Friday, September 29, 2017

Sometimes It’s a Small Thing
Joanne McGough is a very good friend of mine. She is a fellow writer and although we differ politically, I agree with her on one idea that she has. Sometimes, something seems to be only a small thing, but when we look back at our lives, that moment means so much. That seemingly small something can change the direction of our lives.
Many times, Joanne writes vignettes; a snapshot of something that has occurred in her life. Something hardly noticed at that time she experienced it and yet it reappears at a later date with power and clarity. It will replay itself intensely in her mind. The recollection surfaces and she tries to share these moments with her readers.
She is a retired nurse and sometimes those remembrances are of the people that she has cared for as a hospice nurse. Sometimes the moment is of a bird singing while on vacation in Ireland or trying to find a place to stay for the night as a stranger in a small Irish town.
There are things in our own lives that pass as a part of our daily living, but then we age, and we recognize just how precious that moment was. We can recognize how we changed from that moment on. We will understand the significance of that brief, flickering moment and it becomes a bright, unwavering spot in the history of our character. Most of us don’t take the time to write about it like my friend does, but if we look those moments are there none-the-less.
As I was making breakfast this morning, contemplating how I should write this blog, I began to make my usual rye toast and heated the skillet to fry an egg. I was pleasantly surprised when two yolks appeared as the shell parted and the egg plopped into the skillet.
Will this be one of those “sometimes small moments” or will it just be on file with all of the day to day occurrences in my life? I cannot see anything earth-shattering about the incident being so close to it, but someday, who knows.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

One More Time
Even though Labor Day has passed and it is gauche to wear white now, I would venture to wear white one more time before tucking it away. This year I’ve worn my white outfit to PNC Park while attending a Pirates game as I have done in the past. I wore the white clothing to church to prove that I indeed wear white on occasion. I also wore white when I manned the booth for the Chestnut Ridge Historical Society, guarding a donated hand knotted quilt that was donated and being raffled. I also passed out copies of 1862 maps of Stahlstown and Donegal Township with the monthly newsletter for the Society.
I choose to wear white on occasion because with my white Vandyke beard and mustache. I’ve been told that I resemble the great entrepreneur, Col. Harlan Sanders and he wore always a white outfit. I use my lab coat that is a leftover from my nursing career, then cover the embroidered logo with a handmade Kentucky Fried Chicken name tag. I have a short-sleeved white shirt that I adorn with a black ribbon tie. I can still fit into my white trousers from my earlier days of nursing. To finish the ensemble, I picked up a white fedora hat at a party store.
Col. Sanders will once again ride the range today. I plan to attend the Pirates game with a couple of friends. One time I visited PNC Park in my garb, I made guest appearances on Root Sports television and had my visage posted on the Jumbo-tron inside of the park. Not bad for a hick from the sticks. The most wonderful part of the day: I was stopped many times for folks to take Selfies with me: men, women, but no kids. I guess they were afraid.
The only disappointment expressed by those who stopped me  for photos was that I was unable to pass out samples or coupons for KFC like the Chick-filet cow occasionally does. That was one of my disappointments too. I really wanted to get a photo shot Selfie with the black and white Chick-filet cow. I guess I need a sign that says, “Where’s the beef.”  Oh, that’s right. That was another company’s logo all together.

