Tuesday, June 17, 2008

My Journal at "More Stories"

I am proud to announce that Dave Griffin has set up a journal for all of my stories on the Windswept Press, More Stories Page. I am truly grateful for the opportunity to compile everything in one place with a wonderful pdf file, double column format.

If you read all of my stories that have been accepted and placed on Dave's forum, you will see that, as in most endeavors, the older stories need improvement and with each entry, I learn a little more about writing style, and other fine points of short story composition.

I simply write because I have had an eventful, and full life. My experiences have been many, and varied. Many wonderful people have crossed my path on the road of life, and my parents have been the most wonderful of all. I have many happy memories of growing up in our household, and the security of having stable and caring parents.

My mom is gone now, but Dad is still with us. I try to see him as much as I can, and to care for his needs as he cared for mine.

I am 63 years old, and that is not by any means too old to enjoy life's pleasures, but that 60 year mark for some reason, made me very aware of my mortality, and the necessity to live for today and the distinct reality, that we are not guaranteed a tomorrow.

As I reflect on a life that has had it's ups and downs, I find that I have reconciled my mistakes with my creator, I have made amends to most of those that I have hurt over the years, and I simply try to make my experiences something that others can learn from.

God has been good to me, and I have three terrific sons. God also brought me a wonderful soul mate. She didn't come into my life until I was 50 years old, but she has been a blessing and a pleasure to love and spend the last 14 years with. She is the light that shines into the window of my life, and wakes me with a smile on my face each morning.

This blog format is not real conducive to short story writing, as the single column format requires scrolling forever to read anything of length. I am linking to my journal page whenever I write a new story, and I will use this blog to address daily issues of interest in my life, and to "blog and bitch". LOL.

Thank you all for reading my stories. I enjoy writing them, and will continue to put my fingers to the keyboard whenever I feel the urge to reflect and share a story from the past. I am blessed to have Dave as a friend, and to have his writer's forum to submit my stories to. Thanks again Dave.

My Journal is at http://www.windsweptpress.com/morstor.htm

Sunday, June 15, 2008

With A Bounce In His Step

"With A Bounce In His Step" is a tribute to my "lifelong hero", my 84 year old Dad. As Father's day 2008 comes to a close, I relflect on all the wonderful memories of growing up with my dad heading our household, and guiding me to adulthood.

For reflections on the life of a wonderful, and honorable man, born and brought up in the Mohawk Valley of upstate New York, go to http://www.windsweptpress.com and
click on "More Stories," and then on the block under the "journals" heading for my journal "Along the Banks of Beaver Creek" and check out the story "With A Bounce In His Step". I also have several other copyrighted stories published on that writers forum site. There is a link to windswept press at the top right of the page.

"Windswept Press" is the homepage of Dave Griffin, a wonderful author, and a good friend. He makes the site available to aspiring amateur writers like myself, to provide an outlet for our creative outpourings, and attempts to author worthwhile works.

When you go to the site to read my story, read the other works found there also. There are some wonderful short stories, poems, and essays available. There are also wonderful links to blogs and sites sponsored or owned by other amateur authors.

Dave has been published, and is compiling another book of short stories. He is calling for authors to submit works for consideration. I hope to see one or more of my stories published in his next book.

I have found great joy in writing stories about experiences in my life. You can also know that feeling of satisfaction. You don't have to be a Mark Twain, or a Rudyard Kipling to publish a story on the Windswept Press "More Stories" site.

Take time to drift away to Windswept Farm, and into the lives of the Authors that publish on Dave's site. The Windswept Press is a respite from the bustle of everyday life, and you can spend hours browsing about on the site and linking to some of the other blogs and sites.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Where There Is Smoke There Is Fire!

A peek at a stressful day in the life of a firefighter!
by R.A. Naegele

The sun was shining, and it was a fairly warm day in Central NY, as the Griffiss Air Force Base Fire Department personnel sat down to eat their lunch. It had been a morning of training in the "live fire pit area", where jet fuel was ignited, and the crash trucks practiced maneuvering around a simulated aircraft, and extinguished the flames.

We had just finished washing down our truck, and left it outside the station to dry. As we settled into our seats to eat, they were "running" up a jet engine on KC-135 Stratotanker, tail number 522, just across the street on the tanker parking ramp. Suddenly, the sound of the whining jet engine was replaced by a loud, but hollow sounding "whhhummpp"!

As we all turned to the windows, we could see people running away from the aircraft parking line, and there was thick black smoke billowing skyward, as orange flames lapped 30 or 40 feet in the air. We later learned that the engine being tested, had flown apart, exploded, and ripped holes in the fuel cells in the wing of the aircraft.

We immediately abandoned our lunches, ran for our trucks, and donned our protective gear. We were pulling up on the nose of the aircraft, before the alarm was even sounded by fire control. As we approached the aircraft, as the "first truck on scene" we were responsible for trying to extinguish a path to the cockpit and to attempt a rescue of the flight crew.

