A Shanky’s Kind Of Week……

Older folks spend a great deal of time trading health related information with each other. For most of us, those carefree days of youth and indiscretion are well behind us, and each new twinge or minor pain conjures up images of paramedics pounding on our chests attempting to bring us from the brink and delaying a meeting with the big guy in a heavenly setting. I have a cardiac history and am no Mr. Rogers, having lived on the edge for many, many years. This past week found me at the prestigious Cleveland Clinic (these folks literally saved my life by diagnosing a shot valve, repairing it and adjusting the timing in my heart through two cardiac ablations, all 10 years ago). They are that good. Any trip to Cleveland in the dead of winter is an adventure.

Chest pain and a recent abhorrent emergency room experience locally found us on the phone scheduling the big guns in Cleveland once again. This time I spent quality time with an incredible gastroenterologist as the pains could be related to esophageal spasm, which mimics a heart attack. We return in mid February for additional tests related to the esophagus and digestive tract and a visit with a clinical cardiologist who will then quarterback an in depth look at how the heart plays into these “attacks”. Kings, Oil Sheiks and the rich and famous find their way to this clinic but they treat an old, retired police officer with the same respect and diligence as Shiek Bigshotto from Dubai.

Old person health talk aside, the pain issues are not why I write. This past summer, while enjoying a RV sojourn to Hidden Valley, my daughter introduced me to a novel way to soothe my feelings as they departed on a Niangua River float while I stayed back to guard the campsites. A recently reconstructed rotator cuff precluded me from paddling a canoe. The oil on troubled water? A bottle of Shanky’s Irish Whip, a kind of, well, Irish whiskey. Most likely, you’ve never heard of the stuff, I hadn’t but am now enjoying what I hope to be a long relationship with this spirit, in moderation of course. Some years ago, I met the definition of a “binge” drinker, someone who never drank during the week, but who tied one on Friday nights at our local Eagle’s Club. I generally finished the evening with an Irish Coffee, a concoction of Bailey’s and coffee. I still love this drink, but now rely on Shanky’s to take coffee from a wonderful beverage to a sublime treat.

Shanky’s Irish Whip

Shanky’s Whip is an Irish whiskey that features a rich cream flavor with hints of vanilla and caramel blended with a smooth black liquor. Think a good Irish Whiskey without the cutting edge that can leave your throat feeling like it has been subjected to a wood rasp. It is, at once, slightly sweet, creamy, velvety and has a long finish. It is wonderful in coffee or over ice, never biting and always pleasing to the palate. A shot of Reddi Wip Sweet Foam, from your dairy section, sets it off nicely. Shanky’s is distilled in Cavan, Ireland. It is a small batch liquor but commands a rather reasonable price. It is not easy to find, (not available in Springfield) and we travel to Mac-a-Doodles in Osage Beach for ours. I have managed to addict two of our closest friends and my sister to this nectar and we generally check with one another before going near a liquor store that carries it. As I write, I am enjoying a very good coffee infused with an ounce of this black magic. It takes my mind off such things as “lake affect” snow and a 10 hour drive through all the weather you could ever hope not to see.

My parting shot. All doctors and all troopers are not created equal. For that matter neither are all shoe salesmen. Neither are whiskeys. If you have had about all of the local talent you can take and are suffering from a serious issue, particularly heart related, check out one of the 300 cardiologists that practice at this clinic or hundreds of other specialists who make the grade as a Cleveland Clinic doctor. Even if they only confirm what your local doc has ordered, it could be a second opinion that keeps you around to read my musings for a while longer. I hate losing readers and love you all. By the way, please accept my deepest gratitude for the heartwarming birthday sentiments. Age has a few advantages, one of which is trusted friends and another is the refined pursuit of excellence, whether it be medical care, good whiskey or an old dog who gets you.

Have a wonderful week!

SR

Boats, Bass and Crappie…..

“If it flies or floats, rent it, don’t buy it” the immortal words of some poor pilot who doubled as a water sport enthusiast on weekends. (My closest old friends know that I add another concept to be rented rather than bought, not suitable for print!) This past week I attended a small, by today’s standards, boat show where boat peddlers offered deals on the industry’s latest proffering. Over the course of my journey through life, I have acquired too many firearms, too many boats and far too many automobiles and trucks. Each was and is a passion and while I still love vehicles, arthritis has slowly distanced me from hand gunning and boats. The boat show, and my lustful leering at some of the latest floating technology stimulated a review of the what and why of boats. Sharon was carefully monitoring my thought processes for any sign that I was thinking purchase as opposed to admiring. She is pretty good at that!

