Living the Dream

“I wanted to get up and head for the restroom but couldn’t. That was evidently part of Jack’s overall plan. Had I been able to escape I would’ve intentionally stayed gone for quite a spell.”

Amway 1997 Platinum Award

I’m an aisle person where seating is concerned. Never put me in the middle seat of an airplane. That’s only happened once and it’ll never happen again.

In church, I plop down on the outside of a pew; same thing in a restaurant booth. If it’s a meeting I’m attending, a chair at the back of the room is always taken for obvious reasons. No, it doesn’t have to do with OAB.

I view the rear of an auditorium as the perfect place to launch an escape. If a long-winded speaker rambles on and on I want to be able to bail. My aisle-seat-fetish if you can call it that began many years ago.

********************************************************

Jack was a fellow I worked with. He was a nice enough guy. We had a good working relationship and nothing more.

After a year of being my co-worker, Jack started asking me financial questions like,

How’d you like to be financially independent, Mike?”

Wouldn’t it be nice to have enough money to share with family and donate to those in need?”

Have you ever dreamed about a different lifestyle and didn’t know how to achieve it?

In all reality, I hadn’t given much thought to any of his inquiries. I was quite happy where I was.

These type questions went on for some time, with Jack often trying to get me to attend what he called a ‘non-committal financial meeting’. I generally fabricated valid reasons to turn him down, until one day he popped this question on me,

Wouldn’t you like to know that that your wife and kids would be financially taken care of should you suddenly die?”

What responsible husband could say no to that.

Sure.”, was my reply.

Before I realized it he’d lassoed me in to attending a seminar.

I told Jack I’d meet him at the building where it was being held, yet he insisted on picking me up. I should’ve sensed something was up at that point but didn’t.

When we arrived at the Sydney Laurence Auditorium, there were hundreds of other people waiting in line.

Hi Jack!”

It seemed everyone knew this guy. Many walked over and shook his hand. Jack then politely introduced them to me. Most of the folks were dressed for success.

Stuck in the middle

I was led to a seat in the middle of a row, smack-dab center of the room. There were perhaps twenty chairs on each side. Why Jack chose this location I didn’t know at the time. Evidently he’d been taught early on where to place visitors. Once again my antennas should’ve went up yet they remained down.

The meeting started with an announcer thanking everyone for coming. After his short message, an infomercial began playing on a large screen.

A younger man in the video was seated at a table in the rear of a mansion next to a swimming pool. Palm trees dotted the property. This individual began telling his life history.

Paul (not sure of the real name) was a husband/father with several kids working two jobs. The struggling dad could barely make ends meet where income was concerned. He was in debt with no visible way out.

Someone at Paul’s place of employment introduced him to something called multi-level-marketing. That was the day his life changed for the better.

Throughout the video I kept hearing a sound akin to air escaping from a hose. I glanced around spotting people spraying something into their mouths. It seemed that everyone was doing it. Jack leaned over and told me it was breath freshener. He handed me a small aerosol can.

I wanted to get up and head for the restroom but couldn’t. That was evidently part of Jack’s overall plan. Had I been able to escape I would’ve intentionally stayed gone until the brainwashing was over.

The video ended with a menage of photographs. They showed Paul, his wife and kids, plus dog, in front of a private jet, vacationing at exotic places, along with plenty of shots of his spectacular oceanfront home. Paul’s final statement to the audience was,

Amway changed my life and it can change yours as well!”

The attendees stood and clapped. I joined them not wanting to look out of place.

On the way home Jack asked if I’d like to be part of the Amway team. To get started all I needed to invest was $100.00 for a startup kit. I politely told him,

No thanks.”

After several more months of badgering I finally gave him the money hoping that’d end the nightmare. Unfortunately, it only got worse. I was invited to various AMWAY product demonstration seminars. They seemed to take place every week. Jack called me every night at home including constantly hounding me at work.

One seminar featured the breath freshener that folks were huffing during that video. Jack said they’d only been on the market a short time. Closely examining a can, I noticed that the percent of alcohol was quite high. I chuckled to myself thinking that was the main reason Amway people used it.

As time went on I stopped going to the seminars. The sample products from my kit were almost gone and I was glad not to refill them. I was left with a lone bottle of LOC. It was supposedly a concentrated detergent. I could have cared less!

Jack claimed there was no better product for cleaning clothes than L.O.C. A small bottle cost as much as three boxes of powder detergent. Several weeks later Jack and I came to odds, when I informed him that Tide did a much better job on cleaning my clothes than L.O.C ever could. That deeply hurt his feelings.

