The Greatest Generation – And Us…

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I’ve been watching this COVID 19 pandemic with utter fascination—and frustration.  COVID 19 has proven to a large degree what we’re made of here in the United States in 2020.  Baby Boomers and generations born since have never really had to want for anything.  We really have nothing to feel blue about—yet we whine endlessly about inconvenience and what we don’t have.  We always want a little more.

We want our freedom, yet we’re unwilling to do what it takes to keep it.  COVID 19 has been a bit of a shock for a lot of us – a real pain in the posterior – but nothing the likes of what the Great Depression and World War II were like for our parents.  Yet we complain endlessly in what is still the land of plenty.

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Our parents were faced with huge sacrifices beyond anything we’ve seen since World War II.  Goods normally available before the war became unavailable.  Motor fuels were rationed as were other goods like tires, manufactured goods, food, and the rest of it.  If you were out of ration stamps, that was just too bad.  You did without.  During World War II, there were goods you just couldn’t get—period.  Yet, our parents muddled through and found a way to survive.  They got through it.  They didn’t complain.

Consider this.  Our parents were separated for four long years by war, with no real assurance they’d ever see one another again.  Men and sometimes women grabbed their duffel bags, said goodbye, and jumped on trains, planes, and ships.  They went to Europe and they headed to the Pacific.  They sat in fox holes and were turret gunners high over the enemy, wonder if they’d live to see the next day.  Loved ones went to the mailbox and were greeted with atmosphere – wondering if a loved one was dead or alive.

Communications were never immediate.  It took weeks for letters to arrive.  Time passage drove people crazy.  Letters would arrive, only for the family to learn their loved one had been killed in action.  There was that horrible sickening feeling any time a Telegram showed up or there was a knock at the door because it was never good news.

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When the war ended, Americans and our allies healed our wounded and buried our war dead.  Veterans came home and tried to adjust to a new normal.  A good many suffered from combat fatigue or shell shock, known today as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Many would never know any level of normal again because they had seen so much.  They came home horribly messed up from action.  Some came home to “Dear John…” letters and painful goodbyes—wives and fiances who had moved on.

It may surprise you to know a good many women went off to the Pacific and Europe as well to support the war effort.  They had a very profound effect on the war.  Those who stayed stateside worked in factories on 12-16-hour shifts to support the war effort.  They built bombers, tanks, Jeeps, and untold thousands of other machines to support the war.  There was no rest for the weary.  It was a long four years.

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That leads me to this.  There has never been a better time in America in terms of prosperity for those who’ve managed to remain employed in good paying jobs with benefits.  For those who’ve been laid off and lost good productive jobs with benefits who are now waiting tables who’ve lost their homes, it has been damned hard, with no real end to the misery.  Opportunity isn’t what it was in the mid-20th century when we graduated from high school and college and right into good paying jobs.

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The overall post-World War II economy in America has been pretty good, yet there is room for improvement because we’ve fallen behind.  We are not what we were in the 1960s and ‘70s.  We’re getting paid less these days.  There have been recessions—several of them—since WWII ended.  On average, the economy has managed to maintain and recover time and time again. These days, I’m not so sure.  The economic outlook is dismal despite all the chatter from Washington about a great economy.

We’ve also had our share of military conflicts.  We seem to thrive on them.  Wouldn’t be America without a good war—right?  Keeps industry and the stock market humming.  The Afghan’ and Iraqi conflicts have been the longest in U.S. history.  Seems we’ve forgotten those making the real sacrifices—men and women in uniform out there and their families—making the world safer for us.  They come home from tougher times than any of us can imagine and who notices?

Does anyone care?

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Big military airlifters land at Dover AFB, Delaware bringing home our maimed and war dead— and generally no one seems to notice.  The news media certainly doesn’t unless it happens to be Memorial Day or Veterans Day.  The media is too focused on who’s going to win the November election.  I don’t see news crews ar Dover AFB showing America the debt it owes to our great men and women in uniform.  A jetliner full of passengers taxis up to the gate and passengers are asked to keep their seats while a draped military casket is unloaded from the baggage bay.  For the most part, passengers are respectful.  They understand honoring one of our war dead.

We must never forget.

However, we as a nation have a lot to answer for.  We owe our fighting patriots our best—standing watch 24/7 all around the world for us.  We need to acknowledge the sacrifices made by the very few for the many of us.  And, by the way—let us never forget our men and women in law enforcement, fire fighters, paramedics, doctors and nurses, and disease researchers across the globe working around the clock—all working under grueling conditions to keep hearts beating.  They ask for nothing in return but the respect they have surely earned.

COVID 19 has been something the likes of which we’ve never seen in modern times.  We weren’t around for the Spanish Flu of 1918 that killed millions worldwide.  There are still some here who remember this horrible outbreak a century ago.  There have been epidemics over the decades—difficult bouts with the flu for many of us, some more notorious than others.  I fell ill with Swine Flu in 2009.  I didn’t realize I had it when I was at a car show and my body temperature shot up to 103, and everything I owned ached.  I thought I was going to suffocate when my lungs filled with fluid.  Day by day, my body fought this horrible flu.  I’m still here to talk about it.

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When I was 10 in the summer of 1966, I fell flat with the flu and a high fever of 104 and was down for a solid week.  When I was lying in bed in a hot upstairs wondering if I was going to die, I got my first taste of Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass on a modest AM radio at my bedside.  It kept me company.  Seems like when we were growing up in the 1950s and ‘60s we had the flu every winter, and sometimes in the summer.  Worst case would be catching horrible flu at Christmastime.  Too sick to play with our toys— which was an unimaginable fate for a kid.

I’ve always wondered when a real pandemic like you see in the movies and the news would happen in the United States and how we would respond.  There have been horrible outbreaks—like Ebola, H1N1, SARS, and efforts to halt the spread.  COVID 19 has been the first to really cross our shores with and infect us catastrophically.  At this writing, we’ve lost nearly 130,000 to this virus and it is expected to get higher.

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In our quest to get back to the streets, beaches, restaurants, and the malls we’ve been decidedly careless and certainly foolish—and at the expense of human life.  Since when did lockdown and the mandatory wearing of masks become an infringement on our freedom when, in fact, this is an international health emergency that has affected most of the world? South Korea, as one good example, has managed to keep this virus at bay.  How?  By doing exactly what Koreans were told to do by the experts—not politicians.  They stayed home and they toughed it out.  And, you know what?  It worked and they are better for it.  The spread of Covid 19 was minimal because people behaved responsibly.  They considered the greater good instead of themselves.

Stay At Home orders, the mandatory wearing of masks, and social distancing really haven’t been much of an imposition for most of us considering how good we’ve had it.  Yet, there are those who just don’t get it.  They refuse to wear a mask and do what it takes to protect their health and the health of others.  My belief is do what you want if it affects only you.  When you choose to endanger the lives of others—such as your family and loved ones, then, you’re in for a rude awakening because the consequences are severe.  If you spread disease intentionally, you become responsible for illness and the loss of life in others.