A summary statement on the subject of boats is easy. They permit you to fly up and down a lake in pursuit of one of the greatest delicacies known to man, crappie. To test your competitive drive, bass offer a world class challenge and change of pace, but I would not class them as a delicacy. I have not put a knife to a bass in many years, instead I fight with them, poke holes in their lips and turn them back to do bass things. I have owned 10 bass boats, 1 johnboat, and 1 pontoon boat. A brand review would reveal Fisher, Ozark, 2 Rangers, 3 Champions, 1 Xpress, a Javelin and a Triton. My inventory today is limited to an Osagian canoe and a couple of “Botes” we have yet to pick up in Florida. The Botes are inflatables, designed for lazy drifts down our beautiful rivers. My total boat experience is paltry when you consider there have been just under 300 bass boat manufacturers in America, many of which are still in production, and I personally know about so few of them.

Mr. Ranger, my last boat.

What has this experience taught me? First, a boat is simply a hole in the water that you fish out of. Secondly, I have yet to see a fish of any description indicate a boat brand preference. Next up, boats feed an addiction for fishing equipment that has more than kept up with inflation. The 50 buck reels of 1975 are easily 300 bucks today. Baits that you hid from your wife at a couple of dollars apiece are well over 10 dollars today, with “swim baits” hand painted replicas of bluegill, going for 50 dollars apiece at the show. When I reduced my lure and tackle inventory earlier this year in a garage sale, I needed a shot of Shanky’s Irish Whiskey to keep from crying over my return on investment. With whisky bolstered courage, I remarked to Sharon that it was better to spend on tackle than frequent a tavern nightly. I am not sure she agreed as her gaze passed over the outlay for sale.

In the end, you can’t put a price on the sound of a transom slapping the water on a ramp at daybreak when the crappie are on the bank. The conversations with friends deep in a Truman Lake cove and the anticipation of that tap that signals a fish who has let his appetite override his desire to avoid a cooker full of hot peanut oil, is priceless. Deer on a bank, carefully watching you or an old momma goose in a broken snag scolding you for getting too close to her brood cannot be valued in monetary terms. The sound of an Evinrude or Mercury coughing to life is sweeter than a violin virtuoso at a concert, but only to the ears of a boat owner and outdoorsman. Arthritis has taken a rod out of my hand for all but a few hours at a time, but it has done nothing to clear the memories of hours in a boat and a beautiful, blue backed crappie coming over the side. An occasional boat race was icing on the cake for a guy who considers the smell of an old two stroke oil burner sweeter than that of cologne on a prom queens neck.

If the Lord granted me a mulligan, I would find another blood red Champion with a big Merc on the transom and head to the ramp, rods carefully arranged on the deck, with a friend worthy of the experience. We didn’t know what we had then……..and that is a sin. To my younger friends, don’t get so busy with life, you don’t take time to live along the way. You’ll get old one day, God willing, and today is what you’ll have to remind you of your life in review. Will you smile or frown?

Make it a smile.

Have a good week…..

SR

SR

Do Not Be Fooled……

In 1960, 39% of licensed drivers in America were women, with that number growing to 40.8% in 1965. We were starting to see the fork in the road, relative to male and female roles, merge into blurry intersections requiring lots of signage to get through. Gender specific roles still exist, of course, but one needs to tread carefully if one is prone to broad generalizations regarding the women in our lives. I like it that way and would not change a thing. It wasn’t apparent at the time, but I married Beth Dutton, of Yellowstone fame. Let me explain.

First of all, I married a country girl, raised on a farm where you are toughened by the reality that folks eat animals that must be killed. You learn that getting dirty, I mean really filthy, is a daily occurrence. Grain dust and dirt are unforgiving companions and gun grease on your hands means you are maintenance inclined with your machinery and equipment. Sharon’s father was hard as flint. He was a night hunter, kept hounds, and raised more than one coon to train his pups with. When it rained you got muddy and when it didn’t you got dusty. His vocabulary was colorful, a huge understatement. When little Sharon mashed a toe, he reached for pliers to pull the offending nail out. He was, by today’s standards, a Neanderthal. Sharon can handle a very big 350HP tractor pulling monster equipment as well as any man out there. This is an environment that will make you tough, irrespective of your gender. All this aside, she will fool you into thinking she is refined, articulate and a work of feminine art. Appearances can be deceiving, just ask the car salesmen who have crossed swords with her.

