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There Go the Beetles

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VW Beetle that has seen better days near Hermann, Mo.

Before there were Honda’s and Toyota’s and  Datsun’s (known today as “Nissan’s”), there were VW Beetles roaming the streets of Springfield, Mo. where I grew up.

Or, at least, where I grew older.  The jury is still out on whether I ever grew up.

I had a family tie to the proliferation of Beetles.  My Dad helped populate the streets of Springfield with VW Beetles and VW busses and VW Karmann Ghias.  He was a salesman for McAllister VW in Springfield in the 60’s when VW beetles were a novelty, sometimes referred to as “pregnant roller skates”.

But they still sold like hotcakes.

Rather than the Beetles arriving at the dealership on an 18-wheel car hauler, salesmen from McAllister VW carpooled from Springfield to New Orleans.  There they would pick up a VW straight off the boat from Germany and drive it back to Springfield where it was cleaned up and sold.  Here is a postcard my Dad sent from New Orleans on such a trip.  It is postmarked June 19, 1962:

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My Dad never got rich selling VW’s, but our family always enjoyed the “Demo” vehicle he was furnished as a perk.  In the summer of 1962,  maybe ’63, we went on the only 2 week vacation our family ever took.  We rode in style in a brand-new VW Bus.  My brother and I each had our own row.  Along with two other families, we visited Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, and Mt. Rushmore, camping out 12 of 14 nights along the way.

After graduating from high school in 1966 and getting a job while deciding between Vietnam & college, I became the proud owner of a 1964 VW Karmann Ghia.  It already had 35,000 miles on it and cost me $1300.  Though it ended up being a great car, the engine went out the first weekend I owned it.  The dealership stood behind it and replaced it with a rebuilt engine.  It was a fun, stylish car with 2 bucket seats up front and an “emergency” back seat suitable only for small children, contortionists, or luggage.

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A faded Picture of my 1964 VW Karmann Ghia taken in the Smoky Mountains Jan. 3, 1967

Karmann Ghia’s weren’t all that plentiful or well-known, but I loved mine.  The engine – which featured a whopping 1.2 liters, 40-horsepower, & four-cylinders – was in the rear.  Maximum speed was around 80 mph.  To fill the gas tank required raising the hood.  In 1967, somewhere in the deep South, I pulled into a gas station, popped the hood, and waited for the attendant. In those days I could fill up the Ghia’s 10-gallon gas tank and get my windshield washed for  under three bucks.  Standing back to take a puzzled look at my car, the attendant asked “What the heck kind of car is this?  A Studebaker?”

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In the days before email I kept in touch with home via postcards & a 4 cent stamp. This postmark on this card is January 3, 1967

I explored 15 states in the 2 years I owned that Karmann Ghia.   It got 30 mpg and had AM radio.  It had no air conditioning and the worst heater of any car I’ve ever owned.  On an 11-state roadtrip I took in January of 1967, I drove 3000 miles and spent $32 on gas.  I could drive a hundred miles for about a buck.  What more could an 18-year old ask?

I sold mine and bought a Ford Mustang in 1968.  VW stopped making Karmann Ghia’s after 1974.  They were discontinued to make VW Sirocco’s.  Scirocco’s were discontinued in October, 2017.  And now VW has announced that the iconic VW Beetle will be discontinued after the 2019 model year.

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This 1959 VW ad was once recognized by Advertising Age as being the greatest ad of all time

In 1968 I heard the siren song of the Ford Mustang and said goodbye to my Karmann Ghia.  I replaced it with a blue-gray 1965 Ford Mustang with wheel covers modeled after the wheels on the Roman chariots in the movie Ben Hur.

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LOOK AT THOSE WHEELS!

Though the last VW I owned was during the Nixon Administration, I am sorry to see the Beetle go the way of the Studebaker.  The only good thing about that news for me is that it reduces the odds of me hearing the words “SLUG BUG!” followed by a whack on the arm.

Maybe they’ll be back.  There are lot’s of new cars on the road today that have been resurrected from the 1960’s.  Think Challenger and Charger and Camaro.  When asked if there was a chance that VW might one day produce Beetles again, a spokesperson replied “Never say never!”

As someone who grew up with Beetle’s in the 60’s, I’ll paraphrase Mel Gibson as William Wallace in Braveheart:  “They may take our Beetles, but they’ll never take our memories!”

What was I thinking!

My grandson Max following his scientific discovery

I like to take my six-year-old grandson Max with me when I run errands. I enjoy hearing things from his perspective. He likes to work me for ice cream and other goodies.

Win – Win

This afternoon we headed to the store to fill my wife’s shopping list. As we entered the store, Max inquired “Could we get a box of popsicles to take home?” Though I rarely say “no”, this was the first of several stops. Frozen treats to-go were not an option.

While Max was scanning our groceries at self check-out, I glanced at the snack bar. No long line. “How about getting an icee and drinking it here?” I asked.

Problem solved.

