THE DAY AFTER, ONCE MORE

OK, it’s over. The decorations have changed from objects of joy and anticipation to dangling dust collectors that will consume a good few hours to take down, pack away and store for another year.  The good presents have lost their initial surprise, but still hold their excitement.  The ones that don’t fit, are the wrong color or whatever, now remain an unwelcome chore to make good.  Meanwhile, some family and friends have new memories to cherish while others went home offended, building new hostilities that will take months to heal, if ever.  So, that’s it–that’s another Christmas, come and gone for another year.   

I was telling a friend this morning how much more I’ve come to enjoy Halloween as my favorite holiday.  I can decorate as much or as little as I want. If
I choose to participate, all it means is shelling out a few bucks for candy and then handing it out to excited little kids transformed into being someone or something that fuels their young imagination.  By nine or ten o’clock it’s all over and I get to keep, and eat, whatever’s left in the bowl.  There is no aftermath, no hurt feelings, no stains on the rug or broken dishes.  Now that’s a holiday!

We have one more mood challenge to get through before we can call it a wrap for 2021–and that’s New Year’s Eve.  Most of us hope for a better year to come and are happy to see the old one go.  Once we trudge through this last day of the year, it’ll prove an easy trek getting through President’s and Valentine’s Day.  New Year’s Eve still fosters more mixed emotions.  It’s a quick decision for most, usually based on age, to go out or stay home.  If you go out it’s a good excuse to eat, dance and perhaps drink more than you should.  If you stay home it’s a lot easier: watch the game and then decide if it really matters to see the ball drop yet one more time. Some of us will wax poetic about the year we’ve had; others will wax on/wax off.

So, that’s where most of us are, this day after Christmas.  It a momentary something, a void of sorts, that we go through as we ponder the meaning or meaninglessness of this annual expedition we’ve once more completed.   But not to worry, we have at least a few months—or so it will seem—before it’s time to buckle up and start it all over again.

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CHRISTMAS…GOTTA LOVE IT!

I can’t drive anymore.  This is a good thing—for you, but not me!  I sure miss it, especially this time of the year when one needs to make those frenzied pilgrimages to the shopping mall.  But ahh, we live in the wonderful time of amazon.com

There is hardly an item or service I can’t purchase and find on my doorstep even as soon as the next morning.  Consequently, Christmas shopping has become a breeze.  Think of it…no more wandering around in circles for what seems forever looking for an empty parking space; no more crowded aisles in the stores to squeeze through; no more fending off a bunch of snarly co-shoppers trying to grab that last XL shirt in blue; no more juggling all the bags and boxes you wind up lugging back to your car, the one you can’t remember exactly where you parked it; and, oh yeah, in the meantime, you are wondering how you’re going to retrieve the car key from your right front pocket.  Nope, all that stuff is history. All you do now is simply sit back with a nice mug of coffee and easily meander through all this chaos with a little arrow on a video monitor, selecting whatever it is you’re shopping for and then here a click, there a click.  It’s a freakin’ miracle!

Well, miracle or whatever it is, Christmas just ain’t the same anymore.  I cannot believe I’m saying this, but I miss all that Christmas shopping turmoil.  It was just one more thing added to shopping for the tree, decorating the house, taking the kids to see Santa Claus, wrapping presents, and figuring out how many months it’ll take to pay for it all.  Christmas shopping was a big part of the chaos and I sort of miss it.  Now, I do love love love my computers—desktop to laptop—but Christmas shopping on line seems…well, it just feels off!

One thing hasn’t changed, though, and those are my sincere wishes for you.  May you have family and friends, and lots of them, with whom to share the spirit of the holiday. Merry Christmas!

*****

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HALLMARK MOVIES…BETTER THAN A KODAK MOMENT

Have you ever spent some time watching the Hallmark Channel?  It is the most syrupy, sickening sweet, wholesome, tear-jerky pile of goo I’ve ever seen…and I can’t get enough of it.

Now, I cannot explain this new addiction.  It may be the result of a fall I had, or some mental disorder I’ve developed or who knows what.  All I will admit to is having an uncontrollable nightly impulse to check in with the latest holiday movie running on the Hallmark Channel.

