It’s early morning—still dark out. Up early, coffee made, and the need to write coursing its way through me. Music from Internet Radio’s Cinemix plays softy in my ear buds, providing the background soundtrack to my writing efforts this morning.
I’ve been up since shortly after five. I checked the iPhone for any overnight e-mail or texts (not much to talk about there) and a quick scan of Facebook. Frightening just how greater the divide in this country is becoming!
Even so, I will try to shut all of that out while, at the same time, immersing myself in a world of fiction, where characters act and talk and think, hoping to move my story along to a logical and good conclusion.
The beauty of writing make-believe stuff is all about control. We control everything that happens in that world, and, ultimately, the outcome and the actions leading to that outcome. Were it so easy in the non-fiction world!
After a couple of hours, when the writing stint is finished, I will come face to face once more with that non-fiction world where my usual tasks and errands await.
Sadly, my time with my characters and their story won’t alter any of the growling and griping by so many people (of all political persuasions) who are bent on ripping and tearing this country apart!
The first light of the new day is showing itself. I like to believe that there are still promises of good things ahead on this day, beginning with a visit to my make-believe world with my make-believe characters. And that’s where I’m off to now…
Here it is, the last day of 2016. New Year’s Eve morning has slipped right in on us once again. It always seems to do that while we’re still “recovering” from the busy times of Christmas a week ago.
Suddenly, it’s here! We begin to reflect on all that has taken place—good and bad—for the past twelve months and to make resolutions and determinations that we’re certain we’ll take seriously this time, prompting thoughts such as will this, in fact, be the year that we actually stick to our low-carb diet, get more daily exercise, publish the next book, or establish world peace? Well…
I’ve never been too much of a New Years resolution-kind-of-guy, mainly because I know me too well! And I’m not one to make a big deal about what I resolve to do or accomplish in the new year. But as the old year is ending and the new one is waiting in the wings, I always have a few things I tell myself I need to do a better job with or how I can be better in so many ways. As such, there will never be any fanfare on what I would like to improve upon for the next 365 days. So any resolutions I’m planning will not be published here or anywhere else until after the fact!
Today is also special for another reason. Our daughter’s birthday is today. Born in 1980 (it really can’t be that long ago!) she came into this world on a bitterly cold New Years Day, and life has been an adventure for her ever since. Though we won’t be able to celebrate today with her, we will be going to Florida in February for a week’s stay with her.
New Years Eve plans?
My morning will consist of coffee, early morning reading, and finishing this blog post. Afterwards, it will be time to head outside for my twenty-minute walk and enjoy the 34° morning air and bright sunshine. Most of our snow has diminished during this past week, so the streets and sidewalks are bare and dry.
Next, I will send birthday wishes to daughter Laura and plan to call her later in the day when I know she’ll be available. Then, I’ll drive down to our son’s to watch some hockey and football for a while and, of course, see what the two grandsons are up to. Before I know it, it will be time to head back up home and get ready to go in for our annual New Years Eve gathering with friends at their home. It’s pretty low-key but a good time all the same. Good snacks, laughs, and discussion of various topics will be the order of the evening.
And then we’ll drive back out to our little town here in northern Illinois and watch the last few minutes of 2016 dissolve into 2017. There are so many good things in this world that have happened, and we shouldn’t forget them, even though much tragedy and sadness seemed to be everywhere in the year to which we’re bidding farewell.
I sincerely hope that the new year will bring good things to family and friends, wherever they may be. On this final day of 2016, I will celebrate all that I have and make a few resolutions (that I’ll keep to myself!) and remember all of the good that has come my way.
Hello out there. It’s 8 a.m., and we’ve already reached our high for the day at 12°F. What a wonderful day to stay inside! The coffee is good, the music gentle in my ear buds, and the house is warm and comfortable.
And to think that it was but a mere short time ago when everyone was gushing about how pleasant the temperatures still were and how green the lawns remained.
After our recent weekend’s blast of snow, however, those lawns are blanketed with white, the trees are bare, and winter has firmly entrenched itself.
After all, this is mid-December in northern Illinois, and once the winds and cold of winter decide that it’s time for them to pop in and stay, everything turns quickly and decisively. The birds make quick work of emptying the two feeders out back.
I watch them now as I write this, and they’re so much like anxious shoppers, crowding one another on the ground below the feeders or vying for a spot on the edge of the feeders above.
I wonder if they are required to take a number to determine who’s “next” to be served! It’s clear that one of my jobs later today will be to trudge out through the snow, bucket of seed in hand, and re-fill the feeders.
And, of course, this weather plays havoc on making any sort of travel plans. Last weekend, for example, we’d planned to drive to Ohio to attend the 90th birthday gathering for an aunt and then on up to Lake Erie to visit my mom.
When the snow began in earnest Saturday afternoon, however, all plans went by the boards. The current plan is to try it again this coming weekend, but there is some inkling of more weather “issues” that could crop up once more. We shall see.
