Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Long Road Home

 In the late summer of 1963 Jessie and I returned from Detroit where I had been employed in the Chevrolet Engineering Center.  Working there was fun—living in Roseville, a suburb north of Detroit, was not.  So I was returning to attend graduate school in Stillwater,

 We first went east to visit Niagara Falls for a delayed honeymoon (we had gotten married in June).  We crossed the Bluewater Bridge at Port Huron and entered Canada at Sarnia.  The approach to that bridge is worthy of a blog all of its own because of the very steeply climbing, sharply turning path that was followed—all that could be seen was the next 100 feet of road and sky—not even the waters of Lake Huron in front of us were visible.  I suspect that has been remedied by now since two interstates converge at Port Huron.

 As we cruised along the Queen Elizabeth Way just before arriving in Niagara Falls we were startled to see a ship looming as it ”crossed the road”.  It was a lake freighter using the Welland Canal to transit from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario.  As we neared the Canadian side of Niagara Falls we actually passed under the canal through a tunnel with a lake freighter above us.

 After a short stay in Niagara Falls we embarked on a hurried trip home in my trusty 1954 Chevrolet so I could make a planned meeting in Stillwater to discuss part-time employment while we both attended school.  This was before the days of a fully developed interstate system so travel was really an exercise in following a patchwork of highways.  However, In Pittsburg there were a number of limited access urban highways and, when I missed a turn for US19, I had to travel almost twenty miles before I could get back to where I started—and I almost missed the exit again.  Lest you think I was just negligent, remember the hilly terrain on which Pittsburg is built.  We finally arrived in Morgantown, West Virginia late at night.

 In order to ensure that we saved enough money to get re-started in school we had converted every other one of my paychecks into $100 bills.  As we crossed Illinois via US50 on a Sunday afternoon after leaving Morgantown we ran out of smaller cash.  I stopped for gas at a rural station (It reminded me a lot of Mr. Rockman’s in Heavener), noted that my odometer had just crossed the 100,000 mile mark, and bought about ten or twelve gallons.  The cost was less than four dollars and all I had to pay for it with was a $100 bill. The station owner had to go inside and get change from his personal savings.  (I wonder if that would happen today or if he would be afraid I was passing a counterfeit bill??) 

 Late that evening we arrived in St. Louis where I had planned to stop for the night as soon as we got on US66 west of the city.  I was getting a little tired so I asked Jessie to “not go to sleep” to help me follow the US50 bypass around St. Louis.  It was routed along many city streets and made a number of 90-deg turns at intersections—not at all like today’s roads.  No sooner had I uttered the word “sleep” than Jessie fell soundly asleep.  So I navigated the bypass with no help and, being young and brash, became just irritated enough to tell Jessie when she awoke (just as we hit US66) that I wasn’t going to stop for the night after all.  So we drove on down US66 and cut off in southeast Missouri to reach Fort Smith via US71.  In Fort Smith I missed the turn onto US271 and crossed the Arkansas on Garrison Avenue—I had been driving for 26 hours straight at this point.

 As we neared Heavener things got dryer and dryer until it looked like everything was dead—a typical Oklahoma dry summer—but it was home!!!  We got home in  Heavener about 9:30 or 10:00 in the morning after departing Morgantown at 7:00 in the morning the previous day.

 All in all, a long trip but it was a trip home and that made it worthwhile.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Old Age

How do you do justice writing about your parents? I can't do it here, but I can still share a few thoughts on aging...using my Dad as my subject.

In recent months, I drove from Texas to Fort Smith to visit my Dad in the hospital, where he had been taken after suffering a fall, at his home, which fractured one of his hips. As I entered the room, he was sitting on the side of the bed...his head down...oxygen tubes over his ears and feeding his nostrils...and eyes closed. I saw in that instant how aging can bring down the toughest of individuals. In Dad's case, of course, it wasn't necessarily his age that was sucking his strength, but his age had a lot to do with it.

