Arise–Fellow Incompetents!

While away last week, driving at night, a car pulled alongside. “Your taillights aren’t working. The brake and turn signals were OK.”

Return trip delayed one day, and an unexpected trip to the auto repair shop. Everything covered by warranty.

As was often the case, no problems were found at the auto shop. The service advisor and myself concluded, that an automatic light control switch had been inadvertently turned off.

Who/what was to blame? Speculation would be pointless. There’s enough incompetence to go around.

After this post-Thanksgiving verbal meandering, I would offer the following words of advice.

When visiting grandma and grandpa’s house, please return electronic devices to their original settings–that includes automobiles.  Thanks in advance for your cooperation.


They seem cruel now–but, back then they were attempts to gain control.  Different from admonitions, these were warnings; do/don’t do this, or this will happen.

“Come on, I’m going.  I’m not telling you again.  OK, you can just stay here at Aunt Edna’s.  Your Bubba bear is going to miss you.”

A few tears, later and the recalcitrant youngun’ came dragging along.  He wasn’t about to abandon his favorite teddy bear.

Behind Rose’s Market was an outhouse and a storage building.  The small town grocery store, was an after school meeting place.  Old men from town, met in the back, by the oil-burning stove, for their daily gossip fest.  Charlie Rose, the proprietor, gave a familiar warning.

“Get away from that shed–the boogeyman will get you.”

Grandparents gave an ultimatum or two.  Some of them quite macabre.

“Don’t play on the telephone.”  Or, Nelson Fenton, proprietor of the local independent telephone company, would come and, “Cut our ears off.”

Ultimatums came from everywhere, from aunts and uncles, teachers, townspeople.  They were battles of wills; attempts to maintain order.

“If you don’t stop crying and behave, I’m going to take you to the doctor and get you a shot.”

That usually did the trick.  No kid I knew liked getting shots.  Working in health care later, I discovered this approach, hindered more than it helped.

“Hit your sister again, and I’ll swat your butt.”  Direct and to the point–nothing else needed to be said.

Along the path to maturity, these ultimatums were no more cruel, than those elsewhere in the animal kingdom.  Mother cats cuffed misbehaving offspring; carried them by the scruff of their necks when necessary.  All creatures had to learn their places.  There were consequences for misbehavior.




Never Could Say Goodbye

Why did the process of leaving a family friend or relative’s house seem to take forever?  Little kids hated adult small talk, “My how you’ve grown.  What grade were you in school? You’re almost as tall as your older brother.”

Adult chattering never stopped.  Pitiful expressions, tugging at mom’s skirt, never made the process go faster. Going to your father for help didn’t work, either.  His standard response, “Go ask your mother.”  Which really meant, he knew from years of experience, saying goodbye could not be hurried.

Two generations later, blessed with more patience, the process hadn’t changed.  Only the players in these mini-dramas were different.  Grandma, family matriarch, cooked at home–did most of the cooking away from home.

For that reason, the head chef needed proper utensils, small appliances, to feel at home away from home–anything easily transportable.

Leftovers had to be divvied up.  Grandma refereed the process.  “Don’t take all of that–take more of this.  Your sister likes cranberries, you know.”

“Where were the disposable containers?  I can’t find anything in your kitchen.  Why do you keep things on  top shelves where I can’t reach them?  Better take a couple of pieces of this lemon meringue pie.  Your grandpa and I will never eat it–it will just go bad.”

Lost items, previously ignored, became priorities; followed by discussions of where said lost items could be; bouts of anxiety, then, retrieval of lost items–purses, sweaters, jackets, electronic devices.  When, items weren’t found.  “Well, I’ll pick it up next time–or you can mail it to me.”  The postal service would never go out of business on our account.

When visitors left our house, the process was mostly the same.  Grandkids added interesting twists to the goodbye process.  Internet savvy kids left behind connectors, adapters–strange to unhip grandparents, various clothing articles.  They sometimes took things home, not noticed, until weeks, even months, later.

“What happened to the Caladryl lotion?”  I asked, after getting into some poison ivy.  “Oh, one of the grandkids took it home–he had an itchy rash.”  That wasn’t going to help me at that moment.

Goodbyes and hugs took forever, because we never could say goodbye.



STATE OF THE BLOG (Inner Critics/Faking It/Confidence)


The last thing I expected on a rainy day was a visit from my “Inner Critic.”  If you don’t have one–you should bow down in thanks.  The  regular group was at the door, plus some uninvited guests.  I brought in lawn chairs from the garage.

To make matters worse, my two dogs were bored–there would be no morning walk.  They checked in with me every half-hour to see if conditions had changed. Why were The Stooges here? …With Curly Joe, the funnier Stooge, and not Shemp.

By way of explanation, my “Inner Critic”– is a concoction, liberally seasoned with advice from my parents, grandparents, my drill sergeant, a crusty old farm hand, named Floyd, a pinch of Don Rickles and John Wayne added for extra zing.

“State of the blog, state of the blog–Hey Moe, that rhymes with frog.  State of the frog, state of the frog,” Curly Joe chanted.  “Shut up you imbecile,”  Moe slapped Curly on the back of the head.

“Is this the place?” Larry asked.  “This is the place,” Moe answered.

“Well, if there’s no other place around the place, this must be the place,  I reckon–Nyuk, Nyuk, Nyuk,” “Get outta here you moron,”  More mayhem, some eye pokes, more head slaps.

Moe led Curly out the door by the ear.  Larry followed.  I wasn’t sorry to see them go.  Slapstick comedy wasn’t what I was looking for this morning.

“What’s up with taking more risks and getting fewer rewards?” I asked.

