Category Archives: memory

A Moment of Magic

July 26, 2020, one of my most admired people in the world, passed away. Born on July 1, 1916, she had a long and accomplished career as an actor, author, and most gracious lady. Her name was Olivia de Havilland. Many of you will remember some of her iconic roles in motion pictures, such as Melanie in Gone With the Wind. And sadly, some of you will be too young to remember her at all. Thank goodness for film archives and the Internet.

Before I get into the meat of my story, I’d like to fill you in a little on Ms. de Havilland’s many varied career accomplishments in her 104 years. She was nominated for five Academy Awards and won two Oscars; the first for To Each His Own in 1946, and the second for The Heiress in 1949. She wrote a bestselling book called, Every Frenchman Has One. She campaigned for women actors for fair treatment and even won a lawsuit which changed Hollywood.

On Nov. 17, 2008, at the age of 92, she received the National Medal of Arts from President George W. Bush at a White House ceremony, “For her persuasive and compelling skill as an actress in roles from Shakespeare’s Hermia to Margaret Mitchell’s Melanie.”

She received honorary Doctorate degrees from The American University of Paris, France, The University of Hertfordshire in England, and Mills College in California, U.S.A..

In 2010 she received the Légion d’honneur in Paris, France; the highest honor for military and civil merits.

And in June 2017, two weeks before her 101st birthday, she was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II.

I mentioned all this to let you know why I considered her someone really special. What an amazing life she led, and her death announcement reminded me of an experience I shall never forget.

In the early 1980’s, my son and I were in a Scottish bagpipe band, called the St. Andrew’s Pipes and Drums of Montgomery, AL. Former Post Master General under President Nixon, later businessman and philanthropist Winton M. Blount had a huge estate and his estate manager was our bass drummer, John Lesenger. Finding a place to practice our piping was a problem until Mr. Blount offered us part of the estate as our marching and practice space. Out there on the estate, we couldn’t disturb anyone.

Mr. Blount’s wife, Carolyn, was an avid Shakespeare supporter and together they offered to finance a new home for the financially strapped Alabama Shakespeare Festival if it would move to Montgomery. Not only that, The Blounts gave up part of their estate for that new home. The groundbreaking ceremony was Aug. 10, 1983 heralded by the St. Andrews Pipes and Drums with such dignitaries as Gov. George Wallace and Mayor Folmar in attendance.

Mr. Blount’s son, Thomas and Perry Pittman designed the 100,000-square-foot, 21.5 million complex, christened the Carolyn Blount Theater which houses two theaters—the 750 seat Festival stage and the 225 seat Octagon—as well as production shops, a costume shop, dressing rooms, rehearsal halls and administrative work spaces.

The opening occurred on Dec. 7, 1985 led once more by the St Andrew’s Pipes and Drums and the occasion sparked national interest and actors Tony Randall and Olivia de Havilland served as masters of ceremonies.

Before the public was allowed in, those people most involved with the event were given the opportunity to tour the theaters. As pipers, my son and I were among that group. We all wandered around at leisure and I walked through the big theater and through to the smaller octagon shaped one in the semi-round and came out on stage center with the audience seats in front of me. I was alone and the room was quiet. I stood silently with my eyes closed remembering my college acting days when all of a sudden I opened my eyes and looked down and sitting facing me in the front row was Olivia de Havilland. I was frozen in place until she smiled at me ever so gently. That moment took my breath away. Tears come to me as I remember this. I walked over to her and asked if I could sit next to her and she said, “Of course.” I told her how much I admired her talent and enjoyed her movies and we chatted for a few minutes. I’ll never forget how gracious she was. It truly was a moment of magic in my life. Brava, Olivia de Havilland!

Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland. Join her here each 11th of the month.

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Craela’s Omar & Yasmeen

I’m still in my grateful mode, dear readers and this month I’d like to give tribute to a very special human being, who was an extremely talented person, and who just happened to be my mother-in-law. Her name was Craela and she was one of those rare people whom everybody loved. I adored her.

Craela

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She was the manager of an ice cream store in Overland, Missouri, which is a suburb of St. Louis and every time my husband had leave from the military, we’d pack up the car, gather our son and dog and head in that direction to visit, stopping at Velvet Freeze Ice Cream store on the way in.  Hubby and I always had a hot fudge sundae and, Rob, our son, had bubble gum ice cream, you know, with the tiny chiclet type pieces of bubble gum in it. And when Rob was small, his name for Craela was Nano

Inside Velvet Freeze, Craela had drawn posters in colored markers of her customers, especially the “apple cheeked children” and had them displayed all over the store. She knew everybody’s name and everything about their families and what kind of ice cream they liked. People flocked from all over the area to go there. I was always amazed she could remember them all.

Craela loved to paint in oils and later in Acrylics and she’d often give newlyweds a painting of hers as a wedding gift. Her style was really unique and hinted on fantasy and sometimes her subjects were humorous and somewhat cartoony. I remember one Christmas she’d hand-blown eggs and painted the shells to look like each member of the family. They were personalized Christmas ornaments on her tree and were really beautiful and so remarkable. And the neatest thing about them was that they looked exactly like each of us!

One year she made me one of those kitchen witches that were so popular years ago. I still have mine hanging in my kitchen. The witch is supposed to keep away gremlins that like to misplace things, but I think mine has gotten lazy. Anyway, she’s so unique and I love the way she looks! What do you think?