I was a young "rookie". This was my first actual aircraft fire. I, as junior man on the crew, was assigned as the "nozzle man" on the handline. My crew chief was behind me on the hose line, and we advanced toward the aircraft, sweeping our nozzle back and forth, cutting a path through unbelievable flames and smoke.

We were making little headway, as the aircraft's fuel cells had been ripped wide open, and 93,000 pounds of jet fuel was being poured onto the fire and was flowing across the parking ramp 2 or 3 inches deep and burning.

As we moved toward the aircraft, doing our best to protect the cockpit area, the hose line went limp. the P-2 crash truck, carrying 2300 gallons of water, was pumping at a rate of 1400 gallons a minute, and had expended it's load of water and foam.

Needless to say, things got hot in a hurry. We were immediately surrounded by heavy black smoke, and flames began to close around us. Our training allowed us to act without panic, and to retrace our steps back along the hoseline to the safety of the crash truck. As we pulled away from the scene, to re-supply with foam and water, the other trucks from main station were arriving and pouring foam on the fire. Our hearts sank as we could see the metal skin of the aircraft, burning off like tissue paper. A pall came over our crew, as we all contemplated our inability to successfully reach the cockpit for rescue. We assumed that the crew was most likely lost in the flames. A brave young airman working in the area, jumped into the pilot's seat of the adjacent aircraft, on the downwind side of the fire, started the engines, and taxied the tanker out of harm's way. By doing so, he prevented the fire from spreading to the other aircraft on the line. He was a true hero!

It was a full hour later, before we could breathe a breath of thanks for the safety of the crew. It turns out that they had exited the aircraft on the opposite side from where we were stationed in our truck, jumped off the wing, and run to safety. It was a huge load off of our hearts and shoulders. That whole hour had been consumed with thoughts of failure, and sadness contemplating the crew trapped in the intense flames as fire consumed the cockpit.

It as a long and hard fight, and we spent the better part of the night minimizing the amount of fuel getting into the drainage system, and cleaning up the remaining spilled fuel. It could have consumed many more aircraft than it did. it could have had a much larger impact on the environment, and it would have been a much larger human tragedy as well, had the crew not escaped the flames safely!

Those of us involved in the attempted rescue, in the face of intense fire and exploding fuel cells, as well as the airman that moved the other tanker to safety, were all given letters of heroism by the Strategic Air Command, Commander. That letter was made a permanent part of my personnel record, and counted for points when I applied for jobs through merit promotion system for my entire civil service career of well over 20 years.

In my own mind, I was very proud of that recognition, as a rookie firefighter. However none of us ever believed that we had done anything heroic. We simply utilized our training, doing what we practiced often, and did our jobs to the best of our ability.

Was I brave?? Hell no!!. I was hot, tired and scared to death! You could not have driven a sewing needle up my butt with a sledge hammer I was so damned scared.

That was the day that I received my "baptism by fire". It was a sobering reminder that although we had few fires at the base, the magnitude of the ones we did have, and the type of resources we protected, made the job very dangerous. With that in mind, I took training very seriously, and instilled that seriousness in all of the young troops that I trained over the duration of my firefighting career.

Anyone that begrudges firefighters the time spent playing cards or watching TV, should take time to consider the time they spend training, and the danger they face on a daily basis. When the average citizen is running away from a fire, the firefighter is running into the flames to save either your lives or your property.

Griffiss AFB is no longer an Air Force Base. My old crew chief, Billy Newman from Oriskany is no longer with us. He passed away shortly after he retired with over 20 years of crash firefighting service.. I will always remember his hand on my shoulder, and his encouraging and reassuring words in my ear, as he guided me out of the flames when the truck ran out of foam. He was an experienced, and courageous man, and very dedicated to his profession, and to protecting the people and assets of Griffiss AFB.

May Bill Newman rest in peace, and may firefighters everywhere, have a guardian angel like him to place a hand on their shoulder when they are in a dangerous situation. God bless them all. I will treasure the letter of heroism, and my memories of my days as a firefighter until the day I pass from this earth. It was an experience I would not trade for all the gold in Fort Knox.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Celebrate Mother's Day With Your Special Angel!

Mothers are angels who live through the tears and the joys of motherhood, on their way to earning their wings. They are sent here by God to guide us into adulthood, and to form our personalities and our principles.

As Mother's Day draws to a close, many mothers go back to being taken for granted for another year, I reflect on the sacrifices my mother made in the name of "motherhood" and the efforts she put forth to insure that us kids were nurtured, and prodded along toward adulthood, with a strong hand, but a loving heart.

I think that most mothers are ordained into "Angelhood" on the day that they conceive, and it becomes a lifelong avocation, and career. From the time of conception, they start feeling the responsibility and the first sacrifices of motherhood. They are responsible for eating right to insure proper nutrition for the fetus. They suffer the horrors of morning sickness, and the loss of their shapely figure, as they develop a waddle, with their belly getting there 5 minutes before the rest of them does. They suffer the indignity of having this little critter stomping on their bladder until they wet their pants. They get the heck kicked out of them from the inside out. They can't sleep comfortably for the last few months of the pregnancy because their tummy is so big, they can't find a comfortable position to relax and sleep in.

