S’no Fun

You would think that since I’m a native Floridian and an avid boater, that I would also be able to water-ski. You would be wrong. Not that I haven’t tried. Quite a long time ago, my friend John tried to teach me and after dragging me the length of the Imperial River several times behind his boat (mostly underwater) he came to a conclusion. “Ben, you can’t ski!” And that was it for skiing. That is, until my sister invited me on a snow skiing trip to Vermont. Now, I had barely even seen snow, but since the ski resort pictures made it seem soft and friendly, and I didn’t see a boat dragging people helplessly behind it, I accepted.

After flying to my sister’s house in New Jersey, we all split up into different cars and left for Sugerbush Vermont. For some strange reason I was selected to drive one of the cars. Strange, because we were driving straight into an ice storm and I wasn’t even sure what an ice storm was. The poor people that fate chose as my passengers, discovered this little tidbit of information three hours into the trip when the windshield wipers became the size of frozen baseball bats and we had slid past dozens of cars left deserted in the ditch on the side of the road. “Hey Ben… You’re doing great! Man! Look at all the wrecked cars!” exclaimed my sister’s friend Sue, from the back seat. I gave a thumbs-up and said “Thanks. Not bad for never having driven in ice or snow before, right?” About the time they had all stopped screaming in terror, we started up a long steep hill and the four-wheel drive car in our group started pulling away from us. I tried to keep up, but every time our car’s wheels started to spin on the ice, I had to let off of the gas a little more. This kept happening until we were almost to the top and traveling about five miles an hour. Then, they spun once more… and we were stopped. I put my foot on the brake and we just sat there in the middle of the road as the temperature outside continued to drop. I had no idea what to do so I turned around and looked at my “snow experienced” passengers for advice. “Well, now what?” I said. And just as the words left my mouth the car began sliding backwards down the hill. This time when everyone started screaming, it seemed like the right thing to do, so I joined in. Luckily, we only slid about thirty feet before the car hit the shoulder of the road and the car and the screaming suddenly stopped.

The screaming had already turned to cheering when out of nowhere, a salt truck drove effortlessly past us, the road magically thawed and we were able to drive away. Soon after, we were at the cabin, the fire was crackling and we were all fast asleep under cozy down comforters.

The next morning I looked out the window at the thermometer to find that it was 40 below zero! I thought everyone had lost their minds, but they couldn’t wait to “get out there.” So we suited up and headed to the slopes, where I was, of course, the only one scheduled to take lessons on a mountain that had overnight, frozen solid.

By noon, I was zigzagging down the slope with my classmates, single file. I was at the very end and doing rather well until I realized that I was slowly overtaking the person in front of me. Try as I might I couldn’t get the skis to cut into the ice enough to slow me down, so I turned past everyone. The instructor wasn’t amused. “Very funny Ben… Get back in line!” Just ahead of me was a steep slope with a crowd of people gathered at the bottom. I had no desire to share the fate of the people that I had, just moments ago, laughed at as they plowed into those same people, so I turned to the left, perpendicular to the slope and mercifully, slowly came to a stop. Relieved, I sighed and waved to the others. “I’m OK!” I proudly yelled, pumping my ski pole in the air. Then… I started going backwards. “WHAT? NO!” I couldn’t believe it… I was sliding backwards down a hill again! “OH COME ON! NOT AGAIN!” I didn’t know what to do, so I just plopped down on my rear and stopped. Not pretty or dignified, but nothing broken either.

The following Christmas I opened a gift to find… rollerblades. I thanked the person that gave them to me, walked to the kitchen… and threw them in the garbage can. A person’s got to know their limitations.

Much Ado about Nothing

copyright 2013

Black Locust Trees are beautiful, but they have a habit of splitting in two at the “Y” in the trunk. So when the incredibly large specimen on our property in Georgia began splitting in half, Lori and I began formulating a plan to save at least half of the tree. The plan was to cut one of the two forks off. The problem was that the cut had to be made about twenty feet off the ground and the “limb” was approximately 100 feet tall. This was the kind of project that you usually see ending badly on America’s Funniest Home Videos or on When Trees Attack (that’s not a show, but it should be.) I normally take on projects like this myself, but not having the proper machinery in Georgia and not wanting to die, I decided to find a local professional with experience and a lot of insurance. So I picked up the phone and called the local nursery for a reference.

