SENIOR MARATHON

“One step at a time,” is often muttered when this occurs.

My grown children run marathons on occasion, as do several of their cousins. I’ve never been one to run just for fun. Walking suits me fine for getting around.

There are marathons taking place all over the country most every week. My son and his wife traveled to Utah several months ago, to take part in a Ragnar relay running event where they dressed up in costumes of their picking. Gunnar wore a faux beard with official Bubba-Gump baseball cap. He even had on the correct tee-shirt and shorts. Yes, he was Forrest Gump reincarnated.

I recently watched a video about a fellow named, Chris Parker, who ran a 26-mile Florida marathon while carrying a marching style snare drum. He’d play the drum on occasion as he tooled along. At the 26-mile marker and with the very last beat of his drum, he set a new world’s record.

What my son and other marathon runners most likely don’t know, is that some day, they’ll be participating in life marathons. I call these Senior Marathons and they’re neither 5K or 10K events. In fact, distance doesn’t enter into things at all whereas time does. Merely getting in and out of doors via cane, walker, or wheelchair is the grand prize. No ribbons or trophies are handed out for successfully completing such.

Senior marathons, like the others, have their aches and pains. One big difference between the two is that it generally takes something much stronger than Bayer aspirin or Tylenol to help senior contestants find comfort.

I’ve spent mega time sitting in medical and hospital waiting rooms, including chemo wards. Over the years, I’ve watched the same senior marathon play out time and time again.

A car will roll up outside the medical facility entrance. Sometimes there’s just the driver and other times a passenger is visible. Last Friday, I watched the following take place.

After parking his Toyota SUV, a man most likely in his eighty’s slowly opened the driver car door. He’d thoughtfully popped the hatch beforehand. Moving carefully to the back of his vehicle, he struggled to remove a collapsible walker. At this point I hurried over offering assistance. The kindly fellow smiled and told me he had the regimen down pat.

Getting the walker snapped together, he pushed this wheeled apparatus to the passenger side door before opening it. A frail looking lady who I presumed to be his wife carefully got out. After making sure she wasn’t going to fall, the couple precariously trudged up a sidewalk to the building. The man let me open the heavy door for him and he offered thanks.

I could see that just getting his wife out of their automobile and seated in the waiting room had him physically spent. His last move before sitting down was grab a cup of water. Beads of perspiration rolled down both cheeks. Taking a sip he then offered her the rest.

The amount of energy put forth doing such is immeasurable. To him, I’m sure he felt as if he’d just run a 5K, yet still had to do it all over again before heading home. How many times a week this plays out is unknown to me, but I’d guess it’s quite often.

Thankfully, I’ve never had to use a walker or wheelchair thus far. My homemade “Hurst” shifter cane comes in handy when my back’s out of whack. There have been times I went to the grocery store all kinked up, only needing a few small items, and snagged a shopping cart at the last moment just for something to lean on. “One step at a time,” is often muttered when this occurs.

Even though they don’t realize it, young and middle-aged runners are merely prepping themselves for the big one, the Senior Marathon. When that one starts, much like Chris Parker’s 26-miler while toting a snare drum, it’ll not end until the very last beat!

LONG TRAIN RUNNIN’

“Standing directly behind this building where the stage would’ve been, I touched a steel wall and could feel the bass guitar and drums vibrating it like crazy.”

BNSF freight train near Needles, California

I love trains. During the late 1950s, my brother got an electric Lionel trainset for Christmas. It was a black locomotive reminiscent of those early ones with large smokestacks on top. Jim’s train came with some type of burnable oil in a glass bottle.

He used a dropper to place a few drops of this liquid into the stack. An electric coil inside the stack turned oil to smoke. Jim found that the more oil he dropped in, the more smoke it produced. With Dad having asthma, it wasn’t long before he confiscated the bottle.

My brother discovered other ways to use his train. He removed metallic silver icicles or tinsel from our Christmas tree and laid them across a track. They’d glow cherry red until completely toasted. That creativity was quickly banned, although when our parents weren’t around, off came a few more strands.

With only so many feet of track, all he could do was make a small circle. That’s when the real cost of owning a train came in. He’d use whatever money he could scrounge to purchase longer sections. I even chipped in my meager allowance money on occasion.

