Are We our Ancestors?

I believe when I first became conscious of being an individual human being, and of having a responsibility to become “something” to the world….something of consequence, I was very afraid. I was not even a teenager when I first had these thoughts. “What will I be?” “What will I do?”

I wasn’t obsessive about it, just concerned.

I dabbled around with music. I have played guitar and sang. I sang at schools and churches. I sang and played at functions, at skating rinks and at dances. But, I never became a “singer” for a living, or a writer. I tried, but I couldn’t quite get it done. I couldn’t drive the nail into the center of the board. I couldn’t quite close the deal. I wasn’t in the right place at the right time. Lord, I wish there had been a “Voice” or an “American Idol” show around in the seventies, or even the early eighties. I’d have sure tried to get on. I’m not sure if I would have gotten in, but I’d have tried.

I thought about sports too. Baseball mostly. I had some talent there, and just didn’t pursue it past my teenage years. I became enamored of golf, and although I never was nearly as “good” at that game as I had been at baseball, it suited my goofball nature better than baseball.

I thought about these things this morning while I was sitting on the couch, drinking a cup of coffee and looking over my “” account. If you have ever dabbled with that site, I don’t have to explain what it’s all about. It’s a place where you can plug your name and some dates into a spreadsheet of sorts and from there you plunge headlong into your ancestral past. I’ve been playing with it for a long time now. I’ve traced ancestors from my Dad and Mom all the way back to nearly the Middle Ages. It’s amazing how the information has evolved over the years since I first started meddling with it. I have found everything from Civil war soldiers to ancestors who were on the Mayflower, to Kings of England. Most of my ancestors are more mundane, however. Farmers, mill workers, lumberjacks and jacks of all trades. I was working on some clues for one of my ancestors who was born in 1840 and died in 1907, when it hit me. That’s the same exact number of years I have been on this earth. Then the rush of time hit me hard in the face, like a tractor trailer going seventy five. The lifetime of that particular ancestor of mine is my lifetime. My years. My current number.

I wondered what their dreams were when they were 12, or 15 or 18. I wondered what their goals for their life had been. I wondered if they had achieved them. I cried in my coffee because all this time I have been looking at these ancestors, it has been from a cold, impersonal and technical way. It’s been purely from an informational standpoint, and never from a human relations one. They were not, and are not just a name and some numbers on a page. They were people. People who lived and died, loved and cried, built and tore down, sang and danced, worked and played. People who did everything I have done, and will do. Just in a different setting and a different format.

I wonder if someday there will be a man or a woman sitting around and looking at the research which I have done on this site and thinking: “What the hell was he thinking?”

I hope perhaps instead, that the memories I have tried to instill in those loved ones around me will be remembered, as my Grandma used to say, “until I pass out of memory” Once that happens, I’ll be just like my dear relative who lived 67 years, during the Civil War and much strife and pain in this country…..I’ll be just a name and a number on a page somewhere, or on a stone perhaps.

At the End of a Gun

At the end of a barrel of a gun

If you have never been in any particular situation, it’s hard to imagine how you would react.

Back in the early 70’s when my wife and I were living in Athens, Georgia I worked for a chain convenience store there on a part time basis. The store was located just across the street from the public housing area on Baxter Street, and we had a lot of African American customers. Some of them gave me a hard time, some were very friendly.
I worked mostly at night and on the weekends. I had never thought much about being held up at gun point…until it happened one night.
There was a friendly, young African American boy inside the store browsing the comic books. I had just pulled the register down…that is, if you are unfamiliar with the way those things work, pulling all of the big bills out of the cash register drawer and putting them in under the drawer. Then in just a heartbeat, a white guy with long hair and a hunting rifle walked calmly into the store. He pointed the rifle at me, and said “give me all the money in a bag, or I’m going to blow your brains out” He noticed the boy over at the comic rack and told him to get behind the counter with me. “I’m not going to say it again,” he said “all your money, or I’ll kill both of you”

I tried to notice details, but my heart was pounding in my chest. Here I was, a twenty year old guy with very little “worldly” training, no military training, and I had a gun right in my face, and the guy had his finger right on the trigger. I honestly never thought about pulling a heroic act. Maybe I could have knocked the gun away and jumped over the counter and beat the crap out of his skinny ass. Maybe…