“Carl’s Nursery!” said a lady politely. “Hi, could I speak to Carl please?” I asked, thinking I’d go right to the guy in charge. “Carl?” the lady sounded puzzled. “There’s no Carl here!” I closed my eyes and let my head flop back. “Well then why is it called…” I held my hand in the air. “Wait! Never mind. I have a large tree that needs to be cut down. Is there a company that you can recommend?” I heard a clunk and the lady yell “LESTER!” After a few minutes I heard “Hullo?” In great detail I described the entire situation and that I was wondering if he could recommend someone to do the job. “How big around is it?” the man said slowly. I took a deep breath and started all over again. “About two feet in diameter where the cut needs to be made… Look, it’s a dangerous job and I just thought you could recommend someone.” There was a pause and then… “What kind of tree is it?” I rubbed my forehead and closed my eyes really tight. “Like I said, it’s a Black Locust… Look, Lester?” “Yup.” “Do you know someone in the tree business who can come give me a price? There are all kinds of complications and someone really needs to look at it first. There’s even a nest of big, ugly wasps or hornets…” “Wasps? Lester interrupted. “What kind a wasps?” I got up out of my chair as my frustration finally boiled over. “The stinging kind! Look! You know what… Never mind! Thank you for your time!” But before I could hang up I heard… “Well, I think I can help you.” I sighed. “Well, thank you Les…” “But my chainsaw don’t run too good. You got one?” “NO, NO, NO!” I pleaded. “I don’t want help doing it, I want…” Lester quickly interrupted again. “Mister, you can’t do a job like that yourself! You’ll get hurt! You’d be better off calling Blue Ridge Tree Service!” I stared blankly at the phone for a moment… “Thank you.” Click.

Three frustrating days later, after making more calls, scheduling appointments, meeting and telling the same story to four people from four different companies, we chose a very professional company whose Arborist recommended that we wait for a couple of months until the winter had dropped the leaves and the hornets to the ground. Then they would move their machinery in and get the job done. We wanted to be there when this went on, so Lori got our calendar out and rescheduled our lives around that date, canceling appointments and setting aside time for us to be in Georgia for this operation.

Two days after we got back to Florida we received a call from our Georgia neighbor Doug. “Ben, your Locust tree fell down. I already cut it all up and if you don’t mind I’d like to keep it all for firewood.” I was stunned. “Uhhh… OK. Thanks Doug.” And I hung up the phone and just stood there. Without me really having to do or say anything… the problem was solved. Indifferent to all of our best laid plans, our frustration, our worrying and our planning, the situation had simply ignored everything and took care of itself.

The next spring, Lori and I went to a Nursery to pick out a replacement tree. As we were admiring a nice Leland Cypress a man in bib overalls walked over to us. “How ya’ll doin’ folks… the names Lester! Can I help you with somethin’?”

A Fish Tale

Yesterday, I was standing in front of the building on Old 41 where I grew up. What used to be our family’s Hardware store on the first floor is now a bakery. The second story, where we lived for many years, is now abandoned. The building has been remodeled several times over the years and doesn’t look much like it did, but somewhere on the face of the building, beneath the layers of paint, is a beautiful 10′ tall painting of a fish jumping from the water.

In 1960, my father had an artist paint what was essentially the “Heddon” fishing lure logo above the bright red “Nelson’s Hardware” sign and for decades the bass, with fishing lure hanging from its wide open mouth, remained there high in the air between mine and my sister’s bedroom window, watching the world slowly go by on the Tamiami Trail. It watched as drunken cowboys threw each other out of the windows of the Dome; As long lines of traffic sat waiting for the matinee at the dog track; As hurricane Donna rolled a house past our front door; As my father fearlessly ran off a drunken man who was threatening his employees with a shotgun.

