Sunday, July 18, 2010

I hear file drawers clanking open

Today, having Sunday lunch with my kids and their spouses and babies, we were all together in the den, laughing and telling stories. Jeff started to tell a story we had all heard before, and I pantomimed the opening of a file drawer. It's an inside joke that Jeff and I share. Years ago I told my family that when I am around some people -- who, like me, don't remember that they have bored the same people over and over with some story from their past -- I mentally go to a place where I envision this scenario.....

I'm having a conversation with someone and say something...anything...anything at all...a single word, like, uh, 'spiders', and suddenly, it's like I can almost hear the other person (we'll call him or her 'the bore'), open one of those old metal file cabinet drawers, that screeches and scrapes as it slides out. I mentally see that person (the bore), lean over and search intently through a mental 'S' drawer, where he or she pulls out a heavily soiled, 2 inch thick manila folder, full of spider stories, whereupon he or she begins regaling me with every spider story in his or her mental manila folder of memories.

Okay, stop! This is getting awkward: I'm going to say this bore is a guy, so I can stop with the nonsense of saying 'he or she' all the time. Non-specificity about gender leaves one with the 'he or she' label, which one often uses to avoid saying 'their' which denotes more than one person, and makes the one telling the story look grammatically challenged -- mixing singular and plural pronouns. So there -- it's a guy...'he'. Now, back to the story...

After being exhausted as the victim of countless 'spider' stories, I try to make my get-away, and say I need to leave....and say something like: 'Sorry, but I have to run now...I've got to go...(where? think of something fast!..before another file cabinet drawer is yanked open!!)...I've got to go get my 'oil' changed'. As I glance at my watch, with the look of contrived urgency of one trying to escape, the 'bore' reaches for the 'O' drawer (where 'oil' change stories sit, in their well-worn massive file folder). Oh no! Not to be ensnared again, I start walking backwards -- hurriedly reaching for my keys and hauling the mail to my truck.

Safely inside my truck, I drive away -- so thankful to be out of the clutches of the bore.

I know that I am as guilty as anyone else of being 'that guy' or 'that lady'....the one that people run from because they don't want to become engaged in conversation with a person who does the 'file cabinet routine' with everyone who stands still in their presence for more than a moment.

Our family now has a new rule -- one that we adopted just today: When any of us even looks like 'he or she' is about to reach for the mental file cabinet drawer at one of our 'Shoemake Sunday' get-togethers, the rest of us will automatically pantomime the opening of a heavy file cabinet drawer while the offending person is looking at us. With these gentle reminders, and some grins and laughs, we're hoping that we can all become better, more courteous conversationalists. Good idea...don't you think?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Arter Family---You've Gotta Love 'Em!

Last night my next door neighbor, Joni, rang our doorbell at about 9 p.m...she had brought a large slab of the most delicious cake we've ever eaten (chocolate with chocolate icing), made by their daughter, Paige. The cake was unbelievable! Paige has a GIFT for baking, and makes the best pies and cakes in Edmond! She's so young to be so talented!...and yet it's not just her skills in the kitchen. She's also growing up in the same mold as her Mom and Dad, who spend a good part of every day, looking for ways to do nice things for people. Who doesn't know of the wonderful Thanksgiving Day Turkey Extravaganza that Neil's and Jimmy's families organize every year? Who is not aware of the hundreds of people who are invited into Neil and Joni's home every year, for food and fellowship?

There's no telling how many peoples' lives have been influenced by the generosity and selflessness of the Arter family! Small wonder, then, that their daughters are growing up with servant hearts-- just like Mom and Dad.

Paula and I have had a chance-- first hand-- to see how 'love for others' happens in families. We have met, and have been the recipients of many kindnesses from the parents of Neil and Jimmy. Paula has been invited to go to their farm and pick wild blackberries and morels. We have received numerous cuttings of special plants that grow around their home in Lindsay. I have a huge petrified wood log in my yard -- courtesy of Wesley and Janet (who know that we love rocks!).

The love for others and the 'giving qualities' that are hallmarks of Janet and Wesley are emulated by Neil and Jimmy. Now, we see those same wonderful qualities being passed down to another generation in that family....most recently in the sharing of pies and cakes baked by Paige!

How many people have been influenced for good due to the wonderful, God-like qualities of this wonderful family? You've got to love the Arter family!

Isn't it amazing how one God-like qualities can be developed in one generation after another in a family?

Thanks, Arters, for being the best neighbors in the world! We love you guys! Paige, keep up your culinary skills -- you're a WOMDER! or out of the kitchen! You've won our hearts!

Gene and Paula

Friday, December 11, 2009

The magic of Santa!