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The Greatest Generation, who endured the Great Depression and fought a world war to keep us free had it much worse than we have.  You don’t hear these patriots complaining about The Great Depression and a world war.  They did what they had to and survived tougher times than we’ve ever seen.  They’ve been our moms and dads, aunts and uncles, our grandparents and our friends.  It is our duty to maintain and protect the abundant world they handed us and focus on making the world a better place.

We owe them.

Let us all think outside of ourselves and focus on the greater good.  Set the proper example by wearing a mask, practicing that 6-foot rule, and try as best you can to stay at home until disease experts get this pandemic under control.  And remember—we’ve been blessed with a world that has never had it better in modern times.  Let us stay the course and ride this thing out.  We can win if we work at this together.

  • Jim Smart

Holding On…and Letting Go…

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From the time we are born, we learn fundamentals of relationships beginning with our parents, siblings, and extended family.  Those first interactions are with the woman who has given us life—our mother.  Close by under the best of circumstances is our father.  Together, they teach and guide us as we make our way through childhood.  If they’ve been on top of our upbringing, we emerge into the world as responsible adults.

Being a parent has never been easy.  It is  the toughest job we will ever have, the most rewarding, and certainly the most thankless—and that’s okay.  We’re not in the parent business to get gratitude.  As responsible parents, we are supposed to stand by our children through the toughest of times—keeping them on course to where they don’t become a burden to society.  The reward is when they turn out as responsible adults.  If you bring a child into this world, you must first be willing to accept responsibility for them, and that’s a tough one to chew in the hardest of times because child-rearing can get darned challenging.  I find I am most comfortable holding my son when he’s sick, has a fever, is barfing on my shoes, and needs to know everything’s going to be okay.  It is comforting to be comforting.

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As your children grow into adults, you have to begin the slow process of setting them free and letting go – allowing them to make their own way.  It is always good for you to be there for your kids as an advisor.  However, in letting them make their own decisions, you allow them to make and accept responsibility for their own mistakes.

What hurts the most as a parent is watching your kid go through the pain of being hurt because what hurts them hurts us.  My wife and I are late-in-life parents.  We adopted our son at birth at 50 and 52 respectively.  It is remarkable how many people comment on our “grandson,” only to be politely corrected that he is our son.  Late in life parents who adopt children should always be mindful of the emotional needs that come with children of adoption.  Children of adoption sometimes have abandonment issues even though they have no memory of their birth parents.  Most of the time adoption goes smoothly as long as you’re truthful with your child and explain why they were adopted.  It is very important for them to understand that they were wanted – not unwanted.  Adopted children struggle with the belief they were unwanted – which creates a lot of emotional issues.  They need to feel secure in your arms and know they are safe.

At 52, I was more ready to be a father than I was at 32 when my first born arrived in 1988.  I had a lot to learn about being a father at 32 and had a long way to go toward being a better father.  I’ve made a lot of terrible mistakes as a father and a step father—and as a long-distance father two-thirds of a continent away.

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I made a tough career decision in 1994 that moved me in Los Angeles when a career decision should have been given more thought—where I put my children ahead of my career.  A divorce followed, further straining an already fragile relationship with my kids.  No one has ever said on their death bed they wished they’d spent more time at the office or on the road.  The deepest regret has always been not having spent more time with the family.

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No matter how much you love your children, distance puts incredible strain on the relationship.  As a faraway parent or grandparent, you miss a lot of important moments in their lives.  As a long-distance father, it has never been easy for me to watch my kids growing up from far away.  I understand what I’ve missed – and sadly, what they’ve missed in me.   They’re all grown now – two of them with children of their own.  It is surely something watching them raise their kids.  Each is doing an incredible job and I am so proud of them.  No matter how much I want to be a part of my grand kid’s lives, it will never be the same this far away.  I have to stay on top of video chats with them, which don’t happen as often as I’d like between my busy schedule and theirs.

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Chances are in this far-flung society you’re a long distance parent or grandparent.  You understand how challenging it is emotionally to miss your kids and grand kids.  If you have a tight budget and can’t travel to see them, rely on modern technology to keep you close.  There are video chat apps that enable you to stay close to those you love.  What’s more, these apps are free which means you’ve run out of excuses not to call.

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I’ve learned with my kids not to hover over them as adults.  I didn’t learn this one easily.  I learned it the hard by overthinking their intent.   I know they love and miss me.  I also know they’re on the same trip I was as a young man.  Sometimes, there just isn’t the time to call or write because life keeps them buried with growing families.

It is true a child is the one relationship you as a parent have where they grow up and go out into the world—and without you.  It takes a lot of courage to set them free and allow them to live their own lives.  This is where you have to be strong enough to know how much your child loves you—and find the courage to let them go – and without the tiresome guilt trips (you’ve broken your poor mother’s heart!!!) you got from your parents.  If you hear from your kids with any regularity, you are blessed.  Most of the time, communication is sparse and not as often as we’d like.

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Whether it is your child, a friend, or a member of your family, it is always best to emotionally set those you love free and see where where your relationship goes.  If you hear from them without a reminder, you have a healthy relationship.  If you don’t,  it is often best to step back and see if they circle back around to you.

Jim Smart

Tempus Fugit…Does Time Really Fly?

When you get to be our ages, it seems like time has flown by.

But—has it really?

Sit there and watch a clock tick. Does it tick any faster or slower?  One-One Thousand-Two-One Thousand-Three-One Thousand… Time passes at the same speed it always has. The perception of time depends upon how busy you are and how occupied your mind is. If you’ve nothing to do, you’re bored, and you’re watching the clock, time seems to pass slowly like it did when we were kids.  You’d be sitting in class on a hot afternoon anticipating school being out for the summer.  Then—school would be out and time would fly by.  Busy versus not busy.  Having a good time versus not having a good time.

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Boomers lament the passage of time much as mankind always has.  We regret how much time is gone.  Yet, we forget to make good use of the time we are handed.  Time is such an easy element to be reckless with, yet it is the most valuable commodity we have.  You can always make more money.  You cannot make more time.  Think about it—as we use up time it is gone forever—like the sands of time in an hourglass.  God doesn’t add sand. We treat time as a tangible element we can put our hands on.  Yet, it slips through our hands with fluid precision.

Captain Kangaroo showed us how to read a clock face.  The Captain infused the human element into a clock face with Grandfather Clock.  The eyes moved and the clock spoke.  There was such emotion in a clock face.  Comedian George Carlin said it best when he did a monologue on time.  He described the intense emotion in a clock face where the right side of the  clock face seemed to go faster than the left side where the hands had to fight gravity on the way back up to the 12.

Dunno about you, but Grandfather Clock was a living breathing character – and that set the tone for my perception of time.  I’ve been cautiously watching the clock all of my life.  And – because I’ve been in publishing for approaching 40 years, I’ve never stopped watching the clock and the calendar.  Deadline after deadline after deadline.  It is an obsession – wondering when I will ever stop watching these lifeless objects.

There is a healthy way to look at time. It is always good to make the best use of time— however, it is also healthy to relax and not fret about the time, especially if you’ve been working hard all your life.  If you’re in retirement or darned close to it, view time as the situation warrants, and stop looking at your watch and the calendar.  Retirement and a calculated slowdown are good elements to have going for you.  Slow down—just don’t stop.  Without purpose and activity we wither away and die.

