Monthly Archives: November 2014

An Unusual Thanksgiving

My most unusual Thanksgiving occurred in 2003, when my mother-in-law offered to treat her daughter, grandson, and charming son-in-law to an all-inclusive Caribbean cruise. Offer accepted! My mother-in-law was in charge of making all of the arrangements, so all the rest of us really needed to do was to prepare our bodies for swimsuit weather if we so desired. Toning my body for the month of November was a foreign concept to me. Iowa’s fall and winter months typically were designed for letting one’s self go because coats and sweatshirts did a nice job of concealing one’s extra body fat.

My son was already primed for the occasion since he was fortunate enough to be a lanky teenager, but my wife and I had a little bit (okay, a lot) of work to do if we wanted to look impressive on the exotic islands. I think both my wife and I realized the cruise was probably going to be a once in a lifetime event, so I worked extremely hard at developing four-pack abs (I’m not quite sure how one acquires a six-pack). My lovely wife was determined as well, so by the time we set sail she was looking, as today’s youngsters would say, “hot!”

The cruise ship was gigantic. Of course, I had never seen one in person before, so actually it could have been small in comparison to others. What do I know? I’m just assuming the ship was enormous because it had a movie theater and an auditorium on board. One evening I watched the critically acclaimed and Oscar nominated film, Lost In Translation, and as the title suggests something went awry, from the time the intended message of the movie left the screen to the time it entered my brain, since I’m still not sure eleven years later what the film was trying to covey. I almost forgot where I was, during the overrated movie, except the subtle but constant rocking back and forth kept reminding me I was out to sea. I suppose I should be grateful The Poseidon Adventure or Titanic wasn’t playing in the theater, or that assuredly would have been nerve-racking with the gentle swaying motion underfoot.

I did have one unsettling moment aboard the ship during the seven day cruise. One afternoon I made the mistake of going out on deck and surveying the horizon. I’m not exactly sure what I expected to see, but what I found was quite alarming. No land in sight! Every direction I looked there was only blue ocean. No mountains, no islands, no nothing. There wasn’t even another ship in sight, for as far as my eyes could see, to keep me from feeling so isolated from the rest of the world (and from dry land). I realized at that precise moment how vulnerable I truly was to Mother Nature, and I did not like that feeling one bit. Previously, the ship had mostly been traveling by night, from port to port, so I wasn’t fully aware of the eerie situation at hand.

My family and I had many activities planned (on safe, dry land) for whenever the cruise ship docked. On each island we partook in something fun and unique. We went horseback riding, parasailing, snorkeling, and even engaged in an activity called snuba (a cleverly named combination of snorkeling and scuba diving). Still to this day I feel somewhat guilty about my snorkeling experience. We had been warned by our instructor not to touch the delicate barrier reef in our midst when exploring its surroundings. The natural wonder was an astonishing sight to behold; however, it was also easily susceptible to damage caused by clueless people such as myself.

I completely ignored his wishes…but not on purpose. I was wearing the mandatory life vest, provided by the instructor, but that did not prevent my legs from sinking and grazing the top portion of the fragile coral reef. Me in the water is like a fish out of water. I cannot swim, float, or tread water all that well, so I was entirely out of my domain. Afterwards, my shins were noticeably scraped up. I’m positive it was obvious how the scratches got there, but thankfully nobody around me said a word. I most-likely would’ve lied about it anyway to avoid the embarrassment of forever being known as “the barrier reef killer.”

I possibly was already known as “the guy who eats a lot” on board the ship, and clearly that’s not a very flattering title to have acquired. There was an ice-cream stand aboard the ship, open several hours a day, and I took full advantage of the situation. Remember, I was on an all-inclusive cruise, so all of the meals (and ice-cream cones) were free. Well, they were free for me at least. I’m quite certain my mother-in-law paid a hefty price, when she booked the cruise, to keep her family (including her adorable son-in-law) happy.
When Thanksgiving Day arrived, sometime during the cruise, I had another opportunity to cement my newfound title in stone. It did not seem like the holiday I was used to, but it was “turkey day” nonetheless.

