Carolann and I just returned to Dallas from a one week visit with our families in California. We had a wonderful time with our sons and daughters-in-law, our grandsons, aunts, uncles, cousins, sisters, brothers and assorted others.
That’s what family reunions are all about. We return home for the first time in years and laugh about old times. We share a bit about our current lives, embellish our common past and commiserate over how old and fat we’ve all become.
We can’t believe how big the kids have gotten.
We take pictures, have another drink and laugh some more.
We pay tribute to those of us who have died and when we finally say our goodbyes we share sincere hugs, promising we’ll do this again soon.
Sometimes we know that won’t be possible.
When I was a boy my mother was my queen and goddess. She was there when I woke up and tucked me in when I went to bed. She sang Doris Day songs while doing housework.
Que sera, sera…
Whatever will be, will be.
The future’s not ours to see.
Que sera, sera…
What will be, will be.
She cooked, she cleaned and she sang after making sure that I started each day with a single thought:
“This can be a good day or a bad day, it’s all up to you.”
— Nancy Webster-Williams
She kissed me good morning, fixed my breakfast and lunch and kissed me goodbye.
Last Saturday, April 22, 2017, twenty of us – her children, grand children, great-grand children, siblings and extended family — gathered in a social room at her retirement home. Together again for the first time in many years we laughed and chattered and took a thousand pictures. We promised each other we’d do it again sooner rather than later.
At the end of the day when I hugged and kissed my mother goodbye she looked deeply into my eyes. No longer fuzzy headed, slightly confused or overwhelmed by the attention and the noise she said earnestly, “Take care of yourself, David. I love you.”
She said it twice for emphasis.
She looked at me again and I looked at her. I’m 65 now but I was seeing my mommy of 60 years ago.
We both knew that it would be for the last time.
I hope I’m wrong but I don’t think so. I think we both know and we’re fine. We had a proper goodbye with just the love and none of the tears.
I’ll phone her more often now and I’ll spend less time talking about myself. I’ll talk about us.
I’ll ask her, maybe for the first time ever, to tell me about her life, her thoughts and feelings.
The nice thing about growing older is growing wiser, of course, but sometimes we’re disappointed to learn that our epiphanies are not original.
“The more I learn the more I learn how little I know.” — Dave Williams, c. 2002
When I had that revelation I figured I was a genius. I thought it belonged in a book of quotations!
Every time I have thunk a great thought I soon learned that many other people with brains mightier than mine had the same thought long before me and they usually phrased it better.
“The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” – Aristotle, 350 B.C.
I still think we should take credit for our great thoughts. When an idea first occurs to us it marks our arrival at a new mile post in our life’s journey.
That’s significant no matter who arrived there first.
I’ve decided to honor my special friends and family members by noting the wise things they’ve told me that made a lasting impression, regardless of whether it was original to them or whether they heard or read it somewhere.
We are, after all, a combination of our life experiences and all the people we’ve loved and admired along the way.
In that spirit I will start here, with my dear friend and former colleague, Dave Grosby, who told me this when we were both young and single, shortly after my divorce in 1981.
I don’t remember where we were when Groz said this to me. I’m sure we were drinking hard and laughing our asses off. That’s how we rolled in the early 1980s.
But you know what? I never forgot it and it did guide me through seven years of my life as a newly single man.
Eventually this sage advice led me to Carolann, the love of my life, who treats waiters, babies and stray dogs with the same respect and dignity she still gives me.
I don’t really care. I’m the least busy person I know.
Everybody still says we’ll all lose an hour’s sleep Saturday night. Not me. I go to bed when I’m tired on Saturday and wake up Sunday morning when I’m finished sleeping. The clock says whatever it says, I don’t care.
The only time changing the clock became a personal issue is when I was working on the air at radio stations on the Fall Back all night shift. I would slog through the 1-2 a.m. hour and then, presto time change-o!, it was 1 a.m. again! That kinda sucked.
