Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Trip To Northlandia - Part 2

Here are some various other shots of my trip, in no order or importance. 

We met Phil and Jeannie at Pagano's Pizza one night.

The old homestead is looking a little rough these days.  There yard is cluttered, the back porch is without screening, and when I was there a deer was gutted and hanging from the old tree we all used to climb.  Note the severed head at the crook of the limb.  I know we only rent things while here on earth but the sight of our house was pretty jarring.  Even the tree is looking its age and rather tired.  

We didn't hunt growing up.  Don't recall any particular reason for not doing it and we weren't anti-hunting.  It was just something we didn't do.  I went pheasant hunting once in Iowa during college and enjoyed it, but as a rule we just weren't around it and isn't that something you pick up from your Dad?  When we lived there, and my folks built it, it always looked neat as a pin; the screens were always on the porch with plastic during the winter.  

Good old frozen crystallized snow.  Its hard to say what I miss most but the weather and seasons are right up there.

The beautiful Miss Ashley, Mark's daughter.  I love everything about her - she is her own person.  

The Country Club was burning leaves the day after the big party.  I thought how much the smell is a childhood memory, but the adult reality is its a health concern.  

Nobody likes their picture taken, I understand all that.  I'm the same way.  But some things must be recorded for posterity, dammit.  Besides, the blog is always hungry, and if you are around me, then you become fodder or grist, if you will, for the mill.  Persevere, it will all be over soon.

I had a chance to see my BFE buddies at Gimpy's while back.  Tim, Christopher, Rick and Diane stopped by.  Also of particular note was seeing Lisa and John Junk from my MDH days.  Great chatting with them at Gimpy's.  Were we really there for 6 hours?


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Tuesday Tidbits

1.  Down the road from me on Gandy Boulevard is a Wawa gas station that is convenient to stop at on my way back from Kenzie's or 4th Street in St. Pete.  Right next to this Wawa is Dimmit Motor Cars.  This place sells Roll-Royce's, McClaren's, Bentley's, Aston Martin's, Land Rover's and, yes, a cheap domestic car for the masses, the Cadillac.   

After gassing up I walked over and checked out a few of the cars in their lot.

These are McClarens.  I know zip about them except the price tags were around $325,000, give or take a few thousand.

This is a Roll-Royce Ghost.  This baby will set you back about $525,000.  They have a bunch of other Roll's, too on the lot, some are sporty convertibles.  Next time I'm over there when they are closed I'll take some more pictures.  That is nothing you want to do when they are open.  About the only thing I could afford on this lot is a jar of Grey Poupon.

2.  Last Thursday for Christmas I wore jeans and a sweater, although the weather called for shorts and t-shirt.  Dammit, it's winter, and it's Christmas, and a guy should dress accordingly.  After sweating awhile I changed into a polo shirt.  

3.  From one of my favorite websites, The Shirk Report, on Twisted Sifter.  

I'm pretty tough on bums down here, and with reason.  Most of them make more than I do and I guess I have that Midwestern ethic about begging.  But this video helped put a different slant on at least one guy. 

4.  I'm preparing the 2nd NFL Playoff Lotto where we pick the playoff games and best guesser, 2nd best guesser and 3rd best guesser get a fistful of cash.   Last year Justin, some cocky kid in Chicago and Brendan, some cocky kid in St. Petersburg won the top spots.   It's 5 bucks a week so if interested let me know.  The Wombie disappointingly did one week and bowed out the rest - what a wuss.  maybe this year he'll discover his spine and join us the whole way.  And yeah, you can only do it for one week, but why miss all the fun?  That's like drinking a a 4th of a beer then throwing the rest away.  Or having just one M & M.  Or just 3 episodes of True Detective or Fargo.  

5.  Our heartfelt condolences to all of the Stages' for the loss of patriarch Gary last Wednesday.  What a neat funny guy he was.  Went out somewhat on his own terms and I wish his wife Patricia, son and daughter, and scads of grands, the very best.  