Icee’s in hand, we took a seat at a small table between automotive and the check-out lines. As I was engaging in people-watching, a favorite pastime of mine, I heard a noise of surprise from Max. His icee was undergoing a mini-volcanic eruption.

“I was just trying to make some bubbles” he explained. Splashes of icee lava covered the small table.

After expending a handful of napkins to clean up the icee eruption, he shared what his “What was I thinking?” moment had taught him:

NEVER BLOW INTO A ICEE!

I then shared a story from my checkered childhood that took place when I was about his age.

The year was 1954. Our family had just moved from a trailer park in the Chicago suburb of Melrose Park back to Springfield, Mo. so I could start the first grade at Tom Watkins Elementary school. We had towed our 25-foot mobile home right along with us and parked it in back of my grandparent’s home on North Broadway. To supply water, a hose was run from an outdoor faucet at my grandparents home to our compact, metal homestead.

Like a lot of things in my younger (and older) days, I am not sure what I was thinking. But for some inexplicable reason, I thought it would be a neat idea to poke a very small hole in the hose supplying our home with water with my pocket knife. “A six-year-old with a knife?” you may be asking. Remember, it was 1954. And we had just moved from a trailer park in Chicago.

It was harder than I expected to puncture that hose, but when I did, it didn’t just dribble as I expected. It shot out like a fire hose – right into the screened, open window above the kitchen sink where my Mom was standing washing dishes. I can still recall her shriek of surpise as the powerful stream of water doused her

My little experiment was a secret no more.

One new hose later, things were back to normal. I don’t recall if I got a spanking, but remember: it was 1954 when, unlike today, spanking was still considered a useful tool in the parental toolbox.

A very innocent looking and congenial me before the “hose incident”

Two generations later, my “Never poke a hole in a garden hose!” became my grandson’s “Never blow into a icee!”

Everybody makes mistakes. My goal is to avoid making the same mistake twice and to learn from other people’s mistakes. And to impart that wisdom to my grandson.

I seriously doubt Max will ever blow into an icee again. Or puncture a garden hose. Though he might try to talk some other unsuspecting kid into blowing into an icee. And he now loves to tell my garden hose story.

As Will Rogers observed, “Everything is funny, as long as it is happening to someone else.”

Note this picture of Will and compare it with my kid picture above. I may not be a great judge of what is and what is DEFINITELY NOT funny, but at least I kinda, sorta LOOKED like a great humorist when I was puncturing hoses at age 6.

Will Rogers, who was born just up the road from where I was born in Vinita, Oklahoma, died in a plane crash near Point Barrow, Alaska in 1935. That was thirteen years before I was born. His pilot was one-eyed Wiley Post, who also died in the crash. Will’s last words were rumored to be “Wiley, I think you have that patch on the wrong eye!!”

Neither Flooding Nor a Heat Advisory Nor Copperheads and Sweat Bees Shall Deter Me from my Weekly Bike Ride

With today’s heat index forecast to be bumping 105 degrees, I headed out for my weekly bike ride on the Katy Trail bright and early today. 

But – first things first- I made a stop at Panera Bread for coffee and a Bear Claw.  Last week when I visited Panera for my pre-bike coffee, a fellow geezer hollered from the patio that the restaurant was closed. 

“Go through the drive-thru and then come sit on the patio!” he advised.  This week, I hit the drive-thru first, got my coffee & pastry, and proceeded to park and head for the patio. 

As it turned out, the dining room was open and I had the patio all to myself. Usually, I am with my friends Tom, Daryl & Scott. On this day, a funeral, a vacation, and work demands shelved my fellow riders.

Nourished and hydrated, I hit the trail alone. The air was still cool and the trail was not crowded.  A text from my wife offered one possible reason bikers were scarce.  It was a news article with a headline announcing the cancellation of Missouri’s Bicentennial Katy Trail ride across the state due to flood damage.

What would the rugged pioneers who settled Missouri two hundred years ago say about a bike ride being cancelled because of a little flood damage?

I imagine their first question would be “What is a bike?”

My 21 mile roundtrip ride from the North Jefferson Station to Hartsburg and back was not immune to flooding as the following video illustrates.

I know – I made this look easy. I have had my share of experiences on the Katy Trail. Also, I was emboldened by the fact that my friend Tom and I rode thru this same stretch of water last week when it was twice as long and twice as deep. Tom went first. Not because I feared for my safety. I let him go first just in case there was a deep hole where the trail had washed out. I did not want to exceed the 18-foot depth that my iphone is guaranteed to be waterproof and void my warranty, assuming it was transferable to whomever inherited my phone after I drowned.Waiting to greet me on the other side of the water hazard was a representative of 0ne of the three species of venomous snakes found in Missouri.

Mr. Copperhead seemed surprised to see me emerge from the flooded area.

And -as if that wasn’t enough for a single bike ride- when I reached the trailhead at Hartsburg I was swarmed by Sweatbees feasting on the perspiration I had generated making my way to Hartsburg. I managed to take a picture of one. There were at least a dozen but they are so small and so fast it was beyond my photographic skill to capture two of them in the same picture.

