A Good Guy Who Aged Well. ©2015

Pondering the generations, with L.E. Taylor

IN 1943 AMERICA, an eight-year-old boy’s imagination was teeming with real heroes. Certainly mine was. Not rock stars or millionaire sports hotshots; these were true, living heroes, not much older than I. Unlike our twenty-first century darlings, these icons weren’t full of themselves. These heroes didn’t strut or preen. They just worked. They got dirty and bloodied, and many died young doing the work they were paid a pittance to do.

They waged war against evil.

In the great fortified arsenal that was our city in those days, everyone was obsessed with The War. We lived in the shadow of fear and uncertainty that haunted families everywhere in the world. But we were uniquely blessed – the hideous battlefields of Europe and the Pacific would not come to us. Too much ocean to cross for the bad guys to get at us. Instead, American families had to send their youngsters “over there”.

Television wasn’t even a word. All we knew of the drama came by way of the radio, daily newspapers, and Life Magazine. But they were enough to invade a child’s innocent mind with the unspeakable. Enough for a bright, imaginative lad to draw conclusions about good and evil, bad guys and good guys.

Yesterday, I opened an email from a neighbor. It had a link. Suddenly, I was in the presence of one of my heroes of 1943. No, I didn’t know this fellow personally, or even by name. But I recognized him in a flash. He wore a crisply laundered and starched U.S. Air Force summer uniform, with big silver captain’s bars on the collar. His officer’s cap was as squared and as becoming to his handsome ninety-one-year old face as it had been the last time he wore it. Seventy years ago.

Please allow me to introduce you to P-51 Mustang fighter pilot, Captain Jerry Yellen:

https://www.dvidshub.net/video/395572/jerry-yellin-world-war-ii-veteran-interview#.VdJcIBRVhBc

When I grow up I want to be just like him.

Onward.

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Neighborhoods, Work, and Ginger Ale ©2015

Memories of an ancient city, by L. E. Taylor

THE OTHER DAY, a newspaper article came my way about an archaeological find in my (old) hometown of Detroit. It was a short item– you might say, perfunctory. There was a color photograph. My mind began to race. I had to drop everything and write what I know about this topic, and what struck me about the puny way it was covered.

But the memories came in a torrent; too much to handle. I could write a book.

Well, once I did. Elgan and Grace – A Twentieth Century Saga, was about the two branches of my personal “tree,” and the world I remember in vivid detail. But my musing this morning is not a pitch for a book. Something tells me it will take you and me further than that.

Let’s see.

The America we see in 2015 did not exist in, say 1900. Our country was a crazy-quilt of immigrant settlements, most of them founded in the previous century. These settlements were robust, but still fragile in their parochial attachments to Old Europe. The cliché of “melting pot” conjures images of the Irish and Italian enclaves in New York and along the East Coast where poor refugees trudged off the boats and plunked down right there, many to be victimized by remnants of the same tyrannies and corruptions they’d fled.

By 1900, the immigrant families had become Americans, and were migrating westward, away from the decadent Old to the fertile new centers of industry. Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit, and Chicago became smoky jewels in the golden crown of our industrial nation.

We know them as cities, as parts of that melting-pot cliché. They were, in fact, clusters of neighborhoods. Neighborhoods of working families. Shopkeepers, tradesmen, manual laborers, risk-takers, doctors, teachers… and the preachers and saloonkeepers who served the best and the worst of them.

It was all about one thing: work.

Work demanded energy, work focused a person’s mind and it validated one’s life. Work enriched not only the family bank account, but also the community spirit.

Pride of place became more than a provincial bias. It said, “The Ludwig children had to leave school to work so their widowed mama could keep her house”… It proclaimed, “The Taylor’s were dirt-poor coal miners who made their way north one-by-one to their future, and in one generation, succeeded to middle class respectability”… It boasted, “The Monaghans and Ryans and Kanes survived famine and abandonment to earn small (temporary) fortunes and even build modest summer homes on the Canadian side of the Lake.”

Every family was guided by a different faith: Catholic, Lutheran, Calvinist, and “none”. Every family believed in the future, especially for its next generations. Every family tended its own lawns and gardens, kept up its own home, rooted passionately for the Tigers, spent less than they earned, and most voted Republican.

In the 1850s great grandpa Fred Lottner had made his way to Detroit from Bohemia as a teen age orphan, got employed by a local brewer, and in the 1890s became Brew-master of Stroh’s brewery. When Prohibition came the working families all made do. For the drinkers, luscious, aromatic Canadian whiskey was just across the River and could be smuggled back on the ferryboat, often in mama’s knickers; and Labatt’s Ale and Molson Golden were wonderful substitutes for our own suddenly illegal brews.

Will Kane lived in Canada but ran a Detroit speakeasy. And Stroh’s converted to making ice cream, the best in Detroit. Which brings us back to the archeological find.