That's Gary and wife, Patti and great grandkid, Brittany, I think.  I could be wrong but that looks like the Izaak Walton club lake down in Peoria.  Tim invited me to meet his Dad there once a few years ago for one of their big monthly dinners.  We went down on our bikes and had an amazingly good time.  I'm not much for crowds and all that stuff but they made me feel welcome and relaxed.  You could tell that Gary was well liked by other members because they picked on Tim a bit - good old joking.  The kind that lets you know you're just-a-kid-and-your-Dad-is-tops kind of thing.  I had a wonderful time, and remember the ride back was kind of hairy if only because my headlight wasn't all that bright and the deer were running.  But Tim, good friend that he is, kept the road bright and safe.  Gary was one of those guys who was laid back but when he spoke you listened.  Again, sorry to hear the news.  It's never easy to lose a parent and then having it come on Christmas Eve seems to compound the grief.  Today is the Memorial Service in Creve Coeur at Preston-Hanley Funeral Home.   

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Party

The Oakview Country Club was rocking on November 8th for the Wombie's retirement party.  I went up without anyone knowing so that added a fun aspect to the festivities.  As a side note, since Mark's kids were in town from Kansas City I procured a room at the Blue Spruce motel, formerly the Ho Hum when I was in high school.  

Attendance was tough to gauge but estimates from the Club dining room staff said there were about 100 people to help Mark ease into lazyhood.  

Mark explaining water tables and convoluted 
T's to his long suffering wife, Holly.  

Jerry Anderson on the left, Jeanne, my sister-in-law, and Marta, Jerry's friend.   

Dave Olson taking the swig on the left and my brother Phil on the right.

A poor cell phone picture at the height of the festivities. 

High School classmates: Jerry Bigham, Carla Murphy, Roger's wife, Roger Murphy, and Dave Cooper.

Guests were asked to bring food for the Mercer County food pantry.  It was a wonderful idea by Holly and as evidenced by this picture, many needy people will be able to benefit. 

I didn't take as many pictures as I should have but I was too busy mingling, being the social gadfly imposter.  Apparently people like Mark and wanted to show their love, or else they simply wanted an excuse to drink at the Club.  Either way it was fun and memorable.  

Friday, December 26, 2014

Flashback Friday

I was just going through a treasure trove of old pictures that I found that belonged to me while at Mark's place.  Among them were these pictures of we three boys at home on Christmas Eve, 1972.  

Things of note:

  • Marj believed in big trees.  In earlier times she flocked them with a DIY spray.  These were beautiful trees, usually decked out in blue lights and balls but very little else.  Minimal splendor.
  • The fireplace was still operational but seldom used.  It would be a few years after that they would convert it to gas, take away those louvered gates and use it regularly.  Man, that fire would heat the whole room in nothing flat.   
  • One of the traditions was to have shrimp cocktail for something to munch on before the big meal.  It is a tradition I have tried to carry on.   
  • Another tradition of sorts was my arrival in subsequent Christmases' as early as possible.  I'd leave G-Burg with everyone asleep and head over to Seaton where Marj would fix a breakfast of French toast and sausage.  Her French toast was made with Texas bread and her sausage patties the size of burgers.  We'd all goof around then Herb and I would maybe have Scotch and Water and wait for others to arrive.  
  • We sometimes had to work around other's work schedules.  Sometimes the Wombie would be on call and we'd have to schedule the family Christmas some other day, or I'd have to work at the Mary and throw everything off.  On those times, Herb and I would head up to the Club for a Red Rooster.   
  • I don't know how common this little family tradition is, but we used to have to open our gifts individually while others looked on.  It was a way to see what others got, and convenient to acknowledge the gift giver.  Personally I would prefer not to have the spotlight on me.  But I didn't make the rules.

