Friday, December 15, 2017

Flashback Friday

This is a re-post from a Flashback Friday from 2013.    



This is a Christmas photo showing us Blythe boys in our natural habitat.   I just want to point a few things out.  That is my grandfather Dick (Leonard Westlake) sitting on the couch.  He was the cool one who was full of fun and mischief.  He would egg us guys on then claim innocence when Marj would have to intervene.  He worked for Sinclair Oil Company and after leaving Ponema was transferred to Quincy.  This picture was taken a couple of years after he lost his wife and our grandmother, Mona.  He drove Mercedes because he admired their engineering, and would eventually come up and live with us until he went to the Aledo Nursing Home.  He would live another 17 years after this picture was taken.  

Next, look at that tree.  You don't find those in your corner tree lot.  I'm not sure where they found this one, but it is huge, wide and took up all of that corner of the living room.  This tree was also flocked, spray painted in the garage and left to hang from the rafter for a few days.  Marj was an artist at heart and decorated her trees with simplicity and color coordination.  None of that all color stuff for her.  A white flocked tree could take on more beauty with only blue balls, or green.  Same with the lights.  And no artificial trees, either.  The house had to smell of pine.  She didn't flock her trees every year, and I suppose the decorating trends made it either too much work or out of vogue.  But it was nice while it lasted, and it was different, and it was impressive enough that I still admire the white trees I see in at target every year.  I'm going to get me a white flocked tree one of these years, but it'll be artificial and already lit.

Behind the tree was a closet that was a kind of mini-library.  A full set of an encyclopedia as well as the recurring yearbooks that showed up annually were in there.  When that Yearbook arrived it was a special day.  I'd pour through it from cover to cover. Placed on shelves were also novels and other reading material.  It was also storage, for our clandestine fireworks, too.  Pop bottle rockets mostly, but some Black Cat's too.      

We boys had a couple of mandatory traditional things to do during the holidays, too.  The Levine's usually had a small egg nog and finger food get-together with the neighbors, and we'd trundle, and sometimes bundle on over there.  It was just a couple houses down, so no problem.  For awhile there, we were forced to be in a church play - one year bro Phil kept his eyes closed throughout so no one would see him.  Dork.  Then on  Christmas Eve night, when the parents were asleep, we boys would wake each other up and head out to where the tree and presents were.  We would sit or lay next to the presents, the room lit by the street light.  We would just chat, mostly about what we thought were in the presents.  Some were obvious, others harder to figure out, and sometimes, just sometimes, we would think that maybe others were placed somewhere else, hidden from frantic fingers and too eager imaginations.  Marj was a trickster sometimes, and very often this was the case.  A momentary hush and emotional electricity when all the presents had finally been opened, wondering if there wasn't a second wave waiting to be unearthed from the bowels of a closet somewhere.   

We would also have "Unofficial Counts".  On the days preceding Christmas and especially on Christmas Day itself several counting of packages was required.  Lists of total presents for each family member would be made.  It was important to be in the lead, or at least close to the lead in number of presents.  Why, I don't know.  Later on, the Unofficial Counts would be made with caveats that more would be coming when other family members would arrive.  My own solo tradition once I left the house was to return on Christmas early in the day, have a big breakfast with the folks, and lounge in anticipation of the other brothers and their families arriving.              

Another tradition took root when I started working in Galesburg.  Herb and the brothers would come over about a week before Christmas to shop.  This was the hurried final crusade to get everything in order.  It was always a bit desperate, ideas exchanged,  approved or not, and then the act of purchasing.  After this dance had been performed, always with great mirth, we would head over to the Pizza Hut on Henderson St. to have some beer, pizza and congratulate ourselves on our brilliance.

We also had a somewhat unusual protocol that evolved at some point.   Rather than the free-for-all opening and ripping of paper and presents, we created the spotlight unwrapping method.  Gifts were delivered to the recipients and then one by one we would go clockwise around the room and watch as each person opened their gifts.  This was deemed appropriate so everyone could see what people got and the giftor/giftee could properly exchange thanks and any other comments worth noting.  It also prolonged the ceremony to a point where several breaks in the festivities were given for stretching ones legs, bathroom breaks,  going outside for fresh air or to confer with others on whatever was important at the moment.  

Back to the picture, behind Phil is the fireplace that the folks would start using more regularly when they converted it to gas.  To this day I long for a fireplace.  Had one in the old Victorian in G-Burg and by God, hope to have another one again.  Nothing like it on a cold snowy night.  That and an electric blanket.

