What Did You Do In The War Grandpa……..

On occasion I have been asked what my role was in Vietnam.  There has been so much written about the Vietnam War that I generally avoid any lengthy discourse on the matter, as my accomplishments pale in comparison to folks who rose to the occasion and earned prestigious awards for unusual valor and super human heroics.  I usually begin my response with what I did not do, such as earn a Purple Heart, Silver star or distinguished Flying Cross.  I did manage to earn a handful of medals, the usual stuff like an Air Medal and Bronze Star, along with a Vietnam Service Medal, and the good conduct stuff that comes with faithfully following the orders of my superiors without fail or question.  I was reminded of my less than heroic efforts a few weeks back when the United States Army sent the medals to me in the US Mail, a surprise as I had never formally been decorated.  I am guessing their sudden interest in sending the medals resulted from my application for VA benefits as a result of the constant ringing in my ears precipitated by countless artillery fire missions.  The VA ruled the ringing, which has plagued me from the day I left Vietnam, was service connected and I can now upgrade my hearing aids at Uncle Sam’s expense. My first trip to a VA Medical facility reminded me with absolute certainty that I have little to complain about, but has led to this piece about what my business was in Vietnam.

My specialty was in field artillery.  For those less than indoctrinated in military lore, the Infantry is referred to as the Queen of Battle and the Artillery as the King of Battle.  Specifically, my military occupational specialty was 13E, or a Fire Control Specialist, one of the guys who poured over a thick book referred to as a Tabular Firing Table, and relied on a slide rule to compute the mathematical information for the cannoneers to accurately place cannon fire on the enemy.  When the Queen of Battle asked for it, the King of Battle would rain hell on the enemy with a precision that is frightful….and deadly.  I was assigned to a Fire Support Base, with a battery (6) of 105 howitzers and we stood ready 24/7 to deliver support to an Infantry unit that had established contact (gunfight) with the enemy.  The noise associated with a fire mission was terrific, and hearing protection was the last thing on your mind when an Infantry commander screamed “fire mission” into his radio.  In addition to supporting an Infantry unit in a gunfight, we also shot missions with crisp names such as H&I (Harassment and Interdiction), and planned fires, at selected enemy choke points, at random, hoping to catch the enemy on the move, and thus disrupting his day.  The downside to being on a Fire Support Base is that you are located in a clearing about the size of a football field, or less, surrounded by concertina (a really nasty kind of barbed/razor wire) with a platoon of infantrymen to repel an enemy attack, which made you a prime target in a war where success was measured in body counts instead of real estate.  Gunfights with the enemy were quite common, which leads to additional discussion on the use of artillery.  There are two broad categories of artillery fire with a number of sub-categories within these groups.  The big picture involves indirect fire, where you cannot see the target which may be miles from your location and direct fire, when the enemy is within visual range.  When the enemy attempted a probe into your base, the infantrymen would pour deadly small arms fire into them, and the howitzers would drop the tubes much like a giant shotgun and fire into their ranks with shells with fuses set to explode in their faces.  Did I mention devastating and deadly?  When the fighting was up close and personal,  slide rule guys grabbed a rifle and joined the fight from the perimeter of the fire base.  

So, it was with a burning interest that I visited the battlefields of Gettysburg and Antietam, battlefields where virtually all of the artillery fire was direct fire, orchestrated by superb officers and gun crews who were magnificently trained to maximize the rate of fire into the very faces and bodies of advancing Infantryman.  By today’s standards the artillery pieces were crude, but horribly effective.  The projectiles were either solid, explosive (think shrapnel) or grape and canister, consisting of some 17 round steel balls in a container, each the size of a golf ball.  Grape, on advancing soldiers conveniently lined up in rows, was devastating with each ball very capable of dismembering soldiers in several advancing ranks.  The carnage was such, that one Union officer remarked the air around the advancing confederates was a “pink mist”, a term that lives on in the annals of warfare today.

The tin-type photograph accompanying this writing is of a Civil War cannoneer, the only picture of this soldier in existence today.  The photograph was taken on a sweltering summer day, and the soldier was leaning on his equally hot cannon for support as sweat soaked his wool confederate blouse.  The photo was taken at Antietam, not far from the sunken road where hundreds of his fellow soldiers were slaughtered by a superior Union force.  By now, you have recognized the soldier as the writer of this piece, who for awhile, ate, slept and breathed artillery in another war many years later.  I can only hope, and sincerely believe, that faithfully following the orders of my superiors, without fail or question was my biggest contribution to the execution of this war.

