Tag Archives: Iowa

Saying Goodbye

My wife left me yesterday. It wasn’t entirely unexpected either. In fact, we both knew it was coming since she’d been talking about it for some time, so I let her go without putting up a fight. I must admit I am somewhat surprised that neither of us seemed all that sad or concerned when saying goodbye. We’ve been married for almost 30 years, for crying out loud, so you’d think my wife’s departure would have been quite the ordeal, yet in actuality it was a far cry from an emotional farewell. I suppose the missus leaving me really wasn’t that big a deal since my lovely wife will be back home, from a business convention in Vegas, tomorrow.

Saying goodbye isn’t as cut and dried as one might think. Bidding a fond adieu is actually a tricky concept. When saying goodbye to someone, we are not assured of ever seeing that person again. That’s a sobering thought, but it’s certainly true. We assume we’ll meet again in this lifetime, but no one is promised tomorrow. I have an aunt who routinely goes out of her way to say “see you later” instead of goodbye. I think her preferred choice of words is a superstitious attempt at fooling Mother Nature. I believe she’s even alluded to that in the past. To each their own.

The airport can be such a sad place, with countless goodbyes being said. On the other hand, the airport can be the happiest place on earth (no offense Disneyland). It’s a place where one can witness numerous reunions with loved ones, relieved embraces of military personnel returning from deployment, and an abundance of authentic ear to ear smiles. So much happiness can be found within the confines of an airport. I reckon train stations and bus stops evoke similar feelings although I’ve never experienced either of those places firsthand.

George Bailey, Jimmy Stewart’s beloved character in It’s A Wonderful Life, boasted that the three most exciting sounds in the world are “anchor chains, plane motors, and train whistles.” I don’t doubt that is true, for those who are desiring to set out on a new journey, but that’s surely not the case for any loved ones left behind. In the summer of 2007, I had the mindset akin to that of George Bailey when my wife, my son, and I uprooted from Iowa, to Arizona. I longed for a new adventure – an opportunity to chart a different course – a chance to explore the unknown. I did not give a lot of thought at that time as to what my mother and father, or anyone else for that matter, might’ve been going through because I was solely focused on what was ahead…not on what was being left behind.

Remember when you were a kid, and your parents used to say once in awhile, or maybe quite frequently depending on the amount of grief you gave them, “just wait ’til you have kids of your own”? It was almost as though the people raising you were actually taking some comfort in their hopes of getting sweet revenge one day. Our folks were surely angry, frustrated, or disappointed when such statements were made. Regardless, as it turns out, I’ve recently found their ancient warnings to be profoundly correct. The shoe indeed is on the other foot. I’ll soon be experiencing what my parents were forced to experience when saying goodbye to them 10 years ago.

I can now fully empathize with my folks because after spending the past decade in Arizona, my son has decided to move back to Iowa. He has grown extremely weary of the desert sun and is looking forward to the Midwest’s changing seasons, rainstorms, and even the snow. His mother and I are very fond of Arizona’s sunny days, the dry heat, wearing shorts yearlong, and NO SNOW. We’re used to having our only child living just twenty-two minutes away from us, but soon he’ll be 1,187 miles away. I’m truly excited for my son. I admire his independence, as well as his courage to try another path, but I’m not too happy about saying goodbye. That’ll be a tough one.


Reunion Time

It’s that time of year again. This illustrious month is when beaches become crowded, cookouts are in full-swing, and gobs of clueless couples are saying their I dos. Please don’t misunderstand…I love being married, but the divorce rate continues to border on 50%, so half of those “happy couples” eventually aren’t going to be so happy. June is also the time for those dreaded high school class reunions. It’s not that I’m opposed to class reunions, but I figure whichever classmates I wanted to remain friends with, after graduation, I would already still be in contact with without needing an organized get together, every five years, to stay in touch.

For example, my high school sweetheart (aka lovely wife) was my best friend on my graduation day, so I’ve continued seeing her practically every day since. The fact that we’ve been married for almost 28 years now might have something to do with that. The rare exceptions are when she goes on a women’s retreat (I get it – no boys allowed!) and five years ago when the missus flew back to Iowa, to attend her class reunion without me. I gave her my blessing to go solo, but I preferred to stay at home rather than be susceptible to the uncertainty of a high school reunion.

I’m not exactly sure why I just said that since I’m so far removed from being an expert on the subject. I’ve only been to my wife’s 5-year reunion (she hasn’t missed a one), and I have never been to any of mine. That’s just a total of 1 out of a possible 11 reunions I’ve attended in my lifetime. If an elected official possessed a voting record similar to that of the number of times I’ve been present, at any high school class reunion, I’m pretty sure the representative’s anemic voting percentage would be deemed quite pitiful. The only (but major) difference is…I’m not being paid for my presence. I would venture to say I probably know more about politics than I do about class reunions.