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For one thing, time is something most of us have been careless with most of our lives.  We throw time to the winds because we perceive there’s always more of it when in fact our clock starts ticking the minute sperm meets egg inside another human being who also has just so much time.  God loads the hourglass and our lifetime begins.  When we are young, we perceive we have all kinds of time.  Old age is way out there in the future.  “I wonder what it will be like when I am old…” especially when some old guy comes hobbling past us with a walker or in a wheelchair.  Man…

I recall my mother’s 50th birthday…in 1973.  It was depressing because I saw her as growing old when in fact she had a whole lot of time left.  She had a good productive 10-15 years left before dementia robbed her of her mind and identity.  She lived in a mental cocoon in her last years—a safe haven where she didn’t have to worry anymore.  She could gaze into space and surface only as desired with a sense of peace in her eyes.  She passed peacefully in her sleep at age 84.  My dad, who was a heavy smoker, didn’t have as much time because cigarettes were his vice and were taking a toll on his cardiovascular system.  And, no matter how many invasive procedures he had performed—bypass surgery and stents—he just couldn’t quit. He had such a peaceful look in his eyes when he took a drag and exhaled.  The room would be full of second hand smoke.   Heart disease took him at 72 when, otherwise, he would have lived well into his nineties.  He was a hearty soul with a rugged constitution.  He just could never give up that burning passionate experience of a good cigarette.  He’d sacrifice time for the pleasures of a cigarette.  When I cleaned out his work shop after he passed, I was stunned at the ashes all over the floor.  A good cigarette was worth more than time.

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How we treat ourselves has a very large effect on how long we live.  Those of us with a passion for sweets operate at a disadvantage.  As long as the cookie jar is full, we are happy and content—that is until we stand on the scale and look in the mirror at our naked asses.  Some of us are cursed with rotten genetics and have that going against us all our lives.  High blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, dementia, and other elements that can shorten our lives as it did our ancestors.  In that light, we just have to do the best we can with the life we’ve been given.

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We take time for granted or we tend to view it as a curse.  As young people, we take it for granted.  “I’ll think about that tomorrow…” as so it goes.  Tomorrow comes and we seriously consider putting whatever it is off to next week.  That’s human nature unless you’re a high productivity Type A personality.  Then, it becomes everything to get it done and move on to the next big project.  The older we become, the more urgent things become when, in fact, we need to slow down and stop pressuring ourselves.

In old age, there are a lot of regrets—things we perceive we should have done.  My advice is to get in the things you can and stop fretting over the things that are suddenly out of reach.  That trip to Europe.  Building your dream home.  Moving to paradise whatever your paradise is.  That’s called acceptance and finding peace in it.  Again, we’re given only so much time—and life has a way of getting in the way and using up a whole bunch of it.  That great American novel I’ve been thinking about writing?

I’ll think about that tomorrow.

Jim Smart

If Dogs Ruled The World…

I’ve had dozens of dogs.  Some great—some quite forgettable.  One common thread has passed through all of them—loyalty…  What makes dogs the greatest creatures on the planet is unconditional love and loyalty.  I’ve witnessed horribly abused dogs that stick by their masters through all kinds of abuses.  That’s true unconditional love and loyalty.  I think if you abuse a loyal and loving creature, there’s some terrible Karma waiting for you somewhere.  I firmly believe all dogs go to heaven—even the mean ones.  The mean ones are mean because some human taught them how to be that way.

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I think the world would be a better place were it run by dogs.  Why?  Dogs live in a pack mentality—a pecking order from the most dominate to the least.  With dogs, there’s law and order.  Some dogs, by instinct or by nature, just naturally lead the pack.  Others will tend to challenge the leader and either take over or get mowed over.  You will find there are also dogs happy to follow the pecking order within the pack.  They’re not interested in leading.  There’s always the Alpha dog in every pack who leads the pack and calls the shots.  From the top down, there’s a proper pecking order and this seems to work in the dog world.  It gets a little more complex in the human world.  Your relationship with your dog should always be you being the Alpha—the leader.

With dogs, I’ve found there’s no facade – no BS.  They either like you or they don’t.  If they don’t like you, you better walk away clean and mind your business or expect a soft tissue injury.  I think dogs are the best judges of character.  They can smell a bad person.  If they don’t like you, there’s a solid reason why they don’t and perhaps you need to take a long look in the mirror.

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The whole time I was growing up, I wanted a dog.  My mother was a cat lover.  We always had cats—Manx cats—the ones with no tail. In fact, I got so used to tailless cats that whenever I saw a cat with a tail, it looked odd to me.  We had a succession of litters of kittens who grew up to be Manx cats.  It all began with a single black and white Manx named Puttins from a pet shop in 1965.

When I reached adulthood and entered the United States Air Force, I made up my mind I was going to have a dog.  Of all the dogs I’ve had over a lifetime, I remember Susie and Buster most—mother and son miniature dachshunds—my first ever doggies I got when I got to my permanent duty assignment in Southwest Oklahoma.  My neighbor, a retired USAF master sergeant who was also my landlord, presented my first wife and me with a young female doxie.  She was a sweet little female.  We named her Susie.

A year later, we found a nice couple in Blair just north of where we lived in Altus who had a miniature male dachshund.  The two doxies met, fell in love, and a litter of puppies ensued.  I believe there were six puppies, which looked like a basket full of tiny sausage links nursing on their mother.  Buster was one of those puppies.  Susie and Buster became the best of friends.

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Susie and Buster were an inseparable pair until Susie succumbed to heart disease and testicular cancer took Buster.  Buster was most memorable of the two because when he was defecating in the back yard, his tail would curl up like question mark, which begged all kinds of questions I couldn’t answer.  Susie was a sweet lover.  She’d sit outside our bedroom door and cry, laying in an indelible guilt trip that lives with me today.  I heard her cries and always gave in.  She’d come in and nibble on my ears and neck.

Years later, there was Brawny, a combination Shih Tzu and long hair Dachshund, who used to sit in front of my Magnavox stereo console and listen to whatever I was playing. He would listen, cock his head to the changing tones, and gaze into space.  Poor Brawny ingested antifreeze in our garage and died from ethylene glycol poisoning.  It was a miserable lesson—a horrible mistake I would never make again.  I didn’t know dogs loved the taste of antifreeze so, without thinking, I left a bucket of antifreeze in the garage.  We left him in the garage with that bucket of antifreeze not understanding the dangers.  We came home to a very sick dog with no way to save him.  His kidneys had crystallized and he plummeted into renal failure.

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There was a succession of Afghan hounds.  Most memorable was Shan or “Shanners” who was a beautiful dog.  When I wasn’t paying her enough attention, she’d take her long muzzle and—given her crouch level height—would nudge me right where it would get her the most attention.  Ignoring her was never an option.

