Monday, January 30, 2017

Like Father Like Son
My father-in-law, Elmer “Bud” Morrison was a man who used his hands and his brain equally well, creating solutions to problems that arose. He was caretaker and handyman for Kentuck Knob, the Frank Lloyd home of Ian Hagan the local ice cream producer. The house is located near Chalk Hill, Pennsylvania and is now owned by the Conservancy. Bud later became the caretaker of Camp Christian which is located near Mill Run, Pennsylvania. The camp used to be called Killarny Park and was a retreat for people from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Several churches from Pittsburgh purchased it as a summer camp and as a retreat for their congregations and for their young people. Bud also worked for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, repairing roads and keeping them maintained. In the summer, he drove the roller and in the winter, the snow plows that kept our roads passable. Both positions were very demanding physically, the roller wore out his hips and the “on call” work of the winter’s plowing would tire him, especially working twelve hours shifts when the weather was bad and the snow fell heavily.
His son Kevin has always been one who enjoys working with his hands and given time, he can stare a hole in a wall and get things done. Mechanical things are second nature to him. He has worked at Lennox Glass Company and as a sanitation driver. Now, he has decided to step into his father’s shoes. He is one of those people that drag themselves out at all hours of the day and night to keep our roads clear, to allow us to travel in relative safety during the winter months. He drives a snowplow like his father. Thank you Kevin Morrison.

Friday, January 27, 2017

 Have you ever thought about the number of flavors for ice cream there are? What sent my brain down this trail of thought? Let me explain. Wednesday, I was busy most of the afternoon and evening. I visited a new doctor about my carpal tunnel problem in my left wrist. It took over a month to get the appointment, so I left early to be sure that I was on time. He agreed that there are symptoms, but wanted a nerve study done before the surgery. Driving to the appointment and back I heard an occasional shushing sound from my front wheel. I stopped for some groceries, tossing them on the kitchen counter, but I needed to call my mechanic and call to make an appointment for my nerve conduction study.
Forgetting about the groceries, I went to my mechanic. I was relieved that the problem was small and easily repaired. By then, it was nearly 6:30 p.m. and I decided to go directly from there to prayer meeting. A little after 8 p.m. as I was driving home, I nearly panicked. I forgot to put away the ice cream I’d bought earlier.
That was what caused thoughts of ice cream and its many flavors to emerge. I can remember my dad, Carl would buy ice cream at Resh’s Red & White store in Indian Head, Pennsylvania. He would buy the rectangular box, pint-sized ice cream in different flavors, then cut them in half as single servings. Since there were five of us, there was always one half pint left over. Dad’s favorite was orange pineapple and he would always tuck the second half of the orange pineapple away for later.
I can also remember visiting relatives in Millersport, Ohio, My cousin Oliver and I slipped away to a nearby ice cream parlor that was attached to an ice cream production factory. The counter person would serve a long glass gondola dish piled high with every flavor of ice cream and sherbet that the factory created. They placed that tall pyramid of mouth watering, belly busting goodness in front of us. The cost was under a dollar. What flavors? I can’t remember them all, but we both left the sherbet to last. I don’t think that I finished my lemon or lime. They were my least favorite.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Yippee Ki-yoh, Haiku: Where East Meets West
This is my warped humor giving title to this Haiku poetry. The western theme started after scenes I saw from my trip out west as a chaperoe to seventeen teenagers,

swept from western skies
pale scarlet light disappears...
beneath night’s dark broom

sun sets and night falls
a bond of stillness and stars
forge cool desert scene.