However, I presume many people attend their reunions only when things are going well, but they choose to stay at home when their lives aren’t going as planned. I suppose I can’t really blame them for not wanting to discuss an impending divorce, wayward children, or lack of employment with their estranged peers. I imagine class reunions are indeed a boasting contest, so who would want to make an appearance, with those kind of credentials, when there’d be absolutely no chance of winning. I would like to think if I were a Pulitzer Prize recipient, or a famous celebrity, I would not attend my reunions just the same. I’m not sure why I compare high school class reunions to that of other unpleasant situations like visiting the dentist or undergoing a colonoscopy.

My aloof attitude towards reunions may have something to do with the numerous personalities I assuredly would be forced to endure at such a gathering. I purposely aim to spend my time around those whose company I truly enjoy, and I’m positive that would not be the case amid a sea of former classmates. I can barely fathom rekindling a friendship with my former best friend, during our sophomore year of high school, even though at one time we were inseparable. We were baseball teammates, partied together on the weekends, and enjoyed much of the same kind of music (Rush, Journey, and Styx). We had even formed a rock and roll band (mostly imaginary), but then my buddy fell hard and fast, to the lifestyle of a typical rock star, after discovering marijuana.

I experimented with the mind-altering drug twice, alongside him, before deciding that was not the path I wished to continue following. However, by that time my best friend had officially become “a pot-head,” and he issued me an ultimatum; He insisted I either continue smoking weed with him or else we could no longer be friends. Friendship over! My decision was not a difficult one at all. I was stubborn, even as a teen, so I wasn’t about to bow to any peer pressure. In addition, I certainly did not want to be labeled a pot-head like my friend. Once a person is placed into a specific category, by their peers, it’s nearly impossible to find a way out.

I think one of the perils of high school, at least during the early 80’s, is realistically depicted in the classic movie, The Breakfast Club. The film, released in 1985, accurately captures the unfortunate, yet seemingly acceptable, segregation amongst teenagers. The John Hughes masterpiece explores, with brutal honesty, the way our society tends to embrace categorizing individuals. The Breakfast Club focuses on five students, falling victim to five different classifications, simply trying to make it through high school. They are labeled the jock, the princess, the brain, the rebel, and the outcast.

I could expand that list (if I agreed with labeling human beings) to include cheerleaders, goody two-shoes, and the aforementioned pot-heads. Those types of teens could be found roaming the halls, at my high school, in addition to the ones featured in The Breakfast Club. I have to assume some kids were classified as “everyone else” because they did not fit too nicely into any one of the other groupings. I don’t remember there being any “goths” per se, at my high school (I don’t think they had been invented yet), so the outcasts were most-likely the farm kids: the students wearing those dark blue FFA (Future Farmers of America) jackets who literally smelled a bit like a farm. We lived in a small, blue-collar town, so the rich kids were oddities as well.

My wife and I probably fell into the everyone else category during our high school days. She was a pacesetter (not a cheerleader), and I was just a baseball player (not a jock). Neither of us were entirely immersed in any one classification, and we weren’t afraid to associate with classmates from several of the other categories. I guess we appreciated diversity even way back then. I’m not sure if the labels we were given, over 30 years ago, are still intact or not, but I reckon I’ll find out next week when I accompany my lovely wife to her class reunion. I decided to be a good husband, since I’ll be in town visiting family anyway, and prove to her former classmates that us high school sweethearts are still together. I know at least I’m not going to be remembered as a pot-head. It’s reunion time!


The once seemingly timeless art of an “average Joe” being able to repair his own vehicle has been lost. Even those who are mechanically inclined have been stymied by the car industry’s continued rapid advancements in technology. Anyone who knows me, or who has had the honor of reading some of my prior blogs, knows I am (ahem) an enormous fan of (ahem) technology. Not! Today, there are far less components under the hood of an automobile requiring a mechanics prowess and many more needing a computer programmer’s expertise instead. This is because the majority of items, found in newer model vehicles, are run by inserted computer chips. The percentage of computer dependency, for repairing automobiles, is only going to increase with each and every year from now on. How is a “grease monkey” supposed to fix a car’s computer problems with only the tools of his trade, such as a screwdriver or a socket wrench, at his disposal?

