Saturday, March 07, 2015

More shades of gray...

     I'm going to be 63 years old in a couple of weeks, and I don't suppose it's uncommon for people my age to reminisce about how things have changed over the years. There isn't much that hasn't changed. Sometimes a lot, sometimes a little, sometimes for the better, and sometimes for the worse. And probably sometimes, it just all depends how you look at it.
We went for a drive last weekend, and saw three bald eagles in various locations along the way. Eagles are a lot like white-tailed deer in this area, in that 50 years ago there were hardly any of them around.

     A few years ago the deer started making a comeback, and a few years later the eagles did the same, although it seems the deer are still more plentiful than the eagles. I do enjoy seeing them both, probably more so the eagles because they aren't quite as common yet.One of the raptors we saw last weekend was rising out of a cornfield along the road, with a thrashing rabbit clutched in its talons. The scene made me think that as much as I enjoy the growing population of the stately birds, a lot of rabbits, this one in particular, probably don't share my enthusiasm. I imagine anybody who has lost a fender or a few bushels of soybeans to the increasing deer herds probably doesn't share my enjoyment of them, either.

     I'm convinced most things in our lives don't qualify as either completely good or completely bad. While there might be a few items or ideas in the world that have absolutely no redeeming qualities at all, I realize something I find repulsive might appear totally different to another person. Broccoli, for instance, comes to mind.

     Over the last couple of months, the discussion of school funding, and particularly the funding of public and charter schools, has been receiving a lot of airtime. It seemed to come up at least partly because our governor doesn't get along that well with our superintendent of public instruction. It's not my intention to question how Mike Pence and Glenda Ritz have gone about resolving their differences. Most of you likely have enough questions and answers of your own already.

     I have, however, noticed a great deal of animosity toward charter and private schools by many supporters of public schools, and I think we all need to question that animosity. Alternate forms of education are not being created and tested as a means to end public schools, as many would have us believe. They are instead expanding educational opportunities and choices for students and parents, along with new opportunities in home schooling co-operatives and online institutions.

     I'm a longtime supporter of educational choice, and I realize that doesn't mean we will all make the same choice. I wouldn't necessarily expect someone who is heavily involved in the public school system to share the same enthusiasm for school choice, but we shouldn't attempt to cast aspersions on one type of schooling in order to gain funding for another.

     In the end, we should be about seeing that each child gets the education that fits their needs best, and consider that different types of school might be what it takes to make that happen.

     And then maybe after that, in our spare time, we could teach some of these deer to leave the soybeans alone and start eating broccoli.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Getting used to it...

      The other day I was listening to a friend describe a truck/train accident that he had once witnessed. Apparently the semi was crossing the railroad track, but before the attached trailer could make it across, the train hit it, tearing it loose from the tractor and pushing it sideways down the track. He told how the trailer continued down the track, clipping off telegraph poles as it went along. I suppose referencing telegraph poles is a telltale sign as to which generation you belong too. My generation would probably have called them telephone poles if one of us had been telling the story. I suspect that one day my grandchildren will have no recollection whatsoever of telegraph or telephone poles, or the wires that connected the poles, along with the people that used them. Probably when I try to tell them about the poles and wires, they’ll look at me the way they do when I tell them about walking across the room to turn channels on the television.

     We had a similar situation last week with a doctor in the hospital. Dad was in for a few days, and the young doctor was explaining a test they were going to do on Dad’s heart. He told Dad they were going to perform an ultrasound, which would give them the same type of image he could see of his children when Mom was expecting. As I said, he was a young doctor. I guessed around 12 or 13, but my wife assured me he was at least in his early 20’s. I suppose he thought ultrasounds had always been around, and I’m sure they have been around as long as he has been a doctor, and probably as long as he has been alive. But when my brothers and sisters and I were born, the closest thing we had to an ultrasound was when the doctor would draw a stick person picture on the chalkboard in the waiting room.