And between these more interesting times, it patiently observed our normal everyday activities as my sister and brother and I grew up. Every morning before school, we went down stairs into the hardware store to “take the stuff out”… which was what we called pushing, pulling and riding all the lawn mowers, bicycles and anything else with wheels that had been crammed into the store overnight, out the door onto the concrete patio out front. Day after day, year after year, we took them outside and then nine hours later we took them back in through the front door beneath the fish. It watched. It watched as we became teenagers and then adults, as one by one we left home and the safety of its wide-eyed gaze. Then, as if to signal that its work was complete, my father painted over it… and it was gone. I didn’t think much about it at the time. Life was happening… jobs, marriage, and kids. My sister moved to New Jersey, my parents built a new house off of Terry Street and my brother and I built homes of our own, as keeping the ground floor of the old building rented became my Dad’s favorite project. But upstairs, our old home remained vacant.

About eight years ago, I tried to talk my dad into selling the old building so my parents could be secure in retirement. The timing and the prices were right, so at a meeting, after he had informed a group of potential buyers to name an as yet higher number for the fourth time, I took him aside. “What are you doing Dad?” I asked sternly at low breath. My dad smiled a mischievous grin and whispered. “I don’t want to sell it… I just want to see how high they’ll go!” I got flush with anger. I didn’t understand. “Cut them loose Dad… This isn’t right!” And I walked away.

Later that day I was still stewing (it’s a Nelson art form), but I had promised to take him to get his truck, so I drove quietly, him sitting next to me. Finally he broke the silence. “I can’t sell it. It’s my legacy. I want it to live on for my children.” I looked over at him. He was looking out the window… avoiding eye contact. “Dad… WE are your legacy. You created us, watched after us and built us as surely as you built that old building.” I put my hand on his shoulder. “Sell it and you and mom spend it having fun. Julie, Tim and I are going to be fine because of what you taught us.” It was a touching moment… But he still didn’t sell it.

Now, three years after dads passing, I’m standing here trying to help manage some of my dad’s legacy… this old store, and my tendency to become irritated. That’s when I suddenly realized that somewhere unseen, under the paint, the fish was still there watching over me. I sighed, put both hands on top of my head and started to contemplate where to start the repairs… I looked up at the sky and chuckled. For somewhere unseen, under that painted sky, I was sure that my dad was still watching over his legacy as well.

Social Science and HotDogs

When I think about some of the things that I’ve experienced over the past years, there seems to be a widening disconnect between our technological advancements and our social development. I have always loved science and building things, so I decided at the ripe old age of eight to build for my school science project, a better and faster hot dog cooker. (Warning! Do not to try this at home!) I drove two large nails through a piece of plywood, hooked electrical wires to each, added a switch and an electrical plug and Presto… a beautifully simple and (as we all know now) deadly kitchen appliance. When a hot dog was impaled across the nails and the switch was thrown, the unsuspecting hot dog was immediately cooked to the point of being split open, leaving the smell of electrified pork product in the air.

I know… cool, right? But, because of everyone’s reaction to what now would be considered a weapon of some type, this actually turned out to be more of a “social” experiment. My parents had seen me build similar things before and seemed mildly interested but unconcerned. The bus driver didn’t bat an eye as I carried it proudly onto the school bus, and even my teacher seemed interested, yet unalarmed. My demonstration at Bonita Springs Elementary was a success. Something between an infomercial and Young Frankenstein. Amazingly, no one was electrocuted (except the hot dog), I wasn’t expelled and after the schools fuses were all replaced and the power came back on, everything returned to normal. Well… except for the strange smell that legend has it, still lingers there.

Things are a lot different now. To begin with, I don’t think you can even bring a plastic butter knife to school. And technology wise, when you wanted to know something back then, like “Is this hot dog cooker going to cook me too?” you went to the “World Book Encyclopedia”. Of course, we now have most all of man’s accumulated knowledge and experience (after you sift through all the weird stuff) right here on our home computers via the Internet.

Technology has not only drastically out paced our ability to understand it, at times it doesn’t seem to have added equally to our general understanding of the world around us, improved our ability to reason or allowed us to socially understand or tolerate each other better. We recently had a DSL computer line installed in our cabin, in the middle of nowhere in Georgia. I had high hopes regarding this subject and thought, “The 21st century has come to the Mountains”. Soon after, the DSL serviceman came out to locate the lines buried under the road. He stepped out of his truck and armed with a bent wire in each hand as divining rods, he proceeded to “conjure up” the fairly obvious location of the utility line. I know some of you are saying, “That really works!” I prefer to just savor the sweet irony of socio-technological whiplash.

