Photographic Treasure

This is the only picture I have of my entire family together. (I’m not in it because I was holding the camera.)

I’d like to say my family always looked this happy but that wouldn’t be true. It wouldn’t be true of any family. Old photos allow us to keep and embellish the good times when everyone was smiling because we were all really happy together, at least in that moment.

My old pictures invoke a nice warm feeling of a time when life was less complicated and when my family was together for everything including mealtimes at the table, visits with our relatives and family vacations.

This was our family vacation in McCann, Northern California, along the Eel River in August of 1964. We were there for a week which included my 13th birthday. My parents gave me a stamp collecting album and a wonderful variety pack of international postage stamps to study, sort and paste.

I also got a new, official National League baseball which my dad and I tossed back and forth for hours that week right in the middle of the dirt road outside our cabin’s front door.

McCann  was already a ghost town when we were there.

It was smack dab in the middle of no place, Humboldt County. It had been a stage coach station in 1881 and a post office soon after. It tried to be a town but stumbled and failed in the thirties and forties. By the time we got there in ’64 there were no living businesses, just the dirty old windows of store fronts that had been abandoned decades earlier.

As I remember it we were there for an entire week without seeing another soul. The only traffic we saw and heard were the Northwestern Pacific freight trains that rumbled and shrieked just a few feet past our cabin in the middle of each night. When that happened we all woke up and giggled in the dark, not just us kids, our parents too.

We had no TV in that cabin and couldn’t even get a radio signal. I know because I tried. Instead we just played together. We hiked down a steep river bank to get to the water’s edge. I held my little brother’s hand as we waded into the Eel. I held onto the blowup raft with my little sister aboard and grinning from ear to ear.

Dad and I fished with salmon eggs for bait and I saw beavers playing in the water not far from the lodge they had built from the branches of young fir and redwood trees along the shore.

My mom burned my birthday cake trying to bake it in an ancient wood burning oven in the cabin. It was edible, just toasty, and I loved it because it was mine and Mom made it for me.

On my birthday I wrote a note to the future, shoved it into an empty tin can and stuck it deep inside a hollowed chunk of a tree that was still very much alive. I imagined that the tree would grow over that hole and preserve my message. Someday, I thought, someone would cut that tree down and find my hello from the past.

Wouldn’t it be something if it was found now, in the 21st century?

I remember all of that from one picture taken 55 years ago. I probably have a lot of it wrong. I just remember it as I wish to.

This picture makes me happy.

A note to my grandsons

Dear Isaiah and Tyler,

I’d like you both to know that though I don’t get to be with you very often I think of you every single day. I really do.

When I wake up in the morning my first thought is to be grateful for a new day. I thank God for it. If you don’t believe in God that’s your right but you should give it some serious thought before you dismiss the possibility that you are alive for a good reason, not just by accident.

Either way, you should start each day happy to be alive. Be grateful for sunrise, blue skies, cold rain and for puppies and bugs.

Be grateful for the people you love.

That’s when I think of you, first thing each day.

Start your day happy.

When you’re happy it makes everyone around you happy. It’s contagious. They spread their happiness to other people. We need more happy people in the world.

As you get older you will learn a great many things about life. You’ll learn most of them from experience but you can get a lot of good tips from your parents, grandparents and other people who are older and carry your life in their hearts.

I’d like to share some of my life lessons with you. I’ll just do one at a time.

My dad taught me what I think is the single most important thing in life:

  1. “If you don’t love yourself you’ll never be worth a damn to anyone else.” – Don Williams, 1981

If you can’t love yourself, who will?

I’ll have some more of these from time to time. You can take them to heart or just consider them and decide later what you think.

We never know how much time we have left so I’ll give you the end of these lessons here and now.

This is the point and purpose of life, in my opinion:

“We are game-playing, fun-having creatures;
we are the otters of the universe.”
Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

With much love,
Your Grandpa Dave

Copyright 2018, David L. Williams. All rights reserved.

“You didn’t come with instructions.”

Researchers have warned that the prospect of leaving home has left ill-prepared millennials feeling anxious and panicked.