We lived in a trailer during this time so the outcome wasn’t good. After Mom tripped on the caboose, Dad told him to take things outside.

Jim sat his train up underneath the mobile home on a sheet of plywood. My father even gave him back the container of oil. From that point on, wisps of smoke drifted out both sides like the place was doing a slow burn.

We remained there steadfast watching Jim’s train go round and round while breathing toxic fumes. All was fine until the smoke coil eventually burned out and AC/DC transformer took a dive. Everything was scuttled after that with the plywood most likely retained to make a bicycle jump ramp.

Although no trains roll through Lake Havasu City, Arizona I don’t have to drive far to see them. The late, John Ballard, told me there was close to 100 a day passing through Needles, California. John would know, because like his father, he worked at BNSF (Burlington Northern Santa Fe) for several years.

I’ve clocked some BNSF trains moving at 70 mph. I’m told they go even faster. Some of these freight trains are two miles long. My favorite spot to watch them is near Happy Jack Road, across the I-40, at a railroad bridge that crosses Sacramento Wash. It’s best to have an all-wheel-drive vehicle to get there because loose sand in the wash makes it easy to get stuck.

On occasion, I see black smoke coming from the locomotives. They’re diesel powered so that makes sense. If the wind isn’t blowing, this smoke goes straight up into the air and lingers like a cloud.

The other day, my wife and I were driving to Kingman. As usual, I was searching the landscape for my beloved trains. Joleen normally has our Sirius satellite radio tuned in to some holiday channel on these longer trips. She loves Christmas music. Only able to tolerate Mel Torme for so many minutes, I politely asked if I could switch to the 70s channel.

Ironically, Long Train Runnin‘ by The Doobie Brothers was playing. Off to our right in the far distance, I could see black smoke from a BNSF freighter headed most likely to Los Angeles. It was loaded with rectangular “Conex” shipping containers. This song along with that visual were enough to joggle my memory.

On Friday, July 20, 1973, The Doobie Brothers were doing a one-night-stand in Anchorage, Alaska. Tickets sold out early, and to be truthful, it’s doubtful I had the $5.50 to even attend. This event was being held at the Anchorage Sports Arena which was basically a large metal Quonset hut style building. Flat track motorcycle races, car shows, and hockey games were often held there. Acoustics for music events were as lousy as it gets.

I was with three good friends that night riding bicycles. Cathy Cook, Michelle Giroux, Jeff Thimsen, and myself decided to venture over that direction and listen from the outside.

Standing directly behind this building where the stage would’ve been, I touched a steel wall and could feel the bass guitar and drums vibrating it like crazy. Long Train Runnin’ had just been introduced that year, and of course I liked it for title alone. The harmonica solo within this tune reminded me of a train whistle, and the overall tempo was fast like a runaway locomotive.

Waiting around for this song to begin, a security guy stepped out the back door. Thick blue smoke followed him. With no intent on hassling us, the guy was merely seeking fresh air.

After several songs played including my favorite, we rode our bikes out front to where the arena entrance was. Smoke was so thick that all doors were open to help clear it out.

The joint (pun intended) appeared to be on fire. What’s amazing, is that concertgoers elected to remain inside!

Anchorage Sports Arena (circa 1965)

THE COMFORT ZONE

“The biggest worry about traveling outside my comfort zone is getting stuck in a place like Timbuktu with a serious medical problem.”

As Mom grew older, she began not venturing far from home. I believe this started after she turned sixty. Mother had her favorite grocery store and a chosen route to get there. Doing such meant taking backroads through neighborhoods to avoid traffic on major throughfares.

She was content in her surroundings and especially with heart doctors and hospital staff. Providence Hospital in Anchorage, Alaska was where she worked for close to sixteen years, so there was bias in her patronizing it. Mom had definitely entered the comfort zone at this point in life.

I didn’t understand why at the time. Always on the go, and flying here and there during her early years, I wondered how she could now simply stay put. Mother was happy in visiting garage sales and simply walking through a retail store to look and not buy. Her favorite place to eat was Golden Corral buffet.

She always brought along a sealable Glad bag for chicken bones and some extra pieces of meat that diners weren’t supposed to carry out. A few morsels were smuggled out for our little dogs, “Carly & Simon” as treats. Mother took the leftover bones to a specific area of town and fed them to ravens.