“What do you mean, Dear?”  Grandma asked.

“I don’t want this blog to get stale–so, I tried some new stuff.”

“That’s nice, Dear–it’s going to take time.”  “Just don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.”  “I brought you some sock monkeys.”

“Thanks, Gram,” I answered.

“I almost called this post, “Thoughts on a Rainy Day,” but changed my mind.”

“I’m glad you did,” Said my drill sergeant.  “That’s too wimpy.”

“Just write what you want to–what you feel is right,”  Said Floyd.  “If the xxx-xxxx idiots, don’t like the xxxxx-xxxx-xxxx–it’s their xxxxx problem, not yours.”

“Aren’t we all faking it?  I mean everybody does it–everyday.  Acting like we know what we’re doing–whether we do or not. We do it at work, in public, when raising a family.”

“That doesn’t make it right,” Mom said.  “It’s the same thing as lying.”

“But, Mom–It’s not really lying.  It’s showing confidence in facing the unknown.  Because, for most people, showing weakness is a liability they can’t risk?  Could it be, that some people are more afraid of failure, than success?”

“I’m glad you brought that up, Pilgrim,” John Wayne answered.  “Acting is nothing but faking it.  Movie sets are fake.  You have to convince others, that what you say, is genuine and real.”

“Mr. Wayne, Did you ever feel insecure?  That some day the bottom might drop out?”

“You’re damn right I did–many times!  I tried not to show it.  I guess that’s what you mean by ‘faking it.’  The day I first met with the head of a movie studio to sign a contract, my knees were shaking.  There was a lot at stake.”

“That’s what your mother and I tried to teach you,” My father said.  “There’s no reward without taking some risks.  You shouldn’t attempt anything expecting to fail.  Be confident, shoulders back, eyes straight ahead–let the chips fall where they may.”

“I’m hungry,” Grandpa said.  “Where are we going for breakfast?  We’re not going to get anything around here.”

“Come on Rickles, you’ve been unusually quiet, Said John Wayne.  “Duke, the sloppy sentiment around here’s killed my appetite.  Maybe some coffee.  Let’s go to the IHOP.”

My guests, gathered their things and left.  Don Rickles got in the last word–like he always did.

“I’m outta’ here.  Don’t make me come back.  This place is a dump.  You oughta’ clean it up, sometime.  And I don’t want to see you doing sock monkey puppet shows–either.  Because that would be sick.  You’re a sick man.  Nobody really likes you anyway–you know.”


Tangled in the falling vines
Waiting for a punch line
I’ve just been fakin’ it
I’m not really makin’ it
This feeling of fakin’ it
I still haven’t shaken it

–Paul Simon–


2 generations

Contrasted, tanned
Cracked and rough
Soft, baby smooth
Grandfather, grandson
Lifetime bond, barely begun
Held by strong arms and hands
Delighted squeals, giggles
Came, as little legs, learned
To walk, then run
Behind wrinkles
Laugh lines–the
Knowledge of how
Precious, time was

–Photo by Craig Roberts–


Grandpa George & his grandsonsI remember visits to my grandparent’s farm in the early fifties–sitting on the back step with my grandpa–just outside the mud room.  I miss him and the ever-present twinkle in his eye; the tidbits of orchard-fresh golden delicious apples offered freely–cut with his pocketknife; his teasing, that got my little brother so tickled in this picture.



My little troopers and myself set out on a fishing expedition one morning in June.  We were armed to the teeth with fishing rods, tackle boxes, fish baskets, and bait.  I almost forget to mention snacks–in case we were suddenly overcome with hunger.  The question arose, “Did fish like gummi worms?”  I didn’t know the answer, but didn’t think so.

Our fishing foray played to the short attention spans of little anglers.  As expected, my time was taken up baiting, re-baiting hooks with wriggling earthworms to the exaggerated “ewws” and “yucks” of squeamish grandchildren.  The youngest angler employed his, specially selected for durability, steel fishing rod for the first time.  He was curious as to whether the crank handle turned backwards.  This caused numerous line tangles and downtime for repairs.  He stood firmly on the edge of the water, tried a new technique–snagging fish.

Several small bluegill were caught.  I encouraged them to catch and release.  My older grandson insisted on keeping his as a pet.  I knew it would end up sacrificed on the altar of appeasement.  We carefully placed it in a bucket of pond water from whence it came.  The next morning the fish lay lifeless on top of the water.  Sadly, it had expired.  It’s been too many years to recall the poor creature’s name.  We respectably said a few words over the recently departed piscine pet, buried it in nearby mud.

After an initial period of about twenty minutes, only two of the original four remained.  The rest of us enjoyed exploring nature.  Meadowlarks called in the distance.  Water Striders glided across the smooth surface of the pond.  I explained that bluegill nested in little mudholes.  The females stayed over the nests–similar to chickens and birds, while the males stood guard.  The two boys lowered sinker weights to watch males attack.  Attention turned to searching for frogs and turtles.  A crawdad mound was checked with a stick for occupancy.  The adventure ended in time for lunch.  Their grandmother wasn’t pleased with our muddy clothing and shoes.

My first fish was a small yellow perch caught with a crude willow pole and twisted cotton line.  Several decades later, in the seventies, a proud uncle helped his nephew catch his very first fish, (as pictured above).  A fishing expedition to Pere Marquette State Park with daughters in the eighties had been unsuccessful.  Unsuccessful, if success was measured, only by the quantity and quality of fish caught.

Exploring the wonders of nature doesn’t cost anything.  Maybe, someday, we’ll look back with fond memories of past “fish hunting” expeditions.  Perhaps, we too will realize, as my depression-era parents and grandparents did, that “less is more.”