Friday, December 30, 2016

Would I Have Had the Courage
As I was driving in my car, listening to a talk radio station, the announcer was talking about the young men, barely out of puberty unstinting volunteering to go to war. They were brave and patriotic, knowing full well that they might be cut down during the invasions of Europe and the South Pacific, and yet they went. Many were naïve, barely off the farm and yet they came in droves to fight for the freedom of other countries, trying to save them from the evil of the Nazi despots or the Oriental emperor.
They couldn’t have imagined the horrors of war and the pain from the wounds, the cold of winters, the heat, humidity, and insects of the jungle. Bad water and lack of food would further weaken them, but on they fought, because it was what their country expected of them. My father-in-law Elmer “Bud” Morrison fought in Germany, as well as the struggle with other GIs to complete the Alcan Highway. My father Edson Carl Beck, fought in the Philippines, was in Australia, and visited Hiroshima, Japan. His visit to Hiroshima must have been after the dropping of the A-bomb. It was something I didn’t know about him until later in his life.
I marvel at the courage of my father and my father-in-law as well as the thousands of others who flocked to the recruiting stations to report for duty, long before the draft boards called them. All throughout the history of the United States, we have had men and women who have put the love of home and country above their own lives.

It made me think. Would I have had that much courage? I think I might. While the conflict in Vietnam was in full swing, I volunteered, not for the Marines. I wanted to keep people alive and decided to be a corpsman in the Navy. Later, I found out that the Navy provided the medical help for the Marines. If I would have been asked to report to Vietnam, I believe that I would have gone, not happily, but I would have followed orders.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

I Have a Plan
I made plans to visit with some other graduates from Connellsville High School for lunch, but as usual, my plans were changed. Some dear friends were visiting the area and it was more important to visit with them before they returned to North Carolina. I had every intention to visit them the day before, but another friend who was going with me was ill. I had to postpone the visit which changed my plans to meet the graduates. My son Andrew and his family are visiting from Texas, so it has been difficult juggling time and getting the balance right.
Each year, those Carolinian friends come back to this area to renew friendships, visit family, and to rest and recharge from their demanding jobs. They are remarkable people and it was imperative that I kept that friendship alive. They rent a cabin in one of the nearby parks and “hold court,” not really, but it allows others to visit them as schedules allow.
The drive yesterday to Keystone State Park was enjoyable. No snow or ice to contend with, but seeing green seemed out of place for Christmas celebrations. Sorry to my Floridian friends, you have no idea what I’m talking about.

They had several of their children and grandchildren at the cabin. It was great to meet them all. Some I knew and was impressed with how much they had grown. Of course, my changes in the bathroom mirror are more gradual. I saw some photos of myself and was astounded of how much I reminded myself of my GRANDFATHER.  Have I actually grown that old? Surely not, but photos don’t lie unless they are photo shopped. My body doesn’t lie and it says I’m no longer a youngster. SIGH.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Going Home for Christmas
As I grew older, there was nothing so wonderful and good as to be home for Christmas. It was the place where I grew up. This was the home place where I learned to walk, talk, and play. It was the house where me, my brother, Kenneth, and my sister, Kathy were raised. It was the place where we were nurtured and loved.
When my father, Edson Carl bought the land is had a small cottage covered in brown Inselbrick tar paper. Inside, there were two tiny bedrooms, a kitchen, and a living room that surrounded a covered porch in a U shape. The House had a half basement and half crawl space. I didn’t forget to include an indoor bathroom, because there wasn’t one. There was an outhouse to the rear of the yard.
It expanded over the years to include a full basement, another bedroom, and indoor plumbing. It became a home filled with love where life was celebrated, routine days, birthdays, and of course the holidays. My favorite celebrations were Christmas and Thanksgiving where everyone gathered and shared our lives with our parents and each other sitting, talking, and eating.
When my parents died, my sister held many of the family gatherings, but this year, I opened my house for Christmas. Since I am widowed, it meant more than usual cleaning and providing an extra table and chairs, but it was worth it. I made ready my home for my kids, the house where they learned to walk, talk, and play. It was the house where they were raised, a home where they were nurtured and loved. They came home to celebrate Christmas.