These highly intelligent birds knew her blue Ford Taurus well and would come flying over when it appeared. This simplistic segment of Mom’s life made her content.

It seems I’ve partially entered my own comfort zone. There’s enough to see in a radius of 1000 miles via motorhome to keep me busy for the rest of this life. I love to totally check places out, so there’s not enough time remaining to even investigate that small of a diameter. This circle will grow smaller as the years wind down.

Visiting other countries is not high on my to do list. I’ve been to only one other country numerous times and that’s Canada. The Yukon Territory and British Columbia are much like Alaska. Being there, it’s hard to know I’m not in the United States. Canadians always make me feel at home.

What exactly makes up a comfort zone for retired people? It varies from person to person. I had to think hard about mine before coming up with answers.

There’s no better bed to sleep in than my own. I’ve slept in countless others while traveling and never found them to my liking. Getting a good night’s rest tops almost everything on my list.

The makeup of folks living around me plays a big part of my comfort zone. I’m a conservative by nature and the majority of residents living in Lake Havasu City are the same. I get along fine with liberal thinkers, but can’t see myself living in a Portland, Oregon environment without incurring flak and not feeling safe.

Having a garage is another segment of my comfort zone. Mine’s not big enough by Havasu standards, yet it still affords a large enough place to get away from pressing matters. The term “Man Cave” fits well here. Visiting family or friends for days without a place to tinker is hard. I must keep my mind and hands busy or I’m ready to hit the road for home.

The biggest worry about traveling outside my comfort zone is getting stuck in a place like Timbuktu with a serious medical problem. My father was on the road on the east coast when he was bit by a Brown recluse spider.

He ended up in a New York hospital for almost a month. Logistics for family coming to help were problematic. It’d be devastating both mentally and financially should that happen to Joleen or me. I hope to avoid such a travesty.

Joleen and I still have one dog at home that we’ve called our “fur baby” for close to 15 years. Simon’s very fragile and needs special care. It’d be extremely hard to travel with him right now because of such.

Not everyone can understand why we’ve put our lives on hold to make sure a dog is taken care of. That’s something only “totally committed” pet owners can explain. Simon is “family” and he’s also a huge part of our comfort zone.

I’m sure other such reasons will pop up. For now, those are enough to keep me close to home. Being within two days driving time to our house makes me feel secure.

Young people won’t understand this philosophy until they reach the Golden Years. Some will never reach their comfort zone and that’s fine as well. My late mom would have this to say,

“It takes all kinds to make the world go round, so live and let live!”

LIFE BLUNDERS

“Sufficient distance was maintained between teams so that BBs wouldn’t penetrate skin.”

I’m sure most seniors did things early in life that they now look back on as irresponsible and foolish. I did my share. Perhaps my biggest life blunder had to do with misuse of rifles and firearms, and I’m not the only kid having done so.

I grew up owning guns and still do. When I was six years old, Dad gave me an air-powered Daisy BB rifle. My older brother, Jim, already owned one. The only advice Dad offered us, was a warning to treat any gun as if it was loaded, don’t point them at anyone, and never look down the barrel unless you know for sure a bullet’s not in the chamber. For the most part, we followed his rules all but one.

Other kids in the trailer park also had BB guns, and on occasion, a friendly BB gun war would start. It looked like fun so Jim and I joined in. The Moon Brothers were always on our side along with another friend, Randy Coggins.

The opposing team was generally made up of a group of boys from base housing which was located next to our mobile homes. Craig Air Force Base in Selma, Alabama was the military installation where our dads worked, and they provided small duplex-style houses for some of the families.

Sufficient distance was maintained between teams so that BBs wouldn’t penetrate skin. When hit, the round pellets would sometimes smart and leave a red whelp. I don’t recall anyone getting seriously hurt. Usually, we had to arc a BB so that it traveled the required distance. We learned to lob our Mini projectiles with extreme accuracy. It’s amazing that no eyes were struck although we were smart enough to hide behind trees and bushes.

In fifth grade, I was given a Stevens .22 rifle for Christmas. Evidently, my folks saw me responsible enough to own a real firearm. It was a bolt action single-shot model. At this time we lived on Reese Air Force Base in Lubbock, Texas, where the discharge of firearms was strictly prohibited. Our trailer home sat directly next to the flight line, with T-33, T-37, and T-38 trainers parked close by.