Dog lovers and owners are a unique breed unto themselves.  Unless you’re heartless and leave your dog outside unattended day and night, you become your dog and your dog becomes you.  They do backyard time and share walks with you around the block.  I speak to my dogs like I do people.  They enjoy the interaction and actually sit there and listen to my boring dissertations.   I hug them and show them abundant love.  Although they don’t speak my language, we understand one another.  Sometimes, you get lucky and find a four-legged soulmate who becomes an extension of you to where the two of you become right and left-brained.  They know what you’re thinking and you know what they’re thinking.

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When I think of colorful four-legged soulmates, I think of my buddy Fritz who passed a few years back from old age.  He was a Chow mix who was the puppy from hell.  He tore up everything in sight.  He was a Walmart litter dog picked up from someone giving away Chow pups.  I knew when he laid his head on my wife’s chest there was no escaping the experience I was about to be handed.  This dog was going home with us like it or don’t.  He was a bit of a chore as a pup and we seriously considered finding him a home.  Instead, we took him to a professional trainer and had him neutered.  He evolved into the greatest friend I’ve ever had.  He just had to mature and mellow.  Fritz and I were the best of friends and for a long time.  He always knew what I was thinking.  When I was bummed and in a funk, he’d nudge me with solid eye contact, I’d pet him and my troubles just seemed to melt away.

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Fritz had an autoimmune disease that caused muscle degeneration.  A couple of times, we thought we were going to lose him.  Yet, he endured.  He lived to be 15.  In those last days, he took a mental vacation and slipped into dementia.  He’d blankly stare into a corner and pee right where he was standing.  His once puppy face had turned gray.  Watching Fritz was like watching “On Golden Pond” as the seasons changed.  A once young and vibrant dog had grown old and it had come so fast.

We took Fritz to Doctor Dave at the Antelope Valley Animal Hospital.  Dave looked at him and said, “It’s time…”  We all knew it was.  I held Fritz’s head close to my face while Dave administered the sedative that allowed Fritz to slip into a deep sleep.  I heard his breathing slow.  I sent my wife, Barbara, and son Jacob out of the room.  Doctor Dave gave Fritz the lethal injection and felt my best friend slip away.

I weep as I write this.

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There came a time when I believed Fritz needed a friend.  We encountered a litter of Husky mix puppies.  One of them, a sweet female, placed her chin on a milk crate and glared at me with her big brown eyes.  It was destiny much as Fritz was.  I tried to look away.  There was no looking away.  She had her eye on me.  We took Rosie home and introduced her to Fritz.  Rosie has been a great companion for nine years.  Like Fritz, she always knows when I am in a funk.  Her wet nose will nudge my elbow and I know she understands.  She has been in a funk ever since Fritz died.  Sometimes, we sit and weep together at the loss of a great friend.  Like Fritz, Rosie is growing old too and is beginning to fade.  I feel that all too familiar ache in the middle of my chest.

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Dogs are very social creatures who thrive on interaction with other dogs and with their human companions.  To live good healthy lives we must show them love and affection and treat them like our human companions.  With that, they live longer and give us back way more than we will ever give them.

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If I may offer any advice to boomers, it is to tie your heart to a great dog as time continues to slip into the future.  As we enter our twilight years, it is vital to connect with a great pet be it a dog or a cat.  Cats tend to be independent, yet a true cat buddy will always walk up to you with its motor running and rub its whiskers again your hands and face.  We share the planet with hundreds of thousands of different species.  Let us show them love, embrace them, care for them, and let them know what they mean to us.

—Jim Smart

 

The Way We Played…

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Winters in my native Washington, D.C. were damp and cold with those occasional record setting blizzards that sometimes shut down the area for days.  I emerged into the world amid a rare mid-March snow event that paralyzed D.C. in 1956. The unusual Nor’easter was quite the winter storm that adversely affected the Mid-Atlantic and New England. Didn’t affect me any.  I was amid amniotic bliss and evicted into the bright lights of a delivery room kicking and screaming and have been doing that ever since. Can’t say that I remember this storm at all. However, my mother did.  Every “the day you were born…” story I ever heard from my mother included a blizzard report and that snowy trip in labor to the Columbia Hospital for Women and so it went.

When I think of winter weather events when I was a kid, I get a rush of euphoria.  Don’t you? I was sitting in a warm house while my father tried to steer the family car into the driveway with great frustration.  No matter how badly I wanted to shape and shovel snow my father always had alternative plans.  I was told to stay in the house.

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Hip-deep snowstorms when I was a kid gave us plenty to do once the snow stopped and our parents said we could go out and play.  Snow challenged our creativity. Building a simple four-ball snowman didn’t impress anyone and we were out of coal and carrots.  Too easy for a bully to walk up and knock over by the way.  Kids in my neighborhood had other more productive plans.  Protocol in my neighborhood was erecting a huge snow fort by a neighborhood full of kids eager to shape snow and pile it on thick and indestructible.  If necessary, you could always cop snow from a neighbor’s yard.

It was refreshing sitting inside a frozen snow fort listening to the changing acoustics of the quiet snowfall outside.   Have you ever noticed how quiet it is during a snowstorm? Snowflakes absorb sound soaking up the roar of traffic and the dull roar of screaming kids on the block.  Snowfall is a comforting quiet.  If a snowstorm was followed by extreme cold, your handcrafted snow fort got a stay of execution.  Confound it the timing of that dreaded snow melt, which was always consistent with having to go back to school. Of course, there were kids my neighborhood who had sleds.  I wasn’t one of those.  I had a sled—sort of—if there was a large cardboard box left in the garage I could flatten out and use as low-buck transportation.

Those first crisp days of Autumn were always a rush for me.  The richness of woodsmoke in the air meant Halloween and the holidays were coming.  Although I’ve never followed professional and college football, I always loved the sound of football games on the TV along with my father and uncle yelling at the screen.  There was the gentle sweetness of  Thanksgiving being prepared in the kitchen.  And, come early December, the smell of a fresh Scotch Pine Christmas tree coming through the front door.   My mother enlisted me to string the lights and fill the stand with water.  She and my sisters would handle the decorations and gift wrapping.

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Maryland springtime was euphoric for those of us wrestling with cabin fever.  It was time to bust loose.  Sometimes, January would yield unseasonably mild weather with temperatures in the seventies before Mother Nature got back to the business of miserably cold wintertime.  I was always delusional enough as a child to believe spring was here even though it was the middle of January. I’d step outside hoping for warm weather only to feel the harsh sting of a cold north wind. Ground Hog Day rolled around at the usual time.  Of course, I was naïve enough to believe spring was actually six weeks away.

Springtime meant hauling my bicycle out, blowing the dust off, airing up the tires, and pedaling off to freedom.  Those first mild days offered up the sweet aroma of honeysuckle and fresh clover that seemed to grow sweeter in the cool night air.  Then, the sound of power lawnmowers and edgers.  That incredible aroma brought a youthful springtime high—the rush of approaching summer.  Warm weather was finally here and I could go cruising away from my mother’s watchful eye.

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I’ve watched my 11 year-old son’s passion for video games, YouTube, and online friends wondering whatever happened to the humble bicycle, scooter, or a pair of roller skates.  When did reality become “virtual” reality?  I prefer reality.  Skinned knees versus repetitive motion arthritis and eye troubles.  Being stung by a bee versus watching Spiderman. Deafness from headphones versus deafness from the roar of loud music.