My insult of an AMWAY product sealed the deal on him expecting me to be on his team. I was elated.

Jack moved on, using his energy to try and persuade a friend of mine, Dee, to join his pyramid scheme. Jack told Dee that a person reaching the level of platinum in AMWAY could make millions. Dee was much smarter than me in quickly getting Jack off his back. Dee told the fellow that he was already there. Jack could only laugh.

The next morning Dee walked in to the break-room carrying a crystal AMWAY Platinum trophy. Jack wanted to know where he got it? The award was evidently like a Holy Grail of Amway sales.

I’m living the dream!”, was Dee’s reply.

Dee didn’t tell him that the award belonged to a friend and that the guy had loaned it to him.

My pal kept this bogus trophy on his desk just to rub it in. Jack thought it was totally uncouth what Dee did, and he didn’t hold back on expressing his feelings.

Jack left the state soon afterwards. The last I heard he was living in a huge house in Aspen, Colorado. Evidently, he’d obtained his dream without Dee’s help or mine.

On Jack’s journey to financial independence he discovered that not all of us share the same vision. Just how many people he drove away in the process is merely a guess.

I still have that bottle of L.O.C. Perhaps some day I’ll actually try it 🙂

LOC

Life of Fear

“I believe folks having a touch of fear in their lives, probably live longer than those that don’t.”

AMWAY indoctrination seminar.

A family member recently told me,

We can’t live our lives in fear!”

Out of fear in starting a feud or getting smacked, I decided to keep my mouth shut.

This person was wrong, but I wasn’t going to openly tell them.

I believe folks having a touch of fear in their lives, probably live longer than those that don’t.

The Bible mentions that we shouldn’t have fear in our lives, but I believe those verses pertain to fear of the unknown. The fear I refer to is that which keeps us from doing stupid things.

Pondering things that I’m fearful of creates a rather lengthy list.

I’ll share ten of them:

1. I have a fear of sticking my index finger into an electrical socket and coming out unscathed.

2. I have a fear of telling my wife that it appears she gained a pound or two.

3. I have a fear of placing my hand on a stove burner just to see if it’s hot.

4. I have a fear of driving fast down a pothole-riddled-highway on bald tires.

5. I have a fear of reaching into a hole in the desert.

6. I have a fear of sticking a sewing needle smack-dab in the middle of my eyeball.

7. I have a fear of pulling the trigger on a gun in the house without first seeing if it’s loaded.

8. I have a fear of being locked in a room full of AMWAY fanatics with no way out.

9. I have a fear of embarking on a cruise, or flying in a germ-laden-airplane, when a deadly virus is running rampant.

10. Most of all, I fear the wrath of God when I’m disobedient to him.

The AMWAY incident actually happened. That’s a tale to be told on another day.

Most of the above fears are connected with having common sense. What responsible adult would stick their finger in an electrical socket? Just recently, I read where some guy did just that checking to see if his bathroom circuit breaker was turned off. He found out it was on.

Sometimes these type individuals are labeled as idiots although I don’t use that word. We do run into these brainless folks on a regular basis.

What fool would ever stick a needle in their eye? Hopefully, there are none. Just the mere thought of such gives me the heebie jeebies. As everyone should know, the heebie jeebies is a tremendous amount of fear.

With that said, in spite of my fears, I’m doing just fine.

Looking back, I should’ve replied to that family member,

Yes, we can live our lives in fear!”

Had I done so, I would’ve wisely turned and quickly scurried away.

This Book Can Talk

“It’ll continue to talk with future owners long after I’m gone!”

“Little America” – Admiral Richard E. Byrd

My mother told this story numerous times. Dad did the same. With my brother being four years older than me, Jim recalls the incident as clear as day. I vaguely remember it at all. This event would’ve taken place in 1958. We were either traveling to California from Alabama or vice versa:

*********************************************************

When I was four years old, I was sitting in an Arizona restaurant with my family eating breakfast when a stranger appeared. He’d walked over from a nearby table where his wife and two children sat.

The man smiled and then asked my folks if Jim and I could have a gift. He held out two silver dollars. They were the real deal; Morgan dollars made from 99% virgin silver.

Dad and mom allowed us to accept his gracious offer. I’m quite positive they made sure we thanked the gentleman. They never missed a chance to remind us on doing such. Eventually it stuck without their prodding.