But laying next to that darkened tree in the middle of the night, after Santa had arrived, surrounded by the bliss that is presents and by the smells of great food having been prepared,  there was a kind of magic, a wonderment of childhood.   We three...quietly walking down the hall in a darkened home,  talking quietly about tomorrow's possibilities, silently gazing on this bounty, and this tradition would continue until we were no longer living in the house.  I remember thinking as I crawled back into bed to await the morning, this was the greatest of days and praying it would be OK one more year, that everyone would be safe from harm,  that we, and this, would last forever.   
  

Christmas At the Blythe's

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Happy B-Day

Birthdays.  Everyone's got one.  Dead or alive.  That date remains as the start of it all.  What we write after that date depends on a lot of things, mostly us.  But there it is and will remain forever.  I've come full circle - as a kid I wanted them, and now as an old guy I do again.  As many as I can get.  There were a couple decades that I wasn't so hot for them.  

But I generally like 'em quiet.  And most are - forgettable.  But not so the last one, thanks to Mrs. Wombie who, on the way to Emerald City from the airport threw out a throw away line like "sandwiches  and finger food on Sunday at beer Bellies".  She and I had not compared social calendars so there was a conflict - I needed a soul-warming session at the North Henderson Community Center.   I was expected at the bar.   




Not to worry, I did both.  After a bit of time at the NHCC I loaded up the proprietor, barkeep and greeter without equal, Neighbor Tim, and headed back to Emerald City.  There I met up with the Wombie and a much celebration ensued.     



I can't thank Neighbor Tim enough for leaving his comfy environs to accompany me to this party.

  


This man, Brian, did a bad thing.  He started buying shots.  




This is a rather nice picture of drunken debauchery in progress.  Money to buy things like shots and beer.




Ryan, a good man, helping behind the bar while the board in the background announces the agenda for tonight.  Terri also had a birthday around the same time, so she shares equal billing.  




The Wombie, Terri and I while a very Geneta looking person is snapping a picture.

I have never deluded myself - it's the Wombie's town, not mine.  But everyone is very nice and welcoming whenever I fly up for a stay at the Cabin.  My thanks again to Neighbor Tim for making me feel more at ease in a very social setting.  Having him at one arm and the Wombie ont he other made for a fun night.  Thanks also to Brian for those nasty shots, Danny for being there, Dave for that abstract, Stan for the yardstick, Terri for brightening any room, Karen for poking your head in a bar for us, and for all the other folks who came out.  My thanks also to Brad and Sharon who solicited folks for beer chips that were placed in a card I opened the next day.

Speaking of the next day - when I woke up I noticed my shoes and socks in the kitchen, my shirt in the living room, and my pants in the hallway.  I recall only falling twice.      

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Burgess Party

While in Northlandia and the weekend the kids were up, we were invited to the Barton's in Burgess for a good old fashioned summer cookout.  




Chef Richard manned the dogs and the amount of food brought in by participants was a declaration that no one would go home hungry.



Because my kidlings were there my presence in the pool was mandatory.  Besides having them here from Kitschland making it a rare and valued visit, but to see them having fun was even better.





Naturally Alfred was beguiled by the doggies. 






And she seemed to have invented new ways to win at bag toss.

A big thanks to Andrea and Richard who extended the invite and who always host such fun-filled get-togethers.

  

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Tuesday Tidbits

Progress isn't always good.  Somewhere along the way I lost the ability to record stuff on TV.  I know they have something called DVR, but with my cable bill rates that function became a bridge too far.  


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“The warrior ethic has damaged us. As we move into the twenty-first century we need to mature beyond war and warriors. I disagree with those men’s movement writers and activists who speak so highly of the warrior. I appreciate some of his traits—like courage, teamwork, loyalty—but the archetype itself is bankrupt at this point in history. We surely need guardians, boundary-setters, husbandmen, and citizens. If we are to survive on this planet, so threatened by war and warriors, we must get beyond the obsolete archetype of the warrior and value images such as the peacemaker, the partner, and the husbandman who cares for the earth and animals.”




I'd need at least a three beer lead to tackle this subject.


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And then apparently tired of family, Alfred grabs her Happy meal and moves over to an isolated spot over by the window.  Atta girl.  Carve your own path. 


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Shopping till they dropped.

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Took this video while in the car after a trip to Wal-Mart.  It won't be long now.  How appropriate for Kitschland and my mood right now. 

++++++++++





The Cabin awaits.  57 days, 9 hours and 1 minute.  Give or take when you read this.