Many of you readers have some knowledge of my Dad. You probably remember him most for the many years that he served the U.S. Postal Service and the residents of Heavener (and eventually, the surrounding area) as their mail carrier. I can't tell you the exact number of years he did this or that, but I can tell you that it was 'many'. For the longest time, Dad was the main man who delivered, on foot, all of the local addresses in town...West side, East side, and downtown businesses. He mainly carried all of the mail in the leather bag that he carried draped over one shoulder. He would eventually build himself a cart that he would push ahead of him. This increased his capacity and was especially handy during the Christmas holidays when mailings increased drastically.

I could bore you to death with memories of Dad and some of the stories he would bring home to the dinner table at night, but I won't. Suffice it to say that Dad was a true professional when it came to his civil service job. Back then, Dad wouldn't leave the house without a clean uniform on...with TIE and cap. When he returned at the end of his day, he would be soaking wet with sweat (in the summer months...and sometimes, even in the winter).

Eventually, Dad gave up the walking and moved to delivering mail to the rural areas around Heavener and the surrounding communities in his car (or truck). Before he retired, he delivered rural service out of the Howe Post Office.

The Post Office work was his main job, but he had many others. [I do have a reason for all of this background bare with me] Without elaborating, before the Post Office job, Dad worked in the coal mines North of town. Also, while employed at the Post Office, Dad also worked part-time in the evenings and weekends for the Otasco store, installing TV antennas, air conditioners, water-coolers (swamp coolers), and other appliances. He also found time to help his father-in-law build houses (including two of his own), stay active in Church activities, and keep our home and yard maintained. In his 'free' time, he would spend time with his family. In other words, he was a busy, busy man all of his working life.

I said all that to say this: Dad was always active. He gave 100% at anything he tried. Because he was so active, he was always a pretty strong guy. In the service, Dad was a boxer with a commendable record. He rarely had any medical problems that prevented him from doing anything he wanted to do. But that was then, and this is now...

In the past 20 years since retirement, Dad has suffered with bad knees (a condition most certainly caused by the 100's of miles he walked that daily mail route, carrying that bag. He's had one knee replaced, he's had surgery on his rotator cuffs, he's been diagnosed with prostate cancer, and most recently, he's had his left hip replaced.

After losing his wife (my Mom), Dad's view of life changed. He no longer has that sparkle in his eye that he had for so many years, he has no interest in trying to learn anything new, but that isn't to say that he's tired of living. He's not ready to throw in the towel just yet. He occasionally speaks of making it to 100, a goal that's only 11 years away this October. But obstacles such as his current situation (still weeks away from recovering from the hip surgery), has dampened his spirits. There's no doubt about that. At this point in his life, the smallest task requires a great deal of his energy. Moving from his bedroom to the kitchen is a major trek. Just eating a meal is sometimes trying for him. But, he's hoping that his strength will return when he's able to move a little easier.

Dad has told me many times in the past...especially when Mom was laying motionless in her bed for years...that he prayed that God would just allow him to stay here long enough to take care of her. That goal was reached. Mom passed away earlier this year.

So here's my observation of old Dad is almost 89 (on 10/3). I consider that an old age. My Mom was 86 when she died. She was in her old age. As many of you can relate, we're rapidly approaching that age, as well. I can no longer, in clear conscience, say that I'm 'middle-aged'. The facts are clear...65 is not the 'middle' of a normal life. So, I'm over the hill and there's no denying that.

When I consider the facts that I've shared above, I can certainly agree that old age has some down sides. My Dad is not enjoying his life very much right now. But many of you probably know family and friends who are older than my Dad that are still going relatively strong. So it's the 'luck-of-the-draw', so to speak, without getting too religious about it. I feel lucky that I've reached 65 (almost)...because many of my past friends didn't. One glance at the obituary page in any newspaper proves that there have been many people that didn't enjoy life as long as we have. Many only half as long...some even less. I'm sure that if any of those people were asked on their death-bed, "would you like to live longer", the overwhelming answer would be "yes"!

I'm happy for my dad that he's reached 89. I'm also happy that I've reached 65. I thank God daily for that gift. So, whether we consider old age as being 65, 75, 85, 105, or somewhere in-between, be glad that you're there. I am.

Friday, August 22, 2008



 “OK, Mr. Lazalier, tell us why you incited the food fight.”

