Musings from the Darkroom: Life Axioms

Life Axiom: Aging

You know you are getting old when you pause after dropping something and ponder if it is worth the energy and trouble to actually pick up. The debate goes something like this:

Did anyone else see me drop it? If yes, pick it up (without grunting…I may be getting old but I don’t need to publically perpetuate my creaky old-man slovenliness, just yet). If no, where did it fall? Is it easily seen? Is it likely to be picked up by someone else? Does its out-of-place presence add to the mean clutter rating of the surroundings? Do I need it right now? Do I have another one? Is it something of value? What is the opportunity cost of salvage? What is its value relative to the pain and suffering required to bend over?

I don’t know, maybe it’s just a man thing. However, of late, I have noticed an increasing correlation between age, length of self-debate and repossession percentage.

Anna Humble Williams 1955-2014

The loss of a loved one is always painful. The physical separation cuts deep into our psyche, affecting that part of us solely reserved for the connection we shared with the lost and bears sobering awareness of our own mortality. The continued lack of access is a constant reminder that there are no do-overs, the scoreboard is off and the game is in the books. How we view life most affects our interest in the scoreboard, others’ and our own.

There is, however, a certain hollow, reverberant sadness that echoes the loss of an estranged loved one. Someone loved, but one who chose a life which in the end, there remains only a disappointing void of previous and now permanent loss of opportunity for the gathering of anything other than the few remaining good memories, obscured by a lifetime of un-pleasantries.

How does one look at the aggregate actions of a life at its closing and apply value. Life value is measured on what scale? Human nature is to use a ledger…to keep score.  We all do it. We do it to ourselves.  We do it to others.  We count balls, strikes, hits, runs and errors. We say this was wrong and that was right. We judge. It is much easier to accept the passing of a loved one whose ledger always tallied in the black. The difficulty lies in the accounting of those with a lifetime of withdrawals with little or no appreciation of their debt and its effect on the lives having underwritten egocentric behavior. Their ledger with us now being closed, deeply in the red.

Christians are guilty of continuing to place checkmarks in our mental ledgers about ourselves and others even after accepting Calvary’s negation of any need for the monitoring of someone’s debits or credits. It is in our basal nature. Perhaps it can only be with true unconditional love, the kind of love a parent has for a child or the heavenly father has for his children, that we can see the proper appraisal of a life that on any scale has not measured up. Our judgment will always be short. Only when we completely understand that concept will we ever see the real value of what Jesus did on that cross.

I won’t profess to have all the answers. Frankly, as I’ve grown older, my world has grown much less black and white. However, the one lesson I constantly carry away from the examination and celebration at the loss of friends and family members is that, regardless of what the afterlife may bring, the only reality with which we should concern ourselves is the selfless living of the one we now navigate. At each funeral, it appears more obvious that, at the end, a life invested in others was the worthwhile life and one to be emulated.

Holiday Letters: Bah Humbug…

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Just once I’d like to see a real holiday letter.

Season’s Greetings from (…ohhhhhh, let’s say…) the Simpson’s!

Good god, has it really been a year since I wrote last year’s pack of lies?  If you are reading this, consider yourself lucky.  The mutt ate most of the address book because the economy is so bad and groceries are so expensive we stopped buying dog food, except for grandpa.

2013 really sucked big gnarly ones.  Nobody did anything.  Nobody achieved anything.  Nobody was awarded any medals for anything.  I didn’t get a raise.  My job still sucks.  The people I work with still suck.  I still suck.  That’s why I’m still stuck in this dead-end job ‘till I die of a heart attack.

Lisa is still playing her saxophone.  God help us, she’ll keep playing the blues and probably marry some loser drummer and have to live with us while her sorry husband searches for that pot of grunge drummer gold.   At least she’s not pregnant, yet.

The baby is still sucking on that nunu.   Her teeth will be messed up but it does keep her quiet.

Bart managed to stay out of jail this year and, to date, as far as we know, has not sired any offspring.