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 One of the local watering holes in Emerald City, Beer Bellies, has a kind of neat ceiling tile motif.  For a large or small amount of money (depending, of course on your luck at the Golden Goddess money machine),  you can get a tile emblazoned with your favorite team.  Or anything, I suppose, within reason.  You can imagine that there are some Cubs and Cards tiles with fan names.  There's an Alabama logo and I think the local high school mascot and logo are represented. 


Last week this logo went up for relative posterity.  Seaton of course is hometown to some of Mercer County's most dynamic, intelligent and upstanding citizens.  Con, one of the Seatonites behind this movement, is the daughter, of Howard, Class of '42.  Glenn Blythe was class of '40.  Ed Rader was class of '30.  Ed always bragged that he graduated sixth in his class.  Yes, you guessed it, there were six in his class.  


 
The school is long gone, but the Blythe boys all went to the school when it was a grade school. 

Congrats to the Wolves.  Can't wait to tip a beer in toast to the new logo.

++++++++++


       I'm on a roll.  I moved into binging on Godless after Ozark and I'm giddy with wonderment.  Both are absolutely MUST SEE.  


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The place here at Sinkhole Estates. or as I like to call it, Death Valley, was rocking.  Grandkids had a sleep over.  Movies and pizza.  Kids laughter and racing feet.  Fun.

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In an attempt to find some measure of adult enjoyment in this arid desert of pleasures, I have established Thursdays at "Bar Night".  This is when I head out to sit, alone, and have a glass of beer and feel like a normal guy.  My first Bar Night was at a place called Average Joe's.  It is walking distance and I had high hopes. 


The place was OK, clean and the beer was cold.


Sadly, it was a yuppie hangout from some tech people who work nearby.  Not that I have any problem with techies, but their taste in music was, well, techno.  It really, really sucked.  It was so loud and so geared that at one time three techies with man-buns were bobbing their heads in sync.  I had a glass of Lite and the waitress hardly said anything, but then a bit later a couple came in and she asked if they wanted anything to eat.  Am I too sensitive? Maybe, but I was hungry. 

  

One of a bar's cardinal sins was violated at Average Joe's. The wooden raised lip at the elbow rest area was uncomfortable and annoying.     



The bar keep's wearing apparel was a strange layered, pajama bottom, short-shorts, sweatshirt combo that, add the ponytails and baseball cap reverse-bill thingy and I almost felt like I was in a  circus fetish sideshow for adults.     






Man buns and pony tails with the requisite full beard that seems so fashionable amongst certain strata.  I'm starting my own fashion trend - grizzled gray four-day old stubble, cargo shorts and T-Shirt that says:




I'd score the place a C- or maybe even a D.  The summary review:

Pros:

  • Cold beer
  • Didn't have to wait to get served.
  • Close to Sinkhole Estates
  • Had Wifi
  • Grill

Cons:

  • Loud, loud, loud.
  • Music selection sucked.  I was going to put on some Meat Loaf but figured everyone would know it was me because...
  • I was the oldest one there
  • Cliq-ish
  • Menu was yuppie  
  • Cheapest item on menu was $8.50, and that was 3 egg rolls.
  • Awkward elbow to bar configuration
  • techno clientele
This next Thursday I will be walking or bicycling to a place called Birdie's Tap not far from Joe's.  One of Yelp's reviews was you could scrape the dirt scum and grease off the walls.  Looking forward to it.

++++++++++   

Monday, December 11, 2017

She Approaches - Part 2

I feel like one of my wordless photo essays today.  Besides, what could I add that would make these pictures any better?  When in Northlandia I try to make it as often as possible to the river to get pics just like these.  I think they are beautiful:  things happening at night, and interplay of light, the mystery of water.  















































































Friday, December 8, 2017

Flashback Friday




Yesterday was the anniversary of the infamous Bomb Threat at Aledo High School.  While occasionally I am wracked by the notion that it is "too soon", I am prepared today to give you some recollections of that day, for the first time on this blog.  Well, for the first time ever, I guess.  I'm sure memories have dimmed some of the elements, but here's what I do remember.  

I was a senior whose graduation was assured.  In a few weeks I would receive acceptance papers to Iowa Wesleyan College for the Fall.  Sweeping the country was a new craze - high school bomb threats.  Back then it was construed by school officials as a kind of inconvenient disruption rather than the terror threat it is now.  There had been a couple already in nearby schools, Kewanee and one in the Cities.  The national mood was edgy:  the social fabric was ripping.  Vietnam was in disfavor with student rioting and groups taking over university administration buildings.  It was a time of free-wheeling protest and youthful unrest.  Combine all that with a personal domestic upheaval and you had the perfect storm:  boredom, stupidity, goal and means, and a kind of messed up kid ready to get more messed up.   