I found myself in an awful predicament come dinnertime. On the evening’s menu was the choice of either a traditional Thanksgiving Day feast or a spectacular lobster dinner. On the one hand, I’m a traditionalist in almost every aspect of my life, so not eating turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce on Thanksgiving just seemed wrong. On the other hand, I had the opportunity to be presented with a lobster dinner. Lobster! Oh, what to do …what to do. The friendly waiter, sensing my dilemma, made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. He told me I could have both meals if I would like. I absolutely would like! When the Caribbean cruise sadly came to a halt I wobbled off the ship at least 10 lbs. overweight. My “four-pack” was lost, and I unfortunately have not since gained it back (and probably never will). My weight gain was not that unusual, since I frequently overindulge, but my 2003 Thanksgiving was definitely unusual.


Thanksgivings Of Old

As a child I knew of only one way to celebrate Thanksgiving. My Thanksgivings of old always meant piling into the family station wagon and taking our annual trip to Joplin, Missouri, to spend the holiday with my father’s parents, his siblings, and other assorted relatives. Typically, on the Tuesday before “turkey day” my father would prepare the Ford wagon for travel. He’d check the tire pressure, top off the fluids, and clean the old, wood-paneled vehicle inside and out. Meanwhile, my mother spent her Tuesday baking desserts for the “big day” and gathering the necessities for the upcoming eight-hour jaunt. On Wednesday morning my father would neatly load up the back of the station wagon in a precise, well thought-out manner as the rest of us scurried around trying to meet his requested 9:00am departure time. Many times a piece of forgotten luggage would be discovered, halfway through his packing process, and more often than not my mother would send one of us four children out to the garage to deliver the bad news.

At that point, my father apparently felt like he had to remove every single item from the back of the station wagon. He would then start his meticulous packing all over again, but this time he did so with teeth clinched and whilst exuberating a perturbed breathing sound for everyone around him to hear. Normally, we weren’t on the road until about 10:45am which obviously was well past my father’s desired time for leaving Iowa. He eventually stopped setting a departure time (or at least he refrained from saying it out loud). I presume the omission of a set time was intended to spare the rest of the family from my father’s inescapable disappointment each year although it wasn’t too difficult to notice his dismay as the minutes continued ticking away. Once we were finally out  on the open road it was pretty much smooth sailing, for about 20 minutes or so, until someone’s bladder needed emptying.

For me, Thanksgivings in Missouri meant reconnecting with my male cousins. It was always a little awkward in the beginning, like a first date, but before our initial day together was over we’d be right back to where we had left off the previous year. Before I knew it we were up to our menacing ways as we wandered around our grandpa’s farm. The boy cousins would play football and explore the nearby woods during the day, and at night we would play games, wreak havoc on the girl cousins’ activities, or just sit around telling exaggerated stories to one another. Somewhere in between we would gorge on our grandma’s traditional Thanksgiving Day feast. Well, most of us anyway. My favorite cousin, who was just one year younger than me, ate like a bird. For some reason, unbeknownst to me, the predictable small portions of food on his plate, and the delicate way he picked at the turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes with his fork drove me absolutely nuts.

Maybe the reason for my irritable manner was due to my cousin’s accusatory glances aimed at me while I was devouring my third piece of pumpkin pie (whipped topping included). I no longer had to worry about those looks as I grew older because as an adult, with a family of my own, I had the freedom to explore other Thanksgiving Day opportunities. Most of the time we remained in Iowa, and spent the day with my mother’s side of the family. Once in a while we instead chose to have our holiday meal at a restaurant with my wife’s side of the family. On the rare occasion we did decide to venture back to Missouri, for my traditional childhood Thanksgiving, I usually found myself reverting to some old childhood ways as well. All of us “boy” cousins were back to being menaces, and wreaking havoc on our grandpa’s farm, in no time.


