My thoughts on everything from albacore tuna to zebras
OK, so I've finally been convinced (read that strong armed) into doing a blog. Frankly I hate the name...|
It's simply amazing the things you can buy at the grocery store these days.
|I know its been quite awhile since I've posted anything to this blog, but I thought I should update you on what's going on in my life. My health has gone downhill greatly, to the point where I have to have a major transplant operation. To get this operation I have to move to Miami temporarily which we are doing in the next few weeks. Some of you have become friends over the years and I thought you might want to follow my progress and my story. So here are the links if you care to keep up with Little Jim and his latest exploit.
|In my life I've seen some mighty bad things and have more than enough bad memories, but none can come close to watching EMT's performing CPR on my wife Friday night. It is a memory I wish I didn't have. Right now she's in the hospital in ICU on a ventilator which does make me thankful the EMT's were there. I'm so lost without her here at my side. I miss her smile, her laugh and her soft touch. Sigh.
|It's funny. One of the first things I noticed upon waking up unemployed was how good I felt. I felt relaxed, I felt at peace, I actually felt happy. It's been about three weeks now and that feeling hasn't subsided. I get up earlier now than I did when I was working. I enjoy my day and look forward to the next. I've gone fishing more in the last three weeks than the rest of the year! I spend time with my wife. And most importantly, I'm starting to get caught up with my reading. Writing has been slow but will come in time I'm sure.
Sure there are the occasional moments of panic. How will we pay the bills? What about health insurance? But those thoughts are fleeting and seem to worry me less each day. I'm whittling down the "honey do" list and Linda hasn't kicked me out...yet.
So...tell me again...why do I want to work????
|In the spring of 1979 I graduated from Penn State with a degree in Environmental Resource Management. I was not the best of students, but I had an innate intelligence that allowed me to brag I could take a multiple choice test in any subject any pass it. Arrogance? Probably. But more often than not it proved true. This is not a good thing. Study habits? I had none. Attention span? Forget it if I sat anywhere near the window and it wasn't much better if I sat anywhere else. Usually I'd fall asleep because I stayed up to the wee hours of the morning...reading. Reading anything I could get my hands on. More than once I woke up in the library and went straight to class. And so I graduated, not in the top of my class, not even in the middle. But I had a piece of paper that said I was educated and supposedly knew what I was doing. Tell me again what's wrong with the education system?
The point of this is that except for about a month after I graduated I've been working steady ever since...at least until last Friday. I've been downsized and I don't mean I've lost weight. With one days notice, I was "let go". So here I sit 55 years old and unemployed for the first time since 1979. I know I am not alone.
More to follow
One middle-aged adult-child
Has gray beard and ponytail
Is well fed and friendly
Doesn’t drink or smoke
Smiles and laughs frequently
Has poor eyesight,
Is deaf in one ear and can’t hear from the other
Missing three teeth
Has an acquaintance with:
Gout, arthritis, kidney stones, gall stones, enlarged spleen, cirrhosis, heel spurs, bulging discs, pinched nerves, shot nerves, high blood pressure and occasional bouts of “feelin’ poorly”
Can predict weather using various body parts; knees, hips, hands, shoulders, etc.
Guilty of sometimes thinking highly of himself and sometimes not.
Wonders often what it all means.
Can often be found fishing (not often enough), working in the garden, riding steam trains, writing short stories or watching the clouds roll by, enjoying life.
Feels most comfortable, relaxed and loved in the arms of his wife, the love of life.
Do not medicate
Engage in pleasant conversation, laugh and smile
If he’s fishing, join him.
If he’s watching clouds roll by do not disturb.
Lost is a good thing.
|To Who; Whom; Whomever It May Or May Not Concern,
Linda and I are weathering (hey, I made a punny) this hurricane quite well. In anticipation of the oncoming storm Linda and I went to C'dale yesterday. I nailed the garbage cans to the side of the house so they wouldn't blow away and being the Thinker that I am I took my trusty chainsaw and cut down every tree and shrub within three hundred ft. of the house. True, I had to cut down several trees on the neighbor's property to accomplish the 300 ft, but I'm happy to say, that the neighbors were very appreciative. While I couldn't hear what they were saying over the noise of the saw, I did notice a number of them, through the astute use of sign language, said I was Number One. When the sawdust all settled, 17 trees lay on the ground, two fences had new entry points and there was one cracked windshield, but hey, it wasn't on the driver's side so no harm no foul.
Back here in H'burg, in anticipation of this storm proper preparations were made several days ago. Taking a lesson from our friends in New Orleans I cut a hole in the roof so that we could climb out when the floodwaters arrived. And knowing full well that paint doesn't stick to wet shingles I painted the word HELP! on the roof in six foot letters. In afterthought I walked over to the neighbor's side of the building and cut a hole for his family also. I felt I needed to paint something on his side of the roof so I painted the word ME. True, it now reads ME HELP! but I can always hope for a dyslexic helicopter pilot. Linda just told me that somebody added the word NEED between ME and HELP with an arrow pointing towards our half of the building. Obviously a student of proper grammar.It does the heart good to see the attention to detail.
Further preparations included loading the boat with all the necessary survival tools. Boy I sure am glad we get the Discovery Channel. Currently Linda and I are sitting in the boat as the rain pelts down and the wind blows. We each have our lifejackets on and I am wearing my WW II Infantryman's helmet. (Safety is no accident) Linda thinks the helmet is a bit much. "After all" she said, "What possible harm could come from YOU getting hit in the head...again." For those of you who watch "Say Yes To The Dress, Linda's lifejacket is a self inflating light pink with yellow highlights to match her golden hair. It comes complete with a waist cinching pearl studded belt and has an over the shoulder neck piece that modestly enhances , when inflated, the subtle curves of....well you get it. I of course am wearing my matching yellow and pink polkadot inflatable duck ring, complete with a quacker whistle. We are surrounded by a case of Twizzlers, two Coleman lanterns and and a stove. We each have three pair of clean underwear and of course all the fishing gear. Several weapons, including the crossbow are included. I mounted the crossbow in the bow of the boat on the camera tripod, so we now have a bow gun! (I made another punny! he, he, he.) Since you can't just live on Twizzlers...hmmm, I'm not entirely sure about that, but just in case we've also included two cases of Ramen Noodle soup, 150 lb. of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese (Yummm!) and, be still my beating heart, 14 cases of Yoo-Hoo. Yahoo!!!