One of the sweatbees hydrating on me

The ride back to my truck was uneventful, save for me pausing for a (very short) break at a mosquito filling station. And for one other thing I found strange.

Very strange.

I’m sure there are a million interesting tales that can be told of adventures on the beautiful, normally less hazardous, Katy Trail. But I sure would like to know the story behind this scene I encountered on my ride back to my truck.

Im no detective, but it appears to me that a one-legged unicyclist had a very bad day. If you have a better idea, leave me a comment.

Simple Pleasures

Since I was a kid in Vinita, Oklahoma, where I was born, I have loved going out for an ice cream cone on a hot summer night.  Though that feeling has endured, the locales and the family members present have changed throughout the years.  My grandparents once took me.  Now I take my grandkids. 

The circle of life.

For the past 23 years my family has called the rural countryside just west of Jefferson City, Missouri home.  The landside is beautiful, the people are friendly, and the cost of living is 16% below the national average.

AND – it is home to the Central Dairy Ice Cream Parlor at 610 Madison in Jefferson City.  Grandparents have been taking their grandkids there since 1934.  In the 1950’s they remodeled the parlor and installed wooden booths – the same booths you would crowd into today if you were lucky enough to visit.

Three generations of my family took the short trip to Central Dairy today for a cool treat on a hot July Sunday afternoon.  People were lined out the door and along the sidewalk. 

In the rain. 

We joined them.

The line moves fast. 

A half-dozen employees behind a long counter build up their biceps by scooping dips of 50+ flavors of ice cream into cake cones, waffle cones, or cups.  With all the exotic flavors to choose from my three grandkids all chose sherbet.  The adults chose Rocky Road or (my favorite), Jamocha Almond Fudge.  Six people took their seats in the ancient (same age as me) wooden booths holding the ice cream treat of their choice for a grand total of $16. 

As we enjoyed our ice cream, we also enjoyed a double shot of people watching.  The booths in the compact parlor have big plate glass windows overlooking the sidewalk on one side and a perpetual line of ice cream connoisseurs perusing the heavenly display of ice cream tubs a few feet away on the other.

The view outside through the rain-splashed plate glass
The view inside as patrons make their selections

My nominee for “Father of the Year” and his smiling son paused as they passed by.  They each sported red dye on one side of their face and hair and green dye on the other.  “The wife is out of town, and it washes out” said the dad with a smile as we made eye contact. 

“It is supposed to wash right out.  I hope it does anyway. I have to go to work tomorrow.”

The summer shower had stopped when we walked back outside.  The sun was making another appearance.  It was a nostalgic visit to an old-fashioned ice cream parlor for my wife and me.  My grandkids have grown up going to Central Dairy and take it for granted.

Someday I hope they get to take their grandkids to Central Dairy for ice cream.

And just like I did today, I hope they pause for just a moment and think back to these “good old days” when their by then “long-gone” grandparents used to take them out for ice cream on hot Sunday afternoons in July.

The Story of Central Dairy – a Jefferson City, Mo. icon

The Best Part of Waking Up (Other than not being in the Obituaries)

Just this week I got a question from a friend who recently started reading this blog:

“I like your stories, Doug. Do all of them involve coffee?”

Fair question. The answer is a definite maybe. While the subject matter does not always involve coffee, it could well be pulsing its way through my digestive system as I write. And according to the American Heart Association, coffee offers the following benefits:

  1. It gives you energy, may help you lose weight, and sharpens your mental focus, thanks to the magic of caffeine. Studies have shown that caffeine may improve your mood, help your brain work better, and improve performance during exercise.
  2. A regular java habit is associated with a lower risk of Type 2 diabetes and Parkinson’s disease. In one study, caffeine was linked to a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
  3. Coffee is an excellent source of antioxidants which may help protect cells from damage.
  4. Higer consumption of coffee was associated with a lower risk of mortality, including deaths attributed to heart disease, nervous system diseases and suicide.

Jazzing your coffee up with too much cream and sugar may negate the health benefits, and cut back if you experience heartburn or insomnia.

I drink one large cup a day – first thing in the morning. Usually I brew it at home, but if we are headed out on a trip it is a nice treat to stop by Scooters, Dunn Brothers or Panera for some fresh brewed, dark roast coffee.

I love the smell of coffee brewing in the morning.

John Van Druten speculated “I think if I was a woman, I’d wear coffee as a perfume.” Jessi Lane Adams said “Coffee smells like freshly ground heaven!” Though I concur with that sentiment, it is not universal. My mother-in-law thought the smell of coffee bore much in common with the smell of a skunk. And once, at the Columbia Mall, I splurged on some exotic coffee beans. The specialty shop ground the beans for me and I exited the store bearing that delightful aroma in a sack as I walked through the Mall. As I was walking, I overheard a kid walking behind me say loudly “I smell old people!”

He was referring to the coffee (I hope).

Though decaffeinated coffee also has health benefits; for me coffee without caffeine is not coffee. Not that I have a problem with caffeine. I only have a problem without it. Jeff Bezos said that, in Seattle, the standard for sufficient caffeine intake is whether or not you can thread a sewing machine – while it is running.

