Could only happen in small town

A get-well card came in the mail this past Saturday. Nothing unusual about getting a card from friends, but this one was different. The envelope’s address had my name, the street, city and state. What it didn’t have was my house number. Yet, it arrived just a day after my friend had placed it in a mailbox. My wife found it funny. For me, it brought back memories.

I’ve lived in a large metropolitan area with several million people and in town with a population of only 1,500. Both have their advantages, but I find smaller villages more suited to my lifestyle.

Currently I live in a small rural community in northern Illinois with about 15,000 residents. When the local high school has a sporting or scholastic team do well, a large percentage of the town’s residents turns out to celebrate. During summer nights, children are allowed to play outside until the streetlights come on. Some people even leave their backdoors unlocked while they are away at work.

Fewer people live in small towns today compared to a generation ago. Most of us only get a glimpse of what rural American life is like through Norman Rockwell’s art or during broadcasts of presidential primary races farm states like Iowa and Indiana. Of course there is a reason for the change. Big cities generally have more and better paying jobs than smaller ones.

As a young boy I remember sprinting home to confess to my mother that I had broken someone’s window. Even though I only had to run just two block, I barely reached my mother in time to confess before the phone started to ring. The caller was a woman who was unhappy about the baseball that had gone through her garage window.

Living in places such as Chicago, New York and Los Angeles have many advantages. When picking which movie to see, you not only get to choose the time, but also the theater. Where I live, we don’t even have a cinema. When it comes to picking a restaurant, metropolitan areas have small towns beat, hands down.

Despite all of its drawbacks, I still prefer living in a smaller community. Where else could I receive a get well card with an incomplete address?


Gaining a new perspective on disabilities

A recent tumble on ice has given me a chance to learn what it is like to have a disability. Have to admit, the experience has been educational.

About a week ago, I fell on my right knee after slipping on ice. X-rays revealed that I had cracked my kneecap. As a result, I am now in a full leg brace for the next six to eight weeks.

For the past week, I have had to rely on others to do simple things, such as get in and out of cars, put on socks and shoes. Even using the toilet has become a humbling experience. I have the advantage of knowing that I will eventually get past this and be able to do all the things I used to take for granted. For people with life-long disabilities, the need for help with daily activities will never end.

I know someone who has been a wheelchair all of his life. He usually has a quick joke and a smile whenever I see him. I’ve never heard him complain, but now I have a better understanding about what his life must be like. Imagine what it must have been like before businesses and public buildings were required to be handicap accessible. I now appreciate the large bathroom stalls with handrails, and sidewalk ramps that make getting around easier.  

Looking back on 29 years of marriage

In less than two weeks my wife and I will celebrate our 29th wedding anniversary. At a time when it seems like we hear more about marriages failing than succeeding, it is nice to reflect back on our life together. We’ve experienced some highs and lows, but what makes me smile the most are the little things. We had only been married for a few months when I discovered one workday morning that I had no more underwear in the assigned drawer. Not knowing what had happened, I asked my new bride if she had moved them.

“I threw them out,” she replied. “They were way past their prime.”

“You threw them all out?”

“No just the really horrible ones.”

She did have a point. I was in my late 20s and I some of the ones that were now gone were pairs I had worn since I was in high school. Still, here I was getting ready for work and I was missing one of the first item of clothing I would normally put on. The term, “going commando” had not yet become part of our vocabulary.

“So what am I supposed to wear?”

“Either your swimsuit or one of your jogging shorts should work.”

I immediately knew that she had already thought about what I could wear. I was glad my jogging shorts and swimsuit had not been tossed. At time we were living in an apartment. I can imagine what the neighbors were thinking as they listened to us shout back and forth about my underwear.

Even though it has been nearly 30 years since I learned she had no problem throwing my clothes away if she deemed them ratty, I was reminded about the morning early in our morning this past week. I went to my drawer and found I had several new pairs that she had bought to replace some that were now missing. It made me smile.

Another person might have simply told me to go out and buy new ones and get rid of the old ones. Not her. Over the years she would also throwaway ties she didn’t like, socks with holes in them and other items. The reason this makes me smile is because it is one of the little things she does that might seem strange to others. She has somehow managed to be both endearing and annoying in a way that just makes me love her all the more. Yes, we celebrate major accomplishments and milestones. Yet, it is the little things that make her special to me.

Way too many warning labels

Recent articles about the hazard of texting while walking have been popping up in the news lately. Seems that people are so busy staying in touch through texting that they forget where they are strolling and fall or bump into something.

The solution to ending such accidents is to stop, text, hit send and continue on your way. I suppose we could insist that a warning label be placed on phones about the danger. We already have them on a variety of products about how to not use them.

My wife brought this to my attention the other day. A grocery store bag sported a warning about how one should not place it over your head because it could cause asphyxiation. Really? Have we become a society that requires such messages? The answer is yes, we have.

Warnings are showing up on products you would never have thought would need them. A friend told me that wheelbarrow tires now have them to make sure we know they are not to be used on the highway. Really? Has there been a rash of people pushing wheelbarrows down highways that I have somehow missed?

Strollers now have warnings that remind parents to make sure they remove the child before folding. One would think that a parent would notice how difficult it would be to collapse one with someone still inside.

We all know the reason for such labels. We’ve become such a lawsuit happy nation that lawyers are telling clients to put warnings on everything from McDonald’s coffee cups to stove tops. Some of you might remember how a customer sued the fast-food chain after they spilled hot coffee on their lap. I admit that I have at time spilled hot beverages on my lap and ties, but I never thought about suing anyone. If I got mad, it was at myself for being so clumsy.

