There are two theories of history. One is that leaders arise, creating the history of their time out of who they are.
Last week we spoke of the Miracle of 1801, a moment in time when opposing points of view could have torn our newly founded nation apart.
I make no bones about it — I love this land of ours. I am proud to be a part of it and what it stands for.
One day, one of the wisest men I have ever personally known was running a meeting when someone asked a question.
As I write this it is 1:32 in the afternoon on Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012, and it is a VERY good day.
Last week we left off at the end of the 1931 monster movie “Frankenstein.”
It is Saturday afternoon on a sunny March day, the perfect day to climb Ward Hill.
My mother, God bless her, was one in a million.
Not long ago the saying was, “The sun never sets on the British Empire.”
I have read, and believe, that we all start out with a set of traits we can’t change very much.
If anyone asked me how I feel about fads, I would no doubt say something dumb, like “Are you kidding? I hate fads.
There’s nothing better in life than finding a job that fits you, is there? Each day you go to work in a place you like, where people like you, and where you fit.
Last week I told you about Chuck Dunlap, someone I will never be able to thank enough even if I live to be a thousand.
Eighty years is a long time to live. It gives you a chance to have a lot of fun.
I know you’ve run the across the same news articles I have, the ones that sound so very, very sad, that just drip with sorrow.
More than once, life has taught me a valuable lesson:
I’ll tell you what, Johnny. Never take a young man of 14 who loves reading, but whose knowledge of the world is limited to the way it transpires within the pages of a book, and put him in an isolated, live-in workplace filled with college girls.
Last week we talked about how much pure chance affects what we learn as we pass through life. I find it a fascinating subject, perhaps because I discovered early in life that I am a person who is able to change.
Good question, isn’t it? What made you, you? It is no doubt true that we inherit traits through our genes which are a large part of who we are, but I can’t help feeling that a lot of what makes us uniquely us comes through experiences strewn by chance across life’s path.
Don’t let ‘jury notice’ scam frighten you: Just hang up
More than 20 percent of the population in Payson is of retirement age, compared to a national average of 13 percent.
I’m 80 years old and it finally occurred to me to ask myself what I want out of life. At this moment, of course, it’s an easy question. As you may know, my beloved wife, Lolly, is very ill.
Last week we talked about a red cardinal chick it was my privilege to rescue from a miserable fate. I found it among a pile of wet leaves and branches left behind after I cleared away a head-high pile of branches that filled my back yard in Port Arthur, Texas, after a very nasty storm.
I admit it. I bounced through life like the ball in a pinball machine. You know what I mean? No specific goals. No eye on the future. No great plans. Just bouncing left and right, rolling downhill, bumping against this and that, taking each moment as it comes, and letting each choice make itself. Some people would say I chose the easy road, and I’d agree with them except for one thing.
Bill Cosby is just about my favorite all-time comic. On one of his tapes, when talking about himself and the kids he knew, he said that he became convinced early in life that the one time people were completely honest was when they were dead scared. I agree, but the problem with being dead scared is that a moment that may seem dead serious to you can be funny as hell to others. And there’s no way to live it down afterward. Sooner or later, some genius is sure to say, “Man! You should have seen Tom the day that ...”
There have been times during my life when my brain got backed up and needed a plunger. Or maybe even a RotoRooter. Really. I would think about something and come to a conclusion that any sane person would toss out in two seconds. An example? While in high school I decided that I had two “best” friends. Obviously, it is impossible to have two best friends, but that didn’t matter to my teenage birdbrain. I decided I had two best friends, and that was that. And please do not ask me how I came to that conclusion. Have you ever looked into a teenage mind? It’s about as organized as a frying pan full of maggots.
If you’ve been reading this column regularly, I’ll bet I know what you’re saying, “I know which one he’s going to say was Number One. He’s going to say it was meeting Lolly, his wife.” Right, Johnny! Nothing compares to that. How could it? So I’ll tell you about numbers 2 through 5. The second best thing that ever happened to me came five years after my dad died. Every young boy needs a father, but mine was taken by a golf ball that strayed across the rough and struck him in the neck on the fairway on one of the back nine.