In 1674, the Women’s Petition Against Coffee declared “Coffee leads men to trifle away their time, scald their chops, and spend their money – all for a little base, black, thick, nasty, bitter, stinking nauseous puddle water.” That sounds like the liquid Abraham Lincoln was served when he made the following request: “If this is coffee, please bring me some tea. If it is tea, please bring me some coffee.”

These days , coffee is an equal opportunity drink, and women experience less depression as a result. Unlike cigarettes – which were once marketed to women with the slogan “You’ve come a long way, baby!” – coffee (up to six cups a day!) can actually improve your health. While I am no expert, unscientific polls find that majority of women today feel that when it comes to coffee, chocolate, and men, the richer the better.

And that is a long way from the Women’s Petition Against Coffee of 1674.

!!!READER ADVISORY – THERE WAS NO COFFEE INGESTED DURING THE PRODUCTION OF THIS BLOG!!!

Fathers – Easier to Become One Than to Be One

Father’s Day – the third Sunday in June – was first celebrated in Spokane, Washington on June 19, 1910. It did not become an official holiday until 1972. That’s when Richard Nixon signed a bill put forth by Lyndon Johnson in 1966.

Just in case you hadn’t noticed, this Sunday is the third Sunday in June.

I have compiled some advice and observations regarding fatherhood for all stages of a man’s life.

For the new father, former Major League baseball player Jimmy Piersall offered this advice on how to diaper a baby:

“Spread the diaper in the position of a baseball diamond with you at bat. Then fold second base down to home and set the baby on the pitcher’s mound. Put first base and third base together, bring up home plate and pin the three together. Of course, in case of rain, you gotta call the game and start all over again.”

Red Buttons recommended never raising a hand to your kids. “It leaves your groin unprotected” he warned.

Baseball slugger Harmon Killebrew, who passed away in 2011, carried this memory of his father from his childhood to his grave. “My father used to play with my brother and me in the yard. Mother would come out and say ‘You’re tearing up the grass!’ ‘We’re not raising grass’ my Dad replied. We’re raising boys.”

Mark Twain offered this observation about his father: “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”

Others have described a father as “a person who carries pictures where his money used to be.” Or “a person who has progressed from believing in Santa Claus, to not believing in Santa Claus, to being Santa Claus.”

I found one story about two little girls, on their way home from Sunday School, who were solemnly discussing their Sunday School lesson. “Do you believe there is a devil?” asked one. “No” said the other. “It’s like Santa Claus; it’s your father!”

Shakespeare wisely wrote “When a father gives to his son, both laugh; when a son gives to his father, both cry.”

William Wordsworth had this to say: “Father! To God Himself we cannot give a holier name.”

If you are lucky, your dad is someone you look up to, no matter how tall you get. And if you are very lucky, your dad is still around – even if you are a Baby Boomer.

Happy Father’s Day to my Dad in Heaven! We bumped heads a little back in the days when I knew everything.

Dad – if it is any consolation, I imagine all the sleep you lost and the aggravation I caused you in my younger days helped you get to heaven sooner than you would have if I hadn’t been so hardheaded.

My Mom & Dad married young. They celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary a month before my Mom passed away. Dad joined her a year later.

Here is a Father’s Day trip down memory lane with two kids who raised two kids.

Left to right – My Dad age 20, My Mom, age 18 & Me, age 0

In 1950 my little brother joined the family.

My Dad teaching me to make fudge.

My dad attempting to turn me into a carpenter.

My brother and I were model children – not onery at all!

My Dad & Mom looking forward to the “empty nest” syndrome

This picture was taken on Halloween in 2012. My Mom passed away the next day. Pictured with her and my Dad are a baby calf (Brooklyn) and Batman (Gavin) ,their two Jefferson City based great-grandchildren. Dad joined her on Oct.26,2013. I was blessed to have a good Dad & Mom.

Robert H. Reece – October 30, 1928 – October 26, 2013

Aunita E. Reece – January 14, 1930 – November 1, 2012

Got Bugs? Buff Orpington to the Rescue

Early this morning as I carried my cup of coffee out the door into our screened in porch, I was surprised to discover it was already occupied.  The screens were covered with an estimated two-hundred million newborn gnats.

Lawn gnats, to be specific.  I looked it up.  According to the article I read, the population of lawn gnats soars during hot (check) rainy (check) weather.   

There are estimated to be approximately 200,000,000 insects alive on earth at any one time.  Not total. 200,000,000 for each and every person living on planet earth. I am not sure how they coordinated such a large event, but my 200,000,000 all decided to get together and surprise me this morning.

The article I read provided an easy solution – eliminate damp vegetation and standing water sources.  That may be easy in an apartment.  We live on 45 acres of damp vegetation with a small lake in the middle.

Plan B?  The article continued “Missouri Botanical Garden experts recommend just living with small populations of fungus gnats (200,000,000 or less).  Though they may do the backstroke in your coffee, they are considered “beneficial insects.” That’s because they also pollinate plants and help with the decomposition process “which releases nutrients for the grass and other plants to absorb.”