When a Cloud is simply a Cloud

Most everyone has at one time or the other, taken the opportunity to lay on their back in the grass, gaze up at the clouds and pick out the hidden shapes and patterns. Okay, it’s been a while for me too, but my point is that this type of pattern recognition comes naturally to us. We are capable of sorting through vast amounts of information and coming up with extremely complex conclusions or solutions and sometimes… we’re even right! Yet, this talent often leads us astray, because one of the tools that make it possible is our imagination.

This juggling act between our cognitive skills and our imagination is at the heart of every good decision, and every bad one. Unfortunately, an active imagination can make it easy to mentally go the extra mile and create an unnecessarily complex theory when, all things being equal, the simplest explanation is generally the right one and is sitting there patiently, waiting to be discovered. Accepting this basic tenant of logic (see Occam’s Razor) is more often than not extremely difficult for most of us to accept, because of the third side of our thought process, our emotions.

When we have an emotional investment in an issue, and we usually do, whether it’s a political philosophy, a long held prejudice, or attachment to a particular College Football team, the unconscious temptation to construct a conclusion that perfectly matches our preconceived notions can be too much to resist. The resulting conspiracy theory or bogus explanation of how something has occurred, or can be solved, can lead us to a chain of erroneous conclusions and bad decisions.

We don’t seem to have any trouble recognizing this very human trait in others, just in ourselves. It is difficult to accept that we sometimes select information that fits our favored conclusion and if we make decisions as a community based on this formula, the problem is often magnified and can have continued negative unintended consequences. It is the prize that keeps on giving. Fear, mistrust, rumor and false information can snowball and cause a community to react to circumstances that simply do not exist, problems that aren’t there, and cause them to make decisions that ironically fulfill their worst fears.

By applying a little healthy skepticism regarding our own decision making process, checking our preconceived notions at the door, giving someone else the consideration that we would want, or simply walking in the other persons shoes, we can be confident that our decisions are more likely to be fair, rational and just. I know it’s a scary world out there and not everything is always as it seems… but most of the time, a cloud is simply a cloud.

Blessings of a Bad Memory

The beginning of the New Year is usually the time when we reflect upon the events of the previous year, at least the ones we can remember. Although our memory can be persistent, it can also be persistently unpredictable. Sometimes it seems that the harder you try to remember something the further it slips away. And our ability to recall information often seems to have an inverse relation to the importance of having to do so. So we can all remember some pretty useless trivia while watching Jeopardy, but then in front of a large crowd of people the name of someone we have known for 40 years eludes us.

When the name of someone like… Oh, I don’t know…. one of our kids, escapes us, we always have the option of referring to them as son, honey, sweetie or some other handy generic name. Yes, I know it’s rude, but when you’re in a tight spot and no one will throw you a rope you will grab hold of just about anything. This was my Dad’s method of dealing with a forgotten name.

Once at the “Flea Market Wine Tasting” (no… I’m not kidding) my father was approached by a friendly fellow that knew him and struck up a conversation over a plastic cup of his homemade strawberry, apple and bacon/mulberry sort of wine (it was a blend?). Dad had no idea who the fellow was and as they wrapped up their conversation and the last of the wine Dad patted him on the back, turned to go and said, “Well, See you later buddy!” The guy smiled as my father walked away and then turned to me shaking his head. “Your Dad is amazing! I haven’t seen him in years and he still knows my name!” I started to give Buddy the bad news, but it seemed like a good time for me to just nod and take another sip. After all, if both Buddy and my Dad were happy, why ruin it for them.
For some reason complex memories like this one about our family and friends from years past can last a lifetime, brought back to life by a familiar sound or smell. But the everyday things in life like names, dates, or where we parked and why we came to the darned store in the first place can easily avoid us. Unless you’re one of those people that puts a tennis ball on your antenna or that just pays attention. The rest of us end up having to pretend that we are just out for a casual walk in the grocery store parking lot.

And if you can remember the name of kid who sat in front of you in the first grade 50 years ago but you can’t figure out why you are in the front yard with the TV remote in your hand, don’t feel bad…old “what’s his name” next door is probably having the same problem. So to all of you “May auld acquaintance be forgot and …” umm…well anyway, Happy New Year!