We still have those dollars only because mom held on to them over the years. Jim and I always wondered why this person singled us out for the gifts? Something led him our direction. Mom joked, saying we probably looked deserving. I mistook that as meaning poor!

While looking at them one day, Jim made this statement,

If only these coins could talk!”

I’ve heard that term numerous times regarding all kinds of old things; lately it seems to be antique cars and trucks.

Unfortunately, material objects often do not historically speak unless a portion of their background is known. In the case of these silver dollars, such prior information is missing and always will be. That’s not the case with an old book I own.

Morgan silver dollar given to me by a stranger when I was a kid

Admiral Richard E. Byrd has always been one of my heroes. Back in the day he was just about every kid’s. I tend to believe most young people of this generation have never heard of the man. Let’s just say he was an Antarctic explorer and leave it at that. There’s plenty of information floating around about Mr. Byrd if you desire to learn more.

Richard Byrd wrote a book titled, “At the Bottom of the World” regarding his South Pole experiences. I purchased a first edition copy (1930) from a used book dealer in Hendersonville, North Carolina. It has Byrd’s signature in ink on the inside front cover. The book has loose bindings which I intend on getting fixed.

A private library stamp identifies the manuscript as once belonging to Frank and Joy Blazey. Stuck in the middle of this book almost unnoticeable I discovered a thin, personalized stationery page. The top letterhead reads: Elizabeth B. Stein. 1765 East 55th Street. Chicago. She’d evidently used it as a book marker. Notations written in pencil are on the backside.

Joy & Frank Blazey private library stamp
Elizabeth Stein stationery header
Backside of Elizabeth Stein’s stationery with page references and corresponding notations

I decided to investigate further and see who these former book owners were. What I found was nothing short of amazing. While Admiral Byrd’s life was nothing to sneeze at, the Blazey’s life experiences including Elizabeth Stein’s were just as remarkable. I believe Ms Stein was the first owner because she’s the oldest person here being born sometime around 1898. I’ll start with her adventurous life.

Elizabeth B. (Lischa) Stein

Lischa as most people called her, means, “The Lord is my salvation.”

An article by Pulitzer Award winning Chicago Tribune writer, Mary Schmich, tells Elizabeth Stein’s life history much better than I ever could:

Elizabeth Stein
Elizabeth Stein with an unidentified friend

Joy Drew Blazey

Joy Drew Blazey was a teacher just like Elizabeth Stein. A well-written obituary best sums up her life.

Joy Drew Blazey

General Frank Blazey

General Frank Blazey – U.S. Army (retired)

General Frank Blazey is an American military hero. His list of accomplishments in life is quite substantial. The following information comes from an excellent article written by, Derek Lacey, of the “BlueRidgeNow Times-News Online”:

*********************************************************

Friends and family are mourning the loss of a generous, dedicated and humble man after the passing of Brigadier Gen. Frank Blazey on Monday. He was 92.

Blazey is remembered as a philanthropist, a true patriot and a voracious lover of life, as well as a fierce friend and a humble but accomplished veteran who was always ready to give of himself and his time.

Born in Farifield, Illinois in 1924, Blazey spent some time before high school with his mother’s father in Springfield, according to his son, Frank Blazey III. Blazey’s grandfather was a state senator and Blazey would clean spittoons and served as a page on the floor of the Illinois Senate before heading off to high school at Columbia Military Academy in Tennessee.

He attended the University of Illinois for more than a year when the attack on Pearl Harbor happened. Blazey sought entry into the Military Academy at West Point, which took him more than a year to get into with competition from other volunteers, Frank Blazey III said.

But Blazey graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, commissioned as a lieutenant in 1946. He went on to serve in the Korean War as an infantry company commander, to include assignments with the 65th Infantry Regiment, where he was awarded the Silver Star for valor under fire.

After serving in Korea, he returned to West Point, assigned as an instructor, and served two assignments on U.S. Army staff at the Pentagon. He then served in Vietnam, where he commanded a brigade, before an assignment commanding the Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, according to information provided by Mike Murdock, Henderson County veterans services officer.

Blazey returned to Vietnam for the withdrawal of U.S. military forces in 1972 and 1973.

“He had a sterling military career,” Frank Blazey III said, a career that included volunteering for Korea, where he received a field promotion from captain to major, and two tours in Vietnam, retiring from service in Germany as a brigadier general in 1975.