When Gena and Jeff were little, and very much enchanted with the idea of Santa and his reindeer, I decided to make Santa a little more real! I used one of my pocket tape recorders to make a tape of my best 'HO-HO-HO' Santa voice. I left about two minutes of blank tape before the recording, so that after I turned on the tape recorder and stashed it up inside the hearth of a cold fireplace, I would have time for Paula and I to get the kids into the living room, with the pretext of our having heard Santa and his reindeer up on our roof.

Gena and Jeff ran into the living room, in their pajamas, and were all goggle-eyed at the prospect of seeing and hearing the real Santa Claus at our house! I opened the glass doors to the hearth, so they could more easily hear the taped 'HO-HO-HO' of Santa, and then told them to be very quiet, so we wouldn't scare Santa off. Santa, you see, doesn't like to make appearances directly in front of families. The kids understood this 'truth' about Santa, so they were very quiet, as they stood there, quietly giggling, with huge grins on their faces! All of a sudden, they heard a loud 'HO-HO-HO!' coming from the fireplace. Gena looked at me, and then she realized that I was NOT Santa (she had heard from friends at school and in our neighborhood that there was no 'REAL' Santa, and that her Dad was the only Santa at our house). She looked a little bit surprised, but happily so, to find that her Dad was NOT Santa! I told them to stay inside, while I ran out behind our house to get a glimpse of Santa. I told them to stay inside -- that kids are not supposed to see Santa on Christmas Eve. They dutifully stayed inside while I ran out the back door, to a spot on the porch where I had stashed a nice set of borrowed sleigh bells (real ones, I might add -- big suckers!). I shook them, making a lot of noise, did a couple of signature 'HO-HO-HO's, threw a couple of things up on the roof, for 'reindeer-hoof' simulations, and then excitedly ran back inside, exclaiming that I had seen Santa and his reindeer on our roof!

Gena and Jeff were jumping up and down from excitement! Then Gena asked when Santa would come back with the presents. We told Gena and Jeff that he would be back when they were in bed and asleep!

That was a fun evening....and Santa was saved from 'reality' for another Christmas! Christmas is always fun, but there is nothing that compares to a Christmas with little ones and the magic of Santa!

Merry Christmas from the Shoemake's!!!!! :)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Holiday Eggnog...and Memories!

Every year when Winter arrives, a parade of memories makes it way down the 'mental street' where I live. The parade begins soon after the deparure of the 'Thanksgiving mental parade' passes by, along with turkey leftovers, dressing and gravy and cranberry sauce, pumpkins, scarecrows, bales of hay, and the cornucopia of offerings from the farmer's fields.

When I was young, holidays always had a lot to do with food (can you look at me and doubt it for a second?). My Mom, as well as my dad's Mom-- "Tennie", always baked a lot and made holidays a warm, magical time. Part of the good times was the annual trip from Dallas, Galveston, LaMarque or Houston, Texas -- cities where we lived at one time or another in the 40's, 50's and 60's -- to Sherman, Texas, where Tennie and her husband, my grandad Eugene, lived. In addition to the Christmas tree, slathered with ancient ornaments and 'tinsel icicles', and the old-timey Christmas lights, there was always an abundance of baked goodies of every kind. You know, the kind YOUR Mom and grandma made or still make.

There was always a lot of laughing and the telling of good stories as we all gathered in Tennie's warm kitchen (the warmest spot in her drafty little white wood-frame home). The grownups would stand around, dressed in bright holiday attire, and someone would bring out the eggnog. Ths eggnog was not purchased, but it was 'made' -- from 'scratch', if you will, and it was sinfully rich. From under her kitchen sink, Tennie would bring out the bottle of whisky that was kept there for the treatment of colds, and, uh... and the occasional unidentified upper respiratory ailment..... (conspicuous grin here). Although Tennie retrieved the bottle, the distribution of whisky from that big, old bottle, was always done by the Patriarch of the family, Eugene. Dispensing of liquor was always 'man's work'. While Tennie poured the adults their Christmas cups of eggnog, Eugene would then, with quite a bit of ceremony, put a little whisky in the eggnog. Eggnog was thought to taste better with a little whisky in it. In fact, it did...and still does!...especially if sipped from the little clear glass eggnog cups with daisy-chained glass beads for handles!

You must understand that NO one in our family drank in those years. For a family where everyone was a member of a Church of Christ, drinking was verboten. So, to spike eggnog with whisky sort of made me, as a ten-year old, watching this annual event from the sidelines, feel a little like I was watching a scene of impending doom! I thought: "Surely the bowels of the earth would open and we will disappear at any moment, along with a backdrop of roiling, blue-black clouds, fierce winds and monstrous flashing daggers of lightning, to await our turn at the Judgment Bar, to be banished forever into the fiery pit of Hell!" Wrong! No fires of hell. Only another cup of eggnog. From all the raucous laughter, I always felt that the grownups had more than a tablespoon of 'good cheer' in their cups of eggnog....(hic!).