The Shovel

My father was a good man… And a hard worker. But as I discovered at a very young age, He was never afraid to get someone else’s hands dirty. I’m not being disrespectful, because he was really proud of it. One of his favorite shirts had written across the front “So much to do… So few people to do it for me!” It’s a funny shirt… Unless you were, like me, one of his “chosen few”.
The youngest of four tough “cracker” brothers, he learned at a very young age that if you were the smallest… Then you better be the smartest.
Life on the family homestead in the woods of S.W. Florida in the 1930’s could be brutal and the brothers all had to earn extra money by working part time for local farmers. So on one particular day, the four brothers and two of their friends took a job “hoeing okra”. As the grizzled old farmer handed out brand new red shovels to all the boys, he told them “I’m going into town, but don’t you worry… I’ll know who did the most work! And I’m gonna give that feller’ an extra dollar!” Now my dad realized that he had no chance of competing in an all day shoveling contest and likely wouldn’t get paid at all, no matter how hard he worked, so when the farmer left, the small boy scratched his chin and thought for a moment before walking over and sitting down under a nearby tree. His brother Charlie, who was already hard at work, looked over at the boy under the tree. As he flipped another shovel full of dirt over he yelled “Look at poor little Benny! He ain’t gonna get paid nothin’!” All the other boys chuckled… But my dad just pulled his hat down over his eyes and relaxed further back into the tree.
Eight long hours later, just before the farmer was due back, my Dad sat up, grabbed a rock that he had carefully selected and casually started scraping the paint off the shovels blade. This struck his brother as particularly bizarre behavior and as he took the rag out of his back pocket and wiped the sweat from his eyes he yelled “What the heck are doin’? Are you touched in the head?” After a few minutes all the paint was gone off the shovels blade and without saying a word, my dad stood up and started digging furiously. When the other boys saw this, they just stood there with their heads all cocked sideways…until suddenly, the farmer rounded the corner in his model A truck.
He crawled out of the dirty black buggy and then hollered for the youngsters to gather around him. “All right… Let me see the ends of them shovels!”. As he went down the row, he finally came to my dads apparently worn out garden tool. The old farmer slapped his hands together and hooted “Dang boy! You might be the smallest but you shore gave these other boys a lesson!”. He surely had, because the other boys said nothing, when my dad, as he was walking off, turned, tapped the side of his head with his finger and grinned that big grin.
As I think back to my Uncle Charlie telling me this story just a few years ago, with my dad sitting there next to him grinning from ear to ear, I wonder exactly what the real lesson might have been. The farmer, my dad and his brothers all came away telling the same story but they probably had different takes on what they had learned. One thing is pretty clear… you should never judge a book, a shovel or person by their cover.

Boys will be Boys

Every time my wife and I leave the grocery store, me pushing the cart across the lot by her side… she knows what to expect. But I can’t help it. I am overwhelmed by an irresistible urge. Without warning I take off running with the cart, (I can hear her behind me mumbling “Oh for Pete’s sake…) then I jump on the back of the cart and ride! I know, I know. It’s not very mature behavior for someone who is approaching 60 years old. But in my defense… well… I just don’t care. It’s fun and for a fleeting moment the worries of the world melt away and I’m a kid again. Actually, I’m pretty good at it and I seldom run over anyone or crash, so besides looking like an idiot… what’s the big deal?
If you ask me, having fun when you’re of a mature age has gotten a bad rap and people are way too uptight with their “play prejudice”. Yep…I just made that term up, but it’s true non-the-less. Sure, there are respectable ways to have fun… we call it recreation, a.k.a. biking, skiing, golfing, running (ugh!), fishing… but I think that these are way too organized and goal oriented to qualify as true play. The need to play like a kid is inside all of us no matter what age we are… it just takes a little nudge and a quick look over the shoulder to release the eight year old.