All of the discomfort of carrying a baby for 9 months, ends with the pains of labor and delivery, which having witnessed it 3 times, I would have to equate with having your fingernails yanked out, or having your wisdom teeth pulled without anesthetic. Only a woman could possibly describe it accurately. All I know is I saw the blood vessels breaking in their faces as they strained to push, and I heard profanity and words that I never heard in a hitch in the Navy. Even angels have to cuss once in a while, when the pain comes to bear.

The birthing process is only the initiation which leads to a lifetime enlistment into the responsibilities of "motherhood". Only an angel could stand the rigors of working all day, caring for a constantly demanding little critter, with needs beyond the comprehension of the average person. Only an angel spend the day at the beckoned call of this little creature, while keeping a house, and taking care of others as well as herself. Only an angel could stand the rigors of such responsibility, and then spend her night sleeping with one eye open, and one ear tuned to the slightest sound from the crib. Walking the floors with a newborn, nursing or feeding with a bottle, burping, rocking, and soothing, only to sleep a couple of hours and start the routine all over again.

This is "God's Bootcamp for Motherhood". The REAL work is yet to come.

Only a mother is required to hold down several full time jobs, such as housekeeper, cook, laundress, referee, nurse, and companion to her mate while still finding time for her "part time" jobs as a soccer mom, PTA president, room mother, den mother, and sunday school teacher

Only a "angel "can spend her night, looking after a child with a stomach virus, cleaning the child when he has diarrhea and cleaning up after him, when he throws up in his bed and all the way to the bathroom, but still finds time to comfort the sick child and tell him "that's alright sweetheart" while she cleans the vomit from the hallway carpet in the middle of the night.

Mom's are there when our egos are wounded, when we get beat up by the neighborhood bully, and when we fall from our bike and tear our knees open to the bone. They are there to punish us when we are bad, and to ground us when we don't obey. They wash our mouth out with soap when we cuss, and use that same soap to wash our faces before they tuck us into bed at night. They perform the magic that insures that when we open our lunch boxes the waxed paper from the day before has been replaced by a fresh sandwich, and a banana. They perform the magic that transports our clothes from the pile in the basket on the floor in the bottom of our closet, to the clean and pressed neatness, where we find them when we go to dress for school. These angels do all of that and still find time to sew our cub scout patch on our uniform shirt and make 3 dozen cupcakes for the valentines party at your school.

As we grow older as children, and finally reach adult hood, their duties seem to lessen, but the job is not done. My "guardian angel" was always there, just a telephone call away, any time I had a bad day, or a problem that I needed to discuss with someone. My mom, along with my first wife, insured that when they hollered "mail call" while I was in Viet Nam, I always had news from home and encouragement from my greatest fan. She wrote every single day, with few exceptions.

When I returned from Viet Nam, and was an actively drinking alcoholic, with no regard for my responsibility as a husband or father, she was still there. The "angel" was still there, along with the second "angel" God had blessed me with, my first wife" She was there to lecture and argue and fight with me. She was there to pressure me daily to quit. She was there when I fell, and picked me up. She also was the one that sought comfort in the Lord, and was there to lead me to a service in Frankfort NY. I went, only because I had reached a place of desperation in my life. Satan had a firm grip on my life, and the angel I called mom, was the only one that held one hand, and pulled hard enough to yank me back out of his grip. She talked me into going to that service. She facilitated my acceptance of Jesus as my savior, and she was the angel that rescued me from the hell of alcoholism, and held my hand when I checked into rehab the next day.

My guardian angel, went to Alanon meetings, and read everything that was written about alcoholism and recovery. She didn't interfere or guide my newfound sobriety, but she supported my works with AA, and my daily walk toward sobriety, one day at a time. Not long before she died, she told me once more how proud she was that I had lived and accomplished so much in life, since that day that she went with me to check into rehab, in 1976. I told her, that it was but by the grace of God, the AA program, and HER LOVE AND SUPPORT for all of those years, that I was able to continue to live happily without alcohol, one day at a time.

I was not a "mama's boy, and didn't live my life for my mother, or even by her rules. It was only in later years, as age started to bring realizations of the past, that I realized one certain fact. That fact is that even though I didn't live my life for my mother, SHE DID live hers for myself and my brother and sister. Only God can give a woman the strength to be a mother.

My angel had a positive influence on my life from the day I was born, until the day that she died. She encouraged my career moves, loved her grandchildren, comforted me when I was blue, and celebrated with me when I was joyous. In the last two years of her life, she was my friend, and our companion on our travels. Her role changed from being MY angel, to being someone for me to watch over, and comfort. It was payback time.

Only a mother and an angel could lay in a hospital bed, kidneys failing, body shutting down, sheets pulled tight up under her chin, and still manage a smile and a "hi sweetheart" every time I entered her hospital room. My angel maintained her motherhood and her motherly love till the morning she closed her eyes to life on this earth and moved on to that place where angels are allowed to semi-retire.

