safe to cross the street. Then, if it was cold enough, would get free hot chocolate before going to my class. I still remember the day Nancy, one of my classmates, smiled at me, thanked me and offered me a hard candy. I stood there and wondered if we were engaged. She was cute and friendly. I could have done worse.

The next year was the special after school lecture. Dads and sons were there on one evening, daughters and moms on another. I was incensed. Making me go back to that place for a second time in the same day! Was this a dictatorship? Apparently it was. The subject that evening was what everyone, and at the same time nobody wanted to know about, SEX. In particular, they talked about what was going on with our female counterparts. They talked about women and their periods. I think there was a collective groin of disbelief. Then one brave adolescent spoke out; really, every month? Then the fateful question came. When do boys start showing real interest in girls? The answer was simple. At different times, but generally when the girls shapes start changing. Then my ADD took over my brain function. That simple answer sent me into another realm. I had never really noticed, but girls and women don’t look the same. That process was going on while we were sitting there. Some of my classmates did look curiously different after the summer. Some seemed to be changing during this year or last year. Some of the changes were subtle and slow, others seemed to happen overnight. Which ones had changed and which ones were in the process? My mind raced through a list of my classmates. I know they talked about a lot of other stuff that evening, stuff that might have helped me, but I was essentially gone. On the way home dad asked if I had any questions. I said no while in my mind I was screaming, ARE YOU KIDDING ME!

The next year we were forced to take dance classes after school. Apparently, you have to dance in High School. I later found out that fortunately, unlike classes dancing was optional in high school. I opted to not. Our dance classes weren’t too bad though. Somehow I managed to keep the same partner through most of it. Sandy was a very nice young girl. She smiled and even laughed at some of my jokes. I thought about asking her out that year and even the next year. Sandy was pretty, but she didn’t look like Rachel Welch (sexy movie star at the time). I worried about peer pressure and judgment. I also worried about rejection. I wasn’t very good at reading signs and now that I knew girls were different, what if I had misinterpreted the signals? This kind of uncertainty followed me through my high school years.

Freshman year, I was awkward and shy around girls. While that didn’t improve much, the next year I took a shot. I asked a pretty girl with a leather jacket who hung with the tough group just off the school grounds. She said something mean and called me a name. OK, she was probably a bad choice, but the damage was done. Message received; girls can be mean.

The next year I was shocked when one of the prettiest girls in school asked to be my chemistry lab partner. Unfortunately, she only wanted me for my brain, even though I was willing to give so much more. We both suffered that year. Even though I liked chemistry, I found myself continuously distracted. We both might have gotten better than C+ if she hadn’t kept leaning over the bench so often. I just couldn’t tell her.

Senior year at least I found some common ground. I was good at sports. I gave some private tennis and skiing lessons to girls who wanted to learn. At least I was learning to interact one on one. They no longer seemed mean or manipulative.

Finally in college most of the clicks were gone. Everyone had at least one common goal, survive as painlessly as possible and inevitably graduate. Fortunately, I got lucky and fell into a great group of friends who more or less stuck together for four years. Finally, one of the girls revealed the secret to dating. If you don’t ask, they won’t say yes. She went on to explain that if I was tactful and my timing was OK (i.e. never through a bathroom door), there were only two possible outcomes; either you would make some girl feel a little better about herself (someone wanted her), or she would say yes. Apparently, I had been looking at this dating thing all wrong. You don’t have to understand women to ask them out (thank God). What a relief that was. Suddenly it struck me. This was no longer a problem in sociology, at which I suck. It was now a simple statistical problem, which I could handle.

In my time at Bradley University I had the opportunity to make many young ladies feel good about themselves. I also got to date some really nice girls. Some even surprised me. One time when I noticed a very cute girl (way out of my league) laughing at my corny jokes I thought I would take a shot. When she said ‘sure’ my mouth just fired before my brain could stop it. I said “REALLY?!?” They say seven is God’s perfect number, so it might not be a coincidence that Crystal was the seventh girl (I barely knew her) I asked to the semi-formal dance my senior year. Statistics work.

