The Deeper Meaning of Birthdays……

Today marks my 69th birthday. I don’t mention this to encourage the perfunctory birthday wishes, rather to talk a bit about the deeper meaning of birthdays, at least from my perspective. Birthdays, as you age, serve to remind us of good and bad fortune, as well as provide a kind of yardstick in life. At my age, the raucous parties of years past, way past actually, are nothing more than memories of a time when time really didn’t matter. Today’s occasion is a time of quiet reflection on the seriousness of time and mostly good fortune. Let’s have a look.

The photograph accompanying this piece is of a white coffee cup given to me by Sharon, my wife and a lady of extraordinary patience and uncanny perception. On the cup you see five Labrador Retrievers, with their names inscribed beneath them. There is Truman, Abe, Zeke, Micah and the current household CEO, Tazm. They are sitting easy, staring out across their favorite environment, water, thinking things that are known only to the minds of devoted retrievers. Four of these guys are now a part of the next life, leaving Tazm (named after the first four using the first letter of their names) to bring peace to the Johnson household. The cup is a priceless reminder that for dogs, birthdays are a very big deal indeed, as the Master has seen fit to seriously limit the number of these occasions on earth. I chose the late Charles Krauthammer’s last book, “The Point Of It All” to elevate the cup for the picture. The book seems particularly relevant to the point at hand. At some point, known only to God, I hope to spend time with these pups again…

Today’s birthday finds me incapable of accomplishing so many things taken for granted in the days when birthdays were not important. I spend more time with specialists than I would like to, attempting to preserve the function of arthritic hands and feet, with a grouchy back thrown in for good measure. The decline is palpable, easily measured over the course of this past year. A quick review of the impact of aging, just one year, reveals that I am without a bass-boat for the first time in many years, have suspended my flying career at least temporarily, and no longer have the urge to trample up and down the hills and fields in pursuit of deer and other game. My feet complain after a modest gym workout, much less working a climbing stand up a tall, straight oak on a hillside. Am I complaining? Nope, not at all. Instead of challenging physical feats, I am now enjoying America from the comfort of a RV, stopping in various previously unexplored places to dive into the local custom and culinary scene. Our adventures have shown me there is no need for dominance in a relationship, instead I have finally entered into a sort of partnership with Sharon in which decisions and plans are the result of true collusion. It is important to note that Sharon is a master of manipulation, allowing me the satisfaction of thinking that I am making decisions that she has carefully orchestrated beforehand. Simply put, she is smarter and thinks much quicker than I these days and is critical to my existence as time wears on. In addition, she does most of my remembering for me.

This birthday brings the jolting reality that I continue to lose friends and acquaintances at an accelerated rate. I have two dear friends who are here but are declining in terms of cognitive ability. These folks are living through the indignity of diminishing mental ability, a cruel chapter in lives so well lived. Is this me next year? Is my inability to remember where I placed my keys an indication that I am going to be in trouble next year? Is leaving my hat in a restaurant in Tallahassee another sign that I might be in trouble? Recall was perhaps my strongest suite, leaving me to wonder if my future is sitting on the dock with the pups, staring out over the water. I have lost, outright, several other friends who were permitted the grace of simply checking out without the drama of slow decline.

Through all of these self assessments, I remain optimistic. I will find a way to crappie fish from someone else’s boat. I love to trout fish, but have devoted little effort to becoming a trout fisherman. I love travel and relish the opportunity to settle into a dive or diner tucked away in some backroad locale to sample their culinary creativity. I still chill when I step onto a Civil War battlefield and contemplate the brutality of that Great War. I continue to enjoy casually dispensing sarcasm, usually directed at the current political clown show and choose to not be a hater, at least of people. I enjoy my friends and have moved on from the vitriol that accompanied betrayal in years past. I am enjoying watching my grandkids as they achieve and am determined to see them avoid the mistakes and traps that only experience can reveal.

