Tag Archives: family

Father’s Day

I think I’ve got this Father’s Day deal figured out.
This last weekend I got a dinner and a movie from my son who has to work next weekend, the actual Father’s Day. He’s a corrections officer at a state facility with a schedule so wacky only a politician could have come up with it. Twelve hour days. Two days on, three days off, three days on, two days off. Basically, if I see him he has the day off. If I don’t he’s working.
He took me to see the movie about how Han Solo met Chewbaca and won the Millennium Falcon in a card game. I know it’s supposed to be a stand-alone, but I think it needs at least one sequel to tie up all the loose ends. Basically I liked it. At least it didn’t end with half the people in the universe disintegrating with a snap of the fingers.
That was on Saturday night. On Sunday night he took me out to dinner at nice family-type restaurant that served roast beef, corn and potatoes wrapped up in tin foil. A little messy but it tasted good. Sometimes my son zones out or says something inappropriate; but hey, like father like son.
Now this is where it gets interesting. My daughter, who lives a thousand miles away with her family, called to say her present might be a little late coming in the mail. Better late than never. She always picks out something delicious to send me. On top of that I might even get a phone from my lovely little granddaughter.
Someone might point out I’m not getting anything more than any other father with two grown children might get, but I see it as making the fun stretch out as long as possible. Being greedy is not a good thing. Being grateful feels much better. Feeling grateful for an extended period of time is wonderful.
I don’t know if there’s a moral in any of this. I’m too busy looking for the mail to arrive. Ever since I was a little boy I’ve always loved looking for the mail to arrive.

Burly Chapter Twenty-One


(Previously in the book: For his birthday Herman received a home-made bear, which magically came to life. As Herman grew up, life was happy–but mama died one night. Papa decided sister Callie should go live with relatives. Brother Tad tore up the burlap bear Mama had made for him. Tad died during World War II. The family came together for the memorial service.)
Then Leonard walked up at Tad’s memorial service, bumping into people and tripping over his own feet. He was drunk. Grabbing papa’s hand, Leonard pumped for several moments. “I’m sorry, Mr. Horn. I’m very sorry,” he mumbled.
Papa pulled his hand away. “Don’t you know any better than to show up here like that?”
Leonard shuffled his feet. “I know. I know I shouldn’t have. But you see—“
Papa turned and walked away. “I see that you’re drunk.”
Lunging toward papa, Leonard tried to stop him but papa quickened his steps. Then Leonard turned to Callie and Herman. “We just got word today. Stevie was killed some place called New Guinea out in the Pacific.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Herman said, not changing his expression. “We’ve got to go now.”
“No, wait,” Leonard pleaded with them. “I’ve got to apologize.”
“What for?” Callie looked at him with a blank face.
Leonard wiped his nose. “Because they’re dead, and I’m still here.” He paused to look down. “You see, I cheated on the physical. There’s nothing wrong with me. I just knew some tricks to make it look like there was something wrong with me.”
Herman felt sorry for him. Leonard’s puffy eyes and pitiful expression nearly erased the memory of the cocky, wise-cracking youngster who teased him to the point of tears. Herman couldn’t quite forget Leonard probably was the one who made Tad destroy Burly Senior.
Callie, however, was not sympathetic. “You’re wrong, Leonard. There is something wrong with you. It’s something that would never show up on any doctor’s test. You have absolutely nothing worthwhile inside you.” Grabbing her brother’s arm, Callie walked away, leaving Leonard standing there crying, trying to explain to others in the crowd who also turned their backs to him.
Herman rode back to the farm in Uncle Calvin’s car with Callie. Papa had refused to ride with them but instead took his pickup.
“I guess Woody will never change,” Uncle Calvin said.
Aunt Joyce eyed Herman and Callie. “No, I suspect not.”
No one spoke in the car on the ride home. Uncle Calvin was about to pull onto the dirt road leading to papa’s farm when Callie put her arm around Herman. “Come live with us in Houston,” she whispered.
Herman looked at his sister and frowned. “But Papa needs me.”