Little Sharon, bottle feeding the ‘coons
Teenaged Sharon with an earlier and smaller tractor on the farm.

I carry Sharon’s lunch when we shop for “her car”. She begins her association with the poor devil who thinks she is a cultured lady and knows nothing about the car business, helping her. She usually begins her dialogue with a warning. “When we get to the bottom line, if my husband enters this conversation and is able to reduce the price by a single thin dime, I am out of here in a heartbeat”. She means it and has walked. When a store clerk miscalculates a sale price, Sharon, the professional teacher, is more than happy to help with the math, one time. She will ask for a manager at the drop of a hat, knowing full well where the buck stops. Disrespect her, and you will pay a price.

A recent experience prompted this writing. Sharon was talking with a dear friend and related how she responded to an error code on our clothes dryer. She called an appliance repairman, ascertained what the code meant, and then moved the washer and dryer to gain access to the vent hose on the dryer. She then unscrewed the face plate on our exterior wall, assembled a fiberglass extension rod with a brush, and proceeded to clean out the line. She then reassembled the vent hose, at both ends and the error code went away, just as she anticipated. The friend asked where Steve was. Uh-oh. My Sharon will point out rather quickly that when Steve is needed, she will call him, but Steve isn’t needed for 90% of what happens around a house. Two years ago, I went to the deer woods for a few days, and Sharon tore out all the racks and shelving in our master closet, patched and textured the sheet rock and repainted the walls, getting everything ready for the design and installation of new racks. I was involved only in the installation of the new, much more substantial racks, my only contribution. This lady will cut grass, hook up the Rv, trim hedges, prune trees and haul rock in a wheel barrow. She can dress a limit of crappie with the smoothness of a surgeon. She thought nothing of tying onto our Airstream and delivering it to a waiting doctor in coastal Mississippi where she closed the deal with him and returned home with a check, a trip I could not make because of a back issue.

Where does Beth Dutton come in? Sharon goes about life as any educated lady would. She is pleasant, conversational and usually a step ahead of those she is associating with. She can turn into a wolverine when others might withdraw and cry out of frustration. She cannot stand to be high hatted, despises a liar and is profoundly practical. She is loving and is moved to tears over human tragedy. Just don’t disrespect her and avoid, at all costs, lying to her. She can handle the truth as she is a country girl with an education, and country girls get it.

Beth Dutton channels her inner being……and I wouldn’t change a damned thing!

Have a great week.

SR

The Gladiator and The Centurion….

This past Monday, two events helped frame America’s conscience. A professional football player, Damar Hamlin, suffered a life threatening cardiac event in front of millions of fans, on both live television and in a packed stadium. On this same day, a small town Chief of Police was shot dead by a menace to society with little, if any audience. The media has reported on the progress of the stricken player on virtually every newscast since he went into cardiac arrest while the killing of the officer has garnered scant mention and little interest. Our response to these two events leaves me fairly seething with anger. Here is why.

Damar Hamlin is a young and talented multi-millionaire who has agreed to risk his health as a professional entertainer on a stage where serious injury and long term brain damage is a likely event. While death is not guaranteed as in Ancient Rome, he can be rightfully compared to the Gladiators that entertained the Roman legions with violence, death and dismemberment. Football is an inherently dangerous sport and we are consumed with the violence that elicits oohs and ahs when the contact is violent. It is also a beautiful athletic endeavor wrapped in the most successful marketing scheme since the introduction of the Mustang in 1964. Young Damar was generous and respected in his community, an ambassador for his trade, but still yet……a millionaire entertainer who understands the risk when he suits up.

Sometime during that same day, Brackenridge, Pa. Police Chief Justin McIntire was shot and killed by a thug named Aaron Lamont Swan, Jr., who was later that day shot and killed by other police officers after a protracted chase. McIntire was 46 years old and much loved in his community. Police officers also understand the risks associated with their profession, but America considers the 33 officers shot dead in 2022 as nothing more than a footnote in history, paling in comparison to a cardiac event suffered by a single NFL player. While officers understand the risk they are taking, their reward is not adulation and buckets of money, rather the safety of those in their communities. It is work that is neither glamorous or entertaining. Chief McIntire and most police officers do not have the deep pockets of an NFL player, but he clearly placed the lives of others ahead of his own interests, a very noble gesture. Rather than millions, the Chief gave himself, a nobility that far surpasses the notoriety on a gridiron.