I am in no way mechanically inclined although I have taken on certain endeavors here and there over the years. At times I have been somewhat successful but usually not so much. Before starting any project I’m painfully aware the chances for the job being adequately completed is a crap shoot. Even the simplest of manly tasks, like changing the oil in my car, almost assuredly ends in disaster by project’s end. Usually, I’d either accidentally strip a bolt or carelessly place my head in the oil pan full of warm oil I had just drained. Some people are just plain better at working with their hands than others. I apparently am not one of them. There came a point in my life when I realized a man must know his limitations, so now I try to avoid as many manly tasks as possible that may require even the slightest hint of mechanical skills.

I have not attempted to repair an automobile for a very long time, so I suppose I shouldn’t be too upset about the current “lost art” situation. However, it does bother me to see yet another job (and the livelihood of some people) put out to pasture because of today’s technology. Whether I want to repair a vehicle myself or choose to let someone else do it is now a moot point. I simply am no longer afforded the opportunity to fix it myself. Many “old school” mechanics aren’t able to fix the newer cars as well since automobile repair of the past hardly resembles automobile repair of the present. A choice has once again been taken out of our hands due to society’s never-ending quest for advanced technology. Just because something is available does not necessarily make it desirable.

I have no use for most of the electronic features that increasingly are listed as “standard” on many of today’s newer model vehicles. All I really need in my car is a cd player and I’m all set for the open road. Purportedly, in the very near future every single automobile will be equipped with blind-spot monitoring, a lane departure system, and a forward collision warning system. This is in addition to the parking sensors already so prevalent in most newer cars. Essentially, the new safety technology means that when one automobile “thinks” another automobile is getting too close for comfort then it will alert the driver of the possible danger by either flashing lights, sounding an alarm, or both. Typically, the alarm is a basic beep…beep…beep sound.

It does not matter whether an intruding vehicle is in front, in back , or on either side of a car equipped with the aforementioned technology because it will warn the driver regardless. In some instances the automobile may “decide” to take over for the driver, by braking or even turning the steering wheel, in an attempt to prevent a possible accident. I’m all for safety but this just seems like overkill to me. I would think operating a motor vehicle that has “a mind of its own,” in addition to the warning lights and the beep…beep…beep, could be more of a danger to the driver than anything else that may or may not be happening on the road. I am certain I would be annoyed sitting behind the wheel of a car equipped with this type of technology, and that would not be good for anyone.

I know how I would feel only because my mother-in-law has a Ford Escape equipped with a rear-mounted camera, and she lets my wife and I borrow it whenever we’re back in Iowa to visit family. Normally, there is an abundance of snowfall, or at least some intermittent snow flurries, during our Christmas visits. The camera’s sensors are very sensitive to any sort of motion, regardless of how significant the activity is, occurring behind the compact SUV. Therefore, many times when backing out of my mother-in-law’s garage, and out into the winter elements, we have the unfortunate pleasure of hearing beep…beep…beep. In actuality, the intended safety feature is warning us of the non-threating flurries outside. What a great system. Almost every time we leave her house the beep…beep…beep catches me off guard and sometimes even startles me a bit.

Once we’re out and about, usually making a daily run to the coffee shop or grabbing some lunch, I eventually forget about the incessant “beeps.” That is until it’s time to leave the establishment, and then I’m instantly reminded of the irritating sound as I begin backing out of the parking space. The rear-mounted camera, intended to sense trouble, alerts us again and again of the “hazardous” flurries behind the Escape. Beep…beep…beep. It seems as though the entire time we are in Iowa that is all we ever hear when putting my mother-in-law’s SUV in reverse. Since I’m easily annoyed by a few “beeps” then I can only imagine how I’m going to feel when all of the other predicted advancements in technology finally come to fruition. When even more lights are flashing, more alarms are sounding, and my automobile is trying to steer and brake for me, I’m quite certain the beep…beep…beep sounds will ultimately wear me down. I think I might have to start looking into public transportation to keep from going insane.

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.

Halloween Past

At a very early age, while growing up in Iowa, I discovered I was almost as fond of Halloween as I was of Christmas. I don’t know which came first: Halloween or candy, but as a boy with an enormous sweet tooth I really had no choice but to fall in love with trick-or-treating. It was impossible for me to ignore the fact that I could accumulate more candy, roaming the streets of my small hometown on Beggars’ Night, than the amount Santa Claus could leave in my Christmas stocking every 25th day of December. My stocking could only hold so much, and many times an apple and an orange took up most of the important space I thought was strictly meant for candy. It didn’t matter how many sugary treats I acquired during Halloween because the goodies were always unwrapped and inhaled within a mere couple of weeks. My older sister was disciplined enough (unlike me) to ration her supply of candy in the same manner a stranded cowboy in the desert would conserve the water in his canteen; therefore, she had plenty of candy leftover well into the next year. To a sugar junkie such as myself that concept was completely foreign to me.