Jim and I found a way around this government roadblock. Our trailer was fifty feet long. We’d take a .22 cartridge and remove the copper bullet. Dumping out all the powder, the bullet was then reinserted into its brass casing. Primer explosion alone was enough to send it flying.

When fired, you could actually see a bullet leave the end of the barrel. Much like a BB gun, the slow-moving projectile had to be arced just right to hit the bullseye. That target, in most cases, was taped to a cardboard box sitting on my parent’s bed. The bullet would barely have enough power to penetrate anything.

Several times, Mom came home saying that she smelled gunpowder. She never did catch on to what we were doing until many years later. It was only then that we told her. Mother told us she had her suspicions yet could never pin things down.

In Alaska, I had opportunity to take a firearms safety course taught by my seventh-grade teacher, Mr. Bob Hickey. This should’ve been something offered to us boy’s years prior but wasn’t. I’m sure both parents would’ve allowed Jim and me to attend had there been a class available. Undoubtedly, we would’ve taken ownership of our rifles including BB guns much more seriously.

I’ve come a long way where firearms safety is concerned from my juvenile days. My children were taught early on to treat even their toy pistols and rifles as if they were the real thing. That might seem like overkill to some people, yet it helped get the message across to them.

My grandchildren visited us here in Havasu several months ago. I made sure to secure all weapons in our gun safe beforehand. When eight year old Decker walked up holding a small plastic case I freaked. He’d discovered it under a curio cabinet.

I immediately took the box from him and opened it. Inside was an 1850s antique Pepperbox pistol, that fortunately, wouldn’t fire without all the proper components. I’d placed it under the cabinet and forgot. He was curious enough to have already taken a peek.

Decker told us afterwards, that he’d found a pistol at a friend’s house in their basement during a birthday party. My grandson definitely needed training on what to do when coming across such items, and I gave him my grandfatherly spiel on such.

Sadly, firearms training seems to be nonexistent in public and private schools. Each week there are horror stories on the news regarding accidental shootings. The very least a school can do, is teach children what to do should they find a pistol or rifle. Most children learn about guns only through what they see on television, movies, and graphic video games.

The NRA released a short animated video several years ago that’s excellent in educating youth. This video has been well received by gun advocates and gun foes on both sides of the political spectrum. It’s available on YouTube for free and is only eight minutes long. That short and entertaining lesson featuring, Eddie Eagle, might be just enough to save your child’s life.

I sent the link to my grandson Decker to share with his sisters and friends. Hopefully, the message will leave a lasting impression on their developing minds.

I’m glad my father at least instructed my brother and I on the basics of firearm safety. Sadly, even that simple lesson is not being taught to small children these days by some gun owning parents. That’s a huge life blunder and one that could end up having serious consequences, much like an unlocked swimming pool gate with toddlers around.

https://eddieeagle.nra.org/

RARER THAN RARE

“The other day, someone asked how my book sales were going.”

I drove to a local phlebotomy clinic the other morning expecting the inevitable. I don’t know about you, but to me, the word phlebotomist conjures up some mad doctor in a horror movie. Anyway, getting back to the subject, parking spots are rare as hen’s teeth at that particular lab. Rare is a good thing for the most part, yet not in this case. I ended up having to parallel park on Mesquite Avenue because of a lack of available spaces.

Inside the facility parking lot, it was a “clusterfest” beyond all expectation. Folks slowly backing up within a confined area, with others casually wheeling in at the same time made for a haphazard situation. I’m surprised a body shop isn’t located onsite.

Rare takes on other meanings as well. My father loved his steaks and burgers rare. If red wasn’t showing in the center, it was overcooked. I’m surprised he never picked up Salmonella or E coli bacteria along the way. Dad claimed that rare was the way cowboys ate their meat. Perhaps that’s one reason cowboys are now a rare species.

Where coins, stamps, and books are concerned, rare generally means expensive and hard to come by. Only so many of a particular date / series were struck or printed, making them desirable to collect.

The rarest coin I own is a 1909 S VDB Lincoln penny. There were 484,000 minted with an estimated 50,000 survivors. The average population of Lake Havasu City is approximately 58,000 for a comparison. There seems to be no definite number for rare status.