      I think we have the tendency to accept what we are most familiar with as being normal. Another friend mentioned the other day that he thought it was rude of people to use their smartphones or kindles when they were in a social setting, but thought it would be more acceptable if they chose to read a book or newspaper in the same setting.  Another generational “tell”, I think. And while I have the tendency to agree with him, I also realize that many of the taboos my and previous generations think should remain in place will fall by the wayside like telegraph poles when the next couple of generations reach the “previous” status, and the new normal takes ahold.

     Truth be told, as individuals, we probably don’t have a lot of control over what is normal for society. We might have some control over what is normal for ourselves, and maybe some but not quite as much control over what is normal for our families. I think most of the time we have even less control over what is normal for the government.

     Last week, after a big snow storm out east, a report came out of Bridgewater, New Jersey, about a couple of young men who were walking around the neighborhood offering to shovel the snow from the sidewalks of homeowners. A couple of policemen stopped them and informed them that they were in violation of an ordinance that required them to obtain a permit from the town hall before doing any soliciting. I was happy that there was so much public outcry over the action that the police chief and councilmen in Bridgewater felt it necessary to apologize, trying to explain that there was a misunderstanding over both the intention and implementation of the ordinance.
     But it made me think again of how normal it is for the government to regulate so many things that they didn’t used to regulate, and wonder how many generations it will take before we accept that requiring permits for shoveling snow is normal, and the politicians won’t even apologize for it.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Death and taxes...and government...

     I've heard it said that nothing is certain in this world but death and taxes. I always thought that was a pretty broad statement, because while everybody is going to die, not everybody is going to pay taxes. And there are a few other things that I know for certain, but it would take more space than I'm giving this post to list them, and besides, I just wanted to address one of the certainties of the afore mentioned taxes.

     The Department of Revenue shut down a business in Hagerstown this week because it didn't pay its taxes. Whatever the circumstances were leading up to the closure, one thing is certain. If you own a business, the government has first dibs on your money. What ever type of taxes you were supposed to be collecting for them, they want. If you haven't been paid by a customer, or if you had some unexpected expenses in your business and come up a little short, the government still wants to be first. Even if your kids have to go hungry, or you miss a payment to a supplier or the bank, the government still gets its share first.

     If you own a business, that's just the way it is.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Of all the luck...

            I’m not exactly sure what constitutes luck, but I feel I’ve had my share of it in my life. Some of it was good luck, and some of it was bad luck, and probably some of it wasn’t really luck at all, but instead just the result of some choices I have made along the way, both good and bad.

            I remember a time several years ago when I was helping my cousin put an engine back in his car. I use the term “helping” loosely, because I didn’t really know much about putting engines in cars, but I was there offering encouragement when it looked like things were going good, and pushing things that needed to be pushed, and pulling things that needed to be pulled, when they weren’t.

            The car was a big Oldsmobile of some kind, and the hood alone was bigger than a lot of the cars that are on the road today. The hinges for the hood were big pieces of angle iron fastened to big springs to help lift the hood when you wanted to look at the engine.  It was a lot easier to take the engine out and then put it back in if the hood was out of the way, so we had taken it loose from the hinges and put it over in the corner of the barn so it wouldn’t get stepped on.

            It was also a lot easier to get around the engine compartment if the hinges weren’t sticking up in the way, but they were welded to the firewall so you couldn’t really take them out very easily. You could get them out of the way a little bit if you were strong enough to push them down on the springs in the closed position, and once they reached the closed position, they would stay down on their own, until someone jarred them loose, at which time they would snap open with enough power and speed to lift the giant hood. They developed a lot more speed when the hood was over in the corner of the barn.

             As luck would have it, I wasn’t paying much attention to my proximity to the driver side hinge when it took a notion to snap to attention, and the end of the angle iron opened a jagged cut beside my right eye that required 13 stitches to close. Dr. Hollenberg, who sewed me up, and a lot of other people who didn’t, told me I was lucky, because if the hinge had been another inch to the left, I would have lost my eye. I figured if I had really been lucky, it would have been another inch to the right and thereby would have missed me altogether. Different perspectives on luck, I suppose.