My guardian angel has gone home to sit beside God, in a place where she has no more pain and no more responsibility. She has gone to collect her rewards for being the "Supermom" that she was to three of us. She still influences our lives, in her teachings that have remained fresh in our minds, and in our memories. My life is still influenced by those thoughts of " what would mom say" when I make some daily decisions. That influence continues to keep me on the straight and narrow, even though she has been gone for almost 4 years.

Mothers are angels. Their duties never go away, even in death. They are happy in life, and they earn that place at the feet of our Lord, where they are comforted and given peace, while having their motherly duties reduced to simply giving us a little twinge of memory now and again.

These Mother Angels go ahead of us to that place where we will all be together again. These Mother Angels go ahead to insure that our beds are made up, and there is plenty of cookies in the cookie jar when we ourselves, get there, and are reunited with MOM.

My only advice is this. If mom is still with you, worship her, and celebrate with her. Coddle her, and be grateful for her presence. Love her, and bring her happiness in life.

If mom has passed on, bring her happiness in heaven, by living by her teachings, and making her proud. Celebrate her life in memories, and don't grieve. She has gone to receive her rewards for the angel duties she performed here on earth. She is a true, full fledged, white adorned, angel with wings now. She lives with God now, and has no responsibility for any further labor or duties. She is at rest. My angel hovers above, and still makes my life joyous with every thought and memory of her. When I do a good deed for my fellow man, she gives me the "old thumbs up", and when I do something that she would not be proud of, she gives me the old raised eyebrow look, and a pang of conscience that reminds me that she is still there and still watching over me.

I hope that all mothers rejoice in the special responsibility and privilege that God has bestowed upon them. I also hope that on this special day, "Mothers Day" has been a tribute to your hard work and loving care the rest of the year. I hope your day was recognized with gratitude and special recognition and pampering.

As a mother, just remember that God has brought you here as a special angel, and when your day is not what you would like it to be, remember that "If God brings you to it, he can bring you through it". There is a special place in heaven for moms, and your spot is reserved!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Passing by RA Naegele

" Passing"

by RA Naegele

It is a time of remembrance when one of our parents passes on. It is a time to remember all the pleasant memories that fill our hearts, and to remember special moments we shared with mom and dad over the years.

I was inspired to share my thoughts by a post on the "Clipper's Busy Corner" forum, by one of our valued and respected members. My friend made a statement that "the hardest thing for children with parents, is burying them."

That statement struck my heart and sent me into deep reflection on the rewards reaped from my own parents, and my responsibility to them in their old age.

I presently have my mother's ashes on my dresser. She and my dad had decided years ago that they would like to be cremated. They also made a pact that they would want to be buried together, and not be put in the cold ground alone.

Mom and dad would have been married 59 years, if my mom had lived until spring of 2005. She passed on in October of 2004. My mom and dad were not only husband and wife, they were best friends. They were happy spending their every waking hour together, especially in their retirement years.

I had moved here to Tennessee to care for my mom and dad when I retired . They were reaching an age where they could no longer maintain their home and lawn. I was lucky to come here when I did, as I had the enjoyment of spending two years with them, doing things to make them happy, before my mom passed away in 2004.

There were many times over the years when I would thank them for something that they did for me while I was growing up. They would simply say, "your time is coming," and "you will get your chance to take care of us when we are old." They said those things jokingly as a threat, but I took them as a serious responsibility and looked forward to the day that I could make it up to them for the troubled and sleepless nights that I had caused them over the years. They had stuck by me when I was an actively drinking alcoholic, and didn't even like myself. They loved me when I came back home to live when my first marriage broke up.

Parents love us unconditionally, and that is what we need to do for them. They make great sacrifices to raise us and give us what we need to thrive. When they are elderly and start to need more than they can give, it is our turn to begin to reciprocate.

My fondest memories of my mom are not only of the childhood years, but of the last two years of her life. We spent our every waking hour taking care of my parents and their house and lawn. We took them everywhere with us. the lived about 2 miles up the road from here, and whenever we were going anywhere, even shopping, they would ride along.They loved to ride, and sometimes did nothing more than sit in the car while we shopped, and "people watched" as they called it.

Mom and dad had friends across the street that came over for coffee every Wednesday evening. Kathy would always bake something sweet, such as a cake, pie, or brownies, and I would take it up to them, so they could have a treat with their coffee. It was the highlight of their week, to chat with these friends, and watch some special TV program together.

We either took them out to eat, had them here to eat with us, or Kathy made enough for me to take them supper at their house at least 3 times a week. We took them back to NY state to see their surviving relatives and friends one more time, and took them to the Carolinas to see elderly friends that were no longer capable of driving the 300 miles to Tennessee to visit.

Mom's favorite treat was when I would get up early, and get Krispy Kreme glazed donuts, and sneak quietly into their house and leave the donuts and their newspaper on their kitchen table.

My dad has essential tremor, which is much like parkinson's disease, except it is not life threatening. His hands tremble so badly that he can no longer feed himself. He loves to go out to eat, and for what little it cost to go to a buffet restaurant and feed him his favorite dishes, was little enough to pay for all the meals he has provided for me while I was growing up.

