Firing from the Lip

A collection of thoughts, stories, tall tales, half truths and opinions from the Heartland of America.

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Location: Missouri, United States

An irreverent but loving grandfather of five and father of three, I enjoy writing of family, love, life, and the never ending fascination of it all.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

I Miss My America

I caught myself waxing nostalgic for the land of my youth the other day. I wished I could go back in time. Back to a place where terror was something I paid money to feel at the theater, not the ever present horror of today.

I wanted to return to the simpler times of my childhood. The joy of running barefoot though the fields, swimming in the creek, and knowing my Mother and Dad would protect me from any evil. I miss those days, and I wish my grandchildren could have what I had.

It’s funny how your mind plays tricks on you.

I’d allowed myself to forget how divided my beloved nation was even then. How Vietnam tore us apart, how the hippies and the old men hated each other. I’d forgotten the horror of watching fellow Americans attacked by police with dogs because they were black and had the audacity to desire equal treatment under law. I’d let myself forget how sad my Mom and Dad were because I would not have what they had.

I came to the sad realization that my America doesn’t exist except in my mind. The nation I sang of as a boy, ‘sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing’ has always been in a state of conflict and upheaval. Many could not hope to claim their share of the American Dream. Not because they weren’t willing to work at it, but because they were the wrong color, or the wrong ethnicity.

We were lucky here, in our little community. People helped each other without caring what color the family in need was, or what political party they favored. My hometown boasted two hundred souls and we knew all about each other. It was hard not to in a small town.

My father was a man who judged people by their actions, not their race or financial situation. Pop taught us to respect the opinions of everyone, but to decide for ourselves what we thought was right and stand by it. We were fortunate to have such a man stand as our example. I wish I could return to those days, just to ask my Dad what I should do? How do I keep my children from falling into the trap of hating someone’s politics so deeply they end up hating the person?

I always thought the ties that bound us together as Americans were stronger than the issues that divided us. I don’t know if I believe that anymore, and it saddens me more than I can say. It hurts to think of my beloved country dying a slow death from within. Our people too divided to care, too caught up in hating everyone else. Too busy despising the freedoms our forefathers fought and died for when they’re exercised by someone they disagree with.

I miss my America, even if it was only in my mind.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Happy Halloween!

Ghoulish, ghastly, horrifying, breathtakingly ugly, and that’s just the people handing out the candy.

I love Halloween, but it certainly makes one wonder. It’s the holiday of contradiction. You spend the rest of the year warning your children not to talk to strangers then wreck it all in one night by saying, “I’ll bet they’ve got good candy! Let’s try that house!” “But, daddy, I don’t know those people!” “What are you? Some kind of weirdo? Get up there and beg like every other red-blooded American kid!”

A friend of mine down the street goes all out on Halloween. He lies in a casket on his porch, sitting slowly up as the little kids come up the walk. “You should try it.” Yeah, right. If I lay down I don’t care what’s happening around me, I’m gone. Keep it down, children. Dracula’s taking a nap. Not very scary.

My wife, sweet, loving, considerate woman that she is, always wants to give healthy snacks to the kids on Halloween. “Lets hand out granola bars or something!” No, dear. Bad idea. “Why?” Because, honey. I don’t want to spend three days scraping shoe polish off my windshield. The little angels occasionally react poorly if they disapprove of your choice of goodies.

Kids don’t want healthy snacks in their bags! They want a lump of sugar smothered in chocolate. If you want, it can be wrapped in chewy nougat, but it better be sweet.

The worst thing I ever got was a can of Budweiser from old Mr. Hill. I can still see him cackling as he dropped it in. “Give that to your old daddy, son. He looks dry.” Mom got a little mad but Dad just chuckled. “Hell, Mary. That old man wouldn’t hurt a kid. He knew Donnie would run straight to me with it. Besides, he was right. I was getting dry.”

