Big round numbers

June 13, 2019

Highlands High School, Sacramento, 1969

A couple of days ago marked the 50th anniversary of my graduation from Highlands High School outside of Sacramento. A few days later I began my radio career.

50 years. It’s a stunning number. And that was quite a week, as I recall.

June 10, 1969 was a Tuesday. School was out and for some three or four hundred of us assembled in the football stadium the entire world of opportunities was laid at our feet.

I gave one of the two student commencement speeches that day. I waxed eloquently and metaphorically about those opportunities and warned my classmates, “You must be quick to grab the world by the tail (dramatic pause)…or be left holding the shattered fragments of a Crystal Dream.”

Our parents and teachers applauded my youthful wisdom. My classmates drank from hidden flasks, fired off a couple of illegal bottle rockets and laughed like hell.

One guy in the front row flashed me his junk under his graduation robe.

I said goodbye to my childhood that day with a handful of close friends who are still close and the girl who would become my wife.

Then 50 years slipped away.

KLIF, Dallas, 2019

In our fascination with big, round numbers we look back on our lives and try to find meaning in the journey.  We measure ourselves then and now.

I’ve been anticipating this big round number for quite awhile and now that it has arrived I’m surprised to learn that it’s not that big a deal except for two things:

I’m alive and happy.

Next stop, the big, round 7-0.

Every day is Mothers Day

Don & Nancy Williams on their wedding day, Aug. 6, 1950. I was born exactly one year later.

I’m the oldest of four kids born to my mom, Nancy Laura Webster Williams. She was still three months from her 20th birthday when I entered the world. Now, as we approach our 68th anniversary as mother and child I’m still trying to understand our indescribable bond.

Until this past year I could talk with my mother. We’d laugh and love with the sparkle in our eyes meant only for each other and with words that couldn’t begin to explain the depth of who we are together. But this past year she lost her words and laughter.

She lives but she barely knows my name and voice.

Mother’s love is peace. It need not be acquired, it need not be deserved. – Erich Fromm

I’m not sad. Her memories of us may be scrambled but she gave them to me for safe keeping.

I remember the songs she sang at home and the silly sense of humor she taught me. I remember her hugs and kisses and all the smart things she said; the pain and tears she shared and the sunshine of her smile that followed.

My mother loves me. She has checked every box in the official Maternal Love and Devotion handbook every single day of my existence. I’m in her heart if not quite secure in her mind.

We are the science of genetics combined with all the flowery words of poets.

Today can be a good day or a bad day. It’s up to you. – Mom

We are a mother and her son.

I will tell her again tomorrow that I love her. She might not hear me but she knows.

How would you change your life?

The big tree at Big Tree Park, Glendora, CA. CarolAnn and I lived half a block away. Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

How would you change your life if you could have a total do-over?

The idea of going into the past to change history is science fiction meat and potatoes. It teaches us the time travel paradox: if you went back in time and killed your grandfather you would no longer exist and therefore could not go back in time to kill your grandfather.

Let’s not go down that rabbit hole. Just ask yourself, what would you do differently if you could?

I wouldn’t change a second of my childhood. It was a wonderful childhood. I loved my parents deeply and they loved me. Growing up in the 1950s and 60s was the ideal age of innocence, security and adventure.

I wouldn’t change my first marriage, either. Yes, we got married too young but if we had waited chances are it wouldn’t have happened at all and our son would not have been born. That would be a terrible loss for us and for the world he grew into. Besides, we were young and in love, each of us for the first time. Who would give that up? Would you erase your first love?

I have many fond memories of that time in my life. Our marriage didn’t fail, it just ended so we could both move on.

Between marriages I lived life large with a million laughs and many friends.  I had those so-called wild times that people usually have when they’re ten years younger than I was. It wasn’t perfect but it was a lot of fun. I was catching up on my life lessons. I wouldn’t change a moment.

The wild times led me to CarolAnn. We met in a honky tonk. She likes to emphasize the fact that we met on a country swing dance team but the fact is if I hadn’t gone into that bar for some beers, neither knowing about nor interested in a dance team, I would never have met the love of my life.