“Has he said so?” she asked.
His eyes went out the window to watch the approaching farm house. “You know he would never say so. But I know he needs me.”
“You think he’s going to love you for doing this for him?” Callie continued, becoming a little angry. “You could bury yourself on this farm all your life and he will never love you.”
“Callie,” Aunt Joyce said with sadness, “it’s not nice to say things like that about your father.”
“Well, they’re true,” Callie replied.
“No,” Herman interrupted. “It’s just that he can’t show love.”
“Woody Horn was never one to show how he felt, even in the old days,” Uncle Calvin offered.
Herman looked Callie in the eyes. “And I’m not going to bury myself on this farm. I’ll stay here as long as I’m in school. But then I’m leaving. I’m going to college and I’m going to have a life of my own.”
“There’s a lot of good colleges in Houston,” Aunt Joyce said.
Callie hugged Herman tightly. “I love you,” she whispered in his ear.
“I love you too,” he whispered back.
Herman got out, and they left. He watched the car pull back on the blacktop and fade down the road before he went inside. Papa was in his bedroom with the door shut. Herman politely rapped and said, “They’ve left.”
After he climbed the ladder to the loft and took off his Sunday clothes and put on his work clothes, Herman came back down to fix supper. He ate his meal, knocked on the door and said, “The food’s on the stove.” He then went back to the loft and watched his father slowly come out of the door and eat a few bites.
“He doesn’t walk as tall as he used to,” Herman said to Burly. “And he doesn’t have worms on his arms anymore.”
Burly nodded. “That means he’s getting older.”
“Do you think he’ll live a long time?”
“I don’t know,” Burly replied. “Why?”
“Oh, I don’t know.”
“Are you afraid you’ll lose another member of your family?”
Herman shook his head. “No.”
“You don’t want him to die, do you?”
Herman paused a long while and shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know.”
After papa ate and went back into his room, Herman came down to clean the dishes and straighten the kitchen. When he finished he turned to go to the loft but stopped by his father’s door to say, “I’m going to bed now.” Of course, there wasn’t a reply, but Herman told him anyway.
“You still love your father, don’t you?” Burly asked, a little worried.
Herman hugged him as he settled into bed. “Of course I do. It’s just that—“ he paused to collect his thoughts and continued, “I’ve gotten to the age to know he’s never going to love me the way I want him to, that’s all.”
Burly leaned into him. “Poor Herman.”
Herman chuckled sadly. “Yes, poor Herman.”
He tried to go to sleep, because he knew he would have a full day of work on the farm tomorrow since they had missed so much for the memorial service, but for some reason he couldn’t.
Then he was aware of someone coming up the ladder. For an instant he thought it was Tad, that the years had rolled back and everything was like it was before mama died. But that thought didn’t last long. He soon saw that it was papa coming up with the American flag under his arm. For another instant Herman considered saying something but he figured papa had waited this long to come up so he would be asleep. Therefore, he pretended to be asleep because he knew that’s what papa wanted. Through half slit eyes he watched his father open the lid to the old trunk at the end of the room. Papa gently lifted mama’s wedding dress, smelled it and kissed it tenderly. Then with a sad pat, papa put the flag in the trunk and closed the lid. Herman thought he would go back down the ladder but instead papa walked over to Herman’s bed. It made Herman nervous, but he continued to pretend to be asleep.
Papa picked up Burly. “Well, little bear, he talks a lot to you, doesn’t he?”
Herman tried not to stir.
“I wonder what all he says?” After a pause he added in a cracked voice. “I know he wants to talk to me, tell me all the things he tells you, but I can’t let him. I don’t know why I can’t, but I just can’t.”
And then papa cried softly. Herman wanted to jump up and hug him and tell him everything was going to be all right, but Herman knew everything was not going to be all right. He also knew if he let papa know he was listening it would embarrass him. So he just lay there until papa put Burly down and went down the ladder to his room.
“You see,” Burly said softly. “Your papa does love you.”
But Herman didn’t answer. He was sobbing into his pillow.

