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Friday, October 9, 2015

Do you remember where you were when....

  Anybody over the age of 30 remembers where they were on September 11th, 2001. Everybody over the age of 60 probably can tell you exactly where they were on November 22nd, 1963 when President Kennedy was shot or the day Mr. Armstrong walked on the moon. Certain events are so remarkable that you can't help but remember exactly where you were and what you were doing when they occurred. But how about the memories you have that are much more personal to you, that mean so much to you over the course of your life that you will never forget when they happened? Did you know then the impact it was going to have or the long term benefits you would enjoy for years to come.Or did what happened seem like nothing at the time but would turn out to be a part of your life for years I suspect the answer is no.
  For me some of those memories remain as clear as the day they took place and others are clouded over time (and with music,other factors). My first live baseball game was at the old Metropolitan Stadium in Minneapolis to watch the Twins play the Red Sox. I was probably 6 or 7 and from that point forward I fell in love with baseball and enjoy everything about it to this day 40 plus years later. Did I know then how much becoming a sports fan would mean to me. Of course not, I was much more concerned with getting hot dogs and popcorn than I was categorizing the significance of the event. On my 16th birthday I sat with my Dad and watched Reggie Jackson hit three home runs on three consecutive pitches from three different pitchers. It was a performance that probably will never happen again but I remember it best because it was my birthday and I was watching it with my Dad. A lifetime memory that just happened without any marking of the occasion. I didn't wake up the next morning and think to myself "I'll never forget that."
  The first time I met lifelong friends Steve Kneebone, Steve Harma, Joel Ciucci, Louie DePuydt and many others still remains fresh in my brain even though at the time a never gave it a second thought. I can't imagine how much less fun my life would have been without them. The point of the blog is that many of the things that turn out to be huge parts of our lives going forward are happening right now. But like most people I wonder if I am appreciating the things coming in to my life to the degree I should or are they just drifting by unnoticed; taken for granted as just another day. Are we aware enough to know how special people and events are in real time? Speaking for myself I fear I am not that introspective.
  Memories cannot be manufactured anymore than emotions can. But memories also can't happen without emotion being attached to them. My wife has tried to create some family memories by taking all the kids to various festivals and the like. The failures have been so epic that they did create the desired effect. The trip to Ellijay, Georgia to listen to bands play at a Friday night town square block party is legendary in our family. The event ended the week before so the only thing in the parking lot was an ATM machine that all the kids gleefully posed in front of for a picture to commemorate the event. To this day just the mention of an ATM sends them into tales regaling the empty parking lot. A memory was created that will last a lifetime, even if it wasn't the way it was planned. Pasty festivals, apple festivals and more have all crashed and burned. The kids will actually run and hide when she picks up a newspaper advertising the festivals for the upcoming months. But she has done exactly what she wanted, to create family memories.
  Maybe during our busy day we should take the time to just stop for a moment and realize how the little things that are happening aren't so little. I'm trying to enjoy the people, events and chores that occur during the day more, treating the seemingly mundane as exciting. When I look back twenty years from now I want to be able to say that I knew it right away and didn't take it for granted. Of course twenty years from now I probably won't remember who I am but at least I'll remember something.

Till next......

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

He who laughs last, laughs where?

  The older I get the more I try and find humor in things. George Bernard Shaw mused that you don't laugh less as you grow old but not laughing makes you grow old. ( I paraphrased) Much to my amusement and the disgust of those around me I find things that average people find sad bring me to laughter. Funerals included. There is even a name for that condition or disease or whatever it is. It's call Psuedobulbar Affect and even has it's own acronym: PBA. I thought that had something to do with bowling but a funeral and three games of bowling aren't that far apart so I guess it's okay. I have tried to avoid funerals and most other extremely serious or sad moments for this very reason. Does this mean there is something wrong with me?
  I'm sure that, combined with my sarcastic nature a therapist could make a fortune with me on the couch. Or it's possible that it is nothing more than a well defined coping tool developed over years of practice. Doctor asks, "Why do you feel the need to laugh at serious or sad events?" "Well Doc to tell the truth it seems like so much more fun than crying." "So you don't feel sadness?" "I'm sure I will when I get the bill. Of course I feel sad but not for very long." "I see. So how do you feel when you feel sad?" (That question was actually asked.) "Did you really just ask me that? Grant is buried in Grant's Tomb and George Washington's white horse is still white. I'd rather have Tim Conway as my dentist than you for my doctor." Suffice it to say that my therapy session ended after that question. Maybe I don't feel sadness much for a different reason.
  With the crossing of the 50 year old mark a few years ago more and more of my friends, customers, relatives and acquaintances have passed away. Really good people who left far earlier than they should have. Given the choice of dwelling on the loss or remembering the laughter, I choose the laughter. I don't give a crap if people think it weird or somehow callous. I try to never have the attitude that someone who has suffered a great loss should get over it. Grief doesn't have a timetable or come with a pie chart. Just because my method is unusual doesn't make me anything other than different from most. There are so many serious things going on in the world today that laughter is the only thing that makes me feel sane some days.
  Some people start their day out with prayer, meditation, yoga or just a strong cup of coffee and their computer. Try mixing a dose of laughter before beginning your day. I had a Far Side calendar for years and everyday started out with a laugh. It works wonders. They say laughter releases endorphin in to the bloodstream. I think endorphin is a funny word anyway. It's a win win. So go ahead and laugh as much as you can because I've seen this movie before and (spoiler alert) we all die in the end anyway.