Nevertheless, as I watched the merry scene, filled with laughter and the funny stories that my Dad and his dad, Eugene, always shared with the rest of us at holiday get-togethers, I was given my glass of eggnog and then, with the grudging approval of my Mom and Dad, Eugene put a tablespoon of whiskey into my glass and stirred it with a spoon. I couln't believe it! I WAS GOING TO BE INCLUDED IN THE EGGNOG EVENT WITH ADULTS!!! I felt incredibly mature at that moment -- it was as though I was being inducted into some secret society. A rite of passage. No longer did I feel like a skinny, buck-toothed kid with carefully parted Brylcreamed hair with an ocean-breaker wave in front. No more! Now I felt like a real man, as I stood there with the other adults, with a moustache of eggnog on my upper lip!

I tasted my eggnog and liked it! The whisky gave it a different, but better taste. I enjoyed the eggnog, but what I enjoyed more, was the feeling of being accepted and loved and a part of the family. There were always Christmas carols, and wonderful desserts, and meals, fit for kings. There was always happiness and fun and gratitude for God for what we had. There was always a lot of hugging and kissing, and an assurance that we were FAMILY! The raucous laughter from Mom and Dad and Tennie and Eugene, and my older sister now only echo in my mind, as they have all gone on before me, to be with our Lord. My baby brother is gone as well, and there's only my brother George, with whom to share those old memories.

I still love eggnog. It's not just a holiday treat for me. It causes 'mental parades' that I enjoy every year. Like a little kid, sitting expectantly on the curb in a little town -- waiting for the parade to come around the corner -- holding his little holiday flag on a tiny stick-- I look forward to the memories of the sights and sounds of my holiday mental parades, along with mental 'Kodak vignettes' of people I have known and loved, march by, full of holiday cheer (and eggnog!), laughing and hugging and singing and telling stories that still warm my heart and make my eyes mist-over.

Thank you, Erick, my favorite son-in-law, for leaving a bottle of 'special spiked eggnog', wrapped in holiday paper and a ribbon on the windowsill by my front door last night--a random act of kindness and love. I had a small cup of it late last night, and the taste of it took me back 55 years, to a very special time in my life, Christmas Eve, 1954.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Passing the baton

Years ago I attended a little Christian college in Ft. Worth. It was tiny. Because it was tiny, I was, even though I had little talent for it, chosen to be on the track team.

I was not memorable as a member of the 440-yd. relay team, but we did all right at a few meets where people from other microscopically-tiny colleges and small universities gathered to compete and show their stuff.

The part I enjoyed was the passing of the baton. Baton-passing is an art form. If the approaching runner (who has the baton) is not careful, he will run over the man in front of him. If the runner in front (waiting to receive the baton) does not carefully judge when and how fast to take off running (while reaching back for the baton to be slapped into his hand), he will run off and leave the tired runner behind him in the dust!

Over the years, I have thought of baton-passing a number of times, in a number of different settings. Last week, I felt, as I have before, a sense of 'baton-passing' when my son Jeff and his beautiful wife, Candita, allowed Paula and I to share in the moments after their baby daughter was born. A new life -- born into a happy marriage. A new addition to a young family! We have experienced this twice before -- when Erick and Gena enjoyed the births of Raegan and Greyson Alexander. The cycle of life repeated again!

Parents all hope, as they see their children grow up and marry and have children of their own, that they, as parents, will have contributed in some way, to the 'next leg of the race' in life. As parents, we want so desperately to hand off the baton with great care. As in a relay, the handing off of the baton is so very important. More important than any athletic event, the successful handing off of the baton in life may pass on elements of faith, courage, hope, discipline, balance, gentleness of spirit, the love of beauty, an understanding of forgiveness and tolerance, love
of man and love of God. Come to think of it, the love of God encompasses ALL the other attributes! Parents all want to hand off such batons, for such are the yearnings of parents. How about you?...are you preparing to 'pass the baton' to others someday?

Just a thought I wanted to share tonight....

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Life's Variables

My daughter Gena told me I might think of writing these posts with just a touch more, in the spirit of good intentions, here goes:

Years ago, after experiencing and/or witnessing, in my life and the lives of others, many unusual twists and turns of health, life, death, fortune, poverty, and apparent spiritual benchmarks (both good and bad). I developed a brief, but, I think, all-inclusive description of the possibilities, or variables in all of our lives.

