Mar 252017
 

March 25, 2017 — Today is Elton John’s 70th birthday.  I’ve been a fan since I was a young teenager and am still a fan.  Randy and I have been fortunate to attend two Elton John concerts, one in Tampa, and the other at the old Roberts Stadium in Evansville.

Early in my career when most of my focus was on public relations, I met many celebrities (hate to tag anyone a celebrity but let’s say these are people with some form of national recognition.)

There is, however, no one who stands out like Elton John.  In September 1986, my Beloved and I saw Elton in concert for the first time at the University of South Florida Sun Dome.  Randy was in his second year of graduate school. The concert was beyond our dreams.  Elton gave 86 concerts all over the world that year.  In September 1986, he played Tampa with Denver a few days later.

A few days after the concert, I traveled on business to Denver and stayed at the Fairmont Hotel.  (Yes, healthcare WAS different then!)  A Denver friend met me for drinks and we decided to go out for dinner.  I needed to retrieve my purse so we went up to my room.  Standing waiting for the elevator was Elton John.  Funky glasses and wearing an orange and pink suit that resembled a domino piece.

Not shy,  I engaged him in conversation by telling him I heard his concert a few days before in Tampa.  He asked me a number of questions about the concert, and seemed genuinely interested in my answers.  He was kind to us, gave me an autograph, and let the elevator go as he was speaking with us.  I was “got.”  We did not ride down with him, but went back to my room and called my friend’s daughter who was sixteen and had tickets for a concert that night.  We giggled like sixteen-year-old groupies for a few minutes!

I had no camera with me.  This was before cell phones,  but he was so nice I suspect he would have allowed us to take his picture.  I framed his autograph, no doubt on some scrap of paper my friend had, and kept it on my desk these thirty-some years.

My friend and I eventually recovered, got back on the elevator, and when the door opened in the lobby, there stood John Madden.  Madden is a huge man, and hard to miss.  Neither of us could have cared less about seeing another famous person.  We saw Elton, enough fame to last a life time.

Take a trip with me and listen to the anthem of my youth, which still gets me rocking.

 

Dec 212016
 

This is an old but goodie from my book, “Whitley County Kid,” (available on Amazon).  The time and some descriptions have been changed to protect identity, but the gist of the story from my childhood is true.  And bears retelling every year.

In the 1960s, I was an elementary school student. My primary concern each December was what presents Santa Claus would bring for Christmas. From the moment the Sears Wish Book arrived, I leafed through the slick pages, highlighting the toys I wanted.

Before big box stores, our rural village had a bustling business district. Farmers came from the country to visit the Farmer’s Elevator. Wives bought flour, sugar, and necessities at the G & G Market. People gardened and canned, so few bought vegetables or fruit, except in December when the high school’s Sunshine Society sold Florida oranges to benefit Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis.

Citizens visited the brick post office to see Postmaster Clarence Pook, pick up mail, and catch up on local news. Across the street, a comfortable white house served as the town’s busy library with a real-life Marian the Librarian, Marian Bollinger. Edna Michels, the Story Lady, donned a bonnet and old-fashioned long dress to host weekly story hours for children.

The day after Thanksgiving, the volunteer firefighters hung giant red and white plastic candy canes from the lamps on State Street and displayed a life-sized manger scene near the three-way stop on the south end of town. Snow came early and blanketed the ground until after the IHSAA boys’ basketball tournament at the beginning of spring.

My father bought our real Christmas tree every year from a local tree farm. Our ranch-style home lacked a fireplace, so my brother and I hung our red and white flannel stockings on the windowsills. Mom used Elmer’s glue and green glitter to paint our first names on the white furry part of the red flannel Christmas stockings.

My father taught high school science and agriculture and advised the Future Farmers of America chapter. Each year the FFA chapter raised money, bought the high school a real Christmas tree, and decorated it with blue, green, and red bulbs and fragile, sparkling glass ornaments. The school community enjoyed the tree until the semester ended.

Tradition dictated that the FFA boys and my father take the tree, decorations and all, to a needy family chosen by the other teachers. Our 1965 Chevy Biscayne station wagon was inadequate to cart the nearly nine-foot tree to this family, so Dad borrowed the school’s World War II-era Army truck from Willie Sims, the maintenance man.

School was out for the semester a few days before Christmas. Dad let the chosen family know they would be receiving a large, fully decorated Christmas tree. Dad and several of the FFA boys would bring the tree to their home.