In 1975 he moved to Hendersonville and worked for Coca-Cola of Asheville. Blazey went on to work with a friend who established a manufacturing business for bottling equipment out of Edneyville, a job he held for about 10 years.

He was also involved in many organizations, including the Rotary Club, of which he was a 40-year member, the YMCA, United Way and Blue Ridge Community College. He was a co-founder of the Environmental Conservation Organization and served as chair of the Board for the Department of Social Services.

Larger than life’

Blazey is remembered as a humble, giving man who inspired others to be their best.

MarthaJean Liberto first met Blazey eight years ago through her work at Compassionate Home Care. She was sent to work with Blazey, she said, because she has experience as a professional chef. It started a “fast and true” friendship between the two.

Each night, Blazey and his wife, Joy, would eat by candlelight at 6 p.m. following a cocktail hour, Liberto said. It was a habit he kept up after his wife died in 2013, and the setting for some of the many stories he told Liberto.

She knew the first night she walked in that they’d be friends, and even after she retired last August, they remained close.

General Blazey

He was always larger than life, she said, and lived life to the fullest.

“He used to say ‘I’m just a Southern Illinois farm boy who got lucky,’” Liberto said. But he was much more than that.

“He is American,” she said. “He is what our country stands for and has always stood for. He was a true patriot and lover of life.”

Blazey loved life so much that Liberto would often tell him, “You’re my inspiration; you get up every morning and you do life and you help people.”

“As you can tell, I more than think highly of him,” she said. “I love him dearly and I said to him often, the honor of your friendship is more than I can ever have imagined.”

Jeff Miller, Hendersonville city councilman and founder of Blue Ridge Honor Flight, described Blazey as extremely generous, a man who was very proud of his service and wanted to be around others who had served.

“The bottom line is Gen. Blazey was just a one-of-a-kind guy that is really going to be missed around here by not only by the whole military family, but those of us who had folks like him to look up to and respect and enjoy being around,” Miller said.

Just last month, Blazey joined more than 50 other Korean War veterans and veterans of Vietnam and World War II on a Blue Ridge Honor Flight, flying to the nation’s capital for the day to visit war memorials, his first trip with the program.

It was a big deal for the general to experience that with other veterans, Miller said, after he missed q 2016 flight for health reasons. He got through the day, though it was hard on him, spending most of it in a wheelchair, but he told organizers often how much he enjoyed it.

Marybeth Burns, who first met Blazey through the Rotary Club, was able to accompany him on the trip. She remembers a “stern but gentle” teddy bear with lots of integrity, a generous man who gave so much back to the community.

She said that when Miller started the trips for Korean War vets, Blazey was among the first he mentioned.

Burns was supposed to accompany him on the 2016 trip, and afterward they made a pact that they would go on the 2017 flight.

One particular part of last month’s trip sticks out in Burns’ mind more than others. As she and Blazey were leaving the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington Cemetery, she noticed him crying. “It just makes me think of all those who didn’t come back,” he told her.

Burns said it was evident how much Blazey and the other veterans appreciated those soldiers, that they were on their minds the entire time. Blazey was able to lay the wreath at the Korean War Veterans Memorial, an emotional moment, Burns said. For days later, he told everyone about the trip.

Liberto said his ability to see the good in people — and praising them for it — and to make people want to do better were some of the things that made him such a successful military leader. He was always giving compliments, she said, and not “that fake kind of compliment.”

He let nothing stop him, she said, whether it was cleaning trash from Mud Creek, ringing a bell for the Salvation Army or donating considerable sums to community organizations. “He was always willing to help someone out if they needed help — an employee, a worker, whatever.”

There are so many things that he did for others, Liberto said, “and that was his lifeline: service to his country, service to his fellow man. (He was) just an amazing person, in the humblest of ways and in the largest of ways.”

U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows also lamented Blazey’s passing, saying the brigadier general represents the best of the country.

“When I think about those who represent the best of our nation, both in service and in sacrifice, Gen. Frank Blazey is among the first to come to mind,” Meadows said in a statement Tuesday. “Gen. Blazey was not only a military hero but someone who never hesitated to pour himself out to his community, including his involvement in the Blue Ridge Honor Flight program and his work on my office’s Service Academy Board. Debbie and I are saddened to learn of his passing, and we send our thoughts and prayers to his family. He will be missed.”

Blazey was very active until age 87 or 88 and played his last round of golf at 90, Frank Blazey III said. He also loved his children and grandchildren. He was married to Joy for 65 years and they had three children — Frank III, son Drew and daughter Kay, who passed away from cancer in 1993.