Dressing up for Halloween was always exciting, but dressing up at Christmastime usually meant putting on an itchy sweater and uncomfortable shoes to attend (or possibly star in) some sort of holiday pageant. Knowing beforehand what attire I’d actually be wearing on Beggars’ Night was nearly impossible. In general, my siblings and I each had a couple of costumes in mind, up until about an hour before we were to be unleashed into the dark of night, because we weren’t positive what type of weather we’d be facing until the final hour came. We never knew for sure whether we were going to have decent weather, rain, sleet, snow, or the bitter cold to contend with until the time for trick-or-treating had finally arrived. The famous line, “if you don’t like the weather, just give it a few minutes and it will change,” has never been more pertinent than during late Octobers in Iowa. Most Halloweens we were forced to wear our winter coats over our costumes, so I don’t know why we even bothered getting dressed up.

There were a few foreseeable things my siblings and I could expect every year as Beggars’ Night drew closer. The city would deem 6pm-8pm the official time for trick-or-treating, and my parents would be sticklers for honoring that guideline. We weren’t allowed to leave the confines of our home at 5:45pm, 5:55pm, or even 5:59pm, and it didn’t matter if the other neighborhood kids, dressed as ghosts and goblins, had already come to our house and received a teat from us. I’ve never been too keen on patience, so being all dolled up with no place to go (at least not yet) was just about enough to drive me insane. We couldn’t barrel out the front door until 6:00pm, so barrel out the front door at 6:00pm is what we did. There was so much candy to be had and so little time.

Another thing we could always count on was my mother going to the extreme when preparing Halloween goodie bags for all of the anticipated trick-or-treaters. She would begin her ritual, a day (or sometimes two) before Beggars’ Night, by baking dozens of cookies and popping several batches of popcorn. My mother would place one cookie in a sandwich bag and then she’d add a specific amount of popcorn to that bag with the help of a measuring cup. I would swear each bag was purposefully filled with precisely an equal number of popcorn kernels because my mother aimed for fairness. She apparently didn’t want to cheat anyone or possibly start any feuds amongst siblings who might be comparing their gifts with one another when they got home. My mother typically finished each goodie bag by adding a fun size candy bar, a roll of Smarties, a caramel square, and a sucker before ultimately cinching the sandwich bag with a piece of orange or black ribbon. I always hoped there would be plenty of her famous treat bags leftover and awaiting me at the end of the evening.

My favorite Halloween, while growing up in Iowa, was also my last year of trick-or-treating as a child. I knew well beforehand it was going to be my last year because I was in the sixth grade, and my parents were adamant that once a kid entered junior high then they were too old to be donning a costume and begging for candy. Again, they were sticklers, but this time it was about who should and who should not be trick-or-treating. The weather was perfect for my “last hurrah”: no heavy winter coat to weigh me down or clumsy snow boots to slow me down. I was no longer constrained by my parents to chaperone my younger brother and sister, although I still couldn’t leave the house until 6:00pm, and I had learned the previous year that using a pillowcase was the optimal way for collecting people’s offerings. The newfound method was much better than the old way of using either a cheap plastic bag or the traditional small orange pumpkin (with the stapled black handle that inevitably would come undone by night’s end), so I was all set to hit the streets one last time.

I treated my final experience as a trick-or-treater as though I was an aspiring Olympian. I sprinted from house to house, zigzagging back and forth across the street, while leaping over anything that got in my way including flowerbeds, hedges, and even a few fences. I was guilty of ignoring all trick-or-treating etiquette, and I blatantly disregarded the sidewalks altogether. The sturdy pillowcase got much heavier as the evening wore on, but I managed to somehow tough it out since I knew it was saving me from having to make time-consuming trips back home to unload. I surely mirrored Christopher Columbus as I explored many new territories on my quest for candy. Eventually I found myself over a mile away from home and realizing I had entered the Berg area (aka the rich part of town). I had heard the rumors that some Berg residents handed out full size candy bars on Beggars’ Night, and I was fortunate enough to find out it was true. I decided I should retreat from the rich neighborhood after receiving more than a couple of complaints, from potential donors, about the time now being well beyond 8:00pm.

I tossed the large pillowcase, filled with tasty donations, up and over my shoulder and headed home. I’m certain I resembled some sort of scary Santa Claus toting a bag full of toys, for all of the good girls and boys, but everything in my bag was all mine. My final year of trick-or-treating provided me with a stockpile of candy lasting longer than the usual couple of weeks…but not by much. I could hardly wait, as a sugar junkie needing a fix, for the real Santa to replenish my candy supply, and I was hoping this time the jolly old elf would forget about the apple and the orange when filling up my stocking.