Honestly, I’ve never been into virtual reality driving and Uber.  When I was my son’s age, I couldn’t wait to get my driver’s license and actually drive an automobile.  Wanderlust made me crazy.  I wanted to hit the road with no particular destination in mind.  I just wanted to circle the Earth.

When we were kids, we played Kickball, Softball, Dodge Ball, and Hide and Go Seek.  We played until dark and even after dark as long as the parents knew where we were. Coming home for the evening was timed with streetlights and even some neighbors ringing bells or blowing whistles. Those sounds meant kids were to come home.

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Dodge ball appears to fallen from grace because the perception is it is a game of persecution…with victims.  Are you kidding me?  Dodge ball was about being fast on your feet – quick – a competitive event.   When did it become a game of self pity?

And what about the playground equipment we had – monkey bars, the teeter-tauter, sliding boards, merry-go-rounds, the jungle gym, swings and rope climbing.  We swung through the air and had a ball amid such a simple childhood concept – having fun.  Today’s playgrounds are so watered down with legalities that it becomes impossible for a kid to actually have fun.  Municipalities are so concerned about being sued by parents with skinned knees or a concussion that playgrounds have become extinct.  There’s no joy in any of it anymore for kid who looks at it and thinks “what the heck am I supposed to do with this?”  As a result, playgrounds are virtually abandoned today.  Children still have the same passions and desires we had a half century ago.  They would accept the risks given having something exciting to play on. Instead, all they have are electronic devices and the illusion of reality.  What the hell is that?

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Back in the day, we didn’t have the electronics kids have today where imagination is done for them.  They don’t even have to make stuff up.  It is made up for them.  In the mid-20th Century, we had our imaginations and that was enough.  Although my logic may be dated, I believe imagination is important to child development and being a more creative adult.  And what about daydreaming?  When did that become politically incorrect?  Some of the best times I ever had as a child were escaping to the world of imagination in the privacy of my bedroom. I could be anything I wanted to be—an airline pilot, an architect, a policeman, a parent –  you name the fantasy.

When did the lease expire on Make Believe?

When I was a kid, I couldn’t wait to be grown up and in charge of my own life.  Ironic, isn’t it?  I find myself longing to be a kid deep in the seclusion of my own imagination. Seems whatever our dreams are, they always manage to outdistance us.

Respect For The Law Ensures Order

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Do you remember what it was like when we were growing up back in the day? From the time we entered nursery school we were taught to respect the rules and do as we were told.  “Single File, Class, Single File…” and “Class dismissed…”  We didn’t pour out of the classroom before the bell and we didn’t think for a minute rules were for others.  If we did, we were instructed to go stand in the hallway.  We understood the consequences of not obeying rules—and there were always consequences. At home, we were grounded for not obeying the rules. In school, there was detention or sitting in a hot classroom and missing recess. When we took on part-time jobs as teenagers and didn’t do as instructed, we were fired for not obeying the rules. I speak from experience. I was told more than once, “Go punch the clock, you’re fired…” Pain teaches. So does an empty wallet.

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Rules—laws—are there to keep order in society.  Laws are good deterrents—rules to ensure consistency and predictability.  Laws are “inspiration” to do what we’re supposed to do.  However, there are always those who perceive the laws are for others—and this is where society has broken down.  Traffic laws are there for public safety.  Yet—there are those who believe traffic lights and road signs are there for others—and that’s when people are maimed and killed by red light runners.

We cannot continue to justify bad behavior and reckless disregard for the law or it all falls apart. You may not agree with the laws, however, they are passed and put into place for your safety.  If you don’t agree with the law, be tenacious and work to change the law.  Be proactive in your government.  Complaining to your buddies in a bar won’t change the law.

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Baby Boomers understand nonconformity.  We were the anti-establishment generation.  We were never going to grow old.  Never trust anyone over 30.  Do your own thing.  Remember all that hogwash?  I do, with my share of aches, pains, and criticisms.  We have surely grown older and we’ve spent most of our lives doing our own thing.  That’s part of what’s wrong with society today.  We’ve been doing our own thing for decades – forgetting  how to be an integral part of society.  The price has been robust levels of self absorption we’ve passed along to our children.

We’re critical of today’s young people for not conforming and breaking all the rules when we  did the same thing!  What’s more, we’re critical of today’s young people – forgetting to ask ourselves…who raised them?  We were the generation that was going to change the world – and did.  We did change the world.  We’re more casual than the people who raised us.  Childhood was more oppressive for us.  If we stepped out of line there were consequences.  Today, we’re being so politically correct and trying to be our children’s best friends that we’ve forgotten to be parents first.

I was at a public venue not long ago and saw a young lady wearing a tee shirt that said, “The New Rule is No Rules…”  Oh really?  That works until her rights are violated or someone breaks into her home.  She will be the first to call police and insist on justice.  To have order and a civilized society, there must be rules. That’s the way it has always been.  What makes us delusional enough to believe society can function smoothly without rules and laws?

I am a middle of the road guy—liberal about some things and conservative about others.  I will go on record saying I’ve no use for either side of this heated and juvenile disagreement we seem to be having on a national level.  All this infighting is ridiculous when instead we need to be focused on law and order along with the unification that goes with being free Americans.

Late senator and presidential candidate, Humbert H. Humphrey, said it best in his speech to the Democratic National Convention in 1968, “Surely we have now learned the lesson that violence breeds counter violence and it cannot be condoned, whatever the source.”  He went on to say, “Violence breeds more violence—disorder destroys—and only in order can we build. Riot makes for ruin—reason makes for solution. I put it very bluntly—rioting, burning, sniping, mugging, traffic in narcotics, and disregard for law are the advance guard of anarchy, and they must and they will be stopped. We do not want a police state. But we need a state of law and order,” stressing there must be laws that protect citizens from harm—includes those in police custody.

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I cannot stress enough those in police custody must be safe, especially if their guilt or innocence hasn’t been proven in a court of law.  Those sworn to uphold the law must also obey the law like we’re all supposed to.  What happened to George Floyd, and dozens of countless other victims of police violence, cannot be tolerated. These abuses must be policed and those who conduct themselves in this manner must be disciplined and/or prosecuted. Remember—the laws—rules—are also there for law enforcement in order to ensure no unnecessary harm comes to citizens guilty or innocent.

If everyone follows the rules and exercises proper judgment, then, no one gets hurt and each gets treated fairly.  This is who we’re supposed to be.  To ensure the safe treatment of anyone in police custody, there must be due diligence. There must be extensive screening of applicants, routine psychological evaluation of law enforcement officers; and regular, clear, concise communication from leadership to the rank and file on every level.  Body cameras must be worn and operated by all law enforcement personnel to ensure everyone has their facts straight.

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On the other side of the coin, more needs to be done to keep law enforcement officers safe and heard.  The media needs to be as focused on the positives of the police as well as the negatives.  All the media is doing now is hyperfocusing on bad cops despite the fact bad cops are among the very few.  I firmly believe most law enforcement officers want to serve and protect.  What about cops who are maimed and killed in the line of duty?  I don’t hear the media talking about that much.