Personally, I’ve encountered rare with paper money. Here lately, it’s rare that I retain possession of a hundred-dollar-bill for more than a day. The gas station eithers snags it or a grocery store.

A book written by Leonardo da Vinci, “The Code of Leicester” is regarded as extremely rare. That’s because there’s only one copy of that manuscript in the world. Billionaire, Bill Gates, paid thirty-four million dollars for the privilege of calling, “Dibs” on it.

First edition copies of “Tom Sawyer” by Mark Twain, were printed 24,000 times. They too are considered extremely rare. Go figure?

The other day, an out of state relative asked how my book sales were going. I generally don’t discuss financial with anyone besides my spouse, CPA, and financial advisor. Realizing this fellow seriously wanted to know, I gave him a spontaneous reply,

“If sales remain the same, they’re destined for rarity!”

He evidently interpreted such to mean good, and thankfully never inquired more. I chuckled under my breath, realizing that I’d gotten away with telling the man absolutely nothing. Semantics have a way of coming to my aid when needed. What’s amazing to me, is that I was able to think so fast. You can definitely chalk that up as rare.

For Lake Havasu City rarity, besides a lack of parking spaces at that medical facility, spotting a Mudshark in our lake supposedly only happens once in a blue moon. A neighbor told me that Mudsharks are rarer than rare. I believe they do exist because there’s a beer named after them. That alone speaks volumes about authenticity!

VA VA VOOM

“Kathy Lee would quickly come to realize just how bad her ears are!”

Kathy Lee Gifford has been popping up on my television the past several months, informing listeners that she lost her “va va voom.” I’m not one to care about someone’s personal life. It seems the Hollywood crowd believes everyone wants to know their inner little secrets. My wife tells me that’s not what Kathy’s referring to.

Kathy Lee is 69 years old. I’m only a year younger and I’ve definitely lost my pizazz, plus a set of keys and a Cubs baseball cap. I’m smart enough to know, that a simple capsule full of powder is not going to fully restore my zest for living. Years of manual labor took a permanent toll on my body as it did to friends. My spine’s akin to a warped straw. Try fixing that with a pill!

Don’t get me wrong, I love Kathy Lee. She’s a woman of exemplary moral character and faith. The health aid that she pushes supposedly contains fruits, vegetables, and spices that are good for us. Those items, for me, are purchased solely at the grocery store or fruit stand. I don’t buy into the continual brainwashing that pills and capsules contain these same ingredients. Many folks do, as they did with snake oil remedies many years ago.

The strangest thing about Kathy’s commercial, is her implying that motorcycles make a, “Va va voom” sound. I’ve never heard one do that, and it’s definitely not a Harley-Davidson she’s talking about. When I hear Harley’s roaring up and down Hwy 95, they make more of a, “Rumpety rumpety rump.” Perhaps Kathy’s thinking of an older Singer sewing machine?

There’s another commercial oftentimes playing back-to-back with Kathy’s. In this one, a likable old codger, hearing impaired, glorifies the hearing aid he recently purchased. The fellow can finally hear his son say, “I love you!”, yet doesn’t tell him, just to have the young man constantly repeat those words.

The actor playing this part is Robert Shepherd. His life story is much like Kathy Lee Gifford’s. Hardships that were eventually overcome, along with not giving in to ways of the world, and he still became successful in his acting career.

I’m not sure Ms. Gifford knows Mr. Shepherd, but I’m guessing they do. God has a way of bringing similar people together.

If Kathy actually believes that motorcycles go, “Va Va Voom,” Robert could definitely help her by lending the woman his hearing device. My bet is she’s ashamed to admit that one’s needed. Seniors can be this way and I’m a perfect example.

After wearing it for a few minutes, Kathy Lee would quickly come to realize just how bad her ears are. I found out the same many years ago. My hearing aids are currently sitting in a toolbox where they have been for the past twenty years. No, they’re not for sale. One of these days I might decide to actually use them!

EARLY BIRD SPECIAL

“We’d been sitting for perhaps three minutes when an employee walked up, saying Gunnar and I would have to leave.”

Buffet style eateries have always been one of my favorites. There’s nothing like being able to choose the foods of your choice in a cafeteria style environment. It takes me back to my school days.