Marge is still my blue haired old lady.  I can’t believe we’ve stayed married all these years.  We have managed to work ourselves into subsistence, requiring a minimal amount of communication and sex only on a seasonal basis… whether we need it or not.

But truth be told, I am thankful for Baby Jesus and the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  You see, even though it was used as a medical ointment and burial spice, myrrh was also used in early recipes for mead.  And from mead we got…beeeer, mmmmm.  For that I am truly thankful!

DOH!  Happy Holidays!

Before Black Friday? The Christmas Tree Hunt

2 Christmas Pictures 2To commemorate my 2nd anniversary as a blogger, I decided to share with you an update on my very first post.  I don’t think it was read by anyone, but it was my first.  Like most stories it is better with some more stuff added after thinking on it again.  There is nothing like being immersed in a season to dislodge new and old thoughts.

The Christmas Tree

Getting the tree up and decorated after Thanksgiving signals the beginning of the Christmas season and grants official permission to be excited about all that looking forward to and celebrating Christmas has to offer:  family, friends, fun, food, music, memories, the Savior’s birth and, yes, presents under the tree.  This year has me longing for the Christmas tree outings my father, brother and I made each holiday season.

Not too soon after Thanksgiving, the sight of my father piddling around the workbench under the carport and the rhythmic metallic grating sound of file across the business end of my grandfather’s old Kentucky ax meant the yearly ritual was forthcoming.  Surplus paper mill work gloves, leather chaps, freshly sharpened ax and baling twine were all located and loaded into the family Oldsmobile.

I have no idea why we had a roll of sisal baler twine.  We did not live on a farm.  The only time I recall ever using it was once a year for the Christmas tree.  We didn’t use much but we still had a whole roll.  I would bet my brother’s best clip-on tie that the roll of twine is still somewhere in my father’s workshop.  After packing the trunk, my brother and I would jockey for front seat position on the long bench seat of the 63 Olds.  Eventually, one of us would give up the window and slide to the hump, neither of us ever willing to concede a place in the front. Off into the west Alabama countryside we drove to find the perfect Christmas tree, a cedar tree.

I remember being fully astonished when I realized that Christmas trees could actually be other species besides cedar or, worse yet, store-bought and even aluminum or plastic.  To us, cedar trees were Christmas trees.  This was not by accident.  The regional black belt soil with underlying Selma chalk limestone is littered with cedar trees.  Besides being plentiful, when good Christmas tree height they are the perfect shape, have fairly dense foliage and fill the home with a woodsy-fresh spicy aroma.

In the course of his regular travels to and from work, or on the way to the local air strip, Dad sometimes would have already had his eye on a tree and retrieval was all that was required.  If not, we would drive the back roads searching for an appropriately Christmas shaped tree.  The best trees were always lone trees in a clearing with even growth on all sides, but they were hard to find.

I don’t recall ever wandering onto just any property for a tree, but the truth is that I am not so sure that sometimes that wasn’t the case.  There was a fair amount of timber property owned by the local paper mill to which we presumably had access, especially out by the airport or across the highway by the union hall.   But I am not so sure about the legal status of the trees we harvested north of town across the Black Warrior river bridge on the road past the turnoff to Runaway Branch.   It was certainly tempting after a long search, spotting a particularly nice looking tree with only two or three strands of barbed wire between it and us.

I reckon there is the possibility that some might brand us Christmas tree rustlers.  But really, it’s not like we were stealing cattle or shooting someone else’s turkeys, we were just gettin’ the Christmas tree.  Later on after my brother and I started making the trip on our own, we usually ended up taking trees more legally on railroad right-of-ways.  After they grew to a certain size, the railroad company came through with sprayers to kill them back anyway.  We were simply providing them a more noble ending.

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When we were young, Dad wielded the ax.  As we grew he let my brother and finally even me take turns at the year’s honor, always with admonition to not cut off a foot.  Getting to and dragging the tree back through the Alabama brush was a chore.  Dad donned his cowboy boots and chaps for tree hunting trips.  The only things separating my brother and me from the briars were our Sears toughskin jeans and dollar store sneakers.  Toughskin jeans were akin to wearing chaps, at least for the knees.  They were guaranteed hand-me-downs.