 These words were addressed to me by Mrs. Florence Miller, the Head of the English Department at Eastern Oklahoma A&M, in the late spring of 1961.  I was in the office of Dean Gerald Williams to answer an accusation of being the ringleader in an incident that occurred in the cafeteria the previous day.

On that day I had entered the cafeteria for lunch and, as luck would have it, was standing at the end of the food line when someone decided that it was time to toss a roll at a friend.  The friend took it in good nature but thought that defense of his honor required a response.  So he tossed the first thing he could get his hands on---a container of milk.  Unfortunately, the container had been opened but was still half full.  As it arced through the air it splattered milk on several of the people under its path.  They, in turn, felt sufficiently affronted to warrant responding with their own missiles.  And the food fight was underway!

 Remember, I was standing innocently at the end of the line watching all this.  Mrs. Miller was seated at one end of the cafeteria and she stood up and attempted to quell the disturbance.  I was young and naïve and didn’t attempt to block the laughter that came from my throat.  As a matter of fact, I was greatly amused by her appearance but not in a mean way. 

 In order to understand my action you have to know something about Mrs. Miller.  She was short lady, probably in her late fifties at the time.  She wore horn-rimmed glasses and was the quintessential teacher of English.  A story, possibly apocryphal, circulated widely on the campus.  According to the story it seems that she was in the middle of a class one day and, as was her practice, began striding around the classroom.  In the middle of her excursion an exceedingly unfortunate event occurred.  To put it bluntly, her drawers fell off!  Without missing a beat or a word in her lecture she stepped out of her lost lingerie, bent over, picked them up and put them in her pocket.  No one in the class dared to laugh or make any kind of derogatory noise.  She had that kind of authority aura around her.

 Therefore, when she accused me of being a miscreant she automatically generated an overwhelming bias on the part of those who were to judge my guilt or innocence.  When I stated that I had played no part in the food fight she said, “I saw you give a signal.”  And then she asked me, “Why were you laughing so hard?”

 At that stage of my life I was not nearly as diplomatic as I am now so I replied with words to the effect of, “You were so funny standing there trying to get a hundred wild kids to stop that I just had to laugh,” and I then went on to really show how undiplomatic I was by saying, “I couldn’t help but think of the time you lost your underwear in class and that made me laugh harder.” 

 Dean Williams had been listening to all that had gone on without making any comment.  When I made the remark about underwear he almost choked himself trying to stifle a laugh.  

 Fortunately, I had an excellent reputation with Dean Williams and the faculty of EOA&M.  They conferred briefly in whispered words and then told me that I was exonerated.  Later Dean Williams told me that he really never had believed I was guilty but that anybody who was so naïve as to tell his accuser that she was funny absolutely had to be innocent.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

What has happened to the bloggers?

Where is everybody? What has happened to everybody? How come there are no blogs. Nobody has written one since the end of July.

Where is Chuck? I hope Glen is okay after having back surgery. What has happened to Craig? In all fairness, he said he is trying to focus on his new job. That’s understandable. He gets a pass, but only temporarily.

How about the rest of you? Bill Babcock finally admitted in an email he had lost interest. Bill Pitchford recently joined the Heavener group and said he might have an interest in writing. But we’re still waiting for his first one …

I petitioned Jim Patterson, but he said he was enjoying reading the blogs and not that interested in writing one.

Chuck said he was contemplating writing one about his dad, who had some surgery. Get well soon, Lonzo. Chuck even took a photo of his dad to put with it, but nothing yet …

How about Ann Kirksey or Cindy Miller? Have they no interest in doing any more blogs? And still nothing from Grace Kidwell or Pat Burroughs, like in the old days of Heavener On Line.

I read blogs all the time, on MLB, the Olympics, or other subjects.

Me? I’ve been busy supervising a landscaping project Cynthia and I decided to have done in our yard. Well, not exactly supervising, more just watching. Watching others do the work is something I’ve become quite good at since I’ve retired. And before long Cynthia will have some surgery and that will require my attention. Taking care of her afterwards, that is. It may be awhile before I write another blog.