If you do have to awaken at a particular time on Sunday and you’re afraid losing an hour’s sleep will kick your butt I have two suggestions: go to bed earlier or change your plans.
Seriously, why is this a big deal?
It’s exactly the same as when you fly into a different time zone that’s one hour ahead. Does that wreak havoc in your life for as much as five days as they keep telling us in the news? I don’t think so.
Lately we’ve been treated to sensationalized news stories telling us how changing the clocks one hour leads to more highway deaths for sleepy drivers and more heart attacks and strokes for people who have trouble adjusting their bodies to the arbitrary numbers we call time.
I don’t mean to be a jerk but if you have a heart attack because of Daylight Saving Time I’m guessing that your heart was in critical distress before you changed the clock.
We’ve all been taught that the goal of Daylight Saving Time was to give farmers an extra hour of daylight. Farmers, being much smarter than the rest of us, call that a big pile of horse hockey. The sun rises and sets on its own schedule all year ’round. Farmers adjust their work to the actual hours of daylight, not clocks.
And, by the way, there really are more hours of daylight in the summer. We don’t need to extend them artificially by changing our clocks.
One summer Carolann and I drove to the Canadian Rockies. It didn’t get dark until 10:30 P.M.! The Canadians seem to be just fine with it.
The only thing I find remotely interesting in all of this is the history of keeping time in the United States.
Until 1883 clocks were set at noon when the sun was straight overhead no matter where you happened to be. This made sense except that a town fifty miles east or west would set their clocks to noon when the sun was straight overhead a few minutes earlier or later.
That was no big deal until the railroads came along and started moving people great distances faster than the speed of the overhead sun. The availability of pocket watches made the problem suddenly obvious: your watch said 2:30 but the clock at the railroad station where you just arrived might say it was 3:15.
Imagine flying into an airport today and needing to change planes. Say it only takes you five minutes to walk from one terminal to another but when you get there you’ve mysteriously lost half an hour and missed your connecting flight.
That’s how railroads worked until 1883. There were literally hundreds of “time zones” in the U.S.
But then the government got involved and, as usual, made everything work smoothly.
But here’s the good news: if we insist on maintaining this silly tradition we’re darned close to living in a world where all clocks change themselves. Your computers, tablets and phones already do this. Watches, clocks on stoves and in cars can’t be far behind.
And you know what that means? Blessedly, nothing.
We’ll never notice anything except that it suddenly stays light an hour longer.
“Hmm. I guess the time changed last night.”
That’s all we’ll say.
If TV and radio stop beating us over the head with stuff to worry about we’ll all be fine.
I love Saturday mornings. Instead of lurching awake at 2:45AM to go to work I come to slowly between 6 and 7 to fix coffee, feed the dogs and then I just sit and think.
Well, sometimes I sit and think. Sometimes I just sit.
Here are some of the thoughts I’ve thunk this Saturday morning:
— I’m hungry but not enough to walk six steps into the kitchen for a banana, a bowl of cereal or to fix eggs, bacon and pancakes. I suppose a lot of people in the world would not think of this as being hungry.
— Why do people say “more and more”? No matter how many “mores” you add it’s still just more.
— We have “pet peeves”. Makes no sense. I like my pets.
— A minor peeve: when people leave trash in the grocery shopping cart. (I refuse to use that cart. I insist on one that’s totally empty.)
— Speaking of empty, my coffee mug is empty but the dogs are sleeping on my lap and footstool. I’ll just have to suffer.
— There’s something about sitting in front of the TV without turning it on that makes me puff up my chest with pride!
— What’s with people who have the TV on all the time even though nobody is watching it? (My dad used to yell about the waste of expensive electricity. I just think it’s sad that so many people accept constant noise in their lives.)
— And how about when you’re riding in someone’s car and they have the radio on but turn it down so you can talk? It’s not OFF, just down low enough to be background noise. (This is also a serious annoyance for those of us who talk in the radio.)
— I don’t talk ON the radio, I talk IN it.