bathed in soft moonlight
the cool silent desert night
becomes enchanted

palomino mare
followed by a gray stallion
sunlight and shadow

vast panorama
muted hues spread deep and wide
Grand Canyon opens

flailing hooves dust rises
mustangs race across the plain
long manes and tails stream

dying in the West
sun crawls over the mountains
streaks of blood remain

pale lilac flowers
ride a sea of silver leaves
the Texas sage blooms

Monday, January 23, 2017

Time Stood Still
Yesterday, as I disrobed and was preparing to take a hot shower, I noticed that my bathroom seemed particularly still and quiet. As I gazed around the room, I noticed that my inexpensive, round, black clock with its white-face had stopped. I hurriedly changed the battery. The clock made a few feeble attempts at moving, plastic gears grinding, then gave up the ghost and stopped altogether. Poor thing, it had faithfully served our family for over twenty-five years.
It watched from its spot on the wall as the years rolled by. It saw all three of my children from the time they started kindergarten through high school and through the years until they moved out to raise families of their own. It stared down from its perch on the wall as my wife Cindy grew ill with the ovarian cancer. It watched through the short time that the disease grew inside her until it finally claimed her life. It counted out the seconds as my belly thickened, my whiskers grew white, and the hair on my pate thinned.
Over the years, it has faithfully served me, sharing its one sole talent, telling me what time it was. Its familiar click, click, click was a constant reminder that it was still there and sharing with us the exact time. That feat in itself was remarkable. This inexpensive machine never lost a second, unless its battery needed changed. What a faithful servant. Day after day it worked twenty-four hours with no reprieve and no breaks. Today, I will need to find a replacement. But what shall I buy? I will probably look for its twin. Nothing fancy, just a simple, plain timepiece to hang in its spot on the wall, hoping it will carry on the tradition of my old friend.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Blank Pages
I have written before about sitting down with a pad and pen or with an empty computer screen in front of me, wracking my brain to find something worthwhile and entertaining to comment on and my mind is blank. My desire is to write something that will interest others and at the same time be cathartic to my soul, so I will try.
Yesterday was the usual day for our writers group to gather. We meet every first and third Thursday of the month at 5:30 p.m. in the Mt. Pleasant Library, but I had a few errands to run beforehand. One of the stops I made was at a local dollar store. I was looking for the large tea bags to make iced tea and spied a bag potato sticks. I hadn’t eaten them in years, but they reminded me of an incident with one of my roommates in the Navy. His name was Tommy Byrd and lived somewhere in Texas.
I often bought snacks at the PX and stored them in our room to eat later. One evening he got out of his bunk, said he was hungry, bought a can of my potato sticks, and ate them. The next morning, he accused me of taking his money. We argued back and forth, until I showed him the empty potato sticks can in his bed. He quieted and finally shared a secret. He walked, talked, and apparently ate in his sleep. Isn’t it strange how one small object can recall so much from where it is stored in the brain?
While I was at the store, I started to talk with the cashiers and as is usual for me now and I handed a few of my writer’s business cards to them. Several years ago, I was almost shy and would have thought twice about promoting this blogspot or my books, now it is second nature. I have to share my cards with them if I am to promote my skills as a writer.
After the meeting, I stopped at Speedy Meedy’s convenience store for milk and began to chat with the people at the counter. I passed out several more of my cards. All in all, it was a most productive day and if you take the time to check my blogspot, thank you to those people who were interested enough to accept my cards.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Calling All 
Monday was one of those days when it seemed necessary for me to make call after telephone call of one sort or another. I am at times a procrastinator, putting things off until it is absolutely necessary for me to do something. I am sure that part of the reason is because as a nursing supervisor at Frick Hospital in Mt. Pleasant, Pennsylvania, I spent much of my shift on the telephone making and answering calls from staff, doctors, patients, and the patient’s family.
Often when I came home, I would avoid answering the phone. I usually allowed another member of the family to answer its beckoning ring. First, the calls were rarely for me and secondly, I had answered so many at work, it was a blessing not to hold the receiver to my ear.
My first call was to order supplies for my C-pap breathing machine. It had been quite some time since I placed my last order. Because it had been so long, it caused the need for two other telephone calls to get authorization to show my need for the nighttime breathing assistance machine.
Another telephone call was to my computer repairman to clean and update my aps and programs. I am technologically challenged, using my computer for e-mails, Facebook, and as a glorified typewriter. The computer is a marvelous upgrade from the need for paper and typewriters of the past. There are no more erasures or having to use the correction liquid or tapes. Deleting, copying, and cutting have replaced those chores and products and eliminated the hassle.
I also made the call my doctor about my new blood pressure medication and my blood sugar levels. It’s always a joy when each call to her ends up with more medications or further intrusions on my life.