A New Halloween

I thought I knew everything there was to know about Beggars’ Night until I moved away from Iowa and made Arizona my home. My first Halloween in the desert was quite a learning experience. It was approximately twenty minutes into the two hour time frame our city had allotted for trick-or-treating, but my wife and I had not yet given out a single treat. I could not help wondering why we weren’t being solicited by any ghosts or goblins (It’s the one time of year I don’t mind strangers knocking on my door). Our porch light was on, and only the screen door separated any trick-or-treaters roaming outside from the fun size candy bars awaiting them inside our welcoming home. For a split second I thought maybe we had the wrong evening, but I quickly dismissed that notion since both my wife and I are perfectly capable of deciphering a calendar.

I began contemplating that maybe the Scary Sounds Of Halloween cd, I had purchased for the special occasion, was too frightening for a little princess or super hero who might be traipsing through our neighborhood. A half an hour or more had now elapsed, and we definitely could hear some intermittent commotion going on outdoors. Every so often the obvious voice of a child could be heard passing by our house, but no one came to our door asking for a goodie. I finally decided to brave the unknown, on the other side of the screen door, in an attempt to solve the mystery. I did not need to enlist the help of Scooby Doo (and the gang) to crack the case wide open because once I got outside the overwhelming evidence was crystal clear although it was something I had never seen before.

All of our neighbors, who were participating in the annual event, were sitting in chairs at the end of their driveways and handing out holiday gifts to every passerby who was wearing a costume. I immediately cranked up the volume on my stereo system, so the “scary sounds” emitting from the tower speakers could easily be heard outdoors. I grabbed the large bowl of candy, brimming with Butterfinger and Snickers, a couple of lawn chairs, and I set up shop at the end of our driveway. I went back inside for a cold beer before easing into one of the comfy lawn chairs for the evening. For me, after discovering craft beer, Beggars’ Night isn’t complete until I’m sipping on a Four Peaks’ Pumpkin Porter.

Every Halloween, since being apprized of the proper trick-or-treating protocol, we’ve had well over 100 guests expecting a handout. We have now experienced seven Halloweens in Arizona, but my wife and I are still amazed at how many parents, accompanying their children, wear costumes while trekking through our neighborhood. Most of the chaperones donning costumes don’t ask for candy, so I suppose they simply enjoy “dressing up.” Some of them can be seen enjoying adult beverages as well. We continue to be a bit perplexed by the number of parents who have newborn children and are willing to push a stroller up and down the streets in hopes of receiving some free candy. Who is it for? The toothless “sleeping beauty” occupying the stroller? Sometimes the baby isn’t even wearing a costume. Regardless, I always oblige the new parents because I figure it’s only candy, and if they’re willing to beg for it then I’m willing to accommodate them.

The same goes for the high school and college age kids we inevitably have wandering our city’s streets on Beggars’ Night. Heck, I’d gladly join them (even at my age) if I thought I wouldn’t get hassled so much by those who think trick-or-treating is strictly for the little ones. It’s no secret to those who know me that I have a massive and most-likely abnormal sweet tooth. I easily can eat piece after piece of deliciously rich cheesecake or pecan pie, and I certainly am able to devour a half dozen or so assorted doughnuts in one sitting. Sometimes I think even sugar needs to be sweetened. Therefore, I probably should not be the one in my household in charge of buying the bags of fun size candy bars for Halloween…but I always am. In addition, I’m a bargain hunter, and I clip coupons (I’ve rarely paid more than $1.50 per bag), so there’s no question there’ll be plenty of Butterfinger and Snickers leftover after the last trick-or-treater has come and gone.

I possibly went a little overboard last year (even by my standards). I began buying bags in late September, when the sales first started, and before I knew it I had amassed a pretty significant amount of candy. We ended up with 23 bags of fun size candy bars. We used 8 of them on Beggars’ Night. I know what you’re probably thinking, but you would be wrong. I do not prematurely open the bags of candy and then have to go back to the store to buy more. I don’t know why exactly, but for some reason I’m disciplined when it comes to refraining from partaking of my stash before Halloween. Afterwards though is definitely a different story. You would think the remaining 15 bags would at least last until New Year’s, but again you would be wrong. The sad thing is my wife doesn’t care all that much for candy, so the person in our household with the sweet tooth is literally left holding the bags. However, you won’t hear me complaining. With me in charge of the Halloween candy supply, whether in Iowa or Arizona, there will never be a shortage of Snickers on my watch.