Mom had lost a kidney when she was young (sometime in the 50's). She lived the rest of her 79 years with no further problems with the remaining kidney. After suffering from an irregular heartbeat, they decided to shock her heart back into normal rhythm with a defibrillator. When they shocked her heart, she threw a blood clot from somewhere in her body and it went to the kidney and blocked the blood supply to the kidney, causing kidney failure. Her body didn't tolerate dialysis well, and she ended up in our local hospital for 2 1/2 months before she passed away.

One of the side effects of the uremia was dementia and hallucinations. She would awaken every morning terrified, and not knowing where she was, imagining that horrible things had taken place. I went to the hospital every morning for the 2 1/2 months, and would be there when she woke up, so she would not be afraid and confused. I would feed her breakfast and go with her downstairs to the dialysis clinic on her treatment days. After I settled her into the dialysis clinic, I would leave and go to their house and fix my dad's oatmeal and feed him his breakfast. By then it would be time to go back to the hospital and feed mom her lunch, get something to eat myself, and then return to their house and feed dad lunch. I would then take dad to the hospital to see mom, stay until 5 PM to feed mom her supper, and then feed dad, either at our house or take him out to eat. When he was safely settled back at their house, I would go back to the hospital and sit with mom until either my brother or my sister came to visit, so she would not be alone and afraid. Having a family member by her bedside seemed to be the only thing that anchored her to any semblance of peace and reality.

I went to feed dad breakfast one morning, and he was on the bathroom floor. He had simply fallen over from grief and stress, and was hospitalized for the last month of mom's life. He was on one floor and she was on another. The nurses and I would dress dad in his street clothes every afternoon, and take him in his wheel chair, down to see mom, so she would not know that dad was in the hospital too. Then we would take him back, put him back in his pajamas, and put him back in bed. Mom lived another month, never knowing or having to worry because dad was hospitalized.

Mom had fallen from her bed, trying to get up during the night, and had to have brain surgery to remove a large blood clot that formed from hitting her head. Between the brain surgery and the dialysis, she was simply clinging to life because she was worried about what would happen to my father without her. My brother, sister, and myself, explained the situation to dad, and talked to the palliative care folks. The lady from palliative care and hospice then went with me to mom's room the next morning, and I assured mom that I would take dad into our home, and that she would not have to worry about his wellbeing. We then explained to her, that she had the option of discontinuing her treatment and medications, and moving to the hospice house, where she would pass away painlessly and peacefully within a few days. That is what she opted for, and she was moved that same evening. She was placed on a morphine drip, and 36 hours later, she passed peacefully and without further agony or pain. Sitting at her bedside for those 36 hours with my brother and sister, was the hardest 36 hours of my life. Watching your mother slowly shut down and drift away, no matter how painless it is for her, is a heart wrenching experience.

Dad came to live with Kathy and I, and we sold their house, straightened out all their financial affairs, and went about fulfilling our promises to my mother. We went and bought a beautiful double headstone, a double plot, wide enough for a large foundation for the stone. The stone has a single base with two individual stones with their individual dates and personal information on them, and sitting between those two stones is a separate stone with two interlocking wedding rings and the date of their marriage engraved upon it. We then went and prepaid and planned dad's funeral, so he could have the satsfaction of knowing his wishes were known and taken care of. When dad passes away, their final wish is to have their ashes placed side by side in the grave.

My dad lived with us until he no longer could get around, and we could no longer able to properly care for him. We searched for a clean and comfortable nursing home, and he is very happy there, contented with his books and television, as he was here at our house. He is content, loves the girls that care for him, and they all love him, as he is a very amiable and easy going person.

My dad has always been my hero, and my role model. He was the most caring and gentle dad anyone would ever envision. I cherish every moment I spend with him now. I never know when I will get that call from the nursing home, telling me that he went to sleep and didn't wake up. He is 84, and has congestive heart failure, and diabetes. The last words when I leave his room are always "I love you dad!" His answer is always "I love you too, number one son!"

My life has been one of ups and downs, of successes as well as failures. I have three wonderful sons that have grown into fine and respectable young men. Now it is their turn to be fathers and to prepare their own children for life.

I was not always a good father, but I hope that when I have passed on, my boys will have forgiven my transgressions and will keep my memory in that special place in their hearts where I keep my memories of my parents.

I compare us to dry cell batteries. When we are young, we start out with a fresh charge and plenty of energy. As we age, our power wanes and we grow less and less active, until the day comes that our charge is used up, and we pass on.

In the mean time, I cherish my time with my dad, and am content to know that when his days are done here on earth, he will be going to a special place and will be reunited with my mom to spend eternity together.

For now, mom rests on my dresser, and I often speak to her in spirit. She still seems to guide me occasionally or console me when my day isn't what I might want it to be.

