Jerry Pierce

Unanswered Prayers

Country music star Garth Brooks wrote and recorded a big hit in the 1990s called Unanswered Prayers.  The words remind us to be thankful for some of the things we pray for but don’t receive. The chorus goes, “Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers; remember when you’re talking to the man upstairs; that just because He doesn’t answer doesn’t mean He don’t care; some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.” Brooks wrote the song about a high school sweetheart.   He said he told God in his prayers every night that if he could just  be with that girl, he would never ask for anything again. But then the song recounts how Brooks and his wife ran into the old flame years later.  “She wasn’t quite the angel that I remembered in my dreams,” the lyrics go.  “We tried to talk about the old days; There wasn’t much we could recall; I guess the Lord knows what he’s doing after all.” That song came to mind when I went to my 50th high school reunion a while back.  One of the first ladies I saw came up and asked that dreaded question, “You don’t remember me, do you?” She was right, but I didn’t want to offend her.  I said I knew she was one of my teachers but I couldn’t recall which one.  She laughed and said, “You’re still crazy as ever.  Always cutting up.” When she walked off,  a classmate told me she was the girl I dated through most of the l0th grade.  I did do some praying, I remember, for her not to get away. There were other ladies there that I had gone out with in high school.  I can’t imagine any of them ever praying to keep me.  If they did,  they must have thanked God for unanswered prayers when they saw how the years had treated me. Mr. Carlon, a man who lived down the street from us when I was growing up, lost his wife not long after he retired from the paper mill.  A good bit later, he started seeing a widow who played the upright piano at our church. He told church folks that he was praying for that relationship to work out because he was so lonely.  But he also said Miss Henrietta sang hymns off key nearly all day every day, and it was starting to get on his nerves. Miss Henrietta had to leave town to take care of a sick aunt in some faraway place like Alabama, so things didn’t work out for her and Mr. Carlon.  That might have been an unanswered prayer for a man who appreciated good hymns. My favorite uncle owned a flower shop in Texas and enjoyed making corsages and bouquets.  He was also a tough World War II veteran who had some bar fights and loved rodeos. I spent some weekends with him when school was out in the summer, and we went to rodeos on Friday nights.  He told me he had always wanted to be a bull rider. The meanest bull we saw was named Tornado, and my uncle said he prayed for a chance to ride him even though he had never even been on a horse, let alone a bull. He went through whatever approval process was needed to ride Tornado at a Friday night rodeo, and my folks and I were there to watch. Tornado was in an unusually foul mood that night.  He threw a rider, stomped and butted him and broke some of  his bones.  The bull’s owner canceled the rest of his rides that night, including Uncle Buddy’s debut.  That was an unanswered prayer. They were having tryouts for my high school play, and I really wanted the leading role.  I think it was the part of a judge. I remember praying to get that part. Everybody who auditioned for the role was better than I was.  The drama teacher gave me a one-line part in the play out of pity. When it was nearly time to deliver that single line, I started sweating and my heart pounded.  It was stage fright, and the words came out in a big squeak.  Thank God for not answering my prayer to play the big role. Looking back, there have been a lot of things I prayed for and didn’t get.  But like Garth Brooks wrote in those lyrics, “some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.”

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In A Rut

Our eight-year-old granddaughter spent the night with us not long ago, and her breakfast request made me realize that I’m in the same kind of rut my dad and granddad stayed in for years.

I have two biscuits and an egg every morning no matter how monotonous that becomes. It’s just easy to cook a week’s worth of biscuits, warm a couple up every day and scramble an egg.

Allie likes more variety at breakfast and changes her meals around with things like pancakes, sausage, grits, toast, cereal and oatmeal.  On her recent visit, she wanted a boiled egg and a donut.

Boiled eggs were not a breakfast food in my younger years.  If you had eggs for breakfast, they had to be fried, scrambled or maybe in an omelet with ham.

My mother used boiled eggs to make deviled eggs and egg salad with mayonnaise, mustard and pickles.  Egg salad sandwiches were good, but we didn’t have those or deviled eggs for breakfast.