Nano’s Kitchen Witch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But I think the crowning glory of the things Craela made me over the years was a doll named Yasmeen. She was a Christmas gift and in the box with her was the story of Yasmeen’s life. It told of how Yasmeen has searched the world over for her beloved and would continue to search until she found him. The next gift was Omar, Yasmeen’s beloved. They met, fell in love and are now forever together. I found an exotic looking chair painted it gold and decorated it with jewels for a dance show I was in and it is where Omar and Yasmeen like to stay now. They reside in my bedroom and as I look at them every day, I’m amazed again and again that Craela just dreamed up these dolls and made them completely out of her imagination. She even used real eyelashes for Yasmeen and toe rings for her feet, harem pants and a jewel in her navel. And Omar has rings on his fingers, removable shoes and a turban on his head. Absolutely amazing!!!!

 

Omar & Yasmeen

 

 

Omar & Yasmeen

 

 

Sadly, Craela left this world in 1993 and I’ll always miss her, but I’m so grateful I have such fantastic memories of her. In fact, my son and I were talking about her just yesterday. And since my former sister-in-law and I have remained friends through the years, we can reminisce together about a truly precious person.

Do you have a special person that has influenced you in your life? I’d love to hear.

 

Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland. Please join her here each 11th of the month.

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Let’s Celebrate!

Back in April 2011, when my book, SHE HAD TO KNOW came out, my publisher asked me if I would write a blog once each month for what is now Indigo Sea Press. I thought it would be fun and agreed. Today I am celebrating my 100th post!!! During the last eight years, I’ve only missed one. For that one, I was blessed to have Pat Bertram fill in for me with an exceptional post. Thanks again, Pat!

For my blog posts, I was given free rein and have been allowed to write about anything I wanted. The only exception would be a topic that might compete with my publisher and/or the other authors writing for ISP, or be subject to controversy. We strive to be G rated.

To refresh my memory, I skimmed through previous past posts to see the variety of subjects I’ve covered and realized I’d touched on lessons I’ve learned about writing techniques and discoveries having to do with the craft of writing; places to which I’ve traveled and objects I’ve collected that reminded me of those travels; what it was like living in certain places like Germany and Montana; discovering my Scottish roots; dealing with the loss of friends through death; and various emotional subjects with my expressions of joy, sorrow, surprise, wonderment, even fear. One example was a post in 2012 written while I was in the hospital recovering from a stroke. The stroke came as such a shock (I mean, I had always been so healthy and I was so happy I survived), I complained about a normal problem like dealing with Microsoft Windows 10 on my new computer as opposed to a previous Windows program. And I had to keep the post short, because I was having difficulty typing with my still limp left hand.

But my very favorite part of all the monthly offerings was, and still is, when readers contribute by adding comments and likes and even emails. I love it when people tell me about how my posts affect their lives or when they share how glad they are to not be the only ones who feel a certain way about something. I love it when readers tell me about their experiences. It’s always so special when an author realizes that people actually enjoy reading their posts and exchanging ideas and opinions. Not all people know we generally don’t get paid to write blogs. I don’t anyway. It’s our opportunity to share our somewhat isolated lives with the outside world, which suddenly becomes smaller and more intimate. I love that!

So, on this day of celebration, I want to thank all my readers out there, especially the ones who have given me feedback. And I thank other author friends whose works I’ve learned about through blogging. Here we go. I’m lighting 100 candles. Help me blow them out. To the next 100! Let’s celebrate!

 

Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland. Join her here each 11th of the month.

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The Miracle Mother

By the age of two, I had developed a syndrome called “failure to thrive”, which is a condition in which a child doesn’t meet recognized standards of growth and, in my case, was caused by neglect, poor nutrition and physical abuse. With me, it manifested itself in my refusing to eat. Subsequently, I was removed from my birth mother’s care and placed in the Foster Care System.

The agency dealing with my placement became worried when I was not responding well within several foster homes and they began a serious search for a foster parent who had experience with children with nutritional and emotional issues. When I was three and a half years old, along came Mrs. Gladys Morrell, who would eventually become my new mother.

Gladys, for some unknown reason, was unable to have children of her own, but she had been very successful in fostering. My case seemed to contain just the challenges Gladys was looking for, so I was placed in her home, where I did well.  When all requirements were met and I was eligible for adoption, I became Gail E. Morrell. By this time I was four and a half years old and my new parents were Gladys and Dr. Charles Morrell, a research chemist.

Although, I was reared in what might be termed an upscale neighborhood, my parents were of humble origins and they instilled in me good Christian values such as honesty, hard work and the concept of giving back to the community. My mother had grown up in a poor area of West Virginia and realized early on that education was to key to one’s choices in life. She graduated from college and started teaching to save money to send her mother through college also. She then went on to get her Master’s degree and had almost completed her Ph.D. when she married.

During the time I was growing up, she joined the local school board and the National Board of the YWCA. And she started a sewing group that met once a month in her house to sew clothing, blankets, and whatever for needy children all over the world. I remember going with her into New York City to get supplies for the sewing group.

She also was an avid antique collector and she decided to collect spindle-style wooden oak, maple or cherry kitchen chairs with the cane seats. Going to garage and estate sales was something my father and I also enjoyed doing on weekends and while traveling. Many times the cane seats in these chairs were damaged, so Mom set out to learn how to do the caning herself. I remember many an evening passed while my Mom caned chair seats in the kitchen of our home.