As a final thought, birthdays, for me, serve as a reminder that not only am I a little older, but that I continue to be blessed with opportunities to learn, experience, and enjoy life. My good memories crush the bad and I am determined to stay challenged and enjoy life. I believe that if you are not gaining knowledge, you are losing knowledge. If I had a crystal ball, I would pitch it off the mile long bridge into the depths of Truman Lake. Not knowing is truly a beautiful part of life’s ride.

What a hoot!

The Interstate…..

Like a moth to a candle, I am drawn to Interstate Highways. My association with them began in 1966 when I received my first driver’s license in Pulaski County, Missouri. Pulaski County was traversed, east to west, by a crumbling, dangerous Interstate 44, much of it encompassing portions of the infamous Route 66 roadbed. I became a State Trooper in 1972, assigned to Lafayette County where Interstate 70 is the predominate highway feature. Like many troopers, I have countless hours of windshield time scanning four lanes of highway looking for any one of the hundreds of anomalies that occur on our roads. In my day there were few barriers to crossing the median to visit with folks who came to my attention as they travelled in the opposite direction. Troopers develop a special relationship with the Interstate, or any road for that matter, a consideration that has prompted this musing.

Tuesday morning, Sharon, Tazzy and I left Tupelo, Mississippi at 2:30 in the morning, headed for home in Springfield after a great winter break in the Florida panhandle. I was concerned with predicted deteriorating weather conditions in Missouri which prompted the early start on I-22 between Tupelo and Memphis, a road that I had no previous experience on. I can report this stretch of Interstate is in very good condition and traffic was light at this hour. My plan was to negotiate Memphis before the morning commute. Morning commutes, major metropolitan areas and 28 foot Airstreams make for a white knuckle experience that I was keen to avoid. For the most part, major metropolitan road systems are pretty well shot, and we try to avoid them when possible, unfortunately, Memphis was not easily avoided.

Tazzy was asleep and Sharon dozed a bit as my thoughts drifted back to those days on I-70 as a young officer. As I slipped back into an enforcement mode, I began scanning the traffic, mostly commercial trucking for potential problems or “good checks” as we referred to instances where intuition and experience focused our attention. We passed a passenger car, nosed into an embankment, that had not been there long, the likely result of inattention or slumber among other potential problems. There were the customary “high rollers”, folks taking advantage of light enforcement in the wee hours to cruise at speeds approaching triple digits. These days, with the cable crossing barriers, and electronic surveillance technology (fuzz busters in our day), these folks are really flying. They were among our most prized customers. I remember sitting on a ramp an hour or two after midnight and checking a tractor trailer from a major pipeline construction company, hauling a D-7 Caterpillar on a flatbed trailer at 91 MPH. The driver was a gentleman, wearing jeans that were perfectly creased, a western shirt and tooled leather boots. He was prepared to post a sizable cash bond and was pleased to be on his way after the delay caused by my intercession. I also recalled those terrible nights when everything went wrong and death was the result.

As we cruised along, I felt there was something not quite right about this trip down memory lane. In an Eureka moment, it occurred to me that I was missing the voice of our radio operators who were along for every tour in our cruisers. In my day, we had no Mobile Data Terminals to make quick inquiries, instead relying on voice communication with one of our superlative radio operators to make checks on the many things requiring further investigation. These folks were masters at cataloging the innumerable, additional resources needed to support the road officer and assisting with channeling those resources to any number of officers at one time. Their ability to respond to the needs of multiple officers, spread over a wide geographical expanse, often encompassing a major metropolitan area, was uncanny. In those days, radio logs were typed by hand, on paper, as they juggled their responsibilities and communicated with us. I smiled as I remembered that some officers were very busy initiating one check after another, nonstop, which had a predictable impact on the operator’s workload. It was a terrific partnership, resulting in invaluable assistance to the motoring public and long days in jail for many folks who thought their secrets were deeply buried. Lending dignity to the travels of folks on the Interstate was gratifying. I never left hungry or cold children on the Interstate….we always found a way.