Back in Colonial times, and through the nineteenth century, pharmacies were run by independent practitioners, called village apothecaries. They were chemists licensed to dispense drugs and healing herbal elixirs. In 1862, a Detroit apothecary, James Vernor, was called to war. Among his store of medicinals was a unique ginger-based concoction that he sealed into a sturdy oak barrel just in case he got back to Michigan alive. Four years later, James opened the cask and discovered the secret brew had aged into an amazingly satisfying drink. He sold some and made some more. His fame grew and Vernor’s Ginger Ale soda fountains opened across the Great Lakes region.

The new libation was spicy and refreshing, and it was non-alcoholic. By the turn of the twentieth century every home ice box within a hundred miles of Detroit had a stash of Vernor’s Ginger Ale tucked away in the back, chilling near the remnant of last week’s block of ice.

FLASH FORWARD to 2015. The City of Detroit is in ruins. Buildings that have not crumbled on their own or been burnt down by riot and vandalism, are being demolished to make way for a new beginning. As a rotting old structure on McNichols Avenue collapses in a cloud of toxic dust, the side of its adjacent two-story neighbor building appears. The dust settles, and there, bathed in sunlight for the first time in nearly a century, stands a hand-painted mural in familiar colors. Boldly slashed across the yellow painted brick is the trademark green script:

Vernor’s

Ginger Ale
Mellowed 4 Years in Wood

Missing is the Prohibition Era slogan: “It’s what we drink around here.”

Well, I thought the newspaper article was skimpy. So I went to the Vernor’s website. Not much better. Bloodless, superficial. Knowing too much history can be hell.

Oh, one more thing: In the Depression years and the War years, a popular mixed drink in the neighborhoods was called a “Boston cooler.” It was simple. A tall cold glass of Vernor’s with a scoop of vanilla ice cream – Stroh’s, of course. In the neighborhoods, it’s what they drank.

Onward.

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Resources.

  1. Taylor, L.E., Elgan and Grace – A Twentieth Century Saga, FreesenPress, Victoria B.C., Canada, 2012.
  2. Vernor’s Ginger Ale: http://www.drpeppersnapplegroup.com/brands/vernors/
  3. ginger-ale
  4. Robert Allen, Detroit Free Press

Ah, To Be Jung Again. ©2015

Reconsidering my mid-life quest, by L.E. Taylor

A COUPLE OF DECADES AGO I found myself in a writer’s workshop on the high mesa outside Taos New Mexico. (I didn’t mean to start out with a pun, but there it is.) At the time, I wasn’t aware I was “finding myself,” but those five days did prompt an eventual change of course in my Middle American, middle-brow journey.

A whole series of coincidences led to that good moment. And to this one.

The class instructor was a remarkable soul by the name of Pierre Delattre (Deh-lot-truh). You probably don’t recognize the name, but that’s no reflection on you. Or Pierre. But once, it was different.

In the years I was struggling to make my way as a freelance ad man in the Midwest, Pierre was already established in the volatile bohemian neighborhoods of San Francisco. It was the 1960s and he was at the chaotic center of all the political and social drama. An ordained Presbyterian minister, Pierre was dubbed by Time Magazine, “The Beatnik Priest of San Francisco”. His notable autobiographical books are Walking On Air and Tales of a Dalai Lama.

My most admired of his works, however, is a collection called Episodes, a copy of which he inscribed to me.

But that came thirty years later when our paths would finally cross briefly, on the high table-land of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

Pierre’s one week writing-drill was rich in wisdom beyond tips on prose writing. Among his insights was the notion that our individual lives are patchworks of stories informed by experience – much of it ironic and improbable. He used a term I had heard, but never paid much attention to: Synchronicity. He gave examples in his own life of stunningly abrupt intersections of events, good fortune, and answered prayers.

As a young expatriate, Pierre was once marooned with his family in the impoverished backcountry of Mexico, flat broke with no way to get home. Contracted to write a novel, but battling a writer’s block, he finds himself absorbed with the abstract idea of “balance.” His fictional story is to be set in a circus, but he’s hit a wall. What does he know about the circus? At one critical moment of despair, a stranger arrives at his front door. Pierre writes this fragment in Episodes:

“Hi, I’m Carlos. I hear you’re writing a circus novel. I was a juggler in a circus for five years.” [Carlos] took me home; his whole family juggled for me. Carlos gave me a rare book on the mysticism of juggling.

Pierre quickly completes his manuscript and ships it off to his publisher. Soon, a check for his advance comes just in time to save the family. “We were down to our last peso,” he wrote.

THE BEGINNING OF MY OWN first novel came in the late nineties. Financially rewarded as a corporate marketing consultant, I was nonetheless, spiritually drained by the arid monotony of joyless striving. Also, the cash flow was waning. One chill gray morning I retreated into one of our vacant offices and, to excuse my need for solitude, I decided to learn how to use our strange new Apple word processor. I advised my assistant, and closed the door.

Averse to writing anything on my to-do list, I flashed on a morsel of family lore. Working from memory and embellishing as I went, I got caught up in the narrative. The next day I discovered I’d written not a short story; but “Chapter One.” For three years, amidst financial distress and personal sorrows, I journeyed every night into the past for hours, virtually taking dictation from an angel on my shoulder. The result was my 460 page novel, Elgan and Grace – A Twentieth Century Saga.