In the meantime, I’ll catch up with some long overdue writing and keep the bird feeders filled.
Not the kind we’ve been used to for all those years, but we made it anyway and had a nice day with friends who were nice enough to include us in their day.
The weekend that followed was pleasant and quiet and perfect for getting the outdoor “stuff” done before the cold and snows of winter arrive. Best of all, there was plenty of time to enjoy college and pro football and some Blackhawks hockey. Without a doubt, I managed to take it all in!
By Sunday evening, though, having had enough TV football and hockey for one long weekend, I happened upon a documentary from CNN titled The 80s-The Tech Boom. And though I don’t usually watch CNN, I realized that this program was made up of actual archival news footage and would be presented in an unaltered and honest fashion. So I watched and enjoyed the hour-long show.
It was fun to see again the “cutting edge” gadgets that would become staples in our lives right on up to today. Particularly interesting to me was the section on the birth of the personal computer and the cell phone. It’s hard to imagine that what was “state of the art” not all that long ago, is so cumbersome and awkward looking by today’s standards.
Seeing young and fresh out-of-the-box geniuses such as the two Steves–Wozniak and Jobs–and a seemingly still-wet-behind-the-ears Bill Gates and Paul Allen was quite amazing. Watching all of this from a 2016 perspective adds an extra-special realization as to how far things have advanced in such a short period of time.
Near the end of the documentary, the focus shifted to the technology involved with NASA’s Shuttle Program, where things were full speed ahead for so many years, until the January 1986 launch of the Challenger, another one of those memorable moments in time for my family.
On that frigid morning, I was teaching a high school English class at Astronaut High School in Titusville, Florida. (It’s not named Astronaut by chance, since the Space Center and Cape Canaveral are located nearby.)
Following our dream to live in Florida, the previous summer I accepted a job in Titusville, and Carolyn and I and our two young kids moved there in time to start the new school year.
January 28, 1986, began as usual, in a pretty normal manner for everyone in those parts. It seems as though most folks had become used to the regularity of the launches and had seemed complacent (?) in a way about the space program, although so many were employees of one of the many companies who worked for NASA in some capacity.
I suppose it’s human nature to take things for granted and not think too much about what could go wrong after such an outstanding long string of successful launches and missions. It’s not that folks didn’t care, it’s just that everyone thought that something terrible would never happen.
But on that cold Tuesday morning in Florida, terrible things certainly did happen!
I was first made aware of the explosion when one of my seniors, Danny, returned from one of his many trips to the restroom (to avoid class time, I’m sure!) with a serious expression and a tone that instantly told me that he wasn’t joking around.
When he said, “The shuttle blew up,” I really hoped that he was, indeed, pulling everyone’s leg as he tended to do frequently. But he was dead serious, and I could now hear commotion in the hallways, as two girls nearly sprinted past the door in tears and panic in their efforts to get to where they were going.
It was one of those moments when everyone seems completely mired in the muck of trying to figure out exactly what has happened and how we should handle things. Soon, a school-wide announcement informed everyone that there had been an accident with the launch and any further information would be relayed at the appropriate time.
As so many others were doing, I hurried down the hall to the east side of the building where large windows provided an open view out towards the Space Center and the Atlantic beyond. And it was then that I saw the brilliant blue sky filled with the snow-like contrails from the Challenger’s explosion, scattered and splattered in all sorts of directions. Anyone who has seen the famous photographs of this knows exactly what I mean.
I don’t really remember much else of the rest of the day other than getting home that afternoon and learning that our 3rd grader, Josh, and the rest of his classmates had witnessed the whole thing on the playground, as had Carolyn, daughter Laura, and my mom, who was visiting from Ohio. They had a pretty “up close and personal” vantage point along the river. It was my mom’s first time to view a launch.
That day certainly played a major role and turning point in our lives, one that would bring our time as residents of Florida to an end. But that’s another story for another time. Suffice it to say for now, though, that the reason I’m writing this from northern Illinois is all because of that terrible day in January 1986.
Now that Thanksgiving has faded and the Christmas and New Years holidays lurk, I know that another anniversary of the sad event on January 28, 1986, won’t be far behind. And I’ll remember…
For so many years, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving was a very special one for the Andersons here in Illinois, and one which we looked forward to with great anticipation. On that day, we would welcome the arrival of my mom and my two sisters and their families—one from Ohio; one from Nebraska.
Our son and family, who live a short distance from us, and our daughter and husband from Michigan would be here as well. Then, there were the nieces and nephews who would trickle in at various times. Without a doubt, the air of excitement for our traditional Thanksgiving celebration hung all about on Wednesday as those we were thankful for began to come in.
Beginning early that day, final preparations for the “big day” would be in full swing, including my stuffing and cooking of the first of the two big twenty-pound birds on the Weber charcoal kettle. The second one would be done on Thursday morning. Wednesday’s turkey would be for the sandwiches and snacking for the next few days, while the second one would be for the big meal on Thursday.