Our Interstates are getting old. The wear and tear of millions of miles of vehicular traffic, some of it exceedingly heavy (trucks), is taking a toll. I believe the Interstate system, as envisioned by President Eisenhower, is an American treasure that has been taken for granted, as evidenced by the priority given to it by the very folks who rely upon it. I refuse to travel on I-70 in Indiana, preferring the secondary road system that is, surprisingly quite good. I-22, on the other hand, is an Interstate in it’s infancy. It is a pleasure to negotiate with superior engineering evident just about everywhere. I am a road warrior, and as such, have always been in tune with our highway system, particularly the Interstate system. Pulling a RV will serve to sharpen your sensitivity to our roads and highways. It seems we would rather complain than commit the resources necessary to maintaining our great treasure. Interstates have made millionaires out of folks in the orange barrel and cone business. We need to turn the barrel makers into multi-millionaires. We are losing ground every day we ignore the deterioration of our highway system.

Interstates never sleep. Virtually everyone in America relies upon them at some point, good guys and bad guys alike. In reality, an Interstate is a snapshot of America, rural, urban and alien alike. When I go to my reward, I would appreciate it if Sharon would see to it that part of my final journey on earth is on an Interstate. The sounds of a busy Interstate do not annoy me, rather I view the noise as America on the move.

Doctors, A Patients Perspective…..

It is getting harder to love your doctor these days. This cultural shift has nothing to do with the practitioners competence, rather with efficiency demanded by hospital affiliations and insurers. Americans still love the men and women we trust to keep us upright and taking nourishment, but the trust is becoming a blind trust as we don’t really know them and they know us only in a narrow clinical sort of way. I don’t know about you, but I miss the “old” days when you could look your doc in the eye and discuss the implication of his or her arched eyebrow while perusing your latest blood chemistry report. Various medical groups are very good about publishing the restrictions on and changes to the doctor-patient relationship from the doctor’s viewpoint. Let’s have a look from a patients perspective.

When I began my career as a rural highway patrolman, every trooper in the county knew, by name, every doctor in the county. As an example, my son was delivered by an obstetrician in the county seat, precisely two days after my last contact with this doctor in the emergency room of our local hospital where he was working feverishly to keep a young man alive who had been involved in a car accident. In those days, all of the doctors in the area took a turn in the emergency room, and were surprisingly adept at stabilizing patients for the helicopter ride to Kansas City where a specialist or trauma surgeon took over. There were three practicing physicians in my assigned town, all primary care doctors, two of which were married to each other. I can recall two specific instances of old style medicine that illustrate relationships long since relegated to the dustbin of medicine. On one occasion, having been stricken with some virulent, devastating bug causing me to vomit relentlessly, a phone call and two block drive found me bent over my doctors dining room table, in his home, awaiting the welcome relief of some powerful, injected potion that put me to sleep and dramatically slowed the wretching. On the second occasion, I was attempting to start a metal fence post into hard ground by standing on the “wings” of the post and jumping up and down. My boots were not up to the task, and one of the wings cut through a boot and into the sole of my foot. It was Saturday, and a call to the doctor resulted in his meeting me at his office downtown where he stitched up my foot and made sure my tetanus protection was up to snuff. The point is, doctors in those days practiced medicine, with few of the limitations that today’s highly specialized and efficient medicine requires. There was a personal touch….

This is not a political hit piece, however it should be noted that Barack Obama threw billions at a strategy involving the electronic health record system in use today. His EHR strategy would save billions he said, specifically 77 billion a year, create jobs and virtually wipe out Medicare fraud. Oops. This strategy actually greatly FACILITATED Medicare fraud and crushed many one horse medical practices as the costs of this equipment was prohibitively expensive. These doctors in small group or independent practices were forced into hospital affiliations or otherwise swallowed up by big practices. To us, the patient, evidence of this shift in the personal aspect of medicine is the appearance of your doctor, entering the room pecking away at his or her tablet, making little if any eye contact with you and leaving the room minutes later still pecking away at the computer. If your doctor didn’t adapt, there were instant penalties, on an annual basis, withholding a percentage of their Medicare payments…..already shamefully low. Efficiency? Perhaps, but at what price? It is estimated that ER doctors spend 43% of their time entering electronic records information and 28% actually with patients! Your average PCP now spends, on average, 48 minutes daily just entering clinical data. For us, the patient, the doctor spends considerably less time listening, and examining and more time pecking away.