I think the strange phenomenon of boiled eggs showing up for breakfast started with these hotels that provide a free morning buffet for their customers.

That’s where I first noticed it anyway.  Guys who looked like traveling salesmen would have those waffles you cook yourself and some fruit loops and then put several boiled eggs in their pockets.

I don’t remember ever seeing anybody actually eat those boiled eggs for breakfast.  They either had them for lunch later in the day or took them home and saved them for Easter.

The morning Allie asked for a boiled egg, I put some on to cook and took her to a donut shop that just opened a while back.  Allie had never been there, and she announced to all those drowsy people in the place at 6 a.m. that the donuts smelled great.

They gave her a donut hole as a sample, and she said it was the best donut she had ever eaten.  Other new customers started changing their orders from one or two donuts to a dozen.

A lady at the counter offered to put me a free donut in Allie’s bag in appreciation for her rave reviews.  But I never eat donuts or chocolate covered cherries because I can’t stop if I ever start.

While Allie was having her donut, boiled egg and chocolate milk, I thought about the summer I spent with my grandparents.  My granddad had a ham steak, redeye gravy, two of my grandmother’s cat head biscuits and cream of wheat every morning.

She said he never had anything different for breakfast in all the years they had been married and declared in an understatement that he was “in a rut.”

He would split the biscuits and cover them with the red eye gravy my grandmother made in her iron skillet with ham drippings and strong,  black A&P coffee.  It was the same skillet she used for her biscuits.

I could understand how the biscuits, ham and gravy got him in the breakfast rut but not the cream of wheat.  I had my first and last taste of that awful stuff that summer at my grandparents’ house.

Cream of wheat is not like grits.  It must be a yankee invention. I wonder if Grits Gresham, the famous outdoorsman and writer who lived here, would have been nicknamed Cream of Wheat Gresham instead of Grits if he had lived somewhere up north like New Jersey.

My mother fixed my dad three strips of crisp bacon, two fried eggs that he  covered with black pepper and two pieces of buttered toast every single day.  She cooked the eggs in the bacon grease that she saved and kept on the stove to season cornbread and other things.

One of my mother’s sisters married a New York guy who was stationed at an Air Force base in Louisiana.  The first time he visited, he asked for a bagel for breakfast.  My mother said she didn’t know any place that sold bagels, and I had never heard of them.

She served him buttered toast with mayhaw jelly.  Every time he came here from New York after that, he asked for “some of that fried bread” with the “mayhall” jelly.

I want to climb out of the rut I have been in at breakfast before I get too much more like my dad and granddad.  I’m thinking boiled eggs and donuts tomorrow but not cream of wheat.

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Marshmallow Test

Some Stanford University professors developed years ago what became known as the “marshmallow test” to gauge children’s self-control and willpower.  A lot of us would flunk that exam.

What the scholars did was put kids in a room with just one snack they really liked.  Most of the them chose a marshmallow.

The kids were told that the researcher had to leave for a few minutes and that they could eat the marshmallow or whatever snack they selected while the professor was gone.

But they complicated matters by informing the children that if they did not eat that one marshmallow, they would get an additional marshmallow when the researcher returned.

From that experiment, the Stanford folks who were paid good money for such sophisticated research determined that kids who didn’t eat the first marshmallow would be more successful in life.

In considering all of the ramifications of that experiment, I decided that I could have waited for the second treat if it had just been a plain, untoasted marshmallow.

But if it had been roasted over a campfire black on the outside and melted inside, I would have eaten the first marshmallow before it got cold.

Roasting hot dogs and marshmallows seems to have faded from our culinary culture like popcorn balls and fruitcakes.  But I still get a craving for a marshmallow heated over an open fire.

The Boy Scout troop I joined growing up in Springhill had monthly expeditions into the wood to study plants and trees, tie knots, shoot bows and arrows and things like that.

Those trips always ended with a campfire.  We cooked hot dogs and marshmallows and learned how to put out the fires.

I didn’t learn to identify many trees or tie all those different kinds of knots, but the roasted marshmallows kept me in the troop for a couple of extra years.

When my sons were little, we had a big wiener roast every Halloween night in the empty lot by our house for all the kids who were trick or treating.