Details?  No problem.  The Hallmark Channel is headquarters for Christmas television.  Hallmark has produced some 40+ full-fledged Christmas movies, plus one for Chanukah. These movies are jam-packed with holly and mistletoe from start to finish and they are all constructed with so much consistency that you can easily predict what will happen practically scene by scene.  While there are variations in storyline, people and locations for each movie, there are basic elements common to all:

  • You will not hear the f-bomb ever, let alone a hell or damn; maybe one or two golly-gee-whiz’s.
  • The locations usually start out in the big city, often New York, and quickly transition to a small, Rockwellian town decorated to the hilt with Christmas paraphernalia.  
  • Major transitions between scenes usually feature drone-shot footage of the town or its main street.
  • All the actors are decent folk, wholesome and good looking, especially the primary couple.
  • The movies all run the same sequence of storyline:
    • Young, vivacious, career-building girl is busy parking her workload at the office and packing her bags so she can leave the big city and venture home for the Christmas holiday.
    • Said young lady has endearing parents welcoming her home in addition to other family members and close friends.  Her parents usually own a business or retail operation of some sort—often a quaint old inn with scads of happy holiday guests and fireplaces.
    • Soon, past, present and future suitors begin showing up, each hitting on the young lady as various conflicts develop. 
    • There are always events (dances, festivals, family affairs) going on and the leading lady is usually the organizer faced with last-minute no-shows by the caterer or leading performers.  Count on a count-down for the Christmas tree lighting, the same tree the couple cut down and decorated a half-hour earlier.
    • A key element occurs in every movie when there is a major falling out between the lead couple caused by a misunderstanding.  One of them packs up and heads for the airport.  At the peak of teardom, both by the movie characters and the audience, the dilemma is resolved—hallelujah!
    • Lovers kiss, friends and families gather around smiling wide with I-told-you-so grins as the camera slowly pulls away and The End blends in for a very brief appearance and before you can finish wiping your eyes and blowing your nose, the very next movie begins.  You don’t even have time to pee before you are snagged into yet another two hours of the same cycle all over again…and you will stay.

So, that’s how it all plays out.  Ah, the romance…ah the humanity!  Go ahead, tune into a Hallmark Christmas movie tonight and you will see it pretty much follows my play-by-play.  Don’t forget to have a dish of Christmas cookies to munch on and a cup of hot cocoa…you will find both are plentiful in every movie.  And, oh yeah, if indeed you find yourself coming back for more the next night…well, your secret is safe with me.

#####

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‘Tis The Season Almost

It soon will be Christmas…again.  The annual wait for this most joyous, yet cantankerous of holidays, seems to shorten each year as my life lengthens.  Wasn’t it just last month we took down the decorations?  

Christmas is famously the one holiday that stirs the emotions more than any other.  It builds towering, lifelong memories, many reinforced by family traditions we adopt along the way.  Christmas elevates the best feelings and gestures in all of us, and yet, it has the power to deflate, inhibit and depress.  Christmas does all these things and, depending on your current state of mind, you welcome the holiday with open arms…or you prepare for the emotional hit.

My childhood memories of Christmas are shared by many.  I believed in Santa Claus until I was about 8 or 10 years old; wanted to continue believing for a few more years, although I knew better.  Thereafter, facing the reality of Santa never threw coal on the excitement the holiday brought each year.  Absolutely not!  Santa’s spirit lives on, just as I have.  

My younger Christmas years were bountiful with toys.  I remember the fort, complete with Indians attacking and the cavalry saving; there were bikes, skates, board games, fads like hula hoops and always lots of candy. In my early teens my brother and I were heavy into model railroading and most of our presents supported that phase of our lives.  Later on, new clothes, once the boring under-appreciated gift, now took on a much higher ranking.  And, just after making it through my first semester of college, Rosemarie arrived in my life and she brought with her a whole new sizzle to the holiday.  And here we are now, soon to decorate our 58th Christmas tree together.  

Christmas, just as I have, has begun showing its age. The excitement is much lower key now, the gifting somewhat routine and the overall luster of the holiday has lost some of its sparkle.  Christmas, after all, is really for the children.  It is a time to spoil them, while hopefully embedding the joy of giving and the value of kinship.  Fortunately, there are sufficient numbers of grandchildren still available in my life and most of them want Christmas dinner to be at our house.  Since I am the primary chef in our household, this means I will be busy enough Christmas day not to worry about my aging body and thoughts about how many more Christmases there will be for me.  The holiday has become bittersweet.  But like that flavor of fine chocolate, it is still the preferred morsel that I instinctively reach for once the holiday season has arrived…again.

