Norman Rockwell

Norman Rockwell came to our little corner of Arkansas last Saturday. Not the guy, of course, seeing as how he died in 1978, but the idea of small town American life. Our little neighborhood, at the foot of heavily wooded Horseshoe Mountain, surrounded by cows and horses grazing the open fields, held our first annual fall festival. It sounds way too sugary sweet for my taste, but I have to admit, I rather enjoyed it.

Every house except one (there's always one in every neighborhood) had some kind of activity for the kids. Since each home sits on at least 3 acres of land, the best way of getting from house to house was, of course, a hayride.

After meeting up at the designated house, the kids took their seats and were ferried (with several neighborhood dogs chasing after) from activity to activity. There was Haloween mucsical chairs, target shooting (against a metal wall with rubber suction cup "bullets"), football toss, relay games, a corn maze, bobbing for apples, face painting, crazy hair color spraying, cookie and cupcake decorating, and pumpkin toss just to name a few.

The parents mostly visited with each other, talking about work, the weather, the kids, new trucks, and football. But when we got to the "pumpkin toss," once each child had their turn and we still had a sack full of baby pumpkins, the adults took over that game. It wasn't just throwing a little pumpkin by hand to see who's went farther. This was a big-boy toy! A heavy-duty slingshot had been set up with metal poles anchored in the ground and several targets were set up about 75 yards away. Now what guy could resist this? The kids wanted to do it again, but we gave them candy and said, "Sorry, but the only pumpkins left are the adult's pumpkins. Why don't you kids go play out there in the field for a while? Yeah, out there by the targets would be good."  Unfortunately, it seems our kids are a little too smart to fall for that, but the grownups, including most of the moms, had a lot of fun anyway. Amazing how far and high you can shoot a little pumpkin with the right equipment!

By the time we arrived back at the starting point several hours later for the weinie roast and S'mores, the kids were definitely on a sugar high and the parents were ready to relax around the campfire for a while.

Mr. Rockwell would have been proud.


Sometimes I need to get away. By myself. Alone.
Its not that I don't love my family. My friends.
I just need to get away from the world.
Away from stress. From pressure. From the weight.
To sit in my church. To think. To be.
No people. Just nature. Beauty. Peace.
The world the way it should be.
So I can come back to the world the way it is.

Baby Girl

Youngest-daughter is growing up. She's reached the age where, at least in public in front of her friends, she's a bit embarrassed for her dad to give her a hug and kiss. It makes me sad. It wasn't long ago she didn't care who saw her give her old man a hug. She said I love you all of the time. When I came home, her eyes would smile and she would come running to greet me, wrapping her arms around my knees and, as she grew taller, around my waist. I miss those days.

It won't be long until she starts wanting to date some nasty little pig of a boy. My nightmare coming true. I know I'm over-protective, but don't really care. When she was young, we had a tree swing and her mom would push her higher and higher. I couldn't watch. All I could see was my baby girl falling and breaking an arm or hitting her head. A couple of times when her mom couldn't do it, I've had to take her to the dentist for teeth cleaning and it was ridiculously hard on me. I can't watch. And with every little squirm or slight moan of uncomfortableness, I wanted to shout, "That's enough!" and get her out of there. A doctor giving her a shot? Forget about it. Years ago, after it took everything I had to keep from bopping a nurse when a shot made my baby cry, the wife has always had the doctor duty.

I plan to keep my baby girl as safe as possible when it comes to little piggy boys. I know what is on their minds - I was a little piggy boy myself. So when they come to pick her up, I have no hesitation in greeting them with a big knife in my hand, slowly sharpening it while I tell them they are going out with my baby girl and how much I cherish her and they best not get any little piggy ideas in their head. And I'll be waiting up for her return, watching what happens on the front porch and turning on the light at the wrong time (in my opinion the right time!). And if it embarrasses her, oh well. She can tell it to her therapist on down the line.

She may be getting older, but to me, no matter how old she is, I will always see her as my sweet, loving, innocent, gapped-tooth baby girl.

I Saw A Man Die Today

I had to run into town yesterday and on the way back I passed a bad car accident. It reminded me of a fatal accident I saw a while back. It really depressed me and I still think of it to this day. I'm aware of it every time I get into the car. You wake up one morning, all is fine and you have no idea that today will be the last day of your life.

I used to write and publish a newsletter, back before the time of blogs, and I wrote about the accident I saw and the feelings I had. Seeing this recent accident, although it didn't appear to be the end of someone, it reminded me of the little piece I wrote and I thought I would share it. Let's be careful out there.

I saw a man die today. I was coming home from a long, frustrating day at work. On the freeway, the traffic was heavy, but moving. Then the cars in front of me stopped. “Damn,” I said to no one but myself, “some stupid idiot ran into the back of someone, I bet. How long is this going to take before I get home?”

Then a police car came roaring by me on the shoulder, and another, and then a motorcycle cop, all with their siren’s blaring. Then came a different sound, the wail of an ambulance. “Uh oh,” I thought, “somebody must be hurt in this one.” I noticed more police had blocked off the freeway behind me, forcing all the cars to take the exit I had just passed, not a good sign. Then radio and TV helicopters were buzzing overhead, so many that I expected them to run into each other. I watched, but somehow they didn’t.

Finally, we started moving again, slowly, in fits and starts. Then it was my turn to proceed past the accident, on the freeway shoulder, the only avenue of escape. They were loading a sheet-covered body into the ambulance as I passed. I saw a shoe lying on the road, a leather glove, a motorcycle helmet, along with other unidentifiable debris. A motorcycle was crushed under the back wheels of an 18-wheeler.