Monday, September 25, 2017

With all of the disrespect for America and the office of the President presently being displayed, it makes my heart sick. It saddens my soul that so many people hate Donald Trump so much that they are willing to destroy America in the process of expressing their dissatisfaction. We should be thankful that we live in America. I don’t want this to be a political post, but a patriotic one that supports the United States and ALL of her citizens.
Donald Trump was put into office according to the rules of the election process, as was Obama, and all the others before him. I know that there are those who are still licking their wounds at Hillary Clinton’s loss and are angry. They are grasping at straws, trying to wrangle a way for her to gain the Presidency. They fail to recognize that the Democratic National Committee unfairly wrested the possibility of a win from Bernie Sanders and allowing Hillary Clinton to run her flawed campaign. Hillary, in her bid for the Presidency insulted a large number of hard-working, tax-paying, Bible-clutching, gun-toting American middle class people by calling them Deplorables. It was to strengthen her support of her followers. The “Deplorables” responded by voting for the only other alternative, Donald Trump.
It is hard for me to understand how this lingering anger at her loss has caused so much resentment. There are people who are rioting under the guise of protest and wearing masks like the criminals that they are.
It is nearly impossible for me to understand how state governors and city mayors can tell the police force to “stand down” in confrontational situations like this. These officials were elected to protect and serve all of their constituents and not these criminals that are organized elsewhere, then bussed into their states and cities to riot and put their citizenry’s lives and property in peril.
I use the word riot and not the word protest, because that is what they have become. Martin Luther King Jr. protested, Rosa Parks protested, and neither of one of them assaulted another person. Neither one of them set a fire or looted a single business, but both stood up for what was right and demanded equality.
I am thankful that America gives us the freedom of speech so we can discuss our concerns and problems; without violence, without suppression of voices, without “safe places or sanctuaries.” If there is something that you don’t like, do something positive to change it without destroying America, her values, or her freedoms.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Thoughts of My Father
Nothing specific, but general thoughts of the man I know as my father. Some stories from him he took to the grave: stories from his parents, of his life working to make a family, and tales of his time in World War Two. He did share a few things near the end of his life about his enlistment in the Army, but very little. As kids, we knew he spent time in the Philippines, drove truck, and was hit by a piece of shrapnel from a bomb, but little else. Later, he shared that he had visited Hiroshima. He never described what he’d seen, but it had to be after the bombing, because he wouldn’t have had the means as a teenager before the war.
He had a small cache of black and white photographs, most of which were of the people, his mates, and the land. Somewhere in the intervening years, they have become lost and are no longer a part of the family’s heritage.
He was never one to show much affection, his gruff appearance would occasionally part into a smile. He only rarely said the word love, even to my mother, but worked in the coal mines, then a factory to provide food, clothing, and a home for our family. Money was always tight, but he would often surprise us with something special. Sundays were the best. After our return from church and Sunday school, he would drive to a nearby store to buy the Sunday newspaper, a large bag of Snyder’s potato chips, and a circle chunk of longhorn cheese. He always liked it and especially liked it when it was fresh and “gummy.”
Buying a newer car every few years and washing the vehicles every week stand out as memories of him. Fords seemed to be his passion, although he did buy a Chevy as a second car for my mom once.
His horny, calloused hands were like asbestos and I would see him pick up and move hot things without seemingly feeling the pain. I remember him swinging a double-bitted axe and hitting the same spot time after time as he split fire wood.
Digging clay from beneath our home place to create a full basement instead of a crawl space is another memory, load after load wheeled out in a rickety wheelbarrow.
Coming back on a Saturday morning with several squirrels he’d shot, skinning them in the basement, then mom would fry them and make squirrel gravy and pancakes for breakfast. Even though he would sop hotcakes in the sausage grease, he lived until he was ninety years old. I love you, Dad.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Caught in the Vortex of Time
With the recent storms that have battered the coasts of the United States and the fiery maelstroms of the west, my mind has been thinking of the multiple tragedies being played out all across this great country of ours. My heart breaks as these fellow Americans return to their homes to try and gather the pieces and return to some saneness and normalcy in their lives. Perhaps we all need to take the time to thank God for what we have. This isn’t what I planned to write about, but I think it needed to be shared.
I want to explain the time that has sped by over the past week or so. I’ve already shared Friday and Saturday evening celebrating my 50th high school reunion. Sunday morning was church. I skipped Sunday school because I inadvertently agreed to cover in the booth for the Chestnut Ridge Historical Society. I said my afternoon was free. After I agreed, I noticed that I had to be there before Sunday school adjourned. Coming home, I climbed into my Col. Harlan Sanders costume and headed out. I didn’t have to sell tickets for the patchwork quilt that I made. They were all sold out, but I passed out the monthly newsletter and copies of the map of Donegal Township and Stahlstown.
Monday, I worked on drawings for my co-editor’s books. She is doing a series of kid friendly color books and an accompanying reading book. Later, I picked up my granddaughter after school and did grocery shopping before heading home.
Mowing seems to take up a good bit of time. I try to help my elderly neighbor by mowing his lawn as well. All totaled I mow about 1.75 acres.
Tuesday, I took the drawings to my friend’s house for her to review. She needed 28 drawings for book about Diana the Diaphanous Dragonfly. Diaphanous is a large word for kids, but the accompanying book is for adults to read to the children. I still have a few more pictures to make for her.
Tuesday evening, I attended the monthly meeting of the Chestnut Ridge Historical Society. I met the woman who won the quilt. She was quite happy with the colors, saying she may use it in her living room. The speaker for the evening Alex Heidi presenting his Eagle Scout project and his mentor, sharing the Native American attire and dance.