A Fire Story

The year was 1981. It was a typical summer day in Newton, Iowa: hot and humid with not a whole lot going on (at least not yet). I was mowing the front lawn, but I can’t recall if I had volunteered to do the job, out of sheer boredom, or if my father had insisted on putting his eldest son to work that day. I do know I was pushing the old lawnmower back and forth, aiming to keep straight lines, from one end of the yard to the other. I kept going back and forth, over and over, seemingly caught in a lethargic state. Once in awhile I’d mix it up by following a square pattern, instead of the boring straight lines, to avoid falling asleep while manning the heavy piece of machinery. There was a time in my young adult life when I actually enjoyed performing the tedious task. I don’t think this was that time.

I remember in the past pleading with my parents, on more than one occasion, in hopes of coercing them into allowing me the privilege of experiencing the customary chore that every adolescent boy dreams about. A few of the younger fellas in the neighborhood had already encountered the time-honored task and were even getting paid for it, so I confronted my father with that arsenal of information. It did not matter to him how the other fathers were raising their boys because under his regime I was still too young to mow, and he thought it was utter nonsense to pay your own family for helping out around the house. As an adult I can understand and respect that sentiment, but as a teenager desiring some cold hard cash I just figured he was being a cheapskate.

I continued pushing the shabby but capable lawnmower, while dreading the approaching embankment that assuredly gave even my father fits from time to time, and flinching every time I ran over a rock, twig, or numerous other items hidden in the tall grass. (Oh that’s right, I was suppose to inspect the yard for such things before starting the engine.) My little brother had been entertaining himself, the entire time I was mowing, by riding his bicycle in circles out in the street in front of our house. Suddenly, he pulled up along side of me and nonchalantly said, “I think our garage is on fire.” My brother then peeled out back to the street and continued riding in circles, but this time he added a few figure eights to his repertoire. I wish I could say I immediately took some action at that point but I didn’t. I’m not sure if I thought my brother was joking or if the startling information I had just received only added bewilderment to my current lackadaisical state.

Only when my brother almost immediately returned and made the same declaration did I suspect there must be at least some validity to his disturbing claim. I turned off the mower and dashed over to the garden hose, already hooked up to the spigot, located at the front corner of our house. I decided to take a quick peek around the house before turning the water on to see what exactly I would be dealing with. My eyes widened and my jaw surely dropped when I saw one whole side of the garage engulfed in flames. I dropped the useless “weapon” after realizing the dire situation at hand would be comparable to me bringing a knife to a gunfight. I was wise enough to know (even as a youngster) that I was no firefighter. I was barely old enough to mow for heaven’s sake.

A few neighbors had witnessed what was happening and called the fire department, so I could already hear the distant sirens from the fire trucks coming to the rescue. Fortunately, nobody was inside of our nearby house at the time, but I remembered our two dogs, Ginger and Lucky, were helplessly corralled in our fenced in backyard. I rushed to the wooden fence and hollered at the family pets to come away from the spreading fire. For once in their lives they eagerly minded me as they trotted over to the opposite side of the yard where I was nervously waiting. I hopped over the four foot fence, and I must admit I felt a bit heroic as I lifted each dog up and over the barrier to safety. A substantial crowd had now congregated, out in the street in front of our house, to catch a glimpse of the burning inferno. The onlookers were a mixture of concerned neighbors and ambulance chasers. My brother and I joined them. We didn’t know what else to do.

While surveying the situation and standing in awe of the roaring fire, that was consuming the two car garage and its contents, I spotted my parents up the street. About a half an hour earlier they had walked to our local elementary school to vote. My father’s curiosity, of the emerging commotion, undoubtedly was getting the best of him because I noticed his strides were getting longer and longer as he got closer and closer to the alarming spectacle. Eventually my father was in an all-out sprint, leaving my mother behind, after realizing the magnitude of the unwelcomed occurrence and where it was taking place. He instinctively sprung into action by grabbing the garden hose (I had deemed useless) and began spraying down our neighbors garage, only inches away from the blaze, so their property would not be damaged.

The fire department finally arrived and swiftly doused the flames before the garage fire could spread any further. Thankfully, there were no injuries and our home was spared, but the garage and practically everything in it was considered a total loss. The brown-paneled Ford station wagon, our family of six would cram into on the weekends to watch a double feature at the drive-in movie theater, was lost. The green Honda motorcycle, my father thoroughly enjoyed giving all of his children rides on (my mother wasn’t a fan), was lost. The Christmas decorations, acquired over many years and stored in the garage’s roof rafters, were destroyed. Every single handmade ornament crafted (with love) either at church or at school, for my parents by all four of their children, was reduced to ashes.