My occupation, since completing that book, has evolved into a special calling. Unexpectedly, I now find reward helping people of earlier generations reclaim their own rich nuggets of days past. My role is to share with them what I learned crafting my true stories. I coach them to capture their treasures with care, as a worthy legacy for others. The workshops are called Great Family Storytelling. Students are guided to not only remember, but also to write their tales in prose, as polished as they have the will to muster. I am not easy on them. The result for both student and family is the joy that comes with a strict labor of love, well done.

Synchronicity is not the fever-dream of some New Age yogi; it is the clinical inspiration of one of the great minds of psychiatry, Carl Jung. A Swiss disciple of the Viennese icon Sigmund Freud, Jung considered himself a scientist. His work has made a powerful impact on our notions of how the brain works. Much in the field that we take for granted originated with Carl Jung: the conscious and the unconscious, the phenomena of personality types, and how to explain synchronicity.

As he studied, Jung kept his mind open and did not dismiss the meaning of primal symbolism, or the possibility of multiple lives of one spirit (reincarnation). But, perhaps the most controversial of his obsessions was the bizarre coincidences in ordinary lives that are both timely and uncannily apt – the phenomenon he termed “synchronicity”.

Last week, I got an unexpected note from a former student on the topic of coincidence. She said she doesn’t believe in dumb coincidence; she thinks there’s an energy that surrounds us and influences us. Our life is full of opportunity and clues to light our Way; all we have to do is pay attention and respond. Some call it the Holy Spirit.

That’s when I remembered my old mentor Pierre, snoozing for decades in my subconscious. I went to the wall of books in my writer-cave. There, high-up, I found it, Episodes, by Pierre Delattre. I’d never read it all the way through, so riffled the pages for a moment. A word caught my eye, I backtracked. At the top of page 147, a one word title: “Synchronicity.”

OUR GIFT OF LIFE is designed to be more than a mindless slog from birth to death. It is a cavalcade of opportunities to conjure with and learn from, even as we wrestle with the earthly sojourn. Another pastor, this one half a lifetime ago at my home church in Ann Arbor, drummed the same mantra: Choose Life!

Consider this: You needn’t be a counter-culture rebel nor an arty mystic to grab your hold on the Truth, and then to share your joy with others. Just pay attention, trust what you see, and then follow; maybe the answers, after all, are hidden in the problems.

Onward.

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Resources.

  1. Delattre, Pierre; Episodes; Gray Wolf Press, Saint Paul, MN; 1993.
  2. Taylor, L. E.; Elgan and Grace – A Twentieth Century Saga; FreisenPress; Vancouver B.C., Canada; 2012.
  3. Carl Jung, www.wikipedia.com
  4. Synchonicity, www.wikipedia.com
  5. [Author]; The Power of Your Subconscious Mind; [pub. Info.]; 1973.
  6. Murphy, Dr. Joseph; The Power of Your Subconscious Mind; Prentice-Hall; Paramus, NJ; 1963.

Ahoy, Lads! ©2015

All at sea in my mind, a boyhood reflection by L.E.Taylor

A COUPLE OF DAYS AGO, I had cause to reflect on lives lived and now over.

A week earlier, I’d received the Ancestry.com report on my personal DNA analysis. It concluded that my lineage goes back to the British Isles (I know), Scandinavia (Vikings and all that), Central Europe (sauerkraut, beer, Lutherans), and traces of Mediterranean mischief.

That last one got me thinking. Not very hard, of course, just musing. Then a spiritualist friend of mine teased me with a tidbit of news: She claimed I’d lived before, died young, had been a sixteenth century Italian, and a seventeenth century Irishman. A writer both times. Okay, relax; I’m no mystic, and only gullible to the extent that my creative work leans toward the romantic. But, as I said, it got the wheels turning. I am, after all, a writer.

I set about crafting a fictional tale using the far-fetched nudges I’d just received, both the scientific and the supernatural. My imagined story would begin with the near-drowning of a young Latin (?) sailor off the Coast of Ireland in the storm-tossed sinking of the Spanish Armada in 1588.

Got it? Okay, more on that another time. For now…

My boyhood during the Second World War was lived in my birth place of Detroit – and summer-times, with my great aunt in an old house on Lake St. Clair in Ontario, Canada.

Most Americans are unacquainted with the upper Midwest. They think of farm lands and smoky crowded cities, dark skies, snow and cold. But Michigan is a maritime state. The water is fresh, not salty, but it is deep and broad and wild in its storms of both winter and summer. Half of the state is water. Michigan’s two peninsulas are defined by massive fresh water inland seas. Michigan has over three thousand miles of coastline, more than any other state but Alaska.

In most states the 12 mile wide Lake St. Clair would be considered a “great” lake. In the chain of seas called The Great Lakes, it is just a wide place on the strait between Lake Erie and Lake Huron. Impressive, dangerous, deep enough to have an international shipping channel, but, alas, not a Great Lake.

It seems I’ve always been drawn to the big water.