History has clearly demonstrated that our elected leadership can and has failed, on occasion, the American fighting man or woman.  My hat is off and the debt is great to those who answered the call and fought to the death for the cause that was at hand.   They answered the call and faithfully executed the orders of their superiors, without fail or question.

That, my friends, is what I did in the war.

The RV Thing……

It hasn’t been too many years ago that I shunned the RV culture.  If you are handy with a pencil and yellow pad, it does not take long to arrive at the logical conclusion that you can stay in a lot of nice motels around this country for far less than you can purchase a recreational vehicle, stock it and drive from one RV park to another.  Two years or so ago, I began to rethink this concept, aided by a friend in Texas who is familiar with the benefits of RV travel.  We began the entry into this culture by carefully shopping for just the right RV.  We attended RV shows in Dallas, Ft. Walton Beach, St. Louis and Kansas City, and a number of smaller shows around the Midwest.  When we had time, something you have more of in retirement, we stopped at dealerships that have popped up faster than morels on a warm, damp April morning, subjecting ourselves to both low and high pressure sales pitches, suggesting their units were superior to the units across the street.  Today there are a number of manufacturers, producing RVs for every style and budget from pop-up campers to lavish coaches that can be had for half a million or twice that!  We have never been exposed to the penthouse lifestyle and likely couldn’t cover the sales tax on some of these monsters, so we thought it best to make a modest entry into this game.  We decided on a 26’, pull behind trailer made by a little start-up company called Grand Design, pulled it to it’s new domicile in a covered storage lot not far from our house and began planning our excursions.  If you are a speed reader, and prefer one sentence summaries to lengthy discussions, then now is the time to stop reading.  We are hooked.  RV travel is a hoot!  Now for the fair and balanced details.

The RV

It would be a mistake to assume that RV sales are similar to automobile sales.  RV dealers tend to be territorial in nature, thus resulting in spotty support after the sale.  One should remember that America’s roads are deteriorating, and pulling what is essentially a small apartment on wheels over these roads will test the quality of construction in your unit.  Compound this consideration with the exponential growth in this industry over the past few years, resulting in hurried construction, one can find himself a very long way from the selling dealer when a leak suddenly appears under a cabinet.  We chose a company that enjoys a superior reputation for service after the sale, the aforementioned Grand Design.  They have managed to grow from start-up to number 3 in the industry in 5 years!  We attended their owners rally in Goshen, Indiana, where they saturated the campground with service personnel and handled the inevitable problems that surface with grace and expedience.  I will write about Grand Design in a future post, but suffice to say we were very impressed.  

Do you want a motor coach, 5th wheel or trailer?  We opted for a trailer, bearing in mind we had no idea what we were doing, primarily to facilitate the sale of the unit should we be disappointed in the RV experience.  With a basic knowledge of our tow vehicle’s weight limitations we selected a unit that seemed perfect for the our truck, a late model Toyota Tundra.  I strongly urge folks to carefully consider their intended tow vehicle before selecting the RV.  We have found that a large percentage of the dealers we were in contact with will assure you that whatever you drove onto their lot will easily tow whatever you are looking at!  Folks, a riding lawnmower will likely pull your trailer across a flat lot, but is not particularly suited to pulling your apartment on wheels (AOW) through the Smokey Mountains.  Mobility after setting up at your destination was the consideration for us..   A motor coach is ill suited to driving into town for dinner at a legendary tavern, unless you are pulling a second vehicle behind it.  We did not want to go to this expense.  A 5th wheel seems like a good option, and is very popular among the RV clan, but we use our truck to pull a bass boat and for carrying things that do not share space well with the bulky 5th wheel mount in the bed.  It should also be noted that 5th wheels are generally heavy, thus really stressing a pickup that is too light for the task.  We chose a unit that was well within the Tundra’s tow capacity, to include the weight on the tongue.  In fairness to the many RV owners who pull various units with 1/2 ton pickups, these trucks are indeed adequate, in most cases.  I was not satisfied with the handling characteristics of our truck when towing and traded for a 3/4 ton, diesel Ram.  The big Cummins smiled as it pulled our RV through the Alleghenies with ease.  Consider your options carefully when you explore the RV experience.  There are distinct advantages to each configuration as well as distinct disadvantages.  Investigate and read!