Monday, September 18, 2017

In Another Fifty Years
This past weekend, I celebrated with the remaining graduating classmates my fiftieth high school reunion. I can remember when my mother Sybil Miner Beck celebrated hers and thought, “Wow, is she getting old.” I feel the same about me. Many of us gathered at Bud Murphy’s in Connellsville, Pennsylvania for a mixer and get-reacquainted meeting on Friday evening. The group quickly outgrew the allotted space and we were moved to another room, which was again filled to over-flowing.
The senior class of 1967, Connellsville Area, High School was gathering for another time. Not a prom, not the graduation ceremony, but a chance to reconnect with friends and to start new ones. 1967 was the first to graduate when Connellsville and Dunbar school systems merged, throwing together young men and women from both. We had less than one year to sort out who we were and who they were to create lasting friendships. Some of those quickly formed bonds will never be broken.
Some of those ties have already been broken by illness and accidents. Those faces will forever remain youthful as we once remembered them. Then I look around and see what time has accomplished in our lives, placing roadmaps of where we have been in the intervening years.
It is remarkable that so many remain and how many gathered to celebrate this monumental milestone in our lives. It stirred my heart to see how kind the years have been to many of my classmates and to see the harsh reality of time on others.
The actual reunion dinner was held at the Pleasant Valley Country Club where hugs, kisses, and hearty handshakes were exchanged from people with wide smiles on their faces; gestures to reassure ourselves that we were the fortunate ones that are still here to bridge the distance the years have widened.
I have the class reunion photograph which will rest among the pages of The Falcon my high school yearbook until a later generation finds it and wonders who these people might be. Some insight of our journey will be gained when reviewed with the pictures of our senior class yearbook. Thank you Class of 1967. I love you all.

Friday, September 15, 2017

It is something that most people understand, but have a difficult time with it. I get a call from family, friends, church, or even a club or organization that I belong and they ask a favor. It usually isn’t that big of an imposition, but they slowly add up until I feel almost overwhelmed, sometimes cutting one project short to accommodate another. The difficulty I have is with the little two letter word, NO.
Each week my calendar always manages to get crowded with things I need to do or that I am asked to do. They accumulate like cat hairs on a dark pair of slacks. Every month I have six writers meetings to attend. Each has a special importance with critiques, advice, or suggestions to make my writing better. There is at least one luncheon for the retired nurses from Frick Hospital. I call them the Grande dames from my past. Many were work mates or mentors.
I have been invited to attend a small group of high school friends for a monthly meeting to gossip and get reacquainted.
This month is extra special because of the men’s retreat at the Servant’s Heart Camp in Ramey Pennsylvania and this month is my 50th high school reunion from Connellsville Senior High School. When my mom went to hers, I though WOW, she’s old, and now I am about to step across the very same threshold.
I just attended a picnic for the writers of The Loyalhanna Review. I promised to attend PNC Park with a friend later in the month and attend a craft show to peddle my books.
The last activity that I didn’t say, “NO” was responding to a call from the Chestnut Ridge Historical Society. In one of my earlier blogs, I mentioned that I donated a homemade, knotted quilt for the society to raffle off. The phone call asked me to cover an empty spot in the booth to sell tickets. How could I say “NO?” I created the need to have someone there to handle the money and to guard the blanket until it could be claimed by the new owner.
I was caught off guard and I said that I could. After I hung up the phone, it dawned on me I would have to skip Sunday school to get to the Flax Scutcheon in Stahlstown, Pennsylvania on time. It was another time of robbing Peter to pay Paul instead of saying “NO.”