I've also tethered the outdoor grill to the boat. I know what you're thinking, "the grill will sink!" Not so, Oh befuddled ones. I filled it with spray foam insulation, making it, in effect, a dingy. At least that's what the neighbor called it. I'm pretty sure that's what he was referring to when he shouted above the high wind. I caught the words, "that man's dingy!" Surely, what he actually said was "Look at that man's dingy!" And since my zipper was up I know he was referring to the grill.
The plan is, when the flood waters start lapping against the garage door, Linda and I will open it, fire up the boat motor and glide right out of the gay-rauge. Once free of our moorings we will set a course for Richmond VA, site of the recent major, major earthquake that was felt by exactly two people and apparently one dog (I suspect it was just fleas.). Once at Richmond we will take pause and reconnoiter our surroundings. From there we expect to head farther south until we are able to round the isthmus of Florida. After several rounds of Margaritas in Margaritaville as we wait out the buffeting (wait for it) winds (Punny, Punny, Punny) we will set a crooked/straight course for the Isle of Denver Co. Expect to arrive there, out of twizzlers and macaroni, but I suspect we will have Ramen Noodle soup left. It goes without saying we will be Hoo-less by then also.
Of course we will be videotaping our whole survival experience and you will be able to view it on Discovery at some future date, assuming we are able to arrive at an acceptable agreement. Some of our conditions include, no enemas, no pee drinking, no bug eating, (unless well cooked) no swimming with man-eating reptiles, no poisonous snakes...and the list goes on. Don't worry, after we become famous, we promise to remember all you little people.
P.S. Linda asked me to tell you that I'm off my meds again. She's so funny. ( I like the pink pills best)
|Today in the mail I received correspondence from my Health Insurance for some testing I had done.
The testing cost $115.00
There was a "discount" of $101.64
My insurer paid $ 12.02
The balance was $ 1.34
Now, while I'm pleased with that part, it took six pages, an envelope, and 46 cents postage to tell me about the $1.34 and... it wasn't even a bill. The bill will be coming in the future in another mailing!
Am I missing something or is this just a small sign of why our health system is screwed up?
| Another volume of The Things I learned or almost learned has surfaced! It was found by three migrating pasta makers as they crossed the isthmus of Vermicelli. They had stopped for the night and were busy setting up camp when Pasta Maker Capelli D’Angelo felt the call of nature. While relieving himself he noticed a thin round tube extruding from the ground. Upon closer inspection he found that inside the tube was Volume 37. When they realized what they had they immediately contacted the research firm of E & Bay to explore financial compensation. Since the volume was incomplete it was the opinion of E that it should be returned to it’s original location in hopes that it would continue to grow. Bay felt that while that certainly was a viable option they should at least sell the tube which archeological metallurgists had determined was composed of the rare yellow metal called brass, (a strange combination of the elements Br and Ass) and offered the pasta makers a fair recompense of two bits. Excitedly they agreed.
1. Don’t sweat it, what you don’t get done today will wait until tomorrow.
2. If you don’t get it done tomorrow it probably didn’t need done in the first place.
3. Don’t ever steal tools. It just means you have to work.
4. If you can’t fix it with a sledge hammer and torch, its not worth owning.
5.Things under pressure go boom. This applies to balloons as well as people.
6. Listen closely: Crystal and beveled glass sun catchers as well as ornamental glass paperweights can concentrate sunlight (Think magnifying glass and ants).If you don’t believe me stop by my house and I’ll show you the wood burned furniture and the burn marks on the carpet. Do you understand?
7. Never leave a job unfinished.
Read my Blog!!!
You never know, you might be in it!
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|Note: At this time of year many families send out annual letters to update family and friends of the past years events. While some people view them as nothing more than a way to brag about successes and children, they are a very efficient way of updating people all at once. Not as good as a blog, mind you. But not bad. So with that thought in mind I give you an update on Little Jim’s life, which I guess in a way could be called bragging, after all there is the jail thing. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Little Jim and his friends, I suggest you check out his folder in my portfolio. For those of you that are familiar, you will recognize certain traits that Little Jim just can’t seem to shake, i.e., the jail thing. So I give you...
Little Jim’s Family Christmas letter 2010
“Yeah, Little Jim.”
“I’ve got a problem. The Missus says we’ve got to do one of those family Christmas newsletters.”
“What’s the problem?”
“Well, I haven’t a clue what to write. I’m not the writer around here. You are. You couldn’t maybe take time from your busy schedule and help me out could you?” Jim waited patiently while Joe pulled the newspaper from his face and sat up in his recliner.
“Jim, I’m rather busy right now. Lot of projects I’m working on. The wife says I’ve got to hang the Christmas wreath on the door and get a tree.I don’t see how I could...”
“Tell you what Joe, I’ll help you out and you help me. How’s that?”
“Well...okay, I guess. You go get me a tree and I’ll start on your newsletter.”
“Sounds good, Joe. Thanks!’ Little Jim headed for the door as Joe settled back in his recliner and pulled the newspaper back up over his head. Time for research, he thought.
2010 was an incredibly good year for Little Jim and the Missus. Last April Little Jim quit his job of 25 years down at the mill because he just couldn’t seem to keep his mind on running the press being as it was gettin’ close to trout season and all.
At the end of April Little Jim celebrated four straight months without having to call Joe to post bail down at the county Jail. The boy’s at Moe’s got to talkin and they all figured that was a record...or at least the first time Jim has gone four months without getting arrested since 1972 and that was only because he was playing miniature golf on the professional circuit back then and the windmill conked him in the head and put him in a comma for six months. No, it really was a comma.
In May, Little Jim and the Missus, much to the surprise of pretty much all that know Little Jim, celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary. The local woman’s gardening club at the urging of Mrs. Martin and her dog Penelope gave the Missus an anniversary present of a three day cruise...alone.
