Thursday, July 02, 2015

Thursday Thirteen

Yesterday was my father's birthday. He turned 74.

So here are 13 facts about my father.

Me and my father in 2012. He was playing
Santa Claus at one of the local churches.

1. He was born in a cabin in West Virginia. His father was a coal miner at the time.

2. When he was seven years old, his uncle bought him a shoeshine kit and he shined shoes in Summersville, WV to earn money.

3. His family moved to the area we live in now around 1949. Eventually they ended up in Salem, living in the house that shared a backyard boundary with the home of a young lady my father would marry.

4. During his early teen years, my father had a wholesale bait-selling business, complete with employees.

5. He also had a lawn-mowing business. Back then, he cut lawns for $2.

6. He joined the military when he was 17. He served for 37 months, part of that in Korea. His last military job was decoding messages for the government.

7. After he left the military, he worked as police officer in Salem and married my mother. They had two kids in four years.

8. After a few years, he went into sales.

9. He moved to rural Botetourt in 1969, purchasing property that bordered his father-in-law's old home place. He began farming and raising cattle.

10. In 1973, he started his own business selling industrial rubber products. The company was initially called The Rubber House of Roanoke. Later, the name changed to Cardinal Rubber and Seal.

11. He played guitar and sang in a band called Music, Inc. in the 1970s and early 1980s. Today he plays guitar and sings in a band called Stone Coal Gap.

12. In 1999, he became an auctioneer.

13. My mother died in 2000; he remarried in 2007.

Thursday Thirteen is played by lots of people; there is a list here if you want to read other Thursday Thirteens and/or play along. I've been playing for a while and this is my 402nd time to do a list of 13 on a Thursday.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Black Squirrel

This little fellow popped up in the back yard Monday. I was surprised, as I don't recall ever seeing a squirrel this color before.


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Mamma Fore

When I was a child, my grandmother, who passed away eight years ago this past Sunday (June 28), spent a good hour on the telephone talking to "Mamma Fore" nearly every day.

I have no idea who Mamma Fore was. I don't know how my grandmother and this woman met, or how long they knew one another. My aunt and uncles may know, but I was too young to understand anything other than if the phone rang, and it was Mamma Fore, you went and amused yourself for the next hour. You didn't ask for anything unless blood was involved, because Grandma was talking to Mamma Fore.

This came to mind to me recently while I was mentally listing folks I could call in the event of an emergency, followed by folks I could talk to just to chat.

The list for emergencies was pretty extensive; the list just to chat, however, was not long.

I know a lot of people and interact with them every day via the computer. I have hundreds of friends on Facebook, one person I have emailed at least twice a day for almost 15 years, and others that send me funny videos or bits of information, and to whom I return that favor.

But to call and chat? Very few people do that anymore. They chat via Facebook and/or text all day long - why would they need an hour-long block of time simply to focus on one person and one thing?

I daresay not many children today have Mamma Fores to worry about, because their mothers don't have that kind of time. They are too busy carting Junior off to a ball game or texting Dad about thus and such.

My grandmother had a small world. I remember my mother used to fuss because my grandmother could easily spend a half-hour on the phone with a salesperson, talking about everything from TV shows to the actual product in question. She invited the Fuller Brush Man in when he made his regular visits, and she always bought something from him.

Otherwise, her world consisted of her two young sons, one of whom was younger than I, and me and my brother.

Sometimes she talked to neighbors while she hung clothes. Occasionally she would go see Aunt Elsie, but not often - nobody went to see Aunt Elsie much (though they became great friends in the nursing home in their late years) - and every Friday, like clockwork, Grandma would walk the three blocks up East Riverside Drive to her old home place.

That's where one of her sisters lived.

She hauled us along and we played in the yard while Grandma did Aunt Neva's hair. The place always smelled like beans, mostly because from what I remember there was usually a big potful on the stove, simmering away all day with a big hunk of fatback in there for flavoring. Nobody ate beans that weren't cooked nearly to nothing in that household.

Sometimes Aunt Susie (my other great-aunt) would join the two sisters for her share of hair makeover. Apparently my grandmother gave great home permanents. They stunk terribly and made your eyes water, but gave you soft curls. Or so I gathered.

That was pretty much my grandmother's world, especially after my grandfather died. She had three TV stations to watch, and she watched the news regularly. She read every word of The Roanoke Times & World News, because even though she only had a fourth grade education, she seemed to think being well-informed was important. When those folks called to sell her something, she could converse about the topics of the day if the situation called for it.

And of course, when Mamma Fore called, the news could take up a bit of time. Back then the news was more than a sound bite and an emotional jab in the ribs; it was real knowledge made up of truth, facts, and science. Those are things we've lost along the way, so much so that I strongly suspect my grandmother was better informed than half of the population living today, in spite of the information at our fingertips.

I don't recall when Mamma Fore died. I suppose by that time I had become a teenager, one of those selfish persons who didn't visit grandmas much and who had no time for older folks. I'm sure it broke my grandmother's heart whenever Mamma Fore passed on. Shame on me for not knowing this.

Her loneliness, I know, increased a thousand-fold. Everyone's loneliness increases as we age, and our friends begin to leave us, dropping one by one. Younger people don't understand it.

