Time machines…and other ways to take you back

I was about 12 years old the other day when I walked across the parking lot to the mailroom of our subdivision. My new/old fishing lures were supposed to have been delivered and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on them.

My dad and I were bait fisherman until we encountered the son of a man on whose farm we fished in his several stock ponds. His son introduced us to Abu in-line spinning lures and our world changed.  In addition to getting hooked on that style of lure, I was smitten with the young man’s reel:  a Garcia spinning reel. I still have the one that I bought shortly after I was introduced to the brand and the style.

The lure style was mimicked by Shyster and other manufacturers.  My dad went all-in for fishing lures, picking up varieties at little shops as he travelled through small towns for his work; back in the “old days,” a lot of little gas stations and convenience stores had lures on cardboard displays tacked to the paneled wall behind the register or in the “fishing section” of the store.

I could share scores of wonderful fishing memories with my dad, and hundreds that came later with my sons. The new lures that I purchased the other day take me back to old times when I had the earlier versions of the lure, when I could be found practicing casting in the front yard (sometimes with friends), when I caught a bass that had a baby duck’s feet hanging out of its mouth, when my friends and I would ride our bikes to Oshman’s sporting goods in Town and Country Village to patrol the aisles of fishing gear, when… and on and on. The memories are fond, the emotions sweet and my energy picks up like the corners of my mouth as I recall those times.

The point is that there are a variety of things that serve as time machines that take us to times that help us better understand the present, that connect us to our periods of change and development, that remind us of friends made or accomplishments achieved, that make us smile anew or sigh with healed sadness. 

I chose the lures because I aim to fish again in the less stressed, more playful ways of my youth and I wanted to go back to those times to re-learn the style.  The internet hosts more time portals that you can travel. I have sought out other time machines there, too, like songs from specific years, candies from when a quarter in a young boy’s sweaty palm would yield a small paper bag of sugared smiles, toys from specific birthdays or Christmases…again, the list is endless.

Time travel.  It’ll do you good.

The ingredients of a good life…not all are pleasant

Many of the ingredients in a tasty recipe are not good by themselves. They can be pretty disgusting. Life is much the same way:  You can’t judge your life by an event or occurrence but must look at the result of it all blended together.

Try chewing on a mouthful of basil, or sip on an ounce of vanilla extract, or put down a tablespoon of cinnamon (DON’T try those things…it can be dangerous) …flavors that we love in the final product can be anything from annoying to unbearable by themselves.  Such is life.

I’ve always told my sons that if they love their lives now, they must respect and appreciate everything involved to get them to this point; likewise, what is yet to come is also part of making the grand recipe of life. In the present of any circumstance, we cannot know how that affects our future.

What we are and what we have are the summation of experiences (I explain this and provide useful tools to understand your experiences in my LIFElines book). Seemingly minor meetings or occurrences can affect your life immediately or way down the road; traumatic experiences can cause major course corrections to a better life and becoming a better person. We won’t know the effect until life blends it all together, just like we can’t project the taste of the vanilla icing by swigging from the extract bottle.

Be patient with the “recipe” and trust that the “ingredients” of your life are there for a reason: to make you.

Polished shoes…wisdom for today

I spread out the towel on the floor, laid out two brushes – one stiff bristled and the other soft – took two specific cloths out of the box and lifted the jar of boot polish from the box, too, before sitting cross-legged on the floor. Time to polish my boots. Time to get lost in the sounds and scents of the ritual, one that my dad was much more committed to than I am.

One of the routines on Sundays before going to church when I was a kid, was watching and listening to dad polish his shoes. Once I was big enough, I was able to participate by holding down the shoes while he took a buffing rag to them. The rag was long and narrow and dad popped it crisply, much to his youngest son’s enjoyment; I use a buffing mitt from the goodies that hotels leave for visitors.  I followed his example of using old socks to spread the polish deep into the lines and crevices of the leather.  It is a satisfying process.

The stiff brush cleans the leather before rubbing in the cream. For years, I used the same brand shoe polish that dad did, but my latest taste in boots have required cream, instead of polish, to achieve the look that I like. Dabs of soft cream rubbed into the leather stirs scents. After letting the applied cream dry sufficiently, the soft brush brings out a shine with fast back-and-forth strokes that emulate my memories of dad’s ways as much as possible. The soft buffing mitt finishes the job, ten minutes of memories and lessons.

I think people cared more back then about appearances, about looking presentable. As I polish my boots, I think that I should pay more attention to them more often. Looking presentable has been frowned on with contemporary take-me-as-I-am mentality. That may be well and good, but there is something to be said about having the self-respect to look…well, polished.

My mom told me that during the “old days,” you could see by dirt on the back of men’s slacks where they would give them a quick buffing by rubbing their shoe on their calves before heading into a meeting. 