In June, Little Jim’s dog Mortimer was served with puppy support papers for an alleged dalliance he had with a local hound dog named Elvira. Since Mortimer is a St Bernard the judge continued the case until such time as the DNA evidence is submitted. Mortimer doesn’t seem much concerned and still shows up to court Mrs. Martin’s dog Penelope, a miniature poodle.
In July while walleye fishing on Crotch Lake, Little Jim caught what most people around here believe to be the largest carp ever to come out of that lake. The actual ruling is still pending due to suspicious propeller like marks on the fish. Little Jim steadfastly denies any knowledge of the alleged marks.
In Sept, Little Jim and the Missus celebrated their May anniversary by going fishing at Miller’s pond. Little Jim swears he didn’t push her from the boat but whatever happened, the Missus has some serious doubts about celebrating their 21st wedding anniversary.
In October, Little Jim and the boys down at Moe’s organized the Veteran’s Day parade. Normally this parade would be held in November on Veteran’s Day, but after some heated discussion and several bottles of Yoo-Hoo it was decided that because of conflicts with hunting season and the fall walleye bite it would be better to hold the parade in October since duck season wasn’t real big around here.
Somewhere during the year Little Jim got another job. After about a month the company decided to pay him to stay home and wait for the phone to ring. He did. It didn’t. Everything seems fine except the walleye population appears to have taken a severe hit.
In December Little Jim dressed up as Santa for the kids down at local youth center as he does every year. This year the Missus joined him as Missus Claus and Moe from down at Moe’s Fine Eatery dressed as one of the elves. Yoo-Hoo was enjoyed by all.
That pretty much sums up the year for Little Jim and the Missus... as long as we don’t count the required visit to the local psychiatrist. Don’t ask. Suffice it to say the therapist refused to see him again and retired shortly thereafter.
Epilogue: Little Jim made good on the Christmas tree, complete with decorations which on the face of things seemed a good thing...at least until the cops showed up and demanded to know how Joe ended up with the Christmas tree from the Borough building. And so went Little Jim’s chance for staying out of jail for all of 2010. It also meant Joe needed to bail him out so he could make Mortimer’s court date.
Merry Christmas Everyone!!!!
This volume was discovered beneath some old flea infested trail blankets in a deserted cabin on the trail to/from Nowhere. It was tattered and torn and part was used as nesting material by a family of down on their luck arctic nutria. Through forensic analysis it was determined that volume 8.5 was written before the great Hoover brain drain of 2012 and after the Turkey and Eggnog wars of 2018. In terms of rarity, as determined by experts knowledgeable in cinnamon sticks and pixie dances, a document of such import can only be said to be valueless. Thought you'd want to know.
1. Never stick anything with the word “tooth” in its name in your ear.
2. Talk to yourself. You’re the smartest person you know.
4. Learn to dance
6. Helpful Holiday Hint: If you wear a Santa suit to a bar, you can pretty much drink all night for free.Tested and Verified 1979, 1980, 1981, etc.
7. Baking soda doesn’t replace baking powder.
8. Baking powder tastes about as good as vanilla extract.
9. Order out.
10. You will learn something new everyday. You have no choice.
11. Get use to it. It’s a good thing.
12. True Christmas is a state of mind. Believe.
13. There is no such thing as a left handed monkey wrench.
14. Screwdriver’s do not come with instructions. Why?
15. If you are patient and persistent you can outwit any fish.
16. If you’re not patient try explosives.
17. Don’t grab a water pipe and a live power line at the same time. No, no, no, don’t do that.
18. If two people you trust offer to hold your legs while they lower you head first into a narrow trench so you can cut an unknown pipe with a torch and you agree, it’s time to question your sense of good judgement...assuming you live long enough to do that.
19. Measure twice - cut once
20. Do not send a hungover friend up a ladder and expect him to do anything that makes sense.
1. Always lend a helping hand. It’s the least you can do and you should always do the very least.
2. Eat more garlic.
3. Talk less. Listen more.
4. Pain is an excellent teacher
5. Irony is useful. Explosives are better.
6. Patience is a virtue. There is no money in being virtuous.
7. When you’re eighteen you’ll be mad at the world.
8. When you’re thirty you’ll have all the answers.
9. When you’re forty you’ll realize there are no answers.
10. When you’re fifty you’ll wonder what happened to the questions.
11. When you’re sixty you won’t care.
12. No matter what, keep smiling. It will keep everybody guessing.
13. Eat green vegetables. I don’t know why. Just eat them.
14. Eat Shoo-fly pie. I do know why and so will you when you eat it.
15. Coconut is best fresh out of the shell.
16. If you take a shower, make sure you put it back when your done.
17. Take a shower.
18. It’s okay to: not answer the phone; turn off the TV; the computer; or those funny little music things.
19. Sit in the woods and listen. Do this often
20. Read a book, a real book. Bury your nose in the pages. Inhale deeply. Remember that smell.
Things I’ve Learned (or Almost Learned)
( in no particular order)
( Volumes 1 thru 5 were lost in the great Hoover Brain Drain of 2012 )
1. The best you can hope for is to start the day with the blue water.
2. Lebanon Bologna is very good.
3. Hershey chocolate syrup is very good.
4. Lebanon Bologna with Hershey Chocolate syrup is not.
5. Sleep is not overrated.
6. Reality is.
7. As you grow older the floor gets farther away.
8. Smile often.
11. Stand up for what you believe.
12. It’s okay to sit down.
13. If you fall down the up escalator it balances out.
14. Electricity is positive
15. Electricity is negative
16. Too much electricity is positively a negative thing.
17. Too much of anything is a negative thing.
18. Look at the world sideways. It’s a wonderful view.
19. At the end of the day there is no more blue water.
20. Absolutely nothing is written in stone.
| It was early. Too early. It was a habit I had reluctantly developed many years earlier. Up, out of bed and get moving. Breakfast could wait. Pop said I should have been a farmer. Work three hours and then get breakfast. I slipped into my jeans, flannel shirt and made my way down the stairs. The bedroom door stuck a little, but I had learned to push against it while I turned the well worn knob, trying to keep the noise to a minimum. The other bedroom doors were closed yet. Even so I could smell the coffee from the kitchen as I snuck down the steps. On the couch at the bottom of the stairs lay someone sleeping and the fold out bed in the living room held my two sleeping nieces. My mom was busy in the kitchen and the faint aroma of onions sauteing on the stove mixed with the aroma of the coffee. My Dad sat at the kitchen counter with a cup of black coffee in front of him. In his hand he held an apple and his small pocket knife. Between bites of apple, he looked at me, smiled and said,“It’s about time you got up boy.”