— Wouldn’t it be funny if our ears were on our hips? We’d have to pull down our pants at concerts.
— Who first came up with the idea of picking berries off a bush, drying them in the sun, crushing them, pouring hot water over them and drinking it? Seems nutty but it was a seriously great idea!
— Who first decided to crush some dried leaves, wrap more leaves around them, light one end and inhale the smoke? This is just stupid. (Ponder this for a moment. It’s an absolutely ridiculous idea and yet is probably the most enduring habit in all of human history!)
My Saturday morning brain wanders from one silly notion to another. But this stuff is important to me because it means I’m still exploring the world and allowing my mind to explore itself.
Getting older is like getting fatter. You don’t notice because it happens gradually.
One thing you do notice is suddenly being ignored. You notice because it seems to happen overnight. One day you’re a vital part of society and respected leader in your industry; the next day people merely nod at you with a perfunctory smile as if you were a greeter at Walmart.
This only happens with people who didn’t know you when you were young. Unfortunately, over time that seems to be most people.
Several years ago I mentioned this to my son’s mother-in-law, Gloria, a dear friend who is a bit older and very wise. I told her I was frustrated because my experience and knowledge of my business had always been sought by my colleagues but suddenly nobody seems to have any interest in what I think.
“You’ve reached the age of irrelevance,” she explained matter-of-factly.
I had to let that sink in for a moment:
The age of irrelevance.
Gloria could see I was stunned.
“It happens to all of us,” she said gently. “I used to be the person my managers turned to for ideas. Then one day they weren’t interested in any of my observations or suggestions.”
I didn’t know what to say. It made no sense and yet this is exactly what I was experiencing.
“It’s like when your kids are growing up,” Gloria continued. “They rely on you for everything and then one day they suddenly don’t need you at all. You’re irrelevant.”
Nobody ever warned me this would happen. I don’t like it but I’ve come to accept it philosophically, if not quite emotionally. It still hurts a bit. I feel kind of useless.
It’s been a few years since Gloria explained to me this particularly jarring bump. I’m getting used to it and so will you.
I just thought someone should give you a heads up.
My friend and blogging partner, Anita, shares her thoughts on her revelation here: Anita’s Blog.
(Copyright 2017, D.L. Williams. All rights reserved.)
When I was growing up in the 1950s and 60s I never knew anybody who was a homosexual. The word “gay” hadn’t yet been been appropriated from its original definition as a synonym for happy. Back then people who were sexually attracted to members of their own gender weren’t discussed openly among normal, heterosexual people. When it did come up in conversation it was always in the form of a disparaging joke or an embarrassed whisper of disgust. As children, we weren’t allowed to know these people existed.
People like that were “in the closet”, a phrase I first heard in my teens. The closet was where they belonged, we thought. We were happy to keep it that way. We assumed “they” were satisfied with the arrangement, too. It never occurred to us that people who were in love with a person of their own sex might wish they could live a normal life without being ashamed of who they were and who they loved.
In my youth “normal life” was on display nightly on our family TV shows: Leave It To Beaver, Ozzie and Harriet, Father Knows Best. Families were comprised of a wise father who held a good, steady job and provided guidance and wisdom to his children and his wife. Women worked in the home. They cooked and cleaned and made the family dinner.
These old fashioned stereotypes are laughable now but they really did define us. It was who we were and who we would become as we grew into adulthood ourselves. It was simple, sensible and comforting.
It wasn’t until the 1970s that people got tired of being in the closet and came out to claim their place in society. They were shamed and scorned. We didn’t want to think about their sex lives because sex, even among “normal” people, was dirty and private. Sex in any form might be personally glorious but it was socially icky.
Most of us from that era still believe that the most intimate part of normal loving human relations is nobody’s business but our own and we still don’t want to think about the sexual activities of anybody: our parents, ourselves, our own adult children, and most certainly not people whose private parts couldn’t possibly function the way God intended.