My little brother and I were almost reduced to tears, a day or so after the fire, when the town’s Fire Chief summoned us for questioning. He was investigating the cause of the fire and for some reason assumed we knew something. The intimidating man probably interrogated us for only ten minutes although it seemed more like ten hours. The Fire Chief kept insinuating my brother and I had to know something about how the fire started. He strongly suggested we were either setting off fireworks or experimenting with cigarettes before the fire erupted. The Chief then artificially tried befriending the two of us, after failing at his attempt of getting a confession, by saying there was no shame, and he would understand if we had lit some fireworks or had engaged in underage smoking. Neither my brother nor I gave in to the Fire Chief’s persistent hounding because we had the truth on our side.

The cause of the 1981 garage fire remains a mystery to this day. I did not know at the time of the fire that a beautiful girl, new to town, was amongst the spectators gathered in front of my house. Who could have known another fire would ignite, less than two years later, after I formally met and then began dating the “new girl.” It’s still somewhat surreal, after all these years, knowing that one of those ambulance chasers eventually became my lovely wife.

March Madness

This blog is dedicated to my lovely wife because she enthusiastically suggested I write one and title it March Madness although fully knowing the subject matter would have nothing to do with the NCAA Basketball Tournament. The catchy phrase most commonly relates to the college basketball playoffs always held during the month of March. She thought it would be clever putting the emphasis on the Madness part, but I told her I didn’t think it would be such a great idea. I explained how I would be concerned that anyone checking out my site may either see the title and choose to skip it, assuming the blog was about college hoops, or they might instead be enticed into reading it, supposing the topic was indeed about basketball, but then would become very disappointed after finding out it wasn’t. After great consideration, and remembering “a happy wife is a happy life,” I have decided to honor her request.

The infinite number of empty shopping carts found scattered around, the entire premise of a parking lot, and needlessly occupying numerous potential parking spaces is sheer Madness! My first thought about this typically seen scenario is that this sort of behavior must be an Arizona thing since I don’t recall this situation being all too commonly found in the parking lots of Iowa. Then I remember many residents of Arizona are transplants from other states, including Iowa, so I’m not sure where the culprits come from, but I do know for some strange reason(s) they are not putting their shopping carts away after using them.

I have purchased a few brand new vehicles over the years, and I have always done my part in trying to protect them from acquiring any damage. I’m constantly going out of my way to find parking spaces far away from the store, whenever parking in a lot, and hugging the curb on end spots in order to avoid those dreaded car door dings. I take these drastic measures to preserve my vehicle’s exterior finish, but nothing can save it from the mysteriously left behind shopping cart. Nothing irritates me more than when I come out of an establishment and find that a “basket on wheels” has been left next to my automobile. Except, of course, when it’s actually resting firmly against my car’s exterior. Almost all of the damage done to my vehicles in the past have not been caused by me, but by the negligence of others, and it never fails that after just a short couple of years my once immaculate vehicle ends up significantly marred.

I am astonished as to any reason why a rational person, when done using a shopping cart for their convenience, would not place the empty cart into one of the numerous cart corrals provided by the store. Just seems like common sense to me. One recent evening I was waiting in the car, while my wife was retrieving a movie rental from our local Wal-Mart, when not one, not two, but three separate individuals left their carts in two empty parking spaces during the brief time span of 5 minutes. I was reminded, at that point, ignorance does not discriminate because the three guilty parties weren’t alike in any aspect whatsoever. One person was alone, the other was half of a couple, and the last offender was part of a large family. They all appeared to be of different races, and they were all getting into various types of vehicles. The most puzzling thing to me is there was a shopping cart stall a mere few feet away from where everybody had chosen to leave their carts.

There are no second chances to leave a first impression, and I think shopping cart etiquette speaks volumes as to who a person is. The truth as I know it is if the only one thing I know about a person is their decision of not properly putting their shopping cart away then I would have to presume that individual is irresponsible and selfish. If a human being cannot grasp the basic concept of doing what’s right, by considering others and their property, then I’m left wondering what else that person is capable of doing. I realize I may seem all high and mighty discussing this topic, but it is only because I can honestly say I have never improperly abandoned a shopping cart in my entire life. Please join me in helping to make this world a little better place by responsibly placing your “basket on wheels” in a proper location after using it, and at the same time you will be leaving behind a great first impression to anyone who may be watching. Together we can stop the Madness.


This time of year I can’t help but reflect on my youth when the game of baseball consumed so many days of my life. It is almost impossible not to think back with spring-training in full swing, the aroma of fresh cut grass in the air, and the “boys of summer” occupying every baseball diamond in the Valley. While growing up in Iowa, I don’t remember my parents suggesting I partake in any specific activities, but whenever I would find something of interest such as boy scouts, bowling, or flag football to participate in they were very supportive, and they did not hesitate to sign me up. It wasn’t any different the first year I was finally old enough to play organized baseball. My father hesitantly got roped into assisting the coach, that initial season, although I don’t think we had even yet played the traditional game of “father and son catch” up to that point. I guess my father didn’t mind helping out too much since he continued assisting, whenever asked, at different times throughout my career. However, I do think he preferred sitting on the aluminum bleachers, behind home plate, and watching the game not only as a parent but as a fan of the game as well.