I’ve had pain and sorrow, disappointments and screwups. Those things are important. They teach us perspective and push us into the next phase of our lives. The decisions we make, the choices of whether to turn left, right or go straight are what matters. Those decisions are informed by our experience.

If I could do it all over again I’d change just one moment. I wouldn’t climb up on that roof December 13, 1990.  Falling has given me 29 years of pain and denied CarolAnn the opportunity of dancing with her husband the way we used to.

I’d change that in a heartbeat but nothing else.

What would you change if you got a total do-over?

 

Cough drops

by Dave Williams

I’ve had a chronic cough since just before Thanksgiving, 14 weeks to be exact. That’s a long time for a cough to linger and I’ve not ignored it. After two visits to my doctor, a chest x-ray (turned out clear) and a passel of expensive steroidal and antibiotic prescriptions and inhalers, to say nothing of a hundred bucks worth of over the counter cough syrups, suppressants and antihistamines, I’m still coughing. My doctor is a learned and experienced man but he’s stumped. He’s talking about sending me to a pulmonologist. (I had to look it up: that’s a specialist in respiratory matters.)

I’m not writing this because I’m worried about my cough. I’m just taking note of this moment in my life. At 67 I’m experiencing something totally new: the unexpected idea that I may be entering an age of increasing infirmity, of nagging pains and niggling problems that I might have to drag around to the end of my days.

I rarely get sick, not even a cold, but suddenly I’m starting to feel a bit frail for the first time. Coughing wears you out and makes you think.

Roughly 40 years ago I suddenly realized that I would never play baseball again. Real baseball, I mean. Unwillingly I made the transition from hard-breaking fastballs to the high arcing lobs of a bigger, softer target. Slow-pitch softball is fun but it’s not baseball.  Now, a couple of decades later I miss them both.

About 20 years ago I was suddenly relieved of the daily responsibility of parenting. Our oldest son was married and our youngest son had just moved out. CarolAnn and I celebrated our freedom as new empty-nesters. We loved it yet we missed having children in the house. Family time became the two of us time, which is wonderful though still bittersweet. We will always miss our boys.

There have been other life transitions of course, less notable and too numerous to mention. The thing is, after nearly 70 years of living I’m starting to see a pattern, a constant ending and renewal of a single life’s experiences and perspectives. In 1984 author Gail Sheehy kicked off her enormously successful series of books about the subject she called Passages.

From toddler hood to old age we who are lucky enough to live long lives are constantly saying goodbye to one time of life and entering the next with some trepidation. That’s the excitement of the journey. With great luck, or by design if you prefer, life is a very long road of wondrous yet worrisome discovery.

I feel like a slow student, coming to this realization as recently as I have but I’ve been too busy living to take notice of passages. I’m just now beginning to understand something that should have been obvious:

Lives are lived as chapters of precious stories belonging to the world and yet as unique as ourselves.

I don’t miss baseball as much as I did 40 years ago. And frankly, though I will always enjoy memories of having our boys at home, I’ve gotten over wistful nostalgia pretty well and cherish my daily solitude with CarolAnn more than ever.

This cough is forcing me to hire a younger man to do my yard work. I hope that’s just temporary but the fact is I may never mow a lawn again. That seems trivial but I’m starting to miss trivial things as well as the big, profound stuff. At the same time I’m learning to shrug off the life I’ve known for whatever surprises come next. We all are.

Life is a kaleidoscope. Every slight turn brings a shift in perspective and a dazzling new view of the world we’ve always held.

If this all sounds a little loopy, just blame the meds.

Aging is easy, changing is hard

by Dave Williams

I learned nothing from my upbringing about aging gracefully. Mother’s  only advice about the passing years was to encourage the use of more moisturizer so boys will like you.

– Anita Garner

My friend Anita wrote those words in her blog earlier this week and it made me think about my own upbringing.

Dad showing me how to use a slingshot

My parents taught me small things about washing dishes and how to work a slingshot. Mom taught me to scrub my face with Phisohex to wipe away teenaged pimples. Dad taught me to stand up straight and look a man in the eyes when I shook his hand.

Neither of them talked to me about girls or careers and retirement. I didn’t even get the birds and the bees talk.