Burly Chapter Twenty


(Previously in the book: For his birthday Herman received a home-made bear, which magically came to life. As Herman grew up, life was happy–but mama died one night. Papa decided sister Callie should go live with relatives. Brother Tad tore up the burlap bear Mama had made for him. When World War II began, Tad enlisted.)
Herman did as Tad asked him; he wrote to Callie and gave her Tad’s address when he received it. The exchanging of letters between the three seemed to draw them closer together than they ever had been living in the same house. Callie and Herman exchanged bits of information that Tad would put in one letter but not in the other. And Herman would pass on news to Tad that Callie forgot to write him.
Every now and again Herman would offer to let papa read one of Tad’s letters, and, to his surprise, papa said yes. Herman watched his father read the letter and noticed how his brow would knit in concern. Another thing he saw, something he had never noticed before, was that his father moved his lips as he read and he read painfully slow. It seemed odd to Herman who read very fast.
“Your father doesn’t read very much,” Burly explained when Herman mentioned this trait to him, “and if you don’t do something very often you don’t do it well.”
Reading was something that Herman did very well. Ever since Callie left, Herman retreated to the loft and to conversations with Burly and reading every book in the school library. He would tell Burly about the stories in the books in his own words and Burly bounced up and down in excitement, for he didn’t know much of the world beyond the loft. Herman’s interest in reading grew as he wrote Callie about the books he was reading, and she suggested other books to him. Callie, it turned out, loved to read too, and their letters would be filled with debates over which books were better and which writers could bring people springing from the pages to live in their minds.
His letters to Tad were different, however. Herman wrote mostly about what was happening on the farm, how papa was and how his friends in town were. Prices were good for the crops and the last year they could afford to hire a young Mexican-American man named Manuel to be a farm hand. Papa was the same–hardworking and silent. Leonard was still in town, telling anyone who would listen that he wasn’t dumb enough to volunteer. Stevie joined the Marines, but no one knew where he was stationed.
Herman smiled a bit when he got Tad’s letter in return. Tad warned about trusting the farm hand. You know how “those” people were, he wrote. And he sounded a bit hurt that papa hadn’t written directly to him, but he was glad Herman was keeping him informed about the “old man.” Tad wasn’t surprised Leonard was still hanging around town. I wouldn’t be surprised if he found a way out of the draft, Tad joked. And he hoped Stevie didn’t get sent anywhere too dangerous. The Marines were the first to go into unsafe places, he told Herman.
“I hope nothing happens to Tad,” Herman said to Burly one night after reading one of his brother’s letters. “He’s changed a lot since he’s been in the army. He looked down at his little burlap friend and smiled. “Or am I the one who has changed?”
“You both have changed,” Burly replied. “You both are growing up.”
Yes, Herman told himself, the last couple of years had gone very fast. He was now a big fourteen-year-old and could work almost as long and as hard as his father. Papa no longer walked by and told him he had worked enough for the day while the sun was still high in the sky. When he told Herman to stop he was walking back to the house himself.
Mr. Cochran didn’t help out anymore, since they had hired Manuel. But every time Mr. Cochran saw them in town he would smile and wave. “You’ve got a good boy there, Horn,” he always said, winking at Herman.
And papa always said nothing.
“It doesn’t seem to bother you very much anymore that your father doesn’t brag about you, does it?” Burly asked.
Looking out the loft window, Herman replied, “What’s there to say?”
The next day Herman received two letters, one from Tad and one from Callie. Tad was all excited because his unit was ready to move out of England. He couldn’t say where they were going or exactly when but that it could mean the end of the war. By this time Tad had made sergeant, a fact which made papa very proud and caused him to call out the news to Mr. Cochran when he saw him in town. Callie’s letter was filled with anticipation of her senior year in high school. She just knew it would be the happiest year of her life. Herman could see from the pictures she had sent him Callie had become a beautiful fair-haired young woman, triggering Herman’s fading memories of his mother. She said Tad had written her that he might be home soon, that “we were going to win the war any time now.”
“I hope he’s right,” Herman said with a sigh.
“I hope so too,” Burly agreed.
Herman continued to read Callie’s letter. She said she had a special shelf in her room for Pearly Bear and had made her a pretty new dress. All of her girlfriends who spent the night with her thought Pearly was very cute.
Burly shuffled a bit. If he weren’t made of burlap he would cry. He missed his mother very much, but he was happy she was being treated well. Not like poor papa bear.
Callie asked in her letter if Herman had read in the newspaper about the big invasion of France in June. They called it D-Day and expected it to be the beginning of the end of the war. “At least I hope so. By the way, have you heard from Tad lately? I last got a letter from him sometime in May.”
Herman looked at the postmark on his letter from his brother. It was postmarked in early May. Oh well, he thought, mail always ran slow from servicemen.
The next day a telegram from the government arrived. From talk at school Herman knew what it was, and he froze.
“Well, open it, son” papa said.
Herman slowly opened the telegram and began to read the words, “We regret to inform you—“
Papa grabbed the telegram from Herman’s hands and stared at the words on the paper. His lips quivered as they moved along with his eyes. Finally he wadded it up and walked into the house without saying anything.
His son was dead.
Herman’s first impulse was to go to his father and put his arms around him and cry with him, but something inside told him to leave his father alone. Perhaps it was his memory of when his mother died and the men had to fight papa away from his wife’s side. At any rate, Herman let his father grieve by himself.
Burly didn’t have to be told. “Tad’s dead, isn’t he?”
Herman nodded as he crawled into his bed. “How did you know?” he asked softly.
“I heard your father slam his bedroom door and cry.” Burly nestled into Herman’s side. “I’m sorry, Herman.”
And then Herman cried.
There could be no funeral because Tad’s body was buried in France somewhere, but the Army was going to present a flag to papa at a memorial service. Herman went to Mr. Cochran’s house to call Callie in Houston.
“Hello?” Aunt Joyce answered.
“This is Herman,” he said soberly. “May I speak to Callie?”
“It’s Woody, isn’t it?” she asked.
“No.”
“Oh no,” she gasped.
Herman heard muffled sounds as Aunt Joyce put her hand over the receiver to call Callie to the phone.
“Herman, Tad’s dead, isn’t he?” Callie asked.
“Yes.” Herman couldn’t say anymore because he was afraid he would cry again.
“I could tell by the way Aunt Joyce was acting. Are you all right?”
“I guess.”
“I’ll be home tomorrow.”
And Callie, accompanied by Uncle Calvin and Aunt Joyce, was back on the farm near Cumby the next day. She tried to hug her father but he pulled away. This time she didn’t look hurt, just sad.
There was no bear family reunion; Callie left Pearly in Houston. Burly was disappointed, but he didn’t say anything to Herman. He could tell his young master had other things on his mind.
The ceremony was held the next day at the local cemetery. A veterans group had bought a plot and placed a large tombstone with the names of the war dead from Cumby whose bodies would never return to Texas. A military color guard went through its paces, marching the flag to the monument. The flag was folded and presented to papa who received it without emotion. Callie held Herman’s hand tightly.