Recently, I enlisted the services of a pain management doctor, a very nice young doctor, to help with chronic arthritic pain in my back. He spent 11 minutes with me and adjourned to the computer rack at the nurses station, making a record. Our conversation was exceedingly brief and his hurry was such that through an open door to my examining room, as I was putting my shirt on, he asked if I was suicidal or depressed! (He was entering a prescription for a med that I could not take as the FAA will not let you fly if you take it.) I told him no and walked out with a prescription that was useless to me. A few minutes of conversation would have cleared the air on this matter, but he was already in a room with his next patient. It is not about the patient, it is about the allotted time per patient and the necessity to see X number of patients per day to meet your quota.

As a final note. Doctors should know that we see the deteriorating relationship with them, on a personal basis, and don’t like it. There is little that we can do, however. Good medicine requires the sharing of deeply sensitive information with a member of a revered profession who we feel like we know well enough to be entirely candid. Today, with a single keystroke, the information you just shared populates fields in data systems virtually nationwide. For those of us fortunate enough to remember the old days when you could schedule time with a doctor who knew you by name, cherish the memory! Today, unless you are exceedingly fortunate, your name has been replaced by a numerical code, establishing the level of visit and a number indicating your time slot on a computer generated schedule. Do not dare to mention, during a visit to follow up on a sutured laceration, that you have been noticing a swelling on your arm. That is another time slot on another day.

Times have changed and we have to accept that, but we don’t have to like it!

All Dogs are Rescues……….

I enjoyed lunch over the past few days with dear friends from the Dallas area, who are enjoying a little time at their condo at Lake of the Ozarks. These folks are among the most grounded people that I know, with an uncanny way of seeing reality in a world where the narrative is seldom reflective of the truth. These folks, like us, are huge dog people, currently sharing space with a real world rescue Pomeranian, literally saved from certain roadside tragedy after being abandoned miles from anywhere. From time to time, Sharon and I consider adopting a rescue pup, from a shelter, and are careful to avoid looking many of these unfortunate guys in the eyes when we bring in big bags of dog food, old crates and toys that our Lab, Tazm, has outgrown. Their existence is a tragedy evolving from human indifference, and should one of us win the lottery, there will be the damndest dog sanctuary that you have ever seen, built in vain, as the problem of unwanted, casually discarded pups has no end. In spite of this, build it we will.

Our friends asked us if we had considered adopting one of these pups. Of course, we have, as we have seen many beautiful relationships formed with pups that would have otherwise languished in a shelter. This being said, if given a choice, we prefer to carefully consider pups with great bloodlines, raised by breeders we have placed a high degree of confidence in. Each of our Labradors trace their existence to one of these breeders, where we have observed both the stud and dam, and who have provided great dogs to us in the past. Our preference is compounded by a strong love for Labrador Retrievers, a breed uniquely suited to cohabitation with it’s human partners. I suppose we are dog snobs, not so much because of breed preference, but more so because we have never been disappointed by a Lab. To be sure, there are any number of breeds available, one to suit the preferences of virtually everyone in the country, from bird hunters to police K-9s, suited to apartment dwelling or requiring vast expanses to run and burn off energy. It is the Chevrolet/Ford conundrum, except it has four feet, fur and personality. I was an active bird hunter, once upon a time, and strongly preferred the German Shorthaired Pointer, for reasons that would require another lengthy discourse, and with the understanding that I have shot birds over many fine setters and long legged English pointers.