At one time there was a Golden Corral buffet in Lake Havasu City. For whatever reason, it eventually closed doors after several years of operation. For seniors, that was a tragedy because they offered a great senior discount plus excellent cuisine.

We had a similar buffet in Anchorage, Alaska called Royal Fork Buffet. It was very popular and did a booming business. During the holidays, you’d best get there early, or you wouldn’t find a table, especially a larger one because they were limited.

On New Year’s, we decided to go as a family. There’d be a total of eight of us. We waited outside in the cold for almost an hour before the place even opened. Finally getting through unlocked doors, my mother elected to safeguard a corner table until everyone got through the line. I nullified that decision saying I’d do the task. My son Gunnar joined me. Him and I grabbed the women’s cumbersome coats and purses beforehand.

We’d been sitting for perhaps three minutes when an employee walked up, asking Gunnar and I to leave. He said it was company policy that you had to have a tray of food before being seated. When I explained that our elderly parents were in line, and wouldn’t be able to stand with a tray in hand while seeking a place to sit, he insisted that we still needed to vacate.

“If everyone did as you two no one will be able to eat!”

There were still smaller empty tables all around us, so his explanation was lame. Gunnar stood up to follow the guy’s instructions, but I wasn’t ready to toss in the towel.

“So where are the signs mentioning this policy?”

There were other signs on the wall saying that no food was to be taken from the restaurant. The guy replied that it was unspoken policy. I told him that I couldn’t read minds, and that they should consider posting signs regarding that rule. He left without saying another word.

By now, a family sitting behind me had taken notice of the situation. They were evidently all ears. I glanced towards the serving area hoping that the others were coming. My mom and Joleen’s mother were slowly walking our direction. All was good I assumed, until I heard this fellow tell his wife and kids.

“What a fine example that father’s setting for his son.”

For a split second, I decided that I didn’t hear this crass remark, but then elected to give the fellow some unwanted advice of my own. Turning around to face them, I whispered loud enough for all to hear,

“Early bird gets the worm!”

My parents had taught me that, along with, if you snooze you lose. I’d passed along both proverbial sayings to my children.

Two weeks later, we went back to Royal Fork, and they had new signs on the wall, advising diners to go through the buffet line first before being seated.

Gunnar chuckled, mentioning to his mother, that I was responsible for such. It was all for naught, because less than a year later, Royal Fork Buffet closed for good. Perhaps this new declared rule had something to do with it. I’ll never know for sure.

There’s a lesson I learned from buffet dining that I religiously follow to this day:

Don’t stuff yourself first with those yummy, honey butter rolls, because there won’t be enough room left for all the good stuff, especially dessert!

HAVASU HUSTLE

“At a red light on Hwy 95, I noticed a gal sternly looking over to see who was driving my car.”

My cognitive state is still pretty good for “over the hump” status. Reflexes have waned a bit but I’m able to dodge most potholes. That says a lot to me. I was riding with a friend the other day, and without blinking an eye, he drove straight into a small crater on Lake Havasu Avenue. Quickly looking at him the man’s response was,

“I’m old and out of control!”

I know the feeling. Some days, things never seem to go right no matter how hard I try.

Being a responsible driver in this town can be tough. I’m generally very observant of the speed limit. Doing so can oftentimes result in a car or truck trying to mate with my vehicle from behind. I chalk this up to the “Havasu Hustle.”

I assume those folks doing the dance are late for work or an appointment. Retired seniors like myself shouldn’t be in a hurry. We have no pressing places to go other than the post office, medical appointments, and grocery store.

When I was younger, and got caught behind someone going slow, I instantly figured it was, Ma & Pa Kettle, holding up the line. My mother called these drivers “Hicks from the Sticks.” Such crusty terminology is still used in the South and rural Kansas.

Back in the day, if an opportunity allowed me to see who was behind the wheel of a pokey vehicle, I took a glance. Nine out of ten times the turtle was a senior citizen. When I say they were going too slow, I mean those folks were generally doing the speed limit. I’ve now joined their ranks.

I did the “Havasu Hustle” when we first came to town. It wasn’t that I needed to get anywhere right away, I performed this dance mainly to avoid being run over. I buzzed around city streets like a hornet until finally being caught. Cruising to Walmart early one morning, a motorcycle cop pulled me over. He asked if I knew how fast I was going.

“Fifty-five, officer.” was my reply.