The God problem is still a huge obstacle for many people today. Though I wasn’t raised in church I’ll admit that I still find homosexuality baffling and unnatural, but through the years I’ve decided to accept the fact that other people’s private lives are different from mine and none of my business, just as mine is none of theirs.
Over many years I slowly came around to accept this compromise of my childhood indoctrination with limited understanding. Still, when the gay pride movement became a full fledged political issue my reaction has been the same as many others of my generation running to catch up with cultural and social evolution:
“Fine,” I thought. “Whatever. Just keep it to yourselves!”
I still firmly believe that what happens in the bedroom or who we love is a private affair that shouldn’t be flaunted publicly.
Now, in my sixties, I’ve taken the next step: I know that what I think is of no interest to people who believe strongly otherwise.
And I’ve learned as I age that sometimes I am wrong.
I just watched a TV show on HGTV of all places, in which a realtor finds fabulous homes for people who have recently won the lottery. One of the lottery winners was a gay man, a man of hispanic descent with a male life partner who is black. (This show attacked two social issues for the price of one.) I absolutely fell in love with those guys. Their biracial gay relationship wasn’t even mentioned, it was just there. They bought a home together. Neither of them flaunted anything; they didn’t dress weird or talk with a flamboyant lisp. The only reason I know they’re gay is that they were buying a home together and occasionally one would place a hand on the other’s shoulder, just as the man and wife in the story before theirs did.
Those guys were excited about their new home, they love each other and that defines happiness and freedom in every age.
I don’t have to understand their relationship to enjoy it.
Change moves too swiftly for people who grew up in a different world. Political protests, gay pride parades, LGBTQ demands and the like scare us old folks into a corner we can’t understand.
But I’m not too old to learn.
So, here’s the thing: If you’re a young person, try to realize that your parents and grandparents are wise in their years and life experience. They have much wisdom to share, but they didn’t grow up in the same world you did. You have as much to teach them as they can teach you. Just do it gently, patiently and with love.
If you’re an old fart like me, remember that we are the Flower Children, the original Peace and Love Generation who set out to change the world with freedom for all.
“Harmony and understanding, sympathy and trust abounding; No more falsehoods or derisions, Golden living dreams of visions; mystic crystal revelation and the mind’s true liberation, Aquarius!… Aquarius!…”
— The Age of Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In Copyright 1967 Lyrics by James Rado, Gerome Ragni, Galt MacDermot
We would have had a gay pride parade fifty years ago if we had thought of it.
PS. I’m working on the transgender thing. Please be patient.
(Copyright 2017, D.L. Williams. All rights reserved.)
I was 17 the first time I sat behind a microphone and cued a record. I was nervous but too excited to be scared. I had dreamed of this moment since I was eight. I was ready.
The first button I pushed exploded with thunderous drums, brass and a godlike voice:
“And now, LEE WILLIAMS on a Solid Gold Weekend!”
(Singers) “K-O-B-O, Yuba City!”
The second button I pressed started a rock song and my career.
Liftoff! I felt like I was on my way to the stars.
Somehow 48 years have slipped away since that Saturday morning in Northern California. My resume is as long as the roads that took me from Yuba City to Sacramento to Los Angeles, back to Sacramento and then on to Memphis, back to Sacramento again, to Los Angeles again, then Chicago and now Dallas.
Along the way I’ve been married twice, became a father and bought three homes in different cities.
I’ve made and lost friends and watch loved ones die.
My son just turned 40.
I’ll get my first Social Security check next month. Medicare has my vitals.
And still, I arise at 2:45 a.m. to go do what I do. The old giant radio studio console has been replaced by computer screens and I haven’t played a song since 1975. I talk about the news these days and frankly, most of the stuff in the news is either boring, depressing or comical in an inside joke way, because at my age I feel like I’ve seen and heard it all before.
In the 60s, at the so-called dawning of the Age of Aquarius I first met my now writing partner, Anita Garner, and was given my dream job at KROY, Sacramento. I was the youngest member of the staff. Now I’m the oldest by more than ten years.