Personally, I don't remember why most everyone is half naked.  But it looks very much like Phil is jabbing me in the back or otherwise pestering my flank,  his evil grin gives him away.  Marj took the picture with my Polaroid and while Phil and I are having fun, it very much looks like Mark is more worried about the gift count.  

The gift count was a kind of ongoing tabulation of number of presents for each person.  It was done to add excitement to the proceedings and was done periodically up to Christmas morning.  It was also a good way to whine for more if your personal count stated to lag.    

Okay, so this is freaky.  Phil grabs the camera and says cheese or something similar and we all look sullen.  Three horses walk into a bar, and the bartender asks, "Hey, why the long faces?"  Maybe he said an asteroid was racing toward Seaton and all life in or around the area would expire in mere minutes.  Clearly a photographer who has yet to learn how to rev up his subjects.  

Another variation as we change seats and subjects.  This would have been a tough time for Marj.  The twins having said bye to high school and heading off the college, signaling the empty nest phase, made all the emptier by Herb's temporary absence.  She did not lack for friends, however, and for this year, we were all still there, for each other.     

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Loneliness of Depots

You've seen "It's A Wonderful Life", yes?  The Christmas-themed 1946 Frank Capra movie starring Jimmy Stewart?  Everyone has seen it a million times, unless you are so young you only remember it from the "one showing per year" schedule it has now.

I am reminded of an exchange between Stewart's George Bailey and his loopy Uncle Billy.

George:  You know what the three most exciting sounds in the world are?

Uncle Billy:  Uh-huh.  Breakfast is served, lunch is served, dinner...

George:  No, no, no, no!  Anchor chains, plane engines and train whistles.

George Bailey dreams of seeing the world, but circumstances intervene, and he remain in Bedford Falls while others get to leave for far-flung places.

Old Galesburg Train Depot around 1968

While in Northlandia I accompanied Mark and Holly in taking his lovely daughter, Ashley, to the newer G-Burg train depot for her ride back to Kansas City.  I get the same feeling everytime I am in one of those places.  It started when I was a grad student and used the train to get back and forth from Denver to Galesburg.  

One time in particular stands out in my mind.  Herb took me to the old depot in the Burg which was a huge, dark, dank place with about 80 year's worth of human stink, desperation, anxiety, fear and joy dripping on the old faded walls.   I had been home about a month from school and it was time to head back to the studies.  Ticket purchased we then walked over to a pew-like bench along the side in a cavernous cold room.  There may or may not have been a lot of people ready to board with me but how could you tell in this giant place?  

There was a long silence and I don't know who started crying first.  We both just kind of sat there, alone and silent in our thoughts, quietly weeping: Herb, maybe a reflection of lots of things. Me: I didn't want to go back.  It would be a long time till I returned.  

I thought about that moment as I stood in the new Galesburg depot, a small cookie cutter type place without much character, past or present.  I thought about it also when I looked at the people,  sitting in their seats waiting for a ride that would take them to whatever emotion that drove them to buy a ticket in the first place.  Would it be a new and and exciting adventure, a new job, a new location?  Would it be to see an old friend or maybe family member off for their final journey?  Leaving home to live with a child?  I looked at the people - none looked particularly happy, and thought about the many reasons to buy a plane, bus or train ticket and how it either takes you away from loved ones, or brings you home.   

I know of which I speak.  Besides those nighttime treks to Denver a long time ago, I also went by bus to Fredericksburg, Virginia in 2005 to pick up little Michael so Brendan and Lindsay could enjoy leave together.  There were about 10 transfers in total along the way and each in its own kind of sickly depot.  Dim lighting, and that same stink, desperation, anxiety and fear blanketed the walls and chairs and floor.  Imagine taking a three year old on such a journey.  No diapers, no good knowledge of our terrain; he foolishly counting on me.  Turned out we missed a transfer but it was closer to home so it all worked out.  But I saw a lot of angst on that trip.  I still have the tickets to that adventure.      