I laughed and asked him why I needed to get up early on Thanksgiving. He grinned. I surveyed the kitchen. The dining table had boxes of cereals, bowls and glasses for the breakfast eaters. Mom worked feverishly in the kitchen She wished me a Happy Thanksgiving and then fired off a list of things she needed me to do, that ranged from getting the turkey out of the fridge in the basement all the way up to going to pick up Baba when she called. I stepped out onto the back porch and pulled on my work boots. I grabbed a coffee can of dog food and a jug of water. For a moment I eyed up the pumpkin, apple and mincemeat pies, baked the day before and now staying cool on the back porch. I helped roll out the pie crusts and peeled the apples. My favorite was the mincemeat and I eyed it up expectantly. I saw the relish tray had been added to the display so I reached under the saran wrap and popped a black olive into my mouth as I stepped off the porch onto the patio.
The crisp autumn air felt good to my lungs. It had a faint smell of decomposing leaves mixed with the wood smoke from the fire Pop kept burning in the basement. I inhaled deeply and watched the wisps of white escape my mouth as I exhaled. A heavy frost lay on the grass and the roof of the garage. The sun was just starting to clear the hemlock trees and it sparkled off the frost. The withered vines of tomatoes still clung to the stakes in the garden and the remaining green tomatoes were turning brown from the frost.
Up the hill from the patio I heard the rustle of Trigger rousing himself from the warmth of the hay packed dog house. As he shook himself awake I could hear the jingle of his tags on his collar. He spotted me moving up the backyard and the wagging of his tail beat a resounding thump, thump, thump against the side of his house. His water bowl had a thin sheet of ice on it so I picked it up and whacked it against the side of his house splashing ice and water everywhere. After I gave him fresh water and food, I knelt and ran my hand along his coat while he jumped, trying to lick my face. As I scratched my finger along the back of his ear I thought of the hunting trips earlier that fall with Pop and Trigger. In a few days We would go again, this time for deer. Poor Trigger would have to stay home.
By the time I got back in the house it was starting to come alive. Karen and Jaime were up and that meant everybody was up, whether they wanted to be or not. My sister sat at the table sipping coffee trying to get her wits about her before she jumped into the kitchen to help Mom. The TV on the counter was on and the Thanksgiving Day parade marched across the screen. Nobody was really watching it. Voices were bouncing around like ping pong balls in a washing machine as everyone tried to talk at once. Pop had retreated to the basement under the premise of fixing a machine. Karen and Jaime jumped on my feet, wrapped their arms around my legs and begged for a ride. I obliged, laughing right along with them until Mom shooed me to the basement to get the turkey. I wondered how many more years I’d be able to give them rides. They were growing up and I was growing older.
The basement was toasty warm from the wood fire and Pop sat at his workbench with a sewing machine in front of him. A small black and white TV was on and once again the Parade marched on with nobody in particular watching it. The voices from upstairs drifted through the floor and Pop looked at me and grinned. I sat on the bottom step and we talked. Nothing in particular. We talked some about the upcoming deer season, work, school, and whatever else crossed our minds. He showed me how to time the particular machine he was working on and together we alkyd and just enjoyed being together. Eventually, it was interrupted by Mom hollering down the stairs wondering where the turkey was. I walked to the back of the basement into the cold cellar and got the bird without further prompting.
The aromas grew stronger. The phone rang and I was off to get Baba. When we got back she sat at the counter talking mostly with Mom and helping out occasionally. The breakfast dishes had been cleared and the table was set with the “good dishes”. Before I knew it I was peeling potatoes and helping to stuff a turkey. Mom was never shy about un-idle-ing idle hands. Shortly from the top of the second floor stairs came a wump, wump wump...thirteen of them to be exact, followed by thirteen more and giggling. We all laughed as Karen and Jaime slid on their bellies down the carpeted stairs.
The aroma of early morning coffee had been replaced by the turkey cooking in the oven. The potatoes were boiling on the stove. The traditional green bean casserole was being prepared. Pop came up from the basement and sat in his chair in front of the TV. The parade had been replaced by football and we all took turns stealing from the relish trays and whatever else we could find to nibble on as our stomachs began to anticipate dinner.
Outside the dining room window a cardinal sat on the Rhododendron bushes and a few flurries of snow floated aimlessly by. Trigger barked at a passing dog and I watched cars pulling into neighbors drives as families gathered for Thanksgiving.
The turkey was ready to be carved and I mashed the potatoes making sure to add a tablespoon of butter and some salt. The food was on the table and everyone was called for dinner. Grace was said, usually by Mom, and amidst the clanking of dishes and the multitude of voices time was found to actually eat.
Afterwards, cleanup completed, I joined Pop in the living room, each of us asleep in chairs. The football games played on.
I stood in the kitchen. All was quiet. Gone were the dishes. The fridge was empty. The house was eerily quiet and no cardinal sat in the rhododendron. The dog coop was gone and no vestige of the garden could be seen. I closed my eyes. I could still hear the voices. I inhaled deeply and willed myself to smell the food cooking. I looked around at the vacant rooms and a certain sadness settled in for a few moments...and then I felt it, deep down, slow at first. It emanated from the walls. It came from within my soul. It was love. Love, in its purest form. It had always been there, and no matter what, it would always be with each and every one of us. It was warming and comforting. It reassured. It gave hope.
I walked out on the back porch and closed the door. I gave the yard and house one more look before I got in the truck and I smiled. To have experienced that love was truly something to be thankful for. As I drove up the street, a cardinal flew across in front of me, headed for the rhododendron no doubt.
| It was early Thanksgiving morning and a light snow coated the ground.This wasn’t the powdery mid-winter snow of late December or January but rather an early winter wet snow, the kind you find late in November, the kind that on a sunny day would be gone by noon. My Mom was busy in the kitchen making the stuffing for our Thanksgiving dinner while my Dad sat at the breakfast counter eating a bowl of cereal with a sliced banana. A steaming cup of coffee sat next to him. Occasionally he would glance out the window at the house across the street looking for some sign of activity.