The People

With one notable exception, everyone we have met in the various RV parks have been among the the most gracious, patient and friendly folks we have ever been around.  They represent a tremendous cross section of America.  I have enjoyed conversations with a retired career public defender, an Akron police sergeant and a systems engineer from Boeing.  One of the most fascinating fellows that I have encountered traces a career from pulp wood cutting through salvage yard management in Louisiana.  Step on an American flag in front of him and he is going alter your mindset in a hurry!  Our neighbor at a gorgeous park named Anchor Down, on a lake outside of Knoxville, was patiently waiting for me to exit our AOW one morning, standing patiently in the street with his dog.  When I stepped out, he extended his hand and said simply “thank you”.  He had noted the 1st Cavalry decal on the back of my truck. I learned through our conversation that we served together in Vietnam, in the same unit, at the same time!  He was a long time RV enthusiast, and had me laughing hysterically at the misadventures he had experienced in a RV.  Blue line flags are evident everywhere in RV parks, an indication of the culture’s attraction to law and order folks.  The one exception to the rule that RV folks are great folks was a gentleman from New York who made a snide remark about our RV, suggesting that I would likely not be able to hang long in an auction that was being sponsored by a manufacturer, based on the size of our RV.  Sharon is just now mastering the intracies of setting up and breaking down in a park, thus I avoided putting her in a bad position as a result of me knocking the slop out of the pretentious New Yorker, and being lodged in the Goshen, Ind., city lockup.

America

We were fascinated with the beauty of Pennsylvania and Virginia.  We stayed in parks close to Gettysburg and Antietam, where I could drink the history of those huge fights at a leisurely pace. We were pleasantly surprised when we set up near Lexington, Va., where we swam in the legend of Robert E. Lee and the great fighting General Stonewall Jackson.  There was no bag dragging into and out of motel rooms to contend with, and we enjoyed breakfast within our AOW, as well as bar-b-cue dinners under the awning.  We stayed in a not so great park near York, Pa., where I was able to enjoy a long tour of the Harley-Davidson plant that built my motorcycle.  As another advisory, take the time to carefully study the many guides and rating periodicals when selecting your park, and be prepared to carefully exit a park that does not meet your expectations when you arrive.  We limited our driving to 5 hours +/-, each day, and made sure we were set up for the evening before dark.  The RV trend is on a solid upward trajectory, and new parks are being built as we speak.  Our last voyage lasted four weeks, and we avoided stays of less than two days in any given location, and were disappointed on only one occasion….as a result of not doing due diligence in the park selection.   America is beautiful, and we hope to enjoy this experience to a much greater extent in the years to come.  Perhaps the greatest thing about this mode of travel is our ability to keep our Lab, Taz, with us as we travel!  No more boarding kennels for him!  It was surprising to note the large numbers of folks who travel with their dogs……and there is no better way than in your AOW.

Our first year’s experience taught us many things about this travel mode.  You become a bit of a systems engineer, resulting from the hookup and breakdown of electrical, plumbing and sanitation systems.  You learn the fine art of leveling and stabilizing the unit at each location.  After a year in the culture, our tastes in RV’s has matured and we just now sold our AOW to a very nice couple in Illinois, themselves fully retired and anxious to hit the open road.  We are actively looking for our next unit, a little larger and more in line with our tastes.  It will be a towable and well within the weight and payload capacities of our current puller, the Ram.  Our eyes have been opened to the fact that motel expense vs. RV expense is really a very small part of the equation.  The lifestyle cannot be measured in empiracle terms.    What a hoot!

We are going to the car…….

Times change.  As I approach 70, I shake my head in wonder at the shenanigans of my fellow Americans who insist on treading on the sensitivities of folks who do not share their viewpoint.  I vividly recall my folks response to a display of temper or aberrant behavior when we were in a public setting.  When one of them would look at one of us and announce “we are going to the car”, trust me when I tell you I that our behavior had crossed the line and the time for a swift and painful attitude adjustment was at hand.  With rare exception, assertive discipline has all but disappeared today, and we are often forced to watch a child scream, defy and tantrum his or her way into having their way while exasperated parents beg and cajole in an attempt to reduce the impact of the scene that is unfolding.  This same child is then ushered off to school, knowing full well they can bully their way into having their way, resulting in long days for our educators who are charged with introducing them to civility.  This my friends, is exactly what is happening with atheletes today who are making fools out of themselves with their display of contempt for the flag and our National Anthem.