The children ranged in age from an infant to an eighteen-year-old, with ten other children in between. The father was out of work, a rarity in Middle America then, when manufacturing and farming jobs were readily available. There were no subsidized school lunches, free books, or heating assistance.

Dad had his students put the decorated tree in the back of the old truck. The three of them—the thirty-something schoolteacher and the two teenage boys in blue corduroy Future Farmer jackets—were in a festive mood, congratulating themselves on the good deed they were about to do.

They traveled east on the state highway past well-manicured farms, bright, freshly painted red barns and white fences. As the old truck turned onto a county road, pieces of packed ice and gravel spit up from the vehicle’s worn tires.

Nearing the family’s home, Dad turned around and looked in the truck bed to check on the gift.

No tree.

No lights.

No decorations.

No green and red metal tree stand.

Nothing but an empty and scratched truck bed.

Dad turned the truck around. He and the students retraced their steps to town where the shops were closing for the night. The twinkle of holiday bulbs and the lights from the Evangelical United Brethren Church signaled evening.

Nothing could be found. Now past five o’clock, stores were already closing, if not already closed, on State Street. It was two days before Christmas.

Dad thought about it. “What should I do? Should I go home and get our tree?”

He did not believe that was a reasonable choice, with his two small children enjoying the tree, but he steeled himself for that option. If need be, he thought, his children could learn about sharing.

With darkness coming, the gray truck and three not-so-wise men arrived in town. A tree lot at the used car place was closing for the night. Dad reached for his wallet and bought the healthiest tree that remained on the lot. Then, off to Huffman and Deaton’s Hardware for lights and ornaments and a new metal tree stand. Joe Huffman was closing his register for the day but recognized my father and let him in.

With a new tree in the bed of the beat-up gray truck, the group headed east again. As they tentatively approached the family’s large farmhouse, they could spy children watching them from each window. The family’s older children greeted the group and set up the tree in their living room. Dad noticed a stack of presents and bags of candy and fruit donated by the Lions Club and other community groups.

The scent of anticipation and cinnamon apples hung in the air. The teacher and the teenagers left the family with happiness and wonder.

Our family had our usual Christmas celebration. I am confident we went to our German Lutheran church on Christmas Eve, and my brother and I sang in the children’s program.

I am certain nervous children in Sears’ plaid robes re-created the manger scene.

I am certain we sang carols about a needy couple two thousand years ago who had their child in poor surroundings.

I am certain my brother and I ran from our bedrooms early the next morning to see what treasures lay wrapped and waiting under our tree.

I am certain my brother and I balked when our mother made us eat breakfast before unwrapping our numerous gifts and toys.

I am certain Christmas was delightful though I cannot remember one specific gift I received or what we ate at our holiday meal.

I don’t know what happened to the large family. I haven’t lived in my hometown for more than thirty years.

What I do know is this: my father spent much more on the family’s tree and decorations than he did on ours. Dad and those long-forgotten high school students received a huge blessing when they saw the lights in the eyes of those children.

My family receives a blessing in the annual retelling of this tale, with its message of the power in giving.

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Several weeks later, Dad went into the brick post office to pick up the mail and chat with Clarence Pook, the postmaster. A man Dad did not know began talking to Clarence in a loud voice.

 

“Clarence,” the stranger said. “It’s the oddest thing. You know, I was driving out east of town a few nights before Christmas, and you would not believe it, I found a completely decorated, beautiful nine-foot Christmas tree that someone had thrown in a ditch!”

 

Oct 022016
 

20161002_132129I’ve loved politics since I was a small child.  I am a Baby Boomer, born in 1957, smack dab in the middle of the Boom after World War II, during the Eisenhower administration. My parents were “cloth-coat” Republicans, moderate in all things. (The term cloth coat Republicans came from Pat Nixon’s trip to China, where she eschewed fur for a simple wool coat.)

And it goes without saying because I am a white person raised in a safe space, that I was the benefit of white privilege.  While I was in Bible School at a rural white church, four little girls of color were killed in Birmingham, Alabama. While I ran in last place at junior high field day, civil rights leaders were shot on the Edmund Pettit Bridge.

My parents read “Time” magazine cover to cover every week, and we discussed the cover story. We talked about current events at the dinner table. My father’s family was mostly Democrats and my mother’s family Republican. My grandmother McVay hated the man she called “Nick a son,” while my Grandmother Enz kept an autographed picture of Ronald Reagan on her television. My Uncle Woody and my Dad exchanged barbs about politics at family dinners. I listened in to their civil exchanges and learned.