Polished shoes mattered. I remember when the soles of dad’s shoes had holes, but the leather was shiny. No matter the toll on the soles, the outward appearance was positive and polished. That sounds like a good concept for life and living.

30…light years

It was great to have a chance to catch up with my youngest son and his special lady for a slightly belated celebration of his 30th birthday. For the past few years, he has not been around for his birthday due to his job’s travel requirements.

All three of my sons are light years ahead of where I was at their respective ages. I’m okay with that. Instead of following in their old man’s footsteps, they pulled over to the passing lane. They are on similar paths in terms of using public speaking, photography, sales, relationship development, communications, strategic thinking and other areas of interest that we share, but they use them differently and have taken them further than I have. It all makes for a fascinating view.

One of the clearest things I see is that influence is more important than imitation. I feel like my influence has helped them to become the successes and kind of men they are; I may have put a bit of wind in their sails, but they charted their paths and navigated the waters. That is altogether different than having them imitate their dad.  I was blessed with a dad who responded to my curiosity of taking over his accounting business someday with, “I’d love for you to, but I don’t think you’d like accounting. I don’t think it is you.  Read this book (which he pulled off his shelf) and we’ll talk.”  I took the book and that semester I took an accounting class, too. He was right; he knew that imitating him would have put me in a role that I hated. He influenced with me with courage, tenacity, independence, and never-surrender attitude in the quest to do things I love.

We all have the chance to influence others; our goal should not be imitation. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, which is a matter of pride; influence requires humility for all involved, which is more fertile ground for growth.

Memories Held Together With Love

Michael Peter Smith wrote a beautiful song in 1968 titled “The Dutchman.”  I recently discovered it. It haunts me, this story of a man who has lost his memories and realities. I have come to love the song because it speaks to me of how others love us no matter how much or little we remember. Key to all this is that memories are often held together with love so that they are accessible over time.

Long ago, I used to be a young man
And dear Margaret remembers that for me

The song revolves around those two lines that are in the refrain. The song has been covered by a wide range of musicians, each bringing a different flavor to loving, nostalgic recipe of the lyrics. Watching the New Kingston Trio perform the song with Bob Shane singing with the aid of a canula somehow ties the messages of aging and patience ever more tightly. This is not a song review; it is a reminder of love and the importance of stories shared and remembered.

Find a way to move memories forward in time:  write stories, send letters, create lyrics and songs, accompany photographs with recollections, share stories with family members and loved ones. Don’t be too quick to throw away what you have created or what you have received. Remember letters held together by adhesive tape? Love has a way of holding together those things that are not on paper.

No one has perfect recall, making the preserving and sharing of stories and memories all the more interesting. After I published my book Daddin’:  The Verb of Being a Dad, my oldest son pointed out a correction to a story shared in the book. I am sure his correction was valid because the particular story was about him in college. I am sure that as I get older, more and more of my memories will need “editorial adjustments” delivered with love, not judgment.

So it is for all of us. Our memories are not perfect, neither the ones we hold nor those we feel to correct of others. At some point, those memories may disappear or become something that never really was.  And that’s okay, because the mortar that can, and should, hold together all memories is love; of all the things we can forget, let’s not let that be one of them.

I once was what you…

My mom would occasionally use an expression that caught my attention from my early teen years on. That was a long time ago, but I’ve never forgotten it. “I once was what you are now.” Perhaps it was observations like this and the fact that my parents were “older” by the time I arrived as a surprise; dad was 43 and mom was almost 40.

I have always been fascinated by the “growing older” process. “Puff the Magic Dragon” always saddened me because of the changes in the friendship described in the lyrics. When my friend, Brian, drowned when we were 19, I could no longer listen to the song. Innocence lost. It was 35 years before I listened to it again; growing older and its subsequent changes to life have intrigued me, while also producing a bit of melancholy.

The next phase to mom’s phrase is “You will be what I am now.” Older people were once young; young people will become old. Life is a continuum.

A high school friend and I were sharing emails about our parents a few days ago. I shared with him a poem that I wrote in 1972, influenced by Neil Young’s song, “Old Man.” My poem, also titled “Old Man,” has six stanzas, the first two are:

Old man can you manage

With that cane in your hand?

Can you continue watching

The dropping of the sand?

Do memories plague you

Of the days in the street?

Do memories haunt you

Of the people you did meet?

My dad was 59 when I showed the poem to him; he cried. I read it now, at 66, with different eyes. I have become what he was then, plus some.

 Young gain wisdom from the old; old tap into energy from the young. Life is a continuum. Don’t forget from when you came and look forward with hope to where you’re going.

It’s HOT…a great opportunity

I just came in from watering. The temperature is 109, but the heat index is only 112, four degrees lower than forecast. Ya gotta love the small favors.

Grumbling about heat is a common occurrence in these parts, and rightfully so. There are opportunities with this heat; they sure beat grumbling and getting grouchy.