Camping


(Author’s note: In honor of the summer camping season for families, the long weekends, the smells of grilling, the setting suns, the whistling and the laughter. Ah, the memories.)
After a long day of camping I lay in my tent alone looking through the flap at the navy blue sky filtered through patterns of oak branches. The family had walked down to the campground store to buy candy for the kids.
Whiffing, I knew the next campsite over was roasting hot dogs. On the other side someone else was grilling hamburgers and across the way the aroma of toasted marshmallows floated my way. We had been lazy and stopped at a restaurant for dinner after a long day of hiking a mountain to see a waterfall.
My legs still ached, and I thought I was getting a blister on my big toe. I didn’t want to complain because my wife had twisted her ankle last night after she tripped on the way back to the tent from the campground toilet. She made the trip up and down the mountain limping so I couldn’t say much about a little blister.
Cricket song was deafening among the trills of the birds. Most of the campers around us were keeping their voices down, which was a good sign for later. A couple of nights ago, one guy drank a few too many beers and sang out loudly, “I’m going white-water rafting tomorrow and the damn Little Pigeon River!” My wife sent me to the office the next office to complain but the manager said he had refunded their money and told them to leave. I was glad I didn’t have to listen to them anymore but I resented the jerk got a free campsite for a night. Maybe on our last night I could scream obscenities and get a refund too. I dismissed the thought. It wasn’t worth losing the sleep.
I stared at the leaves against the sky. If I could draw, it would make a great abstract painting of shades of blues. Then the stars started twinkling adding to the composition. Wouldn’t that make a nice painting for your bedroom wall? You could just stare at it until you drifted off to sleep. But with my luck it would look like a mess and I’d stay awake wondering why I thought I could paint in the first place.
Rolling over on the air mattress I searched for the bag of candy from out visit to Aunt Mahalia’s Kitchen. I hoped there would be some fudge or chocolate covered cherries left. No fudge but plenty of cherries. Life is good. I bit into the chocolate mound and slurped up the cream, saving the actual cherry for last. The soothing, mellow milk chocolate made me forget about the blister, and the tart sweet cherry made me forget the chocolate, if that were possible.
I heard familiar laughter come up the path. The family was back. I hoped they bought more fudge. My son was whistling the music to Star Wars. Anytime he was happy he whistled the entire score of the movie. My daughter giggled and talked at the same time. I never knew how she could do that. My wife said, “Let’s hurry up and get back. My foot is killing me.”
I paused to take in everything and store it for future reference. This was one of the good times.

Ireland and England with Jerry and Josh–The Best Tour Guide Ever


On our last morning to roam London, we got the best tour guide ever to give running commentary on the sights passing by the bus windows. If my memory serves me correctly—which it rarely does anymore–his name was Stuart. He matched from head to toe in shades of green, blue and gray. Even his shoes. I was hoping he would break into song and tap dance down the center aisle of the bus. But he was a proper gentlemen, and they don’t exhibit their choreography on public transport.
At one of our first stops he let us hop off the bus to examine the massive statue of Prince Albert. It was in a beautifully manicured park across the street from Royal Albert Hall. Unlike most people preserved for posterity in the many parks, squares and circles about London, Albert received full Olympus treatment. U.S. General Dwight Eisenhower was honored with a life-sized replica; others were remembered with a head and shoulders bust, and most were in bas relief plaques explaining who they were and why they were honored. But Albert, the royal consort to Queen Victoria and father to so many children I cannot begin to remember all their names, sits high, broad and proud. I do not know if the statue is gold or bronze, but it shone for all to see. This is magnificent memorial of a woman’s love for her husband.
Back on the bus, our elegant guide directed the bus driver past the monument to Lord Wellington. “Does anyone know what Wellington did?”
Josh piped up, “He beat the crap out of Napoleon.”
Stuart appraised my son a moment looked at our long-term guide and said, “I think I like him.”
A little while later we drove by a monument to King Henry VIII, who, Stuart pointed out, “had six wives. Do you know what else he had?”
“Syphilis,” I replied. Now I honestly was not trying to be a smart-ass and ruin the man’s monologue which was filled with wit and wisdom. But Henry did have syphilis and that was why the last years of his reign were so unfortunate for his subjects.
This time Stuart did not miss a beat and went on to explain that King Henry had a difficulty with forming long and loyal relationships. But surely in his mind Stuart must have thought that we two clowns were related. Yes, we are connected genetically and were born without proper filters.