He leaves behind five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, with one on the way.

“This man was just an amazing man who loved people and loved life and loved this country and loved his lord,” Liberto said. “Everything you would ever want a person to be.”

A funeral is planned for 2 p.m. Friday, June 30, at First United Methodist Church, Hendersonville, with visitation from noon to 2 p.m. and a reception following the service. Burial will follow at a later date at West Point, N.Y.

*********************************************************

This compilation of stories will be printed and then added to Richard Byrd’s book. It’ll continue to talk with future owners long after I’m gone.

As far as those two silver dollars go, hopefully I can talk my brother out of his. I’d like to pass them on to some deserving youngsters; a couple of kids appreciative of things old!

Admiral Richard E. Byrd signature inside book cover (1930).

RED DEVIL LYE

“It’s an eerie scene that’s never left my head!”

Red Devil Lye label

When I was a child, I looked forward to visiting my grandparents. It was always an exciting and adventurous occasion. Generally we traveled at night, and often times came upon road construction sites along the way.

Back then there wasn’t battery-powered warning lights on the edge of the highway advising folks to slow down. Construction crews used black “smudge pots” as dad called them to alert drivers. These pots were round in shape and contained kerosene and cotton wicks much like lanterns and lamps. To me they resembled bombs.

As we slowly drove through these areas the soot-laden-pots flickered in the night much like sinister candles. The smell of burning kerosene permeated the air. It’s an eerie scene that’s never left my head!

My brother and I deserted our television and toys in Selma when we ventured to Vernon. That’s the name of the rural Alabama town where both set of grandparents lived. Neither of them had TV’s or electronic gadgets to keep us entertained. Smartphones and computers weren’t invented back then. Jim and I relied upon our imagination to keep from getting bored.

We’d bring along BB guns, comic books, and our own digging utensils. We used these tools to build an underground fort at Papa and Mama Haynes’ place. It turned into quite the structure with tin roof and wooden door, until a tornado totally destroyed our creation. It was good we weren’t inside at the time.

Papa & Mama Haynes’ home – Vernon, Alabama (1974)

My grandparents on both sides would take time to sit and talk to us about their early years. I was always eager to hear what they had to say. A few of their tales I still remember while most of them I don’t. One that’s never left my brain is a bizarre story that Grandma Hankins unexpectedly shared. I’m sure she was chatting with my parents when I accidentally overheard her words.

Grandma said that a fellow she went to school with had recently ate some Red Devil Lye. This product is highly poisonous and no longer sold in grocery stores. The FDA banned it for good reason. Too many little ones were getting into the toxin and innocently ingesting it. Back then lye was popular for cleaning.

The caustic powder evidently destroyed this poor fellow’s stomach. Grandma said that doctors removed the useless organ and transplanted a goat’s stomach in place of it. For some strange reason I found that fascinating.

Each time we visited I wanted to hear the tragic tale. More and more as she repeated it I had to know more. Finally things got to the point where on one trip I asked,

Grandma, why did this man eat Red Devil Lye?”

To the best of my knowledge she never answered that question. I’m pretty sure Grandma and my parents knew, but most likely they believed I was too young to understand.

With the horrible story still rattling ’round inside my skull, a year ago I decided to investigate. Using http://www.newspapers.com it didn’t take long to find the answer.

It wasn’t uncommon back then for folks to commit suicide by swallowing lye. Doing so wasn’t always an instant death. Instead, it could be slow and painful. Evidently this former classmate of grandma’s elected to take his own life for whatever reason? Grandma said he didn’t live long after the transplant.

Not all of my grandparent’s tales were so macabre. As I mentioned earlier, this Red Devil Lye tale wasn’t meant for my ears to hear.

The events I still recall basically dealt with good things. Stories like my grandma and grandpa walking to school, wading or swimming in a stream, working in the fields, or going to church each Sunday in a horse-pulled wagon. Grandma said they’d not return home until late evening. Evidently it was customary back then to visit friends after a sermon.

When it was time for us to leave and return to Selma, Jim and I never wanted to go. We had too much fun there in spite of having no television.

I now have to wonder. Could children these days endure such an ordeal?

Road construction warning “smudge pot”

Byrd, Vaughan, and Hankins

“Dream big and dare to fail!”

Admiral Richard E. Byrd

I’ve had my share of heroes over the years. Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Admiral Richard E. Byrd, Amelia Earhart, General Chuck Yeager, Colonel Norman Vaughan, to name a few. Hollywood actors or sports heroes have never been folks that I wanted to emulate, other than perhaps, Tim Tebow.