One summer day in my eleventh year in Detroit, I pulled on my Buster Brown clod-hoppers and set out from my home; I would walk until I came to the “river.” What did I know? Not much. But the water beckoned. I was actually walking to the lake. I didn’t tell anyone and I didn’t even think to tie my shoe laces.

The trek was eight miles. One way. Presently, I saw the lake, looked at it for a minute or so, thought about my Auntie Kane over the horizon in Canada, and headed homeward. I was tired, thirsty and hungry. When I arrived back at 5770 Harvard Road my heels were bloody and I knew a little more about the geography of my universe.

That same year, with fall still weeks away, a couple of lads came around on a sunny day to recruit boys into the Sea Scouts of America. They were teenagers, what we called “big boys.” Handsome, blond, uniformed, and energetic. I was impressed and entranced with the idea of sailing the lakes, but I was small-fry, they were not good recruiters, and they moved on. I was left with my dream of sea adventure aground.

Preparing to write my fictional story this week, I researched the sinking of the Armada. Then I found myself reading all about sailing craft, rigging, architecture, nomenclature, history.

Today, patient reader, if I were as young as I was then, and as wonderfully smart as I am now, I would make learning to sail wind-driven boats a serious ambition. I’d start with dinghies, then I’d learn (and earn) my way up to a sloop or a ketch. If I hadn’t the wealth to own my own craft (unlikely, if I really wanted it), I would hire onto a crew and ply the seas as a blue water mariner.

Not yet into the actual writing of my fantasy, suddenly it dawned on me that such was exactly the route taken by my Uncle Bill. My mother’s kid sister, Helen had married Bill Barber, her high school beau. They married right before Pearl Harbor. His wartime adventure as skipper of a sailing craft in the South Seas is acknowledged briefly in my book, Elgan and Grace. – A Twentieth Century Saga (pp, 309-311).

Bill Barber and I were brothers of the soul. We sparred occasionally because we were nothing alike except in spirit. My father, himself a restless fugitive from the Kentucky coalmines, was far more like Uncle Bill than he, a self-made businessman (not a wandering seadog), would admit. Like all the characters in my book – or for that matter, anyone’s book – both were flawed. But Bill’s calling to be a mariner, specifically a sailor, whatever that would mean in sacrifice of bourgeois refinements, was true and impervious to reproach.

Now, in the autumn of my years, I view the course of life organically. Whether as sailor or surgeon, merchant or magistrate, poet or preacher. The calling to engage with life feeds a certain readiness of soul, I think, and may be more than a vagabond wanderlust. It’s the affinity for challenge – of intellect, sinew, spirit, and courage.

All vocations may not be equal on the scales of Providence. Self-indulgently, for the moment, I just write stuff that may amuse you.

Onward.

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Resources.

  1. Taylor. L.E., Elgan and Grace – A Twentieth Century Saga, FreisenPress, Vancouver B.C., Canada, 2012. www.ElganAndGrace.com.
  2. Hostellers Sailing Club (Australia) – www.btinternetr.com/~sail/cruising.htm
  3. www.Ancestry.com

Flunking Your Way to Success,
Part One ©2015

Thoughts on the perfection myth, by L.E. Taylor

ANOTHER EMAIL JUST ARRIVED from LinkedIn, the social network for career-bent strivers. This one carried an invitation to join with several of my “contacts” in a niche organization that many of them had found simpatico. In the margin was a conversation-starter question:

“What have you learned from failing?”

Notice the question did not refer to “failure.” The sponsoring group is Professional Women’s Network. The inference I was pleased to draw was that these are vocationally successful persons. They see failing as an incidental flashpoint. Otherwise, the term might well have been ‘failure,’ which connotes the act of failing not as an event, but as a habit, implying a chronic condition.

The time-worn axiom about penury comes to mind: Being broke is a temporary predicament; being poor is a frame of mind. Each signals a different impulse in given individuals: to take action or to curl up.

After one calamitous laboratory accident, a 30-ish Thomas Edison was asked by a reporter if he was discouraged having failed so many times. Edison replied cheerfully that he was, in fact, exhilarated; now he knew ninety-six things that didn’t work.

We all know at least one pet thing that doesn’t work. But in spite of the evidence, many of us stubbornly flail away at the old horse carcass without objectively adjusting assumptions. That isn’t perseverance, it’s knuckle-headedness.

But back to the business network question.

In the booming decade after World War II, peacetime spawned a quality of life previously undreamed of for most American households. Evidence of self-satisfaction soon appeared in the quaint form of an annual practice called the Christmas letter. It was usually a single typewritten page, neatly folded and inserted into each outgoing Christmas card. The narrative was a glowing report on the blessings of success, harmony, and fulfillment enjoyed by each haloed member of the extraordinary clan.

Big John’s new promotion got top billing. Mildred’s domestic talents and selfless volunteer work kept the four-bedroom dream house snug and perfect for the amazing, above average exploits of all – e.g., the State U. scholarship freshman Jack (Jr.), the baton twirling champion Susan, the adorably funny twins Lloyd and Floyd, spry forgetful Grandma Em, and even Rufus the aging sheepdog-Corgi mix who guarded the suburban model home though asleep..