Till next........  .

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The gift of a legacy.....

  My cousin Tami recently wrote a very good article about our grandfather James Allen and the impact he had as an educator and mentor. Because we lived so close to Tapiola, where he was the principal of John A. Doelle school, I was lucky enough to spend many weekends with my grandfather and grandmother so I thought I would share a few memories. Excellent article, by the way Tami, well done.
  James Allen was what every educator should strive to be. He didn't talk about theories, he lived them, he practiced them, he took them out of the faculty lounges and into the classrooms. His belief was that a child had the ability to excel at something, it was his job to find out what that was. Every student meant something to him, not a grade, but a young person on his way to becoming an adult. It wasn't about passing his kids, that's what he called them, his kids, onto the next grade or level. It was about preparing them to be productive members of society. He took ownership over the success of his students, it was personal.
  During my childhood, the lessons I learned from James Allen were imparted to me without me even realizing it till much later in life. Part of his employment was a house next to the school with an acre of land. When I see an acre of land I think of a lot of lawn mowing. My grandfather saw a hot lunch program that could provide most of it's own food. Every spring he would till the soil with me trailing behind, throwing the largest rocks out of the garden. Once I grew to a suitable height it was my job to till and he would kick the rocks away. Because of the arthritis that had ravaged his body for many years, he was more than happy to pass the torch. My first row of tilling basically made a perfect S in the soil. The crop circles in that Mel Gibson movie were straighter than my first pass. He looked at me and said, "Now we have a starting point."
  Spring was spent planting and summer was for weeding and watering. He would walk along side me and ask me questions about the soil, the plants, math questions, science questions and history questions. When I didn't know the answer he challenged me to think about it. Sometimes he would ask 'why' when I would give the correct answer. It wasn't always enough to know the answer, he wanted the reason, or reasoning, behind the answer. These days they call it critical thinking but to grandpa it was just thinking. He would light up with pride when I could tell him how I came up with the conclusion. Even at the dinner table or sitting on the sofa, the questions and lessons never stopped. I got to go to class every minute of the day we were together and it was wonderful. He knew how to make me want to learn without me ever being aware of it.
  But he was so much more than information. He would constantly praise me in ways that were different. One of my pet nicknames from my father was 'motor mouth' ( a well earned moniker). On a Sunday afternoon when my parents came to pick me up I was chattering about all the things we had done that weekend when my dad held up his hand indicating he had heard enough for the moment. When I had all my stuff packed up and hugged grandpa good bye he whispered in my ear, "You have a gift for communicating, don't ever let it leave." I will never forget those words if I live to a hundred years old. That is what a legacy does for you.
  The last time I saw my grandfather was Christmas day in 1979. The following spring I moved to Texas and didn't come home for a few years. He passed away while I was in Texas and when my dad called I took the news like a typical Finn. Because I was young and broke I never made it home for the service. Truth be told, I wouldn't have come if I was filthy rich. It broke my heart. Growing up like most kids, my heroes were sports figures. Men who could throw a fastball, catch a football or shoot a hockey puck were my idols. But by the time he had passed I was beginning to realize that the real heroes in my life were people like my grandfather. You can add my grandmother and both my parents to that list. With age comes wisdom, finally.
  It is no surprise all the teachers and educators that Tami documented so well came from the tree of James Allen. He was an inspiration to almost everyone he met. I have often wondered why the one grandchild who spent so much time with him never went into education. Maybe it was his encouragement to follow my dreams, not his, but mine. Maybe my legacy is supposed to be different. With the advent of Facebook I see so many people who worked for and with me go on to be very successful. Many of my customers who became good friends have gone on to do great things despite going through tough times. Perhaps in some strange sort of way I may have helped some of them. It isn't the same type of legacy but maybe it's mine.
  We all leave some sort of legacy. James Keast Allen left a great one, we all should be so fortunate.

Till next.....