We had a large basement and Mom stored chairs down there and eventually collected and refurbished what became sets of four, six and eight in addition to individual ones, which she sold over time. Her goal was to sell enough to send money back to her home town in West Virginia to a young person, who without help, could never afford to go beyond high school.  Her efforts sent three kids all the way through college.

Then she was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer. Even during her illness, she researched her disease and helped her doctors discover new ways to help other patients. I remember how amazed her doctors were by her.

Throughout the years, whenever I heard people talking about my mother, it was always with such sincere respect. It was intimidating growing up in her shadow, and I knew I’d never be able to even put her shoes on, much less fill them. But I feel so privileged to have known her. She was not only a miracle mother, but a miracle human being.

 

Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland. Join her here each 11th of the month.

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SLUGGER – By Maribeth Shanley

Sweet Slugger

I remember this day.  I put Slugger and Pooker in the back seat.
Pooker immediately climbed over into the front passenger side.  As I got in the car,
I looked back at Slugger.  This photo of him captures the essence of who he was.  He was laid back, sweet and had the biggest heart of any dog I’ve known.
*****

Slugger’s unexpected death marks the end of an era for Bob and me.

On Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018, Slugger passed. We thought and, more, hoped that he would be with us at least another year or two. It wasn’t meant to be.

Bob and I woke around 6 a.m. as one of our dogs was flaying on the bed. Getting knocked by a foot, we were startled out of our last few minutes of sleep. Bob sat up and turned on his bedside lamp. It was Slugger who was thrashing. We thought he was having a terrible nightmare, so we tried shaking him awake. No amount of shaking helped. It seemed he had lost control of his body.

As Bob climbed out of bed, I pulled Slugger close and held him in my arms as I stroked him and assured him he was safe. As long as I was holding him and stroking his head, he was calm. We both knew in our hearts that this was the end for our sweet little boy. Bob dressed as I reassured Slugger and kissed his head. Bob then climbed on the bed, and I handed Slugger to him, but not without another terrible bout of  lost control.

Once dressed, I leaned over the bed and picked Slugger up and carried him down to our jeep. Bob grabbed a blanket and a towel. He helped me climb in the back seat with our little bundle in my arms.

If you’ve ever had to climb especially into the back seat of a full-sized jeep, you know how difficult that is especially holding a child; in my case, a fur child. It’s like trying to climb a rock wall without the ability to grab something to hoist yourself up. With Bob’s help, we slid into the back as Bob helped me wrap the blanket around Slugger and slide the towel under his body. We had no idea what to expect next.

The Myrtle Beach rush hour was underway as Bob maneuvered his way through traffic as he had to slam on his brakes several times. Driving in Myrtle Beach is a nightmare any time of the year, but especially during the summer season or any major holiday.   Like leftover turkey, there was still leftover traffic from Thanksgiving weekend. The torons (a variation of morons for tourists) were still in town. Couple them with transplants from all sorts of States who brought their unique bad driving habits with them and you have a mess. There are several daily accidents on the route we were taking.   I gently reminded Bob that a seatbelt didn’t secure Slugger and me.

Slugger rested in my arms as Bob made his way to Banfield Hospital which is located at the back end of the PetSmart store.

Once Bob parked the Jeep, we walked into the store and began walking toward the back end.  As we passed the last aisle and made eye contact with Tracey, one of the receptionists, she said something to the other receptionist, got up and guided us to one of the exam rooms. Tracey intuitively knew why we were there.

Two year’s prior; we carried Slugger’s brother in only to find out he had diabetes. The familiar, kind receptionist, with a sad expression on her face, guided us to the room, said something and shut the door. Moments later, a vet assistant came in and asked a few questions. She pulled up Slugger’s computer record typed something in and told us she would get Dr. Chapman. Before she left, I tried to lay Slugger on the folded orange blanket the assistant placed on the exam table. However, Slugger immediately began thrashing again. So, I picked him up and backed up to the bench where I sat holding Slugger.  The assistant forced a sad smile, nodded approval, and left the room.

A few seconds later, Dr. Chapman followed by the assistant entered the room. The doctor picked up the orange blanket and tried to place it between Slugger and my lap. She acknowledged there was not much she could do for our boy as she also gently suggested that it was time for Slugger to leave. With tears in our eyes, we both acknowledged that we knew his time had come.

As I held a former fur child, Munch, so many years prior and felt her body go limp, I swore I would never go through that again. Now, however, I knew it was the only alternative. I also promised years ago that, if I can be there, no fur child of ours would ever die alone. Unless I die in my sleep, I hope I am not alone when I die. Therefore, how could I allow my child to die without being lovingly held close?

I pulled Slugger to my bosom reassuring him that it would be okay. As he stroked Slugger’s head, Bob, still standing also reassured him. The insertion of an IV into a vein caused a lot of blood, as the doctor quickly wrapped a bandage around Slugger’s leg to hold the IV and stop the flow. She talked to us, but I don’t recall a word she said. I’m sure she was explaining something when her assistant walked back in with a tray. As she inserted the first needle into the IV, she said, this will relax Slugger so he can pass quietly. She then stuck the second needle in and, because of what I was sensing from his body, I asked if it was instantaneous. She said yes as I also felt Slugger’s heart stop.

Dr. Chapman and her assistant left the room as I pulled my phone out of my pocket and began searching for the cremation service we used for both Pooker and Sissy, our cat who died shortly after our move to the Myrtle Beach area. Sissy was 21 when she passed in Bob’s arms.