The final call was to my insurance agent. I wanted to firm up an appointment. I was inquiring about purchasing life insurance and an update on my finances. As much as I hate admitting my foibles, all must face the fact that there is an end to each life. Other than the Rapture, there is no other outcome. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Sometimes It’s Just a Small Thing 
What does it take to turn a bad day around? Sometimes all it takes is a small happening to change the way we feel: our outlook, our mood, or the outcome of a situation. Have you ever found a few dollars in a not recently used jacket pocket? Perhaps having someone that we hold dear call our name or say, “I love you.” Coming home, we’re greeted by a wagging tail and a lick of a kiss from our dogs. Many small things like climbing into our cars on a frigid morning and it starts on the first try, a song airs on the radio that opens floodgates of memories, or taking a hot shower, climbing into a pair of soft pajamas, and collapsing into bed at the end of a long day can do wonders for our souls.
How about hearing the song of the first robin of spring or goodbye honks of geese passing high overhead at the end of autumn? What thoughts stir, hearing the whistle of a distant train? What wakens in the brain when we’re assaulted by the aromas in a bakery or a tobacco shop? Is it the excitement of the hunter or the tenderness of an artist that emerge when a deer appears at the edge of a meadow? Does the faint tinkle of a waterfall call us to draw near?

The human psyche is a tender, fragile thing. Yet it is resilient and can be renewed or altered with the smallest of things. Singing a song, saying a prayer, opening a door for someone, these are all small things, but may change our outlook or the direction of someone’s day. A kind word, a word of encouragement, a gentle reproof or correction may have repercussions far beyond what we can see at the time. Be kind, be cheerful, be a friend, we may never know when we become the small thing in someone’s life.

Friday, January 13, 2017

What’s in a Name 
Yesterday, I was thinking of my cousins and their names. My aunt and uncle Cosey and Clyde Brothers had seven children. Because Clyde and Cosey each had five letters in their names, they decided to name each of their children with names that had five letters as well. The choices of names started with Clyde Jr., then came David. Wayne, Linda, Ellen, and Darla were born. I purposefully overlooked one name and that was the name that caused confused my aunt Cosey.
Cosey shared with my mom that she liked the name Deborah, but Deborah had more than the “allowed” five letters. After they talked, my mom Sybil Beck suggested an alternative spelling. That is how Debra brothers got her name.
I know that I’ve shared this story before, but decided that it fit into this theme, so I am including it here. The incident occurred when I was a corpsman in the United States Navy. A pregnant woman came into the hospital in Keflavik, Iceland with pre-eclampsia. Pre-eclampsia is a condition that causes a pregnant mother’s blood pressure to rise dangerously. It can be life threatening to both the mother and the unborn infant. Her condition caused her to be in and out of the hospital frequently, because her abdomen was so large, we would tease her about having twins. She would tell us that her doctor assured her that there was only had one child inside. This was before ultrasounds machines and could be judged by listening for heartbeats with a fetascope.
When she came in, she delivered a set of twin girls on an off shift. The next morning, I went into her room intent on teasing her about actually delivering twins. When I entered her room, my plans shifted immediately. She was crying. I asked why she was she was crying. She explained that she had the name Alice picked out if she had a daughter and now she had two she was afraid, “If I name one of them Alice I think I will love her more than the other.”

