Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Whose Counting

The past two days of deluge from the heavens was much needed for our dry land, but it also brought more than just help to my flowers. Yesterdays downpours were so hard I had to pull over and wait many times for a clearer view of the road. The slower driving pace allowed me time to reflect on the happenings of my small-town world which these past few days has been all about getting older.
One of my dear friends, Jean Ruckman, is celebrating her 80th birthday this week which takes her into an age bracket which these days is just the beginnings of older age. The church family and a few other close friends surprised her with a party and as I looked around the room I realized how many of my friends are all over 80; Jean this makes you a youngster. It's becoming nothing to be 90 these days. I asked my neighbor Bill Corbitt a few weeks ago what it felt like to turn 90 (really such a silly question) and he didn't really have an answer other than he couldn't believe it himself. "I never really thought I would live this long," he said in amazement. Both he and Jean told me they really quit counting the birthdays a long time ago.
The chronological age really doesn't matter; although it is an amazing milestone to hit those big numbers and a cause for celebration. But again looking around the room I decided I must get busy and spend some quality time with these people. The sad reality is that the odds are starting to work against them and time isn't on their side.
What can we do about it? We can stop counting the years and start counting the hours we spend with them. Jean began to recall stories to our group about the year she was born. Hard times and The Great Depression fell on the 1930s and her mother took on boarders, fed them from the garden and had time to deliver a child while taking care of the other siblings. I tried picturing the scenario and was tired just thinking about it. Jean said her mother never complained and always remained upbeat at least as far as the family or boarders ever knew. I want to spend time with those who have witnessed over eight decades of American life and have lived through the changing times. I'm coming to the realization that those who can best adapt to the changes are those who seem to sail through the years with little trouble; those who stopped counting and started living.
Jean uses e-mail and Facebook as does my mother who is a young 80. Bill never stops moving. He uses a cane, but never misses his lodge meetings and gatherings. He is always visiting with someone on a daily basis. He checks on us all in case we need something. My friend Charlie Landsettle led our church service as a layreader and did a fantastic job.
Of course I have many friends who have had no other option, mainly because of mental illnesses,than to have their loved ones placed in housing where they can be taken care of on a daily basis. There are no words to describe the pain that causes a family, yet many times I see their loved ones take on new roles in their new living quarters. They become the helpers and keepers of those in need and find new purpose.
If we must count, lets count the blessings these folks bring to our lives. It doesn't matter where they have to live only that they are living and that we can spend time with them and still learn from them. I have a friend whose mother isn't sure whom everyone is and in her mind she is a young gal living on a farm. It's tough for the family, yet, through all the fog and mist there has arose a laughter in us all that just goes to the farm with her and makes sure she's alright. New memories are being created and more time is being spent together around her. She has, without even knowing, forced everyone around her to slow down and spend more time together. Its been a tough,yet,good thing.
I can't imagine what would have happened to me if people such as Jean, Bill, Charlie and many others hadn't taken time for me. It did take a village to raise me. I can only hope that someday when I'm 80-plus years someone can say I helped them in their life. If that happens, I will have lived my purpose. We are here in this world to be mentors and to bring joy, love and happiness to others. The greatest gift we can give to these octogenarians is to pick up where they left off and to continue in their footsteps.
Many times we have to move the mist and wait for the rain to stop falling to realize we have many blessings yet to gather. Lets go count the hours with our friends and family and stop using the excuse we don't have time. What's more important - a reality television show or the reality that we can make a difference in people's lives.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Instinct-That little voice inside to which we should listen