Tonight the sad clanging of the train, for Ashley anyway, takes her away from loved ones but takes her home as well.  Perhaps that's the best we can ask for when we take that leap and embrace the melancholy sounds of travel. 

Those old darkly lit depots.  Places where you are truly alone in a crowd.   You hear coughs, shoes scraping against a tile floor, children fretting,  and maybe a mother's scolding.  But essentially everyone here is alone with the only voices heard are within us:  questioning whatever is about to transpire at the end of wherever we are going.   It can be the loneliest of feelings - dark outside, maybe old snow on the ground.  A forlorn environment that tonight matches your barren mindscape.  And aside from the big picture that scene creates we have smaller concerns:  where will I find a seat, where are the bathrooms, how will I know when to get off?   

I have mentioned before the professor who told us students to never miss a chance to travel.  I can imagine him as easily saying, do your traveling when young, then find your comfort at home, amidst the safety and security of familiar surroundings.  

George Bailey thought those were the most exciting sounds in the world.  I wonder.  I wonder.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Tuesday Tidbits

1.  Mamas don't let your babies grow up to dress like this.

This elfin little creature with the sartorial mishmash of crushed velvet and sequines was going into Target to do some shopping.  I remain aghast as some of the things I see down here.   

2.  Gophers from Savannah.

You want some heavenly shopping ideas?  Try Savannah's Candy Kitchen and go gopher hunting.  Santa came early to Bedlam.  Thanks Santa.   

3.  I was walking out of Publix grocery store last week and the Salvation Army bell ringer said to me, "Hey I just figured something out.  This is the only time of year I am a ding- (he had a bell in one hand and rang it)  aling (he then rang the bell in his other hand)."

I replied to him, "Oh, don't sell yourself short."

4.  Best Christmas song:  O Holy Night.

5.  Best Christmas snack: Puppy Chow.

6.  Best Christmas comedy movie:  National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.

7.  Best On-Going, Good Sport from a Governmental Agency:  NORAD, which tracks Santa's route on Christmas Eve.  (Started in 1955 by a typo in a newspaper ad,  but a General Shoup of NORAD gamely played along.)

8.  Best Place To Enjoy Christmas: With your family, even if they are in Florida.  

9.  Baby's First Picture

This is the Blythe's newest addition to the family.  Seems like a great Christmas present.  Congrats to Drew and Mackenzie.  Oh my, Norah won't be the only royalty in the family. 

10,  Our thoughts go to the Stage family.  Neighbor Tim's father, a funny and spritely wry fellow,  Gary Stage, is ill and in St. Francis.      

Monday, December 22, 2014

City Retirement Party

I missed the Wombie's retirement party put on by the City at the VFW.  It was, by all accounts, a fine affair with many people attending, including his son (Aaron) and daughter 9Ashley) from Kansas City.  The organizers of the shindig had prepared a PowerPoint presentation with some pictures and I include just some of the pictures today.  Apparently there was one particular commentary from the MC during this show and since I wasn't there I can't comment, but it went something like this:

MC:  We know how Mark loves the Bears so we tried to call Jay Cutler.

Wombie:  What happened, did he drop the phone?   

That may be off quite a bit, but you get the idea.  And before you get any ideas that Mark actually does like the Bears, let me tell me dissuade you of that notion.  No Blythe, worth his or her salt likes the Bears.  I understand there are a couple in the family who think they do, but they don't and have yet to come to their senses.  

So without further commentary, here then are just a small selection of pictures from the tribute to the Wombie at his VFW party.   

That last picture is Mark peering through the crystal clear (as in water) award given him a couple years ago as Water Operator of the Year.  