So what lessons have we learned? A really good golfer noticed a similar situation in his sport, when he noted that 100% of the puts that are short of the hole don’t make it in. Go out and make someone feel a little better about themselves. Finding the one starts by finding someone.

As far giving advice to young people, just stick with everyone goes through awkward times at their age, but it will get better. They won’t believe you, but at least they know you care.

band geek 001

 

I know! How did the girls in my high school keep their hands off me?

Who Wants a Robot?  I Do! by Crystal

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When we were growing up in the 1960’s and 1970’s robots were talked about all the time.  We believed that when we became adults, everyone would have a robot doing the housework, cutting the grass and maybe driving the car.  Of course, that didn’t happen and hasn’t happened.  We also thought that there would be a colony on the moon and vacations in space.  After all we watched Star Trek and Lost in Space and NASA was on the news all the time.  John Glenn and Neil Armstrong were household names.  They were our heroes and many kids wanted to be astronauts or cowboys.

It is 2015 and we don’t have the robot, which does everything.  We are still vacuuming, mopping the floors, cleaning the bathrooms, etc.  We do have dishwashers, microwaves and electric cars (some of us do), but we have to unload the dishwasher, clean the microwave and charge the car.  This is very disappointing to us baby boomers who believed so much of what we saw on TV and in the movies.  I envisioned myself lying in the hammock while the robot brought me ice tea and cookies that it had made before it cut the grass and did the dishes.  I imagined having discussions with the neighbors as we went around the block on our hover boards about what new things the robots could do.  I could see the robot in my imagination following my kids around picking up their dirty clothes, reminding them of their homework assignments and giving them their lunches when they left for school.  But I ended up doing all of that and more.  Maybe by 2020 things will change. Maybe by then robots will be doing the housework and yard work and advising us on our investments and doing our taxes.  Of course, there will be decisions to make like what should we call our robot: Max? Sylvia?   I will just have to get myself some ice tea and a brownie and think about it.

Ron’s Corner:

Crystal and I have always been well suited for each other. I too believe robots will have an increasing role in our future. However, as a kid of eight or nine years old, I wasn’t very patient. I’m sure I had ADD, although I don’t think that existed back then. Like Crystal, I too was a dreamer. I was also a bit of a geek. I had watched all of the sci-fi movies of the time. While it was a few years before “Star Trek” or even “Lost in Space”, one of my favorite movies was the 1951 classic “The Day the Earth Stood Still”. The all powerful robot, Gort, inspired me. All I needed was the right opportunity. My big break came when mom’s electric can opener broke. The handle broke off,  but the motor still worked. I quickly pulled the robot motor from the trash and jumped on Henry (my bike). It was time for a visit to the robot parts supply facility. Back then, there was little in the way of security around Oak Lawn’s city dump. For most, the smell was enough to keep them away. Somehow it always smelled like someone had just thrown up. The rats didn’t seem to mind. For me, I got used to the smell, and couldn’t resist the scavenging opportunities. This time I was focused. I found just what I needed and returned the materials to my basement La-bor-a- tory.

In a matter of hours, I had assembled my masterpiece. Gort II (I wasn’t worried about Copyright laws) was ready for a trial run. Mine wasn’t quite as sophisticated as the movie robot, but my imagination could certainly more than make up the difference. The motor was mounted on top of an old rusty roller skate. The rubber bands went from the motor gears to the skate axel. The whole apparatus was enclosed in an old gallon turpentine can with the bottom skillfully removed (ironically, and without mom’s knowledge, using the new can opener).

Once plugged in, the motor made its usual grinding noise, but nothing happened for about thirty seconds. It took a while for the rubber band drive train to tighten. Then Gort II took off. It shot forward a good foot or two. The noise continued until it again shot forward. Nothing could stop it (except maybe running out of extension cord). I figured the extension cord was my failsafe. How else could mankind keep the robot from destroying the world?