My son’s family doesn’t have this problem. Earlier this year they invested in a “ Buff Orpington natural insect control” device. 

Six of them.

Their house now has an insect shortage.

The Buff Orpington chicks shortly after arriving in our neighborhood.

In March, they were baby chicks.  Now they are only one month away from turning insects into my breakfast.  They are fun to watch patrolling the yard and interacting with each other. Some people call watching their antics “Chicken TV”. They are goodnatured and very patient with kids. They follow my grandson as he walks or runs around the yard. He is currently trying to teach them to march. Don’t bet against it.

The chickens are voracious eaters.  Last week as I paused while walking in the driveway we share with our son & his family. I suddenly found myself surrounded by the Buff Orpington gang.  I thought it was cute and reached for my phone to take a pic. In the brief interlude as I started up my phone, one chick mistook a scab on my leg for an insect, pecked it off, and ate it quicker than I could yell YEE-OWWWWW-EEEE!

I would not recommend investing in chickens to people with freckled legs.

My 6-year-old grandson rushed out to save me. 

It was just an honest mistake

This six-year-old “Chickenmaster” has already decided he wants to be a farmer. He has developed very distinctive calls for both cows and chickens.  The chickens come running when they hear his shrill, prepubescent “CHICK, CHICK, CHICK!” He learned his cow call at his other grandpa’s farm. At our home it is primarily reserved for when a neighbor’s cow gets the wanderlust and ends up in our field.

Hup, Toop, Treep, Har! Get in step!

If farming falls through, his backup plan is to be a doctor.

Depending on what part of my anatomy the chickens mistake for dinner in the future, having medical personnel close by may prove very handy.

So far, only one member of our family is not excited about the showboatin’, insect eatin’ Orpington chicks.

Dog to self “I thought once the cat finally kicked the bucket the attention would be mine, all mine!”

Our dog will eat about anything. She specializes in eating things you intended for something else. Or things so disgusting nothing else would want them. I hopeful that she may begin competing with the chickens for insects around our house.

I wouldn’t mind seeing ticks (chicks love them), horseflies (so far chicks can’t catch them), and mosquitoes on the endangered species list in central Missouri.

Ogden Nash wrote “God, in His wisdom, made the fly – and then forgot to tell us why!”

I would like to update that with the 2021 Country Living Edition: “God, in His Wisdom, made the tick, as a tasty morsel for a healthy chick. He then created mosquitoes, gnats and flies, so we would get some exercise.”

A Bit of Heaven Beneath a Sports Bra

In retrospect, it seems that a lot of my blogs involve caffeine procurement.

This blog is no exception. It took place at Starbucks. The one located inside the local Hy-Vee. The one with no drive-thru.

I was walking from the parking lot to the store when a twenty-something female reached the automatic door at the same time I did. I slowed and let her enter in front of me. I was rewarded in two ways:

  1. I received a refresher course on what an amazing material spandex is; AND,
  2. I was inspired by what followed to write this blog.

As I stood in line behind her, I glanced over her shoulder to see what type of coffee was brewing. It was then that I made an intriguing discovery. (Note: I am a firm believer that Yogi Berri was right when he said “You can observe a lot just by watching.”) Tattooed between her shoulders was Proverbs 2?: 5-6. It wasn’t actually 2?. Part of her tattoo was obscured by the “X” of her sports bra strap.

As I waited for the first person in line to finish her very detailed instructions regarding exactly what she wanted in her
“Skinny Latte”, two questions came to my mind:

  1. Isn’t “Skinny Latte” an oxymoron? And,
  2. I wonder what scripture was important enough for this woman to have it tattooed on her back?

Finally, my curiosity got the better of me.

“Excuse me” I said politely. “I was just wondering what verse in Proverbs you have tattooed on your back?”

Smiling (thankfully), she moved her bra strap to one side so I could see: Proverbs 27:5-6.

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend. Bitter are the kisses of an enemy” she quoted. An unusual, but insightful, choice of tattoos. A friend may hurt you when they are trying to help, but watch out when an enemy is nice to you. I was hoping she might share the story that motivated her to have it tattooed on her backside, but just then she got her order. With a beverage in each hand she turned, smiled, and left the building.

I am a big fan of Proverbs, the twentieth book of the the Old Testament. The wisdom contained in its thirty-one chapters was written, or at least compiled, by King Solomon. When God gave Solomon the choice of anything he wanted, he chose wisdom over riches, fame or power.

Proverbs is divided up into thirty-one chapters – very handy for reading one chapter each day of the month. It is possible to easily glean some nuggets of wisdom each morning while drinking your coffee, or skinny latte, or whatever else kickstarts your brain.

Some of my favorite verses from the book of Proverbs are:

10:14 – A wise person holds their tongue. Only a fool blurts out everything they know.

26:17 – Getting involved in an argument that is none of your business is like going down the street and grabbing a dog by the ears.

