There’s No Going Back

This blog started in August 2014. My first post was a family story based upon real events from my childhood. Today marks my 107th post since then.

The day the hay wagon tipped over (Hayride Gone Wrong) is a famous tale in our family lore. Several of us have written the story from our own perspectives. At reunions the storytelling inevitably includes one or more renditions.

One long-term impact to me is the complete lack of interest in harvest hayrides at pumpkin patches. There is simply no comparison worth noting. They pull you in a safety-conscious wagon complete with padded railings and a chain across the opening. The benches and floor may be sprinkled with straw but it’s mostly for decoration.

Compare that to riding on top of a swaying stack of bundled bales so high that we had to duck under the power lines as we entered the driveway. No harnesses. No safety lines. We climbed up there for the half mile drive across the field and down the road back to the barn.

The load was supported with the sidewalls of the wagon. These wooden slats and posts survived years of exposure and bleaching in the sun. Occasionally, one or more pieces needed replacement and got it. The urgency was offset by other workload priorities and a broken slat may remain for a few weeks if it did not affect loads.

What kind of adults would allow their children to ride in such an unsafe manner? Ours. There are probably many more examples of dangerous activities we performed and survived. I wouldn’t change a thing.

Now that you’ve got some blogging experience under your belt, re-write your very first post.

Kitchen – Home’s Heart

The storm pushed against the farmhouse making it creak. The hand-hewn pegged beams held firm as they had for more than 150 years. The five giant maple trees at the road bore the storm as they had for almost 200 years. Their thick trunks barely moved as the top-most branches bent in the wind. The family sat at the kitchen table listening to the storm as they played cards.

“I’ve got the two of clubs.”

“Let’s see who has the queen of spades. Hunt that rabbit!”

“I’m going to run them.”

“No more points for me. I can’t afford any. I’m close to going over.”

The banter was light. It helped pass the time as the storm intensified outside. Winds gusted erratically causing the house to shudder a moment. The family heard a loud “CRACK”  outside and the lights went out.

“Sounds like a limb broke and took the power lines down with it.” Dad said.

Mom got up and lit two hurricane lamps and set them on the table. The kids continued to play cards in the glowing light. Mom then moved to stoke the fire in the wood cook stove. It was more than 80 years old and had a large flat surface and an oven they had once used to roast a holiday turkey. She added some small diameter birch sticks with a few larger maple pieces. The fire responded quickly and the room warmed comfortably.

Mom took a large cooking pot and thumped a chunk of homemade butter into it. She added what sounded like little pellets next and put the cover on. Applying a gentle rocking motion she used to soothe countless babies to sleep, she gently moved the pot to prevent the kernels from sticking and burning.

After a few moments, they began to burst inside the pot, launching others around inside like bullets that pinged off the steel. The cacophony grew for less than a minute before settling under the muffling caused by the popped corn. When the activity slowed to sporadic bursts, she slid the pot off the hottest area of the cooking surface and carefully lifted the top allowing a plume of steam and aroma to escape.

She poured the popcorn into a few other bowls and placed them around the table. Card playing slowed for several minutes as the family grabbed handfuls of the buttery and crunchy treat.

“Still hunting the queen. I wonder who is getting stuck with it.”

“Not me. I’m not taking any more tricks this hand.”

“You hope.”

“Let’s find out. Play.”

The storm continued outside. The family never worried about it as they sat in the kitchen.

Safe. Warm. Together.

My Biggest Day Preparations

It’s the night before an important event: a big exam, a major presentation, your wedding. How do you calm your nerves in preparation for the big day

18 hours to go. I’m sleeping just fine.

It’s August 1 and the New England summer is at its peak heat today. I’ve left final wedding preparations until this morning. What’s the rush? The wedding isn’t until this evening. Plenty of time to drive into the big city and pick up my tuxedo.

Considering that I was across the continent just a few days ago without a plane ticket or any money to buy one, picking up a fancy rented suit today is minor. I have no other preparation wedding duties. I’m sure the bride and bridesmaids have much to do. Hair, makeup, final clothing adjustments, and pre-wedding pictures are on their agenda.

I get up and have an unremarkable breakfast. It’s so average, I don’t remember it 27 years later. I’m staying with my parents until tonight. This isn’t the house I grew up in. That was sold and demolished in the past two years to make way for a new subdivision while I was away.

