Thursday, April 28, 2005

Homage to Thurber's "Dogs"

My parents went to an auction when I was in high school and brought back a box of assorted items; a nautical cap (which I promptly began to wear to all sorts of inappropriate places), a turtleneck dickey (which I also promptly began wearing under an odd grey knit shirt) and a copy of James Thurber's "Carnival", which was a compliation of his short stories, parables and cartoons from the "New Yorker" magazine. A couple of his stories had to do with the dogs he had growing up in Ohio and those always struck me, since they were an interesting mix of humor and pathos, particularly about the dog that enjoyed leaping over walls, who came home one night badly injured after a fight with another dog; it waited around until the last of Thurber's brothers came through the white picket fence gate to take its last breath.

My own experience with dogs is a bit more limited, since I've only had two in my life. Bix was a standard-sized black and tan dachshund who was in our home when I was quite small. There are pictures of him, lean and handsome, at one of my early birthday parties. Bix didn't stay lean too long, since he had a habit of mooching at the dinner table, eating his dog food in the kitchen then going out on his rounds around the neighborhood, begging at the back doors of everyone around the block. I particularly remember how Bix loved it when we had shrimp for supper. It didn't matter if the shrimp was fried or boiled, he'd sit at a corner of the dinner table and sit on his hind legs literally motionless until someone threw him the tail of a recently consumed shimp; Bix would snap it up, chomping away at the crunchy remains like it was the finest filet mignon.

Bix had the run of the neighborhood until one day, when trotting around with a bone, some kids decided it would be great fun to take the bone away from him. Bix promptly sniped at the offending brat's arm and, from then on, he had to be on a leash or behind a fence that my Dad built in the backyard. It seemed to take some of the elan away from the old guy, and he just wasn't quite the same afterwards. He started getting heartworms and then got a big tumor on his back leg. I fed him one morning in the kitchen and went to school; when I came back that afternoon, my Dad took me out on our front porch and told me that he'd had to take Bix to the vet's to be put to sleep because of his various health problems. It was probably the last time I cried in front of my father until the day in the summer of 2000 we had to tell him he had an asbestos-induced cancer.

My current dog is Emily, supposedly a border collie/Austrailian shepard mix. She's a very pretty dog that we got at the local Mega pet store a few years back. Of course, at the time she was quite young and quite small and fit on my forearm, asleep as we discussed her purchase with the rescue society. Emily was already trained to go outdoors when we got her, so one difficult rite of passage for the neophyte dog owner was finished. She cried a lot the first few weeks at night, since we had gotten a crate for her to sleep in and she simply couldn't understand why her pack was putting her off by herself. We adjusted pretty well, but one member of the family has yet to truly accept Emily; our cat. Stinker is a pretty standard black and white shorthair that came to our family over a decade ago. I'd gone outside one morning to get the newspaper after starting the coffee pot and nearly tripped over a shoebox on the driveway. I picked it up, shook it, and took it into the kitchen to try to figure out what was going on, but the quiet "meows" coming from the box soon told me that we were now the proud owners of a cat. There was a strange and oddly disturbing letter with the little black and white creature which said that her former owners had been "watching" us and had concluded that we were kind people (I've always wondered if they had gotten disoriented in the early morning hours and meant to deposit "Fluffy"--yep, that was the cat's original name--with the next door neighbor). Did I mention, by the way, that I'm allergic to cats? No? Well, yes I am, though I get used to it pretty quickly when one is around for a while, I just have to remember not to rub my eyes after a session of heavy petting, since all that dander makes my eyes puff up like a prize fighter's who's gone the distance. Anyway, Kitty (or Stinker or just plain old "Cat") took one look at Emily and, after an exploratory sniff, expressed her displeasure at the interloper with a hiss straight out of the "Bride of Frankenstein". Emily has repaid the cat over the years for the less-than-warm welcome by trying to herd her at every opportunity. The poor feline has had no peace over the years, especially when her rump is within access to Emily's cold nose, which finds itself, more often than not, pressed rather firmly into that most intimate of areas.