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Fishing With The Pelicans

I’ve mentioned in the past that wife Rosemarie loves to go fishing.  Being the faithful, supportive, sacrificing husband that I am, I will accompany her.  She’ll fish; I’ll read a book or otherwise keep myself occupied.  And too, I will fulfill the role of assistant schlepper and help her lug her gear to and from the site. This has been the fishing “format” we have been following for years.  There is one important notation I will bring to your attention:  she never, never, never catches a fish worthy of taking home and having for dinner.  But that’s ok. She simply enjoys “feeding the fish” as she puts it.

Since we moved to Naples, Florida two years ago, one of Rosemarie’s favorite places to feed the fish is the Naples Fishing Pier.  This modern structure is a mix of human-made wood that does not rot supported by several tons of concrete that juts out a few hundred feet into the Gulf of Mexico.  It is a mecca for people who like to fish and who possess the two requirements for having a good time: a fishing rod and hope.

Besides the smell of bait, there are usually a few other annoying aspects of the sport of fishing that cause it to be a turn-off to me.  One of these pesky items is the pelican. Yep, the pelican. These rather large, grungy-appearing, big-beaked species hang around fishing piers and are relentless fish hunters.  The pelicans at the Naples Fishing Pier are especially adept at dive-bombing Kamikaze-style into the water after small fish who wander too near the surface.  I will admit that the pelicans do provide a good amount of entertainment as they soar high, spot a fish and then come full-speed, head-first into the water.

I suggested to Rosemarie that she might pick up a fishing tip or two by observing the diving birds.  She didn’t seem very receptive to my comment…or should I say she didn’t take the bait.  Okay, I’m sorry. Puns have always flowed freely for me and in this case I was just casting about…       

*****

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FAMILY MATTERS…THE BROTHER ISSUE

Note: This piece was originally posted on my blog back in December, 2018. Lately I have spent a lot of time and some of the space here thinking about family and friends and the role they have played in my life. I had forgotten about this particular posting and when I came upon it unintentionally, it seemed to strike a nerve. Family relationships can be tough–I well know. Some of those in my family haven’t been easy. Perhaps you have had similar struggles. I keep hearing and keep reminding myself of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bookends,” the last line of which is “preserve your memories…they’re all that’s left you.”

——

December, 2018

Now, I don’t expect many to stick around for this posting.  It’s one of those long family sagas that I guess I have to get off my chest.  No, there is no guessing–I HAVE TO get this off my chest.  It’s about my brother, Paul, my only sibling.  I need to come to peace or closure as some call it.  It is not a happy story, though one with many happy memories. Somehow, I wish the two of us had more opportunity, or desire, to tackle what it was that held us at a distance once we left childhood.

BikerBoys

My brother died over three years ago.  He was two years my elder.  He was the one who inherited the family heart and diabetes issues while I accommodated other, less harmful genes, or perhaps later-developing ones.

I think it is true that children adopt certain positions or rankings within the family.  These are sometimes dictated by age, other times by whatever traits have been left on the table for one of the siblings to spoon up and swallow.  My bother was the rebel; I the pleaser.  The roles were well defined and they played out beyond our family years.  More on that in a moment.

My mother always told us that she wanted two children so that, unlike her, an only child, we would have someone close with whom to grow old together.  I am sure early on she felt confident that would, indeed, happen—at least based on how well my bother and I got along throughout our childhood.

Two years was a good span between us.  Paul assumed the big brother leadership role and I appropriately followed.  The difference in age, however, wasn’t enough to stop us from being good friends. We rarely went separate ways. We shared the same friends along with all our activities. 

PKMKSanta

Paul and I were pretty much always together. If one of us got into something, the other soon joined in. We were both big on trains, real ones and the model ones on a basement platform my father built.  Paul taught me how to always get on the first car of the subway or commuter train.  That way, if the spot were available, you could stand at the very front door and peer out the front window.  The subways are especially cool.  You can see all the tunnels and the stations ahead appearing as little bright specks growing in size as the train approaches each one.  