Read a book; write a book; sew or quilt; slow dance with your special other in the living room; drink sweet tea; eat watermelon; get up early to enjoy tolerable temperatures at the time the birds are waking up; write some letters using pen and paper; sit in front of a box fan and get lost in the white noise and the sensation of the breeze in your hair; go outside for 15 minutes of Vitamin D and get a healthy sweat going; paint; play an instrument; listen to some music from your youthful days; call someone you haven’t talked to in too long; experiment – try to cook an egg on the sidewalk; nap; read a book to your kids or grandkids; have a call (video or phone) with friends or family; put together a jigsaw puzzle; learn to play chess (or something else you don’t know how to do yet)…and so on.

Yeah, it is hotter than the hinges of the gates of Hades, but there are opportunities because of it. Enjoy! 

Everyone is in sales…and in the people business

More than 25 years ago a retired banker gave me a copy of a book he had written. I forgot the title, but the premise was that no one had ever told him he would be in sales, and the fact is that everyone is. Everyone tries to persuade, inspire or motivate others to make a “purchase” with their funds, time, judgement or support.

I recently had a conversation with a young salesman who closed an important deal. I asked him how it was that he was able to make it happen when his employer had had the client engaged for quite some time. The young man’s answer says a lot about all sales and human relations.  He admitted that he could have completed the deal earlier, but he wanted to wait until the client was totally comfortable with the deal and had complete trust in the company to deliver. The salesman was patient enough and unselfish enough to make things right for the client instead of pushing hard to score the success for himself.

His story got me to thinking about how people handle the process of trying to convince/sell/motivate others to buy what is being sold, decide in a way the “seller” deems appropriate, agree with the position of the seller, and so on.  Whether we are selling widgets or services, the idea of where to go on vacation, the decision of where to go on a date or agreeing to accept our proposal (whether one delivered on paper or on bended knee)…no matter what we’re selling – trying to get others to buy, accept or agree with – it serves everyone well to be patient while looking at the process as a very human interaction.

More than 17 years ago, I wrote an article about six tips about sales learned from a shoeshine man. I adapted the lessons to fundraising, too. In that experience, I ended up buying something that I had never purchased before at a time when I was not shopping (at all, much less for what he was selling) and I ended up paying more than originally quoted while enjoying the entire process.  How did that happen? The transaction was monetary; the interaction was human.

The young salesman told me that he learned a lot about the client over the time; their life experiences had many similarities, understanding of which made their connection stronger. No matter what we do, it is people oriented. Be patient; connect; empathize; understand. Never confuse transaction with interaction.

Special people…special stories…special wisdom

I love listening to, and sharing, stories about others, but you know that. There is wisdom in those stories; you know that, too. I’m trying to be cool, calm and collected about my work sharing stories being recognized, but it isn’t easy.

I am proud to announce that I have been selected to receive a Barbara Jordan Media Award from the Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities in the newsletter category for having created the newsletter for the organization I work for. The award medallion states, “For excellence in the communication of the realities of people with disabilities.” I am humbled.

I work at New Danville, a nonprofit, rural community for special needs adults; our newsletter is called The Wrangler Gazette as a tip of the hat to our clients who are called Wranglers. The award is explained more here, where you can also register for the virtual after-party in July. The video of the virtual award event can be found here; my part starts at 48:59. 😊

This isn’t a column about bragging, though. It is about people, their stories and the importance of sharing them. As I said in my acceptance speech, there are many great stories to share, and that’s the point. Stories create connections and understanding. They entertain, enlighten, amuse, inform and engage.

Share stories; listen attentively to stories; ask for stories – the world will be a better place and you will get more out of your day.

The Gift for Father’s Day is…

It has been 40 years since my dad died. I have been son, I am father and have had the blessing to make it to the stage of grandfather, so I think I have some perspectives to talk about Father’s Day, specifically the gift for Father’s Day and the gift of fathers’ days. They are the same thing.

Time. Time spent with my sons has always been the gift of this father’s days. It is also the gift for the celebration of Father’s Day.

I was blessed to spend time with two of my sons this weekend, on Saturday to work (and play) together at my little piece of wooded heaven that I call “Walden,” and with those same two sons at a Sunday get-together where I was also able to enjoy the role of grandfather. My other son was with his family on a vacation to help his wife and kids honor her father on “his day.” The gift, whether on the formal Father’s Day or any day for fathers during the year, is time spent and shared.

Many speakers and authors have said that love is spelled t-i-m-e. Time is the love fathers give to kids as they are growing up and given to dads when adult children are available (and for moms, too, of course, but this is a Father’s Day column).

Don’t wait until next June; spend the time with your kids; spend time with your dad or remember, if he has passed, the positives of the time you spent together.

Dad, I miss you and love you; sons, I love you and relish time spent with you; grandkids, I love the time we have together.