We only forgot to wear long sleeves or bring gloves once.  A cedar tree scratches and itches bare skin more than any other evergreen.  The sap sticks to your skin like gummy superglue and leaves a black stain that only time and new skin cells can remove.  But oh, how the smell made the drag back to the car worth all the trouble.  Even the frightful timber, space, timber, space, timber walk back across the old wooden railroad trestle seemed to pass more quickly while dragging the tree.  Long after my brother and I had matured beyond Santa Claus, we still made the yearly pilgrimage to the same set of tracks, talking about life and walking a good country mile or more from the car in search of the right tree.

One of the key features of the 1963 Oldsmobile was the size of the trunk.  No matter how big the tree, we could usually get the bulk of it in the trunk and not have to tie it to the roof, even though we had enough twine to tie a forest to the car.  Once home, the bottom squared up with a hand saw, placed in a bucket of water and leaning against the clothes line, the number one axiom of Christmas tree harvesting again becomes evident.  That is, they grow an extra 2 feet on the drive home.  So, we trim a little more off the bottom, being careful not to mess up the shape.  Even with 10-foot ceilings, it seemed every year the very top would have to be trimmed in order to mount the star.

 

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The above picture on the left was taken when I was 4, the very first Christmas in our new home on Strawberry Street.  The cedar Christmas tree remains bent from being too tall and the star is not yet placed.  Yes, those are strings of popped corn hung like garland on the tree.  That was an old school tradition my mother’s mother always enjoyed.  I recall sitting around the back hall table with my siblings, stringing popcorn and having my grandmother scold me for eating more than I strung.

I was 9 at the time the next picture was taken in 1968.  For some reason we were late getting to the tree that year and Dad proudly showed up one day with a store-bought fur of some sort, shipped down south from some Yankee tree farm.  There’s no telling what he paid for it, but we were like, “Aww, Dad. That’s not a Christmas tree!” It’s the only year I can ever remember not having a cedar tree that we harvested ourselves.

I do love that Christmas 1968 picture. The more notable things that make me smile are the pajamas, the old 19 inch black and white TV, the Wilson football, the vintage Easy Bake Oven, my big sister’s curlers, my little sister’s unwavering gaze at Mrs. Beasley, our crew cuts, my brother’s ears and the store-bought Christmas tree.

Enjoy your tree this year and the memories it will bring for years to come.

Merry Christmas.

The Mockingbird and I Return

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Fall has finally arrived here in Tampa Bay.  The calendar’s change of seasons proved to be rather uneventful with both the pool and air temperatures remaining unaffected, continuing in balmy late-summer fashion.  The only real evidence affirming summer’s dismissal and the hope for prospective seasonal relief is the mockingbird’s return to his customary status as songbird divus.

Daddy always said that mockingbirds didn’t sing during dog days.  In recent years I’ve been paying particular attention to the neighborhood birds and sure enough, by early July each year they stop their enthusiastic melodic recitals and take a break during dog days. I’m really not sure why, but they do. The heat obviously must play a role in their decreased activity, it most assuredly affects mine.  Based on the number of feathers I skim off the pool and his general scruffy appearance, I’m guessing molting has something to do with it as well.  After all, de-clothing remains one of my primary dog days coping mechanisms, among others.  There is some conjecture that dog days also coincides with a non-nesting period.  Who can blame the poor fellow?  If my only choice for nesting didn’t involve air conditioning and was primarily outdoors in the deep southern summer heat, I’d be celibate too.

It is rather uncanny.  For the last three years, our yard bird that prefers the poolside foxtail palm and the neighbor’s bird that sings from atop the magnolia tree outside our bedroom window resumed their vigorous vocalizations either on or within one day of the autumnal equinox.  Regardless of the lack of any overt environmental clue that suggests impending seasonal change, the mockingbird has finally emerged from his dog days funk this year, and so have I.