“The speed limit here is forty-five and you were leader of the pack!”

Back in time when I rode motorcycles, this would’ve been a compliment of sorts. There’s even a 1960s song about being leader of the pack. Unfortunately, in this tune, the ending wasn’t so great. The guy ultimately crashed and burned.

Thankfully, for my wallet, I was given a stern warning that day and told to slow down. I’ve since heeded his advice and joined ranks of the hindering herd. Yes, that vehicle you’re following as you attempt to get to work while fifteen minutes late is probably me.

I was headed to McDonalds last Monday while holding up a group of dancers. At a red light on Hwy 95, I noticed a gal sternly looking over to see who was piloting my car. Knowing what she was thinking, I gave her the perfect picture.

Cocking my head back and tilting it sideways, I opened my mouth as wide as it’d go. Things were kept that way until the light changed. She instantly hit the gas and whipped in front of me. I’m sure “my look” was a topic of conversation at the office that morning. Undoubtedly, I was the one making her tardy.

One thing I’d like to do is slap one of those fluorescent orange, slow moving vehicle placards on my rear bumper. The wife vetoed that idea saying it’d be antagonistic, besides illegal. She did let me order a tee-shirt with the same sign printed on back. I’ll use it for for trips to the grocery store.

If folks in this city want us law-obeying-seniors to hustle these days, they’ll have to pay any speeding fines we incur plus our increased insurance premiums. I doubt that’ll ever happen.

My advice to those doing the hustling: Leave a few minutes early for your job and appointment. You’d be surprised how well this works. Since I’m on a roll, one additional piece of useful information.

Alarm clocks are superb helpmates for getting to work on time and they’re cheap. Buy one. For most of us retired folks though, we no longer have need for such!

THE NUTCRACKER

“My brother and I eventually came to possess our own.”

I recently wrote a story about my most memorable Thanksgiving experience. It had to do with a visit to Uncle Noel and Aunt Gay’s house in Birmingham, Alabama sometime around 1960, and my knocking over a glass of sweet tea into a hot bowl of gravy, just as the meal got underway. That blunder pretty much ruined Aunt Gay’s well-planned Thanksgiving dinner.

Flashing ahead to Christmas which is rapidly approaching, I can’t nail down any one specific holiday standing tall above the rest. They were all special. There were several things repeatedly happening during our Christmases that I believe other families took part in as well. Tossing balls of wrapping paper at each other being one, while always having fruitcake on hand being another.

Somewhere back in time, Mom purchased or was given a nutcracker set. I recall it being chrome plated, with spring-loaded hinges on top. Our nutcracker basically resembled a set of martial arts nunchuks. You’ll have to Google that word to get the full picture.

A nut would be placed in the middle of two rods and squeezed until its shell broke. This worked fine for soft nuts like peanuts and pecans, but for some of the harder stuff it was a joke. Dad didn’t even have strength to break them open. Sometimes, this flimsy nutcracker did more damage to fingers and knuckles than nuts. A hammer was generally hauled out to finish things off.

Included in Mom’s nutcracker set were several sharp metal picks used to pull “meat” out of a broken shell. For whatever reason, my parents referred to the edible part of a nut as meat. Go figure? A wood tray, selection of nuts, and cracking tool were placed on our coffee table each holiday season. Mother kept the picks out of harms way in a kitchen drawer.

My brother and I eventually came to possess our own. Much bigger and totally different than Mom’s, they were given to us as Christmas gifts in San Antonio, Texas. I still have an ancient, 8mm movie, showing them parked in our living room, with a silver Christmas tree proudly standing in the background.

The exclusive nutcrackers I’m referring to were a matched pair of “English Racer” bicycles. They were manufactured by AMF and had skinny tires along with three-speed shifters. Both bikes were a bit tall for us, yet the folks evidently figured we’d grow into them. From the get-go they were nothing but problems. Stuff was always going wrong like the headlights never working including brakes, and gear shifters malfunctioning. I ignorantly blamed it on them being from England although they were made in the U.S.

Jim and I would race around the block, standing up while pedaling to reach maximum speed. That’s when we learned to be respectful of the deadly machines. Sometimes, when pedaling for all it’s worth and shifting gears, the chain would unexpectedly fly off. When that happened, you’d come down hard between the middle of your legs on the upper frame tube. To say this was a painful experience is an understatement. It happened numerous times.