December is always a kind of strange month in school - nothing is too earth-shattering since you are really just running-in-place until the two week Christmas vacation.  Monday, December 7th.  So it was with a certain kind of anticipation that I approached a table at third hour study hall.  Already there were Doug, Tony, and Gary.  These guys weren't part of my entourage.  But they were there, and that was good enough. 

It was at this point I mentioned the possibility of perpetrating this crime in an effort to get the rest of the day.  Contrary to popular myth, there was no real reason to do it that day other than the fact I was bored.  Had I targeted December 7th because of its historical significance there surely would have been more planning than the 15 minutes we devoted to it. 

At our school you could come and go for particular reasons but you had to sign out.  I told my fellow conspirators that I would sign out and go uptown to a phone booth not far from the Frontier building and say there was a bomb at the high school, set to go off at noon.
All four decided they were "in".  And why not?  They didn't have anything to do except sit back, and wait for the announcement to go home after the call was made, right?  The plan was hatched.  No one would ever know who called.  Soon, we'd be told to go on home and ready to enjoy a nice long weekend.

At approximately 11:30 am I signed out.  I found the phone booth, inserted the coins and called the school.  I told them there was a bomb set to go off at 1:00.  I returned to school.  Perfect planning.  No one would ever know.  I should say at this point that the amount of time planning the plot was likely shorter than my trying to decide between an apple fritter or vanilla frosted cake donut at Casey's.

By the time I returned the announcement was made.  We were all told to walk out to the bleacher area at the football field.  On the way, I stopped to take a bathroom break.  There was Eddie, who was part of my entourage and I exclaimed to him, likely giddily, that I was the one who called.  Eddie and I now have old cars and we meet at various shows in Northlandia and somehow he still brings that up to me.   

     

      
    The picture above is a likely interpretation of that day of the student body shivering out on the bleachers.





Once school ended, and I don't remember now if we got the rest of the day off or not, I went home and as usual, started watching Star Trek which was our must-view TV at that time.  I recall being half sick at this time, with the approaching foreboding of what I'd done beginning to sink in.  About that time a police car drove up and I was whisked away to a holding cell at the old police station, and what is now The Slammer, a restaurant in Aledo.



Half miffed about not being able to see the last of James Kirk and crew wriggle out of another jam, the questioning was more telling me the consequences of not telling them who else was in on it.  I didn't tell them.  There were 3 personal triumphs in this sordid tale, which I'll get to a little later.  What I was unaware of is that all the others had.  And why not?  The thing that tripped us all was that I signed out.  Ever the rebellious law-abider, I followed the rules.  The record was checked, the times were synced and my goose was cooked.  



My early Monday off scheme resulted in a suspension of seven days.         





I honestly can't remember the above noted meeting but I can remember the evening of the 7th once I came home from the questioning, and subsequent reveal that all the details had been fleshed out by the local authorities.  Not that there was any future book or miniseries in the discovery.  It was a spur of the moment activity and had the complexity of a an eraser.  

That night was, as you can imagine, a tense evening at the Blythe household.  Herb was upset and vocal, but to this day I believe Marj helped tamp down the recriminations.  I think she realized the person who would be the hardest on me would be me.  And she was right.  In the following week she and I took many road trips, had some fun, chatted about things and she never once, not once, ever laid anything on me other than things would be fine and I was a good kid.  My mother was always in my corner but never more than that week of suspension.  

One other thing that happened that week, and I have to thank Bro Phil with this little project.  After chatting with him that evening, we decided the best move might be to apologize , in person, to all of the teachers whose day was disrupted by my stupidity.  I found them at their homes after school within a few days of the hoax and everyone accepted my apology with grace and politeness.  In fact, more than one said that I had actually done a good thing in that it helped to mobilize and organize emergency services for the school.  




But that was not the end of it.  In fact, it was just the beginning of my punishment.  The school district meted out the following conditions:

1.  Students will voluntarily work on school related jobs at the direction of school officials.  Mike Blythe to be the lead worker of the group.  Students and parents to cooperate in every way possible to accomplish the work schedule as presented to them.

2.  All days off from school to be cancelled with the time to be spent on the program of work (Dec. 24exception).  Saturdays may be used as work as necessary.  

3.  All students collectively must make up total number of hours missed by students, faculty and other adults because of bomb call - total 550 hours.  