There was no talk, not one speck of advice about fulfillment, about health, about work, about relationships, about how all of that changes through the years. – Anita

My parents, like Anita’s, left me to learn the deep, quiet lessons of life in my own good time. They taught me to be honest and respectful and that was pretty much it. Matters of my future and relationships were not theirs to teach.

These days parents seem to be much more hands-on. They plan their kids’ lives from sunup to sundown, from birth to college and beyond.

For all the stuff we read about helicopter parents and everyone-gets-a-trophy I don’t think parents today are doing anything wrong. It’s not mine to judge. The world seems much more complicated now than it was 60 years ago, though I don’t understand why.

I do wish my grandsons could spend their free afternoons building forts in open fields with no grownups around. I wish they could ride their bikes home at sundown dirty, sweaty and wearing a freshly scabbed knee and simply be told to go wash up for dinner.

Their world isn’t mine, I get that.

But sometimes I still wish it was.

Unpredictable autumn

by Dave Williams
November 3, 2018

Live in the moment.

In Texas fall teases you like a puppy. It yaps at you, snaps playfully at your fingers and then darts away to plan another surprise attack.

I wore a sweatshirt last week. Today it will be 80. Tomorrow could bring snow. It’s the wonder of Texas weather that I love because I don’t like predictability.

Life itself is unpredictable and that’s how it should be, even and maybe especially life’s tragedies.

A man arises before dawn, showers, shaves, kisses his slumbering wife and kids goodbye and then he leaves home and dies.

I don’t mean to be morose. It’s just the unpredictable nature of life.

On my early morning radio news shows I’ve told these stories daily for decades. We get used to them, both in the telling and the hearing because the stories are framed in frigid cop talk, in matter-of-fact terms detached from emotion and personal reality.

“Dallas police responded to a fatal head-on  crash early this morning. Officials say a wrong-way driver slammed into  a late model Toyota southbound on I-75 near Walnut Hill. The driver of the Toyota died at the scene.

We don’t even learn his name.

Let’s see how that’s affecting traffic: live with Traffic on the Fives, here’s Bill Jackson…”

Bill explains that emergency vehicles have the wreck confined to the divider with officers directing a ten minute slowdown into the right two lanes.

“Meanwhile, inbound on the Dallas North Tollway there’s a slowdown at Northwest Highway…”

The Toyota driver’s wife and kids are still sleeping as a hundred thousand commuters deal with a traffic jam.

The family will probably be wolfing down breakfast on hurried schedules when the knock comes at the door.

But, I digress. I was talking about unpredictable fall weather and the unexpected turns in our daily lives.

Live as a child.

Most people seem to live their lives focused on annoyance, oblivious to the small joys of the moment. We worry about trivial things and bitch about each day for trivial  reasons.

We wish it was summer, we wish it was Friday.

We wish away the unpredictably wonderful moments of our lives.

We’re constantly told to live for today, in the here and now, and to stop and smell the roses. I don’t know anyone who has figured out how to do that but I’m working on it.

I thank God each morning for another day of life.

I don’t wonder if He exists. I’m just happy to be grateful.

Before I go to sleep at night I conjure images of my wife and children, my grandchildren, the friends I’ve made and the handful of very special people I’ve known and loved in my life. I give thanks for them all. Then I drift off to sleep without a care in the world.

Tomorrow will be another unpredictable day and though the possibilities include everything, glorious and tragic, I’m looking forward to it.

I’m going outside to mow the lawn now. It might snow tomorrow or I could die tonight.

 

Perspective

by Dave Williams

Listen here:

About eight o’clock this morning at work I went to the men’s room and ran into the custodian doing his job.

We’ve smiled and howdied in passing before and we’ve never swapped names or had any conversation but this morning I asked, “How are you?”

He said, “Great! It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?”
He was cleaning urinals at the time.
I would guess he’s making minimum wage. This is a five story office building so I guess he spends his whole day cleaning toilets, wiping down counter tops and mopping restroom floors.
But it’s a beautiful day and he’s great.
That  made my day. How’s yours?

God bless you, Tom Hanks

By Dave Williams

My youngest grandson called last evening. He was so excited and so am I.