When considering the many activities and sports I participated in as a child I knew something was a little different about playing baseball. I suppose I took a special liking to the summertime game because it came a little easier to me than most anything else I attempted, and once I discovered the incredible sport it was always at the forefront of my mind. Almost every day during my summer vacation was spent recruiting anyone in the neighborhood who was willing to play baseball or at least something similar. Whenever enough players weren’t found, for a full fledged game, then either a game of trap, 500, or sometimes an arousing game of whiffle ball would have to suffice. Those events could last all day long with the occasional timeout only being taken for either a short potty break or the dreaded dinner-time interruption. Most games would end in the evening but usually only after the batter could no longer see the ball. My parents were well aware of how much I loved the game of baseball, and they also knew how to make it work to their advantage. I was more apt to complete my household chores, do better in school, and behave better altogether with the looming threat of having it all taken away from me.

Entering my first year of high school that threat remained, not only from my parents, but also from the school itself since every student had to maintain a certain minimum grade point average in order to participate in any extra-curricular activities. I didn’t care much about excelling academically in school, but I always made sure I did well enough to stay eligible to play ball. A few months before I was to begin my initial year of Newton High School baseball the city’s loveable and longtime head coach passed away. I remember attending Mr. Eversman’s funeral, which was held at our town’s only Catholic church, along with what seemed like the entire community. I did not go to the service just so I could get out of a couple of classes for the day, as some students improperly did (although I won’t deny that was an added bonus), but I did go simply because I felt like I needed to be there. I didn’t know the beloved coach all that well at the time of his passing, but I had been anticipating the upcoming season, and I was excited by the prospect of playing ball for him.

A “new sheriff” came strutting into our small town shortly after the death of Coach Eversman. Mr. Stoffers seemed pretty cool to us kids, when he first arrived on the scene, but everyone knew Coach Eversman’s replacement had some pretty big shoes to fill (not only figuratively but literally as well). The former coach possessed an intimidating build whereas his replacement was small in stature and assuredly had to look up to the majority of his players. Coach Stoffers had very different ideas on how to run a baseball program which included forcing mandatory short hair and no facial hair on all of his players. This was not a problem for me since long hair was forbidden under my father’s roof anyway, and I still had a baby face that only needed shaved maybe once a week. Before the season began Coach invited everyone over to his house, a few at a time, so we could get to know him and meet his wife and his dog. He had us talk about baseball, life in general, and we filled out a questionnaire he had waiting for us. Come to find out baseball was Coach Stoffer’s life, and he sometimes used our answers on the questionnaire as ammunition against us once the season began. I now regrettably had answered “pro baseball player” to the question, “what are your hopes and dreams for the future,” because after making an error (and honestly there weren’t that many) he’d gibe with the response, “and you wanna play pro ball someday.”

That first season under the new sheriff’s regime was a trying one for me. I can recall an early spring-training practice, held inside due to weather, when I had finally had enough of his criticism. During a pitchers’ drill, on the proper way of fielding bunts, I drifted away from the imaginary indoor mound, and with Coach Stoffers still yapping away I continued on through the gymnasium doors, out to my car, and headed home for the day. The next day the coach’s wife, who taught Physical Education at the high school, found me and suggested I should, “just show up to practice,” because her husband wasn’t going to beg me to come back. I would not have even considered rejoining the team that day if not for the advice my father had given me the prior evening. He told me I should not let one man stand in the way of doing something I love, so I did “just show up,” and eventually things got better: not because he changed but because I learned to deal with his antics. That’s probably why I wasn’t too fazed the very next year (my senior season) when after hitting a grand slam, and jubilantly trotting around third base, there was Coach complaining that my four-run dinger was not a line-drive.

Any dream I had of playing professional baseball was actually over before it began. Realistically, I knew deep down that I was good but probably not that good. I did earn all-conference honors both my Junior and Senior seasons of Varsity ball, and a couple of small Iowa colleges (Grandview and Simpson) did show some interest in me. Oklahoma State University also sent me an informational packet about the school and their baseball program. To this day I’m still not quite sure why. Shortly after my high school graduation I was informed about some tryouts, for the Cincinnati Reds, being held at a facility around forty-five minutes from my home. Someone must have believed in me enough to suggest trying out, but at the end of the day I wasn’t one of the handful of players chosen to stay. This time of year these days are now filled with numerous other things, and my body is not what it used to be, but the days of playing baseball still holds a special place in my heart.