I guess warning are here to stay. Maybe the next one should say something about how reading labels while walking can be hazardous to your health. 

Remember POW/MIA on Friday

Friday, Sept. 20, will be National POW/MIA Recognition Day in the United States. The event is on every third Friday in September.

For most people, this will simply be another Friday. The last day of the work week. For families who still don’t know what happened to loved ones lost during war time, it is a sober occasion. It is also a time to make the rest of us aware that there are still soldiers who still have not returned home.

As a reporter for a daily newspaper, I was able to cover an event organized by veterans to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Even though the Vietnam War ended several decades before, I met people who still had no idea if their soldier was still alive or not. They came because they still cared and wanted to make sure others could see how important it was to them that they finally learn what happened to their husbands, sons, fathers and brothers.

The number of soldiers who are still unaccounted for is startling. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, we still don’t know what happened to more than 1,640 members of our armed forces who went missing during the Vietnam War. There are still more than 73,000 missing from World War II and more than 7,900 from the Korean War. When you include those who are missing from the cold war and the recent Iraq and Afghanistan wars, there are more than 83,300 who are still missing in action or prisoners of war.

The ceremony I attended was in Dixon, Illinois and it was a few weeks before Christmas. A table covered with a white table cloth was set for four to represent the personnel from the army, marines, navy and air force. Candles were handed out and lit. We all sang “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” Tears easily flowed from my eyes as I scanned the faces of those attending who were there to remember someone who had never returned.

Even though it has been more than 10 years since I covered the event, I can still see the yearning in the faces of those who simply wanted to know what happened to their family member. The pain and yearning to understand hit me so hard that I could feel what they were going through. I wish them peace and hope that someday they will learn the truth.

If you have a family member who is still missing in action, may God’s peace be with you. I just want you to know that I will never forget.




Hoping to win the big one

Buying lottery tickets may seem like a waste of money to some and I can certainly see their point. The chances of winning are slim to practically none. Someone once told me I had a better chance of being hit by lightning than winning.

Still, I find myself walking into a local convenience store or gas station to buy one at least three times a week. I don’t spend a lot. At most $4 at a time. Friends have told me I would do just as well looking for the proverbial pot of gold at the end of a rainbow as to buying a ticket. They are probably right. Here’s the thing, however. I would never buy a lottery ticket if I didn’t think I at least had a chance. Otherwise, why do it?

Yes, there are people who spend way too much of their income on gambling. Some are so desperate to get out of debt or to have a better life that they will gamble on long shots to just have a few hours they can spend dreaming of never having to worry about whether they can catch up on rent or pay for new clothes for their children.

I have to admit, I’ve had a few daydreams about what I might do with the money if I should win. I think about what charities I would donate to or start. Where I might build my dream house. How much I would be able to spoil my wife. Of course, I realize it is all a fantasy. I know the odds. I also know that if you don’t at least buy a ticket, you have no chance at all.

So I have my lottery ticket sitting on a bookcase next to my wallet and car keys. I’ll check the local paper tomorrow to see if I’m the lucky one. I know the chance of winning is practically nil, but I still have hope. Wish me luck.


Remembering lessons my grandparents taught


Sunday was National Grandparents Day. I must confess, it is not one of those days I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about or observing. Had I known about it sooner, I would have done something to celebrate.

What I find amazing is this holiday has been around in parts of this country for 40 years. The first Grandparents Day was observed in 1973 in West Virginia when then governor Arch Moore signed the proclamation, according to the National Grandparents Day Council. Five years later, the U.S. Congress passed legislation proclaiming the first Sunday after Labor Day as National Grandparent’s Day. President Jimmy Carter signed the proclamation. According to the council, the month of September was picked because it represented the “autumn years” of life.

What a wonderful idea. I find it particularly interesting because someone recently told me that all men are shaped by three women in their lives. For me, the three have been my mother, my paternal grandmother and my wife. Every one of them have enriched my life in ways that are too numerous to list in this space. All three are very strong individuals whom I love very much.

Since today is Grandparents Day, I should focus on what they taught me while growing up. My paternal grandma grew up as a preacher’s daughter. She was told she had to learn to play the piano so she could entertain guests. She was sent to what was called a finishing school for young women. There she learned French and how to be a proper lady.

She passed on some of the lessons she learned growing up to me and my two sisters. I still can hear her words when I find myself in certain situations. “People who swear are only showing that they have a lack of vocabulary,” was one that comes to mind whenever utter something I know she wouldn’t approve of. Other lessons dealt with table manners and how a gentleman should treat a lady. Keep your elbows off the table. Always open a door for a lady. Be sure to say thank-you and please. The basic stuff that everyone should know.

My paternal grandpa taught me how to drive a tractor and a pickup truck with manual transmissions. I learned how to milk a cow and hypnotize a chicken. I also learned the facts of life from watching Billy the Bull do his thing with three young heifers. Grandma was not happy about that lesson.

My maternal grandpa taught me how to pray before going to bed. I can still hear him saying the words he spoke the night he taught me. My maternal grandma taught me where to place the forks, knives and spoons for a proper place setting at the dinner table.

Maybe the most important thing they taught my sisters and me is unconditional love. We learned how to show and share love without embarrassment. What a wonderful gift.

None of my grandmas or grandpas are alive today, but I still carry them with me wherever I go. For that reason alone, I wish them all a Happy Grandparents Day.