I have been enlightened by the responsibility to care for mom and dad. My advice to all, is don't take that responsibility as a "drudgery or a burden". Take it as an opportunity to "enjoy" your parents. Don't simply "allocate time" to be with them as a neccessity. Instead, spend your happy time with them, and arrange your other worldly tasks around that time. Always remember that when you were little, YOUR needs were THEIR priority, and that is a privilege that benefits both them and you in their old age. Make them a priority, and enjoy every minute you spend with them. You will find yourself basking in the warmth of their love, just as you did as a child. You will find a feeling of satisfaction that is like no other. Enjoy their waning years and you will have a heart full of memories and a mind that is free of guilt. Caring for mom and dad, and spending "quality" time with them in their old age is a wonderful experience. It is a gift from God and not a burden placed upon us. Embrace that opportunity and learning experience. Ask those questions that you will not be able to find answers to when your parents are gone. Parents are a true gift from God, equaled only by our children.

The last six years, since my retirement and my moving here to care for mom and dad, have been some of the happiest years of my life, and have contained some of the most joyous moments shared with my parents.

Celebrate life with them, and you won't have to grieve when they are gone. You will be content, knowing that they left this world happy, and have gone to a better place, where we will all be reunited some day.

God bless the moms and dads, and bring peace to those that are departed.

I hope in relating these stories, some of you will gain a newfound appreciation for the parents that we sometimes tend to take for granted. Be aware that their time on this earth is limited. Never go to bed mad, and never leave the presence of a friend or loved one without telling them you love them. God bless you all!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Heaven On a Hilltop, Appalachian life in 2008.

I dedicate this short story to "Boots and Foster" with love and admiration.

A mist hangs over the mountain top, and the air is crisp. Sammy saddles the old mule and heads down the holler toward the local store. Sammy is legally blind, and barely sees, but the mule is sure-footed and carries him safely down the hill past the other farms and out to the main road. It is quiet and peaceful as the mule clip clops along slowly. The birds are just starting to awaken, and stretch their wings. The doves can be heard rustling in the pine trees where they have roosted for the night. As he passes his neighbor Gerry's house, there are no signs of life yet, except for the riding horse grazing in his pasture, and the dogs that come to welcome Sammy and the mule, and to accompany them to the next bend in the road.

Sammy has to dismount to open the cattle gate, as he enters his neighbors land, and as he leads the mule through, he can smell bacon cooking at the Collier's farm. As he passes by, his neighbor waves from the back porch, and hollers a cheery good morning, while grabbing an armload of wood for the cookstove. The chickens scatter, clucking angrily, as Sammy passes through the Collier's dooryard.

As they round the next bend, a doe and her fawn are grazing on the lush green grass along the roadside, and scurry for cover when they see Sammy and the mule. As the road drops into the creekbed, the mule stops and sips from the spring fed, bubbling stream, where it meanders through a glade lined with hemlocks. A male cardinal, in all of his bright red plumage, perches on a fence post, and chirps them a good morning greeting. The mule picks his way carefully along on the gravel bottomed stream for about 100 yards to a point where the road once again climbs out of the creek bed and crosses one more pasture before reaching the hard paved road and civilization.

The mule knows the way to the store from here, so Sammy rolls himself a cigarette, and relaxes. No more gates to open, or creeks to cross. When Sammy arrives at the little market, the owner, Billy Joe, comes out to help him into the store. Sammy grabs a seat in a booth, sips a coffee, and munches on a sausage biscuit, while Billy Joe fills the grocery order, picking items from the shelves as Sammy hollers them out. His weekly order consists of cornmeal, flour, buttermilk, spam, canned corned beef, a couple of ham hocks, and some dry beans. A couple of cans of cigarette tobacco, and some rolling papers, and the shopping is done. Billy Joe packs the goods in Sammy's saddle bags, and collects his money. Billy's wife Shelley hollers from the back, that the fresh biscuits just came out of the oven. Sammy grabs a fresh hot biscuit with apple butter to savor on his trip back up the mountain.

On the way back home, Sammy stops at the rack containing the mailboxes belonging to Sammy and his three neighbors on the mountain. As he approaches George's place, George is digging potatoes from the potato pit to take in the house for the days cooking. People on the mountain grow most of their own vegetables to can, and preserve potatoes and turnips by burying them in a large pit, covering them with sand to keep them for the winter. A heaping pick up truck load of potatoes was placed in the pit in the fall, and as summer wears on, the pit is getting down. There is probably only about 300 pounds left to get the family through to fall, and a new crop. George carefully shovels the sand onto a tarp and places the taters in a bucket. The sand pile is covered and saved to be re-used in the fall.

Sammy gives George his family's mail, and after a quick chat about the weather, and the day's plans, he moves on. As the mule climbs the steepest part of the mountain road, Foster Collier comes to the gate in the picket fence to get his mail. Sammy says, "I will be back down in a while to help with the hay".

Foster says, "Gerry is up on the hill now, turning it over with the rake, so the dew can dry off of it. He has to get the hay raked, and then he needs to saw some hemlock on the bandsaw mill, for George. George is building a new pole barn. George brought the logs up yesterday and said he had the poles cut and ready to set. As soon as we get all the hay in, it will be time to get that barn built before winter sets in again."