As I mulled over the considerations attendant to my preference for some degree of control and predictability with what amounts to a constant companion for 10-15 years, it occurred to me that every dog is potentially a rescue pup. I am convinced human beings that take on the responsibility of owning, nurturing and sharing your existence with a pup, needn’t feel guilty for preferring the better odds of a wonderful relationship with a known quantity and breed characteristic. Just as it is with the very human tragedy of unwanted children, it is with dogs, we cannot possible save them all and both purebreds and mixed breeds deserve the best existences possible. Who is to say that our beloved Tazzy, might not have been acquired by some hard nosed owner who took him home and tied him to a barrel outside? High social standing and great wealth are not barriers to the mistreatment of any dog, purebred or of unknown origin.

Pictured below is Tazzy, in costume, greeting kids on Halloween.

I applaud those that have the personality and adaptability to roll the dice and bring home a furry friend with not much more than a half hour get acquainted session at the shelter. We are just a little more methodical and seldom go anywhere without Tazm. He likely will never spend many nights away from us, a fact that is useful only to illustrate our association with dogs. We are dog people, to an extent that would appall any number of otherwise reasonable folks!

As I write this piece, Tazzy has been busy emptying my shoe shine bag, one brush and one polish rag at a time and bringing the items to me in the office, at the other end of the house. He is grinning, in a dog way, as he retrieves these items, bent on pleasing me with these treasures. This is a hard characteristic to check for at the shelter.

Any agreeable pup of any breed is welcome in our home. Where he is “rescued” from is simply not important to us.

God bless all dogs and those that care.

The Return of The Resolutionists……

Each March 19th, over many, many years the graceful avian miracle takes place when the swallows return to the Mission San Juan Capistrano after a long flight from Goya, Argentina. Their ability to accomplish this arduous journey, relying on instinct, the sun’s relationship to earth, and an understanding of weather that human’s likely will never grasp, is a beautiful thing. This week, on an admittedly lesser scale, we will witness yet another miracle, the return of the Resolutionists to the gymnasium. The beauty of the swallows, having defied nature to accomplish what can be described as a magnificent occurrence is replaced by the humorous antics of folks who have just ended a year on a glutinous holiday orgy of food. They know what must be done, so they are in the gym on the 2d day of January (The 1st day is reserved for prayer that their misery from alcohol poisoning be replaced with the sweet relief of death.) It is time to act on the mightiest resolution of all. Go to the gym, get in shape and lose the weight that has resulted in wardrobe replacement, yet again, this last year. Let’s have a look.

I am a dedicated gym rat. No, I have no desire to look like Charles Atlas, my goals being far more modest. I work to keep arthritis at bay, maintain reasonable strength for a an old guy, and be able to bend over to pick something up and actually stand back up without moaning and cursing. My friends are the charts that provide reasonable, age adjusted goals, where I work in the upper 25% of males my age. The gym became a necessity when my lifestyle changed dramatically, with fishing, hunting, farming, lawn work, carpentry, rolling stock maintenance, wood cutting, etc. being replaced with flying, motorcycling, RVing, lazy float fishing and an occasional fly fishing excursion to one of our terrific trout venues. I actually love the gym and enjoy the folks who share this experience on a regular basis. Folks become addicted to this lifestyle, but it takes awhile to get “over the hump” and develop this appreciation. Through much of the year, you interact with people who share your commitment to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. This interaction alone is refreshing. This being said, around the 2d of January, our little world is interrupted by the Resolutionists, who will mingle about, providing comic relief to the rats and other Resolutionists as they dig in to remake their bodies, with great expectations, but little understanding of the commitment that is necessary.

My first observation concerns gym apparel. I often comment on the exceedingly pleasing visual experience of Lycra and/or spandex on the finely toned bodies of the ladies who have worked really hard to do justice to these synthetics. At nearly 70, your appreciation only deepens as you watch these ladies burn an elliptical up or hop on a stair stepper and climb the equivalent of the Empire State Building in a single session with all the gusto of a New York City fireman attacking a fire in a high rise. Leering is off limits in the gym, but an occasional glimpse of these ladies at work is plenty of incentive for old folks like me to stay an extra half hour on the recumbent bike! Gym rat guys don’t wear Lycra, unless you are a Resolutionist and Santa left some of this stuff under the tree for your debut on January 2d. Lycra, an ill fitting pair of gym shorts and brand new Nike super shoes are dead giveaways that a spectacle is about to occur. Ladies do not escape this faux-pas, as the marvelous, previously mentioned miracle fabrics cannot work body transforming miracles. There is nothing quite as disconcerting as seeing an elephant with his tail tucked between his legs….if you get my point.