Mom was impressed, but had learned not to ask where all of the parts came from (it just upset her to know). I played and imagined for a day or two, then disassembled Gort II for some other future project.

Yes, along with Crystal, I have no doubt that robots will play an extensive role in the future of mankind. But for now I am quite happy for where we are. Flip a switch and the light goes on. We don’t have to beat our clothes on a rock to get them clean and the TV has some 200 stations. As for the future, it will take care of itself. Carpe diem.

Earth Stood Still 001

Age of Innocence

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Our book, as a memoir, is replete with nostalgia. Stories of youth, growing pains and local and national perspectives are detailed in story form. One incident covered, and often referred to as the end of the age of innocence, in this country, is the assassination of President Kennedy. Both Crystal and I remember in detail that tragedy, and its affects, both national and personally.

Innocence is a diverse and encompassing term. While the Kennedy tragedy was felt instantly and universally throughout the developed world, other changes were underway which would continue to affect our world in a more microcosmic and personal way. We grew up in a time when neighborhood meant something special. Mothers were generally at home and always networking. If there was trouble in the area the moms knew about it. Even as a kid, it was safe to walk around the neighborhood alone. You could trust that there was nothing questionable in the Halloween treats. It wasn’t that nothing bad ever happened, it just happened to strangers, in other places, and was then on the news.

Oak Lawn was a fairly safe community as I grew up in the sixties. When I went to college in 1972, Peoria had that same safe feel. Bradley University campus was basically a community of its own. You could walk up to anyone and start a conversation. While there I met people who became some of the best friends of my life. We still stay in touch.

My junior year I joined a service (helping people, not military) fraternity called APO. One evening I offered Sue, one of our little sisters, a ride home from an off campus event. It was a beautiful night for a drive. I asked if she minded taking a little detour. She agreed. I drove into one of my favorite places. About a block from my apartment was a very nice, fairly large, and heavily forested park called Bradley Park. I was there whenever I took a break from studying (far too often if you asked my dad). There was playground equipment, tennis courts, walking paths, an outdoor theater, several miles of roadways and even baseball fields. I often jogged through the park at night. After all, it was safe. That night, my great idea was to take Sue star gazing. It was a wonderfully clear, crisp fall night. I knew that the middle of the baseball field was the perfect place. It was wide open and totally devoid of outside lighting. I parked the car in the abandoned parking lot and said ‘Come with me, I want to show you something.’ I started walking purposely to the middle of the field. Sue seemed hesitant, but slowly followed me. I lay down in the middle of the field and started looking at the stars. Soon Sue joined me. I pointed out some of the few constellations I could still remember from Boy Scouts. We talked for few minutes, after which we walked back to the car, and I took her home.

About ten years later Crystal and I along with our two girls got together for dinner with Sue, her husband and children in a suburb of Chicago. That was the first time that she revealed to me that she was a little scared that night. She didn’t know me that well and I had taken her to the ‘middle of nowhere in the middle of the night’. Initially, I was shocked. How could she or anyone, for that matter, not trust me?

Since that time I’ve had a lot of occasion to reflect on that night and what it represented. I grew up being taught to show women, and for that matter, everyone respect. Never do anything my hero, John Wayne wouldn’t do. Of course, at nineteen, I was a gentleman, not a saint. If Sue had been so overwhelmed by the grandeur of the universe or my incredible ability to point out three or four constellations that she wanted to make out in the outfield, I probably wouldn’t have fought her off too hard. However, I never seriously thought about her point of view.

Several weeks later a girl was raped while walking across campus at night. This was big news in Peoria. My fraternity started a service to walk girls across campus after hours. While at that time I never made the connection, since that time Crystal and I have raised three girls. If any of them ever walked into an abandon field with a boy in the middle of the night, or even accepted a car ride with anyone they weren’t positive about, the real danger would have been me grounding them for life when they got home.

I’m glad and proud that my girls grew up safe and careful. However, I can’t say that I don’t miss being young, and living in my own personal age of innocence.

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Don’t you just love the fall?