Once turkey number one was on, I’d have to check the coals every forty minutes or so and add briquettes accordingly to keep the heat up to the appropriate level. This would go on for at least six hours, depending on the weather conditions. During that time, my son and I would get the garage set up with the tables that would hold the many snacks and other goodies and leftovers for the next few days.
There was also the keg of beer to pick up from the store, and our son was usually in charge of taking care of that important chore. Since there were always many thirsty guests all those years, having plenty of beverages went without saying!
We couldn’t tap the keg, though, until Uncle Rich arrived from Omaha with “Old #7,” his cold plate beer tapping system he’d built. Imagine our annual “ritual” of tapping the keg soon after Uncle Rich’s arrival. Let Thanksgiving begin!
So many pleasant memories were made in our garage—year after year—before and after the traditional meal in our dining room and the “kids’ table” in the room just next to it. Carolyn always outdid herself, preparing way too much food, but it was delicious all the same. And, of course, my mom’s coffee cakes and pies were standard treats that only added to the goodness of the gathering.
The next two days: Football on the TVs. Kids scooting all about. Women off on shopping missions. Nibbling on leftovers. Cold beer. Nonsense and silliness. The same stories and jokes told before somehow coming to light and being re-told again. Laughter!
And then it’s over.
By Saturday the out-of-town visitors had to pack it up and head back home. And though Carolyn and I were always ready to resume the routine of our lives at that point, there still was a sense of melancholy, knowing that what we’d so looked forward to had come and gone in a flash.
When everyone was younger, it always seemed as though there’d be no doubt that this Thanksgiving thing would go on and on, year after year, and there would always be a Thanksgiving gathering at our place here in Illinois.
Sadly, We haven’t had that gathering here for the past couple of years, and this year is no different. The reasons why no one comes anymore are many, but the reality is that the youngsters are grown and have their own lives— with their own children—and family traditions to attend to.
Be that as it may, Carolyn and I will spend tomorrow having dinner with very good friends back in our old town of Naperville. We’ll kid and joke and try to avoid political disagreements. It will be fun and good and warm. Once back home that evening, I’ll probably imagine just one more trip to the garage for another snack or to refill my Solo Cup, and the memory will make me smile.
I had just turned eighteen that summer, and I my idealism was still rather lofty. I had plans to take it all with me when I started at Kent State in a few weeks. And, of course, it was at Kent that I would once again witness turmoil and violence during the next few years up close and personal all too often. And my earlier idealism would take off in a much different direction during that time.
A few weeks ago I wrote about the time my family and a good friend, who was in for a visit, were caught up in the violent demonstrations/riots of the 1968 Democrat Convention in downtown Chicago. At that moment in time, I was about to begin the next stage of my life that coming fall at Kent State University. What I didn’t realize then, however, was just how much of a “preview” of things to come for me during the next few years at KSU the accidental experience in downtown Chicago that August night would be.
Call it culture shock or a new awareness of the way the world had become, that period of my life was disturbing, to say the least. To put it bluntly, I didn’t care at all for the nasty tone and constant mayhem that had become the norm in our world in the late 60s.
I was a law-abiding white kid, with conservative upbringing and values, being forced to choose between respecting authority or taking it to the streets and shouting obscene slogans and fomenting any kinds of anarchy that would tear the system down! Couldn’t do it.
It was everywhere, this “counter culture,” and no more evident than in in the music of the day, which seemed to be all about “drugs, sex, rock and roll…if it feels good, do it!…kill your parents…down with pigs…pigs off campus…start the Revolution!” Anything that would tear down respect for authority was the all-encompassing theme.
I trekked off to Kent, Ohio, that first fall, believing I could eventually earn a degree and be a worthwhile, contributing citizen of this great country of ours–eventually–despite being surrounded by negativity and a different kind of direction in which our country was going.
Of course, for me there were many bends in the road that freshman year. Trying to survive some of the courses in which I had very little interest and figuring out how to curtail the social life that could swallow me up if I wasn’t careful, were prime examples of those “bends.”
Other than the usual distractions and normal challenges, there were also numerous social issues that had found their way onto campus that fall, which seemed to echo the unpleasant tone of the Chicago riots. In November, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), which had organized as a campus group the previous spring, and Black United Students (BUS), held a sit-in for several hours to protest police recruiters on campus.
The next spring (1969) SDS began efforts to get rid of ROTC, law-enforcement degree programs, and to have the Liquid Crystals Institute (funded by Defense Department) removed from campus. And all of this was met with contentious feelings and often violent pushback by the protestors, clashing with the police at the administration building. Soon after, the SDS took over the Music and Speech Building (where several of my classes were) and fist fights among demonstrators and counter-demonstrators occurred. Several arrests followed. After this incident, Kent State banned SDS.
But the stage had now been set for more of this kind of upheaval on an otherwise beautiful and glorious peaceful campus. My previous expectations of what my college life would be about had taken a wild ride that first year, and I couldn’t know then how much wilder it was to become in the years to follow.