I hope you will forgive me, but I haven’t been a very good blogger or blog follower these past few months.  Blame it on whatever I will, dog days, the heat, the rain, work, molting, or just life, I took some time for myself.  Oh, I’ve been using the camera pretty much as always but I just haven’t felt like or taken the time to edit, crop, write or post much.

It all started the second week of January when my already ailing father took ill and was hospitalized for what turned out to be the final time.  He fought a good battle, but the end of his life caught up with him in April.  Truth is I’m still trying to wrap my head around it.  I insisted on preparing and delivering his eulogy mostly because I felt someone that really knew the man should honor him, not some preacher with shallow, albeit well intended platitudes.  It was rather cathartic.  However, moving on with daily life without someone’s physical presence is indeed a different matter altogether.  I imagine I’ll be working on this one for a while.

One of the lessons in death is that the cycle of life continues, regardless of how we feel.  Within a week of the funeral, I attended my eldest daughter’s high school graduation.  After having experienced some difficult life changes, though still finishing with honors, she needed a change.  I moved her home to Florida with me the day after graduation.  We had a wonderful summer living together for an extended period for the first time in several years since her mother moved her and her sister to Louisiana.  She was able to gain a new perspective on life through the summer and managed to get her head in a better place for the start of her next chapter in life, college.  The cycle of life continues.

To top it all off, the love of my life has agreed to marry me.  We are making plans to wed in an intimate ceremony this December when all of our families are together for the holidays.  It is a magically special thing to find someone that loves you simply for who you are.  I am so happy to say that at this stage in my life I was able to find that person that I can respect and love for the remainder of my life.  I’m just happy that she finally agreed to make an honest man out of me.  The cycle of life continues.

Thoughts of dad are never far, especially now.  Fortunately, he did meet and got to know and love my bride long before his cognitive abilities failed.  He was, however, not without opinion regarding weddings.  Amongst all the family and both my brother and nephew’s multiple attempts, he attended more weddings than he wished.  Sometime in recent history, my nephew announced the possibility of yet another matrimonial event, to which Dad replied, “I’d rather be in hell with my back broke.”

So, here we are the mockingbird and I.  You’re stuck with us for a while.  I will resist the urge to climb the tree outside your window and yelp.  I’ll humbly be content to digitally insinuate myself into your life at your convenience, for now.

Saban headed to Vatican

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(photo – The Birmingham News)

Vatican City (@humbledpie.wordpress) – Reports of unrest within the Catholic Church’s College of Cardinals over the current leadership’s direction have resulted in the calling of a secret conclave.  In a move rarely seen in the 2000 year history of the papacy, though not without historical precedent, the College of Cardinals has reversed their decision on current leader, Pope Francis.  Last evening’s conclave was brought to a close early this morning as a cloud of crimson smoke signaled the replacement of the Argentinean Friar with the unanimously elected American collegiate football coach, Nick Saban.

The church is no stranger to controversy.  Recently, it has been increasingly under fire for previous actions and in constant defense of what many view as archaic doctrine influenced political positions while both attendance and contributions are in decline and its detractors on the rise.  According to sources within the Vatican, church leaders from around the globe are calling for new leadership to help reposition and maneuver the church through these difficult economic, political and spiritual times.  Apparently, in a rather savvy business move, the CoC were willing to buck centuries of internal promotion and for the first time considered external candidates for their new CEP, chief executive pontiff.

“We are in dire need of leadership that is able to mount an aggressive defensive strategy, reinforcing our current positions, and has a history of successfully venturing into hostile territory with offensive schemes capable of putting up the numbers required to fill the pews on Saturday night,” said Cardinal Timothy Dolan,  Archbishop of New York.  He continued, “After a thorough and exhaustive search, fellow church leaders and I have come to the conclusion that the person most qualified to conceive and implement a victorious game plan for the 21st century Catholic Church is Coach Saban.”

“We feel very blessed to have him in the Vatican.  It was difficult to convince him to grant us an audience in the first place.  He evidently already had a pretty good job and we look forward to including his many followers in the Catholic Church of tomorrow.  Frankly, we are all excited about the talents Coach brings to the church’s sidelines as Christ’s Vicar on earth.  This all takes me back to the heady days of Pope Urban II and defending the Holy Lands against Saracen subjugation.”