My grandchildren were here and hopefully the memories of love and a home will be passed on to another generation. Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Every year during the holidays, but especially at Christmas, sweet things magically appear then disappear into the mouths of friends, family, and have been eaten by the creator of the confections. These cakes, cookies, candies, popcorn balls, and even Jell-o salads made for festive get togethers. My grandmother Rebecca Miner always made orange Jell-o with sliced bananas imbedded in it. My mother-in-law, Retha Morrison made a delicious cranberry and nut Jell-o salad. My mom, Sybil Beck made mini nut rolls and iced cinnamon crescents.
My grandmother Miner also made pink candied popcorn with butternuts. Sometimes she would shape them into popcorn balls. I thought that the butternuts were strong tasting and gave the popcorn an odd flavor, but Grandma made them, so we ate them.
My grandmother Anna Beck would make pies. I can remember one year when she made pumpkin pies. There was a small amount of the pumpkin filling left. Being the thrifty, never waste anything person that she was, she made enough egg custard to mix with the pumpkin for another pie. It was delicious with a mild pumpkin flavor and the smoothness of custard.
This year, my sweet offering for the Christmas season is various types of brittle. Some were for home consumption and some were for gifts. I made several batches. Because after “sampling” them, I had to make double batches.
The types of brittle that I made were peanut, pecan, almond, English walnut, cashew, and sunflower seed. I tried the sunflower brittle because the person who wrote the recipe said it was her favorite. I thought that the sunflower seed brittle was just okay. I was much more enamored with the pecan and the peanut candies. I just made another batch of peanut brittle last evening because I managed to “sample” most of the supply I had made for visitors.

Sweet wishes for a Merry Christmas to all of my friends and readers.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Spray Paint
The older I get, the more worn I get by wrapping gifts. Each year, I get closer and closer to carrying the gifts out into the front yard, then spray painting them. I’d choose a different color for each child and for each grandchild, then I’d go at it. I would imagine if there’s snow on the ground and if I’d use a latex based paint, there should be no problem with pollution. But my kids have already nixed that idea, and I still have a heap of gifts waiting for me, SIGH.
When I was young and still living at home, somehow I ended up wrapping most of the gifts. Mom would keep my presents hidden and pull out the gifts for my grandparents, my dad, my brother, and my sister. She’d gather the wrapping paper, ribbons, tags, and Scotch tape. The one thing that made the task more miserable was the lick and stick name tags. The glue tasted terrible and they made my mouth dry after wetting so many.
The brightly colored paper was different back then. There was no shiny, metallic looking paper. Many of the colors were beautiful, but the designs were either very simple or extremely lavish. Then the paper was thicker and I am sure the ink that colored the paper came from metals; because as I burned the trash and tossed the wadded paper into the fire one at a time, the flames of the fire would change colors: blue, green, and sometimes orange. It was necessary to carefully check the trash to be sure that no stray sock or lost underwear had gotten into the discarded paper and burned.
My wife Cindy was fanatic about wrapping gifts. Everything had to be wrapped. If she bought a nail clipper as a stocking stuffer, she concealed it in paper. Any gifts that I bought for her had to be wrapped as well.

She snooped, shaking and feeling the presents once they were wrapped. She wouldn’t allow herself to peek in bags or boxes before they were paper clad. She considered them off limits; that is until they were wrapped. It was my mission to camouflage them so she couldn’t guess the contents until Christmas.

Monday, December 19, 2016

A Tale of Two Stories
My grandfather, Thomas Edson Beck was a Squire in Fayette County, Pennsylvania. He did legal work for the residents, completed deeds, wrote wills, and worked with state and federal taxes; as well as other routine bookkeeping for two multi-million dollar firms. My mom, Sybil Miner Beck, started to help him in the office soon after marrying my dad, Edson Carl Beck and continued doing taxes long after my grandfather retired. She also did bookkeeping for two large firms and helped local farmers with their taxes, notary work, and with Social Security payments.
Now comes the second part of the tale and I will attempt to connect the two. While I was picking my granddaughter up from her Mt Pleasant, Pennsylvania school, after her hard day in kindergarten, I saw a vanity plate on a SUV. I’d seen it several times before. It had my mind churning about the name and the driver. The name on the license plate was the same last name as one of a local farmer who passed away several years ago. I knew that this farmer was someone that my mom did taxes for and helped him with the large amount of government paperwork generated from the farm. It took me several times just talking with the driver before I worked up enough courage to ask her about the last name on the vanity plate.
When she said, “Yes, that’s my last name,” I asked her, “Are you related to Mr. So and So?”
She said, “Yes. That was my father.”
When I shared my name and told her my mom’s name, I said, “I think she did taxes for him.”
She said, “I am so thankful for your mother helping my dad. If she hadn’t helped with taxes and to set up a Social Security account, my mom would have nothing to live on.”