4.  Diplomas of all students so cooperating will be issued with their class after above hours of work have been satisfactorily achieved, plus up to eight Saturdays work on the curve beautification project adjacent to the athletic field along the highway, between Mar. 1, 1971 and the close of the school year.  

5.  If at any time a student fails to complete his share of he necessary hours of work on the above mentioned project, he will be expelled from school by Board action.

Dated Dec 14, 1970.

And so my little afternoon off scheme has now resulted in most days off of school would be devoted to working for District #201.  And then, come March, all Saturdays would be spent on a beautification project.  All of it tied neatly to graduation if successfully completed.

And it began almost immediately with Christmas vacation.  Those couple weeks were spent at the newly constructed Apollo Grade School in Aledo.  I painted classrooms.

In the ensuing weekends I would go where the coordinator would send me.   Some of the work was at the high school, some of it was in other local schools, but mostly Apollo.  Once in a while they would call and say they had no work for me and give me the hours anyway.  

In the spring, we began work on the football field beautification project which consisted of cleaning and landscaping the area and planting evergreens.





A posed photo for the yearbook.  Me with an ax seeming to be chopping down the school sign.  Behind me is the beautification area next to the football field. 

Tony decided the risk-reward wasn't worth it and dropped out.  My memory is foggy but I think the rest of us buckled down, put in the hours and graduated.  

Doug went on to have a media company in the Quad-Cities.  Gary joined the air force and then worked in the Galesburg area.  Tony died in 2012 in Muscatine where he lived.  Except for Gary I never saw any of them after graduation.

Apollo is still in use.

There are no longer any evergreens at the area that was beautified.

I mentioned earlier three triumphs.  The first was loyalty to the classmates who entered into this scheme.  I didn't snitch.  Secondly, I made a personal effort to make amends for my actions.  And thirdly, I persevered.  I completed the conditions set out by the Board and graduated.

 And that was the end of it.
    

Except, of course, even today once in a while I will run into someone who sat in those cold stands that Monday afternoon and will make a comment when they see me.  I take it all in good cheer.  Today it is simply something that I did which was stupid.  I own it but it is such a small part of who and what I am that it is no more than a penny in a jar full of quarters.



ADDENDUM:

Memory is a funny thing, or maybe I should say elusive.

1.  I thought Dec 7, 1970 was a Friday.  Turns out it was a Monday.

2.  I can't for the life of me figure out what the other three guys did in this hoax.  If saying "yes" was all they did then their consequences, it seems to me, were very stiff. 

3.  I can't remember the Board meeting on the 9th.  I'm sure I went and it would seem both parents accompanied me, but thankfully, the memory of that is gone.

I should also note that at the post-graduation party we had as a class at the VFW there was a gift given to me which was part of a board game at the time.  It was a small black bomb that when you twisted the red top would tick for a few seconds then go bang.  Presumably much laughter ensued.

There was a second bomb scare at the high school in 2007.  I didn't do that one.

I also want to apologize to any reader who caught cold sitting in the bleachers that day.





   






Thursday, December 7, 2017

Oh Wow.

A few weeks ago I posted a note about some Root beer Schnapps we used to make for neighbors while in G-Burg.  Everclear, sugar  and some flavoring, some boiling, some cooling and bottling and what resulted was a super smooth liquor that was simply put: fantastic.  We did this for a few years and some of our more addicted friends wondered when their next shipment would arrive.  We tried to time it around Christmas.  The current Mrs. Blythe was Mr. White and I was Jesse.  





Imagine my surprise when last in Northlandia the Wombie slipped into the storage room, or wine cellar, and came out with a pristine never-opened bottle of a vintage 1988 bottle of Mike's Root Beer Schnapps.  




Questions arose:  why wasn't it ever opened?  Would it still be good?  How would one possibly put a price on it?  What is Sotheby's phone number?  The answers are:  The Wombie's a coward, yes, priceless, no idea.





The labels are still intact:

"This special blend of sugar, water and Grain Alcohol is the culmination of an hour's work.  It captures, I think, the essence of the raw spirit of Mercer County.  

So sit back, and try some Mike's Root Beer Schnapps...it'll make a cold winter day a bit warmer." 





This particular bottle will likely not ever be opened.  And I'll wager it is as smooth a concoction today as it would have been 25 years ago when it was new.

But I have good news for those of you who requested a bottle if I ever made a new batch.  When I come up in February I will be making a couple batches while in the Cabin in the Woods.  If you want some, just let me know.