As I talked to the female owner and spouse of the business founder, when I told her where we lived, she explained that they didn’t drive that far out. However, after I told her we wanted to bring Slugger home so our other dog, Bailey and our two cats, Skeeter and Sassy could say good-bye, she acknowledged that she would make an exception. After all, we were permanent customers of the crematorium.

We explained our plans to the assistant who reentered the room. She retrieved a coffin-shaped box and laid it on the table. Bob helped me put our little boy in the box, remove his harness, and cover him again with the blanket we wrapped him in for the journey. As we walked out, we could hear gasps from the other two receptionists. Everyone knew both Slugger and Pooker. They were a favorite pair for the hospital staff.

As we arrived home, Bob carried the box with Slugger into the house. Bailey met us at the door. He was curious about where we had gone and where Slugger was. Bob lay the open box on the floor. He had questioned whether Bailey, who celebrated his first birthday in June of this year, would be traumatized. My gut told me he would not be as I reminded Bob that we gave Slugger the opportunity to say goodbye to Pooker. “My intuition tells me it’s a good thing to do. That way, Bailey won’t feel confused as to what happened to Slugger. Nor would the cats.”

Bob stood as I sat on the sofa. Bailey sniffed Slugger as did Skeeter. Sassy was asleep somewhere else in the house. Later, I realized that my intuition was right as I acknowledged that Bailey’s behavior was calm as if he recognized that death was the natural order of life.

Slugger is now in the hands of the crematorium owners. They will return him to us in a few days. They will place him and the blanket in a small box with scroll carvings on the lid and a gold plaque on the front. It will read:

SLUGGER
OUR SWEET LITTLE BOY
YOU GAVE US MORE THAN WE COULD GIVE YOU

Bob calls me the queen of catalogs because of all the catalogs I receive. I’ve been shopping over the internet way before it became popular, so everyone who gets a list of catalog buyers gets my name and address. I do love my catalogs with all the merchandise I can dream of buying. One item, in particular, speaks to me. It’s a doormat which reads, “Ring the doorbell, let me sing you a song of my people. The dog.” As such, let me sing you a song of my Slugger and Pooker. I promise not to keep you too much longer.

The day Bob and I met both Slugger and Pooker took place shortly after losing our first little boy, Skipper. Skipper also died from diabetes which is common in Schnauzers. However, unlike Type 2 diabetes for humans, canine diabetes is a death sentence. It behaves as does Type 1 human diabetes.

Skipper died the first evening we moved from Naperville, IL to rejoin Bob in the Nashville, TN area.

Skipper wasn’t gone long before Bob expressed, “Maribeth, you need another dog.” Unsaid was the same for him. “We” needed another dog to fill the hole left by Skipper.

Skipper was a Miniature Schnauzer. We fell in love with his breed, and, so we decided to find another miniature.

Bob contacted a professor who taught at the University of Tennessee. He owned and showed schnauzers. He gave Bob the name of a married couple in the Knoxville, TN area who bred and showed schnauzers. The couple’s two females had just birthed a litter each. Most of the puppies had been spoken for, but, from talking to Bob said they had a male who would be a perfect match. That puppy was Slugger.

The day we drove to John and Diane Steffy’s house, I felt completely detached from reality. I was still deep in mourning of Skipper, My Little Boy Blue. We sat on their sofa as John brought two puppies into the room. One of the puppies was energetic and playful. He ran around the room chasing toys. The other puppy walked over to me and raised himself so that his front paws rested on my knees. As I looked at him, I immediately fell in love with him, so I picked him up as he rested on my lap. Still feeling removed from the event, about a half hour later, Bob said, “It’s decision time, Maribeth.”  I responded, “Well, if I have to choose, I chose this one (on my lap), but I’d like to take both of them home.” Although I was in a fog that day, my intuition was not at all asleep. I could tell from their behavior that both puppies were emotionally attached.   Diane Steffy said, “John and I will leave you two alone for a few minutes.”

Once gone, Bob asked, “Can we afford both puppies?” I am the designated financial officer in our marriage, so I knew from the huge profit from our Naperville home, we could indeed afford both. I said, “Yes.” The matter was settled. The Steffy’s returned to the living room, and we were soon on our way with the two puppies.

As we headed back to the Interstate, we decided to stop at the Petsmart store just off the exit to buy the boys collars and leashes. The smallest puppy who won my heart immediately fell to sleep. The happy-go-lucky dog who also sat on my lap now was wide awake. I could intuit that he wasn’t as sure of what was taking place as was his half-brother.

Before leaving the Steffy home, we learned that the puppies had the same father but different mothers. The smallest puppy was nine-days younger than the larger puppy. I had already decided that the larger puppy would be named Slugger after the Louisville Slugger baseball bat. I believe that Skipper had communicated that name to me during an earlier event. Bob liked the name. He would choose the name for the younger puppy.

As we pulled our vehicle into the Petsmart parking space, I could tell that Slugger still didn’t feel comfortable. I’m sure he could sense that my first choice was his smaller brother. Nonetheless, I was determined to change Slugger’s mind.

The puppies in the cart were a hit in the store. Once we made our purchase, a red collar, and leash for Slugger, and a blue collar and leash for his brother, we walked out to the parking lot. We opened the back door to our SUV, placed both puppies on the inside pad and put their collars and leashes on.   Bob grabbed the little puppy while I grabbed Slugger. The minute we put the puppies on the ground I saw a visible change take over Slugger. He was now confident that he was where he was supposed to be. It was amazing to see this event.  My intuition was alive and well. Slugger was going home.