They came in droves and didn’t leave until we roasted some marshmallows.  I don’t think any of them would have passed up that first marshmallow even if they could have had two marshmallows by waiting a little while.

My mother used to make hot chocolate on cold nights and melt a marshmallow in it.  Even the Stanford professors could not have waited to slurp those marshmallows off the hot chocolate.

One of my aunts always brought a sweet potato casserole to our Christmas dinners.  It had a thick covering of lightly browned marshmallows on top and was better than any of the desserts.

None of us kids had a seat at the dining room table for those holiday meals.  We were assigned to the kitchen or card tables set up in the living room.  There were times when the sweet potato casserole didn’t make it to us after our uncles got their big helpings.

On those occasions, my mother would wait until after supper and give us the jar of marshmallow cream she kept in the pantry.  We would spread it on graham crackers with peanut butter or just eat it straight from the jar with a spoon.

Marshmallow cream is like the inside of a roasted marshmallow.  If the Stanford people had given those kids a spoon of marshmallow cream, they would have eaten it for sure and could not have delayed that gratification long enough to get a second scoop.

We all understand that the Stanford research was designed to show that kids who could not wait for their treats had no self-control and would not amount to a hill of beans later in life.

But there are exceptions to that finding.  I used to ride the bus to school with a couple of farm boys who could not wait until noon to eat the food their mothers packed for lunch.

They wiped out their fried chicken, pork chops, biscuits and cornbread as soon as they got on the bus.  One became a physician, and the other was an engineer.

If those boys had participated in the Stanford research project, the professors who handed them their first marshmallows would probably have had some fingers bitten off if they had not had really good reflexes.

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Too Busy

There are moves afoot in high places to change rules in golf tournaments, baseball games and other sports events to save time.  That is more proof that we have gotten too busy in this country.

Most of us can’t do all those relaxing things our parents did like fishing, playing Rook, making homemade ice cream or swinging on the front porch because we can’t work it into our hectic schedules.

These computers, laptops, cell phones and other things that were supposed to save us time all have clocks and calendars on them.  They alert us all day every day with beeps and buzzers that we are supposed to be somewhere doing something.

When I was younger, we could get away from work once in a while to play a round of golf or watch a ballgame.

Now these folks who are worried that there might be a wasted minute or two during enjoyable events like golf and baseball are trying to cut back on that leisure time.

There is a proposal to install pitch clocks to keep pitchers from taking over 20 seconds between pitches. Fans would miss out on a lot of spitting and scratching, which is part of the game.

Some other movers and shakers want another clock to make sure breaks between innings never exceed two minutes and five seconds.  That’s not enough time to get a hot dog at the concession stand and put mustard and relish on it.

They are even talking about just waving batters down to first base instead of pitching to them for intentional walks.  That would take some excitement out of the sport.

I have seen batters jump across the plate to hit those wide pitches on intentional walks, and more than one pitcher has thrown those balls over a catcher’s head to advance a runner on a wild pitch.

One more of the many proposed rules changes that is worthy of mention is a plan to automatically put a runner on second base in extra innings.  Kids in sandlot games would have better judgment than to adopt that rule even if they do it in the big leagues.

Some bigwigs in professional golf who think that sport is taking too long are considering letting players just move their ball out of bunkers instead of making them hit it from the sand.

To be honest, guys I have played with have been doing that for years, and it didn’t make our games any shorter.

There is also talk about reducing the time you can look for a ball in the woods from five minutes to three minutes and about giving players just 40 seconds to hit a shot.

The rule about how long you can search for a ball in the woods would obviously increase cheating among those of us who are accustomed to wading around in the weeds for a few minutes before taking a ball out of our pocket, throwing it down and “finding” it.

These time-saving proposals remind me of a friend who said he wanted to get a microwave fireplace so he could enjoy a relaxing evening by the fire in six minutes.

Thinking back to the times my dad took me down the street from our neighborhood to semi-pro games in the big green baseball park in Springhill,  I never thought those games were too long.  I was always sad when they ended.