The law allowing eighteen-year-olds to vote (long after many young men under 21 gave their lives in Vietnam) enabled me to cast my first Presidential vote at 19 in 1976.  I proudly voted for Gerald Ford. My roommate and I (she was a Carter supporter) argued about the candidates, wonky Carter before wonk became a word and clumsy Eagle Scout Ford.forddole

Over the years, the moderate Republican party that I knew became too conservative for me. The party slid slowly to the right, while I stood still.  President Richard Nixon founded the Environmental Protection Agency, and the current Republican presidential candidate denies climate change. The political climate has spilled over into what we used to call “polite society,” which by all accounts, is no more.  Go to WalMart and listen.  Turn on any evening political show.  How did we get here?

Perhaps this journey started with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980.  I volunteered for the John Anderson campaign in Fort Wayne.  Anderson was a Republican who ran as an independent. Having graduated from college in the depths of a recession, it wasn’t “morning in America” for me. And, johnandersonCarter wasn’t working.

The Moral Majority hung onto the non-church-going Reagan as a beacon of morality, while the former B-actor ignored the plights of those with AIDS.  Many people made a lot of money in the freewheeling “greed is good” eighties, and others lost sight of the shore as manufacturing curled up and died. International Harvester closed its Fort Wayne plant in 1983, and more than 2,000 people lost good jobs. Many members of the small church I grew up in lost jobs yet kept afloat as many were also farmers. A New York Times article notes that unemployment in Fort Wayne at the time of the plant closing was 10.3%.

Cable tv started in the early 1980s, which brought on 24/7 news.  One has to wonder how 24/7 news would have covered Andrew Jackson, Thomas Jefferson, or even Lincoln.  Can you imagine Mary Todd’s antics for the press?  Lincoln himself was known to suffer from depression, then called melancholy.  Thomas Eagleton didn’t last when the media uncovered his mental health past. We are aware details of  Bill Clinton’s trysts  (the famous little blue dress), and photographic evidence of a potential First Lady posing nearly nude.

The events I believe led directly to our vitriol today are two things: the Great Recession of 2008 and the election of Barack Obama. I think history will record the economic events of eight years ago wsj-front-page-sept-18-2008as depression. When I reflect on the Ronald Reagan question “are you better off than during the last President’s run?”  I am certainly better off. I was one of the 800,000 people who lost my job during the last month of Dubya’s term.  Five years later, I found a similar job. And I’m among the lucky ones. I had severance and health insurance and a spouse to support me.

Second, I believe Barack Obama’s election is in part the reason for the hatred we see.  I was raised in an all-white, mostly Protestant, rural area.  I heard the “N” word frequently growing up (not in my home.)  Somehow the election of our first black President seems to have made racist talk and action okay.  To me this is counterintuitive.  My father lives in a retirement home that is not inexpensive. Almost everyone who lives there has a college degree or enjoys great business success from the School of Hard Knocks.  A neighbor of Dad’s hung a picture of our President as an ape on his front door. Social media runs rampant with memes about Obama (as well as everything else), and it isn’t what my late momma called “kind and good.”  Seriously.  Is this acceptable?

But, there is much more to celebrate after eight years of President Obama.  (Note, I don’t entirely agree with everything he did, but compared to his predecessor taking us into Iraq, he’s vastly improved.  People criticized Poppy Bush for years for not going through Baghdad.  There was a reason he didn’t.  His son found out why.)

The notes below are from the bipartisan Factcheck.org.

  • Homicides have dropped 13 percent, but gun sales have surged.
  • The economy has added more than 9 million jobs, and the jobless rate fell to below the historical median.
  • The number of long-term unemployed Americans has declined by 614,000 under Obama, but it is still 761,000 higher than at the start of the Great Recession.
  • Corporate profits are up 166 percent; real weekly wages are up 3.4 percent.
  • There are 15 million fewer people who lack health insurance.
  • Wind and solar power have nearly tripled and now account for more than 5 percent of U.S. electricity.
  • The federal debt has more than doubled — rising 116 percent — and significant annual deficits have continued. (Noted: this is not okay and must be addressed.)

So here we are today with two presidential candidates that most people find offensive, and frankly, equal. Most individuals who support Trump say it is for economic reasons, and yet ignore the facts shown above that the jobless rate has dropped below the historical median.  Why people vote against their self-interest has baffled me since I read Frank’s “What’s the Matter with Kansas?”  Thomas Frank’s 2004 book looks at how the conservative, anti-elitist movement played out in rural Kansas.