Despite our compatibility as playmates, that’s where it ended.  We had totally different personalities and dispositions.  We didn’t even look alike.  He was obstinate, bucked authority and usually felt his best advice to follow was his own.  He was exceptionally smart, like my father, but he failed to exploit it.  

Report card night was always tough.  He’d come home with the D’s and F’s and a list of excuses about how bad his teachers were.  Meanwhile, I sat quietly displaying my mostly B’s and A’s and a smattering of C’s, the latter always in math and anything technical.  I loved my brother enough that I attempted to keep my performance low-profile and even chimed in how terrible some of his teachers were.  But I could not help think he resented my decent grades, not in a jealous way, but more because they simply made the evening more difficult for him. 

My brother chose not to hone the superior brain my parents built for him.  He could have easily had a successful, professional career, if he wanted it.  I, of course, went down the other path.  Paul left school his senior year and enlisted in the Navy, followed by a variety of clerking jobs and selling cars for the rest of his life.  I went on to Penn State, struggled but made it through and launched a bumpy but lifetime career in radio that took me to retirement.  Ironically, he never seemed to have regrets about choices he made, although he would have never admitted them anyway.    I always have a list of wanna-do-overs.

When he left for the Navy, I became an only child.  I got the room to myself, the perks of learning to drive and having access to the family car and eventually inheriting a gorgeous hand-me-down ‘53 Chevy from my grandfather. School was going well and I hung with two good friends who remain so today.

PaulKuhn2
Paul at 52 in 1995

Eventually my brother became plagued with health issues.  Again, he would follow his own advice and live as he wanted and ignore the consequences.  He was constantly in and out of the hospital during his last few years.  Even his death was contrary to me. The details remain elusive.  He donated his body “to science,” meaning a bunch of med students got to practice on him and eventually he’d be bundled up and put in a piece a donated cemetery ground with others who had done the same, including my father.  There would be no funeral, no memorial service, no family gathering…nothing. Just a lifetime that had passed and, other than leaving behind three remarkable daughters who have successfully countered their father’s otherwise lethargic lifestyle, my brother seemingly left little trace that he had ever been here. 

So what now?  Well, I have compulsively put things in order for myself, as I am prone to do. I have made adjustments to my thinking…made things right, at least for me.  I wish my brother and I had a closer relationship as adults.  But if I have to settle for the portion of Paul I got, I should be grateful.  I miss the boy I grew up with, shared 15 years of my life with, took extraordinarily long bike trips with, built model airplanes with, went swimming with, played Monopoly with, cut grass and shoveled snow with and a bunch of other endless childhood “with’s.”  And intertwined among all these activities is the exclusive family heritage we both share.  These are memories indelible and unforgettable.  And in some ways, Mom, they have made it possible for Paul and I to have lived on together, just as you had hoped for… perhaps not the whole package you envisioned, but for me, enough to cherish for the rest of my life. 

*****

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TickTock

My father lost a good friend he had worked with for many years.  They didn’t hang out much together outside of the workplace, but that did not lesson their friendship.  They worked all day together, went to lunch together every day and I am sure they shared all their woes along with all the happy moments each went through during the hours they weren’t at the office.  This was many many years ago but something my father said to me at the time has been packed away somewhere deep in my head…until recently.  As he grieved quietly about the loss of his friend he told me that you know time is getting short when your peers begin to die.  Nothing particularly profound there, but now that my peers and those of my wife are doing just that…well, suddenly my dad’s comment has surfaced and it carries a lot more meaning to me now than it did the 30-or-so years ago when he shared his thoughts with me.  One of my wife’s former schoolmate’s just last week took it upon herself to publish a list on Facebook of some 20 of their classmates who are no longer answering rollcall, in school or otherwise.  As she read the list on her iPad, my wife’s hands appeared to quiver even a bit more than is usually attributed to her onslaught of Parkinson’s.  