Not My Father’s Son

My father, for as far back as I can remember, was always working on some sort of project around the house. I can recall him fixing leaky faucets and running toilets on several occasions. My father replacing broken vacuum cleaner bands and frayed toaster chords was a common sight during my childhood as well. His motto was most-likely, “Why pay someone to do something if you can do it yourself?” In fact, I’m pretty sure I actually heard him say those exact words a time or two. Apparently, my father was willing to attempt just about any handyman project imaginable, many times learning as he went along, so he could save his family of six a little bit of money. He probably enjoyed working on his vehicles most of all. What father wouldn’t mind spending some time in the garage with four active children occupying his house?

My father failed at passing down his automobile repair knowledge to his eldest son, but I assure you it wasn’t for his lack of trying. After I had reached a certain age he began insisting that I accompany him out to the garage and “help” him work on his car. The first couple of times weren’t so bad, but holding a flashlight while my father did everything else was not sufficient enough for keeping my interest. I’m not saying I should have been allowed to do more because I am well aware I wasn’t even that good at holding the flashlight. It’s quite possible when my father finally realized I was not going to be the family’s next mechanically inclined prodigy that he then placed all of his remaining hope in my younger brother. That certainly did not bode well for him because still to this day I am a mechanical genius compared to my brother.

If truth be told, I think the main reason I did not follow in my father’s footsteps was due to my lack of enthusiasm. It simply wasn’t easy for me to get excited about the probability of scraping a knuckle or jamming a finger as I had seen my father do on numerous occasions. The thought of getting my hands dirty wasn’t all that appealing either; however, it was an entirely different matter whenever my grandpa from Missouri came to town. He usually had something amiss, going on underneath his Chrysler’s hood, that he wanted my father to address, and I always hoped to be included in the action. My father had learned most of his mechanical expertise from his father, so I’m not sure why he needed his son’s advice. Maybe the student had become the master, or maybe my grandpa was just looking for some cheap labor. Quite possibly though it may have been my grandpa’s attempt at bonding with his eldest son during his visits. The reason did not matter one iota to me as long as my wish for partaking in the ritual, of men congregating around an ailing vehicle and shooting the breeze, came true.

I can recall one particular Sunday morning, shortly before heading off to church, when my grandpa, my father, and I were experiencing the manly tradition firsthand. The gathering was surely a sight to behold: three generations of McCleary “men” tinkering on one gold car, conveniently parked in the driveway, for all of the neighbors to see. Well, actually my father was doing all of the tinkering. My grandpa was sipping on a hot cup of coffee, and I was just standing there pretending to know what the heck was going on although I wasn’t fooling anyone. All three of us knew that I knew absolutely nothing about the workings of an automobile. My father went inside the house, for only a few seconds, but that’s all it ever took for my grandpa to get me in some sort of trouble.

Before my father had left the scene something had fallen through the gaps, between the Chrysler’s engine and whatever else is under a car’s hood, and my grandpa decided now would be the ideal time for me to retrieve the dropped object. I can’t remember what had fallen through the cracks and was lying underneath the vehicle. I don’t know if it was a nut, a bolt, a screwdriver, or a wrench. It may have been a Johnson rod for as much as I know about cars, but that’s really beside the point. My grandpa had made a request, and as his eldest grandson (and young admirer) I did not want to disappoint. However, I was well aware that I should not honor his request, so I reluctantly said, “I can’t.” The Missouri farmer responded with, “sure you can,” and that’s all I needed: some encouraging words from my grandpa, and nothing else I could possibly have been told beforehand seemed to matter.