I put all the money out of the register drawer into a paper bag and gave it to him. He never asked to look under the drawer where I had just put most of the big money. He told me and the young black guy to get down on the floor. Now….was this the time to jump on him? No. It was down on the floor for us.
Then he was out the door and gone. I picked up the phone and dialed the police. They were there in five minutes or less. I had a good description of the guy, the direction he had gone, his rifle…pretty much everything they might need to get him. The boy in the store with me gave them about the same information as I did, not quite as detailed since he had been very scared. He never came back in anymore to browse the comic books. They never caught the guy.

About six months later, I was in another one of the same companies stores a little further up the hill about the same time of the day. A very well built black man walked in the store with a pistol already out in his hand, and a bandana on his face. “I want to kill you, but I won’t if you give me all the money in the register” Again, the same pounding heart and sweating palms. The same paper bag. “Under the register too!” he said knowing that little trick. I pulled the register up and put that money into the bag. He was out the door and gone before I could blink. I hadn’t had any time whatsoever to think about heroics, or trying to stop the perpetrator. It was so quick. This one could have just as easily shot me and ran if he had wanted.
Again, I called the police and gave them a much less detailed description. I hadn’t been as scared as the first time, but there had been no time to BE scared. They never caught this guy either.

A couple of weeks later the store manager came in one evening and fired me for “not pulling the drinks up in the cooler” which I had done only about an hour before he came into the store. That last robbery had been too much for the company I guess. I think they suspected I had taken the money and made up the story about being robbed. The police  had checked me in both cases. They had checked my car too. There was nothing to find, because I was as honest then as I am now.

I went to work for Sears and Roebuck after that, selling shoes. I figured nobody would come in there with a gun and as far as I know, I was right.
I’ve never had guns pointed at my head since that early point in my life, but I remember it very well. I can still see the face of that first guy, etched in my memory. I could still pick him out of a line up. I hope he and the other guy straightened up and got their lives together after nearly scaring me to death.
When you are born, your brain is an empty slate.

As your grow, you soak up those things which you come in contact with like a dry sponge dropped into the ocean. Your parents and your immediate family are your first line of learning. You are affected for the rest of your life by the environment in which you are immersed during those first few formative years of your life. You are cast in a mold out of which it is hard to break.
As we age and begin to try and exert a modicum of indolence, our little “rebellions” are either quelled severely or tolerated and channeled, depending on the type of “raisings” to which we are exposed. At some point, an individual must decide which cultural, societal, political, religious and overall philosophical ways they are going to follow. Many choose to continue to follow the philosophical bent of those around them, some do not. Sometimes it takes longer to “break the mold” of what you have deemed to be “right”

John Stuart Mills said: “Where, not the person’s own character, but the traditions or customs of other people are the rule of conduct, there is wanting one of the principal ingredients of human happiness, and quite the chief ingredient of individual and social progress.”

If we sacrifice our own individuality on the altar of conformity for the sake of the lack of conflict, then we do everyone a disservice. I’ve been a non-conformist since I was 18 years old. My philosophical bent does not suite many. It really doesn’t suite much of anything that I was raised to believe for that matter. But, I’m more at peace with it now than I have ever been. I’ll remain who I am, and I will continue to attempt to “live and let live” be my creed.

A Lifetime in Four Different Years.

Warning…long post…

Our life is nothing but memory, as I have often said. Sometimes my mind is so closed, I cannot remember what I want to remember.

Last night I had one of the weirdest dreams ever…I was awake during part of it. Or at least I was semi awake. Every time I opened my eyes, I saw geometric patterns. Patterns from where I lay…almost out to eternity. There were wave patterns, there were geometric patterns of all kinds. It was so strange. I thought I was going blind, or something bad was wrong with my eyes. I finally got totally awake and put some eye drops into my eye. The patterns stopped. Was it the drops, or was it because I was totally awake. I really do not know. I told my wife today that I hope these strange dreams don’t herald some change in me. It’s a secret fear of mine…really not so secret.

In any case, while I can remember, I want to share some important memories. Before they fade away… For my family in particular…but for anyone who wishes to read them. It’s a pretty long post. You have been warned….