The highlight of my youthful Halloweens was going to the haunted house the Lions and Kiwanis clubs put on in Flat River, on Schramm’s corner. Those men could do wonders by throwing a few old mattresses down for us to walk over in the dark and firing up a chainsaw while we were at it. Not the high tech, scare the living hell out of you stuff of today. Just frightening enough to be an adventure.

There were always a few grand-fatherly looking old gentlemen without costumes along the way. Just in case some little one got too scared and needed reassurance. One of the old fellows would take them by the hand and walk with them the rest of the way as they explained it was all make believe.

A gentle, happy, time and place to be a child. Even on Halloween.

One of our Halloween family traditions was popping a big kettle of corn and gathering in front of the televison for ‘fright fest.’ Bela Lugosi as Dracula, Lon Chaney as the Wolfman, anything with Vincent Price starring. Good stuff. Scary but not gory. I do this with my grandson now, he’s four years old and gets quite a kick out of it. I hope it’s something he’ll remember about me when he’s older.

I’m saddened that kids have to take their candy to be X-rayed before they can enjoy it these days. I’m not sure if that sort of thing happens more now, or if it’s just better publicized. Now, as then, parents need to be closely involved in their child’s celebration of Halloween. The bogeyman has always been with us.

I hope you’ll leave a light on for the little ones this year. They’re making memories that will last a lifetime. Let’s do our part to make them happy ones.

May the small ghouls, goblins, and witches in your lives have a safe and happy Halloween.

Boo! Scared you, didn’t I?

Monday, October 09, 2006

Negro League Legend O'Neil Dies at 94

Buck O’Neil’s long love affair with baseball ended Friday, October 6 in a Kansas City, Missouri hospital.

Mr. O’Neil — player, manager, coach, scout, and good-will ambassador to the game — died at the age of 94.

Well known in baseball circles for his talent and wit, he became a national icon after being featured in Ken Burns tremendous Public Broadcasting System documentary Baseball in 1994.

Recently finding himself in the middle of a controversy over his failure to gain election to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, Mr. O’Neil asked disappointed fans to “shed no tears for Old Buck.”

He told supporters that not being able to attend Sarasota High School and the University of Florida because of segregation had hurt. Not being elected to the Hall of Fame didn’t because at least he had a chance.

Winner of two Negro League batting titles during his playing career, Mr. O’Neil retired and led the Kansas City Monarchs to the pennant as a manager. For a while he was also a scout for the Chicago Cubs, whose famous signings included Hall of Famers Lou Brock and Ernie Banks.

His love for the game nurtured through childhood talks with Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth of the famed New York Yankees “Murderers Row” of the 1920s. Mr. O’Neil was able to pass on his wisdom to modern day players, and with it, his respect for the game that had been his life.

Baseball is poorer today than it was yesterday.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Before You Go

There are seasons in the life of a man. He grows quickly in his Spring, raises his family in the warmth of Summer, fades slowly into Autumn, and faces his mortality in the aching cold of Winter.

My father is seventy-two years old. His once keen and bright blue eyes have faded a bit. He sometimes doesn’t hear what I said, and he’s no longer the immensely strong man I remember from my youth.

As my Dad fades with his advancing years, I’ve come to appreciate what a wonderfully positive influence he’s been in my life.

If a man is fortunate, he had someone in his life to look up to, to learn from, to turn to when he was troubled, to trust implicitly. For me, my father was that person. Dad was, and is, my hero. He was father, friend, confidante, and steady guide into a world he hated to see me grow into.

I owe him for my love of laughter, for my belief in myself, for my spirit that never failed me. From him I learned to work hard, to care for my families needs, both physically and emotionally, and to always be available to a child with a question, no matter how tired I was.

I’m grateful to you, Dad. Thank you for your love, your patience, and your understanding as I grew up. It wasn’t easy for you, I see that now. I’ve come to know how difficult it is to let your child fall, to allow them to make their own mistakes. Like you, I was always there to pick them up and dust them off when it was over.

I haven’t said it often, but you’re the best man I know. I honor you. I respect you more than any man alive, and I love you with all my heart.

I just wanted you to know before you go.