Last week I left off where I read Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” as a young boy and came away with the idea that tropical islands were the paradises he pictured them to be. Which they are — if you can handle mildew, dry rot, bugs, and rain. Something I didn’t learn until I visited a couple of them.
About the middle of the third grade, the tropical islands of the Pacific began to take on a special meaning for me. Someone gave me a book for Christmas, a wonderful book, one I read from cover to cover during the bitter cold New York winter of 1940, not once but three whole times. What a book it was for an eight-year-old! What a contrast with that miserable winter!
I should have called this column, “Down the hatch!” Why? When you first read it you may find it hard to swallow. You may even think I’m pulling your leg. But I’m not. I swear I am not. Even though it seems impossible, this really happened. Did it ever! When it comes to things that happened during my lifetime, and were close enough to where I was living at the time for me to feel it had happened right next door, it tops the list. And yet I’ve never met anyone who has heard of it. Never! How can that be?
A couple of months ago I was posting a comment on a string on the online forum I do for the Roundup. The string was about card playing. We were talking about whether or not anyone plays cards anymore, and the word “card” triggered an old memory. Back when I was a kid a popular brand of bubble gum came in a flat package about two-and-half-by-three inches square. In each package of bubble gum came a trading card. All the cards I saved had baseball players on them, but there may have been other sports in those packages too. It was a long time ago. I don’t remember.
Some people seem to have life all planned out by the time they get out of diapers. I keep reading about them all the time: Writers who wanted to write the minute they saw their first crayon; mathematicians who were doing algebra problems while the rest of us were trying to learn the multiplication tables; musicians playing the violin while they were too young to spell do, re, mi, and fa; and kids who were playing doctor with all the neighborhood girls by the time they were 6. Well, that last group may not have been planning a career, though many of them no doubt found a lifetime hobby. On the other hand, come to think of it ...
I admit it. When it comes to certain aspects of doctors and hospitals, I have more questions than answers. Not about anything serious, you understand. I know as much as I want to know about the serious stuff. I try not to worry about it. My experience over the years has been that those who worry about their health too much often end up having good reasons for doing it. Reminds me of an old story: Charlie and the Tofu. You ever heard that one, Johnny? No? You sure? The one about the fellow who could not stand his wife after they’d been married a couple of years because he’d gotten hooked on all that great health food and she refused to have anything to do with it?
I intended this to be a single column, but it seems to have grown to three on its own. I’m amazed. It’s all about a couple of simple places Lolly and I shared, but then they’re places that are so strongly engraved in our memories we just can’t forget them. I suppose the truth is that we are remembering each other in those houses more than we are remembering the houses themselves. And the kids too, of course, not to mention some great friends and neighbors who helped give those places a special meaning for us. What, after all, makes a house something to remember? People, of course. People — and the joy they bring with them.
Last week I started to tell you about the very first home Lolly and I ever shared. We still both remember it well, even though we just celebrated our 51st wedding anniversary. I also mentioned the apartment we lived in while we were trying to find that first home. We stayed in the apartment for about five months. It was OK, I guess, but it was probably a good thing we stayed there first because I needed a little basic training in living on what was called the “local economy.”
No matter how many houses we live in, there are always a couple or three of them we just can’t forget. The reason is plain enough, I suppose. When we think of them it’s not as “the house in Karachi,” or “the house on Okinawa.” It’s “our house in Karachi,” or “our little place on Okinawa.” It’s the “our” that counts. I’ve lived in a lot of houses, but I had no idea how many until I sat down to count them. I made a rough guess and decided it was perhaps two dozen, so when I came up with a total of 39 I thought I had made a mistake. And I was right! About being wrong, I mean.
Back when I was a preteen, I met a kid named Jerry Davis, who soon became one of the best friends I ever had. Jerry and his family moved next door while I was in the eighth-grade and we did a lot of crazy things together over the next few years. I’ve never mentioned Jerry to you before because what happened to him is not something I like to think about. But today, out of love for an old friend who got less out of life than he deserved, and out of a sense of duty that impels me to tell you a story I believe everyone needs to hear, I’m going to tell you about something that should never have happened.