A recent study of 2,000 young people about to enter college has concluded that millennials are unprepared for the realities of life in the real world. More than half don’t know how to pay a bill or how much they should expect to spend on rent.

61% of these young people are scared to leave their parents. 58% have trouble sleeping. 27% have panic attacks when they think about moving away from home.

These blossoming adults go off to college nervously in need of “trigger warnings” for their studies and “safe spaces” in which to live their lives. Many don’t want to learn how to drive a car.

Some expect to get a trophy for merely participating in life.

Recently on our Dallas morning radio show on KLIF my partner, Amy Chodroff, and I talked about this study and tried to figure out how young Americans went from being excited about inheriting their own lives, as we were at their age, to being seemingly terrified by the prospect of growing up and leaving the nest.

Amy, a Gen-Xer with two well-parented and supremely prepared and confident children of her own, decided her generation is to blame for coddling these kids.

We talked about so-called helicopter parents and the everyone-gets-a trophy entitlement era of today’s society. It made sense to us and we left the blame there, on the Gen-X parents of Millenials.

Something about the discussion nagged at me and it wasn’t until I got home that I realized what it was:

Amy’s generation of helicopter parents are my generation’s free-range kids.

We Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, were the beatniks of the 1950s and the hippies of the 60s. We worshiped at the altar of Do Your Own Thing in the Church of What’s Happening Now.

We had a wonderfully carefree childhood during a time of unprecedented peace and prosperity and yet we rejected every notion of our own parents’ culture from the Hit Parade music they loved to our haircuts and the clothes they wanted us to wear.

We even rejected the uniquely American idea that liberty came with a price worth paying, though that’s easy to understand if you consider our perspective.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall – Washington, D.C.

Politicians of the 60s sent us to a war of their making. 50,000 of us died in Vietnamese rice paddies ten thousand miles from home.

I frequently think of my high school buddies who had their lives blown away before they were old enough to grow a beard or fall in love for the first time.

Those of us who dodged the draft warned each other to never trust anyone over thirty and shouted, “Make love, not war!”

Now we’re in our sixties and seventies wondering why our grandkids are so nervous and we blame their parents, our children.

Just look at the society we Boomers left in the wake of our cultural revolution.

In some ways our kids are more traditional than we were at their age. Growing up as the children of free-range parenting they’re over-correcting our mistakes by inventing their own, insisting that every spare minute of their children’s lives be scheduled, structured and under constant supervision and  by insisting that the road to happiness begins at birth with eyes fixed on the prize: a scholarship to Harvard or Stanford.

Our children’s children are leaving home, entering those schools confused and scared. And who can blame them? They were never taught that they would be challenged and sometimes they would fail. Nobody ever explained that they aren’t really bulletproof, bound for glory or as exceptional as they were constantly assured.

Nobody ever explained they’ll be paying off those student loans for the next twenty years.

We love our children. We don’t want them to ever be scared or disappointed. And yet we know they have to suffer to succeed.

Or did we forget to tell them that part?

Sometimes parents make mistakes. We can’t avoid them. We can only try to minimize them and try to make them teachable moments for ourselves and our kids.

As my Carolann likes to remind her Gen-X son: “You didn’t come with instructions.”

 

*Source of quoted material: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-4666794/Millennials-aren-t-ready-reality-life.html

 

The Age of Irrelevance

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.

Irrelevant.

It’s been a few years since Gloria explained to me this particularly jarring bump on the road of l ife. I’m getting used to it and so will you.

I just thought someone should give you a heads up.

Share

Emily’s Gift

CarolAnn and I just sent a birthday gift to our daughter-in-law, Emily. Took just thirty seconds to pick it out and ship it. ?

Gift giving isn’t what it used to be and a lot of us old geezers are highly annoyed by it. Back in the day we’d think about it a lot and then head out to the mall to find the perfect gift for that special someone. Then we’d go home and gift wrap it. If that person lived far away we’d package it and take it to the post office. The whole process could take half a day or more but it was gratifying. It was fun to think of our loved one opening the pretty package and being surprised and delighted by what was inside.