Circa 1972….

I drive our little Green Ford ‘Pinto’ station wagon down the old dirt “Snake Nation” Road towards my Grandma and Grandpa Stewart’s house. It’s an old two story clapboard house with wooden shingles on the roof. There are still a few bee hives sitting around the house. Grandpa has been a beekeeper and honey gatherer all his life. He is in his early 80’s, but still fairly fit. Grandma is in her 70’s, and can still walk further up and down the mountain roads than I can. She probably could walk 20 miles if she needed to. I am bringing my first child, their Great granddaughter, to spend the night. I see Grandma waiting out on the front porch. She always hears the cars coming, always.

We sit out on the front porch that evening in the roughhewn swing and rock out and back. The chains make sort of a musical “Squeak” in rhythm with the “Katy-dids” as they rub their legs together calling out to each other in the night. Grandma had fixed us dinner the first thing as soon as we got there. There is no turning her down when it comes to that. If you come to her house, you get a meal. I still smell the fried chicken sizzling on the stove and the fresh hand rolled biscuits cooking in the oven. Grandma made everything perfectly, and never, ever owned a measuring cup or spoon. She just would pour out whatever she was adding into her hand and put in in the pot. All of this takes place in the first hour after we get there. As I turn to Grandma to give her a hug….she fades away.

Circa 1970….

St. Mary’s Hospital, Athens Georgia. September 2, 1970. My first daughter is born. My wife has had a very difficult pregnancy, and this is the culmination. At 7:14 p.m., the Dr. comes out and tells me “It’s a Girl” I excitedly run to the pay phones down stairs and call my parents. My Mother in law is there with us. My father in law is in California, and she gives him a call. The pediatrician, a stoic looking Chinese born Dr., comes out and tells us that the baby is in perfect condition and will be brought out to the nursery in a few minutes. I pace nervously and have a cigarette. “I really need to quit this,” I think. It will be hard on the baby. About fifteen minutes later they bring her out to the nursery. What a beauty she is, with mounds and loads of dark black hair and eyes so dark, they are like the night sky when there are no stars. I put my face up next to the nursery window and puff on it. She is right under me, and I stand there and watch her blink, and stuff her tiny fist in her mouth. I think of all the things that we are going to do, she is the first granddaughter on both sides, and will be spoiled to death….I turn to talk to my Mother in law and she starts to fade away…. On September 4th, in the wee hours of the morning, my baby Karrie Lynn Bowers dies. They could never figure out what went wrong. I only wish that they had been as liberal back the about nursery policies as they are today….I never got to hold her, or touch her…and my heart still breaks.

Circa 1962

I had waited until my last year of eligibility to play little league ball. I was big for my age, and all the other kid’s teased me about my size. “Man, you gotta be at least 16” they would say. The opposing team parents would “naa-naa” too, but I had my birth certificate! I had started off hot in practices, losing all the coaches baseballs by knocking them over the fence into the river. I had some power during practices. But,. I had a case of nerves when it came to real games. I was in a slump, a really bad slump through the first three games I didn’t have a hit.

It was the ninth inning against the “Yankees” Old Russel Fox was pitching and we were behind 7-4. The bases were loaded, and I was up. I felt that tightening in my stomach that I always got…almost sick to the point of throwing up. I came up to bat and the ump called the first one: “Strike one” right down the middle. Russell grinned at me, and everyone jeered. The next pitch was too far in, and hit my HARD on the elbow. I wasn’t then and never have been one to show emotion, so I didn’t let anyone know how bad it hurt. But I was seeing RED. I was so pissed I could have killed him, because I knew he did it on purpose. He wound up for the next pitch, and threw his fast ball straight down the middle. I put it so far over the right field fence that it is still floating down the Chattooga River! As I trot around the bases with the world’s biggest and silliest grin on my face…the baseline fades away… I hit 4 more home runs that year after the ice was broken.

Circa 1958….