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Public Broadcasting
It is creeping closer to the time of the Buckwheat and Sausage Festival for the Volunteer Fire Department held in Ohiopyle. Pennsylvania. It is always the second full Friday and Saturday of October when the air is cool and crisp and the trees don their bright coats of multicolored cloaks of leaves, a time when the days are punctuated by the poignant and lonesome calls of geese flying overhead, a time of saying goodbye to summer and looking ahead to the chill of winter.
Almost every year for forty plus years, I have worked at this festival, starting out as a dishwasher, frying the pancakes and buckwheat cakes or potatoes, then finally I was ensconced at the huge griddles where I am frying the whole hog, wonderfully seasoned pork sausage. It is a step up from frying in cast iron skillets over a double, gas ring flame.
Chris Fennimore usually comes to visit this volunteer organization to sample the hotcakes and sausage. Once, WQED came out to film our crew when they were documenting the many hands of volunteers in and around Pittsburgh. The sausage fryers weren’t the only stars, but the cake fryers, potato fryers, the batter makers, and the servers. They also visited the cider makers and many booths that lined the streets of Ohiopyle. If you know the town of Ohiopyle, you know it is little more than a crossroad near the beautiful state park and waterfalls.
The bike trails and the roar of the falls are a magnet for visitors. There are other local attractions as well. There are two homes built by the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright: Falling Waters and Kentuck Knob. I have had the blessing of visits to both. My great uncle was care taker at Falling Waters and as a child I was able to gambol on the property surrounding the famous Edgar Kaufman home. I was also given a private tour of the Kentuck Knob home by Mrs. I. N. Hagan when I helped to deliver some artwork to her. Both are unusual in design. Falling Waters is a cantilevered structure hovering over a mountain stream and the copper roofed Kentuck Knob has not square rooms and a wood slab as a dining room table. Tours are available to see the other unusual and beautiful aspects of these sites.