Dogs do have a distinct personality. Anyone who thinks there isn't a dog heaven or, even better, that God doesn't have a soft place in his heart for the canine type and will let them roam the hills of heaven with their owners, obviously has never had a dog (or worse, has only owned cats). Sure, there are dogs that'll probably go to the canine version of Hell (the place where the only word heard is "NO!" and all the demons have rolled-up newspapers), but most of the dogs I've known over the years will be in that eternal place of reward, happy to be with their pack with nary a crate in site. Emily is always happy to see me come in the door, even happier the longer I've been away. She's never held a grudge that I'm aware of, even after I've had to lambast her for some crime against the cat or for spitting up on the new carpet by the door. Life is rarely sweeter for her than to be let outside with her master or one of the three mistresses of the house, to sniff the air for familiar scents and look around for someplace to deposit landmines for the unsuspecting foot a few days later. Sure, it's a pain to take her to the vet, to pay for medicine and food, to find someplace to board her when we want to take a vacation and, even worse, to keep finding shed hairs absolutely everywhere all the time, but I wouldn't trade her. There's just something about a cold nose nuzzling your face that cannot be replaced.

Monday, April 18, 2005


I'm always amazed when people say they hate the study of history. The frequent complaint is that history is "boring" and has no applicability to the present time, which must be SO much more interesting. My response to that is that history can indeed be quite boring when it is told by boring people or written up by folks who cannot tell it properly and, by the looks of things, it is pretty evident that there are a LOT of those types to go around.

My view is that in this attention-deficit afflicted generation of ours, trained by television to watch stories in six to ten minute slabs between a number of thirty to sixty second commercials, made worse now by the invention of the remote control and, heavens to betsy, the split-screen feature on newer TVs, most of us don't have the paitence to follow a good story. This probably explains why most television programs these days are schlock and why PBS is barely hanging in there with its schedule of intelligent programming. History, well-told and researched, is not much different from reading a good novel, the difference being that what's in it is true as opposed to fiction.

Of course, history depends on the perception of the writer. One man's heroic struggle for freedom is another man's fanatic terrorist. We haven't quite gotten to the episode recounted in 1984 where the protagonist, who works for the ill-named Ministry of Truth, spends his days revising their newspaper records depending on which ally has recently become their enemy and vice-versa and which hero of the people has fallen out of favor with Big Brother and become an enemy of the State. We do have folks in our society these days who think we should devote a month to a particular group and devotees of such an idea who talk about "their" history, ignoring the fact that history doesn't belong to a particular group or nation; history is simply events rushing by us, minute by minute, second by second, that sometimes is recorded, sometimes not. Whether I as an individual like another group's "history" is immaterial; one second past the event IS history, recorded or not, and we ignore it to our peril.

My biggest problem with history is the way it is usually portrayed in movies and television shows. I realize that with the constraints of time and to tell a story that screenwriters will edit events, compress time, establish "consolidated" characters (so as to be able to follow one person instead of ten) and make some things more dramatic than perhaps they really were, but too often something that was supposed to be "historic" is more fiction than reality and the real history is lost altogether. "Battle of the Bulge", a big budget movie from the Sixties with all sorts of stars reliving the events of the winter of 1944 in the Ardennes Forest, is a good example of schlock. There's a scene where the Americans decide to throw all their pitiful Sherman tanks against the tanks of the Third Reich, the mighty King Tigers; you move immediately from the snowy forests of the "Ardennes" (I've forgotten where they really filmed the scenes) to this desert with no trees for miles in any direction! Apparently the tank battle (which, by the way, never happened) was filmed in Spain. Of course, I suppose the idea was to give the audience the "feel" of the sacrifice of the American Army during the battle, working with equipment that was sometimes inferior to that of the Germans, but it just looks dumb.