The suggestion that kneeling during an accepted American ritual or defacing or dishonoring our flag is somehow related to the alleged brutality of our police forces toward black Americans totally lacks logical merit. I would suggest that if you take the time to analyze the entire ridiculous wave of social protest resulting in the demands for the destruction of statues representing our history as a nation, along with the equally ridiculous kneeling trend by our athletes, you will quickly come to the conclusion it is time “to go to the car”.  It really isn’t about contempt for the flag or the National Anthem, it is as simple as the very public extension of a prominent middle finger at the heart of America, a currently popular display of contrived anger and contempt for the greatest country on the face of the earth.  Just like the kid who is thrashing about on the floor at Wal-Mart because he or she is denied some useless Chinese manufactured trinket, causing the parent to recoil in horror and angst, we seem powerless to do what is necessary and take the child “to the car”.

The flag and anthem are special.  They are the essence of patriotism and to virtually every American are symbolic of the strength of America and the price paid for that strength in blood and sacrifice on a very personal level.  The folks who are on a tear, demanding the destruction of statuary, trampling and burning the flag and kneeling during the pregame ritual that honors this great republic know full well they are mightily offending the vast majority of us.  That is why they do it.  The lessons of history are lost to these individuals who majored in the art of bench presses and sprints, whose very being is centered around their ability to wreak havoc on an opponent in purely physical terms.  They live in a world of physical domination and, in a lesson taught to America by none other than Ho Chi Minh, know there is strength in numbers.  As a result they have linked arms, like the children previously mentioned, bullied their way into our living rooms, and delight in provoking the anger of most of  America.  It is time for a trip to the car, and the angry parent is the American people.  Just as the child will test the mettle of a parent, these folks will test the mettle of American leadership on every level.  Thus far, we have capitulated to their nonsense which will only lead to the next extension of the middle finger in our faces.  Sometimes, a trip to the car is the only answer.

As a final thought, while hours in the gym have left these players with little time to contemplate history and it’s significance, it might be of interest to them that a carefully folded flag has been exchanged for the lives of some 1,354,664 Americans who have died in combat thus guaranteeing the continued success of America in the future.  This includes an estimated 364,500 soldiers who died under the Stars and Stripes, serving in the Union Army, with a goal of uniting this country and abolishing slavery forever.  My position is unequivocal, protest and raise hell until you are exhausted, just don’t do it while we are honoring our country.  If only your parents would have taken you to the car……..

“Can This Be Hell”

These words, written by Sgt. Maj. Robert Kellogg, of the Union Army were recorded as he entered Camp Sumpter in central Georgia in the summer of 1864.  My historically oriented readers may know Camp Sumpter by it’s more famous name,  Andersonville, the notorious Confederate prisoner of war camp, near Andersonville, Ga.  In this day of attempting to erase history in the name of sparing segments of our society from the unpleasant aspects of America’s Great War, I thought I would offer a glimpse into a place and time that would make Dante’s Hell look like child’s play.  America was born out of war, and war, my good friends is not a walk in the park.

Andersonville was established in 1864, designated as a POW camp for captured Union soldiers.  In all, some 52,300 Union prisoners of war, nearly all enlisted men, were held in this camp.  It was established on a 16 acre parcel, immediately adjacent to the town of Andersonville.  As the need for more space became apparent it was later expanded to 26 acres, all surrounded by a rough hewn log wall some 14 feet high.  The acreage contained a swampy area or “sink” and was home to a small creek, the camp water supply.  Both the creek and the sink were horribly contaminated by human excretement, and hordes of flies and other insects feasting on this waste.  Approximately 13,200 prisoners died as a result of scurvy (a vitamin C deficiency), diarrhea and dysentery.  Approximately 20 feet inside of the wall existed a low, weak fence known as the “dead line”, marking an area that resulted in a prisoner being immediately shot dead should he venture into it. Shelter for the prisoners consisted of rotting tents or other improvised attempts to escape the scorching Georgia heat or chilling winter cold.  Well researched historians suggest that much mortality was the result of hookworm infestations among the prisoners.  The prisoners were fed a poorly milled corn flour gruel, twice a day.  Any vermin in this weak porridge was the only source of protein for the hapless prisoners.  In truth, the guards were not much better off, receiving very poor rations.  As might be guessed, the guards were not the best soldiers the confederacy produced.
As is the case in our prisons today, alliances formed between prisoners and two significant gangs formed within the stockade.  The first group was known as the Andersonville Raiders.  The Raiders banded together and roamed the camp, beating hapless fellow prisoners with clubs in an effort to take their rations, shelter or anything they deemed to have value.  To counter the Raiders, a second group, the Regulators was formed. If a prisoner did not establish an alliance, he was far less likely to survive in this environment, where death was an everyday occurrence.  As the fortunes of war shifted, prisoners from Andersonville were farmed out to other Confederate camps, such as Florence, S.C., a camp that I have previously written about.  Many were then returned to Andersonville to wait out the war’s conclusion or death, as the case may be.