Monday, September 11, 2017

This past Friday and Saturday with 12 other men from our church, I was able to attend the annual fall men retreat at the Servant’s Heart Camp in Ramey, Pennsylvania. There were 61 men total who joined together at the event. SCHM offers weekend retreats for men, women, older single people, couples, pastors, and several weeks of children camps throughout the year. The campers’ cabins cluster around a large lake nestled in the wooded hills of Pennsylvania.
Each of the camp’s programmed events center around the idea of having great Christian speakers offering food for the soul and the culinary geniuses preparing nutritious and delicious meals. Those two items alone are worth the effort to attend, but then there are the activities.
All throughout the campers’ stay there are scheduled events and ones that are open to attend throughout the time there. A huge white tent holds a variety of games that are open for the free, in-between times of scheduled programs. The free time events include fishing, canoeing, hiking on the miles of wooded trails, and weather permitting, swimming.
Things that are supervised and scheduled are skeet shooting, pistol and 0.22 caliber range shooting, archery, spear throwing from a “chariot,” blow guns, target shooting with a muzzle loader, laser target practice, and shooting the air cannon called “Blamzooka.”
Other activities include the exciting nine-square” game, horse shoes, bocce ball, “Hillbilly horse shoe,” “Octoball," the obstacle course, and the bungee run. I have listed most of them, but there are so many, I am sure I have forgotten some.
I’ve already mentioned the great tasting meals, but now I would like to share that the sermons were wonderful. The entire weekend event was called a retreat, but the challenge of the messages was not for men to retreat, but for men to step forward and to charge into God’s expected role for them in our families, churches, and in our country. Thank you to the wonderful staff at the Servant’s Heart Camp. You all are such blessings.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Wildly Wonderful Wednesday
It was just another fully packed Wednesday in my life. I had an appointment with my urology Physicians Assistant for 9:40 am. I left about ten minutes earlier than I normally did and it was good that I had. With construction and slow drivers, I hit the doctor’s office with 10 minutes to spare. My dad was a stickler at being early and it has become my habit as well.
I believe that I mentioned my P.A. is a female. I am grateful that she has small hands. I made her smile when I presented her with a gift. It was a framed copy of a pun I wrote. It read, “If you don’t believe in the trickledown theory, talk to a man with BPH.” (Benign Prostatic Hypertrophy= enlarged prostate gland.)
My next stop was to visit a friend and fellow workmate in the Scottdale Manor. It was her birthday. She’s an avid reader of my books. It was her birthday. I gave her a copy of my last novel. She’s recuperating and gaining strrength for her surgery on September 14th.
My next stop was at the Cracker Barrel restaurant in New Stanton, Pennsylvania. It was the monthly luncheon of the Grande Dames of Frick nurses. I was the only guy there and felt like the rooster in a hen house. There were about 24 nurses gathered for our get-together.
Wal-mart beckoned me next and I pick up a few groceries to replenish a few waning items in my pantry. Finally, I was home, able to put away my purchases in the cupboards. I found my newly written novel in my mailbox. It was waiting for me to proofread it, get it back to the publisher for their review, then get it ready to sell and buy some for myself.
Shortly after I arrived home, a contractor arrived to reattach several pieces of siding that came loose in the wind. I had just enough time time to make supper before my next meeting.
I was off again to church for the Wednesday evening Prayer Meeting. Our Pastor spoke about God directing whirlwinds, storms, wildfires, and even the lightning and how God sometimes uses them to get our attention and draw us back to repentance.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Ghostly Memories
All hospitals have ghost stories and our hospital was no exception. It was rumored, although didn’t actually see it myself, that there was a pale, white apparition that would walk from one side of a patient’s room to the other in our coronary care unit. The appearances would occur without any type of regularity and it only happened when the room was empty, either late on the evening shift or early into the night shift. No lights would be on and the gauzy white form would slowly glide across the floor. At first the nurses would investigate, thinking that someone was there, but after several times, no one wanted to go into the room saying, “Did you see that?” or “I just saw our friend.”
The next story occurred on one of our medical/surgical areas and this time I was a witness to this frequent phenomenon. We would hear footsteps at the back end of the unit’s hallway. There was no way to gain access to that area without walking past the nursing station or entering through a thick metal fire door that made a loud noise when it was opened or closed, we would have heard it if someone came or left through the door.
The footsteps always started on the right side of the hallway and walked to the opposite side. The sound that we heard was the steps of thick soled shoes or boots and not the shuffling sound made by patient in slippers.