Human nature being what it is, the impact upon mortal readers was predictable. No recipients who glance up from a letter of such glad tidings to view the chaos of their own domestic battleground were fooled.

In the real world there are no painless successes.

Facebook is something like that: Weekly close up snapshots of a chicken salad and a terse caption that once again Heather is having lunch with her doting, faithful hubby at TGI Friday’s becomes cloying. A quick e-blast that bachelor pal Randy is heading for yet another vacation on the beaches of Cancun seems to have no point (What, already?! Didn’t that just happen last month?).

Myriad variations on such pedestrian narcissism is summed up nicely in the neologism, “selfie”. Seldom are friends informed meaningfully by this stuff. Nor are fringe surfers rewarded with honest joy. And the robotic response of chirpy network chums is even more banal than the fluffed-up initial posting.

Scanning LinkedIn, however, I catch a whiff of substance. More than idle bragging, there resonates in these exchanges a sense of purpose. Self-promotion, sure. So what? (If not by you, then who?) Individuals are actually trying to accomplish things. They are living mobile business lives – upwardly, laterally, or maybe in a circle, but they aren’t just sitting there ‘liking’ each other. It’s about work.

So, I’m all for it. Yes, my capitalist sisters, if you’ll have me as a brother-in-arms auxiliary of the Professional Women’s Network, I’m in. Maybe we can do something to help each other, even if only by encouragement or offering grief-saving tips on what works and what is fool’s gold. Come, sit here by me – wise, harmless old Uncle Larry.

I don’t have to wear a red hat, do I?

Onward.

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Next time:
Part Two: 3 common failures and their lessons

Not My Type

Observation on myths of aging, by L.E. Taylor

JUST OPENED A WEBSITE for a company I might want to do business with. Couldn’t read it without jacking the image up to 175 %. Who designs this stuff?

Young people.

Years ago, at least a couple of decades, I was unsettled by an email from a person I’d known in high school. She was complaining about something or other and used a chilling term of despair, “we seniors”. (Italics for irony, mine.)

My immediate response, exclaimed aloud – “What’s with the ‘we’?”

I sat bolt upright and stared at the mute computer screen. “What’s your hurry?” I barked. This was no quaint denial reflex; I was perplexed. Still am.

Let me put it out there for all to know: L.E. Taylor is exactly as young as he thinks. As he moves. As he feels. As he is perceived.

Way too many among us are ready to find excuses to plead old age and quit. Whatever the irritant, whether an ailment or a grievance, a disappointment or some imagined slight to their feelings or affront to their politics, many people who have much to be thankful for are ready to toss in the cards and mope out of the room. The country is lost! The end is coming; we’re gonna die! (Well, that part is true, it came along with the birth certificate.) Why invest in the worst that might happen? Poppycock.

For nearly two years, I’ve been coaching adult writing workshops in the north Dallas area. The original idea was to help an aging generation with their memoir writing. Before launch, it dawned on me that “memoirs” implies a daunting task, even for me, even back in my forties. So I renamed the program “Family Storytelling.” Soon, the descriptor “Great” was added. And that it is: Great Family Storytelling.

If I do say so.

The target audience, of course, was the more seasoned population of, okay…“seniors.” But the objective is not to propose another docile pastime for fogies; it’s to encourage the mental effort and the practical skills needed to write down one’s personal stories in the clear style they deserve, in ways that are a pleasure to read. And to make it fun.

I quickly learned that the process is also, as I’d hoped, psychologically healing to individuals who have a lot of stories sleeping in their attics.

Trouble is, so many have surrendered to entertainment and ease that they are more focused on petty distractions than they are upon their unique legacies to family and kin.

In session number one, I promised students that I would not dumb-down the drill; as a fellow-member of the 30’s generation, I respect their years, but do not see them as sick or stupid. This, I said, will be taught as a college workshop. Nobody walked out.

Over the months, in nearly fifty sessions now, I’ve seen scores of adult students transform from stuck mode to active as they embraced the challenge. Many have arrived at the workshops already overcommitted with retirement activities and stay-at-home duties. Some were dubious about their capabilities and they said so.

Still, they come to their weekly two-hour workouts, equipped by their assigned reading in the best short literature, and ready to share with peers their own hard-sculpted prose. We read our freshly minted work aloud to generational compatriots, and critique each other’s product.

The result is dynamic, much greater than the sum of its humble parts. I’ve watched these individuals thwart their aging, and, as the wizard Merlin did, begin to… youth-en.

THESE ARE “ADULT” classes (the euphemism for grandma and gramps), but many “juniors” have asked to attend. And why not? Well, for one thing, the rookies would be at a disadvantage: Seniors have more material. But we’re all here to learn from each other, right?

Many of my friends are decades younger than my chronological years. Both males and females, they embrace life in diverse ways. College seniors near graduation, millennial graphic designers and musicians, semi-employed actor-waiters, young fast food managers, talented hair cutters and hardworking landscapers; all ethnicities.

With investment of time and attention, some of these I have grown to care about more than a little.