Coming up on the right, he told us, was one of the many lion statues on the banks of the Thames River erected during the reign of Queen Victoria. Upon inspecting it, Victoria realized this lion was quite obviously a male, so she ordered its gender identifying appendage removed for propriety’s sake. When one looked at the face of the lion in question, one could surmise he did not agree with Her Majesty. His eyeballs are perpetually bulging in surprise and discomfort.
At one point we left the tour bus and followed our elegantly dressed Stuart on a saunter through Green Park, a serene space stretching out in front of Buckingham Palace. Ducks and geese glided across the serene surface of its lake. Locals jogged along its backs and lay on the grass, soaking up blessedly warm rays from a late-March sun.
Stuart had our stroll perfectly timed to end at the entrance of Buckingham Palace and the changing of the guard. As a mere former colonist, I thought the changing of the guard consisted of a hand full of soldiers in their bright red jackets and giant black fur helmets; but no, it was a full-fledged parade with horses, drums and rifles.

Stuart was careful to point out these were not just young men and women who were chosen for their proficiency for formal procedures. These were soldiers who had served their country in Afghanistan and where they might serve again in the near future.
When the last soldier had moved on, we broke up into separate groups to explore more bits of English historic lore. This was when had to wave a fond adieu to Stuart. I wish he could have stayed with us, but I am sure he had to address another bus filled with impertinent American tourists.
I really wanted to know who his tailor was, although I was quite sure I could not afford his wardrobe.

Ireland and England with Jerry and Josh–I’ve Seen Than Place Before


The movie fan in me had a great time in London. It was like being on the set of an Alfred Hitchcock movie.
Josh and I saw Royal Albert Hall, which like Big Ben, had scaffolding over half of it. Of course that means London is taking care of its architectural wonders so they’ll be around for years to come for American tourists to photograph. Royal Albert Hall was one of the big stars in the Hitchcock 1950s movie The Man Who Knew Too Much. The man in question was James Stewart, and he didn’t know too much. The bad guys just thought he knew too much. The big climactic scene was in the performance hall. When the man clashed his cymbals, a prime minister was to be shot and killed. I don’t want to give away too much in case anyone hasn’t seen the suspense classic, but Doris Day foils the bad guys when she doesn’t keep her mouth shut.

The next landmark featured in a Hitchcock movie was a tall church with an unusual red and white brick pattern to it. I instinctively recognized it but could not remember where. Josh, who was our official photographer of record, quickly took the picture but then went on to his next subject without helping me think of the movie title. It was only after we came home and were watching Foreign Correspondent one night did we make the connection. The foreign correspondent played by Joel McCrea was about to break a big story about German spies in a pre-World War II peace group when an assassin tried to push him off the church tower. The assassin went on to play Santa Claus in Miracle on 34th Street. Now that’s what I call avoiding being type cast.

The third landmark from a movie actually goes back to a famous stage play. I rested in Covent Garden in the shadow of the portico with massive pillars featured in the opening scene of My Fair Lady. If my theatrical trivia serves me right, the same façade is used in the stage versions of My Fair Lady and the George Bernard Shaw play on which the musicals were based, Pygmalion. In the movie and the plays, the building was supposed to be a concert hall, but in actuality it is part of the front of a church.
Now it is the scene of street performers. The entertainer I saw was very talented but he needed some lessons of audience appreciation. First he laid out a red rope at the perimeter of his performance area on the church steps and the cobblestone street in front of it. Woe be unto anyone who walked across the rope once the act began. One woman walked across it three times, and each time the acrobat with the wooden pins and sharp knives became more vituperative (it’s a British word; look it up) when she broke the rules.
“She’s so rude,” he announced to us, “that she doesn’t even know she’s rude.”
And I don’t think she did either. I know I was so scared by this point I didn’t dare scratch my nose. After his big finale I thought we spectators were safe from his acid tongue but I was wrong.
“I’m forty-eight years old and got a family to support here, so you can let go of some change,” he yelled. “Hey you! You mean you’re going to watch my show and walk away? You didn’t even applaud! The least you can do is toss a few coins in my hat!”
I took a fist of coins –I don’t know how much they were worth—put them in his hat and quickly exited stage right.
If Eliza Doolittle had been that aggressive in selling her flowers she wouldn’t have had to take those elocution lessons.