Whenever I try to argue this point with my family, I'm usually shouted down because of the way ALL movies from novels, like the Harry Potter series and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, were also changed from the originals. Try as I might to take some moral high ground by pointing out that history REALLY happened, as opposed to fictional characters wielding magic rings and wands, it doesn't seem to matter much; those damn writers and directors have ruined it all.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Fame and Misfortune

I've always been fascinated with the Scottish poet Robbie Burns' musings about someone giving us the power to see ourselves as others see us. Probably the hardest thing about living this life is that we can see ourselves in a mirror physically but can only barely see our true selves in the reflections of the eyes of others around us.

My first realization of seeing myself as others did was when I got a tape recorder for the first time. I'd been taking piano lessons for quite a while and my piano teacher, Mrs. Lamont, suggested to my parents that a tape recorder would be useful in letting me hear my own playing from another perspective. However, the biggest shock came when I would speak into the old reel-to-reel monster and hear my own voice in playback, nothing like I thought it sounded like in my own head. Everyone else who heard it said it sounded just like me and the voices of others sounded to me just like I'd heard them all my life, but to hear my own voice was surreal and somehow troubling.

In high school I became the captain of a quiz show team because of my vast knowledge of the trivial and nearly useless. We traveled to Tampa to show up on a high school version of the old "College Bowl" show from the 1960s and taped our first contest against another high school's team, which we quite easily defeated. A few weeks later, the show aired and I was once again amazed at my own appearence. My mother had taken me out a few weeks earlier to buy some new clothes and I'd worn some to the taping; there I was in my double-knit blue trousers with a dark blue shirt, knit tie and a polyester double-knit gold sportscoat with white medium pinstripes. I still had my original eyeglass frames that, in retrospect, were not exactly the height of fashion for a seventeen year old in 1972; the lenses were held in place by fishing line, so they were essentially frameless, but they had this artificial eyebrow of black plastic along the top, so I looked like a young accountant who worked for a used car lot. I noticed the way that I moved my elbows in and out, like I was working a fireplace bellows and, yet again, heard that odd voice of mine, spitting out answers to the toss-up questions. We kept winning on that particular show and people would come up to me at the movie theatre that I worked at as a doorman/popcorn popper/janitor/sign putter-upper and recognize me, which did wonders for my ego for a time. I guess those folks weren't bothered by my attire, voice and mannerisms. We lost in the semi-finals; there was a kid on the other team who was, if possible, even more of a geek than I was.

When I graduated from high school, I realized that I had absolutely no idea of who I was or where I was going. I suppose I thought that I was unique in that position, but I kept working at the movie theatre and made plans to go to college. My folks were generous in allowing me to go (and paying for it, since my grades in school were OK, but nothing to brag about or get a lot of scholorships or grants over), though my father really wanted me to to into the military, as he and my older brother had, but I really wanted to study history in the big leagues with all the job possibilities that a liberal arts degree would bring with it, so off I went to northern Florida with my old best friend from high school and Boy Scouts. College, if anything, really makes developing a self-image difficult simply because you are exposed to so many different styles, cultures and viewpoints that it can be easy to lose yourself in the mix. I kept seeing myself in the ways others responded to me, good or bad. My roommate and I fell out our second year when his soon-to-be finacee, our old high school compadre, came up to school with us. I suddenly had a lot more time by myself and our conversations soon turned into disputes over who paid for what and who was going to take the jointly-purchased cookware with them in the summer.

I eventually made the move towards religion between my sophomore and junior years at school. That was a lot of fun, because there was no shortage of folks who would tell you how you looked to them, which by osmosis, was apparently how God saw you. I frequently disagreed with those who said I looked like a fool to others in the dorm, looked like I was asleep during Bible Study or was selfish in not sharing my faith to more people through the small cracks in doors opened when we went "door-knocking", but since it was your brothers telling you those things, you had to believe them and do the best you could to change, true or not. The hardest part of seeing yourself as another saw you was when you got refused for a date by one of the "sisters" of the congregation and you had to wonder what it was that caused it; your lack of growth or your awkwardness in dealing with the opposite sex.