Rites of Passage in Deer Creek State Park

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We recently took a three day trip to Dear Creek State Park. It is a really nice forested area just south of Columbus, Ohio. Dad paid for the adventure and accompanied Crystal, Lisa (our twenty-three year old) and me along with Liz, Brad and the four grandkids. Liz and Brad had to get back to work after a day and a half. They took the younger kids with them. The next day we decided to rent a motorized pontoon boat to explore the lake. We had a great time. From the shore, you really couldn’t get the full picture of how big and beautiful the lake was. We went from one end to the other. With a couple of stops, the whole trip took a little over an hour.

At one point, when we were in the middle of the lake, I had Keylan (14) and Jazymin (12) each take their turn at the helm. I knew this would be a new experience for them. Keylan had never even been on a boat larger than a row boat and neither had piloted a craft of any kind. While it was only for a couple minutes, it was, proudly, one of the first things included in their report to their parents later that evening.

All of this made me think about the many firsts we had with their mother and her sisters as they grew. Then I started thinking about my own experiences as I grew. As a parent or grandparent, these firsts seem like a simple part of growing up, but to the child,  they are a rite of passage. It is a sign that someone, who you respect, trusts you and acknowledges that you are growing up. To us adults, at some point, we don’t need or want any more acknowledgements. Getting older, and having more responsibility, gets to be less fun at some point. But to the young, my advice is: just enjoy it. The memories will last a lifetime and will help you empathize with those younger as you grow “more experienced”.

Upon reflection, my first job was, and I can’t believe dad talked mom into it, was helping take down a local carnival. I was fourteen. Don’t tell dad. I had to lie about my age. I spent the whole night working with tools, under the supervision of the regular workers, taking down a Farris wheel and a roller coaster in the mall parking lot. Before this experience, I had never even stayed up all night. I remember, when the work was done, I went into the grocery store and got a quart of chocolate milt. I downed it in about thirty seconds. Nothing ever tasted so good or well deserved.

When I was sixteen, like most kids, I learned to drive. However, I hadn’t been paying attention when they explained that we were supposed to practice before taking the lessons after school. The other two students didn’t seem to have much trouble with their lesson, so I thought no big deal. We were parked on the side street behind the school when my turn finally arrived. I got behind the wheel, adjusted my mirror as instructed. Then the instructor told me to put the car in drive and step gently on the gas. Well that car was a Ford Mustang with a V-8. As I felt for the gas, the wheel started spinning and screeching like I was in a police show chase scene. The instructor grabbed the wheel and stepped on his break. After my explanation that I had never felt the gas pedal before that day and a five minute lecture, we tried again. I did substantially better.

Warning: Crystal Don’t Read Beyond This Point…Kidding

Then there was the first real kiss. I was eighteen and had just taken a girl from school, Debbie, on an all day ski trip. I took the whole day to teach her. Half of the day we spent on the bunny hill, the other half on the intermediate slopes. Like a gentleman, I drove her right to her front door expecting her to get out. Instead, she turned to me and said ‘thanks for today.’ Then she leaned toward me for a kiss. I wasn’t a kissing virgin so I kissed back. All of a sudden, and to my amazement, there was a second tongue in my mouth. Then she started doing this thing with her tongue. Again, I had never paid attention when the other kids talked about stuff like that. Debra, if you are reading this, I don’t know if I told you at the time. You are so very, very, welcome!

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Here’s proof of Keylan driving the motor boat. Note the less than terrified passengers (dad, Crystal, Jazymin, and Lisa).

 

Going Down Hill

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Trust and understanding is at the heart of every successful marriage. Crystal and mine is no exception. In Crystal’s case, she trusts that I won’t usually do anything too stupid, but knows that I am a lot more, shall we say, adventurous than she is. She knew what she was getting. Whether rock climbing or skiing or hiking past the danger signs, I have always been a little willing to take calculated and sometimes not so calculated risks. The other day was no exception.