It’s true, the clock ticks louder lately and the months, then years, seem to smear more rapidly into each other’s borders, one after the other…relentlessly.   But I am one of the lucky ones.  My wife and I have been best buddies for almost 60 years—married for 54 of them.  These are the toughest times we’ve faced and I am sure things will continue as such.  But there are gestures and mentions and even a few almost indetectable vibes that tell us our presence here has not gone unnoticed.  Our youngest grandchild hoping, insisting our semi-dysfunctional family will join together once more for Thanksgiving dinner hosted, as usual, by MomMom and PopPop.  And, yes, I do the  cooking.   And, meanwhile, the phone rings every day with a friend or family member checking in, sometimes just to see how we are doing, others seeking our world-famous sage advice on everything from medical disorders to dating therapy. 

So despite the ticks and tocks that are compelled to continually creep up behind us, there are still many kodak moments ahead.  My mother always quoted Robert Browning:  “Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be.”  It’s one of the few things I disagreed with her.  My dad, in yet another cherished moment of wisdom, or maybe it was whimsy, was more succinct.  He simply told me, “growing old stinks!”   

*****

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MONEY MADNESS

STOPPPPPPP!  Good God, what ever happened to fair pricing.  Things are just plain out of control.  I know all about inflation, capitalism and the Great American Way  (Corporate Way). The goal is to make as big a buck as possible even if it’s way more than your product or service is worth!

Like many my age, my survival depends on my Social Security check.  Our meager retirement savings is there to help with the periodic big bills like taxes and insurance and, God forbid, a medical catastrophe. And as our savings are depleted, unlike when we were working, they are not replenished BECAUSE WE DON’T EARN A SALARY ANYMORE!  What the hell is so hard to understand about that economic theory???  

Through no fault of mine, my body is aging.  It’s been functioning reasonably well up until now. But after running nonstop for over 76 years, some parts are wearing out and I just can’t run over to the auto store and buy new ones and have them installed.  But holy crap, that’s what I just did, sort of. 

I have a few vacancies in my mouth—teeth that gave up the struggle over the past few years.  I guess they didn’t want to be included in the autopsy so they either fell out or had to be yanked so I’d stop waking up the neighbors with my screams.   After they left I began smiling less, mainly because I looked like an old geezer with a bunch of holes in my mouth.  Hell, I AM an old geezer but that doesn’t mean I want to look like one.  So off I go to the dentist because one of my molars is aching and I sense this will lead to another vacant lot opening on my lower right.  Before he can do anything to help save my tooth, I have to go to another dentist to have root canal.  Wow! The golden years just keep getting more and more exciting.

I won’t mention—but then yes I will, even the painter came in twice what I wanted to pay to have the kitchen painted. Twice!  And he wouldn’t haggle.  I used to do my own painting but nowadays I can’t be climbing up and down a ladder since I’ve become a “fall risk.”  I know that’s what I am because every time I visit one of my doctors or have a test done at the hospital around the corner they put a yellow band around my wrist. That’s the international symbol for “timmmmber!” But I digress.

I’ll cut to the chase and just sum things up:  root canal + two crowns = $3000.  No, dental insurance doesn’t factor in anymore and implants are out of the question.  And, oh yeah, I didn’t ask the dentist to check out the other tooth on the back left that’s developed an attention-seeking attitude.  I figured that’d be another two grand and given this is the month when my car insurance is up for renewal and one of my home owners association payments is due…well, you know how it goes.  But think of it—THREE THOUSAND DOLLARS for dental work that used to run in the hundreds at the most.

So where am I going with all this?  Certainly not to the Mercedes dealer. Nope. Instead, me and the little lady are hunkered down in the hall closet with pillows all around us.  She’s knitting baby blankets and I’m weaving potholders.  These we’ll sell at next week’s arts and crafts fair at the church down the street.  Because we are senior citizens we get a free chocolate pudding for dessert at the potluck dinner that follows.  Ca-Ching!                                                                

*****

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THE GREAT ICE CREAM ADDICTION

I once smoked when I was younger, back when it was cool and no one worried about what all those polluted puffs were doing to your lungs. It took me quite a few attempts to give it up but I finally did.  I had my last cigarette on February 28, 1976 in Sligo Creek Park in Silver Spring, Maryland.  Yeah, I know, that’s a bit much, but so was my addiction.