He was wearing a plaid flannel shirt and a pair of canvas pants. Perched on his balding head was was bright orange cap that had seen better days. In the corner of the kitchen stood two double barrel shotguns and two well worn canvas coats that smelled of a wonderful mix of the earthy smells of autumn, hunting dogs and sweat. I hurriedly downed a glass of orange juice, ate a banana and scrambled to get dressed for our annual Thanksgiving hunting trip.
Across the street our neighbor, Walter, appeared from around the back of his house. Similarly dressed to my dad he cradled a shotgun in one arm and led two excited barking beagles on leashes with the other. We hurriedly gathered our gear and met him at the back of the house. The snow had already started to melt and drip from the roof. While Mom busied herself with preparing our Thanksgiving dinner, Walter, my Dad and I climbed the hill behind the house beginning with the abandoned railroad grade.Once we were well clear of the homes Walter released the dogs and we spent the morning following them through the woods.
The rising temperatures and the morning sun caused the snow to melt and fall from overhead tree branches. Occasionally it would find that space between the back of your hunting hat and the collar of your coat making its icy presence known on your neck. The dogs, closer to the snow covered ground, were soon soaked, though the wagging tails and excited barks showed they didn’t mind at all.
Some of our shots were successful and some were not.We laughed at those. We walked across old mine dumps and through large patches of briars.We got scratched, sweaty and sore. We didn’t mind. Sometimes the woods would open up and as the morning progressed we stopped at one of the artesian flows to use a collapsible metal cup for a drink. If we were lucky one of us would pull a Hershey bar or maybe an apple from one of the many pockets in our coat and we would share it.
At noon we would call it a day, call the dogs in and head back down to the railroad grade. We’d follow that back to our homes, leaving just enough time for us to get cleaned up for dinner. From the moment we walked into the house we were overwhelmed by the many smells of Thanksgiving dinner. They easily overwhelmed the smells of autumn, hunting, dogs and sweat.
Today, as I sit down for dinner with my wife at a local restaurant, I know I will give thanks for my family and for the experiences they provided that have made me who I am today.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone. No matter where you are at, or what you are doing today, may your thoughts take you, for just a few moments, to family and friends, to a time when your life was filled with simple joys.
Several weeks ago my wife and I were headed out of town on a one day excursion. We stopped at Burger King on the way out of town so my wife could grab some breakfast. I had already eaten but since it was going to be a long drive, I figured I’d get a cup of hot tea to sip on going down the road. We went through the drive through. After placing my wife’s order I ordered a LARGE cup of hot tea. The speaker crackled and a voice came back telling me they didn’t have a “large” in hot tea, that they only offered a small and a medium. I opened my mouth to say that would do, when the question arose in my mind, If you have a MEDIUM size cup of tea, doesn’t that imply that you also have a “LARGE?” I posed the very same question to the crackling speaker/microphone. Silence.
Eventually a different voice simply replied, “No.” Having eaten my Wheaties that morning, I couldn’t help myself and I responded, “Well then, if you don’t have a large but only have a small and medium, doesn’t that by default make your medium a large, meaning that what you actually have is a LARGE and a SMALL and you don’t really have a MEDIUM?” Silence. Eventually a slightly exasperated voice again relied, “No.”
At this point my wife was also becoming exasperated with me and told me to knock it off. I wasn’t quite ready to yet. Another thought had entered my devious mind. I asked the crackling speaker (which I swear had little wisps of smoke emanating from it) “Can I order a LARGE coffee?” “Yes.” was the reply. “Can I order a MEDIUM coffee?” Again I received a “Yes.” Can I order a SMALL coffee? And one more time I received a “Yes”.
“Well then,” I asked, “why don’t you just make the large tea in the large coffee cup?”
“We just don’t.” was the reply. I then asked. “Why are you discriminating against tea drinkers?” No response.
Finally another voice got on the speaker and proceeded to ignore my last question. The voice proceeded to read back to me my order including the three cups of coffee and finished with, “Will there be anything else, Sir?”
At this point my wife was trying to hide under the seat. I said, “I don’t want the coffees. I don’t like coffee.”
“Would you still like the MEDIUM tea, SIR?”
“Nope, I’ll just have a cup of hot chocolate instead.” I replied
I’m not sure why, but we’ve been going to McDonalds since then.
|My Dad passed away on 9/6/09. He missed my Mom greatly. They are together again, now. Below is the eulogy I delivered at his service.
A little more than six months ago I stood here and spoke to most of you about my mom. I thought that would be the hardest thing I would ever have to do… I was wrong.
I called my dad, Pop. It’s what he called his father. For a time, when I was younger, I tried referring to him as “the old man”. My nieces were horrified, and they kept pestering me to stop until I finally gave in. Apparently, women develop these arts of persuasion at an early age… and, I might add, they hone them finely over the years.
Many of you knew Pop as Joe. Around our house he was known as Big Joe and I, of course, was Little Joe. This caused some confusion amongst my college friends. When they would call, they would ask for Big Joe, and since Pop and I sounded alike on the phone, they would end up talking to Pop. I missed several good parties because I never found out about them until the following day…from Pop.
Some of you might have referred to Pop as Mr. Umholtz. As I got older I found people referring to me as Mr. Umholtz. It made me uncomfortable and I would simply tell them Mr. Umholtz lives in Carbondale, Pennsylvania. I’m just “Joe”.
In truth, Pop had many names. He was Pappy to his grandchildren. He was Uncle Joe to his nephews and niece. He was Joe. He was Mr. Umholtz. He was Dad, and he was Pop. Thanks to my nieces, he will never be “the old man.”
If you wanted to know who Pop was, all you needed to do was look at his hands. You could see his whole life there. They were the hands of a poor rural farm boy. They were the hands of a soldier who slogged across Western Europe building runways for Allied planes…behind the enemy lines. They were the hands that reached out to gently lift his children, grandchildren and great-grandson onto his lap. They were the hands that could make subtle adjustments to an electric motor, sewing machine or engine that often made the difference between its running or not.