Andersonville was placed under the command of one Captain Henry Wirz.  Wirz recognized the horrors of this stockade and unsuccessfully attempted to arrange a prisoner exchange with the Union Army.  The logistics of this exchange were deemed to be insurmountable, and his problems grew as the number of prisoners swelled to four times the number that it was supposed to house.  Wirz also made numerous requests for increased rations, for both his guards and the prisoners, but military prisons were not a priority with either army in the Great War.  At the conclusion of the war, Wirz was the only soldier from either side that was tried and convicted of a “War Crime” .  Evidence of his attempts to improve conditions were either omitted or discounted and he was hanged on November 10, 1865.  (War Crimes are defined as “Crimes against Peace”, “Crimes against Humanity” or “Conventional War Crimes”.  Many soldiers were tried for criminal activities or crimes against military order that did not rise to the level of War Crimes, a tool that was used quite effectively at Nurembourg in another Great War.)

Today, Andersonville is a National Historic site and the home to the National Prisoner of War Museum, established in 1998.  There are two cemetery’s here, an active National Cemetery and a Cemetery containing the graves of 13,200 or so hapless soldiers who perished in this camp.  Andersonville is a testament to the realities and horrors of war, and marks a pinnacle in the depravity of mankind.  Nonetheless, it is a part of America’s history, and must not be subjected to the ill conceived sensitivities of folks who suggest they are offended by it’s existence.  Sharon and I are planning a long RV vacation early next month and I am anxious to visit Andersonville, where I will offer a prayer for the souls who suffered there.

As to Sgt. Maj. Kellogg’s question, “Is this hell?”, the answer is lost to mankind.  I strongly suspect if it was not hell, it was one of hell’s suburbs.

The REALLY Important Things…..

….aren’t things at all. 

I was a newly minted Deputy Director responsible for enforcement on behalf of the Missouri Gaming Commission, attending my first Commission meeting when I met a man named Bill Grace.  Mr. Grace was a crusty, self made gentleman who had parlayed his fortune into the ownership of a casino in St. Joseph, Missouri where he was known to be colorful, blunt and vexing.  I had been briefed on Mr. Grace’s attributes and walked over to his seat in the audience to introduce myself and offer my hand.  Mr. Grace gruffly told me that he knew who I was before I sauntered over.  I was also aware that Mr. Grace was experiencing personal health problems and asked how he was getting along.  He told me he was fine and dismissed me with a wave of his hand.  As I walked away, Mr. Grace called me back and told me that a lie was no way to begin a relationship, and that in fact he was dying of cancer.  Mr. Grace then offered a bit of unsolicited wisdom by flatly stating that he had all the money he needed, which really didn’t matter when you are dying, suggesting that your health “trumps all things”.  Mr. Grace and I, predictably, crossed swords a few times before he died, not long after this meeting.  According to a slew of polls conducted by a mob of folks who have an interest in such things, Mr. Grace was absolutely correct in his assessment.

I recently read a media account that suggested the three richest people in the world are Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and a relative newcomer to the ranks of folks who weigh their money rather than count it, Jeff Bezos, the genius behind Amazon.  I suspect that most of us cannot grasp the magnitude of these folks’ wealth.  A better question is what, exactly, are they going to do with all of this money, and to Mr. Grace’s point, does it matter,  if they are afflicted with a serious health concern?  Unless providence smiles broadly at me and grants me a powerball win, I’ll never know and that is just fine with me.

My research indicates that most people view money as the 5th most important consideration of the top nine most important aspects of life, with the top four considerations being family, health, work and friends.  Money was deemed to be more important than religion, leisure time, hobbies and community activities.  To keep us from wandering all over the map, the pollsters generally provide a listing of considerations for the respondents to rely upon in making these broad determinations.  When folks are queried as to what is important that cannot be bought, such things as talent, respect, wisdom, and an open mind come to the surface.  As my readers can see, arriving at a personal listing of important things can be complicated, but is worth a few minutes of your time when sitting quietly with a cup of good coffee.  I have a very good friend, a Mennonite, who likely would really upset the order of the considerations listed above, and, for the record, is one of the most contented folks that I have ever known.  