Sammy says, "Cya later. I have to get back home and put on a pot of brown beans with some onion and a hamhock. I can let them simmer on low all day, while we are putting in hay, and tommorrow, I can bake some cornbread and have soup beans and cornbread to bring down for lunch. Tell Boots (Foster's wife) not to fuss for our lunch today, I will bring down a couple of canning jars of greenbeans and taters, and all she will have to do is make some biscuits and fry up some spam or something."

Boots comes out on the porch and says,"Dick and Kathy just called, and they said they will be here in an hour to help with the hay, and Wanda and Tex are coming too. Kathy baked her apple cake, and made a macaroni salad, so I will just cut up some fresh "maters" and slice up some cukes, and along with the rest of the stuff we will have enough for everyone to eat."

Wanda and Tex are Foster and Boots' daughter and son in-law. James is from Texas and we all call him Tex. He drives a Ford 4X4 with a cow skull mounted on the roll bars. Gerry is one of he Collier sons, and he lives next place up the mountain, and keeps track of ma and dad. Foster can't work the way he used to. He suffers from black lung and a bad back. He worked in the coal mines all his life. Their son Bucky also worked the mines until he was struck by a falling rock and broke his back. Gerry worked the mines, and suffers with back trouble also. It is not unusual to have a bad back when working the mines of SW Virginia and West Virginia. Many of mines used to be small independent mines, and the ceilings were low, forcing the miners to be bent over in a space only about 4 to 5 foot tall all day.

The Collier farm is the homestead. All of the kids were born and raised there. They walked the mile and a half out to the main road everyday to catch the schoolbus, and worked before and after school. The homestead sits atop a hill, overlooking a hollow. Sammy lives on a small farm farther up the mountain. Town was a once a week trip for mom and dad, and shopping was only for neccessities. Boots makes her own bread and biscuits, and they always slaughter their own beef and pork. they make their own sausage and smoke their own hams. They hunt deer and wild turkeys on the mountain, and are seldom in need of much storebought food. Shopping is usually for toilet paper, staples such as flour, yeast, and corn meal, and a few luxury items such as cereal and icecream.

On the way to "heaven on the hilltop" you turn off the paved road. You need a high ground clearance vehicle so I usually take my 4X4 truck. The road through the hollow and up the mountain is a two track dirt path. I drops into the creek for about 100 yards, and then climbs back out to meander along a ledge carved out of the sidehill. You bounce over large rocks, and through red clay mudholes, past grazing cow, and have to stop 3 times to open and close cattle gates.

As you approach the house, you can look up above you about 100 feet up on the side of the hill and see the homestead. A large old fashioned farmhouse with a long porch across the whole front of the house. The sun shines on the bright, white clapboards, and glints on the freshly painted red metal roof. The hill is so steep, that there is a switchback in the road rather than going straight up the hill. That front porch is the headquarters for all fair weather conferences and conversations. It is where the men smoke or chew, and the women chat and peel apples for pie. The house and large vegetable garden are surrounded by picket fence on one side, and barbed wire on the other three, because the house sets in the middle of the farm, and the livestock is fenced out of the yard and garden.

They cut their own firewood, grow their own vegetables, kill their own meat, cure their own hams, raise their own chickens and gather fresh eggs. they have a coal shed where they keep huge lumps of coal, straight from the mines down the road. They break it up with a sledge whenever they need it for the house. they work hard, play hard. They love their neighbors, their family, their friends and their God.

The house on the hill, at the head of the hollow, is truly "Heaven on a hilltop"! It is my favorite place in the whole world to go. The company is extrordinary, the air is fresh, and when you shut off your truck upon arrival, there is nothing but the fresh air, cool breeze, and sounds of nature, to soothe your soul. It is a life simple. While the outside world fights, cheats, lies, and betrays their neighbors, the people up the hollow on Collier's mountain, simply shake their heads as they watch the tv news. They shake their heads and then bow those same heads in prayers of thanks, for the blessings that God has given them, and the acreage so close to heaven.

This story is basically non-fiction. The names have been changed, but the characters portrayed are real people. While not all statements are entirely accurate, the lifestyle is accurately portrayed. "Sammy" lives at the top of the road, and even with his very impaired vision, he manages and the neighbors look out for him. "George" and his family live just below the "Colliers" and has small children. The three families work together as one. The Collier children all come back to "the mountain" every weekend to do the farm work, and to help out "Boots and Foster".

For those of you not familiar with life in Appalachia, this is a wonderful way to live. These people don't depend on outside help. They don't even really have to depend on electricity, as they burn coal and wood for heat, and have kerosene lamps for the frequent power outages that happen in the rural mountain areas. While they are content to have electricity and phones, they can take it or leave it. While I expound on some of the details about the local store, which is actually a convenience store nearby, the rest of the story is basically true. I have been there, and Kathy and I love and admire these folks and their way of life. The kids know what hard work is. They don't have to have a video game to entertain themselves. They have all the modern conveniences and games, but are taught the ways of the land, and the simple but important things in life, like family and a life guided by God and good sense.