I’m not known as a person who is at a loss for words or for ideas, off the top of my head I immediately suggested, “Why not name them with names close to Alice, but not really Alice, like Allison and Alicia?” So I got to name a set of twins and I was invited to their home to babysit them the first time their parents went on a date, post-delivery. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

By the Light of the Silvery Moon 
This was the first line on a song, sung by Doris Day. My mom Sybil Beck would sometimes sing a line or two as was her habit with any song. I don’t know if I am becoming overly sentimental or whether I am just noticing things more acutely, but the moonlight on the snow seems exceptionally beautiful. The shadows cast by a full moon makes silhouettes of the bare tree branches. They somehow appear more hauntingly romantic and ghostly. The limbs dark specters on the silver-blue snow are more impressive than the same shadows painted by the sun.
I also like to see the bright moonlight falling on tree branches coated with snow or ice. The freshly fallen snow is given a glow with a bluish sheen and the icy crystals shine with a silver gleam that appears to come from somewhere deep inside of their clear cold shell.
One of the many general types of winter’s scenes that will entice me to stop, take a second look, and possibly a third happens when the brilliant sheen of the moonlight slides across a pond or lake to create a lustrous pathway. The moon’s rays form a straight road that points its shining fingers back at its creator, the moon.
One specific incident that captured my imagination occurred one night as I drove on Route 130, near the little town of Pleasant Unity, Pennsylvania. The moon was exceptionally bright. I was paying only slight attention to the beauty that lay all around me and I was concentrating on the road and the driving conditions when I was assaulted by an inspiring vision of enchantment.
A small barn that was set back off the road at the edge of a field was bathed in the light of the full moon. It glowed as though it had been built of silver. Its sides were shining even more brightly than the blue snow reflecting the moon’s soft glow that surrounded it. The snow covered roof and cupola were framed by the black velvety sky and the night’s white starred gems. The scene is still firmly lodged in my head, after all of these years. I am trying to share that vision with you, but I feel my words are woefully inadequate to express the awe and beauty that I experienced so many winter nights ago.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Crayon Box 
I was reminded of the colors in a Crayon box as I put away a Christmas gift, a box of colored pencils. Each time I sit in front of my computer or pull out my pad and pen, I open my brain’s Crayon box. Sometimes I stare at the rainbow of waxy tips trying to decide which one I will pull out and begin to draw the picture I see in my mind. What word will I start my tale? Which order will I place the ideas so they make more sense? Can I place them properly so others can share the vision that I see?
Actually, I can physically paint and draw well enough to satisfy my needs, but I am in no way an exemplary artist, so I have reverted to presenting a picture by shaping and designing the tale with my words. Choosing the correctly “colored” word is sometimes a long process, requiring me to erase, change, and intensify a single word to say what I really want to express. I know that they say, “A picture paints a thousand words” so I have my work cut out for me each time I try to share a memory, a vision, or a story. Painting with words, I also expect to use your own thoughts and imagination to fill in the shades of colors between the outline I have drawn. I want to share ideas that resonate with other folks past experiences or that stir their imagination.
Each time I sit to write, I stare at an empty white screen or a clean yellow and blue lined page. I open that box, to allow my thoughts wander before pulling out the first Crayon to make the first stroke. Often my ideas swirl like a kaleidoscope or a maelstrom, waiting for something to fall out, waiting for something to tempt me, to impress me enough to put it down on paper, to share it with you, and attempt to express it deeply enough for you to see my vision.

The cool thing about Crayons is that no matter whether they are old and worn down, they can still be used to create something beautiful. I am often feeling worn down and old, but I do my best to create something beautiful for you all.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Dark and Dreary 
I am wearied from the chore of removing all the ornaments, garland, lights, as well as the tree topper star from the Christmas tree. After, I lugged down all of the bins down from an empty upstairs bedroom, I spread the empty boxes out on a folding table and the sofa. Then I tried to match the specific container with its usual storage space. This year, I tried to be more specific storing them, separating my older ornaments from the “soft” and homemade ones from the granddaughters and the ones given to my wife, Cindy as a teacher from her students over the years.
Only taking an occasional break to watch television, sit, sort, and store various screws and nails into proper receptacles, I spent most of the day tucking Christmas decorations away for another year. The artificial tree limbs were wrapped, tied, and stacked inside of its bathtub sized storage bin. I toted it upstairs and placed in one of my unused bedrooms. It felt almost like dragging a heavy human body to the second story. Smaller bins soon followed. The last traces of the yuletide holiday disappeared into the vacuum cleaner.