Some of my colleagues today are young enough to be my grandkids. As people do between one generation and another we’re nice to each other but we don’t really connect. We can share a laugh and bits of our lives but we can’t relate.
I’ve had a wonderful life including my career in radio, though sometimes I wish I had been allowed to stay in one house for more than just a few years. As Anita points out in her latest post radio life is nomadic. Moving from city to city can be exciting but as I near the end of my working life I wonder almost constantly where I will finally call home.
Between now and then I will write about the places I’ve been, the things I’ve learned and some of the stuff I’ve thunk.
That’s the beauty of a life. By the time you close in on the finish line you have tales to tell and wonders to share.
What follows on this page are some of those tales and thoughts compiled over the past several years.
If people were born with warranties we’d all be guaranteed a certain number of years of good to reasonable health. Untimely death by accident or an act of God would be the only exemptions.
This week my son returned home from the hospital, a week mostly spent in the ICU.
He was very sick. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say we could have lost him and they still don’t know why. Jeremy’s doctors were skilled enough to revive his failing internal organs, reduce his fever and send him home, yet vials of his blood are still being spun in small centrifuges and smeared onto slides in a lab at the CDC in Atlanta.
A couple of weeks from now my kid will turn 39 and while we all try to make sense of the numbers that log our own existence and constantly inform of us how much time we may have left to live, the number of years of JT’s life are completely meaningless to me. I’m his father and all my son’s birthdays are equal from my perspective. They are all scattered moments of his life, the nearly four decades of memories of him that I keep in my heart, timeless and eternal.
He’s still five days old to me, five years old, the teenager, the joyful college student; the remarkable husband and father to his own son that he has grown to become.
He’s still the young man who stunned me by asking that I stand beside him as Best Man in his wedding. When I choked back the lump in my throat and stammered, “Why me instead of one of your buddies?”, he answered as if it was obvious, “Because you’re my best friend”.
For the past week I’ve tried to understand why our children’s lives, regardless of their age and ours, mean more to us than life itself. I suppose it has to do with our own survival instinct, the fierce insistence that above all else we will live forever or at least, in the end, to have mattered.
It’s a spiritual rabbit hole that I can’t enter and that’s probably a good thing.
All I know for sure is all that will ever matter to me:
We all get tired of constantly being around other people. Not always or often, but occasionally we need a break from even the people we love most in life: our spouse, our kids, our best friend. And it’s not just one or two of them at a time it’s all of them all at once!
Nobody’s doing anything wrong. I still love you all, you knuckleheads, but still, sometimes I just get a bit weary. We all do. I’m no psychologist but I’m absolutely sure that it’s normal and healthy and nothing to worry about. After all, absence makes the heart grow fonder, right?
Or, as Dan Hicks put it in his song by the same name: How Can I Miss You If You Won’t Go Away?
Have you ever wondered how you can go through your entire life without feeling that way about yourself?
Geez! Everywhere you go all day, every day, there you are!
When you go to bed you go with you. When you wake up you’re still there.
Every single moment of your life you know everything you’re thinking and everything you’re going to say before you say it! Doesn’t that make you just a little crazy every once in awhile?
You understand yourself better than anybody else. You talk to yourself but you never, I mean NEVER, have a disagreement. You like the same foods, watch the same TV shows, laugh and cry at the same things and you love the same people.
The one thing I almost never do is surprise myself. And that’s a drag.
I swear, sometimes I just need a short break from me. I need to send myself away or take a short vacation and be somebody I never met before. Or, be nobody at all just for a little while.
If you know me personally, admit it, the thought of being with me 24/7 for 64 years is unimaginable, right? Sure it is! You couldn’t do it, so why should I be expected to?
I know what you’re thinking. Both of me assures you emphatically I am not having a break down or bordering on being dangerous to myself. I love every moment of life.
I love me!
Still, sometimes I begin to have a thought and then cut it off with, “Yeah, I know. — Whatever.”