26:20 – Without wood, a fire goes out; without gossip, quarreling stops.

4:23 – Be careful how you think. Your life is shaped by your thoughts.

11:25 – Be generous and you will be prosperous. Help others and you will be helped.

But if I was going to choose one verse from Proverbs to have tattooed on my backside, it would be Proverbs 14:4:

“An empty stable stays clean, but much increase comes by the strength of an ox.” (Loose translation according to me: You can accomplish more if you are willing to deal with a lot of BS. Or, in King Solomon’s case, O.S.) I have found that bit of wisdom especially pertinent in my life.

Proverbs 4:7 says “Getting wisdom is the most important thing you can do.”

Even, I believe, if it is partially concealed beneath the strap on a sports bra.

From Golden Baptist Church to the Streets of Gold

From this weather graphic on my way to Ben Fine’s Visitation . . .

To this view of a double rainbow from the balcony of my room that same evening.

It was a turbulent weather day on my way to pay my respects to my old friend, Ben Fine, at White Funeral Home in Cassville, Mo. A 12-year-old girl drowned near Neosho, Mo., as did a 34-year-old man who jumped in the water to try and save her after she was swept away.

As I drove back to Springfield, Mo. after the visitation, the City Park in Monett had lots of flooding and my windshield wipers were getting an extreme workout. Later that evening, the rain subsided. As I stood on the balcony of my motel room in Springfield, a beautiful double rainbow appeared in the eastern sky.

The next morning as I drove south on 160 Highway through Nixa and Highlandville toward Golden, Mo., to attend Ben’s funeral, the sky was overcast, but calm. The drive on that peaceful morning took me through familiar territory.

Many of my wife’s ancestors are buried in Flood Cemetery west of Highlandville just off of Route O, behind Pleasant View Baptist Church. My wife and I own a couple of plots near the back of that cemetery. I will be buried under a walnut tree to which someone already tied a wind chime to a lower limb. If I go first, I have instructed my wife to surreptitiously remove the wind chime and dispose of it. Having to listen to that throughout eternity would drive me nuts.

Further down the road I crossed the bridge over Table Rock Lake at Kimberling City. In times gone by, I have fished and waterskiied in that area. Just beyond that is the Mill Creek Recreation Area. In the late 1960’s, Ben Fine, another guy whose name I cannot recall, and I pitched at tent at Mill Creek. We played Indian Ball until it was dark, followed by the card game, Spades, until late. Before we crawled into our sleeping bags we got hungry. We attempted to cook a frozen chicken over a hastily built fire. We did not starve and we did not contract any foodborne illnesses, but I recall the chicken was charred black on the outside but still had some ice crystals near the center. The middle was perfect.

The funeral was at the Golden Baptist Church, in Golden, Mo. Behind a well-maintained sanctuary I drove to a large, metal building with a concrete floor suitable for basketball and large dinners, with plenty of room to stretch out. The building also had a stage. In front of the stage was Ben’s casket.

As I walked in the door, I was greeted by the delicious smell of fried chicken being prepared by caring people for a family dinner after the funeral.

A large crowd was present. Many, I suspect had planned to attend the visitation the day before, but were wisely discouraged by the weather.

After a welcome and a song, the Pastor asked if anyone had any stories they would like to tell about Ben. There were multiple stories about Ben’s goodness and concern for others. And more than a few fishing stories. His son, Brad, also told a “moving” story – as in moving away. After finishing his education, Brad wanted to move to Los Angeles. Ben was supportive. They rented a U-Haul, loaded it with Brad’s possessions and headed west. After numerous breakdowns, the truck finally gave out near Gallup, N.M. When U-haul arrived with a replacement truck, Ben & Brad unloaded the first truck and loaded everything into the new truck in the desert heat. As often happens, L.A. did not work out and Brad and his family now live near Charleston, S.C.

I debated whether to take the microphone.

The next thing I knew I was walking to the front. The Preacher handed me the mic.

“I went to school with Ben. We were both in the Hillcrest High School Class of ’66. Ben and I went fishing a lot at Fellows Lake, north of Springfield, Mo., in our younger years. We would rent an aluminum boat for three bucks a day from the Marina there, and row around the lake. We both loved fishing and we both love spending time on the water” I said. “On my way down yesterday, I decided to visit that old Marina – just for old times sake. When I arrived, I was greatly surprised to find it was being demolished. By today, I imagine it is gone.”

There were disappointed murmurs from those in attendance.

“They plan to build a new Marina on Fellows Lake. Another fifty or sixty years in the future, it will wear out too. Ben Fine’s body wore out. But Ben now has a brand new heavenly body that is never gonna get COPD or wear out!”

I handed the microphone back to the Preacher and hurried back to my seat. As I was seated, the Preacher handed the mic to another guy who had made his way to the front.

“My name is Gary Ellison. I was also in the Hillcrest Class of ’66 with Ben. And it is great to see my old friend, Doug Reece! What’s it been, Doug? Fifty years since we’ve seen each other?”