Sending a gift card via email as I just did takes no time at all. No thought. The efficiency of it is undeniable and that doesn’t mean we love our daughter-in-law any less, of course. It just means another tradition has fallen to our modern addiction to efficiency.

We don’t write letters anymore. Heck, most of us don’t even bother with email anymore. We text. We tweet.

Occasionally we use our phones as phones and actually talk with each other but that’s starting to seem like a special occasion these days. I’ve even started texting people to make an appointment to talk with them on the phone. No kidding.

Here’s what I think:

I think adapting to change is difficult as we get older but our only alternative is to refuse to change. Those who do that just sit on the porch and watch life pass by without even bothering to wave to them.

I think wistful longing for the past is natural and fine in small measure. Nostalgia is warm and comforting but it’s no way to live.

I want to keep learning to keep living. These days I find I’m constantly learning from my children. And why not? We taught them the ways of the world with hope they’d make it better. I think they’re doing that, even if we don’t always understand or like the changes.

My Life In a Shoebox

Here in North Texas the seasons change overnight. And then they change back again. A couple of days ago we hit 94 degrees. Today we’re going to stay in the 40s. Next month or next week we might have snow, then back to 85 for a couple of days.

Texas is famous for it and I love the variety.

We all mark the passing of time with changes in the weather. If it never changed we would seem to be living the same day over and over.

And yet… the days and years of our lives often seem to change like calendar pages flying off the screen to show passage of time in old movies.

You know what frustrates me? I can’t remember everything. The past 66  years are written on my brain in fuzzy black and white memories like the photographs of my childhood. They’re all mixed up in my shoebox of a brain. I sort through them from time to time and while I can usually remember a relative few specific places and people the entire experience of my life is mostly conjecture.

I figure young people of today will have the opposite problem. When they’re my age they’ll be sorting through hundreds of thousands of pictures of cats and babies they once knew and meals they once ate.

Making sense of your life is as hard as predicting it

60, 70, 80  years…

It sounds so long but it lives so fast.

One more hug and kiss from Mom

Nancy Webster 1949 – Grant Union High School, Sacramento

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.

My little sister, Linda, Mom and me. Folsom Lake 1955.

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.

My brother Jim, sister Linda, me and Mom this past weekend.

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.

 

 

Bactine, Bosco and Red Ball Jets

This is an abbreviated portion of a chapter from a book I’m writing. As slowly as I write I figured I might as well put this much in blog form. Maybe it will encourage me to get on with it.

Surviving Childhood

One of the things we aging boomers love to talk about is how much safer the world used to be when we were kids.

I guess it was in some respects.  Mostly, though, I wonder how we survived.

As kids in the 1950s and 60s we were allowed to roam our entire neighborhood from sunup to sundown free from fear of death or kidnapping.  Nobody was ever snatched off the street. 

We didn’t have drive-by shootings.  Heck, we didn’t have drive-thru hamburger joints.  Back then if you wanted to buy a burger or shoot somebody you had to park the car and get out first.

It was a simpler, more forgiving time.  But it was also a daily horror show we never even noticed.

Cars didn’t have seat belts until the mid-sixties and by then they seemed silly to those of us who grew up literally bouncing between the back and front seats as our parents sped along two-lane highways.  They didn’t mind in the least as long as we didn’t start fighting.

We had house fans with no protective covers to keep little fingers out of the whirling steel blades.  If you had invented the electric fan doesn’t a protective cage over the front just seem like a natural piece of the big picture?  How did they not think of that?

I never heard of a single injury.

The heat in our homes came up from the floor through metal grates that got hot enough to sear a waffle pattern into tender toddler butts and feet.

Everybody smoked cigarettes, cigars and pipes everywhere.  I mean everywhere: on buses and trains; in grocery stores, movie theaters, restaurants, churches and in every room of every home in America.  That’s where this attachment to “fresh air” started, you know.  Think about it.  No matter where you live these days, big city or wide-open spaces, the air is no fresher outside than it is inside.  But you still say, “I need some fresh air,” and then you step out of a filtered, air-conditioned room into downtown San Bernardino. When we stepped outside in the fifties it was like being in the Alps. Nobody complained about smoke. It was just a natural part of life.