I'm just beginning to.

I am missing those days of Mamma Fore, those simpler times of telephone calls and conversation. I am now old enough to reminisce of another time and place, I guess.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Book: The Goldfinch

The Goldfinch
By Donna Tart
Read by David Pittu
32.5 hours
Copyright 2013

This book won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in April 2014. The Washington Post titled its article about this, "The Disappointing Novel That Just Won a Pulitzer."

This book is 784 pages, and it was very long to listen to. It has taken me, literally, two months to hear it in my car. In desperation I finally listened to the final three hours of it in my office, taking up yesterday afternoon to get through the final three discs.

Did it deserve a Pulitzer? I don't know. If this was the best out there for the competition, then I suppose it won as it should. But I think perhaps there were better stories available, maybe unfound or unrecognized as such. It concerns me that the things we value these days are not golden, but instead are some kind of gilded and bronzed enigma that should be something, but isn't.

The Washington Post reviewer calls the book a junk shop passed off as something unique and rare, to paraphrase. I cannot disagree.

The plot is simple: a young boy, Theo, is in a museum with his mother when a bomb goes off. His mother dies. In the confusion of the explosion, Theo, at the insistence of a dying old man, grabs up a 1600s-era painting called The Goldfinch and shoves it into a backpack. In his shock, he finds his way from the museum and home. He has a bad family life anyway, with an alcoholic and gambling father who had left the family a year earlier.

Tart spells this out painfully, giving us a blow-by-blow of young Theo's heartache, his inability to understand all that is going on about him, his surprise when his father turns back up, though the reader knows (nudge nudge) that the boozer has come back only for the estate money, whatever there may be. The boy goes with his father to Vegas. He makes a friend, he learns to do drugs.

The painting comes to symbolize hope, fear, sorrow, greatness, love - all of life - for this young boy, who grows into manhood keeping this great secret.

The joke's on him, though, for all is not as it seems. I won't give away any more plot in case someone actually wants to read this book. But the story meanders greatly, going into much detail and depth about things that may or may not matter. Nothing is permanent in Theo's life and the story of the ephemeral quality of life is thematic throughout, but never satisfactorily explained by the author, not even in the dramatic musings at the end of the book. In the end, it's a nihilistic point of view, that we're all just here to pass through airports.

The first part of the book was engaging, and I suppose that was what kept me involved. The book read more like three books, and it was really one long character study about a damaged person. Perhaps it should have been some sort of series.

Tart's work has more than 21,000 reviews on Amazon. Forty-one percent of readers give it 5 stars. Ten percent give it 1 star.

I give it 3 stars. It was interesting enough, obviously, or I would have stopped listening to it a long time ago, but it seemed overly drawn out. The ending came rushing at the reader without any real sense of deservedness. Much of what happened to the character seemed to have no impact on him or whatever message the author was trying to impart.

Because of that, I have problems not so much with the book as I do with the fact that this is the book that won the Pulitzer. I think I expected better, and expectations sometimes can color what we read or hear.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sunday Stealing: Unusual Things

From Sunday Stealing

Unusual Things

1. Who was the last person of the opposite sex you laid in a bed with?

A. My husband.

2. Where was the last place you went out to eat?

A. Shakers, a local restaurant that serves excellent food and plays good music.

3. What was the last alcoholic beverage you consumed?

A. I had some blackberry wine in 2012 when I received my master's degree. Yes, I know, I'm a big load of fun.

4. Which do you prefer - eyes or lips?

A. Can't I have both?

5. Medicine, fine arts, or law?

A. Can't do without any of them.

6. Best kind of pizza?

A.  I prefer a vegetarian pizza with no black olives.

7. Is your bedroom window open?

A. No. Why would you ask that question? Are you are a sex criminal? (Big Bang watchers will get that reference.)

8. What is in store for your future?

A. Well, Monday and Thursday I see my physical therapist.

9. Who was the last band you saw live?

A. Elton John.

10. Do you take care of your friends while they are sick?

A. I am not a very good nurse, but I try. I take them food, call and check on them, run errands. Most of my friends have family and they turn to them first.

11. Any historical figures that you envy?

A. I can't say I envy any of them, but there are many that I admire.

12. How many songs are on your iTunes?

A. I don't have iTunes (gasp!).

13. What brand of digital camera do you own?

A. I have several Nikons and one Canon.

14. When was the last time you got a good workout?

A. I walked on the treadmill yesterday.

15. Are you experienced?

A. At what? Breathing? Yeah, I've been doing that for a good long time. Blinking? Been doing that, too.

16. If you need a new pair of jeans, what store do you go to first?

A. J. C. Penny.

17. Are you a quitter?

A. If I was, I think I'd have given up on blogging a long time ago.

18. What are two bands or singers that you will always love?

A. The Eagles, Melissa Etheridge.

19. What of the seven deadly sins are you guilty of?

A. Ah, now I have to look them up. Okay. Wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust,envy,and gluttony. I'm overweight so I guess I'll go with gluttony.

20. Did you just have to google the seven deadly sins to see what they were?

A. Yes, I did.