When I was about twelve, while Pop was mowing the lawn, he caught his right hand in the moving blade of the mower. The doctor taped his fingers in place and sent him home with instructions to come to the hospital the following day for surgery. At home, he started the lawnmower and holding his bandaged hand above his head, finished the mowing. Each time I tried to get him to let me take over he chased me away… They were the hands of a stubborn Dutchman.
They were the hands of a gentle, kind soul, a dignified soul, a quiet soul. They were strong battered hands that had lived life, not merely observed it. They could coax a melody from a worn clarinet and hold a choir hymnal on a Sunday morning. Those hands placed my wife’s wedding ring in mine at our marriage. He was and always will be, my best man. They were the hands that lovingly held my Mom’s as together they looked back on a life well lived.
But to me, in my heart, they will always be the hands I would watch on a cool early autumn morning, while he stood in the Delaware River, in a mixture of swirling fog and new-day sunlight, one hand gently cradling a fishing rod while the other let the line glide over his fingers; Leaning forward, his arms outstretched, feeling the tug of an explosive smallmouth bass about to meet its match. A love and passion for fishing and hunting is something we shared all our lives. The fishing lure on Pop’s suit was made by his Dad, my Pappy. For close to 100 years it has served us well. You don’t have to look far to see where Pop got his hands.
Pop had that Dutchman’s twinkle in his bright blue eyes that told you he was not above a bit of mischief from time to time. In fact, it’s a wonder my sister and I are even here today. Not long after my parents were married, Pop and a friend devised a plan for removing a particularly large boulder from beneath our house. To make a long story short, the plan included, dynamite, old wooden doors, some fuse, and a Packard station wagon. The resulting explosion shook the entire house. When the smoke and dust settled, the boulder was still there, the wooden doors were turned into large toothpicks, several of which were protruding from the Packard Station Wagon. Pop and his friend had taken shelter behind the car. I’m not sure when they remembered Mom was still in the house, but I’m fairly certain they were reminded of it when she burst through the back door looking for them. I wouldn’t know this story if Pop hadn’t come home from work one day to find me busily attempting to dig the boulder out of the garden behind the house. I was tired of hitting it with the plow every spring. He made me cover it back up before Mom saw it. If you’re wondering how the boulder made it from the basement to the backyard…well… it’s good to have a little wonderment in your life.
That story, I suspect, is also the source of one of the many sayings Pop shared with us down through the years. When something we were doing would run askew or slightly a-kilter, he’d look at me with that Dutchman’s twinkle and say, “Well boy, there’s no sense in being stupid if you don’t show it.”
Linda recently commented to me that everyone loved Pop. I hadn’t really thought about it much until then, but I believe she’s right. In all my years I don’t ever recall anyone ever uttering a bad word about him. If they did, at least, they were smart enough to never say it in front of me. I do know, confidently, that everyone that met Pop learned something from him. I was lucky enough to have learned quite a few things. But even with that, after all these years, I often wish I could be just half as smart as he was. I wish I had his knowledge, his patience, his dignity, his humility, his common sense and the many other attributes that made him… Pop.
Years ago I heard a song by Vince Gill, and from the moment I first heard it I thought of Pop. I won’t even attempt to sing it. But for Pop, I will recite the lyrics.
I know your life
On earth was troubled
And only you could know the pain
You weren’t afraid to face the devil
You were no stranger to the rain
Oh, how we cried the day you left us
We’ll gather round your grave to grieve
I wish I could see the angel’s faces
When they hear your sweet voice sing.
Go rest high on that mountain
Your work on earth is done
Go to Heaven a-shouting
Love for the father and the son.
For all of you here today, please take your special memories of Pop and hold them close in your hearts. Remember that sweet voice, loving heart, Dutchman’s twinkle and Cheshire grin. It will be a very long, long time before someone as special as Pop comes our way again.
I’m still not ready to be Mr. Umholtz. What do I do now?
| Typically I don’t like eating at restaurants in hotels. I find them to be overpriced with ho-hum food. Last Wednesday, I made an exception. I arrived back at my hotel – Holiday Inn, Pittsburgh University Center in a torrential downpour. I’ve stayed here before and I’m well aware that there are a number of eateries within walking distance, but after a 4.5 hr car ride and another 4 hrs of meetings, all I really wanted to do was get something to eat and lose myself in my room where I still had work to get done for the next day’s meetings.
As is the case with most Holiday Inn’s they had an onsite restaurant. Its name is Bridges, which I could understand since Pittsburgh has quite a few bridges, just none within close proximity to this hotel. So be it. I went to my room, unpacked, and prepared myself to be overcharged and unimpressed.
When you first enter Bridges you are in the lounge/bar area, and while I thought about eating there, I really just wanted somewhere quiet to relax and the bar was definitely not the place. The restaurant portion was off to the left and came complete with outside seating, booths and tables with chairs. The hostess was very affable and I let it up to her to choose my seat. She must have read my mind because she seated me in a quiet corner where I could be alone with my thoughts. She went over the specials and took my drink order – water with lemon.
The waiter arrived shortly after with my water and asked if I needed a few more minutes. I didn’t. I was more tired than hungry; still I knew I needed to get something in my stomach as it had been growling for about an hour. I ordered the half rack of ribs special which came with a salad, a potato of my choice and sugar peas.
The salad was assembled by the waiter at your table allowing you to choose the ingredients. That was a nice touch. You weren’t given a choice of dressing which I thought was a bit odd. Still the dressing, a light Thousand Island type, was quite good, so I really can’t complain too much.
The meal was timed to arrive very shortly after I was done with my salad. A rack of ribs must have shrunk since I used to make them. For a half rack I got five ribs. Still they were meaty and not dried out as ribs so often are. The barbecue sauce was run-of-the-mill and here was a chance they missed to really impress their clientele. There are plenty of commercial sauces that are quite good and a lot of recipes for making your own.
I had ordered a baked potato with sour cream, the waiter brought mashed. It was corrected promptly and the potato was quite good with a salt based seasoning on the skin that I’d love to have the recipe for. This was a true baked potato and not a microwaved one. The sugar pea pods were a bit tough; still they didn’t appear to be old.