Secondly, the resistance machines in modern gyms are far more sophisticated than just a few years ago. They have evolved to the point where a single device is designed to work a particular muscle group, in some cases a single muscle, and form is important. It is tongue biting humorous to watch a Resolutionist walk up to a device, climb on and give ‘er a go. I am convinced these devices alone have discouraged many Resolutionists after just a day at the gym who have added as much weight as they could possibly move and, using terrible form, awakened the next morning with muscles screaming for relief. Resolutionists tend to be a little older and would do well to schedule a session or two with an exercise coach who will steer you away from practices guaranteed to cause abandonment of well intentioned goals in short order. A session or two, with much too heavy resistance, will tempt even the most ardent Resolutionist to consider the slow walk to the locker room where he or she will consider hanging themselves from a shower head with their Lycra tights! Savvy gym rats know to work different muscle groups on alternating days. Resolutionists make it a point to start with device one and work their way around the gym giving every machine a try. This would kill even Charles Atlas. Finally, while discussing devices, it should be noted that free weights are still an excellent strategy for strength conditioning or sculpting. It is important to note that you CANNOT, in all likelihood, pick up where you left off in your senior year of high school. These attempts often result in audible, profane expletives from Resolutionists who hop into the weight room and go to work after having lifted little more than a bite of prime rib in the preceding year. The picture below is of the latest stair step machine in our gym. This little jewel takes NO prisoners……..believe me!

A final note. The first few weeks of the Resolutionist period is permeated with the smells of the season. If you love the smell of Ben-Gay or today’s popular miracle creams and sprays, Icy-Hot and/ or Freeze, you are going to love this time of the year. Every device has the lingering scent of camphor permeating the air around it, a reminder of the good intentions of those who have lapsed in conditioning for years. These good folks, whether motivated by an honest PCP, family member or genuine desire to take better care of themselves, are trying to make it “over the hump” and join the ranks of the committed. The kindest gesture on behalf of the rats is the offer of guidance relative to the use of a machine as you walk by, but this must be done carefully. After all, these folks have been taking care of themselves all of their lives, and often resent any help with something as basic as physical conditioning. I, rather than offer advice on a device, usually just mention the name of a conditioning coach that is affiliated with the gym with the admonishment that it will be the best 50 bucks they will spend during the Resolutionist period.

Back to attire, I have, from experience, seen denim withstand horrible forces in auto accidents without tearing. Denim has nothing on Lycra and Spandex………..

See you at the gym……….

Tractors, Dogs and Christmas…..

Sounds a bit like a country song, perhaps penned by the old master himself, Tom T. Hall, however there are no stars in this story that unfolded a day or two before Christmas, back in the early 70’s. I had just gone into service when radio notified me that my assistance was needed at a John Deere equipment company in Higginsville, Mo. I was met there by the high sheriff, Gene Darnell and my Sergeant, Bob Plymell.

It seems that somebody had decided on a new tractor for Christmas, however neglected to work out the financial arrangements with the dealership. The manager assured us the tractor was there the night before, as this was a small dealership and the inventory well known to the employees. The ground was damp and the tractor had been driven from it’s parking place onto Truman Road, likely westbound, leaving clear tracks in the grass. This tractor was big enough to have required a good sized truck to haul away, or, we surmised, was simply driven off. We cobbled together a plan, and I was assigned to contact each resident along Truman Road to see if they had seen or heard anything over the past 12 or so hours. The plan seemed reasonable and I was sure to meet a number of good people while enhancing the law enforcement image among our neighbors along the suspected route. I grabbed a coffee and went to work.