It’s Christmas day 1958. I had never seen a White Christmas. After all this IS Georgia and Mr. Heat Miser has sway down here! I went to bed that night with all the visions of a new baseball bat, and glove in my mind. Maybe some new comic books. It’s seven o’clock the next morning and Mom says: “Larry, wake up and come and look outside” I go look out our big old picture window at the black cherry tree in the front yard. It has snowed! It snowed on Christmas morning!! I can’t go out in it until we open our presents though, so I start to tear into them.

There’s some new “Scrooge McDuck” comics. Darn stingy old Scrooge is my favorite. There’s a box of tinker toys, and a wooden puzzle of the United States. But…that’s all. I am a little disappointed, and then from the dining room I hear a “hoot, HOOT” I go running in there, and there sit’s my Dad with a TRAIN going around the tracks. A real Lionel with smoke belching out the top! He already has the track together and is sitting there laughing as hard as I am, because he is enjoying it just as much as me! I sit down on the floor and play with the train for a while. Then I remember the snow. I want to make a snowman, and NOW! Mom wraps me up in my coat, puts on gloves, and as I start out the door…..the snow starts to fade away. There was a snowman built that day, but I didn’t name him Frosty….

Thanksgiving 2011- So long ago!

Thanksgiving 2011

My most memorable thanksgiving is one I almost didn’t see. My family pulled me through in December 2010. I owe them everything. Without the surgery and subsequent complications I went through…..the flu, the gradual recovery over several months from the massive anesthesia and effects of it, the depression….without going through those things I would have missed many wonderful life experiences. Too many to name, but four wonderful grandchildren have come into my life since then, and Paula and I have been closely involved with them. I’ve gotten to see my family grow through marriages….and upcoming ones. I’ve gone on great vacations with my family, and have experienced unbelievable joy and love. Believe me, I am one lucky man. So tomorrow, everyone have a Wonderful Thanksgiving! I hope to see many of you over the upcoming holidays….along with, of course, my aforementioned lovely family.

So here’s the writing from 2011:

Thanksgiving….my favorite holiday of the year. Even more so than Christmas. Even more so this year of all years

Last year on Christmas I was in Redmond hospital. My chest had been sawed open and they grafted four arteries into my heart and bypassed the ones that were almost totally stopped up. I was laying there for well over 6 hours, and was on the heart-lung machine for over an hour. Motionless and essentially lifeless for over an hour, while a machine held my life in its brainless hands. Thank God for technology and skilled doctors, because I did live. I lived, although for the first week I sometimes wished that I had not. But now I’m glad I did.

It snowed in Northwest Georgia on Christmas, last year…the Winter of 2010, and I missed it! I was so out of it still, that I couldn’t even look through the hospital window to the beautiful white Christmas that had finally come, and covered the ground below in an ultra white quilt of purest white. After all those years, it had finally arrived….and me, well…I was barely alive. It has taken all that time since then to truly recover. New Year’s of 2011 came and went, and I was sick as the veritable dog with the flu. Can you imagine all the coughing while trying to hold your chest to keep it from popping open? A trip to your doctor’s office and in his back door to see if after all you’d gone through, you were STILL gonna die! But, somehow I didn’t. Somehow, I lived.

Now Thanksgiving is here!

On Thanksgiving all of the family will be here and the extent of the stress is whether to have another spoonful of dressing, or some more ham.

I used to put more and more pressure on myself about Christmas every year, by worrying about what to give to who…. and is it enough, and yada yada. This year, with things as they are, Christmas will be a little more “homey” Things may even be homemade! But, I have finally decided that it’s gonna be ok. I would be fine if the only thing I get for Christmas is an “I love you” from my family.

I could NOT have made it this past year without them, especially my wife. You don’t know about love until you have to have someone wait on you hand and foot because you can’t wait on yourself. You don’t know about feelings, until one of your children or grandchildren walking through the door to see you lifts your heart to the high heavens.

This year, in the year 2011, I am thankful just to BE here…just to be able to be around and love the best family any man could have. I’m thankful to be able to think and feel I’m thankful to be able to try and piece together this past year, and and remember where the time went, and what has actually happened. I’m thankful for you…all my Facebook friends, who have prayed for me and encouraged me.

So, come on Thanksgiving!!

Come on and let’s move forward with life.

Come on and let’s have turkey…and pass the dressing please!