The late Chief Justin McIntire, shot dead by Aaron Swan, Jr.
The late Aaron Lamont Swan, Jr. Shot dead by the police.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, a marketing genius on a level with Lee Iacocca, has announced that a tribute to Hamlin will be made before the start of every game this weekend. The Monday night game featuring Hamlin’s unfortunate medical emergency was suspended because of the anguish suffered by the players. Various coaches, keen on promoting the NFL brand, talk of the terrible pall this event has cast over their squads. Goodell has said, “this has been a very difficult week……we continue to focus on the recovery of Damar Hamlin……..and appreciate the tremendous outpouring of support and care for Damar and his family…..” Let me assure you that when an officer is cut down, the anguish is real and deep, but the police do not suspend their day and go home to worry. They suit up and mull over the death of a fellow Centurion while wrapping themselves in image armor and carrying on the business of serving and protecting.

To put all of this in perspective, consider this. If football were to be banned, nationally, today, America would keep doing what America does and we would find another pastime. If policing were to cease to exist today, America, as we know it, would also cease to exist. Yet, we shower todays Gladiator equivalents with love, adulation and gobs of money. If I were to ask you to name a famous gladiator from Ancient Rome, most would immediately recall the great Thracian Gladiator, Spartacus. If I were to ask the same question about a famous Roman Centurion, you would be thunderstruck. Some things never change. How profoundly sad is the esteem we accord our Centurions of today.

Have a great week

SR

Thanks For The Memories 2022…….

When we look back at 2022, it is easy to get lost in a destructive political climate, Covid and inflation. Despite these seemingly overwhelming considerations, good things did happen, both in and outside of America. First and foremost, if you are reading this you have checked the grim reaper at your door. Congratulations on your successful year staying upright and taking nourishment. More than a few of our friends will not be here to welcome the challenges that 2023 will offer. The following thoughts represent a smattering of the good things over the past year.

On 02-22-22, at 2:22 AM, in delivery room #2, the Spear family in Burlington, NC, welcomed a beautiful baby girl into the world that weighed precisely 122 oz. (7 lb, 10 oz.). She will have a conversational topic for the rest of her life as this alignment of numbers is exceedingly rare! Now that is timing…..

He searched the Arkansas Crater of Diamonds for nearly 10 years before stumbling across the biggest diamond to ever be located in this fabled hunting ground. Adam Harding located a 2.38 carat beauty on April 10, 2022. Is this a big deal, you ask? Sharon says it certainly is to women, adding that men do not have the appreciation for big diamonds they have.

For all you molecular physicists out there, the James Webb telescope launched by NASA in 1990 finally slipped into an orbit of the sun this year, a short jaunt of just over a million miles. It is sending gorgeous pictures back to earth, one having been named the “Pillars of Creation” located in the Eagle Nebula which is some 6500 light years from earth. The photo of that cloud like formation I have attached to this piece is thought to be the birthplace of stars. So you’re pretty good with algebra and trigonometry…….you have nothing on the folks doing this stuff. Hats off to the rocket scientists that have seen the fruits of their labors come home this year.

“Pillars Of creation”

Critters are prime indicators of the health of our planet. This year marks the growth of our humpback whale population from less than 10K to a new high this year of 80K. That is a testament to man’s ability to care for and respond to the needs of critters.

On January 7, Canada enacted a new law banning “Conversion Therapy”, which is an attempt to change a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression in any way. Like it has always been before the new focus on programming sexual identity, the Canadians leave it to the individual to work through this business on their own. Good for Canada. Is America watching?

The end of 2022 marks the halfway point in the most destructive and divisive Presidential Administration in modern history. This Administration is led by a inept consummate serial liar of epic proportions. The good news here? Only two years to go……and a Republican House of Representatives. Thank you, America.

This year, rabid Cincinnati Bengals’ fans donated 26,000 meals to a Kansas City food bank after spanking our Chiefs to get to the Super Bowl. That is a generosity exceeded only by the Chiefs organization sending 300K to a Buffalo Children’s Hospital after the Chiefs beat the Bills. A very positive side of the NFL, not often recognized.