Burly Chapter Eighteen


(Previously in the book: For his fifth birthday Herman received a home-made bear, which magically came to life when Herman’s tear fell on him. As Herman grew up, life was happy–he liked school and his brother Tad was nicer. But mama died one night. Papa decided sister Callie should go live with relatives. Tad tore up the burlap bear Mama had made for him.)
In the ensuing, hard depression years, Herman and Tad never talked about what happened to Burly Senior. And, curiously enough, neither did Herman and Burly. From time to time one or the other would wonder what Callie and Pearly Bear were doing, but they never mentioned Papa Bear.
Herman found he liked school very much; in fact, he was very good, always making the best grades in his class. He was very proud of this and bragged to Burly all the time, but he never mentioned it around Tad, for his grades, while not bad, were not the best. Papa never commented on any of his sons’ grades, just writing his name on the cards and sending them back to the school.
“Sometimes I wish papa would brag about me some,” Herman said with a sigh one day after he had taken his report card home. “It would make me feel good.”
“But that isn’t your father’s way, is it?” Burly asked. “So why wish for something that your head tells you will never happen?”
“I suppose you’re right,” Herman replied. “It’s just that the grades make me feel so good. I know I’d feel even better if papa was proud of them.”
Burly was strangely quiet. Finally Herman noticed the silence and looked down at Burly. “Is anything wrong?”
“I think you’re putting too much importance on that report card.”
“What do you mean? Isn’t doing well in school important?”
“Of course,” Burly said. “But have you noticed you only seem to like yourself a lot after you get your report card?”
Herman frowned. “I like myself all the time.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Well, maybe I like myself better after report card time,” Herman admitted. “After all, there it is, in black and white. Herman Horn is smart and he behaves well in school.”
“But one of these days you won’t have it in writing every six weeks how good you are,” Burly debated. “And it will be up to you to like yourself without any help.”
Herman thought a moment and then laughed. “Burly, you’re funny.” Then he forgot about the whole thing.
But Burly didn’t forget it. He knew that Herman was in for some hard time, and he didn’t know how to help him see it. Burly didn’t know how he knew it; after all, he was only a stuffed burlap bear, but he knew it as surely as he knew his papa had disappeared and he might never see his mama again.
Christmases didn’t come to Herman’s house anymore after Callie left for Houston. He didn’t bother to make a card for papa and he didn’t even mention the holidays to Tad. He did talk about it to Burly late at night, and on Christmas Eve he and Burly sang carols softly to themselves. Herman laid back and imagined how Christmas would be one day when he was the papa and he had children of his own.
“No matter what happens,” he whispered to Burly, “I’ll always make Christmas special for my children.”
“I know you will,” Burly replied, cuddling close to him, fantasizing how nice Christmas would be with Herman and his new family, naturally fantasizing that he would be a part of it.
Another numbing year passed, and Christmas was coming upon Herman and Burly again. The now twelve-year-old boy had come upon some red material on the side of the road and was figuring out how to make a hat or coat out of it for Burly. Maybe a muffler, he thought. He was playing with the piece of cloth one Saturday night in the loft as papa and Tad sat downstairs looking at the newspaper. In the last couple of years they had grown closer together as Herman and Burly had grown closer. Herman looked over the edge of the loft at them discussing the world and felt no twinges of jealousy or sadness. He just accepted the fact that papa had found comfort in his nineteen-year-old son.
“The Japs are in Washington talking to the government,” Tad said.
Papa grunted.
“I don’t trust them,” Tad added.
Papa grunted.
“I’d like to kill all of them.”
Herman put the cloth aside, deciding it would best make a muffler and plopped into his bed, gazing out of the window at the cold black sky and the twinkling stars.
“You always eavesdrop on their conversation until one of them says something bad about someone or something else you don’t like,” Burly observed.
“Is that what I’m doing?” Herman frowned. “Eavesdropping? I just thought I was watching my family.”
“Think real hard about it.”
“I guess I am,” Herman confessed with a sigh. “But what’s so bad about that?”
“Nothing, as long as you know that’s what you’re doing.”

Ireland and England with Jerry and Josh–Touring Crazy Town


If you are going to one of the most exciting, eclectic cities in the world, go ahead and jump out of the bus into the heart of crazy London town and go for it.
The tour bus dropped us in Piccadilly Circus, and the guides told us to try to keep up. I knew immediately this was going to be difficult because how can you follow two typical English people in a crowd of a hundred thousand typical English people.
For the first thing, I was distracted by this building that had four gorgeous bronze statues of young nubile naked women diving into the center of Piccadilly Circus. Perpetually with their arms extended, up on their tippy toes, backs straight, tummies tucked in and chests proudly puffed out. I may be 70 years old but I’m not dead. By the time I realized I was supposed to be following the group, they were already across the street.