I have no emotional attachment to this place. The house is unfamiliar and strange to me. I don’t know it’s creaks and quirks. In the old house, we could prank whoever was in the shower by turning on a hot water faucet elsewhere and it would diminish the flow leaving them suddenly cold. The startled shouts of a shocked brother was always good for a laugh. I don’t know how it works in this place.

My eldest brother is also my best man today. He is driving me to the city for the tux later this morning. The store opens at 10 am. 45 minutes to drive there, 30 minutes in the store, 45 minutes back. That will kill a couple of hours. Only 8 more to go.

“Let’s go bowling ,” I say after we get back from the tuxedo store.

Not because I’m thrilled about bowling. It’s just an idea to kill a few more hours. We drive to the local alley, go in, but can’t bowl. They’re waxing the lanes in the mid-afternoon lull.

“What now?” my brother asks.

“I don’t know. There’s not enough time to see a movie. We’d be late then. How about we go to the arcade and waste some coins?” I reply.

“Whatever you want. It’s your wedding day.” he answers.

We go and spend almost 90 minutes playing most of the games. He looks at his watch and says we should drive home and get dressed for the wedding. Plenty of time.

Why did we agree on an evening wedding?


The Electric Snowflake (Part 2)

The boy who would be the next Electric Snowflake was quite unaware of the council and its decision. He played a game of Shards & Sparkles in the Ice Crystal Garden with his friends. It was a close one and just as his turn began, a guard came up and blocked his light, causing him to score poorly. He turned to protest as his friends laughed but the guard cut him off by informing him that his father, the king, wished to see him – AT ONCE. Castell knew from the man’s tone that it was something very serious. He dropped the icicle baton from his hand and ran to his father’s chambers.

When Castell arrived, he saw his father looking sadly at a freeze-frame of his mother. He hesitated for a moment not wishing to intrude upon his father’s privacy. The guard at the doorway coughed twice before announcing Castell’s arrival to the king in a soft tone. His father put the freeze-frame back on the shelf and caressed it lovingly before turning to greet his son. His father informed him of the council’s agreement with the choice of the next Electric Snowflake.

Castell sat down hard on the polished frozen floor in shock. It was a childhood fantasy come true. The Electric Snowflake was the greatest hero in the eyes of all citizens of the cold regions. He alone controlled the snowfall for the world below. He could travel at incredible speeds and coordinate snowstorms in dozens of places at one time. The sight of a shining blue spark racing though the sky inspired cheers from everyone in sight. It was unbelievable that he, Castell, would be the object of such adoration. The thought thrilled him beyond comprehension.

His father brought him back to reality with the next few statements. The Electric Snowflake could never marry, have children, or even fall in love. It was believed such actions could weaken his power to the point where he may not be able to perform the duties of the appointment. There was no other suitable replacement anywhere in existence. If anything should happen to him, the fate of both their worlds could be at stake.

What do you do?

Flash Talk: You’re about to enter a room full of strangers, where you will have exactly four minutes to tell a story that would convey who you really are. What’s your story?

The politician stood behind the bulletproof podium and gave a mediocre speech. His delivery ranged from a low mumble to blasting eruptions as he railed on about the record of his opponent compared to what he would do if he got elected. Tim and another man stood near the back of the room trying to stay awake.

The other man turned and asked, “What do you do?”

Tim stifled a yawn before replying, “I’m a husband to one, father to three, friend to some, sibling to others…”

The other man cut him off. “No, no. What do you DO?” he repeated. “Where do you work? What’s your job?”

“That doesn’t matter as much,” Tim replied. “In my day job, I help the company win contracts and keep other people employed. It’s good work, but there are other things more important in my life.”

“Like what?” the man asked.

“Well, it’s like this,” Tim explained, “My computer wallpaper is a series of images that fall into two categories. The first is scenery. You know, landscapes, mountains, lakes, waterfalls, beaches, prairies and so forth. Places I’ve been, pictures I’ve taken, and where I’d like to go again. The other category is pictures of my family. I’ve got them cycling through behind my work all day long as a reminder.”

“Of what?” the man inquired curiously.

“Of what’s important. The scenery images are where I’d like to be. The family pictures remind me why I work.”

Love Creates Beauty

Absolute Beauty

We’ve all heard that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Do you agree? is all beauty contingent on a subjective point of view?

They met on New Year’s Day 1986. Tim was a young US Navy sailor on holiday leave and visiting his hometown. His older brother, Jim, invited Tim, and younger brother Dave to go over to his college girlfriend’s home for board games. They agreed.