The victim was probably going home from a long, frustrating day at work just like me. Does he have a wife; children waiting for Daddy to come home? For their sake, I hoped not. If he did, I wonder if he told them he loved them and gave them a hug before walking out the door this morning - a morning that on the face of it was just like any of the other hundreds of work days. He wouldn't have had any idea today would be so different. I wasn’t frustrated any more, ashamed of my first thoughts, and very sad. I may be late, but I’ll be home soon. He never will be.

Spooky Time Coming

At the Pumpkin Patch - choices, choices!
Halloween is coming soon; a pretty big occasion around our house. The first order of business is to climb up into the attic and haul down the house decorations. Over the years, the wife and Youngest-daughter have insured the Halloween store in town comes back every year. Box after box after box of stuff. We have blood on the windows, crime scene tape to hang on the house, skeletons rising from their graves in our front yard, and flying witches to name a few. And that's just on the outside of the house.

A couple of years ago we made the mistake of putting up the crime scene tape and the fake blood in the windows and retired for the evening before putting out the rest of the decorations. The next day we had neighbors coming over asking what terrible crime had occurred at our house!

The wife, bless her, did most of the work this year. She got big points for that. It's only fair though since she gets into the spirit of things as much as Youngest-daughter, which is more enthusiasm than I can work up for this particular task. She loves the decorating while my favorite part is getting costumed up and going out trick-or-treating with Youngest-daughter.

Pumpkin selected.
Next up is the task of going to the "Pumpkin Patch" just outside of town to pick out the pumpkins we'll inflict mortal damage to. Youngest-daughter gets to pick the largest one and the wife picks a big one and usually numerous small pumpkins and gourds also. The owners like to see us coming.

And then the "fun" begins. And the part I really dislike. We have numerous patterns to help carve faces, spiders, witches, and other ghoulish things into the pumpkins so once we get past the choosing of what we want to carve, it's not that difficult. Well, not that difficult except for the gutting of the poor pumpkins. That is one of the foulest, most disgusting things I can think to do. Strings of slimy, smelly tendrils that you can never fully remove with any implement except your fingers. Disgusting. And on top of that, the wife wants to save the seeds for roasting along with a handful for planting next year. Pumpkins must know I don't like them (the only good pumpkin is after its been made into pumpkin pie) as we've never been able to grow our own. Oh, the vines grow and sometimes they even make a couple of small, little baby pumpkins, but they never get big before dying or splitting. Just as well because I would probably feel bad about carving up a pet pumpkin.

I haven't been informed by the house activity director yet as to the day of the great pumpkin selection, but I know it's coming soon. The outside of our home has been decorated (the neighbors are accustomed to crime scene tape around the house now) and Halloween is just a couple of weeks away so it can't be far off. Poor pumpkins.

Barnes & Noble

I love Barnes & Noble bookstores. I've always loved reading and find a lot of things interesting so when I walk into a good library or a Barnes & Noble, a kind of excited peace infuses my soul. Surrounded by so many books on so many subjects, all is right in my little piece of the world. I wish I was a sponge and could just roll down the aisles soaking up all the words. I can spend hours and hours there in perfect contentment. Sometimes I bring my laptop with me so I can look up stuff I find interesting in the books and magazines, bookmarking sites to come back to later. A cup or two of Starbucks coffee, a piece of chocolate or strawberry swirl cheesecake, a selection of books and magazines around me, an internet connection, and I'm a happy camper. High maintenance I am not.

Fortunately, my wife and youngest daughter enjoy doing this also and it has become an unofficial ritual we do every 4 - 6 weeks. There's an Olive Garden across the street from our nearest Barnes & Noble so on a Saturday afternoon, we supper at Olive Garden then head to the bookstore for about 3 hours. The only challenge is seating (I consider it a sport actually). There are several electrical outlets in the Starbucks seating area, but they are all located on one wall behind 4 tables which, of course, means those tables are a premium for folks like my wife and youngest daughter who almost always bring their laptops. For me, usually sans laptop, it's still a primo spot because they face outward toward the store, making them perfect people watching perches, another activity I enjoy. So the first thing we do is head over to the tables to snag one of the electrical outlets. If they are occupied, we stake our claim on the nearest available table. We then take turns browsing the aisles, always leaving at least one of us to keep watch on the wall tables. That way, when someone abandons one of those coveted spots, we pounce and homestead it for the duration. I'm still fairly quick so usually there's no problem beating out the other people waiting on a wall table. Well, there was this one time when an old woman in a wheelchair came rolling by me just as a table opened up. The nice guy in me waited for her to get by because I thought she was just going down the aisle, but then that crafty she-devil made an abrupt turn and headed straight for the table. No problem. I just quickly stuck my foot out behind her and engaged the wheelchair brakes. Stopped her dead in her tracks and before she figured it out, I was sitting down at the wall table smiling at her.

Now don't go thinking we're a bunch of freeloaders getting our reading fix for free. In addition to the coffee and food we buy, we always end up purchasing numerous books and a few magazines or some other odds and ends. And then there's the B&N gift cards we give our book-loving friends and family members at Christmas and other occasions.  It's rare for us to get out of there without dropping a minimum of $50 - $100. I consider it a rather cheap, but fun family night out. There's a book bag I've seen in there with writing on the front that I really like - "I spend my money on books and if there's any left, I buy food and clothes." If it weren't for little things like my family and bills, that would be me.

And if you must know, that crafty old lady in the wheelchair cutting in front of me? Well, it didn't really happen. I made that up. Literary creative license. But I wouldn't say I wouldn't. It's a jungle out there, you know.