I’ve always admired adventurers. The late evangelist Billy Graham is at the top of my list although most wouldn’t call him an explorer. He was to me where exploring the Bible is concerned.

Of the seven names mentioned, I’ve only met one in person and that’s Colonel Norman Vaughan. The colonel was a close friend of my Fern Lane neighbor, Bill Devine. Bill invited me to a lecture by the famous dog musher and explorer. I was mesmerized by what this gentleman had to say. Norman had a captive voice that was easy to listen to.

Colonel Norman Vaughan

Vaughan told the packed auditorium that evening only a very small portion of his near century-long-life which is truly remarkable. He was born into a wealthy family in Massachusetts, yet chose not to pursue business endeavors like his parents wanted. He desired to be a dog musher instead.

When Norman mentioned going to Antarctica with Admiral Richard Byrd, he had me by the gizzard. What Vaughan was able to do in his life were things I only dreamed of. The stories he told that night at Alaska Pacific University had everyone on the edge of their seats. When the talk ended I wanted to know more.

As he sat at a table signing books I had several questions to ask. While others shook his hand and thanked the man I patiently waited for my chance. After the last person walked away, Bill Devine introduced me.

He slowly stood to shake my hand with a noticeable hunch, yet his grip was stronger than most young men. The always smiling Norman was more than happy to chat. He filled me in a bit more on his military career, including a few funny things regarding neighbor Bill that I’d never heard. I eagerly purchased one of his manuscripts before saying thank you and goodbye. Colonel Vaughan inscribed on the inside front cover of my book,

To Michael – Dream big and dare to fail! Norman Vaughan.”

Before meeting Norman Vaughan that night I’d read about his exploits along with those of Admiral Byrd in a book titled, Little America: Aerial Exploration in the Antarctic the Flight to the South Pole.” I have a copy of that 1930’s hardcover book signed by Richard Byrd. It’s not unusually rare because most every book he peddled contains a signature.

During Admiral Byrd and Norman Vaughan’s Antarctic trip, the admiral named a mountain after his much younger accomplice. In 1994, at the age of 88, Norman Vaughan was finally able to scale Mt. Vaughan. The mountain is 10,301 feet tall.

In memory of his feat, a group of us at work constructed a metal and cloth tribute on top of a huge snow hill. A photo of it was featured in the “Anchorage Daily News.” Colonel Vaughan made a special trip to our workplace to view the creation along with extending thanks to everyone involved.

Monument we built commemorating Norman Vaughan. That’s me standing next to it in top photo.

I’ve done my own exploring over the years with friends and by myself, yet nothing on the scale of Byrd or Vaughan. Through the reading of books written by explorers and adventurers, I’ve accomplished more dreaming than anything. During early school years, I daydreamed to the point where one teacher thought there was something mentally wrong with me.

She called my parents in for a special talk. It dealt with my staring out the window during class. I still find myself doing such out the living room or kitchen window. The same teacher brought dad and mom in again because I’d fall asleep at my desk. That was only because I stayed up late each night reading “The Hardy Boys” mystery series.

Back then it was easy for me to imagine being inside a homemade submarine constructed from 55-gallon drums. I’d actually drawn up plans for such but thankfully my folks wouldn’t allow the coffin to be built. On other days, my mind would take me deep within hidden caves in search of buried treasure. Sometimes I was an explorer lost in the wilds of Alaska or a pilot breaking the sound barrier. My imagination was endless and still is. It got me into trouble several times where practical jokes were concerned.

Books took me to remote places that I’ll never set foot on. An avid reader, I won an award the summer of 1965 for reading the most books at our local library. My total for three months was well over 100. The prize being of all things; a non-fiction book titled, “Kon-Tiki”, by Thor Heyerdahl.

“Kon-Tiki” is an adventure story about a group of men building a raft out of balsa, and then attempting to cross the South Pacific. I made a copy of their fledgling creation with Popsicle sticks and Elmer’s glue for a school project.

Thor Heyerdahl’s book was the perfect prize because it dealt with something that my brother, Jim, and I had already constructed in Alabama. Unfortunately, our crude raft came apart soon after it was launched.

I still have my “Kon-Tiki” book minus front cover thanks to one of our dogs. It was either, “Brutus” or “Ringo”, although after so many years I can’t recall exactly which one. Recently, I saw where a Heyerdahl book in good condition is worth upwards of $150.00 unsigned. The one I have was signed until that valuable portion was consumed.