When asked about the obvious implications of a non-celibate ascension on the future inclusion of married men and even women in the priesthood, Cardinal Dolan responded, “Well…American football is a male dominated sport.”

During a brief news conference after the conclave, Coach Saban handled the select group of reporters much like his previous encounters with the American sports media.  His answers were short on content and long on implied context.  “We’re not going to talk about what we’re going to accomplish, we’re going to talk about how we’re going to do it.”  “The scoreboard has nothing to do with the process. Each possession you look across at the opponent and commit yourself to dominate that person. It’s about individuals dominating the individuals they’re playing against. If you can do this…if you can focus on the one possession and wipe out the distractions…then you will be satisfied with the result.”  When asked about the influence Jesus had on his career, Coach replied, “Jesus didn’t talk about winning championships, he talked about being a champion.”  Coach Saban did say that he had not chosen his official church name, but that he unofficially hoped that his 1.2 billion member team would call him ‘Pope Coach.’

Dog Days Again

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The whippoorwill singing atop the live oak by the lake can barely be heard above the katydids, the rumbling of offshore storms and the hum of the mosquito magnet working overtime in the backyard’s windward corner.  Arrhythemic yellowish-green blinking of lightnin’ bugs and blue-white flashes from the approaching storm fill the impending darkness as the retreating sun de-saturates dusk’s canvas.  Even at this time of the evening the temperature remains oppressive while the seasonal sou’westerly winds keep the humidity palpable.  Streams merge with tributaries that form rivers of sweat flowing south across our nearly naked bodies as we bask in the sauna that is August in Florida.  We are relentlessly deep in the dog days of summer.  It seems they will never end.  And, making it official, in his normal evening perch in the foxtail palm sits the mockingbird, songless.

Mockingbirds sit out this harshest part of the summer.  But no, we aren’t so smart.  We continue suffering our daily activities, wondering how anything might have ever been done in the deep south with clothes on and without air-conditioning or a blender and ice.  Blended, frozen libations in overpriced insulated plastic tumblers and the occasional dip in the pool are the sum of our attempts at mediating the endless onslaught of dog days.  It’s a difficult battle, but one we are willing to wage.  One made easier by the knowledge that heat and humidity do not require a shovel.  I’ll let y’all know when the mockingbird starts singing again.

Musings from the Darkroom: Famous Name Game

I’ve been spending lots of time in the car with the girls.  One of our favorite pass-times is the famous name game.  For the uninitiated, the name of a famous personality is called and the first letter of the last name becomes the first letter of the first name to be used by the next contestant.  Our rules:  No repeats.  Initials are allowed only if common.  Character names are also permitted if properly cited. The “famous” part can be challenged and disallowed by consensus.

I always try to be educational by naming authors, presidents and older movie actors and singers but wasn’t above using Sheldon Cooper when stuck on yet another S name.  My 18 year-old is very competitive and instituted a 20 second rule.  The 10 year-old was allowed sole possession of Disney Channel actors and characters, but surprised us when she called me on incorrectly naming Star Wars’ sound track composer Robert Williams instead of John Williams.  Here are some recent highlights:

“Roberta Flack”

“She sang Killing Me Softly when it was first a hit in the early 70’s.”

“They had hits back in the 70s?”

 

“Orville Wright”

“Dad, didn’t you mean Orville Redenbacher?”

“No, Wilbur’s brother…just what do they teach y’all in school?”

 

“F. Scott Fitzgerald”

(blank stares)

“You know…The Great Gatsby?”

“He didn’t direct The Great Gatsby!”

 

“Dad, are you gay?  You don’t know who Sofia Vergara is?”

 

Chester Laverne Humble, December 13, 1933 – April 22, 2013

If you will indulge me, I want to spend a few moments talking about Dad. I’ll start with some of my little sister April’s written thoughts: “Dad was a no-nonsense, hard-working, sincerely loving, genuinely caring, fun filled, God respecting, and humble man.”