As I consider one or two of my dearest young pals, I sense an electric connection, invisible and subtle. One fellow is a single father of two young girls. One, a poet and song-smith, is lead musician in a rock band that plays in Deep Ellum. A serene young woman is a navy veteran and mathematician, soon to march out again with a new degree to face an uncaring corporate world. They like me. One calls me “LT.” The poet calls me, “man.” She… doesn’t call me, actually.

I’m reminded of my mom Grace, working at a college town department store; she was embraced by a sisterhood of raucous young women. They fed off her energy, her wisdom, and her irreverent humor. She wasn’t an old bag in denial, she was just herself – still young and looking it. She got as much from them as they from her.

I glance at my e-mails. The type fonts are often too tiny to read. Can it be that there are humans who can read 8 point type? Was there a day that I could? (See Ref. #4).

At the liquor store checkout counter today, I adjust my Walmart reading glasses, sign my receipt and ask the girl, “Okay, let’s see some ID.” Huh? “I don’t believe you’re old enough to sell me wine.” She giggles. I tell her I’m just kidding. She replies that she is going on thirty-one, but she’s fibbing; I can see pimples under her makeup. I lift the paper sack and pause. We peer directly at each other. “Take a guess,” I say.

The counter girl squints, chews a lip, blushes, and ventures, “Fifty.”

“Good guess,” I say. And leave.

Onward.

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References

  1. L.E. Taylor, “The Youthening Mind”; LET’sBlog Archives (March 18, 2014).
  2. Great Family Storytelling; promotional brochure; 2014.
  3. L.E. Taylor, Elgan and Grace – A Twentieth Century Saga; FreesenPress; Victoria B.C., Canada; 2012.
  4. Photo, 1966.

Strong Daughter ©2014

A true tale of revelation, rescue, and literature, by L.E. Taylor

Kay Melanie is a twenty-first century frontier woman. All one hundred-ten pounds of her. She says so.

Alone at the big pasture gate, Kay Melanie has just completed a day of cutting and baling hay on her forty acre homestead. She whips off her battered sombrero, and dries her brow with a faded bandana. An ornery thick mop of strawberry blond hair blows around in the hot East Texas wind as the boss lady calls her lumbering herd of four-legged critters to supper.

In another two hours the final course – home cooked by the boss herself – will be served to fifty-two rescued dogs, each with a new name, in the comfort of their own home on the range.

After that, Kay Melanie will retreat to her personal bunkhouse, kick off her clod-hoppers, and uncork a bottle of Merlot as she tosses together a vegan meal of green things.

Kathy Ferguson is not a native Texan, but as the saying goes, she got here as soon as she could. And an arduous trail it was.

One day about forty years ago, Kathy and her mother drove through a downpour on Packard Road in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The child cried out, “Mommy! Stop!” They’d passed a small dog, struggling at the roadside. It had just been struck by a car. The two ran back up the apron through a swirling spray, wrapped the animal in a beach towel, then hurried to their car and on to a nearby vet. The mutt would survive.

This was not a seminal moment. In fact it was only one in a series of episodes that led young Kay Melanie to her calling: A rescuer of God’s helpless creatures.

It would stand to reason that her eventual course of study might become veterinary medicine. But a diversion struck, as it did so many young women in those years. Anorexia nervosa. She dropped out of college.

Many months later, at sixty-eight pounds, and near death in a major medical center, Kathy opted out of treatment. On that grim February night, as her stunned father waited alone by the elevator, an irate psychiatrist confronted him with a stark prophesy, “Your daughter is going home to die.” He believed her.

But three nights later, in the small hours of the morning, Kay Melanie gets out of bed and feebly makes her way through her mother’s cold, darkened house, and into the kitchen. She places a boney hand on the refrigerator handle and is dazzled by the brilliance as she opens the door. And God whispers: “Choose life.”

Kathy obeys.

She works three part-time jobs, engineers a loan, earns a grant, and enrolls in the Residential College at The University of Michigan. Introspective by nature, now intellectually hungry, her choice of major is not medicine, but… literature. It is a fateful decision of the heart that will make her over-qualified for every job, role, task, business enterprise, partnership, or farm chore she will ever have. Over-qualified and under-paid.

Two years later, Kay Melanie has her degree, her health, her freedom, and a future as bright as that refrigerator light in the small hours of a magical February night. Beautiful and fit and now transplanted in Dallas, Texas, she turns a page.

Soon another page is turned. And, as if by some contrarian Plan, a succession of others. God’s logic is not our logic.

Ten years, and one failed marriage later, Kay Melanie is a capable, dedicated country woman who can fix anything, plant and mow a field, husband and diagnose animals ranging from barn cats to Chihuahuas, from pit bulls to sheepdogs, from cow ponies to longhorns. She can shoot a side arm, a rifle, and a shotgun; but she wouldn’t shoot anything with four legs. So if you have fewer, and trespass, be warned.

In 2012, she was chatting with her father on the phone and the subject of his long suffering literary project came up. He groused that he was at the end of a third draft of his “big book,” but was frustrated finding an editor. Without a pause, she said, “Let me do it!”

He replied, “Well, since the book is about your own ancestors, you might have trouble being objective.”