Dogs ran free when we were kids.

You’d let the dog out and he was gone to who-knows-where until he eventually came back to the porch and waited happily to be readmitted to the house.  That might be the next day or the day after that.  If he bit somebody while he was out you never heard about it. They didn’t sue, they just swore. If he tangled with another dog you’d see him trot back into the house at dinner time, tongue and tail wagging joyously, with one bloody ear and a mangled eyeball.  You didn’t take him to the vet unless he’d been hit by a car and even then if he could hobble out of the street on three of his four legs Skippy was good to go.

We had deadly toys.

We would have wars using air-powered BB-rifles that allowed us to fire tiny steel balls with enough velocity to embed them under the skin of another kid, a dog or a cat.  It stung but we loved it.  This is where we first heard the sentence, “You could put an eye out with that!”  But nobody I knew ever lost an eye to a BB-gun assault.

If there weren’t enough BB-guns to go around, we’d just throw rocks. Seriously, rock fights. And worse.

We had toy bows and arrows.  Oh sure, the arrows had rubber cups on the end.  You just took those off, threw ‘em away and whittled the wooden shaft into a pencil-sharp point.

We had firecrackers.  We made bottle rockets out of wooden match heads cautiously jammed tightly together into glass aspirin bottles.  When they weren’t made carefully they became instant bombs, igniting in hand and shooting shards of red-hot glass dozens of feet in all directions.

I’m not making this up.

One idiot kid I remember used to lie down on the ground and have the rest of us drop a huge rock — say, the size and weight of a bowling ball — right over his face. He’d always roll out of the way before the rock hit the ground.  He never failed.

We climbed trees, great cottonwoods in my grandparents’ front yard, scampering twenty feet above the ground.  Once I fell, skinning my bare back as I slid down the trunk of that great tree, landing hard on its exposed roots.  Grandma sprayed Bactine on my injuries and gave me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on white Wonder bread.  I watched Popeye on TV and felt a lot better.

We jumped off the roof of my grandparents’ house with totally ineffective home-made parachutes fashioned from a bed sheet with ropes tied to the corners. One of my goofy cousins used to climb onto the sloped roof of their two-story house and bounce up there on his pogo stick.

We made go-carts out of two-by-fours and orange crates with tin coffee can lids for headlights and roller skates for wheels. A steep hill provided propulsion, a rope tied to each side of the front axle made for a delicate steering mechanism that was just as likely to dump you into the middle of oncoming traffic as it was to steer you out of danger. There was no braking system. For that you merely had to wait until the thing slowed of its own diminishing inertia or crashed into a parked car.

When I was a kid we had plenty of playgrounds in our neighborhoods and schoolyards were never enclosed by locked fences and gates. Still, we often just played baseball or football in the street. A parked car was first base or end zone marker. Second base was a smashed tin can; a water spigot was third. We played with broken wooden bats that had been glued, nailed and taped back into service. The baseball had ripped seams and a cover peeling off. Once the tear got so big the ball made a fluttering sound when thrown we’d peel it off completely and wrap the remaining ball of yarn into a solid mass of black electrician’s tape that needed to be repaired or replaced after bouncing along the pavement a few times. Any baseball becomes hard to see after sunset, especially one made of black tape but we played long after daylight had faded to deep purple and the cars rounding the corner into left field had their headlights on. 

As I think back on those days fifty-plus years ago I can’t remember any boys who didn’t have patched jeans and scabs on their knees and elbows. Many of the girls, too. Blood was simply a part of everyday life through no small fault of our own. We all fell off our bikes into asphalt and parked cars because were just clutzy kids. Occasionally one of the real numbskulls in the neighborhood would  intentionally ride his bike off the roof of a house or try to leap a row of thorn-laden rose bushes on a bike with the help of a pathetically engineered plywood ramp. These stunts nearly always ended in bloody failure but they didn’t stop us from trying again.