So for whom will you vote?

A cautionary tale: My close friend who is a decade younger than me has been having heart problems. When the situation became critical, my friend went to Cleveland Clinic. The clinic is recognized as the top heart center in the  United States if not the world. Imagine if you are in the same situation.  Do you want the most experienced surgeons operating on you?  Or would you rather have someone who has never worked as a heart surgeon, but learned about it from watching “the shows?”  Granted, I’m way over the bubble that is Washington D.C., but in our country’s haste to throw out the elite, political class, who can do the job?  The Republican candidate dislikes the military and throws his disdain around for most government workers. He doesn’t have enough children to fill all the Cabinet posts.  It ‘s hard for me to believe the Republican candidate beat sixteen other primary challengers.

I’m not going to defend Hillary Clinton for her foibles; that is up to the voter to discern. But I will say that the experience of being a lawyer, First Lady, a Senator, and Secretary of State gives her experience that no other person living or dead has had in government.  No other person.  There is absolutely no way to equivocate the Republican nominee against this backdrop.

Image result for photo of earth from spaceWhile the Republican nominee sells his experience as a business person, all the evidence we have leads us to believe otherwise.  His bankruptcies and texts from various court appearances. His failed businesses.  His unwillingness to share his tax returns. We cannot judge his business acumen because he refuses to share the documents that will show his net worth, his charitable giving, and his tax burden.  (Tax dollars will fix the crumbling airports about which he complains.)

I am fifty-nine years old, and I’ve been in the workforce for more than 40 years. I want to see a woman president in my lifetime. But, gender is secondary to the difficult job our president has to do.  I want a person with the skills to work with other people, the savvy to know when to shut up and when to engage, and the stones to stand up to bullies, Mitch McConnell or Vladimir Putin.

The Republican nominee can do none of those things. A vote for an independent is a vote for the Republican candidate.

When you go into the voting booth, think about your legacy? Will you be complicit in giving the keys to the kingdom to the no-nothing hater? What will you tell your children and grandchildren about your role in this election?

 

These Winter Months, An Anthology

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Every life experiences loss.  Those with two parents for much of adulthood are blessed. Writer Anne Born pulled together a collection of essays about the loss of a parent during  adulthood. I am fortunate to have an article included, which I’m reprinting below. If you have lost a parent in your adulthood or have a […]

Jim Cantore, Hurricane Elena,  and the Stuff of Nightmares

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Last weekend, without any forethought, I recreated the day my husband and I met nearly forty years ago. We met on an early, sticky August 1977 morning in the parking lost of the West Quad building at Ball State University. Both of us had partied with friends the night before; we were both mourning break-ups. […]

Perspective

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July 6, 2016 — Over the weekend, we watched a TV show that features people hunting for a perfect private island. A couple, Larry and Lubya, toured three islands near Fiji, with a realtor.  Each island had fantastic views. Who can imagine purchasing an island for several million dollars? No wonder these shows are popular; most of […]

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June 15, 2016 — I  have not been this angry and sad in a long time. The events of early Sunday morning in the Orlando nightclub Pulse stay right with me, in my heart and mind. I can’t stop thinking about the 49 dead young people and their grieving families, who are forever changed. I […]

3 Hackneyed Pieces of Advice for New Grads

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So I’ve grabbed you with my pithy headline. Not so much? Likely I’ve attracted your 50-plus mother. She’s reading with pink rhinestone readers she bought at Costco. She sat next to me — stifling hot in a black mortarboard and gown — on a humid May day in 1979. Like your mom, I’ll never give a […]

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When you want to dislike your father’s girlfriend, but she’s lovely

We were in the Detroit airport, ready to board our flight to Rome. My cell phone rang. Figured it must be an emergency, as we headed over the pond. It was my father, so I answered immediately.  “What’s wrong?” “Nothing,” he said.  “I just want to talk to you about something.” “Okay, but we’re boarding […]

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This week I’ve been approached to support a children’s dance class, a high school mission trip, a college sports trip, an elementary soccer league, and a private school fundraiser. Are we solicited because we have a soft touch, or are we simply soft-headed? My husband is worse than I am. He’s contributed to “Laplanders for Botox” […]

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Twenty years ago today Erma Bombeck died at 69 of complications from a kidney transplant. Bombeck, a native of Dayton, Ohio, rose to fame as a newspaper columnist, author, and ultimately, regular guest on “Good Morning, America.”  At her peak, she wrote three columns a week for 900 newspapers. She never won a Pulitzer prize and […]

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