Kay Melanie said, “I can do it.” And she did. She turned out to be the best editor her scrupulous father could have dreamt of.

He, of course, is the fellow writing what you are reading.

I’ve read about some famous editors, and I know how dicey the interaction can be. But the Boss Lady was considerate, wise, non-invasive, and respectful of the boundaries between author and editor. She also made Elgan and Grace much better than it would have been.

So, what prompted me to share with the world at large this true tale of a Yankee hard scrabble “farm wife”– and why at this moment?

A couple of days ago, I’d found myself home-bound and badly out of commission for weeks with a post-op infection. Fatigue and dizziness dragged on. Mental fog made me feel old, right on the cusp of reclaiming some youthful zip in the excitement of a re-lit lit-life. Averse to forced inactivity, I was frustrated and bored. And depressed.

I rustled through a mess of journal notes and idea files. I organized my sock drawer and folded piles of clean laundry. My gaze fell upon a dusty stack of books on the floor. Tossing aside one after another, I discovered a slim volume bristling with old Post-Its. The remarkable book is Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters, by pediatrician and mother of four, Meg Meeker, M.D.

It reminded me of the brave and unusual person you’ve just been reading about. The book had been a gift from Kathy to her Dad. It was time that you knew about her.

If you have children or grandchildren; girls or boys – very young or insufferably into their self-destructive know-it-all teens – get this book and read it. I sat down with it once more, these years later, made notes, added new markers, and found myself blessed. Again.

Onward.

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References

  1. Meeker, Meg M.D., Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters – 10 Secrets Every Father Should Know, Ballantine Books, New York, 2006.
  2. Taylor. L.E., Elgan and Grace – A Twentieth Century Saga, Friesen Press, Vancouver B.C, Canada, 2012.
  3. LET’sBlog, http://blog.letaylortheauthor.com, The Youthening Brain, April 2014 (archives).

RIP Bud, 1925 – 2014 ©2014 L.E. Taylor

Final page of an American history lesson by L.E. Taylor

Bud Masinick passed away in his sleep last week. Bud is the hero of his own tale of Middle-American valor, Bud and Schoolie. There is more to his story.

In 1944, two B-25 bombers were shot down off the coast of Formosa. The USS Ice Fish was sent to hunt for survivors. After twenty-six hours, the submarine surfaced about thirty yards from two life rafts lashed together, six aviators, thirsty and wounded hanging on. A rope was tied to the sub. As the boat’s “diver”, Bud was to swim out, tether the rubber dinghies to the sub, and guide them in as his shipmates pulled. As Bud grabbed the rope and tied it around his waist, the exec said, “Bud, you know, if you get out there and aircraft show up, we’ll have to dive.” Bud said, “Then we better hurry up,” and dove into the drink.

No planes appeared and the fliers were pulled aboard the Ice Fish. Bud reports that one man died of his wounds. Next day, the boat surfaced for a burial service at sea. It was Bud’s first and he took it personally. Hands covering his face, he wept. Bud grabbed his rosary and made his way to his bunk, jumped in, and covered his head. In the morning, he refused to get up. A flier came by to console the 19-year-old. Shipmates urged him to move around, get some chow.

“No. Go away.”

Into Bud’s second day in bed face to the bulkhead, an NCO put a beefy paw on the lad’s shoulder. “Bud, you gotta eat. C’mon. Let’s go.”

“No. Go away. I’m okay.”

The chief returned about twenty minutes later. “Bud. Cookie has made a big bowl of strawberry shortcake.”

The covers flew off, Bud hit the deck, rubbed his face. “Okay. Let’s go.”

One day not long ago, Bud and I sat on a bench beside a lake. Two formerly young men filling in some of the blanks for each other. I learned about the post war years, Bud’s mustering, his cross-country sentimental journey by train with an unexpected stopover in Chicago. The unglamorous life of a D-League farm hand. And finally his return to reality.

Of all the stories he confided, one came sharply to life. In his own words, the best I can remember them:

“I have no regrets about not following a career somewhere in baseball. If I had, I would have spent years in mediocre surroundings making a mediocre living. I wouldn’t have married Barbara, I wouldn’t have four educated and productive sons and daughters. No comparison. No regrets.”

He went on about how much he loved Barbara and how blessed he was.

Barbara is the twin sister of Sandra, the mother of my children – and incidentally the person who called me one day this summer, suggesting that I write a story about Bud Masinick.

So now the last page has been written. Bud has arrived at his final destination. We can’t know how it all works, but in earthly terms, he’s already been reunited with Barbara, his submariner buddies, maybe even Mickey Cochrane, Johnny Mize, Hank Greenberg…

And of course, Schoolboy Rowe.

“Hey Bud! Wanna play some pepper?

“Schoolie! I can’t. Didn’t bring my mitt.”

“Bud, y’all have no i-dear: We have the most wonderful ball gear you ever dreamed of.”

Onward.

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Lou Gehrig Was Right

Reflection on being ‘the luckiest man on earth,’  by L. E. Taylor

Recently, there’s been a lot of publicity on the “ice bucket” craze. It’s a stunt that’s supposed to raise awareness of ALS, the incurable neural disorder that took down the New York Yankee great, Lou Gehrig, in 1941.