There is also a particular social phenomenon that seems to help things get started… at least for men. The more of us that get together, the younger and dumber we get. So, given the opportunity and enough guys, we will demonstrate types of behavior that are not just undignified but downright dangerous, irresponsible and stupid. But that is a rare occurrence… well… pretty rare.
Case in point. At a recent pool party, four of us (all guys over 50) were hanging out in the corner having a way too serious conversation about what was wrong with the world and everyone else but us, when my friend Bill, ran past us and jumped into the pool completing a rather lame cannonball. We all looked at each other and shook our balding, graying heads. “That was stupid,” I said, polishing off my beverage and setting it on the table. My buddies all nodded. Then I added “Watch this!” and I launched myself into a beautiful and purposeful belly whopper. SMACK! “Ohhhhhh!” yelled everyone. And then…it was on! One after another we launched ourselves into higher and more painful belly whoppers, our skin turning beet red. The only guy not participating was some twenty-year-old who was apparently trying to act mature. (Kids!) Of course our wives didn’t seem to share our zeal for this type of play, (except for my wife Lori, whose competitive nature finally caused her to launch her petite frame ala cannonball into the sloshing water of the pool). Being the only adults left, our wives kept yelling something about breaking our necks or permanent brain damage… I’m not sure, for some reason I can’t remember… but we kept on until Mike pulled off a back breaker… a high flip that landed him with a loud “pop” flat on his back. All the guys screamed in delight and then laughed hysterically as his limp fire-truck red carcass was pulled from the pool by his wife. Ahhhh! Good Friends! It was a good day.
Now, I’m not recommending this particular behavior, but I am a big fan of a wide variety of simple fun like sliding around on tile floors in my socks, shooting spitballs at my buddies as they’re trying to talk on their cell phone at lunch, or eating their French fries when they’re not looking. It’s not that I don’t take life seriously… I do. But because I do take it seriously, it’s worth enjoying it while we’re here and while we’re able. You’re only young once… so why not make it last a long time. Jump on your carts and ride my friends!

For the Love of Cheetos

Every morning I wake up and let our dogs Molly and Winston outside. Not because I want to… but because they MAKE me! As I try to wring out an extra 15 minutes of sleep… Molly sits there next to the bed… staring at me, growling. Then, every minute or so, she’ll jump up and punch me, kangaroo style with both her little Jack Russell hooves. Like any responsible pet owner I try to wave her away, my face still buried in the pillow. It finally takes Winston (a.k.a. Mr. Buzzard Breath), to wake me up. One lick on my face and a strong exhale from him and I’m awake… and nauseous.

As soon as my feet hit the floor both dogs become the happiest creatures on the planet… smiling little doggie smiles, spinning around in circles, running at full speed through the house. No, not because they have to go outside… but because they get two dog biscuits when they come back inside. Personally, I just don’t get. Dog biscuits are hard, dry as dust and taste like they’re made out of dried mud and straw. (Yes, I tried one.)

But to our dogs, biscuits are ambrosia! They love and crave them beyond all reason, and without knowing or caring what they’re made of. As they come barreling in the house after their frantic “tour” of the backyard, they spin, jump, beg, walk on their front legs, do card tricks, ride unicycles… whatever it takes to get a biscuit from me. Once they snap the precious cardboard flavored “bone” out of my fingers they rush off to opposite sides of the house so they can crunch up their rock hard cookies in private, all the while making little yummy noises of delight. It actually makes me a little envious. What must it be like to love and crave a treat that much? Especially one that’s not exactly “food.” You guessed it… this is where the Cheetos come in.

I suppose we all have our own “dog biscuit,” and yesterday, as I stood alone in the supermarket checkout line, I realized what mine was. Cheetos… the crunchy kind. I casually looked around. There were no witness’. I snagged a bag off of the rack and quickly laid them down between the salad mix and almond milk. Once I was safely in the car I ripped open the bag and wolfed down crunchy, salt loaded handfuls of the florescent orange, extruded then fried…I don’t know… Corn guts? Whatever! I really didn’t care… They’re delicious! As I upended the bag and poured the tasty last crumbs into my mouth, I made a little “dog yummy sound” and then felt a twinge of guilt. I knew they weren’t good for me and that if my wife found out that I had eaten an entire bag of Cheetos… I was in big trouble. I stuffed the empty bag under the car seat and began licking my paws like a cat while driving down the road. I know… it’s disgusting behavior… but I also know that some of you understand and know it was the right thing to do!