The presentation of the meal could use some improving, the mashed potatoes, sugar peas and ribs were all pushed up against each other in the center of the plate. Personally I don’t care for barbecue sauce on my sugar peas. I didn’t eat the mashed potatoes, but they too had sauce on them.
On a scale of one to ten I’d have to give the meal a 7, the waiter a 9.5 and the price, believe it or not a ten. The whole meal cost me $16.05 plus tip. Not bad for a hotel restaurant. I should mention I did have an excellent piece of lemon cream cake for desert, but being a Priority Club member, I got this for free. Otherwise the meal would have been $7.50 more (I can buy a whole pie for $7.50).
All in all I’d eat there again (and in fact, did, the following morning. More on that experience below). The staff was friendly and attentive, and while the food wasn’t perfect, it was more than passable. The atmosphere was nice and it certainly beat walking the streets of Pittsburgh in a downpour. I left the table satisfied.
That brings me to tomorrow morning. I will post that experience next.
| Thirty… or now that I think about it, it’s more like forty years ago; I picked up a fly rod (See my story Flora Belle). It was an ungainly and unforgiving thing, though I didn’t know it at the time. It was 9 ft. long, made of bamboo, and felt rather like a limp noodle in my hand. It came in a battered cloth case and had been passed around the family from one fisherman to another. My cousin Fritz had written his name on the end flap of the case. The case had an aluminum sleeve with three different rod tips; two of which fit the rod; the third did not. The fly line was stuck to the spool like overcooked pasta to the pot. The wicker creel had a hole in the bottom a 20 in trout could easily slip through and the plastic fly box was home to a number of unidentifiable dry flies with rusty, bent and broken hooks. Of all the hands that fly rod had fallen into, I knew of no one, including myself that had any knowledge of fly fishing.
The local sporting goods store sold me a fly line; sinking, floating, double taper, these were never mentioned. They sold me, or more accurately, my Dad some leaders, and the smallest screw eyes I had ever seen. Apparently you screwed one into the end of the fly line and the leader was tied to it. That was most intriguing, and unlike any bait fishing or spinning I had done up to that point. Along with the line and the leader came a handful of something called “poppers” which were unlike any “fly” I had ever seen.
I don’t recall ever catching any panfish on that fly rod, though I do remember fishing for them. I did catch a chain pickerel and that was quite an experience. I was with my Dad in our boat, fly line strewn about, beating the lily pads (literally) in search of panfish when this pickerel emerged from the depths and engulfed my popper. It was a white popper. I had no idea what to do next. My Dad offered advice from the back of the boat while I struggled to gain control of rod, line and fish. Somehow, I’m not quite sure how, the fish ended up in the net and I remember being amazed at its size. It had to be the biggest pickerel in the pond. Imagine my disappointment when Dad said, “It’s not big enough to be legal.” We released the fish and I looked at my pickerel chewed popper in dismay.
My experience flyfishing with that flyrod is filled with a bunch of “nevers.” I never caught a panfish. I never caught a trout. I never landed a largemouth bass. I say landed, because I did hook one. It was a comedy of errors. The fish took the popper. I endeavored to set the hook, much like I would have done with a spinning rod. Not an easy thing to do with a 9 ft. limp noodle. It danced across the water and the lily pads. I struggled with the spaghetti like mass of line at my feet. The fish surged. The reel fell off the rod and plummeted to the bottom of the lake. The fish dove into the lilypads and wrapped my line around them until it broke and he was gone, along with my popper. I retrieved the reel from the bottom of the lake and reeled the line in. I disassembled the rod and placed it in the case. I picked up my spinning rod and went back to fishing. Neither Dad nor I spoke about it. It was the last fish I ever battled with that flyrod.
The flyrod still resides in my collection of fishing paraphernalia. I’m not sure why, but it does. I relegate it the same amount of respect as I do the Popeil’s pocket fisherman my grandmother bought me. Curiously enough, I did catch a 24 in brown trout on the pocket fisherman. And, until lately, I have never given flyfishing much thought at all but when I did, it bothered me that I hadn’t succeeded in mastering this art. After all, above all else, I am, in my soul, a fisherman.
Those of you that have followed my not so current blog will remember a few blogs back where I lamented on my loss of enjoyment and the ability to relax while fishing and hunting. I attributed that to my occupation; Sort of like taking a busman’s holiday. Last August I was treated to a ten-day vacation in our local hospital’s intensive care ward. Without boring you with the details, the reason for my being there, and the subsequent recuperation allowed me ample time to reflect upon what is really important in my life. I made some important discoveries. First, I am not invincible. Maybe I was at 18 or even 30, but not at 52. Second, nothing is more important to me than my family and third, spending time fishing and hunting is something I truly missed and more importantly, something I need. Still I was somewhat hesitant to tackle either, because of health reasons and the fear I had lost the enjoyment forever. I wasn’t able to do much last year, but with the arrival of spring on the horizon I began to make plans for fishing.
My youngest son looked forward to going. That was one of my successes with him. He truly enjoys fishing. I’m not sure that he enjoys it for the same reasons I do, but that really doesn’t matter. My wife too, was looking forward to going. Though, if the truth is known, I believe a part of that is because she is worried about me. No matter, I will use any excuse possible to spend time with her, and spending time in our boat fishing is better yet. We caught fish. Not a lot, but some. Still, I couldn’t help but think something was missing. While the spark, the glowing ember of what made me fall in love with fishing was still there, the excitement that fanned that ember to a steady flame still didn’t seemed to be missing.
One Sunday morning as I leafed through the newspaper I noticed an ad from Bass Pro Shop. Among other things they were selling complete flyrod setups; Line, reel, rod for $69.00. I thought about it. Maybe it was time I gave flyfishing another chance. So after quizzing the salesman, who it turned out I knew, I plunked down the cash for an 8wt rod and picked up some poppers also. I wasn’t going to spend any more money until I figured out if I enjoyed it or not. I tossed the rod into my rod box where it stayed for the next several fishing trips. Then, one evening, while fishing a local lake with my son, the wind died down and I could see some bluegills in the shallows. I remembered the flyrod so I got it out, rigged it up and tied on a popper. The second cast produced a nice fat bluegill and my son was suitably impressed. I asked if he wanted to try it.