Life with the puppies was a trip. Soon Bob asked if he could name the smaller puppy Pooker. It was a loving nickname he had given Skipper whom he would walk every day after arriving home from work.

One Sunday morning, as I sat at the kitchen table, I heard a strange noise. I called up to Bob and asked, “What are you doing up there. You’re making a lot of noise.” He answered, “Nothing. I’m sitting at my desk reading the newspaper.” I then thought, Uh, oh, what are the boys up to? I got up, walked into the foyer and turned to my left which was the dining room area of our very open floor plan. There the two dogs were. Pooker was down at one end of the huge dining room window, and Slugger was at the opposite end. The window sat only inches from the floor. They were facing each other as they ate the window sill working their way to the middle. The house and sill were brand new. We had purchased a spec house just in time before another buyer put a check down for it. And so began the story of our two sweet little boys who both grew to become wonderful grown-up boys. With all our hearts, Bob and I hope that one day, we will reunite with Slugger, Pooker and all our past wonderful fur children.  They all taught us far more than we taught them.  They love unconditionally, never consider divorce and bring us joy every minute they are near.

Until we meet again, sweet babies, play hard and love harder!

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Examining My Own Mortality by John E. Stack

Something happened to me a few weeks ago that I’ve seldom gone through.  I read the name of a friend from long ago in the local obits.  It really threw me off since it was a person that had helped change the direction of my life.  It also from a time over thirty years ago and two thousand miles away on the far side of this United States.  He was distant kin and I was almost half way around the world when I chanced to meet him. Out of respect, I called him “Chief” due to military rank, and he called me “Cuz”.  Often times when old friends pass, particularly when they are not that much older, it sets your mind off on an excursion to rediscover the things that you went through, especially those things that may have had an impact on the lives of others.

I was about halfway through my Air Force career, stationed at Nellis AFB in Las Vegas, Nevada. I would have been described as an arrogant and self-centered young sergeant.  I worked on the high side of construction and design.  We often went on temporary assignments and completed construction projects, such as buildings, roads and utility systems.

Not long after I was stationed in Las Vegas, I came across a brass, cigar-smoking chief master sergeant who had the same last name as my mom’s maiden name “Whitlow”.  A short while later I asked if he was kin to the Whitlow’s from North Carolina.  To my surprise he said he was.  He also said that my grandfather was his uncle.  What a coincidence!  It always gave us something to talk about.

The other things we often had opportunities to talk about was my mouth and attitude.  Both were horrible.  Not a time I’m proud of.  I often wonder now how my wife could stand to be around me back then. I won’t go into everything, but after the second time I lost my temper and said some very unprofessional, rude things to a young lieutenant he came to my rescue.  The lieutenant was extremely angry because of the name I called him and threatened to put me up on charges.  Chief saw (heard) what was going on and moseyed over to where we were having our conversation. He said that I was needed back on the job site right away because there was a problem. I think I was the problem.  As I walked away, I heard, “Excuse me sir, could I speak to you for a moment?”

I don’t know what was said in their conversation, but I do know that after I apologized to the Lieutenant, he agreed not to file charges.  After the butt-chewing I received from Chief, all I could say was thank-you.  I still remember some of the words he told me.  He said, “Stack“, I knew I was in it deep. “This is the last time I save your ass.  You are the best at what you do.  You don’t have to tell people, they can see it in the quality of your work.  You need to grow-up and make sure that you want to make the Air Force a career, because if you keep on this path you won’t last.”  I was surprised that he cared enough to call me out, and I’ve never forgotten.  It was more than just being family.  Even though I lost track of him, I never lost respect.

I often wonder if I have touched people in this way (the caring part, not the rude part).  I started to turn my life around and eventually I became a Christian.  After retirement, I went back to school and became a middle school teacher.  I felt that God pulled me in this direction and now I’m completing my twentieth year.  I’ve taught hundreds of middle-schoolers.  When I think back I question whether my old-school ways had positive effects on these students or was I too tough?  Did I care enough?  I like to think I did but often felt that my standards were a lot higher than the parent’s or kid’s expectations.

And then I think about the children that have lived in our home.  God provided us with a house way too large for just my wife and I, and then asked “what are you going to do with all these rooms?” (no, God did not speak directly to us but as we talked this was what we felt.)  We became foster parents about eleven years ago and have had twenty-two babies get their start from our arms.  I hope these beginnings have been positive.  I often ask myself, “have my fallings and failures affected these babies?”

As a teacher we are supposed to reflect on what we do.  Self-examination is much more difficult, and I hate them both.  I don’t like the feelings of inadequacy that I have when I question myself.  Will I get past this before I’m called to account that final time?  I know that I can’t please everyone, but will I meet my own standards for me?

 

***John E. Stack is the author of Cody’s Almost Trip to the Zoo, Cody and the Great Zoo Escape and co-authored with his daughter Olivia’s Sweet Adventure.

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It Was All a Big Misunderstanding by Steve Hagood

I experienced a nightmare the likes of which only a middle-aged man can understand, and somehow, by the grace of God, I survived.

I went shopping with my lovely wife, Jenni, to Victoria’s Secret. I know women think that that should be a dream come true, but I’m here to tell you, it’s not.

Deep down, all guys know they’re perverts, but we don’t really want anybody else to know this. Walking into Victoria’s Secret is like a crack head walking into a crack house. We enter the store like there’s going to be Victoria’s Secret models walking around in bras and panties. It’s never like that though. It’s more like finding a thong in the laundry basket and learning it’s your daughter’s. Awkward and embarrassing.