After talking a bit more, I felt so good, knowing that the good things my mom had done still resonated in the community.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Baby, It’s Cold Outside
I can remember my mom Sybil Miner Beck singing that song on cold mornings. With the temperature at 4 degrees Fahrenheit and a wind chill of minus 7 degrees Fahrenheit, it is plenty cold for me. In my youth, school schedules were never delayed just because it was cold and I can remember walking to an unheated wooden bus stop, huddling inside, and waiting for a long yellow behemoth to arrive, trailing a plume of steam and fumes. The brakes would squeal as it stopped and it opened its maw. I would hurry to be swallowed up by it and join fellow students in the ride to school, happy for the small but welcome warmth inside.
My mom had a quirky trait of singing a chorus of a song when it matched something one of us kids would say. The song always had some tie in with what we had just said. She only did it at home for us, so I’ve always thought that it was special for the family. If she would have tried it in public, people probably would have thought her crazy. I must have thought that it was special, because I picked up her unusual trait and will often sing a few lines from a song, but I have added telling a story or sharing a joke that mimics some word in something that was said. I did this when I supervised at Frick Hospital in Mt. Pleasant, Pennsylvania. I’m not sure if anyone thought I should be wearing a straight jacket or not, but most of the time, it did bring a smile. Hopefully, I made a fellow employee’s day go a bit better.
I decided my New Year’s resolution much earlier this year and have been practicing, so it will be easier for me to keep. That promise I made is “If I am grumpy, I won’t leave home. No one wants to deal with a grumpy old man.” So far, I’ve been able to keep it. It makes people smile when I share my resolution with them. Those who enjoy it more are the cashiers at stores where I shop. They particularly enjoy it and will sometimes share a horror story of a rude, nasty or irate customer.

So, to my friends and readers, I challenge you to adopt the same New Year’s resolution. Smile and pass on the Christmas spirit.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Unusual Day
I was glad that I hadn’t planned to do anything exciting today. The snow made me housebound with no desire to venture outside, except for the chores. Early, I hauled out the ashes from my wood burner and hauled in a load of firewood on my wooden wheelbarrow. The snow was falling, but had scarcely had put down a coating. That was my outside work for the day.
I put off making peanut brittle until today. I made several batches last year without a hitch, but I wasn’t so fortunate this year. The microwave seems to be of a higher wattage and scorched the first two batches; the first filled the house with a burnt sugar smell. The second had improved, but the color was still too dark and had a slightly bitter taste. I eventually made several types of brittle: peanut, almond, cashew, and pecan. They are cooling on my built-in back porch. Tomorrow, I will break them into pieces and store them in bags.
I spent part of the day looking for the water bill. I know that I got it several days ago. I remember taking it out of the mailbox, but where I placed it I don’t know. Maybe I left it in the car. No, it wasn’t there, but I learned not to walk in the snow with crocs. It was no fun with my feet in the air and my elbow and fanny on the ground. Later, I even searched the trash cans with no luck. I may just go to their office tomorrow and pay it there.

When I looked at the sales circulars, I saw one store had women’s underwear on sale and I became nostalgic. No, I don’t wear them, but shortly after Cindy and I were married, she walked by me with the material separated from the elastic waist band. I said, “Can’t we afford new ones?” She said, “They’re still good.” When she walked by me again, I tore them and said, “Now they’re not.” Complaining, she said, “Now you can buy me some new ones” and I did, every Christmas after that. It became a tradition. I wish I could do it again this year.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Decorating the Christmas Tree
I can’t remember my mom, Sybil Beck ever saying that she helped her mom, Rebecca Miner, decorate the Christmas tree in their huge farm house in Indian Head, Pennsylvania. But my mom always allowed us kids to decorate at home. Each of had one favorite ornament that was the culminating experience to our frenzied excitement. Later, I am sure Mom allowed us to put on the layer after layer of silver icicles, because the tedious work involved. It was a long and arduous event.
My wife Cindy and I carried the tradition into our own home, allowing our kids to help. The icicles were a thing of the past, but each and every Christmas each child got a new ornament to add to their collection. It was their responsibility to hang, remove, and store them safely at each holiday.
As our kids got married and left the nest, they took their bundle of handmade and bought ornaments with them to use for their first Christmas in their newly established homes. Sentimental, perhaps, but I liked to think that a part of their old home was being transferred and established in their new home, making the transition to married life just a little bit easier.

Now, at home, it’s just the cat, Willow and me. She doesn’t do much to decorate, but will be induced to attack some wooly or fuzzy looking ornament if it is hung low enough on the tree. I have had to rescue a poor white yarn lamb several times this year. Otherwise, she is content to make a bed on the thick fuzzy tree skirting and nap.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Wondering What to Share
Old age has advantages and disadvantages. For example, in my youth, I didn’t have the wearing down of some of my body parts that make my shoulder, wrist, and knees ache today in this cold weather of winter, but in my advancing age, I can draw on a much wider selection of memories and experiences to write about. Right now, both seem to be failing me, but to write I must, so I write.
This past week, I finished butchering the venison, freezing some, making deer baloney from other, and from the last orts, I made jerky. I prefer to cut up my own venison. I don’t have to worry about the conditions in the butcher shop, what kind of treatment the meat will get, and whether I will get the same deer that I sent to be processed. By doing it myself, I know who to blame if I find a hair and I don’t have to worry about bone shards from cutting the deer on a band saw.