When my wife saw the title to this story, “Byrd, Vaughan, and Hankins”, she had to chuckle.

You can’t put yourself on the same level as a Richard Byrd or Norman Vaughn!”

I knew she’d say that and Joleen was right. I figured that’d be the comment of friends and strangers as well. Some might even say,

“That’s mighty vain of him!”

My reply is simple: I believe we’re all explorers in one way or another. A person doesn’t have to climb mountains or hike across frozen Alaska glaciers to lay claim to the title. Visiting an antique shop, historic cabin, or museum is exploration on a different scale. Walking along a meandering stream or through a meadow of blooming Fireweed is the same.

If Norman Vaughan was here I believe he’d say,

Never stop dreaming or exploring no matter how old you are.”

Placing my name next to Byrd and Vaughan on this article is merely a symbol of where I’d like to be as an explorer. Nothing more. According to Norman Vaughan, there’s no harm in dreaming and setting our goals high!

Norman never stopped dreaming until he passed away at age 100.
Michael D. Hankins

GAME BALL

“Our cheerleaders took no offense because any cheer for East was a cheer to win, no matter how obnoxious.”

“Air ball” falling way short

When I think of basketball I flash back to the classic song by Cheech and Chong titled, “Basketball Jones.”

The 1970’s tune tells of a young man stricken with basketball fever. He has it so bad that he sleeps using a basketball as a pillow. Evidently that’s what gave him severe neck and spine problems later on in life.

I’ve never been a basketball fanatic like some of my friends. Because of this lack of interest I stunk at playing the sport. During PE class when teams were picked, I was generally the last guy standing. That didn’t bother me.

At Clark Junior High, friends talked me into staying after school and playing intramural basketball. Why I gave in to them still remains a mystery. I had a newspaper route delivering the “Anchorage Times” and on those game days the paper was late.

I viewed basketball more as a fancified version of hot potato than anything else. When the ball popped into my hands I quickly passed it off to another player. On occasion, just for kicks, from thirty feet back, I’d toss it towards the basket hoping for a miracle. That never happened.

Most if not all of my shots became air balls falling way short of the rim. Team members became disgusted with my lack of seriousness, and eventually left me standing on the sideline. That was okay with me.

It was later on in high school that I found my calling as a bleacher loud mouth. My voice has always been good and strong. When needed it was so overbearing, that I often drowned out the cheerleaders. Our cheerleaders took no offense because any cheer for East was a cheer to win, no matter how obnoxious.

One thing I developed to perfection was yelling “shoot” when an opposing player got the ball. I can’t tell you how many times I shouted that word. I’d say 50% of the time they’d let it fly after hearing the command. Opposing coaches gave me the stink eye.

If a player missed, I received admiration from fellow fans. On rare occasion the shooter would make a seemingly impossible 3-point shot. During those miscues I’d quickly slink down in my seat.

I rarely got to attend high school basketball games like some kids, because of having to work for my pop after school. Dad and another man owned Wonder Park Texaco and I pumped gas there.

The perhaps 10 games I was fortunate to see are memorable. Young fans loudly rooting for their respective teams sticks in my mind. Continuous stomping of feet on bleachers especially so. Those wooden structures must’ve been built extra-strong. In a way it was reminiscent of fans at Lone Star Wrestling events. More on that later.

It was sometime during either the year 1970 or 1971 when East played the Dimond Lynx. Dimond High is where my wife went to school. She believes she might’ve been at this particular game, yet doesn’t remember the climatic ending like I do.

Time was running out and East was ahead by a point. Dimond had the ball with perhaps 20 seconds left on the ticker. The Lynx were coming down court like a runaway freight train. When a Dimond player clutched the ball well before the three-point line line, I stood and yelled,

“Shoot!”

He instantly reared back and let go with it falling way short of the rim. East grabbed the rebound and ran out the clock.

Had replay been available in the 1970’s I should’ve been given the game ball. Unfortunately, my winning shout never received merit from Coach White or anyone else for that matter. That was fine with me.

My son and daughter, Gunnar and Miranda, played basketball during their school years at Muldoon Christian and Heritage Christian. I’d told them the unbelievable East vs Dimond story countless times. I always hoped for a little sympathy on their part yet none ever came.