Kittens were born at our house on the Fourth of July. Well, not at the house, but in our boat of all places. The momma cat, whose name is Chicken because the nieces and nephews all under the age of seven decided so, is a young mother who has known exactly how to take care of everything. It's just instinct; a part of nature and nurture. Its amazing to watch in action. Chicken chose the boat, I'm sure, because it was protected from the sun, comfortable in the carpet and the ground predators wouldn't find them. We needed the boat so we moved them and she tried to take them back until we all settled on a good place. She cleans them every day and feeds them and this morning brought them a dead mouse- I'm not really sure what that was all about - but I'm sure it was something important to her. She is the proud mother of four; two with bobbed tails like hereself and the other two have long tails. I think Chicken is some kind of Bobcat or Lynx mix and the daddy, our neighbors cat, is a black and grey tabby. Being born of the 4Th, I couldn't resist to name them Yankee, Doodle, Dandy and Sam and they are all as cute as their names. They already have homes and we couldn't be prouder and happier.
It was while watching Chicken take care of her little ones that I realized we all have that innate nature within us but we many times just don't listen to our inner being or soul. Over and over again in my life I've caught myself saying, "I knew I shouldn't have done that," yet I did it and it went wrong. I truly believe in the mind, body and soul connection and if we would take time to listen to all three, we would be better people.
I've had a weight problem for years. I keep telling myself its just because I finally gave up cigarettes and needed to replace them with something. Well, what an excuse. I gave up the smokes over 14 years ago and I'm still using them as my excuse for stuffing myself with everything I shouldn't. The key word here is stuffing. I've been reading everything I can about diet these days and what these large amount of sugars and fried foods do to us. I realize its not the sugars or even the type of food, they've been around since Eve ate the apple, but simply how much we inhale. Our bodies tell us when we are full, but we ignore the signals and keep shoving it in. It doesn't matter what we eat if we only eat a few bites. The best advise I've read and I will pass on is....don't eat if you're not hungry. It's simple. Our mind and body tell us when we are full and when we are hungry if we listen. Chicken cat knows when to feed her babies and clean them and protect them just as we know how to take care of ourselves if we listen. We can instinctively take care of all our needs if we take a moment each day and get quiet and really listen to ourselves. Many call it prayer, some call it meditation and others don't have to give it names..its just instinct. Stop and listen. Make time not excuses.

Saturday, July 3, 2010


I've spent the better part of the last three days burning up highways between New Martinsville and Charleston, WV, in an Americana-type mood in honor of our Independence Day. I have always been impressed with the show of flags through Paden City. This is a city that shows its American pride throughout the year with flag draped streets but its never more beautiful than during the Fourth of July celebrations. I had to stop by my favorite small-town hardware and take in the ambiance of an era gone by. Its hard to keep mom and pop stores open these days and even if I spend only a dollar, I try to patronize these hard-working private-owned retail locations. Having grown up in a corner grocery store with wooden floors and penny candy I enjoy nothing more than strolling through the isles and soaking in the scents of my youth. I feel like a kid again with a few dollars in my pocket needing to be spent. I purchased a couple of sheets of sand paper and a utility knife. I'm not sure why, but I know I'll need them someday. We need to keep these few little markets going. I believe in a time the world will not be dependent on huge box stores anymore.
After attending the memorial service for Sen. Robert Byrd and marveling that most of the power in the free world of America was sitting before me in Charleston, WV, I headed back up to the calmer world of the Ripley Arts and Crafts fair. I reacquainted myself with Sunny Hollow Farms products and the great culinary talents of its owner Jill Brookover Goff and then went on to watch the art of rope making, wood turning, and to the sounds of bluegrass music. I would never be one to give up my electronics and go to a time when we had no electricity when everything was hand-turned, but for a day, an Independence Day, its great to reflect on our forefathers and the sacrifices they made - so I can blog and facebook. I jest, but we will never really understand what spirit it took to fight for Independence. We take it for granted that we will always be free, yet many of those early freedoms are already gone. I love history and what it can teach us. Robert Byrd always made sure new Senators read a copy of his history of the Roman council just to give them an idea of what can go wrong. Small independent stores can't begin to freely survive with the same opportunities as the large box marts and such arts as gardening, wood working and jewelry making are becoming popular again not because we are free to explore that past, but because our poor economy is forcing us to learn to do redefine how we exist; not just for art or show but for survival. When times get tough, the tough get going and we can always turn to that early American spirit to guide us in a new direction, even if it has a twinge of old support.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Eat Shit Pitt