As you get older, you wonder if the closest you'll get to seeing yourself as others see you will be when they write your obituary. I frequently wonder what would be said about me if a newspaper reporter decided to do an "in-depth" review of my career or my office decor (which is probably best described as mix-n-match). Would I bore them to tears with stories about my family? Would I repeat salient points constantly? Would the story get cut by the editor? It was funny, because a few years ago the local newspaper decided to do a story about my area of the law for the Business section, which at that time was a seperate section of its own. I went out to their offices, was interviewed and had my picture taken. The next Wednesday arrived and I opened to the Business section to see the picture of another person from my office on the front cover, not me. She had the advantage of being a grandmotherly type working in an area of law that most folks would have probably found interesting, more so than a navel-gazing type like myself.

Nowadays I limit my view of how others might see me to the reflections of myself in the glass windows of storefronts. I figure that's about as close as I want to know about myself in this lifetime. It is even better when I take my glasses off, since then the image is fuzzy (like my self-image sometimes) and I don't have to worry about the creeping baldness.

Monday, April 11, 2005


Has it occurred to anyone out there that fanatics are the main engine of social change in our society, both on the left and right? Think about every major societal upheaval in history; did it come about because of moderates or pragmatic thinking? No, just about every one of them came about because a person or a group with an agenda, clearly focused and intense, pushed for it. Abolition, temperance, movie ratings, birth control and abortion rights and civil rights are on the list, along with Christianity, Islam, Fascism, Communism and the State of Utah (Mormons, remember?). Just because these wildly differing items are on the same list is not to say they are all necessarily bad or to be associated with each other, merely that they tend to share a common attribute: A fanatic or a group of fanatics felt strongly enough about something to make them happen and then flourish to some degree until either their goal was reached or somehow obliterated or modified by societal fiat.

Look at the French Revolution. It certainly started out with the best of intentions, with the citizenry rising up against the arrogance of the nobility and instituting, for a time at least, some semblance of democratic rule. However, the fanatics, Robspierre and Marat among others, kept pushing their agenda and thousands died, many by the guillotine, until the fanatics themselves were killed and the revolution burned itself out, allowing Napoleon to come to power for another twenty years of European war. Fanatics are pretty good at causing change, but rarely competent at maturing change into something permanent and beneficial.

Turning the social upheavals caused by fanatics, political or religious, into something beneficial for society as a whole is where moderates and pragmatists come in. They are the ones capable of seeing both sides of an issue and taking the best of them out of the fanatic mindset and creating some benefit to society. Where do you think Social Security came from? Fanatics of the Left in this country for sometime had called for the central government to guarantee an income to the poor and destitute, though this usually came in the form of Socialism or even a Communist society where no one owned property and all was distributed by a supposedly benign government that knew best for its people. Of course, no one has ever been able to make such an idealistic concept work, but the fanatics of the Right weren't any better; their idea was that everyone should be able to make it on their own, without any government interference or aid. If it had been up to the fanatic Right in this county, there would have been no Social Security and millions of Americans would have gone into retirement with nothing. Instead, it was the moderates and pragmatists who established a compromise that, while certainly not perfect and certainly not ideal, has acted as a safety net for many who didn't have family wealth passed down to them or whose lives have been marred by circumstance and difficulty.

Don't get me wrong, I do believe fanatics have a role to play in society. Somewhat like bees spreading pollen to flowers in a way no other creature quite can, fanatics spread ideas in a manner more efficient than others across society because of the focused, narrow nature of their message. Without fanatics, our culture would have become inbred and stagnant long ago. However, the problem over the last few years is that fanatics have begun to believe that they ARE the majority and that their ideas, unfiltered and unadulterated by moderates and pragmatists, are to be accepted by others at large without question. The fanatic terrorist minority of Islam have become the face of Islam to the rest of the world, eager to kill and be killed and crippling the majority who need to live in peace with the rest of the world. The fanatic right wing of Christianity in the United States has convinced many that the media are a bunch of rabid liberals portraying religion in the worst light possible at every turn, that judges are "thwarting" the will of the supposed majority in rulings that offend them (while doing exactly what the Constitution calls for them to do) and that government, as a whole, is persecuting them in the same way Jesus and his followers were persecuted (sans crucifixions, of course), keeping them from placing their own engraved idols in the places of our society where the beliefs of all are to be kept sacred.