We would check both hallways and patient rooms at that end of the unit each time we heard the steps, but we never found anyone who was up walking or even awake.
Another ghost story occurred on the same med/surg. floor. It involved the bathroom of one patient room. The call light would go on, but when we checked, everyone in the room would be asleep or the room would be empty. We had maintenance check the call switch for a short. Nothing. They even changed the switch and the light still came on randomly.
Several years later, the administration changed the floor to a pediatric area. When the kids came, the “ghost” left and the call light didn’t come on unless it was actually pulled to summon a nurse. I guess the ghost didn’t like kids.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Camp Wildwood
I recently read a story about someone else’s experience with Camp Wildwood located near my home in Normalville Pennsylvania. It stirred my own memories of the abandoned area. As youngsters, my brother Ken and I would ride our bikes up Coal Bank Hill Road and then to Camp Wildwood. It was a quiet place where we could pedal safely away from traffic. Occasionally, people would pull their campers into the secluded area to escape their homes for a week.
Early one morning while the low-lying fog was still clinging to the earth, we decided to ride in the coolness before the heat of the summer sun cooked the moisture and made the day humid and miserable.
In an area alongside the path, was a small camper trailer. Standing in the open doorway was a sky-clad woman who seemed almost as surprised to see us as we were to see her. Imagine a modern day rendition of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus standing on a clam shell appearing before our youthful eyes. The mist swirled around her feet and I instantly became aware that she was truly a redhead.
Other than times of swimming, another memory that stands out to me occurred just after a rain storm. Our neighbor was always working on cars. He was about 5 years older and could drive the cars he repaired. Once when I visited him, he said, “Just finished wiring the car. Let’s take it for a spin.” I quickly jumped in and we headed for his test run track, Camp Wildwood. By now the roadways were overgrown and little more than deep ruts cut by passing tires. That day, in places they were long troughs of water.
Driving along, we spotted a troop of Boy Scouts walking along the edge, staying on the edge of the elongated puddle. My neighbor said, “Watch this.” and pushed the accelerator to the floor. The engine roared and we sped into that puddle with a rooster tail of water fanning out behind us on both sides of the car. I watched as Boy Scouts frantically dove for the weeds. About halfway through the troop, the hood of the car flew open covering most of the windshield. “Aren’t you going to stop,” I asked. But he kept driving and said, “Not in the middle of a bunch of angry guys.”
A little farther along, we pulled over. He lowered the hood and securely wired it shut. After a short rest we headed back home and thankfully, no Boy Scouts were waiting to ambush us.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Come Blow Your Horn
I am not usually a person who blows my own horn, but as a writer and author, I do need to sell myself to sell my finished product. I’ve written for a long time, well over forty years, but because of a challenge to write a detective story and sharing it at another writers group, I wouldn’t have been published. A woman who was just starting a publishing company heard my story and suggested that I write some more tales about the retired homicide detective, Tommy Two Shoes. Because of her insistence, I now have four books with Thomas Minerd, retired Pittsburgh Police Department detective mystery books, each book is a compilation of short stories which makes it easy to pick up and put back down as it’s read.
My last book, The Walls Came Tumbling Down is a full length novel about Rahab, a Canaanite prostitute, how she met, fell in love with, and married a devout Jewish man, Salmon. Their union is mentioned in later pages of the Bible.
Mary Kaufman, the new librarian for the Mt. Pleasant Public Library suggested to a couple of reporters that it might make a good story to interview Fred Adams and myself as local authors. Well, I did an interview on this last day of August. I was able to share some of my writing history and my nursing career. I was also able to introduce the newest novel to be out soon, Addie.
She seemed genuinely intrigued that I had no specific genre or subject that I liked to write about. I told her, “Whatever project I was working on was my favorite at that time:” poetry, Haiku, children’s books, love stories, and of course mysteries. She asked if I planned to write more Tommy Two Shoes stories. I was truthful and said I was burned out, but had several stories started. Tommy isn’t dead yet.
I explained that I haven’t made much money, but it pleases me when people read what I write. I told her most people say the mysteries are page turners. I did have one complaint about The Walls. They said it was too slow. Compared to the multiple short stories, it would be. The short stories have the entire tale shared within 20 pages or so, versus 200.
I have several readers who read the books before I have them published to look for weak areas, misspellings, or things that aren’t clear. One reader of Addie said, “Wow, I didn’t see that coming.” I think it is one of my better writings. Now, all I need is an agent to promote my books so I won’t have to blow my own horn.