I had worked my way west through the heart of Lafayette county and, as you might suspect, was meeting with little success. This was farm country and tractors were a common sight along this road, although not so much in the dead of night. Many folks were not home and I was offered coffee and treats all along the way, including a piece of home made fruit cake that was absolutely delicious. I can assure you the good German descendants in this part of Missouri know something about great food. I made a note to volunteer for the next assignment that involved canvassing farm country, however; my good will tour was about to change.

I pulled into a long drive leading to a white framed farm home that was about 100 feet from the road, at the end of a gravel drive that circled the house and ended at a cluster of outbuildings. The yard and property was absolutely immaculate with only a barn door open in one of the small buildings. I opened the storm door and knocked on the entry door and received no response. I knocked again, louder before hearing a rapidly approaching German Shepard who was not at all pleased with my presence on HIS porch. He was huge and clearly furious with my presence so I cowered between the storm door and entry door while he assured me, in dog speak, that as soon as he could he was going to shred my uniform and whichever offending part he uncovered. I was in a bad spot, and no relief was in sight.

This standoff lasted for what I would guess was two or maybe three lifetimes but was actually only 10 minutes or so when the rural mail carrier stopped at the mailbox out front. It quickly became apparent the dog disliked rural mail carriers as much or more than errant troopers and he immediately charged the mail person’s vehicle. My brain, fogged by fear, carbohydrates and too much coffee told me this might be my only chance to escape without being gnawed on by the Shepard and I broke for my car, which was still running, about the same distance from the porch as the mailbox was from the car. The race was on……

I have never covered a hundred or so feet that quickly in my entire life. About halfway to my car, the dog realized he had abandoned his sentry duty and began his sprint back towards me. Had he gone straight to the patrol car, I would have been doomed. I beat Jaws to the car and slammed the door in his face, placing a nice piece of safety glass between me and his snapping jaws and saliva. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at that point but made a vow to avoid eating fruit cake ever again while on duty! The gun belt and Sam Browne make it tough to catch your breath when you have a pound of fruitcake under it and are winded from a race with death!

I finished my canvass with nothing to show for it in regard to the tractor, which was never recovered during my tenure in Lafayette County. It took awhile for me to cover the rest of the road to the Jackson county line, as I honked and made a spectacle out of myself at each of the residences I stopped at. I had developed a new found respect for farm dogs. I shared the story with most of the folks I subsequently contacted, and we shared a laugh or two at the adventure.

When I think of Christmas in uniform, I remember that I seldom wrote a ticket on Christmas Day, loved helping folks determined to visit relatives in cars that were unfit to be on the road and the Truman Road Shepard. The good memories have replaced the occasional tragic circumstance that marred the season. We all have Christmas memories and I hope your fondest memory brings a smile to your face…….mine always will!

Merry Christmas

Golden Years, Golden Tears, The Power of Laughter….

I have had a fun week. You know, the kind of week when you cringe at the news, so avoid much of it, and revel in the humor that surrounds you during that hectic week before everybody exhales on Christmas morning. One of my kid sisters sent us a text this morning with a picture of my brother-in-law busy assisting one of my nieces assemble a Christmas surprise for one of their kids. The instructions contained not a word of advice, just pictures and I had to chuckle. He is a construction manager, having overseen the building of motels and other major projects yet was concentrating mightily as he worked on the toy. Laugh with me for a bit……

My old friend arthritis continues to humble me. I reported for an MRI this week, to further explore the mystery of this malady as it relates to my lower back. The nurses manning the MRI shop were all younger (seems everybody is these days) and full of life. After removing my clothes and donning a pair of scrub pants and one of those lovely gowns, I placed my clothing and shoes into a locker and slipped the key onto my wrist, which was then removed while I enjoyed the ride through the noise filled little tube listening to some of the oldest Christmas music in existence. My cell phone was left with my clothing, and while I enjoyed the hammering, squeaks and hums of the MRI not synchronized with the sounds of cave men singing White Christmas, the phone was busy dinging away as my sisters enjoyed a robust text chat session. After the session, I returned to the cubicle, retrieved my belongings and was greeted upon opening the curtain, by a 20 something nurse who remarked that I surely had many text messages to answer, judging from my cell phone activity while I was gone. I replied the messages were likely from my many girlfriends checking on my well being. She calmly looked me in the eye and suggested, with a wink, that I keep them apart this Christmas or I would be wearing a lot of sweaters at the same time on Christmas morning. You know, sweaters, the gift of choice for old people. We shared a laugh and I walked out with another reminder that at nearly 70, you’re fooling no one.