Field Artillery, shotgunning game birds and internal combustion engines of all persuasions have been destructive to my hearing. Thankfully, the VA has accepted their share of the responsibility and covers the costs of very expensive hearing aids. Some 30M less fortunate Americans can now take advantage of a change in the Food and Drug Administration’s rules that permit folks to buy quality hearing appliances over the counter. This rule change will save hearing challenged folks an average of $2,800.00 per pair of aids. A golden opportunity……

The great state of Missouri is still, well, the great state of Missouri. We have slipped a bit but still remain the pragmatic, energetic people that we are known as. We believe it when we see it, remain conservative in style and recognize a shyster when we see one. Folks did not put a glove on the 2d Amendment here, where we interpret, literally, our Constitution. This resolve will be tested in 2023, but I am confident we won’t move on this issue. We didn’t give liberal progressives much consideration in 2022, something to be very proud of.

Sometime today, raise a toast to America, still a world leader and military powerhouse. Remember the work and efforts of our uniformed services, folks that lend dignity to the world stage and particularly to our country. We owe them…for a great year. Sure, it can always be better, but by any reasonable account, it has been a hell of a ride in 2022.

Happy New Year!

SR

What Happened To God……

A big day for Christians

I watched a reporter on a big city street in America stop folks and ask a few fundamental questions about Christmas and the Lord. It was sobering to say the least with a good number of folks not having a bit of knowledge about the origins of Christmas and Christianity. As a career police officer and combat veteran, I have seen folks embrace the Lord virtually every time a death has or is occurring. Unfortunately, for many, it is their only association with Christianity. It is Christmas Eve and I think it is fitting to comment on the state of Christianity as we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ…….in an age where the significance of our faith is being relegated to second or even third class status. Why, you ask, is this happening?

Politics

Trumps victory was driven in large part by white Christian men who overwhelmingly supported his candidacy. Some 85% of white Evangelicals voted for Trump, who championed “Religous freedom” in his platform, really a cover for a large segment of the electorate. He and his followers have been under perpetual attack from day one of his Presidency, bruising both entities significantly. A recent poll of pastors across America showed that churches are riven by political conflict within the congregations, resulting in shrinking memberships. Crime across America is a Christian concern as is abortion. The latest push is to change the wording in old Christmas hymns to reflect a woke perspective, which is not playing well with Christian Conservatives. Politics, in general, do not lend themselves to Christian principles and we, as a people, exist in a very political atmosphere. Churches across America are splitting as a result of disturbing trends related to homosexuality, same sex marriage and abortion up to the moment of birth. Each of these issues has figured prominently in recent elections. The indoctrination of very young children into the world of gender change politics is a decidedly anti-Christian concept.

In 1980, nearly 90% of Americans claimed to be Christians. Today, 43% of Americans claim to be Protestants, and some 20% adhere to Catholicism. To illustrate the trend, in 2009, the numbers were 51% and 23% respectively. The big drop, according to Pew Research has occurred since 2012 as professed Christians have declined by some 12%. It should be noted that over this same period, the number of “nones”, folks who have no faith, has increased by some 12%. In the world as a whole, Christianity trumps all other religions, claiming some 31% of the earths 7.3 billion people. Christians still have the numbers but their influence is shrinking. There are many factors with politics being only one of them.

Media

Another influence in the decline of Christianity is our media, which openly disdains organized religion, often explicitly ridiculing the concept. The influence of today’s media and social discourse is incredible. This power is particularly destructive in the younger generations. Our so called silent generation, those born before 1945, is comprised of 84% Christians. Next up, the baby boomers, born from 1946 to 1964, are comprised of 76% Christians. Generation X, from 1965 to 1980 see a 67% Christian population with Millennials, 1981 to 1996 enjoying a 49% grouping of Christians. The older populations saw a favorable view of Christianity fronted by the media with the youngest group seeing a generally unfavorable image of Christianity portrayed by the media. The youngest generations are being immersed in the political world as well.

It is Christmas Eve, a joyous time in America with family and generosity taking center stage. As we approach the big day, ask yourself what it all really means. It matters not if you are a saint or a sinner, we mustn’t lose sight of what this Holiday really represents. It is not just another day off with food and revelry taking center stage. It represents a celebration of a way of life that is falling out of favor. We can’t keep sliding away from the Christian tenets of honesty, caring and commitment that has shaped this country from the beginning. This piece is a thumbnail sketch of where God lies, generally speaking, in the business of living in America. Don’t be a household that fails to even mention the Lord on this most Christian of holidays. Most importantly, do not be one that ridicules those of us who are, indeed, Christians. History has shown that we should not be trifled with…….

Merry Christmas!

SR

Don’t Let The Old Man In……..