The Irish have nothing over a true West Virginian. They can have their green; all I need is my blue and gold and Irish whiskey is fine, but a good old cold 12oz. is really all one needs.
I never go anywhere without a West Virginia t-shirt and during last weeks vacation into the south I packed at least one for each state I was driving through. They are great conversation starters because we all know there are West Virginians everywhere; heaven knows its an unbroken rule to have enough jobs for us to stay in the state we love.
My shirts didn't let me down throughout the week. While others waited hours in line for a luggage cart at our Myrtle Beech resort, I went out to the garage and waited for a West Virginia fan to walk by with one. This guy came up and said he was from War and I replied my Dad's folks are from McDowell County and he said that trumps the little old lady I told could have this cart in the lobby. Hey, I took it. All is fair at check-out time.
But,the best reception was in North Carolina. I was walking through my favorite stop, Trader Joes, in Cary when a gentleman stopped and asked if I was from West Virginia. I said, "West by God Virginia," and he embraced me and said he was glad to see some "kin folk," which only a true blue and gold understands. We chatted for awhile and throughout the store he would stop me and tell me something else he missed from the state having to have left it some 30 years before looking for work. I invited him out to a local bar that evening where many West Virginians would be gathering for some fine live music performed by a Wheeling native.
We did in fact put together a pretty good West Virginia contingency at the bar that evening where there was a good amount of blue and gold showing. At one point this slightly inebriated guy shouts from across the bar, "I can't believe you would come in here with that shirt on," and points to me. Well he's lucky I had just come off four days of a stomach virus and I was sipping water, because had I been drinking at all, those would have been fighting words. Instead I remained calm as he came over and said he was from North Carolina, but his son was attending Pitt and his daughter was at Syracuse and he couldn't stand West Virginia now. I looked him in the eye and all I could think to say was, "Eat shit Pitt." He laughed and went back to his corner. It's a good thing the rest of the Mountaineers in the bar weren't paying attention or it would have been a scene from Saving Private Ryan.
West Virginians are a proud bunch and we should be. It takes a great spirit to overcome the years of verbal abuse that came from the poverty of the early 20th century; much of which still covers the mountains today. But, we defend her through and through. Montani Semper Liberi....Mountaineers are always to give a few punches to anyone who dares to say anything negative, especially a Pitt fan.

Monday, June 28, 2010

A Day of Reflextion

Two Roberts passed away today that significantly changed my life and the way I view many of its events.
First, there is Robert C. Byrd, the one-of-a-kind Senator from West Virginia who gave his all to seeing that American's freedoms remain intact and in believing that West Virginians deserved the basics of life just as an other American. He believed that we all should help one another in our search for the American dream and that the Constitution, a document written hundreds of years ago, was well worth saving so future generations could enjoy its fundamental strengths....that all people are created equal and they should remain equal.
I had the opportunity on several occasions over the years to interview Mr. Byrd. I remember first meeting him in Pleasants County when I was a teenager and a young musician playing in my first talent contest. He played the fiddle and I the guitar. I didn't really even think too much about his political position in life; I was mesmerized by the politician who could really play a hoe-down. I have an autographed photo of him playing his mother of pearl inlaid fiddle that now hangs in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. It was many years later that I snagged my first interview with the young Senator who was already fielding "term limit" questions. I remember him telling the audience, "You already have term limits...its called voting," he said. "If you think I've been in Washington too long and you want me gone, vote against me." Have you ever heard a politician say, "vote against me." That was in the 1980's and well you see how the voting went over the years. He was never ashamed of the millions in pork money he brought to our state and thank God for that. My last interview with him was about eight years ago and was by phone. He never faltered with an answer no matter how tough of a spot he might have been in. He was a champion for the state that I'm not sure we will ever be able to find again. He wept for West Virginia in its good times and in bad and we can only hope those tears helped develop and grow many strong roots which will continue to feed the growth of a strong state.
The second Robert I lost today was Bob Kelly, one of the finest journalists and writers in West Virginia. His last position was as the executive managing editor of the Charleston Daily Mail, but it was as a youngster that I first met Bob and his Dad, Adam, while the family was in Sistersville. The Kellys had the Sistersville newspaper and Roy Owens, a great friend and a former editor and publisher of mine, had the St. Marys newspaper, The Oracle. As a teenager, I loved to spend time in the back offices of either newspaper listening to the banter between the Kelly's and Owens. Both families inspired me to go into journalism and it was Bob who went out on a limb and hired me to the staff of the Parkersburg News even though I hadn't dusted off my journalism skills in many years. By then, it was June 2000 and I hadn't written a story since the 1980s. Bob said it was like,"riding a bicycle" and I would skin my knees up a few times, but that's what editors are for....(and as I thought he was going to say to pick me up and put me back on the bike again)....he said, to be like the antiseptic that would sting and bite and cause a few tears and I would cuss 'em, but I would know it was good for me. The last conversation I had with him was like all the others, he called me into his office to pick my brain to see if I knew anything about whatever the topic of the day was. He loved to find out everything he could about everything. And, you were never to leave out any detail, not even the slightest morsel. He had a great way of interviewing people and he would get what he needed in the most congenial way. He delighted in scooping other papers, yet when needed he would help them in any way he long as he was first in print. They don't make journalists like Bob any more. This is what is wrong with today's news. There are two sides to every story and he wanted every detail of both sides. I'm sorry we have lost that in today's news and sorry to have lost his laugh. He loved a good joke. He loved West Virginia history and how ironic he would pass on one of the most historic days in the state's history in a long time...the same day as his good friend Robert Byrd.
May both Roberts RIP and know that there lives have touched a great many, but especially mine.