Moderates and pragmatic thinkers are usually excoriated by fanatics as being "without convictions", but the fact is that they have the hardest job of all in society, coming to mutually acceptable compromises of fanatic ideals and implementing workable solutions. It is the moderates and the pragmatists who become the butt of jokes and the subject of ridicule because they aren't there to make everyone happy and usually don't, but their solutions benefit all much more than the limited goals of the various segments of fanatics could ever hope to offer. Unfortunately, if you listen to the average right-wing commentator these days, moderates and pragmatists are the scum of the earth, unwilling to take a position matching those of the particular fanatic commentator who apparently has been self-appointed as the wisest person on earth.

The plain truth is that the average fanatic, of any ilk, wouldn't like living in a world that resembled their goals very much. You rarely find a fanatic that has any broad view of the world and of the practical, day-to-day struggles the average individual goes through. The race for the fanatic is to reach their one narrow goal, regardless of all roadblocks or the needs of others that might get in their way. The average fanatic is happiest when standing out in the crowd, proclaiming his opposition to the status quo and revelling in his status as an outcast in society at large. If he got what he wanted, he'd be unhappy and would be cast adrift, without purpose. The truth is that fanatics and moderates need each other, but they need to stay in the proper balance, with fanatics doing their John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness thing, while moderates and pragmatists take the best of the fanatics' ideas and implement them in society, protecting the rights of all.

Friday, April 08, 2005


I've said before that I love cooking, though that should be amended to say that I love good food. If I make it, all well and good; if someone else makes it and I eat it, even better. I don't hate cooking something for myself or others and I'm not afraid to try new recipes (at least within reason; I draw the line at brussels sprouts and snails) because I know I have to eat and so does my family, so there is no reason to whine about it; just make the best effort possible.

Good food doesn't have to be fancy; people will spend tremendous amounts of money in a gourmet restaurant to get a beautifully laid out plate of food in microscopic proportions just because it is prepared by a "star" chef. When my wife and I married, we took our honeymoon at Sea Island, Georgia. We made reservations at a very nice resort, ran into Jimmy Carter and his Secret Service entourage (he was there for a backroom meeting with friends and business contacts) and proceeded to be seated for dinner. Every item on the menu came from a different waiter and ended up costing us some $50.00 apiece, big money indeed for an unemployed law student and a badly paid special-ed teacher. We ate at the lower-prestige resort we were staying at a couple of nights later for much less and the food was more memorable (although we had to listen to "The Tennessee Bird-Walk" incessantly, for some reason).

My mother's cooking ran the gamut from awful to wonderful, simply because she wasn't worried about experimenting on her family. The worst ever had to be the time she and her hairdresser friend had gone to pick tomatoes and come back with more than anyone in their right mind could ever eat; we had tomato sandwiches and tomato salads but that still hardly made a dent in the tomato population, so I came home from school one night to find Momma making a tomato casserole. This was just tomatoes cut up in a baking dish with bread slices interspersed to soak up all the watery juices. It was awful, but you had to eat what was on the plate because there wasn't anything else coming. Fortunately, the responses she got evidently convinced her not to save the leftovers and she never tried it again. However, she more than made up for the tomato casserole with her pot roasts, which were just this side of heaven. I suspect more than a little of my high cholesterol problem stems from those days of my mother's roast beef, fork-tender and redolent of bay leaves, her one commonly used seasoning other than salt and pepper.