He was a humble man….all pun intended. It’s OK to smile about that. We can make jokes about being humble. Just as I’ve endured 25 years of Homer Simpson jokes, Dad bore his share of jokes about being or not being humble. It was made worse by Mac Davis’ hit song in the 70’s, “Oh Lord it’s hard to be Humble, when you’re perfect in any way.” I’m reasonably sure Tony Willingham was the chief culprit behind endless strains of that verse around dad. Someone at the paper mill gave him a hat printed with that verse which he humbly wore for many years.

The humble jokes were eventually replaced by the debut of Jim Varney’s commercials. Most of you remember Jim Varney as Earnest. Remember those commercials? It was years before anyone could end a conversation with dad without closing with “knowutimean, Vern,” or “my daddy used to work on them.”

Dad regaled us with his version of the regular dad catch phrases and some of his own, like: “Money don’t grow on trees.” Or, “Do I look like I’m made of money?” Or, after coming home from a shift at the paper mill and finding all the lights in the house turned on, “Do I smell like I work for Alabama power?”

Long before the terms became educational buzzwords, our introduction into critical thinking and problem solving could be summed up in one of my favorite Dad phrases, “Son, use your head for something besides a hat rack.”

April’s notes expounded on the hardworking attribute: “…whether it was at the paper mill or packing Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes, dad gave his best when performing a task.”

His children, grandchildren and co-workers had ample opportunity to learn from this demonstrated work ethic. To this day his voice echoes in my mind every time I face a long but necessary task, “You can’t look it done, Son.”

His message on personal responsibility, especially to us boys, was also eloquently simple, “You get put in jail, don’t call me. I ain’t gonna get you out.”

As it turns out, I was the only one of the four children that ever got hauled in (I think)…y’all probably didn’t know that about me? And you spent all these years thinking I was the good one.

I was 14, had a brand new motorcycle license and was stopped for passing a car in a double line, no passing zone. In my defense, it was going maybe all of 10 mph and billowed oily smoke all over me. I passed it on a turn and a cop coming from the other direction almost ran over me. Fortunately he didn’t, but he did stop me and make me follow him back to the old Demopolis Police Station and City Jail on the corner across from Elk Food Mart. He took me inside and had me wait on a bench for what seemed like several eternities. All the time I’m sitting there thinking, “Oh God, I’m gonna die in here, my Dad will never bail me out.” Finally the officer took me into what turned out to be the chief of police, Johnny Johnson’s office. Chief Johnson sat there quietly looking at my license and finally asked, “You live over on Strawberry Street?” “Yes Sir.” “…in that big yellow house?” “Yes sir.” “Your dad Vern Humble, works at the paper mill?” “Yes Sir.” “Come on go with me.” He didn’t even have to say it; I knew he was taking me home. “Can’t you just please write me a ticket?” “Nope, your dad will take care of this.” As suspected, Dad took care of it.

We were kids and acted like kids and received discipline like kids should. I can honestly say I never received any punishment that I really didn’t deserve; although, he did actually once accuse my brother Gus of breaking an anvil. Really, I don’t think Gus did it. I’m pretty sure it was forged in China and probably already had a crack in it.

Punishment was always dished out evenhandedly…well most always. I’m not saying he showed favorites, but April is the only one of us that ever really got away with anything. I’m not saying I’m bitter about it, but letting her off easy just because she was in a wheel chair, just didn’t sit right. It’s OK April, we’re all over it now.

It didn’t take the rest of us long before we figured out how to take advantage of Dad’s soft spot for April, or as we called her, “the crippled child.” Don’t judge us, she wasn’t your sister. She was our sister. Like most dads, he hated to make frequent stops when travelling, but we knew he would stop for April. With our bladders about to pop, we would whisper, “April, tell Dad you have to go to the bathroom,” or when hungry, “April, tell Dad you want to go to McDonalds.”

Again, from April’s words; “No nonsense means dad was truthful. He was direct in his way of conveying his thoughts on a matter. You know where you stood with him when he spoke, not bullying, but honest.”