This is like a story from "Walton's Mountain", except that it takes place today. The Colliers have a late model pickup truck, and modern appliances and farm equipment. They live a semi primative life, and a simple life, but it is a wonderful and fullfilling life. Love abounds, as does true appreciation of nature. Those of us that live in the towns and cities, have no idea of the value of fresh air and homegrown food. When we can no longer afford gasoline, the folks on the mountain will simply hook Sammy's mule to the older horse drawn equipment, throw a log on the fire, and sit back fat and happy, watching the rest of us struggle. When the grocery stores are empty due to high fuel costs and truckers strikes, the potato pit, fruit cellar, and pantry won't be.

When we all are starving, and can't survive and thrive without fuel, and power, the Colliers and their neighbors will simply park the pickup, fill the back of it with dirt, and plant some petunias. Sammy's mule will do the farm work, and the wood and coal on the mountain will keep them warm and contented. Right there in "Heaven on a Hilltop".

When the sun goes down on the mountain, you can sit on the porch, far from the rumble of highway traffic and listen to the night birds, and the coyotes. You can watch the deer come out of the woods to graze among the cows. and almost hear your own heartbeat, in the peaceful quiet that falls over the mountain at sunset.

The hay is put away in the barn. The supper dishes are done, and the girls are on one end of the porch chatting, while myself and the men are on the other end, telling tales and jokes. As darkness falls, Kathy and I have to leave. I don't like navigating the narrow dirt road in the dark. Sammy has gone back up the hill to his house to feed his stock and put the mule away for the day. It is nightfall on the mountain, and time for Kathy and I to go back to he hustle and bustle that lies down the blacktop road, back in Bristol. Headlights and brightly lit signs, break the peaceful trance of our day away from the rat race. As we head for home, I start looking forward to the next time we come to visit. I stop and get us a coffee to sip on the 60 mile trip home, and we jump back on a four lane highway, dodging coal trucks and plugging our ears to the roar of motorcycles and pickups with loud mufflers. Reality has set back in, and all that comes to mind is a gnawing envy for that lifestyle that is close to nature, and close to our creator.


Spring has arrived in NE Tennessee. It is a beautiful sight to see. Daffodils have come and gone. Tulips, Lilacs, and the beautiful blooming dogwood trees are all in full flowering splendor now. Redbud trees add splashes of scarlet and crimsom to the landscape, that highlight the yellow greens of fresh and newly formed leaves.

We have had warm weather on and off, for about 3 or 4 weeks now, but nights have been cold and frost has still been a possibility. Our weather man is saying that last night should be about the last of the cold nights and that we can soon plant our tomato plants and our annual flowering plants.

The air is fresh and clean, and the smell of the newly turned soil fills my nostrils as I pound the steel posts into the freshly tilled garden, which hold the wire fencing that I grow my cucumbers on. My seeds have been planted, and all that is left to do, is plant the greenhouse grown plants, such as bell peppers, jalapenos, tomatoes and squash.

Tomorrow I will mow the lawn. That is my favorite outside chore. I love the smell of newly mown grass, and as I mow to the top of the knoll in the back yard, I can see the whole hollow, and the black angus cows and horses that reside here as my close neighbors. The freshly mowed lawn always leaves me with a urge to lay out a blanket in the sun, and to read a book, but there are chores to be done, and relaxation is in the completion of my chores and the satisfaction of being

Next week my agenda includes preparing the 5th wheel camping trailer for the season. When I get sick of nature's wonders around here, we hook up and move to a location near a lake, or river, and enjoy a couple of days of sitting around a campfire drinking our coffee and chatting with newfound friends. The trailer has to be washed, wheel bearings packed, water system flushed out, and 5th wheel hitch lifted into the box of the pickup and pinned down.

Yep! God stripped all the old leaves from the trees, and blanketed the mountains in clouds of gray for the winter. Now they have come out of hibernation, and are vibrant with color again. The birds have taken their winter excursions to warmer places, but are now back and in excellent voice. I once again, am able to take my coffee outside at 7 AM and listen to the songbirds chirp and sing while I read my morning paper.

I sit and think about my sons and grandchildren, on their way to work and to school. I think of my friends in NC and their little boy. She rides to school with him every day on their bicycles, and meets him when school is out, so they can peddle back home together. I make my plans for the day, and thank God that I was able to live to retirement age. I thank him for my wonderful soul mate and her support in all of my endeavors. I reminisce about the days gone by when I too, had to rise early to report to work .

Retirement is a wonderful thing. It is a time when you have time to contemplate and enjoy God's blessings and nature's wonders to their fullest. I am like an old race horse, out to pasture, but with a firm grip on my keyboard and coffee cup, LOL.

All I need now is a laptop and WIFI, or an internet connection in the carport, so I could enjoy nature's wonders, while blogging away under the blue sky with it's puffy, cottonball, clouds moving slowly to the horizon and out of sight. Heck, I might even learn to mulit-task, and mow with the tractor, while keyboarding on a laptop, haha!

Well it is springtime in Tennessee, and it is supper time here in the hollow, so I will have to say good bye for now. God bless you all, and may all of you take the time to stop and enjoy mother nature's slide show that we call spring.