This presented me with my second problem. By nature I am always the one to step back with a smile and allow the cross pedestrian traffic to proceed. I have been known to hold open a door so long, people thought I worked for the store. If I did that in the middle of Piccadilly Circus, I would lose sight of my group and never see the Spanish moss draped live oak trees in downtown Brooksville, Florida, again. Then I remembered the grumpy old Irish woman with her walker in Dublin. I put a scowl on my face, hunched my shoulders and bulled my way forward. Before I knew it I was back with my group and I don’t think they had realized I had gone away.
This was very important to me. I’m old enough to be the grandfather of the young people on this student tour. The last thing I wanted was to have them interrupt their good time to see if the old man was lost, gasping for air, or fallen over with a heart attack. I didn’t want anyone to say, “Somebody call 9-1-1 and get the old geezer off our backs.” (Okay, they were all nice polite young American citizens and they would have never said that—thought it maybe. It’s a joke.)
Speaking of jokes, on the other side of Piccadilly was a street performer who looked just like Mr. Bean and for a modest price you could have your picture taken with him, hug him or pinch his bum. Twenty years and fifty pounds ago I was told I looked Mr. Bean. If I had moved to Piccadilly back then, think of the money and I could have made, and the bruises. Never mind.

Finally we arrived on Carnaby Street where the tour guides told group members to be back in two hours to eat at an authentic English restaurant featuring Indian cuisine. First Josh and I walked down the street to the largest toy store in London. The entire basement was filled with Star Wars stuff. My son Josh, by the way, goes to Star Wars convention everywhere, so he was in hog heaven (an old Texas expression). I, on the other hand, had reached the end of my tether and decided to go back to Carnaby Street while he explored the other three floors of toy heaven.
For the first time that day I felt entirely in my element. I ordered a nice lemonade, sat on the café patio and watched beautiful people go by as though they were on a runway. Unattractive people were beautiful in their high fashion clothes and perfect hairstyles. Even the boys. I wanted to see Twiggy walk by. Beatle tunes lingered in my brain. Everything was the same as when I was a teen-ager in Texas, except nothing was the same. I was old. And all the fashionable folk had smart phones stuck in their ears.

After dinner, the tour guides took us on one last marathon hike through Wellington Circle, past the National Museum and an establishment called Sherlock Holmes Pub. The tour guide said he used to work there. Finally we arrived at the Millennium footbridge over the Thames River where you could see the Eye (big Ferris wheel whose lights were down for the night) and Big Ben (which was covered in scaffolding and couldn’t be seen even if the lights were on.)
Don’t get me wrong. I had a great time. Who gets to walk the streets of glamorous London at night and not get lost? I didn’t have a heart attack. For someone my age that’s a great confidence booster.

Ireland and England With Jerry and Josh Kissing the Blarney Stone


People who know me think my kissing the Blarney Stone is like carrying coals to Newcastle. I’m filled with enough Blarney as it is. (Or is that baloney?)
Like most good tourist attractions Blarney Castle cannot be seen from the road or even before you pay for your ticket to enter. You have to turn a certain corner, and there it is. Like many things on our tour, it was half covered with scaffolding which did not detract from its mythological majesty. Josh and I decided to get in line early before I dawdled too much and started wearing down. He took a quick picture of me when I still felt like smiling. The initial path up to the castle gate was not so bad. We had a great view of the half-demolished castle keep. Then the ascent began. As the docent explained at Bunratty Castle, the stairs were strategically built steep and uneven to slow down the assault of attacking troops. Sometimes they switched from turning right to turning left as they ever went higher. Along the way, the staircase opened to reveal side rooms. I stepped into a couple of them just for the chance to take a breath. That put me behind Josh, but I didn’t mind. How could I get lost? There was only one way up and one way down. Once we were at the top, we waited in line to kiss the stone. In front of me my friend the teacher called across way to my son who had already kissed the stone.
“Where’s your father? He didn’t come up here, did he?”
“Yes, I did,” I called out from behind her.

When I got to the stone I realized this area was the target of all the scaffolding. Before the renovations, there had been steel bars below the stone. It would really ruin someone’s vacation to slip from the grasp of the guide and fall into the moat below. In the middle of the renovation a thick plywood board replaced the bars, which took all the fun of leaning over backwards. I didn’t asked but I assumed—and hoped—eventually a nice thick slab of plexiglass would be installed so that you could still see the view upside down but have absolutely no chance of falling to the ground. As an aging male, I wanted all the strangers standing around me to know for certain that I was not afraid. I scooted my old hiney as far off the castle wall as I could before I leaned back. Unfortunately my hiney went so far off the edge I had trouble getting my head down to the legendary stone. Eventually I wriggled my face down and kissed it twice—once for myself and once for my wife Janet who died two years ago of cancer. I loved her but frankly she could have used a bit more blarney. My mission accomplished, I began to sit up and remembered how far out I stuck and I was indeed stuck. I couldn’t move. Luckily the castle guide has seen every combination of discomfort so he had me unstuck and on my way quickly.
The descent was easier, except when I had to put weight on my left knee which was beginning to scream that it wasn’t having any fun. One of the major tenets of the aging male is that you’re not supposed to slow down, grimace, or otherwise show you are in pain. I continued to hop down the stairs like nothing was wrong. Luckily about three quarters of the way I caught up with Josh at the photo stand to see which pictures of me upside I wanted to buy for posterity. Actually this was a perfect opportunity to catch my breath and to let my whiney knee calm down. I decided to buy both. One showed me actually kissing the stone but my face wasn’t showing. The second was slightly pre-kiss and showed that it was, indeed, me smooching the stone.