Pulling into our driveway, I quickly checked my clothes for orange crumbs, grabbed an armload of bags and then headed inside. “Hi Honey!” I said, plopping the grocery bags up on the counter. My wife Lori stopped doing her bookwork and looked at me over her glasses. “So, did you enjoy your Cheetos?” My mouth dropped open. (I mean really! How does she do that?) I started to protest, but then I realized that I was sporting bright orange fingers and lips.

Now, I can argue the merits of a case with the best of them, but trying to justify eating an entire bag of dog biscuits… I mean… Cheetos, is apparently beyond my capacity, so all that would come out of my throat was a choked and feeble “errr…Ahhhh.” Of course our dogs… “Mans Best Friends”… were sitting there next to Lori (traitors!) with their smiley dog faces, anxiously waiting to see how I would earn my Cheetos.

Since I am no longer capable of walking on my hands without serious injury to myself or the furniture, I am happy to report that the dogs and I have come to an agreement.

We shook paws on it and then celebrated by sharing a biscuit… the crunchy kind.

Driven by a Memory

“BORN IN THE USA!!!!!” (What?? Why is Bruce Springsteen screaming at me?) Waking up from a deep sleep, I roll over and switch the obnoxious clock radio off and check the time… 6:20 in the morning again. Time to go to work, again. Sitting up in bed I rub my eyes and think about how many times I’ve done this… same time, every workday, week after week, month after month, year after year, decade after decade. I stretch and get up, tripping over the dog and stubbing my toe on the dresser, cursing as I hop with one foot in my jeans on the way to the bathroom… again.

Staring at my morning face in the mirror (ugh) I think about how lucky I am to be able to work and to have work to do. But, I know that I am compelled to do so, not entirely by survival, money or gain… but by an incident that is carved deep into my mind and heart.

I think that, although it has remained hidden from their memory, many people have been crafted by an incident in their distant past. But I have never forgotten the moment when the force that would drive me through life was put into place. For me, it is a force of nature, like gravity, pulling me out of bed, to work, to yet another project, towards ever more responsibility. Causing me to place more weight on my shoulders, compelling me to stay perpetually busy and at work in order to feel complete and content.

I was three years old when I took a small piece of wire and stuck it into an electrical socket. (No! That’s not what’s wrong with me!) Instead of electrocuting me the wire immediately melted, burning my small hand. I don’t have any memory of this incident, (probably the electrocution part) but my mother says that I kept my bandaged hand clenched tightly shut for weeks, so much so that she was afraid that it would never heal.

Soon after, my father was going to take me to work with him for the first time. I know that it’s pretty rare to remember something from when you were three, but it is a vivid memory that never fades, a movie that is always ready to rewind and play. I remember… my dad standing by his truck. I’m running towards him across the lawn as fast as I can. I feel the excitement, the joy and then… I trip and fall face first, catching myself on my burned hand. I sit up on the grass, clench my burned hand and cry. Then… as I watch, my angry, disappointed father gets into his truck and drives away to work without me. The mold was set at that moment. I would not get left behind again and I would spend the rest of my life, shrugging off injury, personal trauma and fatigue in order to get to work… I have always known why.

I have never held it against my father. He was a good man and driven by powerful forces of his own. And although I have talked about that day with my mother, I never discussed it with him. Strangely enough, my resulting manic work ethic has mostly served me pretty well over time, because thankfully I have learned (with the help of my wonderful wife, children and friends) to temper and control my compulsion, so that now I can actually relax on vacation, even periodically enjoying doing nothing, without the nagging guilt of not being at work.

Like many men, it is my father that, even though he has passed away, still remains the psychological fuel that drives me forward. But it is my mother, the person that worried over and healed the three-year-old boy with the burned hand and the broken heart, that has helped me to understand my father and who I am as a result.

So as I got to work this morning at 6:45 and begin figuring out how to do all that I have planned for the day, I know that it was my dad who gave me the power and fuel to drive myself as fast and as hard as I can go, but as I delete one task to allow time to have lunch with Lori and then schedule myself for a trip next month to the Keys with my wife and our friends, I know that it’s my Mom, who ever so subtly gave me the encouragement and ability to steer myself onto my own path to happiness.

Thanks Mom… Happy Mothers Day