The fad has people of all stations in life (most notably celebrities) dump buckets of melted ice (i.e., water) over the heads of themselves and others in the fashion of ebullient football players dousing a coach in the last seconds of a victory.

The Ice Bucket Challenge is a social media phenomenon. It’s supposed to “raise awareness” of ALS just as affixing colored ribbons to one’s bosom is supposed to help cure cancers or show support for minority victims of, uh, everything. The challenge has purportedly raised millions in pledges for ALS research.

One thing is certain. It certainly makes the ribbon-wearers and the well-selfied elites feel good about themselves.

This ALS stunt is the latest symptom of preening exhibitionism, un-dreamed of in 1941. Lou Gehrig had a different take. Standing before a microphone at home plate on July 4th, 1939, he had this to say about his own plight:

Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.

When you look around, wouldn’t you consider it a privilege to associate yourself with such fine looking men as are standing in uniform in this ballpark today? Sure, I’m lucky…

Lou acknowledged, by name and role, individuals whose guidance, professionalism and loving-kindness he’d been privileged to know, from baseball men to hard working parents. Then he concluded,

When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed—that’s the finest [gift] I know.

So I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for. Thank you.

So spoke the self-proclaimed “luckiest man on the face of the earth.” But this essay, written for you, is not about Lou Gehrig, or ALS, or modern narcissism. It’s about gratitude.

You may blow this off as just a sermon. Not so fast, Agnes.

In the small hours today before sunup, I received an unexpected email from an old friend. It carried a link to an “inspiring” video. I’m suspicious of maudlin sentimentality, but I clicked on it. It was a human interest news clip. About a girl abandoned as a baby, now a bright, accomplished young woman. The secrets of the story came, one, two, three. Each provoked in me an audible gasp.

In a few minutes, all the pain of my recent surgery disappeared. My mind sharpened and my post-op depression dissolved. My thoughts drifted to Lou Gehrig standing there seventy-five years ago, humble and grateful in the hopelessness of a death sentence.

I sat in wonder, first at the horror, then at this evidence of human fortitude and the genuine “luck” of our under-appreciated gift from our Creator. It’s just a news show filler. Human interest about a girl.

Uplifting, no tears. Well…

I had to send it to you.

https://docs.google.com/file/d/0ByFUzo9KwryWWkRwUEw4bmZNaVk/edit?pli=1

Dear Lori

Open letter to my young publicist, by L.E. Taylor

It’s been more than a year since you first urged me to write a weekly article to post on the Internet. After the horror of realizing you were being serious I asked, “Write about what?”

You replied, “Anything that comes into your mind, anything you care about!” You’d noticed that our long bi-weekly telephone gabs always started out with a businesslike checklist of dry topics, but soon drifted into long adventures through a rabbit warren of remembrances, war stories, opinions, and irreverent wise cracks. You said whatever the main topic, whatever tidbit you might toss off, it usually reminded me of a story. You said you’ve been wanting to get me onto the lecture circuit, and that you also want me to start doing voice-overs. In fact, it was way overdue that I stop hiding out and get out there… Larry!

Much of my verbosity on the phone was sparked, of course, by our chemistry. You are a great listener and I am a ham. (But seriously, folks…) You also had another rare quality that brought out the best in me: whenever you could get a word in, it was always apt, intelligent, from your own experience, and professionally valuable.

All fine traits of a useful literary collaborator.

So today, I’m sitting here writing, as always, about something that I care about. In fact, I am shadowed by this burden of care more heavily each day; it’s my Sisyphean boulder. I could not avoid fretting away over your ordeal, Lori, if I wanted to.

Bad enough, the cancer.

Bad enough, its location.

Bad enough that your already suffering husband needs you, that your three home-schooled children are suddenly deprived of their mentor-Mom. Bad enough that the oral surgeries were destructive.

And the radiation. And now the chemo.

All of that is worse than bad enough; it is your Cross. I cannot help you carry it. I can only ask a merciful God to intervene. To ease your mortal pain. To engage with you and your family through the Holy Spirit in restorative ways that are beyond our understanding. To bless us all as we try to encourage you. Albeit, helplessly.

For the time being, Lori, I am reconciled – we can no longer talk. That is, you can’t. Which diminishes me.

So I’m accelerating my efforts as a teacher of adults who are serious about strengthening their writing skills. LT’s First Rule: Write only about what you care about.

The mentoring of those fellow-travelers focuses me greatly as a scribbler of these weekly “blog” pieces. I am often reminded that you suggested I was already weaving stories, only not in written words.

And now I am off the bench, pinch-hitting as my own publicist. Schlepping my product to reviewers and librarians and media talkers. Soon, I’ll be figuring out how to crack the code that will get me past unsympathetic gatekeepers, and into the sanctums of film producers. And I will, too.

Waiting for you to get back into the game, I will advance the score. I will listen to the voices in my head and do my best to follow through on the nascent plans that were coming clear to us. I will be ready when you return.

Who knows – we may actually see each other in person someday.

Onward.

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