            A businessman who I considered successful once told me that the harder he worked, the luckier he got. I thought he was confusing work and success with luck, but then again I thought maybe they were all inter-connected, so I never argued the point with him. I think most of us usually make our own luck and success, good and bad, and sometimes it just depends on how hard we are willing to work, and where we are standing at the time. And sometimes it just depends on whether or not we are paying attention.

Anyway, as we enter the new year, I hope we all have a chance to work for the success we want, and that we all have enough good luck to keep us encouraged, and just enough bad luck to keep us paying attention. Oh, and Happy New Year. And for what it’s worth, good luck.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Side of the times.....

I don’t suppose it’s any secret that things look differently depending upon how you look at them. I think they call that perspective. Several years ago, when I was attending Millville Grade School, our bus driver, Howard Tucker, gave each one of the students on his route a box of chocolate covered cherries when we headed home on the last day of school before our Christmas break. It was back in the day when a pound of candy weighed a pound, instead of eleven ounces.

             I was in the third grade at the time, and outside of the occasional candy bar from Kelly’s Ranch Market in Millville, or Saffer’s General Store in Mooreland, most of the candy I had consumed up until that time consisted of the Circus Peanuts that Mom got when the Jewel Tea man stopped by. And sometimes Dad would get a box of chocolate from a place called Lowery’s up in Muncie, but he always kept it hidden where us kids couldn’t find it, and rationed the pieces out like we were still caught up in the war effort.

             At any rate, a pound of chocolate covered cherries looked pretty good to a third grader, and I was fully aware that when I carried them in the house, Mom would insist that I share them with my six brothers and sisters, or Dad would confiscate them and then hand them out one at a time, just like he did with the expensive candy from Muncie, and no doubt sharing it with my siblings just as Mom suggested. I decided I had two miles to eat the contents of the box and stop that from happening.

            For as good as that box of chocolate covered cherries looked when I got on that bus, it was several years before I could stand to even look at one again. I have never thought they looked as good again as I thought they looked that fateful December afternoon.

            When I started driving, gasoline was about a quarter a gallon. The price increased slowly over the next fifteen years, until it finally reached the unimaginable plateau of a dollar a gallon. A lot of old time filling stations had to change out their pumps because the old ones weren’t capable of displaying a cost of more than ninety nine cents per gallon. And once the stations had the capability of three digit gas, all bets were off.

            Shortly after the turn of the century, gasoline reached 2 dollars a gallon, another unimaginable level. Drivers were concerned. People started carpooling. Businesses started adding fuel surcharges trying to offset the increased cost. And on and on.

            According to some reports, we are approaching two dollar a gallon gas again, and while most of us dreaded reaching that price ten years ago, we’re actually looking forward to it now.  Perspective again, I suppose. It all depends on which side you’re looking at it from.

             Aging is similar, I think. Sixty seemed pretty old when I was thirty. It doesn’t seem quite so old. Come to think of it, sixty-five doesn’t seem quite so old anymore, either. Or seventy.

             But however we feel about chocolate covered cherries, or the price of gas, or getting older, we’re right in the middle of the Christmas season now, and for some reason, people who celebrate Christmas seem to look forward to it no matter how many or how few Christmases they have had. A different perspective on things, I suppose.

            Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

My Main Squeeze....

         There are things I do willingly, things I do hesitantly, things I do begrudgingly, and things I won’t do at all. This morning I threw away a toothpaste tube.  I refuse to call it an empty toothpaste tube, because as we all know, a toothpaste tube is never really empty. You can always go back to the crimped end and knead and cajole enough from the tube to at least partially fill your toothbrush one more time. And after you’re sure you’ve gotten every last bit out of the tube, you can go back and do it again.

            That’s why I’m hesitant to throw the tube away. I know that someday I may find the tube I’m trying to use really is empty, and I will be haunted with the grim reality that the tube with one more brush full, or partial brush full in it, is now buried in a landfill somewhere north of Modoc. It hasn’t happened yet, but I’m sure it could.

            I operate a small construction company, and last week we started building a new home up the road. I’m normally hesitant to start a new project like that so late in the year, with Indiana winters being what they are, or what they can be, but times being what they are, it seemed like a prudent idea to use the good weather days, and even some not so good weather days, to get the home, and ourselves, enclosed for the bad weather days that are bound to get here.