Indeed, one of the things he had little tolerance for in life were thoughtless words, written or spoken. He also prized the economic use of words, their appropriate application and was prone to plan their shock value. This didn’t always win him points, and maybe at times his judgment on when and where to speak in this manner may have been a little skewed, but you knew where he stood when he spoke…and that is exactly as April said, honest.

The words, “not bullying, but honest,” speak volumes. There are those that selfishly never learn this lesson. Displaying empathy and understanding in normal discourse between two human beings regardless of the situation is always a better choice than inflicting nothing more than self, personal will or anger on others. As parents, level headed and selfless communication with those in our charge is a task to which we should all aspire.

April also wrote of Dad, “Sincerely loving and genuinely caring, these attributes go hand in hand. He not only loved people but he cared for them.” April got this one right too. OK, dad was no saint. Few of us are. The L-word never easily rolled from his tongue. But if love’s greatest expression is sacrifice, then its demonstration is not with words but by the active offering of one’s self in caring for and providing for others. There are many examples I could share, but I would like to mention a couple:

An elderly aunt, with whom there was a history of strained family relationships, needed to continue making the long trip back and forth to Mobile for another series of chemo treatments. With her husband too ill to take her, and others unwilling, without hesitation he rearranged his work schedule so he could make sure she could get the care she needed.

As a union leader, he helped to start a program that became a model used by other companies for alcoholic rehabilitation and job preservation for employees with substance abuse problems. I’ve had men come up to me on the streets of this town, men now retired from Gulf States Paper with tears in their eyes tell me, “your daddy saved my job for me.”

I think it is safe to say he had a clear understanding of the difference between simply being sympathetic and truly having and exercising empathy.

April also used the words “fun filled.” His brother, my uncle David said that among the 3 brothers that dad was always the practical joker and instigator of mischief. This is easy enough to understand. He could work for some time on an elaborate practical joke…like the time took an old wine bottle, filled it full of Mad Dog 20/20, re-sealed it, re-labeled it, covered it with dust and old spider webs and gave it as a gift to a friend that had recently taken up wine tasting. The only thing actually funnier than some of his escapades was seeing how many times he could retell the story, how much the tale changed over the years and how much fun he had retelling it.

Dad knew how to enjoy life and didn’t have much respect for those that took life or themselves so seriously that they couldn’t share in the potential for childlike joy for which even the aging human spirit has tremendous capacity.

Perhaps one of his greatest gifts to his children and grandchildren was to both encourage and provide life experiences outside our existing world. Whether it was through whatever travel he could afford to provide us or requiring we use our library cards on a regular basis or sharing his own experiences, his contention was that we understood the world was full of people not just like us. So we traveled.

You have to remember that this was also in a time before the ADA, the Americans with Disabilities Act. Many state and federal parks or most any place didn’t have wheelchair access to locations and vistas like there are now. Often he picked April up and carried her to the end of the trail to insure she saw the same views and had the same experience as the rest of us. Dad was April’s American’s with Disabilities Act.

Again, April’s words, “God respecting.”

Dad had what I would call a healthy disrespect for both politics and organized religion and, in his words, “…man’s abundant capacity to negatively influence a good idea.” This attitude greatly hindered his ability to comfortably maneuver within the confines of the typical church setting. No one of us can truly know what is in a man’s heart, except partly by their words and mostly by their actions. Like a true intelligent protagonist, over the years his mind began to allow his heart to soften as he saw with his own eyes the actions of some true Christians. The Jesus he knew, respected and accepted into his heart was not necessarily the one preached from a pulpit, but the one demonstrated by some real men of God. Some in this room today and some no longer with us.

His relationship with his heavenly father was never without good, light-hearted thought. Later in life as he began to participate in more church activities, I questioned him about these activities and his motivation behind his participation. He sensed where I was going with the conversation and quoted his lifelong friend and Dean of Adult Education at the University of Alabama, Dr. James Condra, who referred to his increased interest in religious activities later in life as “cramming for finals.”