Jim led Tim around the house and made quick introductions to the parents and Claire’s younger sisters. Tim just smiled and nodded to each one in turn before moving in to the living room for the games. He figured he was meeting his future in-laws since it looked like Jim and Claire were headed for marriage after they finished college. The right thing to do was make a positive impression.

Three pairs played Trivial Pursuit that evening.

  • Jim and Claire were too distracted with each other to concentrate on the game for more than fifteen seconds at a time.
  • Claire’s parents were not trivia buffs but politely played along.
  • Tim and Dave were two bachelors with voracious reading habits and minds that retained enormous quantities of useless data. They dominated the board.

At some point in the game, there was an interruption from Claire’s younger sister as she roughhoused with another visitor. The commotion spilled into the room almost upsetting the board pieces before ranging back into the kitchen. The living room group finished the game as Dave named the only native North American marsupial (Opossum) for the win.

Shortly thereafter, Tim and Dave made their exit and headed home for the night. It had been a pleasant enough evening with laughter and giggling (mostly from Jim and Claire), light snacks, and getting to know the future in-laws a little. Good people, nice family, becoming related would be okay.

Fast forward five months and Tim asked her after the movie, “Wouldn’t you like to be a Pepper too?”

“Yes,” she replied.

“What?” he said, “Are you serious?”

“Are you?” she asked.

“Yes,” he answered more confidently.

“Me too,” she declared.

It was the younger sister. What began so casually had grown through letters and phone calls. They shared hopes, dreams, and plans. Distance was irrelevant. Their hearts knitted together.

He was fascinated with her. She was so different from everyone else; so joyful, creative, and beautiful. The way she looked at him emboldened him. He could tackle the future with her strength and support.

She made him more confident. He had always been cocky, this was better. She believed in him and his purpose became to live up to that faith, to be worthy of it and never fail.

27 years of marriage so far. People ask how we’ve made it.

“It’s easy when you’re married to your best friend.”

Hand-Me-Downs: One Way to Ruin Christmas


Clothes and toys, recipes and jokes, advice and prejudice: we all have to handle all sorts of hand-me-downs every day. Tell us about some of the meaningful hand-me-downs in your life.

“It doesn’t fit.” I said.

“You’ll grow into it.” Mom said.

“I hate it.” I whined.

“You’ll learn to like it. It looks good on you.” Mom encouraged.

“I look stupid.” I muttered.

“You looked that way without putting it on.” Brother #2 said from the doorway.

I stuck out my tongue at him and scratched my elbow.

“Stop fidgeting,” Mom said, “Put on the mittens.”

“Awwww, Mom. It’s July. Why are we trying on winter jackets now?” I moaned.

It was called “Christmas in July” at the local church. People donated clothing to be distributed to families in need. For parents with multiple children it was an opportunity to give and receive school and winter clothes at no cost. For the kids it was another opportunity to be disappointed by the term “Christmas.”

Instead of opening beautiful presents with the latest shiny toy or game, here I was sweltering in July heat in a puffy coat that would see me through an Arctic expedition. At least the color matched my corduroy pants, but I absolutely refused to try on the rubber cowboy boots.

Middle Position – I Wouldn’t Change It

Next in Line

A second #RoyalBaby will soon be joining the Windsors in England. Given the choice, would you rather be heir to the throne, or the (probably) off-the-hook sibling?

As a middle child, I would not trade places to become first in line for the throne. Humorist author Erma Bombeck once wrote, “Firstborn children are like waffles. They are used to season the grill and then be tossed out.”

I am glad to have chosen to leave home when I did and not get tossed out against my wishes. Being the third of five placed me in the perfect position to see my elder brothers make decisions and then choose a different path of my own. Being the third boy in a row, few pictures of me are in family albums. Apparently my parents took a “We’ve seen that before” approach to recording images of me and I appear only partially in dozens of photographs.

By partially I mean my body parts appear in the edges of the picture. You can see my arm in this one, the back of my head in another, my leg sticking into the frame of another where I TRIED to get into the photo but didn’t make it in time.

Imagine royal family photos where the younger siblings of the firstborn are routinely obscured by more important people. That would be me, obscured.

“Is that Prince Tim’s arm? Can’t the royal photographer edit that out? It detracts from the image of the heir.”

It Wasn’t Me

Mom put the full pan of chocolate chip brownies on the pantry shelf to cool. Those would be a special treat for the family after dinner tonight. The appetites of four teenage boys seemed bottomless and something like fresh brownies never lasted long. Mom paused for a moment and cut just one little square from the corner of the pan. “Just a little taste,” she thought, and closed the door. Continue reading