And with that, though I had lost one old friend, I had just been reunited with TWO OTHER old friends! After the funeral, Gary, his wife, Judy and I exchanged hugs and contact information. I was in their wedding. They had already celebrated their Golden Wedding anniversary.

The funeral procession slowly made its way from Golden Mo., down busy Highway 86, to Roach Cemetery. Along the way, passersby stopped their cars in the roadway to pay their respects. Roach Cemetery is 200 yards of dirt road north of 86 Highway in Eagle Rock, Mo.

Ben’s remains were buried just to the right of the large tree in the background

Rest in peace, Ben. Thanks for making the good times better. Not sure who will be next, but the Class of ’66 seems to be headed your way in ever increasing numbers.

The weather was pretty scary on Day 1, but cool, beautiful and dry on Day 2. As I drove home, I felt I had accomplished two goals:

  1. I had paid my respects to an old friend and his family; and
  2. I had followed the advice of Yogi Berra, who observed “If you don’t go to other people’s funerals, they won’t go to yours!”

Paying it Forward (Revisited) and Paying My Respects

The morning I was to depart to pay my respects to my old friend, Ben Fine, started off ominously. After a restless night of sleep, I sat on our screened-in porch shortly after dawn. As I pulled up the newspaper on-line, I thought I detected a faint rumble of thunder in the southwest. Frogs, turkeys, whippoorwills, and a few mourning doves joined in a chorus in advance of the approaching storm.

Though the sun had risen, the woods and fields around our house began to darken.  The sudden sound of wind in the treetops added to the anticipation as the fast-moving storm approached.  Big splats of rain began to hit the deck. They were accompanied by nickel-sized chunks of hail.  It was fast and furious, but in 20 minutes it was all over.  The hail was mercifully light. 

As I got in my car to head the direction from which the storm had approached, weather forecasters on the radio warned more turbulent weather was on the way. 

On my way out of town I made a brief stop at Scooters for a large cup of dark roast coffee to go.  On my last trip through Scooters the people in front of me had paid for coffee for my wife and me.  I had declined to pay for the vehicle behind me when I found their bill was the better part of a twenty-dollar bill including tip, and my bill had been just under six bucks.  I had second-guessed my decision that entire day. 

Today I intended to make it up.

As I ordered my coffee, (three bucks) I glanced at the car behind me.  It was occupied by a single female.  When she had pulled into the line behind me earlier, she had blocked the lane for cross-traffic, a pet peeve of mine.  As I continued to watch, she lit a cigarette and talked into her phone.  Maybe not the person I would have chosen to buy coffee for, but I was committed. 

As I progressed in the line, I noticed the car behind the lady behind me was occupied by several people.  It was déjà vu all over again.  I was going to pay for her drink ($4.76).  Then she would ask how much for the car behind her and it was going to be twenty bucks.  She would be faced with the same dilemma that had troubled me the last time I visited Scooters. 

Or maybe not.  Based on her “I’m in a hurry” lane blocking, she might have just taken her free cup of coffee, exhaled a cloud of smoke, and sped away.

The important thing was that I had paid it forward and still had enough money for my trip.

Near Springfield, Mo, I decided to take a quick side trip and visit Fellow’s Lake.  That’s where the Marina was located from which Ben and I had rented aluminum rowboats and gone fishing many times. That was way back in the days of the Richard M. “Tricky Dick” Nixon Administration.

I drove slowly through the countryside as I neared the lake, savoring the trip down memory lane. 

A surprise awaited me.

As I pulled into the Marina parking lot, yellow tape blocked the concrete stairway to the lake.  The noise of heavy equipment from the direction of the Marina dominated the beautiful setting.  Peering through the trees down to the site of the Marina I saw a large machine rip up a section of the Marina floor and carry it aloft to a large, nearby dumpster.  The Marina was being demolished.

The Marina I remembered . . .

A slab of Marina flooring headed to the dumpster

All that was left of the Marina the day of my visit- Going, Going . . . Gone!

Maybe its my fault. 

The hospital where I was born?  Demolished.

The Church where my wife and I were wed?  Demolished.

The High School I attended? Part of the original building is being demolished even as I type this.

And now the Marina from which Ben and I launched many fishing trips, mostly on days when the fish were not biting? Demolished.

A new Marina is planned. It just seemed ironic that the very week Ben died they tore down the Marina that had been standing, actually, floating, since 1958.

Overhead the sky began to rumble.  I took a few pictures and got back into my car. On the radio was more talk of weather watches and warnings, flooding, damaging winds, and lightning.

By the time I reached Republic, Mo. it was raining so hard the windshield wipers were having a hard time keeping up.  The next 30 miles were similar to what I imagine driving 50 mph in a car wash would be like.  Following the instructions of Google maps, I turned onto HW 39 south at Aurora, Mo. 

The deluge continued unabated.  In some places water began to run across the road.  At one spot, I was carefully passing through standing water over the road when a large pickup pulling a large travel trailer came speeding around a sharp curve toward me, edging ever closer to the center line.  When the truck hit the water,  I anticipated the travel trailer might spin in my direction.  I am not sure what happened. As the truck hit the standing water it threw up a tremendous spray that completely obscured my vision.  The travel trailer prolonged the blinding spray of water.  