But I have paid the price. The ache in my right shoulder has begun again. It is the shoulder that I’ve injured three times before in my past. From the continued movement, my left wrist has flared up and I will probably have to have surgery to release my carpal tunnel as I did to my right wrist, about twenty years ago. Ah, yes, the joys of an aging body, while tales and wisdom abound in my brain. I do worry about that as well. My mother Sybil Beck and her five sisters all developed Alzheimer’s disease and my mom’s father Ray Miner had hardening of the arteries or Dementia. Are these a vision into my future? I pray not. Both diseases steal the brain and eventually the body away while trapping the soul inside.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Odds and Ends
Early, the other morning I was driving my car to Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania and as I came to the top of the steep part of Kreinbrook Hill, I could see the sunlight reflecting from the buildings in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The distance was approximately fifty miles. The clouds opened for a short time and with the leaves gone, the air had minimal humidity, and the sun poured through to make the windows of the buildings glisten.  Although the view is not quite as spectacular, it almost rivals coming out of the Fort Pitt Tunnel from the airport and having the night lights of Pittsburgh catch you off guard.
My mother-in-law, Retha Morrison had friends in Sheraden, Pennsylvania. She would ask us to drive her down to visit for a week or so. The Auel family, Conrad and Dorothy, were wonderful people. My major problem with them is when we visited, they would take us to different places, but when we returned, they would drive a completely different direction. They figured, if we didn’t know the way, we would be back to travel with them, and it worked. This was a time before GPS and maps of Pittsburgh are confusing, especially with the hills and one way streets.
At Christmas time, Connie would set the Christmas tree, the village, and the train set on a large platform that took up nearly half of their living room. It was always a live tree and the room kept the fragrant aroma of pine. They decorated the tree with faded construction paper chains saved from Christmases past and old ornaments, some hand made by their kids.

My mother-in-law and the Auels have since gone to heaven, but I’ll bet they still enjoy Christmas together and each other’s friendship.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Another Day of Constant Movement
All through my sleep time during Saturday night and Sunday morning hours, my left hand would wake me. It was feeling numb. Once during the several nights of unrest, my fingers felt like sticks and no longer part of my hand. I am sure that it is my carpal tunnel. I had similar symptoms in my right hand before I had the release of the carpal tunnel surgery on it nearly twenty years ago.
Yesterday, I went to church and had a great time of singing and fellowshipping with my church family. When I came home, I quickly changed clothing gathered the things I needed to go to my brother’s house to grind several pounds of my deer meat to make several rolls of venison baloney. Once the pieces were ground, we added the spices and honey to begin the marinating process, then cleaned the grinder and sausage press.
Back home, I hurried to get my clothes changed and load the food for a Christmas party. It was for the Ligonier Valley Writers Group’s annual Christmas event is held at St. Michael’s Church, in Rector, Pennsylvania. It proved to be a great time with a variety of food and good fellowship. The food was as usual was pot luck dinner with the writers sharing their creativity in food and desserts. Once we were thoroughly sated and in reality wanting a nap, we were asked to share something that we’d written. I read my hunting blog while others read excerpts from their books, their poetry, or their memories of Christmases past. Door prizes of books and other items rounded out the afternoon.

I helped to return the furniture of the rectory back to its original order before hurrying home to feed the wood burner, haul in a load of wood, then to church for evening services. All in all, it was just another busy day in the life of a retiree.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Busy, Busy, Busy
With meetings and holiday meals, my schedule is becoming ever fuller. There is so much to be accomplished yet. The Christmas tree stands half decorated, but then again not everyone has box after box of ornaments to hang on their trees. The lights and garland are on as well as several smaller boxes of ornaments. Most of the ornaments bring to mind a special person or a special memory. There are ornaments from my parents, Carl and Sybil Beck. Some are from my mother-in-law and father-in-law, Bud and Retha Morrison. There are tender memories of ornaments that I or my kids bought or my wife, Cindy and some are ornaments bought for me by her or the kids. Let me slow down for a minute and reflect.
The buying of Christmas ornaments went back to a decision Cindy and I mad long ago, buying an ornament each Yuletide Season for each child. As they grew, each kid was responsible for choosing a spot to hang it on the tree to hang it. For years, the bottom of the tree was overdosed with ornaments, but that was okay. It was their tree and their ornaments. The decorations grew year after year. Some were things that the kids made to hang on the tree and some were gifts from others.

The randomness of these thoughts is reflected in the randomness of their placement on the tree. Each year, claiming a new perch for the holiday. Sometimes, one ornament speaks more loudly than it has in the past, bringing to mind a smile or a tear, but isn’t that what a Christmas becomes; good memories and sad memories of past Christmases and of things that have become imbedded in our hearts and minds?