I’m sitting in my recliner, staring at the spot vacated by the tree holds an old rocking chair, one I bought for Cindy. Its frame was constructed by the Amish from bent Mountain Laurel. The seat and back of the rocker were made from steam-shaped oak slats. As a girl, she grew up sitting in ones like it on Camp Christian’s Millhouse porch. The bright lights and sparkling of ornaments have given way to the dim memories of the past.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Can anyone remember the carousels that once graced the lunch counters of many department stores? I’m not talking about the ones that stood outside of the stores and entertained children on wooden horses, giraffes, or lions or the ones in amusement parks. I am talking about the carousels that held skewered hot dogs and sausages and moved them in a continuous circle over a heat source, to roast. The savory aroma used to fill the stores with a warm, tasty scent of bubbling hot meats. It enticed customers into making one last purchase before they left the store. Pungent and spicy smells of onions, catsup, and mustard added to the allure. It was an intimate part of making mouths water for the uncommon taste of such common fare.
Brown skinned and beautiful, the hot dogs moved in a sultry circle displaying their darkly tanned skin for all to see. The vendor would answer the customer’s call by removing one of these luscious lovelies from its perch and place it into a heated soft bun. Wrapping the entire purchase in a paper napkin, the counterperson would pass the flavor filled bundle to the hands of waiting patron that would hurry to the condiment containers to cover the warm frankfurter with favorite toppings, making the hot dog even more appealing to their palate. Often with bags of recently purchased items circling the feet, they would close their eyes as they enjoyed the first bite. Chewing, mixed the chosen topping into an anticipated mélange of tongue-tingling flavors.

Stores have gotten rid of the carousels, going to a grill that rolled the hot dogs up and down by way of oscillating metal fingers. The aroma was still there, but the visual excitement of those rotating, ever-circling tubes of tastiness has disappeared. The stimulation of rescuing one of those slender beauties from captivity no longer exists. The need to pay the ransom to free a lowly hot dog has disappeared as well. The knight riding in on a shopping cart has been swallowed up.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Hot Dog
In southwest Pennsylvania, eating pork and sauerkraut on January first is traditional for good luck in the New Year. Often that pork is hot dogs. I can remember eating lunch at my grandmother Rebecca Miner’s place. Many times it would be hot dogs wrapped in a slice of bread. The only brand she ever bought was the Oscar Mayer brand. She was very loyal to that brand. Most of the meats for her house came from the animals that were raised on the farm. Hogs became sausage, hams, chops, and lard. Bulls became hamburger, roasts, and a few steaks. Chickens were cleaned, dismembered, and frozen, but not hot dogs. Hot dogs were always bought at Resh’s Red & White store in Indian Head Pennsylvania.
When we would visit my aunt Violet Bottomly in Mill Run, Pennsylvania, she would sometimes invite us to eat with her family. I am not sure what brand of hot dogs she used, but nine times out of ten, they were served with mashed potatoes. I can remember the hot dogs cut into slices and placed on the steaming white mound of potatoes. The tasty, flesh-colored wheels were on each bite of the mashed potatoes, each adding their flavor to the other, enhancing the eating experience.
I used to buy brand specific, Blue Star. Then one day, the flavor and texture seemed to change. Since then I have tried buying different brands, forging my way through the flavor jungle. Perhaps my taste buds have dulled or changed, but I am finding no outstanding winners.

I only occasionally eat them because of the nitrates and the fat content, but when I buy a package, they are usually the brand that the store has on sale. I stretch eating them over a longer period, freezing the remainder until I decide to indulge again. If boiled, I like to eat them with mustard and onions. If fried or roasted over an open fire, I lay a trail of catsup along their blistered, blackened skins sometimes adding a slice of American cheese to the sandwich. Yesterday, I roasted two of them over the red, glowing coals in my basement wood burner.