Last week I mentioned a day in 1966 when my brother Frank phoned me on Okinawa and asked me to “pick up a little something” for him. But when I realized the “little something” cost more than $2,000 I told Frank it was too steep for me. “Huh,” he said. “Doesn’t seem like much. How are you doing?” I always chuckle when I tell somebody what Frank said when I told him I was barely making $5,000. “Well, that’s not bad. That’s about what I make.” Trouble is, I was talking about $5,000 a year and he was talking about $5,000 a week. Needless to say, after we got done laughing, he no longer expected me to saunter out and slap down $2,000 on the things he needed.
Back in 1966 I got a phone call all the way from the States to Okinawa from Frank, my next-to-oldest brother. He needed some things made over there on the island where I was stationed, so he called me about it. It took only a few minutes to tell me what he wanted, and I knew exactly where to buy them — a set of end tables and a coffee table made there on Okinawa, ones I had seen. Made of precious woods imported from the jungles of Southeast Asia, they were carved over an inch and a half deep and beautifully hand finished. But there was a minor glitch.
Before I moved over here from Texas in 1983, I had a chat with a friend about the spot where I am typing this column — the Rim Country. He knew we were moving to Arizona and I happened to mention that some day we planned to retire “in the Rim Country.” “Oh, you’re making a terrible mistake,” he told me. “You’ll get sick of it in a rush. No one can live in a place like that.” “No one can live in the Rim Country?”
I just got another one of those “Serving You In Every Way” letters from a company I do business with. You know the letters I mean? The ones that check to see if you’ve changed anything so they can charge you more? It makes the fourth one so far this year, and its only February. I suppose there will be more of them. This one came from a company I have been doing business with since 1998. Now I know that’s only 14 years, but I’d like to think that by now they know me well enough to guess that at my age I am unlikely to change a whole lot.
Last week I wondered why we remember some unimportant things so well. I swear! I remember some things that any sane person would forget. But I forgot to mention something: There are other things I remember that seem equally unimportant, but I know why I remember them. They only seem unimportant. They really aren’t. I thought it might help if I mentioned a couple of them to you and let you sort things out. I’ve given up trying.
There isn’t the slightest doubt in my mind that if I could do the impossible — make a list of all the things I don’t remember — it would stretch from Pine to Payson. Or maybe even Pine to Tokyo. But there are some things, Johnny ... Even if I tried, I could not get rid of some of the things stuck in my head. And what gets me is the fact that most of them are totally unimportant. Why do most of the routine things that happen to us fade away, while others stick around forever? In case you think I have the answer, I don’t.
I often used to wonder why the Rim Country felt so familiar to me. Then I finally figured it out. It’s so simple that I wonder why it never occurred to me before: It’s because the Rim Country reminds me so much of the places where I grew up. All right, Johnny. I know what you’re thinking. “Huh? Here’s someone who grew up in New York City, and in a small Connecticut town back on the East Coast. And he says the Rim Country reminds him of those places? How can that be?” Easy. Kids don’t see places the same way adults do. I don’t know if they see the big picture and we miss it, or if it’s the other way around, but what we see and what the kids see are two very different things. What would you see if you went to Staten Island or New London? Buildings. Roads. Cars. Buses. People. Stores. Right? Sure you would. Kids would too. But ... There’s always a but, isn’t there, Johnny? But those things were no more my world when I was a kid than the Beeline Highway, Main Street, carloads of weekenders, and the shopping malls are Payson to the kids who live here.
As much as I hate to say it, there are people in this world who would be a lot better off in almost any job except the one they have. I’ve run into a few of those in my time, and something tells me I’m not the only one. I’ve often wondered about that, haven’t you? Just about everybody is good at something, so why do some people stay in a job that is so-o-o-o wrong for them? Why not go do something you’re good at? Could it be that some people don’t know how bad they are at what they’re doing? Is that possible? Even when it’s as obvious as a dead rat floating in the gravy boat? I mean, if you’re a brain surgeon, your hand shakes, you cut your own finger during your junior high frog dissection, and you tend to forget what it was you started out to do, I would think that sooner or later you’d realize you picked the wrong career. But not some folks I guess. Not one I knew anyway.