At the bottom, Josh photographed me leaning against an anonymous wall. My smile was not up to its usual standards. Behind me were a myriad of gardens with waterfalls and a garden of poisoned plants. This was necessary when you had a dinner party and wanted the guest of honor to be dead by midnight. I think I disappointed Josh because instead of strolling through the gardens I wanted to get to the nearest pub for liquid refreshment and food.
Here’s a great tourist tip: Anytime you’re thirsty and hungry in Ireland, find the nearest pub. You can’t go wrong.

Ireland and England with Jerry and Josh Jaunting Around Killarney


When we finished our tour of the Ring of Kerry, our group decided to jaunt our way through the national park at Killarney. Not jogging. Jogging would have killed me. No, we rode a jaunting carriage pulled by a very hairy horse.
My friend the school teacher who arranged for my son Josh and I to be part of the tour said she hoped this went better than the gondola ride around Venice on one of her student tours a few years ago. The gondolier didn’t sing, didn’t talk about the sights they were passing and didn’t flirt with the women on the boat. What kind of an Italian was he? Our Irish carriage driver invited my friend to sit up front with him and included her in all his comments about the foliage, mountains, lakes and history of old Killarney. I think she came away liking Irish jaunting drivers better than Italian gondoliers.
The jaunting carriage tour began in downtown Killarney, turned a corner and entered the national park. In my first photo, you can see a touring carriage with Killarney cathedral in the background. I know the jaunting driver looks like me, but I couldn’t be taking pictures of one carriage if I were in another one. What this picture does prove is that I have a lot of Irish relatives in my past. By the way, the cathedral was very impressive. We could see it many miles away before our tour bus even got to the city limits. Many residents of Killarney don’t share the tourists’ appreciation, though. The Roman Catholic Church built the cathedral in the early part of the nineteenth century when Ireland was going through the Potato Famine. The church thought the big cathedral would give the residents inspiration. As I was told by more than one local, they would have preferred a good meal instead.

Our gregarious driver told us they had just had a late snow a few days before we arrived. In the distance we could see the mountaintops still covered in snow. He pointed out the little flower bulb sprouts were peeking through the ground and in a few weeks the entire park would be resplendent in color. Several trees had gone down during the storm and they were laying around wondering if they would be eventually cut and carried out or be left to rot and become wonderful mulch. It was still cold when our carriage horse tried its best to avoid the washed-out portions of the road. The sun shone and the wind had disappeared with the snow, so the weather was really quite pleasant, as long as you were dressed in at least three layers of clothes, wore a woolen cap and gloves. Ducks waddling alongside the road didn’t seem mind the crisp air. Neither did the Killarney natives who jogged past us. The second picture shows my elbow which was properly attired in a heavy coat.
At several points we saw crumbled stone ruins hiding among the trees and when we turned a bend in the road we saw an old castle glistening in the sun’s rays as it sat on an island of a long, wide lake.

“I’m sure you’re all wondering what happened to all these homes and castles,” our driver asked in his delightful accent. “Have you ever heard of a man by the name of Oliver Cromwell? He was the Englishman who was responsible for the beheading of Charles the First. He decided the English should come live in Ireland. The only problem with that was the land was already occupied by the Irish. His solution was to kill every Irishman in the country. His army rampaged throughout the island, killing the residents and burning and tearing down their homes. The Irish lords who lived in the castle on the island held out as long as they could but they eventually succumbed. Fortunately the English hated Cromwell as much as the Irish so he was beheaded, and Charles the Second was asked to take the throne.”
I knew the tour was coming to an end because in the distance I saw modern condominium communities on the outskirts of Killarney. You can’t get away from the modern world no matter where you go. That is not an entirely bad thing, however. When we returned to the tour station, we embarked, handed our entertaining guide a tip and found only a few steps away a toilet facility. We climbed onto our bus and on our way to our quaint Irish hotel we passed several outlet malls featuring the latest of everything at the lowest prices. The hotel itself was lovely but challenging. It was several years old, and the owners had added rooms and extra floors wherever it was convenient. My son Josh and I felt we needed a map to get to our beds.
But at least we didn’t have to sleep in a desolate castle destroyed by Oliver Cromwell.