I Won’t Misbehave in Class

Back when I was in fifth grade…I remember Mrs. Ponder was my teacher. I remember her as being pretty severe. I remember being in her class one day, and I sat next to my friend “Barbecue” He a little magazine that was kind of a”girlie” kinda’ thing and was looking at it. Somebody on the other side of me wanted to see it, and just as I was passing it….Mrs. Ponder walked in. I was caught red handed AND red faced. You can try to explain your way out of something like that…but as a 5th grade boy there ain’t no way. So I had to go see Ms. Ethel….that wasn’t a good year for me cause I misbehaved in class a lot of other times too. Most of the time Mrs. Ponder made us write long hand on sheets of ruled notebook paper: “I will not misbehave in class” 500 times. You may think it that it’s not much…but just try it out sometime. Mind numbing and wrist rubbing monotony. Now..I have said that to say this: When it comes to FB I am going to write 500 times…”I will not comment on political posts” “I will not comment on political posts” “I will not…..heck….I don’t think I can do it. I think I am going to go hunt me up some notebook paper now….

Things About Me

Oh my Lord, I kept liking those posts where people are putting up “secret” things that people don’t know about them and one of my friends has given me the number 7. Should I be a good sport and do it? I’m not sure I can think of that many things.

1. I once rode my bicycle down the steps and busted my head open. I don’t know what I was thinking. I also had a high fever the year before and had extremely crossed eyes. They thought it was going to be permanent, but they finally uncrossed on their own.

2. My favorite reading genre is Fantasy. I’m a big fan of George R.R. Martin, R.A. Salvatore, etc.

3. I wanted to be a poet when I was growing up. My Dad told me there was no money in it. I ended up poor anyway, so I should have just followed my dream.

4. I love movies that make your cry. Old Yeller still gets me every time.

5. I’m afraid of flying, though I have done it a lot.

6. I didn’t see the ocean until I was 15 years old.

7. I once won an all-expense paid trip to one of 10 cities in Europe on a radio contest. It was WSB, and it was on a trivia contest. The questions which I answered to get my “name in the pot” was: Who was Mrs. Hungary of 1957? The answer: Zsa Zsa Gabor. We ended up going to Greece although we first wanted to go to Vienna Austria. We could only go in October and Vienna was booked up due to “Oktoberfest” Loved Greece though..

The Holiday Season

The holiday season is a double edged sword. Oh how I love these days between now and the new year. These are times of the gatherings of family. These are the times of great meals and food…familiar dishes and recipes send wonderful, memory jogging smells through the air.

They pick me up and take me back once more, to the place in time where old memories are stored.

I’m at Grandma and Grandpa’s old clapboard house, and Granny has the table ready. Most of the Aunts, Uncles and cousins are already there, but there’s always a late comer or two. It might be Uncle Jack, and Aunt Kay and their boys this year….but everyone finally makes it there. We all gather round that big old wooden table…so many of us. All scattered now, and so many gone, but the memory lives.

Then I think of the days when my family was young. I had never heard of stuffing a turkey before Paula and I got married, but oh how delicious that stuffing was…and is still. I like a pan of cornbread dressing too, but I can’t wait for that delicious stuffing…my dear mother in laws recipe….I cannot believe she has been gone so many years now. It doesn’t seem possible…

I think of the times with Mom and Dad, not particularly the days when Mike and I were kids, but their very last Thanksgiving meal with us, over there in their own house on 7th street in 2009. We had moved into their house and they were in Assisted living. We went up and brought them down for the meal. Momma kept asking where their stuff was. She couldn’t understand that things had not been left the same as when they had moved out. She was always planning on coming back! Daddy just ate like he was starving, and asking for more sweet tea. Then 2010 came and we lost them.

And so there is the bittersweet of this time of year. Time passes by and people pass on, as the old Kathy Mattea song says.

So as my wife and I walk through this 65th year’s holiday season I will rejoice in all that we share together, my wonderful family and good friends! Let’s eat some turkey, and open some presents and pass the love around and back again. Let’s make some great memories together. After all that is what makes us who we are.