I had just finished my traditional post golf beer, at Hilltop Golf Course, when another member entered the clubhouse with the news. A tree had fallen, taking down power lines, and blocking the only road up the hill to the course. A storm was on the way and only a few golfers remained. There was no telling how long it would take for the power company to clear the road. A plan was devised. Anyone who was willing to take a chance could try to follow a couple of four wheel drive trucks across the golf course across an overgrown field to the small airstrip at the other end of the hill. From there, there was a paved road down to civilization.

This was one of those do and/or die decisions with an expiration time. With the storm on the horizon it was now or never. Once the heavy rain started, even the four wheel drives wouldn’t have been able to handle the mud. If I were smart, I might have left my car and gone down in one of the four wheel drive vehicles. However, the next day we were supposed to go to Crystal’s dad’s for a visit. Someone had to look in on him for a few days while Crystal’s brother and his wife were out of town.

The decision was made; and we started across the course. Hilltop is a beautiful course. Normally, I look around and admire it as I go. During this trip, however, I was just focused on following the two trucks and the van in front and on keeping at least two wheels on the cart path. One more truck was behind me; yet another reason not to get stuck. When we reached the end of the course, there was nothing but tall weeds and bushes. I took a deep breath when the first truck went up the small hill through the weeds. I waited for the van to clear the hill before I started. Years of driving experience had taught me that you want sufficient and consistent speed to maneuver obstacles. As I reached the top of the hill I was relieved to see a somewhat scruffy dirt access road on the other side. I continued to follow the van at a distance. My biggest area of focus was keeping my wheels from dropping into one of the many dips and holes in the road. One final little hill and there it was, the airstrip. By this time it had started to rain. Fortunately, the traction was still good. However, just ahead there was a three way fork in the road. The first appeared to go back toward the golf course. The second led right up to the runway only about a hundred yards ahead. The third was headed in the right direction, but you couldn’t see what was ahead. The first truck stopped. We waited for what seemed like ten minutes. I was at the top of the hill, and couldn’t tell if they were talking, or just flipping a coin. In my head I was thinking, go for the runway. I knew my little Honda could make that trip. Finally, we started up again. They went toward the unknown. I meekly followed. For a while the trail was fine. Then I stopped for a moment as I watched the three vehicles ahead disappear down a rather step downgrade into a hole in a dark forested area. If this wasn’t the right path there would be no way to back out. It was then I started to pray. Usually that was Crystal’s job when I was doing something questionable. Then I followed, slowly and carefully trying to stay on the road as bushes brushed both sides of my car simultaneously. I had lost sight of the other vehicles, and for a hundred yards or so felt very much alone.  I was half expecting to see stalled taillights at any moment. Just as my car bottomed out, I saw the darkness break. As my Honda broke into the light, I was overjoyed to see an actual paved road and three vehicles ahead of me. Soon we were out and back to civilization. I knew my car had to be covered with dirt and mud, but I didn’t stop to look. As I started up state route 36, toward Warsaw and home, the light rain turned into an all out downpour. I had to drive at about twenty miles an hour to see anything. Ten minutes earlier and I would have been stuck. That one, I owe to God. Not only did I make it home with my car intact, but it was clean, and ready for the trip.

When I look back upon the experience, I can’t help but notice how similar it was to writing “One Hundred and Fifty Years of Marriage”. It too was quite a journey.  From the interviews, to the writing, to the four or five edits of the manuscript, we learned a lot about our parents that we never knew. It was kind of like going up and down the hills I knew so well, but from a new perspective. Then we saw what was beyond those hills, new stories and different points of view. Finally, to shift gears to where we are now, staring into and entering the dark forest , not knowing if or where we will come out. We are now in the middle of our search for agents, publishers, and presses. We are on a new and very unfamiliar path. However, we take solace in the fact that there is a path, and we know the destination is close. You faithful readers will be among the first to experience with us, when we finally break from the darkness into the light. Like my little adventure, and life itself for that matter, sometimes you just have to take things one step at a time and enjoy the ride.

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A less rainy day at Hilltop Golf Course