We need good law enforcement—period.  Without the police—you have anarchy and a society out of control.  Those who perceive we need to defund and disband police departments aren’t thinking clearly.  If you perceive we need to disband and defund the police, consider this.  Who are you going to call in the middle of the night in a home invasion robbery or first thing in the morning when you discover your car was broken into overnight?  Consider the consequences of defunding and disbanding the police.  Let us focus on both unity as free Americans and standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the police.  We need them now more than ever.  And, when you see a police officer when you’re out and about, render a wave and thank them for their service to community.  The cops—good cops—could use a hug.

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I like Senator Humphery’s lasting words, “And now the third reality, essential if the other two are to be achieved, is the necessity, my fellow Americans, for unity in our country, for tolerance and forbearance for holding together as a family, and we must make a great decision. Are we to be one nation, or are we to be a nation divided, divided between black and white, between rich and poor, between north and south, between young and old? I take my stand—we are and we must be one nation, united by liberty and justice for all, one nation under God, indivisible with liberty and Justice for all. This is our America.”   – Jim Smart

Bowling…Back In The Day…

 

Dunno about you folks – but I miss bowling the way it was long about 1960.  I’m talking stinky-smelly establishments full of cigarette smoke, the aroma of lane conditioner and freshly-drilled hard rubber bowling balls, beer, and the smell of hot burgers on the grille.  There was the dull roar of conversation, people laughing and yelling at the pins, and the “whack!” of someone kicking a ball return in disgust.  Forget automatic scoring because it wasn’t around yet.  You had to actually think, know how to add, and how to keep score. There was the humble telescore, transparent score sheets, the motion of a grease pencil, and your ability to keep score. The game challenged your math skills.

Seems there was a grand opening every month somewhere.  My father was always dragging us to the grand opening of a new bowling alley around suburban Washington and Baltimore.  There was certainly the heartbreak when one of his haunts – Greenbelt Bowl – burned to the ground from a failed florescent light ballast.  Eventually, he settled in to one or two league nights week when my mother decided to corral him in.  When he couldn’t escape to a bowling league, he hid behind one of his James Michener novels or an Orioles ball game on the TV.

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I grew up around bowling – bowling when millions of active league players took the game seriously.  I really am old school.  I love this game the way it was played 60 years ago.  My dad, who was an avid league bowler, had his favorites around Washington and Baltimore.  Where there were tournaments – there was my ol’ man and his bowling buddies.  He maintained a 185 average in those days.  His friend, Ted Wessel, was even better with a 195-200 average in ABC-sanctioned league play. My dad had a textbook four-step delivery.  He was a straight down and in hook player who played the second arrow on the right – solid in the 1-3 pocket.

Admittedly, my father and I did very little together.  We were not close.  What we did together encompassed bowling.  He coached me on Saturday mornings in youth leagues.  Asked me what the hell I thought I was doing out there and, “That’s not the way I taught you to bowl!!!”  We bowled together in adult-youth leagues in the summertime amid air conditioning on hot steamy Maryland summer evenings.  In the cold of winter, we watched Championship Bowling and ABC’s Professional Bowlers Tour, which aired every Saturday afternoon.  ABC’s ever constant, Chris Schenkel, hosted the Professional Bowlers Tour for most of the 36 years it was on the air.  Particularly heartbreaking was watching the ABC Professional Bowlers Tour wrap up with Chris and Bo Burton, their tears and apparent emotion, and saying goodbye. You felt like you knew them – especially after decades on the air together.

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I had the good fortune of attending the 1972 ABC Professional Bowlers Tour Fair Lanes Open in Springfield, Virginia – meeting Chris Schenkel and Billy Welu. Welu was a kind gentle tall Texan who knew the game well, providing great commentary and extensive knowledge of the game.  I shook his hand, and Chris Schenkel’s, and let them go to work.  Both were very kind to a snot-nosed teenager from suburban Maryland who loved the game and was lucky enough to be there.  The lights came up, we were instructed on how to behave as an audience, and invited to applause as they went on the air.  It was a dreamy experience for a kid.  We lost Billy Welu to a heart attack in 1974. Thereafter, Bo Burton took the coveted chair and was a Pro Bowlers Tour institution until the last telecast in 1997.

Those of us who grew up in the 1950s and ’60s remember bowling centers as community gathering spots for bowlers and non-bowlers alike.  Bowling centers were cozy familiar places where you could always find a friend.  A lot of lonely souls with nowhere else to go hung out there. We all knew them.  There were the bar flies who sat in the bar and told war stories.  Lies were swapped.  Laughs exchanged.  Second hand smoke was traded.  It was the most original form of social media I can think of.  If you were a serious bowler, you hung out at the pro shop to see the latest from AMF, Brunswick, Ebonite, and Columbia.  Every summer, they’d shut the place down for lane resurfacing, equipment maintenance, and new pins.  New pins always had a high pitch ring, which made bowling louder until they were broken in.  New pins were always livelier.  They reacted more aggressively – it seemed.

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I always loved the acoustics of a Brunswick house with A-Model automatic pinsetters with long wooden kickbacks and their unique heavily padded pit cushions.  They yielded a deep rumble of machines and pin action. Someone would nail the 1-3 pocket – ten in the pit – and it would send goosebumps up my spine.  Brunswick machines made a high pitch whine across the house, which was the turret belt slipping around the turret drive. The A-model machines with mechanical triggering were unforgiving of a ball thrown hard.  The ball would hit the pit cushion with so much force it would stall the machine and you’d hear “Blackout on 32…” over the P.A. system in the back.  Troublemakers would keep throwing the ball hard just to stall the machine.  Brunswick refined its pinsetter with electronic triggering and the A-2 rake delay feature.  The Brunswick A-2 was faster and more forgiving than the original A model.  It became an industry standard, which hundreds of thousands of them produced worldwide.  The bowling boom in Japan became so great Brunswick allowed Japan to produce A-2 pinsetters under license.

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AMF houses of the era were different with their 82-30 model pinspotters – which sounded like a thrashing machine with their clunking, banging, and the sound of pins being distributed into the pinspotting table (rack).  The 82-30 was the world’s first commercially successful pinsetting machine – introduced in 1948.  It would take Brunswick another eight years to get its A-Model into the marketplace – then…the bowling boom was on.

When you consider the bowling boom’s great success 60 years ago, it is sobering to see where it is today.  Today – some 70-80% of all bowling boom establishments are gone.  Those houses you grew up in during the boom where your mom and dad went bowling on Saturday nights are gone – forever…  Consider that for a minute.  Every center where my father league bowled for decades around Washington and Baltimore is gone with one exception – Bowl America Glen Burnie – a cool back-to-back house with 24 lanes on each side. Bowl America in Glen Burnie, Maryland is one of the few surviving houses in the Baltimore area that were originally Colt Lanes – founded by Baltimore Colts star quarterback, the late Johnny Unitas at the cusp of the 1960s. The Colt Lanes enterprise folded, with most of the houses sold to Bowl America and Fair Lanes.