In no time flat I found myself lying face down on the dirty pavement. I began inching forward on my belly (military style), under the vehicle, to recover the seemingly all-important object. At the precise moment I could feel the “Johnson rod,” with the tips of my fingers, I heard my father yelling at me to get out from underneath my grandpa’s car. Busted! I could already tell from the tone of my father’s voice I was in trouble, but I wasn’t sure what the punishment was going to be; therefore, I hurriedly scooched myself backwards, out and up from underneath the vehicle, because I didn’t want to expose my buttocks for any longer than I had to in case a spanking was what he had in mind this time. I was donning my Sunday best and was old enough to know better than to crawl between the grimy automobile and the dirty pavement when wearing them. In addition, my father most-likely had warned me not to get my church clothes grubby prior to congregating around the Chrysler. My father may not have been successful at passing down his handyman and automobile repair expertise to the next generation, but both he and his father were very successful at leaving me with some special memories.


The Death Penalty

Last month I felt as though I was being bombarded by the television stations in regards to the death penalty. Two high-profile murder cases, involving convicted killers awaiting sentencing, brought the controversial and highly debated topic back into the spotlight. I really shouldn’t complain since it was a refreshing distraction from the seemingly never-ending political ads dominating the airwaves as they normally do every time there’s an upcoming election. In both murder cases the death penalty is a viable option. I won’t mention the names of those convicted because at this point I’m quite certain they crave the attention, and I do not want to give them their desired satisfaction. I think repeatedly mentioning the culprits’ names in the media only glamorizes the despicable crimes they’ve committed against their fellow man.

I realize discussing the death penalty can become very heated since passion tends to run rampant amongst supporters and non-supporters alike. The only thing both sides apparently agree on is that the violator does deserve to be punished. I have heard it costs more to execute someone than to imprison them for life, but I don’t know if that’s true. To be honest, the financial aspect never enters my mind when pondering the extreme penance. I have been a strong proponent of the death penalty for as long as I can remember. I assumed the Bible backed up my stance since it mentions “an eye for an eye” three different times in the Old Testament. However, recently I learned when Jesus roamed the earth he taught a new standard for all of His people to follow. Please bear with me, for those of you who disagree with my position, because there may be some sort of twist later on. Maybe. The point is to always keep an open mind.

The truth as I know it is our country’s justice system is far from perfect, but it’s the only system we’ve got. Undeniably, on occasion there have been (and will continue to be) innocent people sent to prison and guilty people set free. I do think for the death penalty to even be considered there at least needs to be a confession made or some DNA proof. After absolute guilt has been established in a court of law, of someone committing a heinous crime, I admit to possessing an unusual thought process concerning how the sentencing phase of the trial should be carried out. I propose the punishment, of either death or life in prison, should be decided by a lie detector test. I would ask the convicted murderer this one simple question, “Do you prefer the death penalty or life in prison?” I would then administer the other option than that of the miscreant’s preferred choice.

If you thought the previous suggestion was a bit harsh then you may want to stop reading this before I make my next proposal. Not only am I a proponent of the death penalty, as the penance for atrocious murders, but I am also in favor of torturing the offender beforehand in some cases. Death just seems too good for the terrorists responsible for those recent beheadings overseas. That being said, it is now time for that twist I alluded to earlier. A while back, simply out of curiosity, I asked my pastor what his thoughts were on the subject of the death penalty. He solemnly responded with, “I think all life is precious.” I immediately thought to myself, “but what about ‘an eye for an eye’?” Anyone who genuinely knows me is well aware I am not easily influenced by others once I have formed my opinion on any given matter.

However, I haven’t been able to erase those words, “all life is precious,” from my memory, and maybe I shouldn’t. By the way, did you happen to notice my pastor said, “I think,” when responding to my inquiry? What I appreciate about Pastor Brad, among so many other things, is that he doesn’t “preach.” He teaches instead. He leads his flock in the same direction where he senses God is leading him. Pastor Brad never strays from the truths of the Bible, yet he allows (no, let me rephrase that) he desires for us to search for the “answers” ourselves, to any questions we may have, through studying the Scriptures, prayer, and sharing our thoughts with other believers. All of the truths found in the Bible are solid and unchanging, but some of the other stuff is left to one’s own interpretation. That’s probably why some Christians are in favor of the death penalty while others are against it, and I think that’s okay. Just don’t ask me today what my position is because it may be different tomorrow.