Jenni and I were at the mall – I must have been there to get a pretzel or something – when Jenni remembered that she had a coupon for a free pair of panties.

“Let’s run in there and grab these real quick,” she said.

“Okay,” I said, with dread. I had done this before. I knew there weren’t any scantily clad Victoria’s Secret models in there. I knew it was a store full of my daughter’s thongs.

We entered the store and Jenni went to the panties bins. In a normal store, I’d help her find what she was looking for to hasten our departure, but I wasn’t about to go digging through a bin of women’s panties, in public, in front of a store full of women. I already felt like the women in the store thought I was a pervert, I wasn’t about to give them evidence.

And then a thought occurred to me. The previous Christmas we had found a pair of Detroit Lions sweatpants for my daughter there and she had really liked them. I wondered if they had anything new that she might like for that Christmas. So I wandered, looking for Detroit Lions gear.

Before I knew what was happening I found myself standing outside the changing room, just as a lady was exiting. The look on her face screamed, “STRANGER DANGER!”

While totally innocent, I was the pervert hanging around outside the changing room in Victoria’s Secret.

I hustled back to Jenni’s side, my face burning with embarrassment.

“Where have you been?” she asked, not looking up from the bin.

“I…um…”

She looked up to my face and shook her head. “Just stay with me, please.”

“Okay,” I said, “Are you ready to go?”

“Not yet,” she said, looking around. “I want to find a pair of yoga pants for Chelsea.”

We found the yoga pants, but Jenni wasn’t sure which size to get. I could help with yoga pants, they were like sweatpants. It was the perfect opportunity to redeem myself, and maybe earn a cookie before we left the mall. I thought I could find someone in the store about the same size as Chelsea, and ask her what size she wore.

So, I started scanning the other shoppers.

I found a clerk about the same size as Chelsea, just as she turned around and caught me checking out her legs and butt.

Again, I was innocent, but probably not getting a cookie.

“Can I help you?” the clerk asked, her eyes drilling into my skull.

I stammered, “I…um…you’re…my wife…Jenni!”

Jenni turned to see the angry clerk and me with an embarrassed look on my face. “Why don’t you go wait for me out in the mall?” she said.

I thanked her for her mercy and exited the store, looking at nothing but the floor the entire way.

It was the last time I’ve ever been in Victoria’s Secret. Jenni and I now have an unspoken agreement that she will not go in there when I am with her, and I…well, I don’t really have a side to the agreement. I’m just not allowed to go in there anymore, which is fine with me.

Steve Hagood is the author of the newly released Cold, Dark Places from Indigo Sea Press, as well as other novels and short stories. To learn more visit his website http://www.stevehagood.com

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That Time I gave Blood by Steve Hagood

bloodPeople are going to die if you don’t give blood, or so the Red Cross would have you believe. I might buy it if they didn’t make it so damn hard to donate. What an ordeal it is.

The last time I gave blood went something like this:

I started off with the book. Have you seen the book? It contains all of the eligibility requirements for donating. This book, if you aren’t aware, is your chance to fess up and say, “I don’t qualify to donate,” and slink away with your tail between your legs. Trust me, you will be tested on the material in the book and you’d better have the right answers. If you don’t, you’ll be rejected. There is nothing more embarrassing than being rejected from giving blood. They’d rather have people die than take your blood. We don’t understand this though, because nobody actually reads the book. Everybody sits there and pretends to read the book while trying to determine how long they have to pretend to read it to get away with not reading it.

After I finished not reading the book, I put it down. This silently notified the one person who was actually working that I was ready. She knew that I hadn’t read the book, but she didn’t care because she knew that it would catch up with me. She waved me over with a look that said I was bothering her and took me behind the cardboard “privacy” wall.

When she got me behind the cardboard she took my driver’s license and asked me to verify my name and address, which I got correct. One for one. Then she asked me to confirm my gender, so I stood up and dropped my pants. She said, “I’m going to need more than that.

Then she took my finger, wiped it down with alcohol, and took out this nasty little spring loaded needle. I swear she smiled as she put it on my finger and POW!

Oh. My. God! It was, without a doubt, the worst pain I have ever felt in my life. And then this sadistic woman, who I’m pretty sure moonlights as a dominatrix, squeezed my finger to get blood out of it. By the time she put a band-aid on my finger it had its own heartbeat.

I wanted to punch her in the face, but didn’t. So, I hadn’t been rejected yet. Next came the questions.

She started me off easy. “How are you feeling today?”

“Well, my finger hurts like hell, but other than that, I’m doing ok.”

“In the last 48 hours have you taken aspirin or anything that has aspirin in it?”

“No, but I could use one. Have I mentioned how much my finger hurts?”

“In the past 12 months, have you had a transplant such as organ, tissue, or bone marrow?”

Really? “Yep. Had a heart transplant last week. Sorry, I forgot to mention it when you asked how I was feeling today.”

“Have you ever had a bleeding condition?”

“Not until you shot me with that damn needle.”

Then she got a little personal.

“Have you ever paid for sex?”

Come on, this is a trick question. Every married man has paid for sex, and I’m not talking about prostitutes. Apparently, it’s worth more than we think because even after the sex stops, we keep paying.

“Did you spend three months or more in the United Kingdom between 1980 and 1996?”

You know what they’re looking for: Mad Cow Disease. Now I’m not a doctor, I don’t even play one on TV, but I’m pretty sure that if I had contracted Mad Cow Disease in 1980 I’d be showing some symptoms by now. And, when she asked how I was feeling I would have mentioned it.