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Bowling today isn’t the bowling we grew up with.  Times have changed and so has the game.  Bowling had to change to remain alive.  There are fewer establishments in any given community, which has driven the cost of bowling up.  There are more and more angles designed to get people into bowling centers, which have become more recreational centers with a huge variety of venues for those easily distracted or bored.  Billiards, video games, mini race tracks, restaurants and bars continue to draw the masses when just bowling, billiards, and pinball machines used to pull just fine on their own.  And, if you had a bad evening on the lanes, you could always stop by the bar to numb your pain.

Nonetheless – I always loved the magic of walking into a bowling center I’d never been in before.  For a kid in those days – thrilling.  If it was a chain establishment like Fair Lanes or Bowl America, I always liked to compare houses.  Privately owned houses always had the greatest character.  Some were pretty run down – but were long on personality.  They were typically smaller on the order of 6 to 10 lanes and generally quiet.  On a Saturday night these Mom and Pop houses drew dozens of people who had this weekly event to attend where they could connect with friends.  Bowling centers were good therapy for the lonely.  Always someone to listen and connect with.
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Bowling has changed dramatically.  However – the social atmosphere of a bowling alley hasn’t.  These establishments are still around though admittedly in a different format.  Your challenge is to assimilate to a fresh environment and figure out a strategy for dragging your friends to just such a place.  Reach out and groove in for a renewed look at life. Ken-Cliff Bowling Lanes in Ardmore, Oklahoma is but one example of what’s out there for bowling nostalgia buffs looking to relive their youth.  There are countless other examples around the country that haven’t changed.
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Boomer Journey…

Those New Car Introductions

We’ve lost so much ground when it comes to automotive styling. Automotive styling has changed so much since we were growing up in the 1960s. I am a diehard car enthusiast and have been since I was in my teens. However, I cannot tell one car brand, nor model, from another these days. I have to look for the manufacturer’s emblems.

Although cars and trucks have nice perks inside and out they all look the same and are decidedly boring if you ask me. And—what’s with bearded cars—that broad big-assed black beard from the hood to the chin spoiler? And, taillights that look like telephone receivers, check marks, and lightning bolts? Stop that!!! Used to be automakers had brand-specific styling where you could tell the difference at a glance between an Oldsmobile and a Chevrolet or a Ford and a Dodge. No one had to tell you what it was. You knew. And, if you didn’t your ol’ man could explain to you what it was.

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Automakers crank out cars and trucks like candy makers pump out peanut butter cups and nutty crunch bars. Aside from changes in packaging not much changes from year to year because brand recognition and loyalty are important in the candy business. They’re also important in the car business. And—when sales go soft they revise packaging, advertising, and the way a model is promoted. They find a new way to tell you something new about the same old thing.

Telecommunications companies are the same way. Can you hear me now? And, who’s the creep who did away from Bran Chex? I liked them a lot and they kept me regular—and now they are gone. Someone explain this to me—regularity versus Irregularity. What does that mean exactly? Are you regular or irregular? Are you telling me because my fecal material has become like limestone and I have to work at it that I’m—well—irregular? It’s enough to give a neurotic guy like me a complex.

Getting back to cars and trucks—I think Detroit and foreign automakers are designing and building the most handsome pick-up trucks we’ve seen since the redesigned Dodge Ram arrived in the early 1990s and prior to that from all of the classics in the 1960s and 1970s. We’re getting darned handsome trucks now—but more expensive than ever, which makes you think twice about buying a new one. My 1998 Ford F-150 Super Cab isn’t the most handsome truck I’ve ever seen, but my posterior has carved a nice impression in the driver’s seat which, despite broken springs, still fits my backyard nicely. The F-150 remains a joy to drive at nearly 300,000 miles over 22 years and has been fiercely reliable.

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Seriously now—who would have ever imagined Toyota and Nissan would be offering competition to domestic trucks? Toyota Tundra and Nissan Titan march down Main Street and the American highway with authority. You can keep making your emblems larger and larger, Ford and Chrysler, however—larger and larger isn’t always cool. It makes your trucks look like a stinking billboard. Smaller is tasteful. So is great styling. Keep designing and building great looking trucks and your emblems won’t have to be large. Styling will speak for itself.

Detroit, Japan, Korea and Europe have all gone a similar path in terms of styling and even interior ergonomics. When I hop from one to the other in a series of rental cars throughout the year I find very little difference across the board. Different from the pack tends to be Subaru, which I believe builds some of the best mainstream automobiles and sport utilities in the world. Of course I will get arguments on this one because everyone has a favorite flavor and each brand brings something unique to the table.

I am a diehard Ford guy and will always be loyal. However, I calls ‘em as I see’s ‘em. I choose cars and trucks like I choose my politicians—based on their own merits and what I know to be true about them. It is always good to check Consumer Reports while you’re shopping for a new vehicle and examine the ratings. Beyond that, buy something that feels good to drive that you’re proud to be seen in you will enjoy owning for years to come.

Although the automakers are long on imagination, they need a fresh approach to aerodynamics, with less attention paid to the wind tunnel. Government needs to roll back ridiculous fuel economy standards because it leads to disappointing products—which began with those stupid 5 mph bumpers in the 1970s and automobiles that ran poorly because automakers had to keep up with tougher government standards.

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People love classic American cars because the styling was uniquely American and brand specific. I recall the thrill of my mother rolling up in a new 1963 Ford Galaxie sedan rental car that summer. It was a simple two-door sedan with room for six. I remember hordes of young post-war parents with little baby boomers who drove new cars—Chevy wagons, Ford Fairlanes, Dodge Darts and Plymouth Valiants, Buick hardtops and wagons, Olds Vista Cruisers, and a host of other family cars.

A half century later, I don’t feel the same way about a new car. I think because new cars today aren’t like new cars a lifetime ago. Maybe I’ve purchased too many of them or perhaps they’re just mundane. I’ve watched new turn into old many times and said goodbye to my share of new cars that became tired old 200,000-mile wrecks. Back in the middle of the 20th century, automakers and car dealers made a big deal out of model year changeover. They papered the showroom windows and broadcasted “The all-new 1967 models are coming!!!” and made a terrific tease out of the event. We lusted over the new models hoping Dad would buy one. Do you remember the thrill of new-car introductions when you were a kid?

— Jim Smart

 

Boomer Journey…

Deep Thoughts In The Night…

I remember being just four years old, lying in my bed, with nothing else to think about but just “being” and listening to the night. It was 1960. My window was open. It was a hot, humid summer night. My screen fluttered from a light breeze. A small Vornado desk fan hummed atop my chest of drawers. We lived in a modest little rambler on a cul-de-sac butting up against the woods in Lanham, Maryland just outside of Washington, D.C.

Lanham was a quiet little community when Suburban Washington was on the grow at the cusp of the 1960s. Neighboring New Carrollton was a housing development just getting underway, waiting for the sounds of kids at play, lawnmowers, and the sweet aroma of backyard barbeques  Yet, the night was very quiet except for the sounds we hear in nature—crickets, toads, frogs, mosquitoes, the occasional barking dog, a cat fight, and other sounds creepy to a kid.