Tyler Williams has achieved a thrill that eluded me when I was his age; his hero has made amends for mine.

Here’s the story:

Tom & Tyler

A few nights ago my son and daughter-in-law took their son, Tyler, to see a production of Shakespeare’s Henry IV starring Tom Hanks. Though he’s only 13 Tyler loves Tom Hanks. He told me he’s been a big fan of Tom Hanks his entire life!

Well… since he was three.

While looking around before the show a stagehand apparently asked him if he was a Shakespeare fan, or words to that effect, and Tyler said yes, but mostly he’s a Tom Hanks fan.

The guy said maybe he could arrange for Tyler to meet Tom Hanks after the show.  You can’t imagine how excited my grandson was.

And you also can’t imagine how disappointed he was when the show ended and they couldn’t find that stagehand. Tyler and his parents headed toward the parking lot but then the miracle happened:

A large, black SUV pulled up alongside my family. The driver rolled down the window and said, “Hey, Kid! Did you like the show?”

Tom Hanks had found him.

Tyler was over the moon!

They talked for a few minutes. Tyler told his superstar hero that he, too, was an actor. Tom told him to keep practicing and offered some funny suggestions about how to enunciate properly.

A personal autograph followed and then, a big hug.

Tyler will be walking on that cloud his entire life. And how much time did it take Tom Hanks to give a kid a thrill and maybe some lifelong inspiration?

Hanks hug

Five minutes, maybe.

When I was about Tyler’s age I had a chance to talk to my hero, too. I was the only kid there when Willie Mays left the San Francisco Giants clubhouse following a game.

“Mr. Mays,” I stammered breathlessly, “will you sign my glove?”

I looked at him as if he was a god. But he didn’t look at me, not even a glance. He ignored me as if I didn’t exist. Without breaking stride he walked straight to his car.

It took me a lot of years to forgive Willie for my crushing disappointment. As I got older I did forgive him but I never forgot the pain of thinking my hero was not a nice man. It shattered my feelings for him.

But now, more than 50 years later Tom Hanks has made up for it.

I guess you could argue that I learned a valuable lesson that day so many years ago. Maybe. All I know is it hurt real bad and some of that stayed with me for decades.

Tyler will never feel that way.

God bless you, Tom Hanks.

 

Above is the program that Tom Hanks autographed for Tyler. Kinda hard to read here. It says, “Tyler, speak the speech. – T. Hanks” It’s a line from Hamlet in which Shakespeare tells actors to speak as real people do, not with florid exagerration as actors frequently do, especially while reciting his works. That’s my interpretation, at least. It is an amazing gift from a wonderful actor to a greatful young fan.

My favorite corner

I have an office in our home that was originally a guest room. After we’d lived here for a couple of years it had only hosted two guests so CarolAnn decided I should put it to daily use. If anyone else comes to visit we’ll cross that bridge.

my favorite corner

My room has family pictures on the walls and one very special photo in its original 67-year-old cardboard frame parked weirdly in a desk paper organizer. We’ll get a frame for it sooner or later. For now I get a warm, secure feeling from having my dad and mom smiling at me as I sit at my computer still trying to make something of my future.

They’d like that future planning, even at my age. They taught it to me.

Don & Nancy Williams
August 6, 1950

It’s their wedding picture, taken August 6, 1950. I was born exactly one year later. As a young child unacquainted with the social implications of the times I always proudly told people I was born the same day they got married.

Our 30th year together

The Valentine’s Day card is from my CarolAnn from this past February as we started our 30th year together. It’s one of those just-perfect cards that seems like it was written specifically for the two of us. It allows me to be with her even when I’m alone in my room.

The smaller photo is our youngest grandson Tyler in a Christmas pose from a couple of years ago. He reminds me of why I want to keep learning and growing.

Tyler Goold Williams

Oh, and the Snow White lamp? It used to reside in our Disney themed room in Southern California. We don’t have one of those here so it stays with me. I love the warm light, the bright colors and the constant reminder that we’ve invested a good portion of our time and fortune to the Disney Corporation. We feel it has been time and money well spent.

I love our home, every bit of it, but this is my favorite corner. It’s a snapshot of a small piece of my happy life.

 

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.