Congratulations Mark and best wishes for a long retirement.  Uh, Mark, I could use a few bucks, call me.  Anyway, nice job, Wombie.  Not bad for the runt of the litter. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

Flashback Friday

This was something I did a long time ago.  By a long time ago I mean more accurately 25 years ago.  Looking at it now, I can attest that I was never a gifted painter, just a weekend warrior type - self taught with remarkably little talent.  I wonder what would have happened had I taken art in school;  if Dr. LaMore never had that mandatory class that swept me off my feet?   What do artists end up doing?   Starving?  

Twenty-five years ago I was probably as happy as I thought I could be:  secure job that I loved, married 7 years with 2 new kids that were neat as all get-out.   Home ownership, projects, lots of time off, wanting an old car, relative peace and few personal or emotional headaches.  But that was then. 

I kind of went through a phase when I was working on portraiture, but then decided I wasn't good enough so I gave it up and moved on.  For all of you who may have a portrait I did, please feel free to go down into the basement or up to the attic, grab the monstrosity and destroy it.  Just to emphasize my dramatic artistic career careen I followed up portraiture with doing houses.  I was much better painting a porch than a face, so at that point I stopped trying and never went back.  I actually sold a painting of a lady's house in Oneida.  It was my first ever commission work, and my last.  All the other ones have been gifts.  

But the story of this painting is somewhat interesting.  Originally it had myself, the present Mrs. Blythe and Mackenzie, based on a photo.   The large dark area is the spot where the present Mrs. Blythe was and as you can see isn't.   Yep, just painted right over.  That's the easy part - grab a brush, mix some nondescript background color and wipe away your mistakes.  If only life was as easy.  Also, the kid was originally Mackenzie but Brendan rightly told me that I had already done a couple paintings of her, so I transplanted him where she was.   It is a lot like posing a picture - some are willing, others less so.  Tall in the back, short in the front.  

I always liked that we were wearing Met's shirts; I still am a fan (with considerably less gusto) and so is Brendan, although since being down here and seeing what a real good baseball organization can be, he is torn.  But then, we were buds, brothers in the bond, as it were.  

What would be interesting is to re-do this painting now and see what is different, what improves and what doesn't.  There are two ways I could do it:  same painting, same time period.  Or, get Brendan and I to pose together.  That sounds kind of neat, but then again, there was a reason I moved on to houses.  What skills have I improved on - what will never look good?  How would I render flesh today?  Winkles in the shirts? Or would I start and see the hopelessness of it, and that would be the end of it, another bit of canvas in the landfill?

How things change.   A twenty-five year span does not guarantee improvement in artistic skills or in life.  Today some of the joy of existing seems to be gone.  Christmas, a time I especially loved, seems more of a chore than a euphoria.  Bedlam sucks, as does Florida, and I'd race up to Northlandia but my Norah is here.   Kenzie and Brendan can do quite nicely without me, but Norah, well, she needs me, and I her.   Remember that slap Cher gave Cage in Moonstruck with the comment, "Snap out of it!"  Well, I need to snap out of it.  

So, will 2015 be a year of change?  What does it take for meaningful change?   Planning, commitment and purposeful action.  Just like painting a picture.  This time of year trumpets the bugle charge, I best keep working on those improvements, because its hard to tell where I'll be in another twenty five years.  

Thursday, December 18, 2014


The third and final Series of Fall pictures.  These feature the old Wolf Covered Bridge near Maquon.  I like history and all that but a replica of a covered bridge doesn't do much for me.  It is a shame that the original was destroyed by fire, a victim of vandalism, but to erect a replica, and then not take care of it (the amount of graffiti is unbelievable),  is an attempt to hold onto something that no longer exists.  Still, it made for a nice shot.   

This must be a party area for kids.  This small grill and remnants of a cookout litter this overlook.  

As I was driving by I noticed this on a tree in a forested area.  It looks like a kind of growth or mushroomy thing.  Never seen it on a tree before.  Anyone know what it is?   

While the days were mostly overcast and mostly cold, I was still able to get some photo shooting in.  Funny how you miss things when you don't have them anymore.