My mother started making me learn to cook early on, since I think she wondered if I would ever attract someone of the opposite sex to cook for me. She'd cooked for my father since they got married, Daddy only rarely venturing into the realm of chef to cook outside on a grill once in a blue moon, and she'd convinced herself that Daddy would starve without her. When she took ill and couldn't cook, Daddy stepped in and actually did a good job, priding himself on everything from a good deal at the local supermarket to creating a fairly good and filling meal. I cooked a lot in my college days, making the mistake one time of eating five ricotta and mozzarella-filed manicotti tubes at one sitting in the basement of my dorm; I literally couldn't move for a couple of hours. Fortunately, there was a TV to watch while everything slowly digested. When I did marry, my habit of cooking stayed in place and I kept cooking for my wife and children. It isn't that my wife cannot cook, because she can and is quite good at it, but whereas she would cook if she had to, I cook because I basically enjoy it, even when the day at work has been a pain and I'm tired. If it has been too taxing a day, there's always pizza a telephone call away.

These days, my cooking stays in patterns, keeping with the things that usually work and that everyone likes. Meatloaf, burritos, hamburgers, salads, grilled chicken and the like all keep my family pretty satisfied. Sure, I've experimented with things that sounded better than they really were at the end of the process; a marinated fried tofu that I saw on a cooking show was an unmitigated disaster of tomato casserole proportions. I can tell that I've tripped up when even our dog, who thinks nothing of eating cat poop that doesn't make it into the litter box, won't come begging for what she smells on my plate.

I've tried to make roast beef like my mother's, but to no avail, even after getting a tutorial from her during one of their trips upstate to visit us. That may be a good thing, because I'll always associate my mother with her roast beef, a memory that no one else's roast beef, not even mine, can take away.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The Cola Wars

In reading the blog of my friend the Luddite, I've notice that he is apparently an outspoken enemy of Pepsi and claims to never frequent a watering hole or greasy spoon that doesn't serve Coca-Cola. I cannot claim to be quite so vociferous in my opinions about my libations, though from a family history perspective, I'd have to say that I'm a Pepsi loyalist with a Coke mistress.

After the Temperance town south of Lake Okeechobee flopped in the mid-Twenties, my grandfather tried a lot of different things to keep the family afloat. For a while he worked a Standard Oil route and did pretty well until they decided to fire him and give the route to the son of a board member. He had a store/gas station for a while and later, in 1939 or 1940, he got himself a Pepsi distributorship based in Avon Park. There are pictures of he and my father delivering case after case of Pepsi products (and Orange and Silver Nip as well) to little general stores and even to Seminole Indians somewhere in the woods. The distributorship, just like about all of my grandfather's business endeavors, was doomed from the start because he hadn't bothered to read Nostradamus' writings about the coming World War. Sure enough, in November, 1941, my father, seeing the handwriting on the wall, enlisted in the Army Air Corps to keep from being drafted and that, along with the rationing of gasoline, tires and, perhaps more destructive, sugar (for the syrup, artificial sweeteners being all but non-existent in this more innocent time) destroyed the distributorship. My grandparents moved to Sarasota in 1944 and Grampa ended up as a salesman for the local newspaper, trying to sell ads across the South. He died during a business trip in South Georgia in the late '40s, away from the family he loved.

My father's devotion to the perennial second-place cola and to my grandfather's memory probably explains why we always had Pepsi in the house when I was growing up. None of this plastic metric-system bottle stuff, no sir; we had GLASS bottles. Cans were for vacations and only if we had a church key in the glove compartment. My dad would get cases of glass Pepsi bottles (with the painted-on logo) from a salesman who came by the car dealership he worked at. The cases of Pepsi bottles were kept in the trunk of the 1939 Ford coupe (imagine an old VW Beetle on steroids and a pointy nose) that he drove to work nearly every day until the mid-70's. We'd drink up a case, put the empties back in the wooden slots and the case back into the trunk of the Ford, getting a new case of pure carb pleasure to put on the floor next to the refrigerator in the kitchen. There's something missing in our day and age without glass bottles of cola (preferably Pepsi) to pull, cold and refreshing, from a drink machine; the ca-chunk of an aluminum can dropping from a couple of feet just doesn't match it.