This is original with me, but if you are overwhelmed with the profundity of my observation, feel free to use it at will :).

It is either this...or that,
It is either you...or me,
It is either now...or later...
And eventually it is either heaven...or hell.

We can direct a lot of the things in our lives. We are given the ability to choose and apply reason and intellect to the use of our lives and our activities. We can, to some degree, control many aspects of our lives, through sound stewardship of what God has given us. We decide what we will eat and drink, what we will think about all day long. What we will do with our lives. We can choose our companions. We can direct our priorities. God has given us so much freedom to do as we wish. And yet--things happen to us!...we have health issues...we lose loved ones....we see innocent people, young and old, suffer. We gain and lose jobs...we gain and lose companions, children and friends.

So much of what happens to us seems inexplicable. Why? Why me? Why you?

I turn 65 next month, and I finally am at peace about these matters. It is now a simple thing for me to understand (You have to understand -- I'm not the brightest bulb on the porch. I think I have it figured out! Truly bright people say these things are beyond our understanding).

For me it is like this: We (Christians) are NOT to be people of 'empirical evidence'....with empirical evidence, blocks of truth are stacked, one on top of the other, until at the apex, one realizes the inescapable TRUTH. I don't think that's the way God wants us to be....I believe that we are a people who please God when we trust him...through good times and bad times. That trust is borne of our faith. We don't trust God just because a person gets a job, or because a sick person is healed...we trust God IN SPITE of the REALITIES of this world --- realizing that it is our complete trust in him that makes the angels sing!

Think of this: If good things only happened to Christians...they always got the pay raise or the good job; they always were healed of their maladies; they never got old and died; they never experienced the loss of a child or the heartbreak of divorce or abandonment -- if only Christians lived the good life, then where would be the need for faith? It is our faith that makes us pleasing to our God.

Since I came to understand this concept, I am more at peace with life...and the thought of death...or suffering, or other loss. I can take success...and I think I can accept hard times as well. We live in a world of what often appears to be 'random selection' --- good things and not-so-good things come to all of us. The only constant in all of life is the love of God for each of us.

I just wanted to share this today. As for my attempt at brevity, Gena, I'm sorry -- I'll try to do better next time!


Saturday, August 22, 2009

Cheap dates -- great memories!

Back in the '60's, when I was a student at OCC (yes, I know, we don't call it that now...except that I still do), I didn't have a lot of money at times for dating. Sometimes I did, and sometimes I didn't. When I wanted to spend a wonderful afternoon with a special girl (or several of them!), nothing was any more special than a trek to the 'woods.' There used to be a wonderful place just south of the OCC campus -- east of Hardeman and west of Benson Rd., just to the south of Memorial Road. There were neat things hidden there in the woods --- an old abandoned home of some fellow named 'Schmidt' was a special attraction. It was REALLY abandoned, and was falling apart, but inside the home were thousands of books. They were stacked all over the floors in the different rooms. Some had been fashioned into beds by forest critters -- birds, raccoons, possums and the like. A number of windows had been knocked out and there were holes in a lot of the walls. Nevertheless, this was a special haunt of some of us who frequented the woods across the street from OCC.

There were other attractions around the home -- a huge mulberry tree attracted us like it attracted critters who also loved the berries. Eating those berries was an annual event that we really enjoyed. We would take a picnic lunch, a transistor radio and a blanket and make an afternoon of it. The old home had not been lived in for decades, and we found stacks of old tokens that had been used many years previously for the trolley that apparently ran from Edmond down into OKC.

There was one other surprise outside the old home -- daffodils! Hundreds of them --planted decades earlier and still blooming in the 1960's! That's where I decided that one day, if I ever had a home of my own, I would plant daffodils. I'm almost 65now, and I still buy 500 yellow daffodils and plant them (for myself and for others) every year.

The woods had another special attraction -- a rock waterfall! I would go there with girl friends -- lots of them -- (so many little time! :), and we would while away the afternoon carving our names in the large sandstone rocks that lined the creek bank.

I know that developers have destroyed that area now, but the memories remain vivid. So many memorable times with so many lovely girls! Most of these '60's friends are still friends -- after all these years. Although I am almost 65 now, and those days go back over 40 years-- in my mind, I am still that same carefree college kid, laughing and having a great time -- making unforgettable memories.

I treasure my years at OCC. My best 'life-friendships' were forged on and around the OCC campus. The guys and the girls who were close friends back in the '60's are still my best friends. New friends are great, but 40 to 45 year old friendships are hard to match, due to so many years of shared experiences. My goodness! -- life is wonderful!!