I have one more addition, although many of you might think I exaggerate.  Having gone through smoking, I honestly believe my appetite for ice cream is as real as any addiction one might have. The few times I try to ease up on my I.C. intake, I go through the same kinds of withdrawal symptoms any hardcore addict suffers while trying to quit whatever.  I get nervous, anxious, impatience, quarrelsome, irritable and all the other negatives that go with kicking a habit.  My brain becomes obsessed with thoughts of mint chocolate chip, mocha fudge and Chunky Monkey.  Eventually, I give in and wind up stocking up with a few half gallons and all is well with the world once more…to hell with my fat stomach.

My passion for ice cream is so strong that I realize I need to control it any way I can.  That’s why I keep most of my “supply” in a box freezer we have in the garage.  This provides some restriction in that I have to “make a trip” to the garage.  If the ice cream is in the fridge in the kitchen, well that makes a quick walk-by spooning way too convenient.   Sometimes I think my entire life revolves around ice cream. I anticipate when the last carton is near empty and will make sure a new one is there in time to replace it.  Flavors? Brands? Sure I have my favorites, but if I am desperate…well, I may even settle for sherbert.     

Now I know there are thousands, if not millions, of suffering ice cream addicts just like me.  This has stirred my need to pay it forward. If other addicts can join associations and sign up for clubs or enroll in boot camps and other initiatives in attempts to control their habit, then why shouldn’t ice cream addicts do likewise?  I’ve been thinking about forming an informal association of sorts.  We could have regular meetings for group therapy; we could develop a step program aimed at walking us back to a normal, moderate consumption of ice cream; we could exchange low fat ice cream recipes…the ideas are endless.  I’ve even developed a prototype logo and membership card. Waddayuhthink?

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MY DAD, SAINT EDWARD

I was thinking about my father today.  He would have been 105 years old this week, had he miraculously figured out how to achieve that goal.  There was a time I thought he could do just about anything, which reminds me…

When I had been driving for only a few months, I wanted to get behind the wheel every chance I could get.  I think all 16-year-olds are that way when they first get their driver’s license.  Even though it was only around the block, I nagged my father to let me wash the car just about every other day.  We lived in a row house with a basement and a garage.  The garage was in the back of the house.  The back alley ran the whole length of the block. That’s it in the picture, looking pretty much as it did in the 1950’s.  There was a steep ramp from the top of the alley down into each garage. The ramp was about the length of a car.  Here is where everyone hung their laundry out to dry on clothes lines that ran from poles at the top of the ramp down to the garage wall. Most everyone kept the poles up permanently.  They were inserted into metal sockets cemented into the ground. 

Now, here’s is where things get tricky.  Assuming I talked my father into letting me wash the car, I would have to drive the car from the front of the house, around the block and up the alley to the ramp that descended into our garage.  At the top of the ramp, one on each side, were the clothes poles.  Now, since cars do not turn on 90 degree angles and there was no forgiveness from the poles if you tried, it took an accomplished driver to manipulate a car from the alley, between the poles and down the ramp.  While I had accomplished this task a good number of times, I am sure my father was thinking that eventually I would miscalculate the turn and wind up putting a dent in the side of the car. Isn’t it curious how fathers can actually predict these kinds of things happening?  Well, I don’t have to tell you how difficult it was to have to go into the house and tell my father I didn’t quite make it past the pole and I put dent in the side of the passenger door.

My father softly muttered, “Jesus Christ” and headed off to the basement and out the back door to inspect the damage, with me not far behind.  My father never yelled and cursed when he was really angry.  No, he’d maintain a quiet demeaner that screamed much louder.  I figured he’d appropriately express himself when he saw the big inward pucker in the car door.  As it turned out, he squatted down, inspected the damage and then quietly told me to go back into the house and get the toilet plunger.

Honest, I have never witnessed a true miracle firsthand, except that day when my father rammed a toilet plunder into the center of the dent I had put in the side door of the car and then proceeded to pull a mighty pull until the plunger unsucked itself from the surface of the door, fully pulling out the dent with it. The door looked perfect.  It was confirmed at that very moment: my father was the smartest man in the world.  My jaw remained slammed against the cement between my feet as he handed me the plunger and told me to put it back in the bathroom.  Then he went back inside to watch whatever it was on TV that I had interrupted.  It was probably a popular show at the time called …wait for it… ”Father Knows Best.”

*****

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