So, what is the real measure of a man? How do you look at the aggregate actions of a life at its closing and apply value? Human nature is to use a ledger. We all do it. We do it to ourselves. We do it to others. We say this was wrong and that was right. We judge. We Christians are guilty of continuing to place check marks in our mental ledgers about ourselves and others even after accepting Calvary’s negation of any need for the monitoring of someone’s debits or credits. Only when we can completely understand that concept will we ever see the real value of what Jesus did on that cross.

So let’s look at his ledger.

On the debit side Dad didn’t have many real vices to speak about. He did have a tendency to stretch the truth some…especially when telling a story; of course only for poetic license.

He was prone to curse at times…but that usually was for emphasis. However, my brother and I did learn to cuss while with him underneath the hood of a 1963 Oldsmobile.  I was well into my first year of grade school in Mrs. Strother’s class at Westside Elementary before I realized my first name wasn’t Damnit.

I suppose his only real vice was fried chicken livers. He liked to go to town and pick Crystal up from school. She tells me they would stop by the BP Station/Bus stop on the corner by the old High School, get an order of fried chicken livers and drive around talking. He always told her, “Now Chrystal, we don’t have to tell grandmother about this.”

I am confident his credit entries are many. Here is a man that loved living life. Gave people the benefit of the doubt regardless of race or creed, offering them ample opportunity to prove that they were worthy of participation in the human race. He married the love of his life and without question adopted, loved and raised her children from a previous marriage as his own.

The proudest memory I have of my brother Gus was when he reached the age when his natural curiosity about his birth father brought him to find and contact him. Later when I questioned Gus about how that episode in his life went, his reply to me was, “Vern Humble is my father.”

When his youngest child was born with difficulty, he made sure she had access to every medical or educational opportunity possible to live life to her full potential and he did it willingly and without complaint.

He worked hard at a hard job for many years to provide for his family. He managed his money well and left an estate to ensure both mother and April are taken care of for the remainder of their lives. He did it every day, willingly and without complaint. If this was all you knew about the man this should be all you need to know to conclude that he completed his journey with his ledger well in the black.

It has been said that the true measure of a man is how he treats those that are not in a position to do anything in return for that treatment. There is plenty of evidence here today in this room that he usually passed that test.

What is the real measure of a man? I’ve attended too many funerals of late and have spent too many hours pondering this question. I truly believe that the real measure of a man can only be gauged by the length, breadth and depth of the space he occupies in the hearts, minds and souls of those remaining on this earth after his final breath.

I can with all confidence say he measured up.

Holiday Letters…Humbug

Just once, wouldn’t you like to see a real holiday letter.

Season’s Greetings from (…ohhhhhh, let’s say…) the Simpson’s!

Good god, has it really been a year since I wrote last year’s pack of lies?  If you are reading this, consider yourself lucky.  The mutt ate most of the address book because the economy is so bad and groceries are so expensive we stopped buying dog food, except for grandpa.

2012 really sucked big gnarly ones.  Nobody did anything.  Nobody achieved anything.  Nobody was awarded any medals for anything.  I didn’t get a raise.  My job still sucks.  The people I work with still suck.  I still suck.  That’s why I’m still stuck in this dead-end job ‘till I die of a heart attack.

Lisa is still playing her saxophone.  God help us, she’ll keep playing the blues and probably marry some loser drummer and have to live with us while her sorry husband searches for that pot of grunge drummer gold.   At least she’s not pregnant, yet.

The baby is still sucking on that nunu.   Her teeth will be messed up but it does keep her quiet.

Bart managed to stay out of jail this year and, to date, as far as we know, has not sired any offspring.

Marge is still my blue haired old lady.  I can’t believe we’ve stayed married all these years.  We have managed to work ourselves into subsistence, requiring a minimal amount of communication and sex only on a seasonal basis… whether we need it or not.

But truth be told, I am thankful for Baby Jesus and the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  You see, even though it was used as a medical ointment and burial spice, myrrh was also used in early recipes for mead.  And from mead we got…beeeer, mmmmm.  For that I am truly thankful!

DOH!  Happy Holidays!