I braced for an impact that never came. 

There had to be some (very wet) angels protecting me. It wouldn’t be the first time.

I drove on.

When I was finally directed to turn west on 248 toward Cassville, the curvy road followed a ridge to my destination.  No more water over the road.  I made it without further incident.

As I pulled into the funeral home parking lot I reflected on the white knuckle drive.  At least, I thought, if that travel trailer had wiped me out it wasn’t too far to the funeral home.  

The rain began to slacken and I hurried to the front door of the funeral home.

The attendance at my friend’s visitation was not as heavy as I had expected.

A lot of sensible people had stayed home rather than brave the horrendous weather and treacherous roads.

Just goes to show Harry Truman knew what he was talking about when he observed, “It doesn’t matter how big a ranch you own or how many cows you brand, the size of your funeral is still gonna depend on the weather.”

Next up:  Ben Fine’s funeral. I lost a good friend – but I found two!

On The Road Again – This Time to Pay My Respects

I woke up shortly after 6 am on the last morning of our vacation. 

“Are you awake?” asked my wife softly.

“Yes” I replied.

My response was followed by four words from my wife that completely changed the trajectory of our last day of vacation.

“I have a toothache.”

Instead of leisurely packing and dawdling on our way home, we hurriedly packed and headed north.  Dental emergencies are bad enough, even with your personal Dentist – the person the authorities would call if they were trying to identify a mangled corpse they suspected might be you.   I find it reassuring to have a Dentist who knows the inside of my mouth like the back of his hand. 

Our goal was to avoid a visit to an unfamiliar Dentist who might have a payment due on their new x-ray machine and need to raise a little cash fast.

After 8 am when Val’s Dentist’s office opened, she reached him on the phone.  He brought the urgency level down a few notches.

“Take 3 Advil and see if things calm down” was his advice.

I love a Dentist who goes with the least intrusive, most economical, potential solution first. 

The advice worked. 

You know how vacations work: normal diets go out the window and your teeth are tasked with chewing all kinds of strange foods. I am certain a new treat we discovered at Andy’s Frozen Custard shown on the menu as a Snowmonster Concrete contributed to my wife’s dental distress. It is a blend of frozen custard, strawberries, and melted chocolate chips.

I have two observations about the Snowmonster:

  1.  It is delicious; and
  2.  It is a good thing we do not have an Andy’s Frozen Custard near our home.

Amazingly, after 24 hours without a Snowmonster my wife’s dental discomfort disappeared.

It was good to get home, even if we arrived a few hours earlier than planned.

A few days later another all too frequent bane of a Baby Boomer’s life necessitated another change in plans for me. It started when I received a Facebook friend request from the wife of an old friend. I thought we were already friends. I was right. The request was from a hacker. But while I was checking the real Facebook page of my friend’s wife, I started seeing messages like “So sorry to hear about Ben” and “You are in our prayers” with no explanation.

I googled my friends name followed by “obituary”. I discovered my friend had passed away two days after we returned from vacation.

That sad discovery is the first time anything useful has resulted from numerous attempts to hack my Facebook account.

Ben and I had spent more than a few nights in our post-high school years cruising the streets of Springfield, Mo. Ben had a dark blue 1966 Ford Mustang. 

High tech sound systems of that era included an eight-track tape player mounted below the dash.  Ben liked that eight-track loud. While some sophisticated sound systems today will rattle the windows of the homes and businesses as the car passes by, I rarely hear the occupants singing aloud.

Ben & I did.

“Mustang Sally” was our favorite song.  Also high on our charts were “Devil with a Blue Dress/Good Golly, Miss Molly”, “C.C. Rider”, and “Sock it to me Baby”. Ben and I sang along enthusiastically. What we lacked in vocal talent we made up for in volume.

Taking you back to circa 1968, here is a video of Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels for your listening pleasure. Imagine a warm summer evening in 1968, windows down because A.C. was a rarity in those days, and a couple of young guys belting this out in the car next to you at a stoplight.

Fishing was another favorite, less noisy, pastime of ours. We spent many hours in aluminum boats (minus an outboard) we rented for three bucks a day on Fellows Lake near Springfield, Mo. We took turns being the motor. I don’t recall it ever taking long to clean the fish.

Ben’s was a visitation and funeral I would attend.  I last saw Ben in 2017. In the last few years we had gone full circle from fast cars and rock and roll to trading pictures of cows, sunsets, kids and grandkids on Facebook.

To pay my respects to Ben, my journey would take me as far as you can go into the hills and hollows of southwest Missouri without crossing the Arkansas line.

The end of one trip with a dental emergency, the beginning of another with the loss of an old friend.

Ben Franklin once said that the only two things certain in life are death and taxes.

To which Will Rogers later added “At least death doesn’t get worse every time Congress is in session!”

Personally, I think “dental problems” should have made Ben’s list.