Last week I mentioned how I was transferred to Sheppard AFB, Texas, as a drill instructor, where I met Chance Davis, a really great friend and one of the oddest ducks on the planet. To this day I cannot remember anything that Chance ever did that he did not do perfectly. He was the finest marksman I have ever known, had a command voice that sounded like the crack of a rifle, and never took on anything without doing it to perfection. I can even remember a time when he shook me up while I was I was drawing a plan for a new building in the squadron area. It wasn’t an official plan, just a rough plan showing what we wanted. I was erasing a stray pencil line and getting ready to turn it in when Chance’s favorite remark sounded over my shoulder. “Gar-r-r-r-ett!” He said that a lot, Johnny.
I had been transferred to Sheppard AFB down in Texas to work in what the Air Force called Phase Two Basic Training, but so far all the barracks in my new squadron were sitting empty, waiting for men from Phase One. I was moving my desk across my office when I heard a voice behind me with a distinct Texas twang. “Airman Garrett?” I said yes and heard a loud, “Airman Davis reporting, sir!” Figuring my first basic trainee had arrived, I turned around, but the two stripes on the sleeve on the smiling man’s facing me told me he wasn’t a basic. “Did I getcha?” he asked. I think I said, “Huh?” “Always wanted to try that out on another DI,” he said.
Last week we talked about some things that made it easy to get along in a foreign country. What it boiled down to for most of the people I knew was just being yourself — just being an American. Unlike people from some countries, we don’t have lords and ladies, fussy rules of behavior, or the confusing customs I’ve run into. So it’s easy to just be yourself. We may be a little rough around the edges at times, but we’re honest about it, and we’re satisfied to be what we are. Which by and large helps people overseas not only to accept us, but to like us.
I can honestly that one area where I have a lot of experience is being a foreigner. The Air Force arranged that by seeing to it that during my 21 years in uniform, I was overseas for all or part of 14 of them — almost two-thirds of the time. I served from 1952 to 1973, and the book “The Ugly American” came out in 1958, followed by the 1963 film of the same name. If you think about how much time I spent overseas, you can see why I was well aware of the possibility of falling into that category, something that didn’t appeal to me. Fortunately, it didn’t happen. Oh, I suppose I goofed a couple of times. Nobody’s perfect. But by and large I managed to avoid being cast as the poster boy for either the book or the film, and I thought you might find it interesting how I missed out on that honor.
How well do you know yourself? “Really well,” you say? Are you sure? I thought the same thing for a long time — for more than 40 years, in fact. And then, one day about 30 years ago I was reading a book and suddenly, right out of the blue, I learned something about myself I had never suspected. It came as quite a shock. So much of a shock that I can remember that moment about as well as I remember anything in my life. I’ll tell you about it. I’m a reader. Been a reader all my life. Caught the reading bug back when I was just 7 or 8 years old. One day Miss Banke, a teacher in Public School 16 on Staten Island, told us we were going on a field trip. You should have heard the cheer. The classroom sounded like the Victory Theater on Saturday afternoon when the cartoons came on. “Yay-y-y-y!”
I’m sitting here remembering some of the many Christmases I have seen in my 79 years, and I don’t mind telling you it’s a worthwhile thing to do. Is there any holiday to match Christmas? I think not. As troubled as this nation is at times, we always find renewed hope in a holiday filled with good will and love, with giving and receiving, with the coming together of families, with the coming together of America as a single people in a nation founded on the belief that we are all free to practice our beliefs openly, honestly, and with reverence for the beliefs of others. I pray it will always be that way. I can’t say with any certainty why some Christmases past stand out so strongly, or why it is that I could think all day and night and not remember a thing about so many others. But for one Christmas I know the answer. And it’s an important answer, not just for me, but for you, because it stands for all that is right about our nation, our people, and our cherished beliefs.