I recall my brother performing this act as the grand finale to an otherwise spectacular burst of speed. We were racing and he was in the lead like always, when Jim’s chain disengaged and his body quickly dropped to the center bar like a ragdoll.

Out of control at this point, he slowly veered off the gravel road, with toes of both shoes dragging the ground to stop. He soon crashed and burned; figuratively speaking. In severe agony, my brother was black and blue in the most sensitive area of male anatomy, and had to be taken to the emergency room.

After that incident, Dad converted the bikes into single-speed by eliminating shifters and other components. Technically, we no longer rode English Racers although we still called them that. These now much slower bikes didn’t hang around long before being sold or traded to friends.

The other day, my wife was listening to a holiday music channel on our Jeep radio. “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” came on and it’s one of my favorites. The tune was written by Russian composer, Peter Tchaikovsky, as part of his famous, “The Nutcracker Suite” ballet.

I seriously doubt Tchaikovsky was thinking of an English Racer bicycle when he composed this ballet, although if he removed the word Suite, the title fits like a glove!

TURKEY DAY DILEMMA

“Thanksgiving with my grandparents didn’t happen every year, as we lived too far away to always venture that direction.”

My sixty-eighth Thanksgiving is rapidly approaching, and it appears the wife and I will be celebrating this one alone. We’d prefer to be with family, but unfortunately, medical events and logistics prevent such. Sometimes, there’s no way around life’s roadblocks unless you decide to barrel straight through them. I’m less apt to do that at this point because the consequences aren’t always good.

I have many great Thanksgiving memories stored upstairs for safekeeping. All of them are precious except for one. More on that in a few minutes. Thanksgiving with my grandparents didn’t happen every year, as we lived too far away to always venture that direction. I enjoyed five holidays with them at most. The one I remember quite vividly was in 1964, when we journeyed for two days from Lubbock, Texas to Vernon, Alabama, and the same amount of time driving back. I believe after four days of travel, we only spent seventy-two hours with both sets of grandparents.

On that trip, Dad was behind the wheel day and night to get us there. I’d brought along a new camera and somewhere around two in the morning, as I toyed with the device, the flash accidentally went off directly into his rearview mirror. My father veered off the road and blew a tire in the process. He was so mad that Mom had to intervene, or he would’ve killed me. In an act to make sure it wouldn’t happen again, he grabbed and tossed my flash attachment as far as he could. Other than that slight delay, I believe this Thanksgiving turned out just fine.

My worst recollection of a Thanksgiving was when I was perhaps six or seven. We traveled to Birmingham, Alabama to visit my Uncle Noel & Aunt Gay McDaniel, including cousins Randall and Cheryl. Aunt Gay was a perfectionist and she always set a perfect table for holiday dinners. The silverware was in its proper spot, with dishes, plates, and napkins following suit. This was the first time I came in contact with a gravy boat. In our mobile home, gravy was always placed in a small cup or bowl.

When we ate dinner at other people’s homes, my brother and I were often relegated to a small table in the living room. For reasons that I’ll never know, at this meal, Jim and I were allowed to sit with the adults along with our older cousins.

Aunt Gay used a fancy linen tablecloth to cover her expensive oak table. The chairs were big and heavy. At our little trailer in Selma, Mom kept a plastic tablecloth in a kitchen drawer, and it was only brought out for special occasions.

Soon after the blessing was said, I fumbled my glass of sweet Alabama tea. Sticky liquid went everywhere, including into Aunt Gay’s gravy boat. The boat didn’t sink, yet hot gravy overflowed like it’d been torpedoed. To mother, this simple blunder was a major calamity. I’m sure a certain word was whispered by all to describe my clumsiness, yet I’ll keep it secret ’til the very end of this story.

I can still rehash minute details because Mom oftentimes brought this dilemma up at family get-togethers. Over time, she eventually found humor in such.

After the mess was cleaned and tablecloth changed, a card table was quickly erected for us youngsters to finish our meal on. I believe sympathy is the only reason my cousins politely joined Jim and me. For several years after that incident, “card table status” remained a ritual of my holiday dining experience.

These days, I chuckle whenever I see kids enduring the same, figuring at least one of them is also a klutz.