“I have Mad Cow disease, and my finger HURTS!” Or maybe I would have mooed. I’m not real sure how it manifests itself.

“Have you ever been treated for Syphilis or gonorrhea?”

“Treated? Nope. I’m just letting it run its course.”

But get this, chlamydia, venereal warts and genital herpes are ok. I can’t have spent three months in England in the 80s, but genital herpes is ok. Can you imagine the poor guy who wakes up in a hospital bed after surgery and a blood transfusion to find out he contracted genital herpes while he was asleep? I’d like to see him explain that one to his wife, “At least I don’t have Mad Cow disease!”

“Have you ever had sex with another man?” And then they throw in the qualifier, “even once.”

I love that part. “Well yes, but it was only once, and I was really drunk, and I didn’t even enjoy it, very much.”

Now, since I haven’t had unprotected sex with another man who shared a needle with a prostitute in Africa while I visited England for three months in the 80s, and the sadomasochistic dominatrix behind the cardboard liked me, I was allowed to donate blood.

She passed me off to the bloodsucker who had me lie on a cot that was old when it had been used during the Korean War. She tied off my arm with a rubber hose and started to look for a vein to use. “It’s not very big,” she said. Apparently, she had talked to the lady behind the cardboard.

You would think that someone who does this for a living would be really good at getting the needle into the vein. You’d be wrong. If you’re lucky she’ll get it on the first try. If not, and you won’t be, she’ll blame you for not drinking enough water while she stabs you repeatedly. At that point, I just wanted to take the band-aid off my finger and tell her to take the blood from there.

Eventually, she got the needle into the vein and I deposited a pint of blood into a bag, saving up to three lives – if you believe the propaganda spread by the Red Cross.

After all this, you’re probably asking yourself why I do it if it’s such a hassle? Because I’m such a good guy? Nope, it’s because they give you cookies when you’re done. I’ll do anything for cookies.

 

Steve Hagood is the author of Chasing the Woodstock Baby from Indigo Sea Press. To learn more about Steve visit his website http://www.stevehagood.com

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Steve vs the Ice Dam by Steve Hagood

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January in Michigan. It’s that special time of year when we get Alberta Clippers, Polar Vortexes and snow and ice piled higher than a hippie at the hash bash. It’s the time of year that makes me wonder why my ancestors ever chose to settle in this God forsaken land.

Something else we get in Michigan in winter is ice dams. Ice dams come from the melting and refreezing of snow on the roof. A buildup of ice forms on the outer edge of the roof not allowing the water from melted snow to run off. The water that puddles behind the dam backs up under the shingles causing all sorts of problems with the roof, ceiling, and life of the homeowner.

Many years ago my young family was experiencing our first winter in our first house. I noticed that my gutters were filled with ice. I was young and dumb, and didn’t have Google to tell me that frozen gutters don’t lead to ice dams, so naturally I was terrified. I needed to clear my gutters!

The only problem, I didn’t have any idea how one goes about clearing ones gutters of ice. Remember, this was PI (pre-Internet). I could not go to You Tube University to learn how to do this the correct way. I had to figure this out on my own, like my ancestors who had decided to live in this damn place to begin with.

So, how do you break up ice? With an ice pick. But I didn’t have an ice pick. It was PI, but it wasn’t the stone ages, we had ice makers. We didn’t hack the ice for our drinks off of a block like cavemen. The closest thing I could come up with was a screw driver.

So, I climbed up my ladder with screw driver in hand to save my house, and by extension my family, from the dreaded ice dam. I started to chip away at the ice. And chip. And chip. And chip. I was getting nowhere. I needed to speed the process up. It was Saturday, and I had some serious TV watching to do. I thought I could sprinkle road salt on the gutters and melt the ice, but that would take longer than chipping with a screw driver. How else could I melt the ice? Hot water!

So, I climbed down from the ladder and went in search of a bucket. I filled a mop bucket with steaming hot water, returned to the front of the house and mounted the ladder. Ever so carefully I poured the water onto the ice-filled gutter and waited for the result. Not much happened. But…maybe…it was hard to tell. I climbed back down the ladder and headed off for more water.

The second bucket definitely made some head way with the ice buildup in the gutter. It would only take about another hundred and thirty seven buckets and I’d be back in front of the TV.

I mounted the ladder with the third bucket. I reached the top of the ladder and proceeded to swing the bucket from thigh level, where it hung at the end of my arm, up to pouring height, and lost my balance. The bucket flew from my hand and I flew off the ladder. The bucket went one direction and I went the other, landing flat on my back in the snow at the base of the ladder.

The air was driven from my lungs and I lay there like a fish out of water gasping for breath, and wondering if I had broken my back and if I’d ever walk again.

My eight-year-old son Ryan called over from where he had watched the whole scene unfold. “Hey, Dad?”

“What?” I managed between gasps.

“Did you get any of that hot water on you?”

Gasp. “No.” Gasp.

“That’s good,” Ryan said. “That would have hurt if you’d have gotten any of that hot water on you.”

Yeah. Lucky me.

Twenty minutes later I determined that I was going to live. I got up out of the snow and found my bucket. I then put it and the ladder back in the garage and went inside to watch TV.

Ironically, no ice dam ever formed. Google would have told me that iced over gutters don’t lead to ice dams and I could have avoided the whole disastrous event. Maybe if my ancestors had had Google they would have avoided moving to Michigan in the first place.