My dad and I used to sit on our screened-in front porch and listen to  St. Louis Cardinals games on a plastic portable Philco radio.  We had iced tea and pimento cheese sandwiches, and the games flew by.

He would take me and some of my friends to Shreveport for Texas League games.  Those trips and ballgames seemed way too short even when we traveled on winding, hilly two-lane roads.

When I took my own sons to major league games at the Houston Astrodome and old Arlington Park in their summers out of school, we went early and stayed late and never thought about the time.

Even before my older son Randy started to school, he went with me to Greater New Orleans Open golf tournaments.  We followed Jack Nicklaus, Tony Lema and Chi-Chi Rodriguez all day and could have stayed hours longer.

My granddaughters go with me now to softball and baseball games and never want to leave.  They will be upset if somebody does something foolish to make the games shorter.

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Unusual Kinfolks

One of Regina’s distant cousins died a few weeks ago,  and we discovered more things at the funeral about her expansive family than we really needed to know.

The relative who passed away was a respected member of the East Texas community where he spent most of his life.  He was a leader in business and civic activities.

He was big in the Methodist church, which brought out its first team to conduct the last rites.  Current and former pastors spoke, and the music minister did stirring songs like It Is Well With My Soul.

It was during family visitation over casseroles and fried chicken after the funeral that Regina first heard details about a third or fourth cousin named Ned.  She had heard of him but never met him.

One of Ned’s ex-wives was at the funeral, and she enlightened and entertained the mourners with stories about their colorful, departed relative.

Calling her one of Ned’s ex-wives was accurate.  According to her accounts and other stories family members had heard about Ned, there were several more former wives.

Even after trying to get all of the biographical information about Ned sorted out that day, the closest they could come was that he was either married eight times and had nine children or married nine times and had eight children.

Having that many wives before passing on at a relatively young age seemed  nearly impossible as we thought about it.   Most divorces take a while.  But then we learned that he was married to at least three of the wives at the same time.

Ned was a traveling salesman, the best anybody could ever tell, and some of his travels and a few of his wives were in Mexico and some other countries.

Former English-speaking wives like the one at the funeral tried to use this country’s rigid laws against being married to several people at once to nail Ned.  Those efforts failed when our laws got tangled up with those in other parts of the world.

As for the children he had, either eight or nine, that was also a noteworthy achievement for a man faced with his unusual physical shortcomings.

Ned had all those wives and children despite a condition that struck him in his pre-teen years.  Ladies,  you might want to cover your ears if you keep reading.  He had only one testicle.

Regina was the second youngest of eight children, so she missed out on several of the places her parents and siblings lived during her dad’s military career and on meeting some relatives like Ned.

But one of her older brothers was with Ned when he suffered the loss of  the body part that his ex-wife talked about at the funeral.

Ned and Regina’s brother were 12 or so, and they were climbing over a barbed wire fence.  When Ned jumped from the top of the fence, part of him stayed behind.  Regina’s brother says neither he nor Ned ever climbed over another barbed wire fence.

So the story of the cousin who had eight or nine wives and eight or nine children and just one, well you know, has been well authenticated by an ex-wife and a relative who was an eye witness.

I thought about doing some research on Ned’s condition, but my  hands shook every time I tried to type it in Google.

Those stories made the funeral interesting and comforted me with the knowledge that some of the unusual kinfolks in my family might not be as peculiar as I thought.

Like the great uncle who lived behind my granddad’s home in what had been a chicken house.  There were several extra bedrooms and baths in the big house, but he preferred to live out back.

He was a recluse who never married or learned to drive or had a job.  Uncle Willie would dart down the hall when my family or other folks visited, throw handfuls of peppermint sticks at us like it was a Mardi Gras parade and disappear.

Then there was this uncle named J.D. that I met only once.  My dad warned us before he came to our house that he was strange. He walked in with a live monkey on his shoulder.

Uncle J.D. lit himself a cigarette and then lit another one and handed it to the monkey.  They smoked while we visited.

My relatives seem more normal than they did before I heard about Ned.

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Phone Calls

Our clunky black rotary dial phone was mounted on the kitchen wall when I was growing up.  It was loud and rang so seldom that the whole family jumped when we got a call.

We were conditioned to ignore the calls that were just one long ring.  Those were for Mrs. Cain down the street who shared a party line with us.

If there were two shorter rings, my mother answered because the calls were usually for her.  Neighborhood ladies were checking on canasta and bridge schedules or a coconut pie recipe.

Once in a while, one of the men who worked for my dad at the paper mill would call in sick.  He always asked my mother to take a message even when he was sitting under the phone drinking coffee.

Both of my parents had big families, but they didn’t spend much time on the phone with them.  Long distance calls were expensive.

Most of the calls they got from relatives were about somebody dying or being in the hospital.  My dad called one of my aunts when my mother had to have surgery and asked her to pass the word along.

When I got junior high age, my friends and I would talk on the phone about baseball and bicycles.  My dad cut those calls short with the explanation that phones should be free for important calls.

If the phone rang three or four times a day, my dad would announce that he was having it taken out because the constant ringing was driving him crazy.

I think about that now when our home phones and cell phones ring continually with those exasperating robocalls from people all over the world trying to sell something or pull off some scam.

There is usually a guy on the phone who says his name is Charles or Robert that can barely speak English and has never been near this country.  He is selling cruises or home security systems.

Some of the calls are from people who say they represent a police union or some charitable organization.  They need a little donation, and we can put it on our credit cards.

Most of these solicitation calls, though, are not even from live people.  They are just recorded voices warning us that our vehicle warranties are about to expire or our student loan payment is late.

There are robocalls about possible problems with the Internal Revenue Service and our health insurance and a lot of other things designed to get money or personal information from us.

The Federal Communications Commission receives a half-million complaints a day about telephone sales pitches and robocalls that now exceed 10 billion a year.

We are advised not to answer calls from unknown numbers, but these calls are showing up on our caller ID’s from numbers in local area codes and even with our own prefixes.  Some of them show the names of the cities where we live.

Authorities say 22 million Americans lost more than $10 billion last year in phone scams.  They suggest that we should hang up and not say a word when we get these calls.

If a caller asks if we can hear them and we say “yes,” they can record it to use as proof that we accepted a sales offer or approved a charge to a credit card or bank account.

Technology wizards have invented phones that open when they recognize our face or fingerprint.   They created devices that address us verbally with questions and directions to any place we want to go.  It seems they could find a way to stop the unwanted calls.

I saw this proliferation of phone activity coming in the 1950s when we expanded our home telephone system by adding extension phones in other rooms to our wall-mounted rotary dial phone.  As Barney Fife used to say, we should have nipped it in the bud.

We quit asking Earline, our local operator, to get people on the phone and started dialing them ourselves.  Then we got phones with  push-button dialing and no party lines.   We didn’t have to get black phones.  They came in green and tan.

It was just a matter of time until we were taking cell phones with us everywhere,  mainly to answer robocalls from people who wanted to sell us things and get to our credit cards and bank accounts.

We should have nipped it in the bud when those push-button phones came along.

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Signs of Spring

Spring has not officially arrived, but there are signs that the season is not far off.  There are sounds of bats cracking baseballs and softballs, and jasmine bushes are showing new green leaves.

When the Springhill Sports started getting ready for their season in the Big Eight League, kids in our neighborhood knew it was close to springtime.

The distinctive echoes of the first batting practice at the green ballpark drifted the quarter of a mile down Second Street to our little frame house.  That pulled me to the park like a magnet.

Members of that semi-pro team wore real flannel uniforms and shoes with metal cleats. We could watch practice for free and get tickets in the left field bleachers for a quarter on game days.

It was not the Major Leagues.  The players worked part-time at the paper mill to pay their summer living expenses.  They played teams from Bernice and Bastrop instead of New York and Boston.

But it was big-time baseball to all of us boys who dreamed of growing up and playing for the Yankees.  They gave us their scuffed-up baseballs and broken bats, and we used them every day in our backyard ballgames.

The beginning of baseball was a signal that spring was coming. We could go barefoot again after being confined over the long winter to shoes that shackled our feet and stymied our freedom.

We could feel the red dirt and pea gravel on the street between our toes again and wade in the drainage ditch at the end of the road and the cement goldfish pond where we never once saw a goldfish.

Our bicycles had been laid up in the garage for the winter.  We got them out, oiled the chains, pumped up the tires and rode them to the ballpark when the roads were dry.

My dad took me to the mill ponds when winter started breaking to look for new bream fishing spots.  We searched for openings in the reeds along the shallow banks where fish might bed up.

He got new cane poles, hooks, corks and sinkers and dug around in the black dirt by the chicken yard to make sure we would have plenty of worms for the spawning season.

Some of us had summer jobs at the city swimming pool.  At the first hint of spring, we scrubbed the sprawling pool, filled it and dumped in the chlorine to have the water clear and warm before the recreation center opened.

There was a softball field by the pool for kids’ games and adult fast-pitch leagues. Every time a huge man named Babe on the phone company team came to bat, they told us to clear the pool.

We blew whistles and got everybody out of the water and against the fence by the softball outfield.  Babe usually hit home runs over our heads into the pool and onto the decks surrounding it.

From the lifeguard stand, home plate looked a mile away.  I don’t remember any other player hitting a ball into the pool.  But Babe was a powerful guy who shimmied up and down telephone poles to work on utility lines for a living.

I still love watching softball in the springtime whether it’s my grandkids tapping slow grounders that won’t reach the pitcher or a college player smashing a homer into the left field stands.

My folks turned on the attic fan at night when it started warming up in the spring, and that sucked the sweet scent of the jasmine flowers in our yard into my bedroom.

There is a jasmine bush near the building where I work.   When the white flowers pop out on it, I walk around it on sunny afternoons and soak up the fragrance and the memories.

When I grew up and had kids of my own, my dad liked to visit in the springtime.  He enjoyed riding in the ski boat and watching his grandkids jump the waves.

He looked forward to the warm spring days when we bream fished and frog hunted on Cane River and fried the fish on the riverbank.  Spring energizes people of all ages.

This wet, dismal winter has been stubborn but is starting to let go.  There are baseballs and butterflies in the air, and going barefoot, bream fishing and the scent of jasmine won’t be far behind.  The purple martins will be back soon, and our spirits will be lifted.

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Toiletry Bag

We didn’t go out of town much when I was growing up, but when we did my dad never failed to pack what he called his “dopp kit.”  I didn’t understand that name in those days.

It was a tan canvas toiletry bag about half the size of a shoebox.  He took his razor, shaving cream, toothbrush, toothpaste and a bottle of green Mennen’s after shave lotion in it.

Dopp kits are apparently a big part of our society now.  Some professional basketball players and other rich athletes are carrying the bags as a status symbol.

A rookie in the NBA bought a designer Louis Vuitton dopp kit for $700 to impress fans.  They say superstar LeBron James has a Goyard brand bag that costs several thousand dollars.

You can get a camouflage Tom Ford bag for $1,850.  It’s strange that anybody would pay that much money for a bag to hold their hairbrush and get it in camouflage colors to conceal it.

All that Tom Ford stuff is expensive.  Regina likes their men’s cologne and tried to get me to buy some.  I refuse to spend more on  a bottle of cologne that I paid for the last suit I bought.

My dad never referred to his toiletry bag as anything but a “dopp kit.”  I discovered later in life that the bags were named for the guy who invented the little case in the 1920s.

American soldiers were issued the toiletry bags for years, and they were always called dopp kits.  Samsonite bought the brand name, and the dopp label was not used much until lately when the bags became so trendy.

I have always called my toiletry bag a shaving kit, and I paid $12 for the last one I bought.  It is not big enough now to hold all the things I need to carry, so Regina got me a larger one last Christmas.

It is not a Louis Vuitton or Tom Ford, but it probably cost more than the last one I bought or the canvas dopp kit my dad got from Sears.  That’s where he bought everything.

How my dad got everything he needed in that little kit is a mystery to me.  I have to take both my old bag and the new one Regina got me on trips now to hold all my toiletry items.

The bags are stuffed with shaving cream, a safety razor, a bar of soap, shampoo, conditioner, toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash, deodorant, a hairbrush, a comb, floss, some gel stuff for my hair, chargers for my phone and toothbrush, nail clippers, a medicine bottle for vitamins and low dose aspirin and band-aids.

Band-aids are essential, because those low dose aspirin that most folks my age take to keep our blood flowing also make us bleed profusely if we get the slightest scratch.

That’s probably because our skin gets really thin the older we get.  There are some advantages to that.  When I go to a doctor now, they don’t have to do X-rays.  They just hold me up to a bright light.

Packing in general has become a hassle for me.  I would like to just throw things in a little backpack like my granddaughters do and hit the road.

But I wear size 13 shoes, so an extra pair of shoes and those two shaving bags will fill up a good-sized suitcase even before I put any clothes in it.

When I left home to go to college, my mother packed all the jeans, shoes, t-shirts, socks, underwear, toiletries and everything else I owned in a cardboard box and still had room to send some peanut butter and jelly in it.

Over the years when a bunch of us played in tennis tournaments across the state and country, we got those gigantic, fancy Nike and Wilson tennis bags for our gear.  My partner Jack Brittain, Jr., carried all his things in a big black garbage bag.

If we forgot our caps, socks or wristbands, Brittain always had extras in the makeshift tennis bag that made him the most memorable member of our team among the people we played.

The next time I travel, my plan is to put my vast array of  toiletries in a cardboard box or a black garbage bag like Brittain used and leave those dopp kits at home.

I just hope Louis Vuitton and Tom Ford never find out about it.

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Concealed Carry

Regina and I took a concealed carry class together, and the instructor went to work in another state right after we completed the course.  I’m not sure that was a coincidence.

Our instructor, who conducted a private class for us, had served in the military in Afghanistan and as a police officer, but some incidents during our lessons rattled him.

Neither Regina nor I are big gun enthusiasts, but folks we know who have concealed carry permits talked us into taking the class for safety purposes in these crazy times.

Regina has five brothers and has been around guns all her life.  On my few duck and dove hunting trips,   I had to borrow shotguns.  There are a lot of tennis outfits in my closet but not much camouflage gear.

So our teacher, who looked like Arnold Schwarzenegger, realized right away that he had an aggressive student with Regina and a soft,  sneaker-wearing novice with me.

We spent much of our first class filling out a detailed application.  It must be the same form the government uses to hire Secret Service agents.

There was a lesson on how to load our handguns.  Then the instructor let us “shoot” at some targets in his office with laser guns.  I barely hit the huge target with the red beam.

The instructor was shaken when he noticed that I had picked up the pistol he had just taught me to load instead of the laser gun and was aiming at the target in the small office.

He retrieved the weapon without bloodying me up.  But he never quit watching me out of the corners of his eyes after that.

Even though I was the one who caused him the most concern at first, it was Regina who scared the daylights out of him in the informational session.

The instructor asked Regina which eye was dominant when she aimed a gun, and she didn’t know.  He handed her an AK-47 from the arsenal in his office and asked her to close one eye and look through the sights.

Regina aimed with her left eye, which the teacher designated as dominant.  Then her spirit of adventure made her pull the trigger.   Plastic pellets spewed from the rifle and ricocheted off the walls.  The paper target used for the laser gun was shredded.

It concerned me that the guy teaching us about self-protection tried to dive under his desk.  His muscles kept him from fitting in that small area,  so pellets bounced off all three of us.

When we went to the woods for the shooting part of the course, the instructor saw that I was staring into space as he talked.  Then he realized I had orange sponge earplugs in my ears and a big Bose headset on over those.

He asked about it, and I explained that I didn’t want all that gunfire to hurt my hearing.  He was looking at me out of the corners of his eyes, but they still rolled a little.

Regina easily passed her shooting test.  When I waded into the weeds to shoot, I asked if he had ever seen ticks in the woods and told him that I was afraid of ticks and allergic to them.  He put down some plywood for me to stand on, and his eyes rolled again.

I’m not sure any of my shots hit the target.  He said they were close enough and quickly signed the papers to pass me and get me out of there.

When I got back to work and went to some meetings, I knew all that shooting had messed up my hearing.   I had to keep asking people what they were saying.

As soon as I got home, I told Regina the gunfire had created serious hearing problems for me just as I thought it would.  She pointed out that I was still wearing the orange earplugs.  It was hard to explain that to folks at work the next day.

Regina’s permit came in the mail several weeks later, but mine was not with it.  I tried to call our instructor to express my concern but got a message that the cell number was no longer in service.

My license finally arrived, but any bulge in my coat pocket is still more likely to be a package of Twinkies than a weapon.

If I ever do have to use a handgun, I hope I have enough time to put in the orange earplugs.

REPRINTED FROM THE NATCHITOCHES TIMES

Packing Lunches

I thought packing lunches for school and work went out of vogue a long time ago.  Come to think of it, the term “went out of vogue” has probably gone out of vogue.

For younger folks, that refers to something that was popular or a big craze or custom at one time that has sort of faded away.

Everybody took lunches to school when I was growing up, and my dad and all the other men who worked at the paper mill carried food to work in brown paper bags.

Those sack lunches were not always for lunch.  Mill people worked shifts from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m., 3 to 11 or the shift they called “graveyard” from 11 at night to 7 in the morning.  So the bags of food from home were consumed at various hours.

I thought about all this when I read in a national publication that taking lunch to work has become “chic.”  Then it came to mind again when I had to fix the first school lunch  I’ve made in years.  It was for our granddaughter Allie, a second-grader.

Allie left her lunchbox in my car after school one day, and I decided it would be easier for me to make Allie’s lunch and drop it off to her at school than to get the lunchbox back to her mother.

There are some days when Allie likes the menu at the school lunchroom and others when she carries her lunch.  The day she left her lunchbox, she wanted to take her own food.

When I started making her a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, Regina said she had other preferences for lunch like those pre-packed “snackable” things with salami, beef jerky, sunflower seeds,   melba toast and other stuff.

Sometimes, she takes a so-called protein pack with rolled-up slices of ham, turkey and cheese.  We didn’t have  any of those fancy products, but there was some deli ham and cheese in the fridge.

I packed her a plain ham and cheese sandwich, an apple,  cookies and one of the Mounds candy bars we both like.  I stopped by the store on the way to school to get her some chips.

We had some Fritos, but Allie likes chips with all those strange flavors like nacho cheese, barbecue, sour cream and chili.  She won’t eat chips that don’t turn her teeth orange.

Allie reported that she ate most of the food I packed during lunch and then finished off the chips and candy bar on the bus ride home.

The lunch I fixed for Allie seemed kind of bland compared to  the “chic” meals they talked about in that newspaper story.

That writer who said taking lunch to work is gaining popularity said her meal that day included pasta with herbs, mozzarella cheese, olives and cold roasted carrots sprinkled with pumpkin seeds and chili flakes.

She said some of her co-workers brought things like cold Spanish omelet or mixed meze and flatbreads.  She even mentioned beetroot risotto.

When I was in school, my mother usually made me peanut butter and mayhaw jelly sandwiches.  Some days I got cold bologna and mayonnaise on white bread.  I liked that but not as much as the sandwiches at home when she fried the bologna in a skillet.

I was always a little disappointed when I opened my brown bag and found Vienna sausage or potted meat sandwiches but I was hungry enough by lunch time to eat them.

Older guys laughed about my mother cutting the crust off my sandwiches and sending tomato soup in thermos cups and little cans of fruit cocktail with some lunches, but I never told her.

She packed leftover fried chicken, meatloaf and pork chops for my dad when we had it and things like fried Spam sandwiches or sardines and crackers  other times.

Those sack lunches were good when we were hungry, but I was glad when they finally opened a lunchroom at our school.

They had great things like fish sticks, Spanish rice, Salisbury steak, milk in glass bottles and ice cream in tiny cups.  I thought the days of brown bag school lunches from home were over.

Allie will be glad to hear that taking lunch to school and work is back in vogue.  But she won’t be excited to learn that the new lunches include things like cold roasted carrots with pumpkin seeds and chili flakes.

REPRINTED FROM THE NATCHITOCHES TIMES