Nobody died. We seldom cried. And now we worry about our own kids and theirs.

They missed so much.

© Copyright 2010, Dave Williams. All rights reserved.

“It breaks your heart.”

A writer who loves baseball must be careful. It’s too easy to slip into flowery purple prose about the game and I’m already prone to over-writing. Besides, the love of baseball has already been written with soul-stirring elegance by the likes of Roger Kahn, Roger Angell, Red Smith, George Will, Jim Murray, Joshua Prager, Ken Burns and many others.

This morning  I started watching the Ken Burns documentary, Baseball, for the third or fourth time and for reasons I understand in my heart but can’t put into words it still chokes me up. I get teary and a lump in my throat. It’s that good, cleansing, happy emotion that makes you feel young, fresh and wholesome again.

The memories melt years from my body; I remember how I felt when my legs were lean, strong and swift and my arms were powerful.

I could smash a fastball to the moon and run like the wind all day with a huge smile on my barely sweating, freckled face. I can still remember the smell of freshly mowed grass under a cool March sky of scooting, fluffy clouds.
 
The base paths are wet from last night’s rain. One leaden, water-soaked, torn-cover baseball is heaved toward the mud that immerses home plate. I swing my glued, nailed, taped bat. Foul ball. Pitcher and batter are enthralled by the escalating drama.

See? There I go, pushing the flowery purple envelope. When you love baseball you just can’t help it. It’s a disease you catch as a child and it festers joyously for a lifetime. As the great sports writer Pete Hamill once wrote:

“Don’t tell me about the world. Not today. It’s springtime and they’re knocking baseballs around fields where the grass is damp and green in the morning and the kids are trying to hit the curve ball.”

Pete Hamill has the delicious disease of his youth.

Here are more of my favorite quotes about the game from the men who played it professionally and fed the dreams of the rest of us who believed we could.

“You can’t sit on a lead and run a few plays into the line and just kill the clock. You’ve got to throw the ball over the goddamn plate and give the other man his chance. That’s why baseball is the greatest game of them all.” – Earl Weaver

“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.” – Rogers Hornsby

“I don’t care how long you’ve been around, you’ll never see it all.” – Bob Lemon

“It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone.” – Bart Giamatti

“During my 18 years I came to bat almost 10,000 times. I struck out about 1,700 times and walked maybe 1,800 times. You figure a ballplayer will average about 500 at bats a season. That means I played seven years without ever hitting the ball.” – Mickey Mantle

“The pitcher has to find out if the hitter is timid. And if the hitter is timid, he has to remind the hitter he’s timid.” – Don Drysdale

“Every player should be accorded the privilege of at least one season with the Chicago Cubs. That’s baseball as it should be played – in God’s own sunshine. And that’s really living.” – Alvin Dark

“You gotta be a man to play baseball for a living but you gotta have a lot of little boy in you, too.” – Roy Campanella

“When they start the game they don’t yell, ‘Work Ball!” They say, ‘Play ball!” – Willie Stargell

“You see, you spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball, and in the end it turns out it was the other way around all the time.” – Jim Bouton, Ball Four

Making reservations for the cackle factory…

For some inexplicable reason I awoke this morning at 4:48 with this song running through my head:

There’s a hold up in the Bronx,
Brooklyn’s broken out in fights!
There’s a traffic jam in Harlem
That’s backed up to Jackson Heights!
There’s a scout troop short a child,
Kruschev’s due at Idlewild!!

CAR 54, WHERE ARE YOU??!!

If you never heard those words, it doesn’t matter. Move on and have a great day!

If you do know what this is about, you’re already shaking your head and thinking, “Oh, my God…” 

I awoke this morning with the theme song from a 47-year-old TV sitcom running through my head, a song I haven’t heard in at least 35 years.

My working theory is that at some point in life our mental filing cabinets start to get too heavy and the little wheels in the drawers break down. Those little folders collapse and some old piece of useless memory crap spills out all over the floor.

That’s what I’m going to tell the doctor.

I’m making the appointment right now.

© 2010 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved