Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

My late sister Karen was one of the most amazing teachers I ever knew. She taught elementary school for 30-years and influenced the lives of thousands of students and fellow teachers. With all her experience came a lot of stories, and like me she enjoyed telling (and retelling) them. I was subbing at a local school yesterday, we had a tornado drill, and while standing outside with the students I was reminded of this one. I hope you like it . . .

It was during one of Sis’s early years in education and she was teaching 3rd Grade. Like most young teachers, Sis always attempted to do things the right way and build a good reputation for herself. Almost always, she did.

Almost always.

Not on this day though. You see, she was in front of her class going over something when the alarm went off, indicating a school safety drill was in progress.

Fire drill!

Sis knew the procedure. She immediately grabbed her grade book and whatever else teachers are supposed to take with them and calmly told her class to follow her outside.

Her class was at the end of the hallway, so all they had to do was exit the classroom, make a right, and go straight outside to their proper location, far away from the school and to relative safety. As they were calmly but briskly walking, one of Sis’s students ran from his spot in the line to come up and tug on her sleeve.

Mrs. Anderson! MRS. ANDERSON!”

“Bobby, be quiet! It’s fine! It’s only a drill. Don’t be afraid!”

“But Mrs. Ander . . .”

“Shhhhh! Go back and get in line!”

Bobby did. Reluctantly.

Once they got situated and Sis was going down the line counting heads, Bobby once again spoke up when she got to him.

“Mrs. Ander . . .”

“Bobby! What did I tell you? Everything’s fine! We’ll talk when we get back inside.”

“But . . “

“Shhhhhhh!”

Thankfully everyone was in line and accounted for, and Sis went back to her spot at the head of the line. There was one problem though- where were the other classes?

Did Sis take her class out the wrong door? Should they be on the other side of the school? What was happening? And then . . .

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a kid lean forward and pop his head out of the line towards her. It was Bobby.

“Mrs. Anderson, I think this is a tornado drill.”

Yes, my sister had taken her class outside during a tornado drill, which couldn’t be more opposite of what you should do.

Oops.

Needless to say she then gave her class orders to hustle back in the building, on the double if you will.

Luckily she had an understanding principal and they got a good laugh about it later. She was also lucky that, you know, there wasn’t an actual tornado.

The moral of the story? When one of your students is really trying to tell you something, you should probably listen.

Note- We teased Sis about this for years with lines like, “There might be a fire drill tomorrow. Don’t forget to take your kids and gather around the fuel tanks.” Good times.

img_5960.jpgI had a lot of amazing experiences as a kid and have written about them on this site quite a bit. I was lucky enough to have a father (and several uncles) who were into sports and they took myself and my cousins to games all the time. We’d load up and head to Cincinnati to see the Reds, Bengals and Royals (the old NBA team), to Columbus to watch Ohio State basketball and football games, Columbus Checkers hockey games, and even make the journey to Cleveland for the occasional Browns or Indians game.

We almost always had good tickets, for between Dad and my Uncle Myrl we had the connections to make it happen. Myrl was State Representative (and later Lt. Governor) who obtained tickets through political channels, and my Dad was Purchasing Manager at Mead Corporation, a prominent paper company in our area. Dad’s job required buying anything and everything the company required, so as you can imagine salesmen were always bombarding him with gifts to sway his decisions. This was before the ethics laws tightened up, thank God. Anyway, great tickets.

My family had a pretty intense interest in sports, and our traditional Thanksgiving weekend basketball games were legendary. There was no such thing as “friendly” competition, and after one particularly spirited game featuring some broken ribs, a black-eye, some shattered eyeglasses and what might have been a ruptured spleen, Aunt Dorothy put a stop to it. After all, we were aged mid-20s and upwards at that point so it seemed like the prudent thing to do.

But back to high school. Most of us were pretty good athletes, and some were better than good. Among these were Mick Shoemaker, a 1st Team All-Ohioan in basketball, baseball and football who went on the receive a D1 scholarship to the University of Cincinnati, and John  Shoemaker, a terrific athlete who played basketball at Miami of Ohio, was drafted by the Chicago Bulls, but chose to play baseball after being drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers. There were many others from back then (let’s not forget Mark Litter, a 1st Team All-American middle linebacker football player) and plenty of others, way too many to mention (sorry Mike, Todd, Lisa, etc.).

However, without a doubt the best of all was Greg Cook. Greg was the nephew of my Aunt Dorothy, which technically made him not my cousin, although he always called me Cousin Dave and even signed a football and sweatshirt in that fashion. Hell, he probably thought I was his cousin because I was always with his cousins Keith, Kevin, Brenda, Mick and Deb.

Anyway, Greg played football at Chillicothe, then at the University of Cincinnati, and finally for the Cincinnati Bengals, who drafted him in the 1st Round of the 1969 draft. Because of Greg all of us got to go into the locker room after games, where we got to meet a lot of famous players. I remember meeting guys like Joe Namath, Daryl Lamonica and even OJ Simpson. Pretty big deal for a 13-year old kid as you might imagine.

Bottom line, Greg was really good and a big deal at the time. He was even selected as the NFL Rookie of the Year. Coach Bill Walsh, while talking to NFL Films, said Greg “threw, by far, the best deep ball of any quarterback I ever saw”. Walsh called him “A combination of Terry Bradshaw’s size and strength with Joe Montana’s instincts and feel for the game”.

Keep in mind that Bill Walsh coached the Super Bowl Champion San Francisco 49ers and Joe Montana, kids.

But while going to games, getting great seats, and going to the locker room were all great, those aren’t my favorite memories of Greg Cook. What I remember are the days when he’d come to visit my Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Myrl.

It was always during the off-season of course, and if I wasn’t already at the house (like I said, I practically lived there), somebody would call me with the news:

“Greg’s coming. Get up here.”

And up there I would get, as fast as my 1966 Schwinn Stingray bike with the banana seat, rear slick and sissy bar would take me.

Some days Greg would just sit and watch TV while I would cast furtive glances his way, amazed that a famous NFL quarterback was watching the Reds-Dodgers game with us. But on other, even more special days, he’d ask us if we all wanted to go outside to run through some passing drills with him.

Well, hell yes we did, and we just happened to have a few footballs at the ready for that very thing.

Sometimes we’d go out behind the old Twin Elementary School (right beside the house), other times we’d all pile in Uncle Myrl’s pickup truck and head to our local high school, Paint Valley, where we’d actually play on the field there. Cousin Mike was the high school coach there at the time so we were good to go.

I’ll never forget Greg’s workouts with us. To begin, the man with the strongest arm in the NFL would get on one knee at the 10-yard line, instruct my cousins and I on which routes to run, and begin zipping passes to us. After 20-30 throws he’d move back to the 20, then the 30, and continue on until he was on the 50-yard line, firing passes to us, all the time while on one knee.

So yeah, strong arm.

Those were great days for a Bourneville kid, man, running routes and catching footballs from an NFL quarterback.

Sadly, Greg’s career was cut short due to a rotator cuff injury, an injury that went untreated for too long and, incredibly, could be fixed rather easily by today’s doctors.

Although he went on to be a motivational speaker and continue a lifelong love of painting, Greg was always remembered as the player whose greatness was cut short by injury, a name that begs the question “what might have been.”

Greg died in 2012, and he was only 65. His life, like his career, cut short.

But for me, it’s not only watching him play in Nippert Stadium and Riverfront Coliseum that I remember, it’s those days behind Twin School or on the Paint Valley HS field, long blonde hair blowing in the breeze, smiling as he rifled those passes to a few of his lucky little cousins.

1969 Bengals Signed Football

Great video about Greg:

https://youtu.be/tVzDtrgybjc

I actually attempted two websites before this one and neither really caught on. The first was called Rock Hard Times and was all about music. The second was called The Inside Handshake and stuck exclusively to sports. Then one day it hit me – why limit myself to one subject? Hell, I have opinions and observations on other stuff as well. Why not open it up to everything? Music, sports, politics, science, entertainment, nature, the list was endless. Thus was born Shoe: Untied, a play on my name along with the idea of sort of letting loose (actually a friend of mine came up with the title and I liked it). Anyway, as you know the site turned out to be a pretty eclectic one, and that’s the way my crack staff and I like it.

One thing I discovered early is that you can never, ever predict what people will like. Sometimes I write something I think is great and get very little response. Other times I write something that I feel is sort of trivial and it just blows up (see drunk pig blog below). Like the title says, it defies explanation.

With that said, here is our annual year-end report and Top 25 Most Popular Blogs for 2018. We’ll start with #1 and work our way down. Just click on the title if you want to take a gander.

Australian Pig Steals 18-Beers From Campers, Gets Drunk, Fights Cow

Yes ladies and gentlemen, a short little article I posted along with my observations back in 2014 got over 500,000 views this past year. For you non-mathematicians, that’s over half a million people. Seriously man, it was about a drunk pig. See, a radio station out in Seattle happened upon my site, liked the post, and put a link to that story on its website. Then the Aussies got hold of it and the rest is history.

UPDATE: Drunk Australian Pig That Started Fight With Cow Killed In Car Accident

Aaaand of course the throngs of people who loved the drunken swine story were interested in the tragic update. On a related note, Australians and I have the same exact sense of humor.

My Side of the Story

Nearly 400,000 people from all over the world heard my side of the story, and I’m glad they did.

Sis

I thought losing a basketball job was a tragic experience. I soon learned that, on life’s grand scale, it wasn’t.

My Dad and I

My memories of my father, who we lost just 53-days after my sister.

“Things Most White People Say” List Is Hilarious, Also 100% Correct

Basically just a repost of some funny tweets I’d run across. Good stuff and people liked it.

Incredible Photo of the Day: Gator Catch!

This was another post that the Australians inexplicably enjoyed. A large percentage of its views came from the Land Down Under.

So How Many People Did The Rifleman Actually Kill?

I love the old TV show The Rifleman, so one day I decided to research just how many people Lucas McCain actually killed. The answer? 120. Ol’ Luke murdered 120 people. But hey, they all deserved it so it’s cool.

Scioto Valley Conference Boys Basketball Preview & Predictions

A preview I wrote regarding our local basketball conference. I must say it’s turning out the way I predicted. So far.

The 2017 Ugly Dog Contest Was An Absolute Joke

My critique of the Ugly Dog Contest and its beautiful winner, Martha.

Cool Beans! Words and Phrases That Need To Make A Comeback

Another story I published a couple years that seems to never go away. Just a simple blog about words.

An American Hero: Ruby Bridges

My story about Ruby Bridges, the little 6-year old African-American who integrated an all-white elementary school in New Orleans on November 14, 1960.

Map of the Day: World Rat Distribution

The most fascinating aspect of this map is that Alberta, Canada is rat free, and it’s not by accident.

Regarding Beach Midgets

Just an offbeat, original little story that people seemed to find hilarious.

15 Reasons I Hate LeBron James (Or Used To)

I wrote this after LeBron left Cleveland with his ridiculous television show, “The Decision”. I really did hate the guy for a few years, but he won me back with his letter admitting he’d made a mistake with the way he left, then returning to Cleveland and ultimately bringing them a championship.

Celebrity Mugshots: My Top 10

Another old post that saw a resurgence of sorts in 2018. I’ve no idea why.

Meet Australian Cow Knickers, the Biggest Damn Cow You’ll Ever See

Again, Australians, man.

If You Haven’t heard of August Landmesser It’s a Damn Shame

I’m truly glad people liked this one, and I’m glad I got to spread the word about August Landmesser.

Paint Valley Basketball Records

This is a page I maintain that’s linked to Shoe: Untied. It gets a lot of hits.

Brad Kerns and Parenting the Way It Should Be

A telling story about one of my basketball parents and also one of the best friends I ever had.

The Many Worlds Theory is Wildly Fascinating

A pretty good example of what an eclectic website Shoe: Untied really is.

Map of the Day: USA IQ Test Scores by State

I had a lot I wanted to say here politically bit I couldn’t pull the trigger.

Man Killed Trying to Bring Christianity to Remote Island Tribe

A recent story that was quite controversial. Seems not everyone agreed with my views.

Another Drunk Animal Causes Havoc, and This Time It’s a Sozzled Squirrel.

Who knew drunk animal stories would be so wildly popular? Not I.

Don’t Think Animals Are Scary Smart? Read On.

There’s a certain segment of people who visit my site that can’t get enough of the animal stuff. They just eat it up. Animals, man.

So there ya go. All in all it was the biggest year ever for Shoe: Untied, and I thank the people who visit because you’re obviously as nuts as I am.

Happy New Year everyone.

 

You are welcome.

The story began when a guy named Jamal Hinton received a random text from a woman named Wanda Dench. Seems Wanda had texted him mistakenly. Here’s here initial text:

 

Jamal, perplexed, of course asked who the heck was sending him this text, since he knew no Amanda nor Justin. He was answered, and the following conversation ensued:

Wanda complied:

Of course Jamal couldn’t resist responding, and Wanda did too:

So, this happened:

Long story short, the initial text came in 2016 and Jamal has gone to his second grandma’s house every year since:

I’ve never understood racism and I never will, but in these sensitive times a story of how one kind, simple gesture can lead to a friendship sure makes me feel good.

Happy Holidays everyone.

My Mom is 92-years old and is the coolest person I’ve ever known. She’s also a badass who grew up on a farm with two brothers. I’ve told many a story about my mother, from the time she gave me a Right Cross With Love to the time she was my teacher and paddled me the third week of school. One of my favorites occurred a few years ago when Mom was doing some mowing on her property. At one point she hopped off the mower to raise the mower blades. Keep in mind she was like 88 at the time. As she did, she heard a pop and thought the mower had backfired. Turns out she’d broken her back. The doctors said she be down for months, and of course she was back a few weeks later.

That’s Mom.

Another time Mom got a call from some ladies (aged 70ish) that wanted her to join their Garden Club. Mom has always had a green thumb, so it seemed like a reasonable idea. However, Mom declined and told me the reason she did was that “she didn’t want to sit around with a bunch of old people.

Mom was 83 at the time.

Even though Mom recently lost her oldest daughter, followed by her husband of 70-years, she’s hanging in there because that’s how she rolls.

Anyway, I’ve read that it’s good to ask questions about the past when dealing with older folks, because it helps to keep their mind sharp. I do this a lot, and every once in awhile she’ll drop a tidbit that is absolutely fascinating. For instance, last night we were talking and she mentioned that during her first year of substitute teaching she made $9 per day. She also once mentioned that her and Dad bought a new car for $1,400.00 around 1950 and that a loaf of bread cost 9¢. Of course money went a lot farther back then but you get the idea.

So this got me to thinking, what else has my Mom lived through? After a little research, here’s what I found. Believe me, it really puts things into perspective.

  • Mom was born on Sunday, January 23rd, 1927. In 1927 Charles Lindbergh flew The Spirit of St. Louis across the Atlantic nonstop and solo, direct from New York City to Paris, in the first solo transatlantic flight. Mom was 5-months old when Lindbergh did this.
  • When Mom was 8-months old, work began on Mt. Rushmore.
  • The year Mom was born saw the first transatlantic telephone call – New York City to London.
  • In 1927, the Ford Motor Company began selling the Model A. The price? $460.00.
  • In the year Mom was born, color television and the pop-up toaster were invented.
  • The #1 song in the year Mom was born was “Stardust” by Hoagy Carmichael. Click here for a listen. Good stuff. The top movie? The Jazz Singer.
  • When Mom was 1-year old, a famous character made his first appearance – Mickey Mouse. Yes, my mother is older than Mickey Mouse.
  • When Mom was 2-years old, the Stock Market crashed, signaling the beginning of the Great Depression.
  • In 1929, the first public phone booths appeared in London. Mom was 2.
  • When Mom was 3-years old Pluto was discovered. Not the cartoon dog, the planet.
  • When Mom was 4-years old, “The Star Spangled Banner” became our National Anthem.
  • When my mother was 6-years old, Hitler became Chancellor of Germany.
  • In 1937 Amelia Earhart was lost somewhere over the Pacific Ocean in her attempt to fly round the world. Mom was 10-years old. Yep, she remembers hearing about it on the radio.
  • When Mom was 12-years old, Gone With the Wind, King Kong, and The Wizard of Oz were all released into theaters.
  • When Mom was 13, Hitler invaded Norway.
  • When Mom was 14-years old the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, plunging the USA into WWII.
  • In 1942 Bing Crosby released “White Christmas” which has gone on the sell over 25-million copies. Mom was 15-years old.
  • In 1944 my Mom was 17-years old. That was the year she was introduced to 18-year old Ralph Shoemaker by her brothers Walt and Joe Immell. Thus began a relationship that would last 74-years, up until my father passed away on August 13th, 2018.
  • Mom was 18-years old in 1945 when WWII ended and Hitler committed suicide.
  • In 1946, when Mom was 19, televisions began being mass produced.
  • On October 4th, 1948, my 21-year old mother gave birth to my sister. They named her Karen Elizabeth.
  • In 1951, when Mom was 24, color television was introduced to the USA. I believe we finally got one in the mid-60s.
  • In 1952, on September 27th, Mom and Dad brought my sister, Sara Dailey, into the world. Mom was 25.
  • In 1953 Mom was 26. That year Edmund Hillary of New Zealand and Tenzing Norgay of Nepal were the first men to reach top of Mt. Everest.
  • On December 1st, 1955, Mom was 28. On that day Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama.
  • 2-days after Rosa Parks took a stand by not getting up in Montgomery, I was born. Mom and Dad named me Ralph David.
  • On September 9th, 1956 Elvis Presley made his first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. Mom was 29.
  • In 1961, when Mom was 34-years old, John F. Kennedy was elected President of the United States.
  • On November 22nd, 1963, President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. Mom was 36. I remember that weekend pretty clearly and wrote about it in a blog called November 22nd, 1963.
  • On February 9th, 1964, I sat with my 37-year old mother and sisters and watch a new band perform on The Ed Sullivan Show. That band was The Beatles. I was mesmerized, Dad not so much. I think he watched about 2-minutes, snorted, and went off to make a sandwich.
  • In 1968 Mom was 41. That was the year Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated.
  • On July 20th, 1969 Mom, Dad and I sat in our basement and watched Ohioan Neil Armstrong become the first human to set foot on the moon. Mom was 42, Dad was 43 and I was 14. Afterwards Dad and I went out to the front yard and looked up at the moon, amazed that a two men were standing on it as we watched.
  • From August 15th-17th, 1969 the Woodstock Festival was held in upstate New York. Mom, 42, and Dad were not fans of Hendrix, The Who, Joplin and CCR and the rest. They were still into Dean Martin I believe.
  • On December 11th, 1969 Mom’s father Walter Immell passed away at 66-years of age. I recall being called out of my 8th grade class at Twin Elementary and given the news. Mom was 42.
  • On May 4th, 1970 Mom was 43. It was the day four students were killed by National Guardsmen on Kent State campus. Although the students had been protesting the war in Vietnam and had even burned down the ROTC building, I distinctly remember my father watching the news a couple days prior and wondering aloud “why in the hell” Ohio Governor James Rhoads had sent the National Guard there.
  • On December 27th, 1971 Mom and Dad saw their first grandchild enter the world. Her name was Aimee Elizabeth. Mom was 44.
  • In 1976 the United States celebrated 200-years of existence with its Bicentennial on July 4th. Mom was 49.
  • On November 22nd, 1977 Mom’s mother Ethel passed away. She was 76. Mom was 50-years old.
  • On December 8th, 1980, John Lennon was murdered in New York City. I was living alone at the time and wrote about that night on this site in a story called December 8th, 1980. It was nearly midnight when the news broke, but of course Mom called me early the next morning to talk to me about it. She was 53.
  • On January 28th, 1986 the space shuttle Challenger exploded. Mom was 59.
  • On August 11th, 1991 the internet was first made available to the public. Mom was 64-years old.
  • Mom was 67 when OJ Simpson murdered his wife Nicole and her friend in L.A. on June 18th, 1994.
  • On April 19th, 1995 Mom was 68. On that day the Oklahoma City Bombing happened at 9:02 am, killing 168 people.
  • On August 31st, 1997 Princess Diana was killed in a car crash in Paris. Mom was 70-years old.
  • In the year 2001 the iPod was introduced. Mom was 72.
  • On the morning of September 11th, 2001, Mom was 73.
  • In 2008 my mother was 80-years of age and witnessed the first African American, Barrack Obama, to be sworn in as President of the United States.
  • In 2015 Mom was 87 and saw the US Supreme Court allow same-sex marriages.
  • On June 21st, 2018 my Mom lost her oldest daughter Karen. Sis was 69. Mom was 91.
  • On August 13th, 2018 my father passed away. Mom and Dad had first met in 1944, 74-years earlier.
Front: Mom and Dad Top: Sara, Karen, Me

So yeah, Mom has seen a lot. She has lived to see 16-pesidents and 5 major wars. She has heard Big Band music, the birth of Rock & Roll, and Hip-Hop. She’s witnessed changes in the world that nobody could have dreamed of in 1927. During her teaching career Mom was a positive, impactful influence on thousands of kids, and through it all she’s been a strong, independent role model and mother.

And the best part? During the course of her entire life, including these past few months, Mom hasn’t changed. She’s stayed the tough, honest, loving, supportive mother she’s always been, and those of us lucky enough to know her would expect nothing less.

So Rain Price was a 16-year old sophomore in Utah, and on his first day of school his dad Dale casually walked out the front door and gave him a wave as he got on the bus. Greatly embarrassed, that evening Rain begged his father to never do it again. This was a really, really big mistake. I’ve only posted a few photos here, but for the next 179-days of the school year dad stepped out the front door to wave at his son. Take a look. That’s gold, Jerry. Gold.

Aw. Look at Marshmallow.

Wilmette, IL: Just after returning home from a walk around the block with her dog, Marshmallow, an 8-year-old Wilmette girl expected a visit from a playmate. Instead, police officers arrived at the family’s door. An anonymous caller had contacted police after seeing the girl walking the dog alone, said her mother, Corey Widen. The seemingly common activity launched an Illinois Department of Children and Family Services investigation to see if Widen was neglecting her children. Widen said the girl’s walk around the block — most of which Widen says she can see out her windows — is the only time her daughter is unsupervised. 

Oh for the love of God. When I was a 8-years old I used to get up and leave the house without telling anyone, come home for a can of Vienna sausages at lunch, leave the house, come back at 6:00pm for supper, then Mom would tell me to come back when the street lights came on.  She had no idea what the hell I was doing when I was gone. My only rules were to stay out of Paint Creek, don’t get into a car with a stranger and don’t go into old widow Snodgrass’s house over on North Alley Street. In today’s world an 8-year old can’t even take her dog Marshmallow for a walk. Sadly, the Wussification of America is alive and well.

Note: Sanity prevailed. The Police never pursued charges. 

Note: I know some people don’t understand how I can write about the personal life experiences that are often the subject of my writing. I understand not everyone is comfortable opening up about such things. However, writing and articulating my thoughts is therapeutic for me. It helps me, and I’ve also been told by others that it has helped them on occasion. That said, if it bothers you go ahead and hit that back button up there. Totally your call.

As some of you know I lost my Dad on August 13th. What follows are some memories of one of the most amazing men I’ve ever known . . .

Some of my fondest and earliest memories of my Dad involved sports. Dad was a great athlete who pitched for Ohio University and once outdueled the future major leaguer Harvey Haddix in a game when Dad was just 16-years old. Haddix went on the be a 3-time Major League All-Star who once threw 12 perfect innings in a game that is considered by many to be the best pitching performance in major league history.

So yeah, Dad was good.

I can recall many times where Dad and I were out in the driveway shooting hoops. He even had a light installed, and our house hosted many a late night game with a bunch of local kids participating.

We also played catch in the front yard on a thousand warm summer evenings after dinner. Dad would be the catcher as I pitched, giving me pointers as we threw back and forth. I’ll never forget those evenings.

I recall Dad and Uncle Myrl or Uncle Paul loading up 6 or 7 of their kids and assorted friends in the back of a pickup and driving us to Cincinnati to a Reds baseball game or a Royals basketball game. Somebody would inevitably lose a shoe or hat, and it’s a damn miracle somebody didn’t get shoved over the side of the truck bed on Columbia Parkway. Hell, today a parent would be arrested for transporting kids like that.

Note: You’d be amazed how cold it could get going 70 mph at 1:00am on an August morning in the back of a 1963 Chevy C20.

They’d also take us to Ohio State football and basketball games, and even the old Columbus Checkers hockey games.

Sports was a huge part of my life, all because of Dad. But sports weren’t everything. There was much more.

Back when I was little, Dad was a smoker. It was the winter of ’60 or ’61, maybe even ’59, I don’t really remember. I just recall it was winter because there was a fire in our fireplace. It was in the evening, and I climbed up on Dad’s lap as he sat by the fire burnin’ a Lucky Strike. At one point I reached up and tried to grab his cigarette, because hey, I was a kid. I got my hand slapped, and it was then the following conversation took place:

Dad: “Hey, what are you doing? Stop it.
Me: “I want to try it!”
Dad: “You can’t. You’re too young and besides, cigarettes are bad for you.
Me: “Then why are you smoking one?”

And really, that was all it took. At that point Dad paused, looked at the cigarette in his hand, and flipped it into the fireplace.

And he never smoked another cigarette in his life.

I asked him about this recently, and he too remembered that evening. He told me he just didn’t feel he could justify smoking while at the same time telling me how bad it was for you. So he quit to prove a point, on the spot, for himself but mainly for me. And guess what? Although I’ve had a cigar or two in my day, I never took up smoking.

Dad was one of the toughest people I ever knew. When I was around 14 he was sharpening the lawnmower blades in our driveway as I watched. He had the push mower tilted on its side and was using a wrench to tighten the bolts that held the blades on. As I watched, the wrench slipped and his hand was sliced by the blade. He then grabbed his wrist, held up his hand to have a look, and there was his thumb basically hanging by some skin. You could see the bone and everything. As I stared in horror, Dad calmly said this:

“I probably need this looked at. Nobody else is here so you’re going to have to drive me to the hospital.”

Wait. What? First of all, “probably”? Second of all, I was 14. And the emergency squad was not an option for Dad, man. Couldn’t appear weak to the locals, ya know. Next thing I knew I was driving the old 1967 Buick Sport Wagon at a brisk pace to the ER. Oh, we did have to stop 4 or 5 times so Dad could wring the blood out of the towel that was wrapped around his hand, but somehow we made it safely.

And what did we do after Dad’s thumb was attached back to his hand? We went home and mowed the damn yard, of course.

Dad also had a pretty wicked sense of humor, something that a lot of people didn’t realize. Once he and Mom had installed an electric fence on their property, and I pulled in just as they were finishing up. I was probably 18. Dad was standing by the fence and Mom was doing something a couple hundred feet away. I asked Dad if it was working and he said yes but they hadn’t turned it on yet. At that point I absent-mindedly reached down to touch it and got the living hell shocked out of me. After I screamed like a cat on fire, Dad yelled this:

MOM! It works! I KNEW he’d touch it!”

This was followed by a maniacal laugh.

Yep, Dad had used his only son to see if the electric fence was working, and he thought it was hysterical.

Another time Dad had a friend at his house and they were building something in his workshop. I happened to walk by and the friend asked if I was going to help. Dad said, “Are you kidding me? Dave thinks Manual Labor is the president of Mexico.”

Real funny, Dad.

Dad was really a man ahead of his time in a lot of ways. He was a strong Democrat, albeit a conservative one, but he was pretty liberal for his time regarding civil rights. I remember driving in the south on vacation around 1961 or thereabouts and Dad pointing out to all the kids how terrible it was to have segregated bathrooms. He would often say this loudly, right in front of gas station and restaurant owners. I remember once we’d all gotten out to stretch our legs at a little store and had loaded back up in the car, only to have Dad come back and get me. He took me around back where the words, “WHITES ONLY” was painted on the bathroom door. Beside the door was a sign that said “COLOREDS” with an arrow pointing down a small hill in the woods. Dad took me down a path and showed me a log bench with a hole cut in the middle of it, which was used by African-Americans as a toilet. I was shocked and confused, which was the whole point of him taking me there. My father had followed the arrow, gone down to explore, was disgusted, and thought it was something I needed to see.

And to this day the image is still burned into my mind.

Another time we had an African-American kid move into our school from Detroit, I think around my 3rd or 4th grade year. Bourneville, Ohio wasn’t the most racially diverse area in the world, and I hadn’t heard the n-word in my life. The day this kid walked in my classroom that changed, as I heard some other kids whispering it at recess. Later that evening Dad was sitting in his recliner reading the paper when I casually walked by and informed him that we had a new kid in my class, a ****** from Detroit. In the next instant Dad had risen from his chair, given me a swift kick in the ass, and was looming over me:

“You will NEVER use that word again, do you hear me? It’s a a bad, bad word!

Then, as he pointed to his chest, he said this:

“You judge a person by what’s in HERE, not by their color, whether they’re a man or a woman or anything else.”

Got it, Dad. Crystal clear. And since that day I’ve tried my very best to do just that.

I can still recall the first time I saw Dad cry. I can remember the exact day because it was Friday, November 22nd, 1963. I got home from school, and I can’t remember if Dad had come home from work early or it happened after he got home a little later. Anyway, I’d been outside playing and walked in to see Dad looking at the television. They were talking about the Kennedy assassination a few hours prior and were showing photos of Jackie and the Kennedy children. I saw that Dad’s eyes were watery, and then he wiped them with his shirtsleeve and just got up and walked outside. That made a big impact one me, seeing my father showing (for him) what was a lot of emotion.

I’ve written about my Dad on this site before, including the time he wouldn’t let me quit Cub Scouts and when he taught my very difficult Junior Achievement class at school. Click on those links for some more insight on my father.

My Dad and I didn’t have the best of relationships during my middle years, and it was mainly my fault. I was a rebellious, stupid kid. Oh, I was fine until I was 13-14 years old, but then things went sideways. Dad was a tough, old school parent. We fought over the length of my hair, how I dressed, and a million other things.

This continued for years. It was more often than not an awkward, difficult relationship. I knew he loved me but I never really saw evidence of it. He certainly never told me. There were no hugs, no proclamations of love, none of that soft stuff from Dad. I realized later of course that it was a generational thing. Guys like Dad who grew up during the Great Depression wanted to make their sons tough. This meant being hard on you, and by showering love upon you made you weak. He was trying to prepare me for the future, and it wasn’t until I was older that I realized this.

And I wasn’t the only kid with a father like that. Many young men my age had fathers who were very similar. Not all, but many. For me, all this would change later in life, but trust me when I say that from the age of about 14 to 28 Dad and I could barely be in the same room together.

One day I ran into one of Dad’s friends, one of the guys in a group that Dad met at McDonalds every morning for breakfast. He mentioned that Dad had talked about me one day and I said, “Uh-oh. I bet that was interesting. What did he have to say?” The guy replied, “Are you kidding? He never stops telling us how proud he is of you.”

I was shocked. Dad, proud of me?

It was then I realized how he really felt, but coming from his background he just didn’t vocalize it to me.

As for the grandkids, great grandkids, kids at church or any other kid Dad met in his life, they have absolutely no idea of this side of him. As my son Kip put it, “Growing up, I always heard stories about Pap and his tough love but that was not the man I knew. He was slow to anger and quick to tell you he loved you.

And Kip is absolutely right. For a couple generations removed it was different. And our situation wasn’t unique. Many people my age will recount the exact same experiences between themselves, their parents and their children.

So yes, the truth is that Dad and I had an up-and-down relationship over the years. Those early years were great and full of amazing memories. The middle years were a little tougher, as I was trying to find my way and decide what I wanted to do with my life. Looking back I totally understand why my father was frustrated with me. As a father I’d have felt the same way. Thankfully I figured out what I wanted to do with my life, got at least a little grounded, and things between us improved a lot. We still hadn’t had that breakthrough though, and I was pretty sure I’d have to be content with a friendly, yet not really close relationship.

But as Dad advanced in age and started to slow down, things began to change. Cracks started to develop in those old walls. I think we both sort of realized it wasn’t worth it. Maybe he knew he didn’t have a lot of time left, I’m not sure.

Then at one point about a year ago we were sitting on his front deck, overlooking the lake. I’d began asking him questions about WWII because I was trying to keep his mind sharp and I’d read where stuff like that helped. He was telling a funny story and started laughing, I mean really laughing, and I soon joined in. I suddenly realized that I’d never really laughed with Dad like that, that we’d never opened up together so much before. It seems like such a simple thing but believe me, it was not.

When I left later and fully realized what had happened, it hit me really hard. A wave of emotion came over me, and I rest my head on the steering wheel and cried. We’d just been laughing and talking just like regular guys.

Like friends.

So yeah, in the end we came to an understanding, patched up and healed old wounds, and made up for a lot of lost time.

And on one of his last days, as I said goodbye before leaving his bedside, he told me he loved me.

I guess the point is no matter how hopeless things may seem, how entrenched some behavior may feel, it’s never too late for change, never too late to make things right. Somehow, someway, Dad and I figured it out.

And I’ll be forever grateful that we did.

My sister Karen passed away one week ago, and it’s taken me awhile to even think about writing about her. The emotions are still raw and near the surface, and there’s just so much to say that I don’t know where to begin. Since I really have no idea where to start, I guess I’ll go back to the beginning . . .

My Mom and Dad had three children, starting with Karen, then Sara, then myself. I’ve always been really close with both of my sisters, and they’ve helped me out more times and in more ways than you can ever imagine. I love them both deeply. Today I will focus on Karen, who I’ve called Sis for as long as I can remember. I’m just going to write whatever thoughts come to mind, so stay with me . . .

Sis loved me unconditionally. She was my best friend, my secret-keeper, my confidante, my defender, my savior, my music sharer, my role model, my alter ego, and my rock. It didn’t matter what mistake I’d made or what trouble I’d gotten myself into, I knew I could go to her. Oh, she’d tell me if she thought I’d been an idiot or made a wrong decision, but I also knew that, no matter what, she would always love me. You could not find a better protector and defender than my sister Karen. She always had my back.

Sis’s emotions were always near the surface. She’d cry over anything. She’d cry while hearing a song, reading a book, or seeing a commercial on television.  I envied that, because she felt everything. Most of us sort of become hardened over time, jaded and a little immune to showing how we’re feeling, but not Sis. She had no problem showing us exactly how she was feeling, without embarrassment or regret. How many of us can say that?

Sis loved almost everybody. Oh, if you wronged me, another family member or a friend she could be your worst enemy, but she gave virtually everyone a chance. It’s an old cliché, but Sis never met a stranger. I remember being on Oak Island, a place we began visiting in 1978, and we’d just come back from dinner and were relaxing on the deck. Soon a couple walked up the steps, a man and woman I’d never seen before, and they were carrying a bottle of wine. Long story short Sis had walked up the beach earlier in the day, struck up a conversation with them, and ended up inviting them to our beach house. First off, who invites total strangers to your place while on vacation, and secondly, who shows up? That was the power of my sister’s personality.

And believe it or not, this happened several times over the years. Hell, I act like I’m on my phone to avoid people in the supermarket yet my sister made friends with total strangers wherever she went. Amazing.

As I said, Sis was always there for me. When my ex-wife and I split up in the early 00’s, the first person I told was Sis. Before you knew it I was living in the room over her garage, a place I remained for 6-months, and I knew I was welcome to stay longer. In addition, I wasn’t the first or last person to stay in that room. Sis welcomed more than a few people to stay there when they needed a helping hand.

Back in 1964 Sis did something that changed my life forever. I was on the couch in our living room, listening to music on one of those big stereo cabinets that were the size of a coffee table. I was playing an album by somebody, probably Bobby Vinton or Gene Pitney or somebody like that because it’s all we listened to at the time. Mom and Dad were big Al Martino and Dean Martin fans, so we had a few of those LPs in the collection too. Oh, we had some old Elvis records but mostly our home was a rock and roll free zone. But one day, in walks Sis . . .

She’d been to town shopping and immediately pulled the needle off the album that was playing, which annoyed the hell out of me. But before I could say anything, she shushed me and said, “Just listen.”

At that point the guitars kicked in, and the lyrics began: “Well she was just seventeen, if you know what I mean, and the way she looked, was way beyond compare . . .”

Yep, life as I previously knew it was over. Sis had dropped the needle on the album Introducing the Beatles, and I probably listened to it at least 1000 times in the months to follow. Sure, I probably would have discovered them anyway, but thanks to Sis I was clued in from the beginning.

Sis graduated from high school in 1966 and headed to Ohio University, where of course she fell right in with the counterculture movement of the late 60’s. My father, although a middle of the road Democrat, wasn’t real of fond of the long haired, free love, anti-war hippie culture. What made it worse was that Sis happily brainwashed her little brother every chance she got. I clearly recall one Sunday afternoon when my sister and her then boyfriend Jigger were pulling out of our driveway in their little Karmann Ghia, headed back to OU. As they drove off, Sis shot me a peace sign to which I immediately responded with one of my own. I then promptly received an ass-ripping from my Dad, quite clearly making his feelings known about those damn peace loving bohemian flower children. Sis? She was headed to Athens, headband, shades and bellbottoms on, windows down and hair blowing in the breeze.

Damn, she was cool.

Sis was a huge basketball fan, especially college basketball, and she understood the game. It was not uncommon for me to get a call at 10:30pm and suddenly be in the middle of a conversation like this:

“Are you watching Duke and Clemson? Clemson is getting screwed! Coach K is an asshole!”

Just another thing my sister and I had in common. Sis hated Duke.

My mother and Sis were the main reasons I became a teacher. I watched Mom, and then Sis, and the love they had for teaching, which in turn made me want to do it as well. Throughout my career I tried to emulate Sis and the way she treated kids with love and respect. Bottom line, I wouldn’t have been nearly the teacher I became without her influence.

There are a hundred other stories I could tell about Sis, a few that wouldn’t be appropriate for this site.

No worries, Sis. We’ll keep those private.

My sister Karen knew things about me that nobody else on this earth knew, because there’s nobody I trusted more. Like I said, she never judged, and her unconditional love was an incredible thing. I’m going to miss it more than anyone can ever imagine.

As I mentioned earlier, Sis had been going to Oak Island since 1978. A couple weeks ago, even though she was sick, she went one last time. For the 40th straight year she got to breathe in the ocean air and smell the smells of the place she loved so much. I’m so happy her husband Army and the kids made that happen.

We lost Sis last Thursday, June 21st, at 12:03pm. She died at home and was surrounded by the family she loved so much as she passed. She left incredible, unforgettable memories with all of us, and she set an example that we can only hope to try and live up to. There was a steady stream of people at her services on Sunday, and every single person came out of pure love and respect for her.

Sis was everything you wanted in a sister and a best friend.

Sis and I talked every day, whether it be to share a song one of us had heard, a book one of us had read, or to just talk about politics or basketball or something that had happened in the news. Several times since she’s been gone I’ve started to reach out to her about something, only to remember that she’s not here anymore. It breaks my heart.

I know that someday the good memories will begin to outweigh the sad thoughts, and that someday we’ll smile and not cry when we think of her.

Someday.

On Thursday evening, the day Sis passed, I went to a local bar to meet some friends who knew I needed them. It’s a small place, it was early, and I was the first person there. The bartender asked if I wanted some music, I said yes, and she went over to play some tunes.

The first song she played? The Long and Winding Road by The Beatles, one of my big sister’s favorite songs. I asked the bartender why she chose it and she said, “I don’t know. It just came to me.” 

Thanks Sis. I love you.

And I hope that you, Jigger, Andy and the rest are all sitting on a beach somewhere, laughing, telling stories, and remembering all the good times. Lord knows there’s plenty of them, and like you they will never, ever be forgotten.