November 22, 1963

On November 22nd, 50 years ago I went out from school at lunchtime and tried to jump from one big rock to another over at the river. I landed short, with my right leg jamming up against a sharp nodule in the limestone rock and puncturing a hole in my shin bone. Mr Couey didn’t like the looks of it, and sent me home for my Mom to decide whether or not for me to go to the Dr. My Aunt Shirley and my Grandmother Stewart were spending the week with us, and Mom was pouring peroxide on my wound when Cronkite came on TV saying the President had been shot. My Mom dropped the peroxide bottle, and my Aunt started to cry. I didn’t get to go to the Dr. that day and I still have that scar on my shin. I call it my Kennedy scar. I got another scar that day too…the scar that occurs when you are hit hard by the realities of life at 13. Things would never be the same for the rest of the 60’s. I loved that decade, and those wonderful youthful years, but there was always a seed of caution resting in the back of my brain somewhere, just waiting for some dire announcement to cause it to germinate into full blown cynicism at the world in which I lived.

Explanations of Life

It’s blustery, gray and quite cold this morning, so I guess my walking will have to wait until this afternoon. I’m somewhat tired anyway, after a night of vivid dreams, some disturbing….some more docile and sweet.

I don’t claim to know much about the mind. In truth, I think I don’t know too much at all in reality. Our human knowledge is limited, and although we think we are constantly expanded it, I wonder if our expansion of said knowledge is in the wrong direction. For the most part, we are always looking outward with our research and development. I think we should be looking inward. After all, we do not even know what it is inside of us which leaves us at some point, and causes us to become inanimate objects instead of animate living things.

For sure, science has their own explanations, but for me they are incomplete. I just have this nagging and unexplainable feeling that we are missing something about life which is right there in front of our face, but which we cannot quite grasp, or quite explain.

Sometimes I even wonder if dreams are our actual reality, and what we live in our “waking” hours is something else entirely.

Silly isn’t it?

Well, it’s just a thought.

Hal 9000, the super computer, asks Dave in “2001: A Space Odyssey” right before he turns him off: “Will I dream”?? It’s an honest question.

I wonder if we will when we are turned off?

The Firsts and Lasts of Life

I dreamed a strange dream a few nights ago. Paula and I were in the “hereafter” so to speak. We were both young again, and we were in this huge empty house. Paula was sitting around playing the guitar and singing! “When did you learn to play and sing like that?” I asked. She replied, “Do you think I watched and listened to you for fifty years without learning something?” “I guess not” I said.

The house was huge and beautiful, but empty. I seemed to sense instinctively though, that it had once been full and joyful…and that it would be again one day.

It’s strange what our minds come up with in dreams.

During this time of the year we all see the beginnings, and the endings. The firsts and the lasts. The first Thanksgiving and Christmas for some little ones, and the last for some. Some perhaps expected, some unexpected. “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.”

I get emotionally caught up in this vortex of life we all have going on around us constantly, and often forget what I should be all about. I get sidetracked by the everyday humdrum racket of Social Media going’s on, and jump out there with stuff I should just keep “in my heart”. I gotta watch it.

There are firsts and lasts happening this year. There are holes in the fabric of Joy we naively weave around the holiday season left by those whose last, was last season. We fill those as best we can with those tiny, beautiful “firsts” who have come into our lives. We gotta do that. We also need to look around us this year very closely, and tell those around us that we love them. It’s easy for me in some cases, but a little harder in others, although it should not be. It should be unconditional. It’s my burden to bear that I cannot be as kind as I should be, that I cannot be as forgiving as I need to be. I thought about that very thing this morning while I was walking, but then ran off the track before the day had ended. Ah, the nature of humanity constantly wars against our need to be more loving. My fifth grade teacher used to punish us by making us write a particular sentence by longhand either 500 or 1000 times on paper, and turn it in to her. I need to write “I will be a better man” 1000 times by tomorrow and turn it in to God….Maybe then it would stick.

Having now rambled on far too long, I have said all of that to say this: love those around you this year. Be kind to them, and enjoy your time together. Most of us will be able to do that, but there are many out there for whom the holidays are a toil. Children get abused…cruelty runs rampant. If you find any way to help someone for whom the holidays are not a fun time, please do it.

As for me, I’m practicing more on my guitar starting tomorrow because in my dream of “heaven” Paula was playing and singing a lot better than me.