I’m now old and dumb, and I still live in Michigan. But, I live in a condo where someone else worries about ice dams. So maybe I’m not so dumb after all.

 

Steve Hagood is the author of Chasing the Woodstock Baby from Indigo Sea Press. Learn more at http://www.stevehagood.com

 

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A Day at the Beach by Steve Hagood

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My wife’s family decided they wanted to take a trip together a few summers ago. After much discussion, and making and changing of plans multiple times, they decided they’d like to spend a day at the beach. The beach they picked was on Lake Michigan. As we live on the other side of the state, it would be almost a three hour drive to get there. As fun as it sounds to travel across the state to spend a day with your in-laws, I really didn’t want to go.

My plan was to start a fight with my wife the night before the trip, and she wouldn’t WANT me to go. Fortunately, I’m an expert at picking fights, and I pulled it off just as I had planned.

So, bright and early the next morning I was in the car headed to the beach. Obviously, I had lost the fight.

I drove the car that included my wife, Jenni, who had recently had hip surgery and was still in pain, my daughter, Aley, who was eight months pregnant at the time, and my stepdaughter, Chelsea, who was fourteen-years-old. This was going to be a fun drive.

It actually wasn’t bad the first couple hours. It was straight west on I-94. As we were closing in on the state line I said, “Do we know where we’re going? What exit we’re taking?”

Jenni said, “No.”

That probably would have been good information to have before we left. You wouldn’t think that a lake that covers more than 22,000 square miles would have be hard to find. And you’d be wrong.

Jenni received a text message from her sister, who was ahead of us, and learned that we needed to take exit 33. I was in the middle lane of a three lane highway with exit 33 fast approaching. I also happened to be talking to Aley and I tend to… lose focus on my driving when I’m talking. Sure enough, before I knew it exit 33 went by in a blur.

All three of the women in my car felt the need to tell me I had missed the exit. Like I didn’t know.

“No problem,” I said. “I’ll just go to the next exit, turn around, and we’ll be back on track.”

It’s important NOT to show fear in this situation. They can sense fear.

The next exit was another four miles down the highway. Four miles is a long way when your driving is being critiqued by three women.

I made it to the exit, got off and back on headed east. I soon found, to my distress, that there is not an exit 33 headed east on I-94. How can there NOT be an exit 33 headed east, I wondered.

“Ok, no problem,” I said. “I’ll go to the next exit and get turned around again.”

As we approached the off ramp Aley said, “I don’t think you can loop around like you did last time, Dad. I think this is another highway.”

“We’re good,” I assured her.

I took the exit and off we went, headed north on Highway 31. My passengers pointed out that we wouldn’t have been driving in circles if I hadn’t missed the exit to begin with.  “Thanks for the tip,” I said, giving serious consideration to opening the door and jumping out of the moving car.

It’s funny how perspective can change one’s outlook. Just twenty-four hours prior I had not wanted to go to the beach. At that point I’d have sold my soul to be there.

Mercifully, an exit appeared and I was able to get turned around again. We merged back onto I-94, drove a mile, and there it was… exit 33. I took the exit, thus ending the debacle. Or so I thought.

Jenni was getting directions in real time via text message from her sister. She told me to go straight all the way.

“Straight until we hit the lake?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“All right,” I said, “I can handle that.” And then the road dead-ended, with no lake in sight.

Yogi Berra once said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” So I did.

The peanut gallery started up with, “Are you sure this is the right way?”

I had no clue if it was the right way, but I didn’t let on. Remember, you can’t show fear. Fortunately, God cut me a break. The road we were on wound around to the right and back to the left and there before us was Lake Michigan.

I parked the car and we found the in-laws. I then hauled about 100 pounds of crap, like a pack mule, across the sand to the spot that they had picked.

There were three boys in our group, ranging in age from 7 to 11. They were excited to be at the beach. They ran down to the shore, into the water and right back out. The water was frigid. And that was the extent of the swimming for the day.

My brother-in-law said, “How about we go get lunch?”

Go get lunch? I just drove two and a half hours and hauled a hundred pounds of crap across the beach, and he wanted to go get lunch?

He volunteered to go get pizza. When he returned, we found a nearby picnic table and ate. Then the gang decided to go shopping. It had taken longer to get to the beach than they had spent on it. Now they were going shopping.

Aley and I demurred and headed back to our stuff.

I sat back and started to read. Aley dug a hole and lay down with her swollen belly sunk in the sand.

Everybody at the beach sits facing the water. It is a beautiful site, but all the interesting stuff happens on the beach. So I did read, but hiding behind sunglasses I was able to people watch as well.

There are many interesting sights on the beach that day. Like the guy in the Speedo or the pregnant lady in the bikini – unfortunately that one was with me. An old guy slept nearby with his mouth open and his upper dentures resting precariously on his bottom lip.  A little boy cried bloody murder because he had sand in his suit, and was desperately trying to take it off while his dad yelled at him to not too. In his defense, if I had had sand in my suit I would have been crying too.

After everything that had happened, I did end up spending a fun and relaxing day at the beach with my daughter. When it was time to go, I hauled the 100 pounds of crap back up to the car, loaded it in the trunk and started for home.

We had been on the road less than five minutes when Aley said, “This doesn’t look right. I think we’re going the wrong way.”

 

Steve Hagood is the author of Chasing the Woodstock Baby from Indigo Sea Press. To learn more about Steve visit his website http://www.stevehagood.com

 

 

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