I hobbled out to my pick-up and smiled as I reflected on the changes over the years. I remembered fondly my first pair of glasses, single vision to “help” with fine print, which evolved into bifocals to render road signs a little sharper and finally, morphed into trifocals to help with seeing anything. I was still smiling as I considered the noises in the MRI which are muted by the earphones you wear while you are reposing in the tube. It was good to get out of the contraption and replace the earphones with my newer digital hearing aids, another sure sign that I have lived a great life, as most fun things in life involve noise to some degree. As a footnote to this visit, I shook my head as I thought about the receptionist who looked over the pre-MRI questionnaire and carefully asked me what I had written in response to a number of the inquiries. This seems like a good time to apologize to my administrative assistants over the years who have developed twitches and headaches as a result of deciphering my penmanship. I can’t imagine the angst of folks today who try and read the same blocked hieroglyphic, arthritis modified, script that I generate occasionally.

I wear a hat, a lot. Back in the day, when the campaign hat was an essential part of my being, the removal of the hat was done in such a manner as to not disturb the carefully maintained hairstyle that I wore. Today, the hat keeps my bald pate warm. In a careless moment of vanity, I stopped in to talk with a “barber” (they call them stylists today) and inquire as to what I might do with male pattern baldness that I am afflicted with. She carefully studied my head and compassionately offered her opinion. She suggested several brands of multi-blade razors that would stay sharp through the every other day total head shave, which she opined, was my best option. Her soft smile is likely my last remembrance of being in a barber shop, forever denied access to the latest gossip and manly banter that men love. I’m going to buy myself one of those long, horsehair brushes that barbers douse with talcum powder before they whisk the hair from your neck. To be sure, it will be messy, but another advantage you enjoy after life in the carefully fitted, super straight appearance of the uniform, is the freedom to be messy. In fact, I am getting good at it. A little talcum powder won’t hurt anything!

At my age, Christmas shopping takes on a whole new meaning. Instead of having very little time to find that perfect gift for those you love, you have all the time in the world to walk around and eat stuff! (Starbucks, having relied upon the stoned opinion of one of it’s coffee chemists, has developed a Juniper Latte. I asked for a sample. It tastes exactly like of a shot of Pine-Sol carelessly poured into a cup of coconut milk and coffee. Stay away unless you are enduring some sort of fantasy weight loss or Christmas induced health regimen. It is exactly as bad as it sounds). At our age, everybody we know has everything they could possible want, leaving us to buy electronic stuff we know nothing about for the young folks on our lists who know precisely what they need. So, we eat. The restaurants are offering up one special after another, the bakeries are operating in overdrive mode, and we are in a Christmas induced festive mode. The Highway Patrol is responsible for our atrocious habit of eating out, almost daily. They required us to eat one meal per shift in a public venue. Old habits die hard and old people love their chow. Before leaving the shopping thing, old people are very much convenience oriented. One word, Amazon. A keystroke delivers Christmas anywhere you want it delivered, often before you finish the last course at your favorite eatery.

Social media has been a blessing in many ways. I have made, and enjoy, many “friends” that I likely would never have known, albeit through pictures and discreet peeks into their mental processes. While it cannot possibly replace the warm holiday handshake or hug, it can remind us that we are never really alone. My prayer is that we are all still here next year to share in the revelry and mystery of the season. To my young friends, remember that today is the memory of tomorrow. Enjoy every minute that you can, smile, laugh often and never make an enemy that you don’t absolutely have to. This is the perfect season to begin eliminating regret…….an unforgiving guest as you get older.

To my old friends and many new friends, Merry Christmas! I thank God for each of you……