With that simple question, my flyrod disappeared and I watched with great amusement enjoyment and envy as he landed one bluegill after another. It was back, the excitement of watching him cast and land bluegill after bluegill fanned that spark
I have had many exciting experiences a fisherman. Experiences where I was both successful and not so. All have provided precious memories, but none will rank up there with my sitting back in the boat and watching my son land those bluegills on the brand new flyrod. Neither of us knew what we were doing, but somehow, for the bluegills, it didn’t matter. I now find myself learning about flies, hanging around the flyshop, anticipating taking a flyfishing class and maybe one day being good enough to land a nice 24-inch brown trout on something other than a Popeil Pocket Fisherman. Somewhere, I’m sure, the original owner of that 9 ft limp noodle flyrod is smiling.
| Mom passed away on March 3rd. Below is the Eulogy I delivered at her funeral.
We are here today because my Mom has touched all of our lives in some way. More than likely it was with a smile, a loving laugh, a gentle caress or a generous and helping hand. We are here to mourn our loss and to celebrate her life. That is how it should be. We will be thinking of her and the way in which she has been and is a part of our lives. We each have our favorite Mom memories or stories. With that in mind I’d like to share with you a few of mine.
In our family we celebrated Russian Christmas as well as “ordinary Christmas.” The Russian Christmas Eve dinner is prepared with thirteen separate dishes, each made without the benefit of dairy or meat products. When Mom would have us set the table, there was always one extra place setting. Tradition held that it was for the stranger who might come knocking at the door looking for something to eat.
I tell you this because throughout my life I have made many friends and quite often I would tell them that if they ever found themselves in Carbondale they should stop and visit my folks. “Just tell them you’re one of Little Joe’s friends and you’ll be invited in” This theory has been tested more than once over the years, and just as the stranger on Christmas, they were invited in and treated to one of Mom’s home cooked meals… and more than likely a cold beer from Pop. The culmination of this occurred a couple of years ago when a friend of mine that I haven’t seen since high school pulled into my folk’s driveway. He remembered my parent’s kindness and generosity and the good times he had while visiting with them. Since he was now a chef, this time he brought the meal with him. All of my friends who have spent time with my parents speak fondly and wistfully of those times. More than one has expressed the sentiment that we didn’t know how lucky we were to have a family such as ours. I can assure you that we do.
Mom enjoyed cooking and took great pride in preparing our holiday meals. At one meal the main course was a home cured ham, the kind that would melt in your mouth, straight from the farmer’s smokehouse. When the meal was served my future brother-in-law asked for ketchup. Thinking he wanted it for his potatoes, Mom gave him the bottle from the fridge. You could have heard a pin drop when he slathered his ham with the ketchup. Looking at the initial expression on Mom’s face, I felt sure he had met the end of his days, and I was going to be tasked with the disposition of the body. Instead, Mom jokingly chastised him; we all started breathing again and I stopped mulling over the location of the nearest abandoned mine shaft.
At one holiday meal Twila and I were almost booted from the family. We all sat down for a holiday meal and Mom gave the blessing. In the background the faint voicing of “do-wa-ditty, ditty-dum, ditty-do” could be heard because one of us had forgotten to turn off the stereo. (I’m pretty sure it was Twila) Upon hearing a prayer of thanks being spoken to “do-wa-ditty, ditty-dum, ditty do,” it became impossible for us to muffle our laughter. The look Mom shot us would make you think we had just put ketchup on our ham.
Mom was no shrinking violet. During a fishing trip to the Delaware River she had waded pretty far out to fish a particular spot. As luck would have it, the warden was out checking licenses and hollered for Mom to come in so he could check her’s. Without missing a beat she hollered back that if he wanted to see it he could just wade on out and get it. Not quite sure what to do he stood on the shore waiting for Mom to change her mind. Seeing that she had no intention of doing so he gave up and wandered away. If you asked Mom why she didn’t come in she’d smile and tell you, “It was a good fishing spot and it had taken quite a while to get to it.” She wasn’t about to leave just so the warden could check her license. If ypu pressed her further. she'd also tell you with a grin, "he just wanted a better look at me in my bathing suit."
In Ebensburg, where my wife and sons and I lived for a number of years, I was fond of decorating our house for Halloween. For trick-or-treat each year I would come up with a costume and entertain the neighborhood children while handing out treats. One year I was having a particular problem sewing my costume (if you are an Umholtz, you learn to sew) so I enlisted the assistance of Mom. The local newspaper interviewed me on the day of trick-or-treat. When the reporter asked where I got my costume, I opened my mouth to answer and that’s when the reality of the situation hit me. I laughed and responded, “I’m forty-four years old and my Mommy made it for me.” And that’s exactly how the front-page article read the following week.
And finally, Mom was a great source of cooking knowledge. One of the things I’m sure she would tell you is that if you are baking a mincemeat pie with a recipe that calls for one half cup of whiskey and you forget to add it before you put the top crust on, it’s not a good idea to lift the corner of the crust and pour the whiskey in. My cousin Fritz would argue that point. He got the slice with all the whiskey.
I hope these few memories of Mom bring a smile to your face and maybe even a chuckle. She would like that. She loved to laugh and smile. So wipe away your tears and smile and hold her memory close. Celebrate the time she spent with us. Take joy in knowing she was a part of all our lives.
To honor and celebrate my Mom’s life I offer you the following:
• Always love your children and your family. Know that they are the single most precious gift that you will ever receive and that you will ever give.
• If you find yourself sitting next to someone you don’t know, take the time to introduce yourself. Share a Mom story with them and enjoy a bit of humor in your stress filled life.
• Always set an extra plate for the stranger and pretty soon you’ll find out there really are no strangers after all, just people we haven’t gotten to know yet.
• At your next holiday meal, put the ketchup bottle on the table, even if you think it doesn’t go well with poached salmon.
• And last, when your family is gathered together for a holiday meal and it’s your turn to offer the blessing, do not be surprised if someone at the table is humming “do-wa-ditty, ditty-dum, ditty do.”
Remember my Mom in your hearts and she will live forever.