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Isn’t it remarkable the sounds we hear in nature at night when all is quiet? When there’s the hush from urban noise such as cars and trucks or fire sirens, it allows us pause and think about just being. Those sounds in nature are a reminder of how long these sounds have been heard by humans throughout thousands of years of evolution. They remind us of our short time on the planet. They were there before you were here and they will be here long after you are gone. Particularly ironic is these sounds are being made by tiny creatures that are here for a much shorter time than we are.

The quiet of the night is accompanied by the ringing in our ears, which seems spiritual in scope. It is that subtle neurological feedback ringing or hissing in our ears we’ve been listening to all our lives. It’s always there even when we’re in a noisy room. When you’re a child in bed in the silence of the night, that ringing is a baffling sound no one hears but you. It wavers in tone to where you can’t tell where it leaves off and the sounds of nature begin. Have you ever noticed that and did you ever ask anyone if they could hear it? There’s no such thing as true dead silence.

It makes me think of Lucy and Ricky in “I Love Lucy” when they moved out to the country to the quiet of rural Connecticut. That first night in their country home. Neither could sleep because the steady din of city noise had given way to the discomforting quiet of the country. It was a little too quiet except for perhaps the ringing in their ears. Suddenly, there was the sound of something running across the roof of their house. Little Ricky came running in from his bedroom. The silence of the country night gave way to a little boy lamenting, “I’m scared…” Silence and just “being” was a strong reminder of their mortality—like a pilot light indicating they were still alive with all of the thoughts and fears we all have.

We really aren’t aware of our own existence until we reach ages 1-2. Prior to those impressionable years we see life in a foggy dream-like state. My very first memory, though quite vague, was an asphalt playground with forest green playground equipment consisting of swings, a sliding board, a see-saw, and perhaps a cluster of monkey bars. My grandfather and big sister were present for the memory. Memory fast-forwards to a small apartment in Hyattsville, Maryland when I was age 2. It was a hot apartment with a huge exhaust fan in the window along with the sound of my father’s jazz records on the Hi Fi. There isn’t a moment when I hear jazz that I don’t think about my father and that hot apartment.

I think those quiet moments in the night as a child were in a sense an invitation to to get quiet, centered, and at peace within. We learn this early on—then tend to forget about it as life ramps up and gets busy. We become so far removed from our spiritual core that we forget to listen to just being. When you get quiet and centered it allows you to focus on your soul, your being, and getting spiritually centered. Regardless of your religious beliefs it is good to focus on your mind’s eye, your soul, and God.

This is a moment in life when it is time to get calm, centered, and abandon that fear of the unknown. Fear not the unknown, but instead look at life as that series of chapters we’ve talked about before in Boomer Journey. You’ve survived and are living to enjoy those senior discounts you’ve long waited for. It is time to be true to yourself and what you want.

Growing older is a new chapter to embrace—to go to a place you’ve never been before. Isn’t this what we’ve been thinking about all of our lives? We’re born to this world to live and experience be the experience good or bad. If you’re feeling pain and crying real tears, it means you are alive. You are feeling. However, instead being consumed with the pain, focus on your blessings regardless of how small they may seem.

Blessings are as many and varied as you may wish. A balmy breeze on your face in the still of the evening. The sweet sound of a kitten purring in your lap. A child’s laughter a block away. A Carole King LP playing on your parent’s old and dusty stereo console. Scoring a pair of bellbottoms at an old thrift store. Discovering a childhood toy in a box in the attic you thought was long gone. And, basking in a sweet memory from your youth.

Self-awareness is the ability to look within and recognize yourself as an individual without being concerned over what others think of you. What matters most is what you think of yourself. Self-awareness is also how you know and understand who you are for better or worse, recognizing what you like and don’t like about yourself—then working on how to be a better person.

Then—stay with it and remember…we’re each a work in progress.

—Jim Smart

Boomer Journey…

Adjusting To A new Normal

I can’t help but notice the sharp contrast between when we were growing up and now. You know what I mean—common decency and a moral compass. When we were growing up, there were forms of etiquette that were expected and—in fact—mandatory. You either practiced them or else. These expectations were practiced nearly everywhere you went and were stressed by our parents, grandparents and mentors. “Please, Thank You, and You’re Welcome” were an ordinary part of life. You held the door for the person behind you and didn’t mind doing it. And—if you were really on the ball, you held the door and allowed others to pass through the doorway ahead of you. Tacky behavior and foul language in any form were unheard of. The use of foul language would get you cuffed on the back of the head.

Maybe I am old school, but I still practice the once-common courtesies my parents and grandparents taught me a lifetime ago. My grandfather on my mother’s side was the quintessential gentleman. He was a White House police lieutenant for several administrations including FDR and Truman and he did not mess around. If you asked for something and failed to include “please” and “thank you,” with your request it was like trying to get into your personal computer without a password. You always got a respectful reminder, “And what are the magic words?” My grandfather understood mutual respect because that was what he practiced all of his life. When he died, the nurses all said it was “please and thank you” until his last breath. What’s more, he passed that wisdom along to all of us and expected it to be practiced.

There was no opting out.

When I think of my grandfather, Captain Kangaroo and Fred Rogers can’t be far behind because these gentlemen were familiar and trusted sources of comfort. They taught us right from wrong and there was no grey area. It was either right or wrong.

That was my grandfather.

Bob-Keeshan-History

My grandfather and these two television mentors  would be shocked at what the world has become. Although we’ve had our share of dark moments throughout history, the world we live in today has become mean-spirited. People have tossed aside random acts of kindness. I was in a shopping center parking lot recently and watched temperamental motorists from a safe distance. People refused to wait their turn at intersections cursing and blowing horns at one another when it would be so easy to just wait their turn, or heaven forbid, actually yield to someone else.

I can’t be certain when regard for others began to slip, however, I suspect the slide began in the 1970s when we started boarding airliners in tee-shirts, torn blue jeans, and sandals. Long about that same time, school dress codes began to fall off the rails too. That whole suit and tie Sunday best thing went away along with common decency and regard for others. Not long ago I was boarding a plane in Baltimore and watched people climbing over each other in line with no spirit of cooperation and mutual respect. One woman commented to me on how discourteous people were with each other in line, then, she promptly cut in front of me and marched right onto the plane. WTH?

We’ve lost the really important elements of human behavior—mutual respect and regard for others—and it is appalling. Presidential Candidate Hubert Humphrey (1968) said a society without order will not stand. He was right. There have to be rules, laws and mutual respect or it doesn’t work. It becomes anarchy and total unrest. However, there’s no reason why we can’t get these elements back given a little practice. It begins with two people at a time in baby steps. If you practice any action for at least three weeks it becomes habit. It can become a good habit.

I know you’re in a hurry to get into Target or Walmart—however, how many seconds would you lose holding the door for someone or allowing them to grab the last shopping cart? I’ve found the world is full of givers and takers, with most of us being takers. I believe in paying it forward in nearly everything we do and it’s so easy. If you practice paying it forward enough in your daily routine, you will be amazed at how frequently it comes back to you ten-fold. And, giving is so much more rewarding than receiving because it makes you feel whole.

—Jim Smart