It’s getting ready to get Montana cold here abouts, with an even chance of snow over the Christmas holidays. The end of another year is at hand. It seems that lately I have buried a number of friends, guys that joined me in a feeling of immortality just a few short years ago. Toby Keith, singing an old Willie Nelson classic, said it best when he sang……

“When he rides up on his horse…..and you feel that cold bitter wind….look out your window and smile……..don’t let the old man in”

For me it started in 1985 when I realized I had lost a step or two on the softball diamond. When I worked wood with a chainsaw, gone was the sun-up to sundown energy that delivered a chord of split and stacked hardwood for the stove in anticipation of the wood heat and aroma of burning oak. I always maintained conditioning with an active lifestyle, chasing bird dogs, working wood and flying up and down Truman lake in the latest fiberglass water rocket in search of a few bass or a limit of crappie. The outdoors are best enjoyed at my age with a casual, not too long walk through the woods or slow float on one of our magnificent rivers. My conditioning today is now courtesy of regular trips to the gym and miles on an indoor track, pushing and pulling on devices designed to replace the challenge of living large. My love for fast cars still exists but I find myself falling into the BMW rather than strapping it on for another highway adventure. The quick reflexes of a road trooper have long since been replaced with a more sedate driving style. I recall my last crappie trip vividly. After a day filling our limits and cleaning the fish, my hands were shot, courtesy of old “Arthur”. When I pulled the boat out, a very nice couple stopped and admired it, asking about our luck that day. I shocked my partner when I asked the couple if they liked the boat enough to buy it and sold it to them 3 weeks later. The “old man” had taken this wonderful pastime from me, smiling when he reminded me that enough pain can trump pleasure. Three hand surgeries and another on the horizon in January are signs the “old man” is gaining ground. This same “old man”was grinning when the doctor told me that I would never need another colonoscopy. He was looking over my shoulder when I picked up a steel post driver at a local hardware store and quietly cussed it for the hell it’s predecessors had dealt me in years past. That was, I am sure, my last contact with this damnable tool.

The “old man” was waiting when I tackled this wonderful pastime

As if it was yesterday, I remember climbing off the Harley in the parking lot of the of Steak and Shake in Lebanon and handing the keys to it’s new owner. You do not throw around a motorcycle with bad hands and the “old man” knew it. I am reminded of encounters and confrontations that I easily handled 30 years ago that I have doubts about today. I wear trifocals, wear hearing aids and fight with a memory that is geared to long term happenings and embarrassing when recent events get lost in it. The “old man” is relentless but needs patience. I have outlived the vast majority of the men on dad’s side of the family and have no intention of throwing in the towel. Stupidity and ignorance are becoming intolerable for me so if I seem abrupt, well, it is the “old man” again. I have little patience with folks who don’t get it.

Next week, Sharon, Tazzy and I are going to defy the “old Man” as we ring the bell at the main entrance to Bass Pro for the Salvation Army. We’ll be there from 10 AM until noon Tuesday. Stop in and sweeten the pot……

If you see the “old man” anytime soon, tell him to not bother with old Johnson. He (Johnson) is not afraid of you……and will fight you to the very end.

Stay warm this week….

SR

Fire………

It’s was a beautiful late summer day and I had put a 4 to 1 mixture of water and sugar on the stove in one of Sharon’s best stainless steel pots to bring to a boil. I have an affinity for birds, especially Hummingbirds, as they flit around a couple of feeders strategically placed in our yard. I was making nectar for the Hummers. Seems simple enough until you walk out back, leaving the mixture to cook down, burn into the bottom of the pot and emit the most God awful, acrid smoke imaginable. The smoke alarms activated and our alarm system notified our Fire Service, all before I could get the pot out of the house and call off our Fire Department. As they say, “don’t do this at home”. A day or two of moving fresh air through the house and an hour of diligent pot scrubbing brought things back to that magic state “like it never happened”. Since then, I’ve learned a few things about fire where you do not want it.

Since 1980, house fires in America have dropped by half. Is it time to reduce our fire service budgets? Hardly, as deaths from fire have risen steadily since 2010. Simply put, today’s houses are less safe in many critical respects, in spite of improved detection technology. Here is why. In house fires 40 years ago, the occupants had an average of 17 minutes to vacate the home. Today they have an average of just 3. You can credit the preferred open house plans of today as well as the proliferation of synthetic materials. These materials burn hotter and faster as well as emit deadly gases that can knock you down with the efficiency of a gas chamber.