Of course, the Cola Wars have had their share of casualties over the years. I can remember on vacations pulling out bottles of the strangest regional brews from gas stations vending machines, names that escape me now. I remember when the local movie theatre (in the days before the mall megaplexes, of course) had summer kiddie movies that required the saving up of bottlecaps from a third-rate cola that you can hardly find anymore in lieu of cash admission. Nowadays, it is thirty flavors and variations on flavors of Pepsi and Coke that litter the aisles of the supermarket and convenience stores; otherwise, your alternatives are usually something with some strange herb from the rainforest as the primary flavoring.

Ours is a divided household; I'm a Pepsi man by upbringing, my wife, because both sides of her family are from Georgia, is a Coke addict. But as with all divided households, the result are offspring that lack strong feelings one way or the other. My girls will drink just about anything we bring into the house, Pepsi, Coke, Dr. Pepper, even (gasp!) generic brands from grocery stores and the dreaded Arkansas Terror (i.e., Wal-Mart; my in-laws, who own stock in Sam Walton's leviathan, have tried to convince me that there's little difference between a Rum and Coke and a Rum and Sam's Choice cola. Of course there's a difference and besides, you'd be run out of any self-respecting bar calling out for a Bacardi and Sam's Choice). The problem with the Internet is that we've read too much about colas and their albino kin (Sprite and Seven-Up) and don't buy as much of them as we used to because of the lurid stories about what kind of ingredients they all have in them that will probably cut short our life expectancy from ninety-five to eighty-nine.

Now we drink water with lime or lemon juice to help keep us healthy. Might have to add some sugar, caramel coloring and fizz to it to make up for the loss.

Monday, April 04, 2005


Loving history, as I do, it's pretty natural that I take a great deal of interest in my ancestors. I grew up with history in our home as my folks were ingrained pack-rats, keeping just about everything they'd ever gotten during their lives and marriage, throwing away only food scraps (those that weren't put into the fridge for a later Slumgullian Stew) and things so absolutely worn out that they couldn't be patched together for something in my Dad's garage (even then there were things in the garage that an archeologist wouldn't have been able to recognize).

I ran across a huge magnifying glass in a hallway closet once and my mother informed me that it was the headlight lens from my grandfather's Model T. I used it to incinerate ants in the front yard, probably putting burn spots on the back of my eyeballs in the process. I also found an old camera, something called a Picture-Postcard Kodak, that had also been my grandfather's, which lead to a long-term research project about my family and how they'd gotten to Florida.

It is something like reading a novel to see where your family has been and a bit discouraging to know that you'll never read the chapters past your own. I hope that I can put what has happened before me all together in some readable form for my kids to pass along to later generations, assuming there will be some. Neither of my daughters have demonstrated a lot of motherly instincts and loudly proclaim when the matter is raised that they aren't too keen on having families of their own. Of course, this depresses me greatly, since either way it goes, my side of the family will not bear the name I and that others on my father's side have had since the early 19th Century. My brother did not have kids of his own (choosing the saintly path of raising three stepchildren and two adopted boys) so he'll never have any lineal blood descendants , leaving it up to me to pass down the name. I had daughters. Not that I mind daughters, as I love mine dearly despite the ups and downs of our relationships, but it does make me wonder what I'd have done with one or more sons ("No son, I don't want to play catch today; wouldn't you rather go to the Library and read old Life magazines from the '40s?").

One of my ancestors was on the Mayflower, another was lost at sea in New England. My great-great grandfather was a farmer/poet who moved his family to northeast Iowa in the middle of nowhere and my great-grandfather was a preacher who wrote a number of books and sent the second of his three sons to Florida to start an Temperance (alcohol-free) farming town with the dream of a university in the future. Of course, that dream failed miserably, but my grandfather hung around Florida and my grandmother had my father during that "extended vacation" to Chicago during WWI. My father served his country as a B-24 mechanic during the war in North Africa and Italy and became an auto mechanic. None of them were well-to-do (well, maybe my preacher great-grandfather, but he went bankrupt shortly before his death and left nothing for his sons) but I like to think they were all honorable men who did what they could to make their families comfortable and good citizens.

Hope I'm doing the same for my kids. At least they won't be able to say that they never knew where they came from.