             As much as I enjoy my work, I can’t deny the outdoors part of it is a little less enjoyable when the temperature gets below 30 and the wind gets above it. And while I might tend to step out of the door in the morning a little more hesitantly, I hope I never do it begrudgingly.

            Earlier this fall, there was a lot of news coverage about a young woman in Oregon who had been diagnosed with a terminal brain cancer, and decided to end her life through an assisted suicide before the cancer could end it for her. I certainly won’t deny that she had the right to make the decision she made. The right to control our own lives is one of the most basic rights we have. But I wouldn’t have made the same decision, even begrudgingly. Admittedly, I haven’t been diagnosed with a terminal illness, yet, but with or without an illness, I realize life itself is terminal.

            If our lives were divided into seasons, I’m probably in the late autumn or early winter stage, missing a lot of my hair, but happy to still have most of my teeth. I have a few aches and pains that come along with 62 years, and people who know have told me those aches and pains will become more numerous as more time passes. But I also have my parents, and my wife, and my children and grandchildren, and a whole bunch of family and friends that I look forward to seeing at least a few more times.

            So I’m going to get as much toothpaste as I can out of the tube, and then try for a little more. And I’m going to work every day that I can this month, so that I’ll have some place to work next month. And I’m going to do all I can to hang around as long as I can, because of all of those people I want to see again.

            And when a higher power decides it’s my time to go, I will, but not without trying to squeeze a little more out of things before I go.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Mother may I....

            One of the things I remember from my time at Millville Grade School many years ago was the system the teachers and administrators had in place for bathroom breaks. I guess when I got to Millville, I was supposed to call them restrooms instead of bathrooms, but old habits are hard to break, so it took a couple of years to make the change. Anyway, when I was in the first grade, my teacher, Mrs. Dilling, who had also been my Sunday School teacher, informed us that if we needed to use the restroom, we were to raise our hands to ask permission, and in addition to that, we should also raise one finger or two fingers in order to signify which bodily function was necessitating the break.

            I never really understood why it was any of the teacher’s business if a student needed to go number one or number two, or why they even cared, but that was the way things were done at Millville. I often suspected some students were embarrassed to announce to the entire class that a number two was imminent, and might have held up one finger as a decoy. I believed at the time, as I still believe today, that number two is best taken care of in the privacy of your own home, but when that wasn’t possible,  two fingers did seem to take a higher priority when Mrs. Dilling was selecting who would be the next to be excused. My old buddy Stinky Wilmont could be quite theatrical, waving two fingers while making grimacing facial expressions and a worrisome audible, all in hopes of gaining permission ahead of a less animated number one somewhere else in the room.

            I can’t recall the teacher ever denying permission, or even verifying if was actually a number one or a number two she dealing with. I think it was pretty well accepted that when a first grader decided he or she needed to go, it was going to happen with or without permission, and whether they made it down the hallway to the restroom or not. I don’t think anybody really wanted to take that chance, even if they suspected a number two was actually a number one, or even if they suspected it was a false alarm. I suppose it did serve to put us into the mindset of asking permission before we did anything for the next twelve years. Or fourteen, in Stinky’s case.

            I guess it also gave us the mindset most of us have carried through into our adult lives, though now, most of the time we are asking permission from the government instead of Mrs. Dilling. If you want to be a barber, or a beautician, or a member of about any trade or profession, you have to get permission and a license from the government before you can ply your trade. If you want to get married, or add a room to your house, or sell hotdogs on the corner, or even go fishing, the first thing you have to do is obtain permission from the government.

            Last March, a buddy of mine decided he wanted to build a home on some land that he owned. He had to get permission from the Department of Natural Resources, and the highway department, and the health department, and the building department. He finally received permission in October. It’s not that he couldn’t build a home on his property, but that he couldn’t build a home on his property without asking permission.

             For a supposedly free society, we sure seem to spend a lot of time asking our government for permission. Maybe it’s time for us to realize we don’t really need their permission for most of the things we do. Maybe we need to start collectively showing them one finger once in a while, but not to signify we need to go to the bathroom.