A 7 year old child died in this fire

There are more culprits. The current love affair with lithium batteries is another factor, particularly when charging. The consideration here is a phenomenon called “thermal runaway” resulting in the battery producing it’s own oxygen, necessary for virtually all combustion. Do you have these batteries in your home? Think cordless tools, scooters, hoverboards or your brand new electric car. These appliances should not be left unmonitored when charging……but we do it all the time. My experience with the Hummingbird food reminds us that about half of all home based fires result from cooking. Do not do as I did and walk away from the stove. Period. Only foolish people do not have functional smoke detectors in their home. Despite the obvious advantages of having one, many homes do not have an operating fire extinguisher in their home. (I have two, one in the garage and one in the great room/kitchen area.) Live in an older home? Are your sockets “tight” meaning do they firmly grasp a plug thus reducing the chance of arcing. Do you have GFCI circuits? Do you even know what these are? A thought for those building new. Sprinkler systems, depending on your insurance carrier, can result in a 10-60% reduction in premiums. Check into this as these systems cut the death rate in fires by nearly 90%, a very big number.

Finally, have you managed your property in order to reduce the threat of fire from external sources. I am not defending the climate change folks when I suggest it has been a prolonged hot, dry spell in much of the country. Wild fire is a growing threat, resulting in a number of calls for our fire service each year. Have you created a space around your home where combustibles are eliminated or mitigated? Did you know that burning embers from neighboring fires can easily travel over a mile and ignite secondary fires? (This is known as “firescaping’.) Where do you store the can of gasoline for the mower? These types of fires are becoming a greater event as developers push out to the fringes of our suburbs to build. Not sure about the fire safety aspects of your home, your local fire service will gladly help with an evaluation.

It is the Christmas Season and many of us, particularly those of us long in the tooth, are mucking about trying to buy gifts for each other when we really don’t need anything. Consider fire prevention/protection when making your list. Smoke detectors and fire extinguishers are obvious choices and may be the gift that guarantees Christmas together again next year.

Thank you Chief Jamie Kilburn, Brookline Fire and Rescue, the US Fire Administration and Consumer Reports for the information in this piece. It is called “fire science” for a reason and in this business, an ounce of prevention can prevent unspeakable tragedy.

Have a great week!

SR

The Death Of The Roadmap……..

I am old school. On a number of occasions over the past year, I have reached for an old fashioned road map to help establish a route to somewhere, perhaps within Missouri, more often than not, outside of Missouri with a RV in tow. Our trips to the visit the kids take us through a Rest Area on I-44 where I seize the opportunity to keep our rolling stock equipped with the latest edition of our state map, a convenience offered at rest areas throughout the country. Today’s sophisticated satellite navigation systems are replacing the ubiquitous road map with button push or screen touch convenience, relegating paper to an era of the gasoline powered, big block behemoths that fairly seethe through an old troopers soul.

Emblematic of a wonderful era in driving

Back in the day, I handed out hundreds, if not thousands of our state’s official roadmap. It was not at all unusual for motorists to ask for directions to something or somewhere, and I kept a case of these paper treasures in the patrol car’s trunk. When queried, I would happily offer directions (in our day the initial training at our academy resulted in your memorization of every county, county seat and major road intersection in the entire state) and a paper map to reinforce my directions. We could offer advice on rough stretches of road and scenic detours alike so that motorists could avail themselves to the beauty of our state. I often marked the map, as some folks are map illiterate, and required very specific turn guidance to just get out of the parking lot.

Today, in our Ram equipped with the very latest in “big screen” technology, I can tell the damned thing the name of a restaurant in Little Rock, Arkansas and it will churn out turn by turn directions to the eatery, with an optional route or two thrown in, as well as a multi-color map to visually guide you. You need no mathematical acumen, as the computer will also do the time/distance computations, indicate road closures or construction and identify fuel stops. Stop for a coke and it will adjust the arrival times for you. There was a time when you carefully computed your mileage, with help from little, map edged graphs denoting distances between major cities and towns, did a time calculation and carefully folded your roadmap so as to reveal the geographic area you were traveling through. Today you can use a zoom feature and do the same thing with a couple of touches to the screen. Truth be told, I find the smell of a new state map to be cathartic, generating memories of times past, just as the jotted notes on the map itself are reminders of places and travels past. A roadmap is emblematic of America, in all it’s marvelous engineering, industrial and agricultural splendor, soon to be lost on the generations of young people who look at a map today and ask, “what is that”? If you are training a child, grandchild or anyone for that matter in the science and art of driving a car, take time to spread a map out on the dining room table and begin a lesson with “this is a road map…….and here is what you can do with it.” Other wise, they may never know.