Miranda once asked how come I was so loud and boisterous at sporting events when other parents weren’t. The only explanation I could give her, was that my brother Jim and I attended Lone Star Wrestling events when we lived in Lubbock, Texas. Dad took us there on Wednesday, Friday, or Saturday nights. They were the highlight of our week!

Where I learned to cheer (ad circa 1964)

Lone Star Wrestling was much like the WWF is today. Texas wrestling fans were loud and rowdy at these events. I suppose they still are. I continued emulating them long after we left the state, believing that was the proper way to cheer on a competitor or team.

During one of Gunnar’s last basketball games, the score was tied with only a few seconds left. I’d been quite vocal while watching them go up and down the court but not obnoxiously so like my East years.

When it appeared things would go into overtime, and the opposing team held the ball with maybe 5 seconds left, I decided a Lone Star yell was needed,

“Shooooot!”

He did. The ball swished in as the buzzer sounded. The other team won. I couldn’t get out of the gymnasium fast enough. A couple of parents gave me the skunk eye.

You’d think I learned a big lesson that night and I did.

For the rest of the time until Miranda finished school at Heritage, I’d sit on the opposing team’s bleacher and root. I’d yell to my heart’s content and get disgusted looks from strangers instead of folks I knew. That didn’t bother me.

Lone Star Wrestling fans back in Lubbock, Texas would’ve been proud!

East High Thunderbirds vs Dimond Lynx (1970)

Lucky Me – Lucky You

“Any leprechaun with half a brain should be able to figure this out!”

Happy-GO-Lucky

St. Patrick’s Day is quickly drawing near and I can happily report,

“I’m ready!”

My wife and I aren’t Irish or Catholic, yet that doesn’t stop us from joining in the festivities with a plate of corned beef and cabbage. Joleen prefers to stuff green peppers with these ingredients and then bake. I love the delicacy although it doesn’t love me. What is it about some foods and gas?

Several years ago at Wal-Mart I purchased a bright green tee-shirt with “Happy Go Lucky” printed across the front. It’s only worn on special occasion. Afterwards, the garment is neatly folded and carefully placed in a bottom-dresser-drawer. I never wash it because the label says 100% cotton and I’m afraid it might shrink. Regardless of not being cleaned, the shirt seems to have shrunk each time I put it on.

St. Patrick’s Day for some folks means green beer. I don’t indulge. I’ve often wondered what’s done to make beer that color? For those that drink the stuff it’s probably best not to know! The beer I consume has root in it. A&W’s still my favorite, although the homemade brew at Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner in Kingman is right up there.

When I was a kid, if a student didn’t wear green to school on St. Patrick’s Day they were pinched; mostly by girls. A friend of mine intentionally never wore the Irish color because he craved female attention. His pinching session quickly terminated whenever someone shouted,

You should see Larry’s underwear. They’re green plus other colors!”

I might’ve made the remark a time or two out of jealousy.

Four-leaf clovers are symbolic with St. Patrick’s Day. They’re supposed to bring luck to a person finding one. Over my 65 years I’ve searched and searched yet never came up a winner. I sometimes wonder if they naturally exist? It’d be easy to counterfeit such with a bit of glue and an extra leaf. I know for sure they don’t grow here in Lake Havasu City, Arizona.

The closest thing we have to four-leaf clovers are four-bump green-bell-peppers. Say that with a mouth full of popcorn. The grocery stores are generally low on this variety for a reason. Did you know that bell peppers with four nubs or bumps on the bottom are females? I didn’t either until perhaps two years ago.

Before I became educated on bell peppers I’d always brought home a three nubber. Three was the late Dale Earnhardt’s race car number so that’s probably why. After one shopping spree Joleen gave me unneeded advice. I think she might’ve been watching Martha Stewart that day.

Always buy the ones with four bumps because they’re females and are much sweeter!”

Who would’ve known? Her statement seemed sexist at the time.

These days whenever I’m in a supermarket, I stroll by the bell pepper section out of curiosity. On many occasions there are only three nubbers to choose from. The unlucky females had been carted away by savvy customers.

In my way of looking at things, a three-bump green-bell-pepper is just as lucky as a four-leaf clover; perhaps luckier where survival is concerned. Any leprechaun with half a brain should be able to figure this out!

When St. Patrick’s Day rolls around on March 17th, I’ll be bringing home a lowly male pepper regardless of what my wife says. This’ll be an experiment of sorts.

Perhaps eating the less-sweet version stuffed with corned beef and cabbage will help ease my gas problem?

Those around me will be be lucky if it does!