Thank you God. Among the many blessings you have allowed me over the years is the pleasure of turning over an internal combustion engine in a hunk of Detroit iron, perusing a road map and beginning a day on a road trip across the country. In the beginning of a rewarding career underwriting the safety of the motoring public, life was uncomplicated. A ticket book, accident notebook and handful of road maps constituted the essence of my tool chest. The satisfaction of leaving a motorist with a look of relief on their faces, secure in the time/distance issues facing them at that moment, was reward enough when I turned back out onto the highway. The next time you have the opportunity to grab a map or two, do so. Inhale the unique fragrance of a vestige from the past, close your eyes and smile. You will be taken back to the day when this map represented one of the first opportunities in life for you to have a blue print for the future, even if it was for an hour, day or long road trip. The computer in your dashboard can’t do that……….

Have a great week, and safe travels.

SR

A Scotch and Drambuie Kind Of Thanksgiving……

In 1962, my family lived on the island of Okinawa, now a part of Japan. The US Military still occupied this sliver of Pacific coral, having paid for it with the blood of 12,000 dead sailors, soldiers and marines in June of 1945. In 1962 it was still home to a large contingent of US military personnel, with a sizable garrison of Special Operations troops and Air Force folks. Dad, an Airborne officer, shuttled back and forth between the the newly formed 173rd Airborne Brigade and 1st Special Forces, units he loved. I was a 12 year old kid, trying to grow up in the unique environment of military dependency. Thanksgiving in the Armed Forces is always a big deal and November 22, 1962 was true to form, a Thanksgiving I will never forget.

As was the custom in military units back in the day, the officers and senior cadre were permitted to bring their families to a military mess for Thanksgiving dinner. As I recall, all dependents were welcomed, but few enlisted folk’s families were on the island. We lived in military quarters in an area named Kishaba Terrace in the Sukiran sector on the island. The quarters were of concrete slab construction to fend off the typhoons that frequented this region. Dad was a Battalion Commander back then, and dinner with the troops was an automatic for our family. We dressed accordingly, which for me meant a bow tie, creased trousers and a whitewall haircut. Life was good, however; I had no idea what was in store for me on this holiday.

Seasoned combat veterans are usually no strangers to strong drink. Dad did not, as I recall, have a drinking problem, but I can assure you he did drink and could hold his liquor with the best of them. On this Thanksgiving, several of the officers and the Battalion Sergeant Major had begun the festivities at our quarters where dad polished off a couple of, number unknown, drinks called a Rusty Nail. The Nail was comprised of scotch whisky and a liquor named Drambuie, a heather honey infused scotch whiskey jazzed up with spices and herbs. We were driven to the big, appropriately decorated, mess hall and seated at the head table with the other officers. It is also customary for a unit Chaplain to deliver the blessing, but our Chaplain was not present, for reasons that escape me. It was up to the Colonel to deliver the blessing and dad stood, slightly out of kilter and brought the several hundred troops to their feet. Mom and I exchanged knowing looks, as dad had not entirely bought into Christianity, as a result of his combat experience. The troops were silent and dad was trapped between scotch whiskey and a lack of preparation. In a style befitting a man used to dealing with trying circumstances, dad turned and passed the honor of blessing the meal to his son……..me.

The Colonel and his Rusty Nail

When I, in turn, looked at dad, he was smiling. I am not sure if it was the scotch or his confidence in my ability to pull off my first public speaking event. Strangely, there was no panic. I had a few seconds to organize my thoughts, bowed folks heads and gave thanks for the following things. Our President, John Kennedy, who I knew that dad adored, the “soldiers” all around the world who kept us safe, our families, military family and finally the food we were about to enjoy. It was far from a barn burner, but I had made it without passing out.

After the meal, the Sergeant Major shook my hand and suggested I had done well and had just made a life long memory. I have not nor will I ever forget. So it is that I thank God for our country, the military and anyone who wears a uniform in the name of peace and prosperity. Blessings at Thanksgiving are not simply a part of the ritual, they are an opportunity to thank the Almighty for what we have and for those who lay it all on the line for the common good. Dad and Christianity? Later in his short life, he got it together. If anyone deserved the opportunity to make amends, he did. Thanks, dad.

Happy Thanksgiving, and God Bless you and your families.

SR