Folks like Gates, Buffett and Bezos are content with amassing vast fortunes, and I respectfully suggest that life for them is centered, if not consumed, with increasing these fortunes exponentially.  I know they contribute to various charitable causes and I certainly applaud these magnamous efforts, but is this gesture a good business practice or does it come from the heart?  Does the motivation really matter?  Why would I be concerned….the fact is, I am not.

I doubt that Gates, Buffett or Bezos has the time or inclination to push off a gravel bar on the Big Piney in anticipation of a lazy float in pursuit of a basket of goggle eye and small mouth bass.  I suspect the differences in the smell of freshly mowed alfalfa, orchard grass or a freshly cut lawn is lost on them as they are driven in their limos up the winding drive to their estates.  There is likely no way they have enjoyed the practiced skill your fishing partner exhibits as he or she carefully works a slab crappie through the tangle of a cedar tree on Truman Lake’s Hogles Creek.  All the money in the world cannot buy the warmth that one feels when an old dog lays his head in your lap with a trust that is endless. I will never forget the conversations with friends who are faced with a life ending medical issue, and seeing life through their eyes.  As many of us know, they do understand the importance of health, and would trade every material possession they have for a second chance at life, disease free.

As a final thought, it is disheartening to see religion slip down the listing of important aspects of life.  I suspect that technology and the pursuit of mathematical certainty in today’s world has contributed to this diminished aspect of life, which is based on the concept of faith, not easily reconciled with technical precision.  Interestingly, those same friends that I have watched as they faced the end of life, all seem to move the spiritual aspect of living up the scale, some considerably.  Given the uncertainty of life today, it is probably a good idea to work this concept into your meditation.  We are the most prosperous folks on the face of the earth.  It would be a shame if we substitute this prosperity for the stuff that really matters, like family, health, friends and the understanding of why we are here in the first place.  Food for thought, don’t you think?

Mrs. Johnson’s Husband……..

When you are a State Trooper, or any law enforcement officer for that matter, you become a known entity within the community that you live and work in.  The trappings of law enforcement, the uniform and the authority vested in that uniform surrounds you as you move about doing the things that are the substance of television and movies.  When you retire, suddenly your impact is diminished dramatically, and you begin that slow fade into the role of normalcy where you acknowledge your inability to directly influence the happenings of the day as they unfold.  Your family was always introduced as the wife of, son of, or daughter of (the law enforcement officer).  It is disconcerting, for awhile, and the reality, for me, sank in when I went from being Captain Johnson to being Mrs. Johnson’s (the elementary principal) husband.  As a new school year unfolds, I thought it appropriate to offer a glimpse into that role.  Although Sharon has joined me in retirement, leaving the classroom and corner office behind, her influence will be felt for years to come.  

Public Education has been crushed under the weight of beauracracy, funding cuts and the well intentioned criticisms of the folks who have not one clue what life as an educator is like these days.  The push for one size fits all, the clamoring for a trophy for every child and the utter nonsense of no child left behind has taken the breath out of  the educators who recognize the impossibilities associated with squeezing every child into one mold.  From my perspective, I can guarantee that a large portion of Sharon’s salary was in response to the demands and inordinate patience it took to deal with parents.  I was appalled at the numbers of parents who viewed education as a social platform, demanding parties for everything from Halloween to the birthday of a student’s pet hamster.  Parents often failed to recognize that when classroom gifts were involved, a less fortunate parent could ill afford to send their child to school with the beautiful designer candy box that other, affluent parents could easily afford.  I need not comment on the hurt feelings of those who received a handful of candy hearts while sitting next to a child opening a box of designer chocolates.  Never mind the hours of precious instructional time lost to such nefarious activities on a seemingly regular basis.

Mrs. Johnson’s husband made occasional appearances at school to share in Mrs. Johnson’s experiences in an effort to understand the exasperation of Mrs. Johnson when she had no appetite for supper after a vexing day.  I so enjoyed watching the children devour a balanced meal at breakfast and/or lunch, knowing full well this might be the only meal these children would enjoy this day.  I shared in her sadness in knowing that, in many instances, the buddy packs of food sent home with less fortunate children would be locked up at home or traded for cigarettes or other items when they got home.  I watched in horror as various children would model behaviors that were seen in the home, such as rolling, presumably marijuana, cigarettes or sexual conduct.  Parents who provide these types of environments were often the first ones to suggest that one of Sharon’s educators was incompetent to teach their child.

In this age of narcisstic indulgence, I felt great pride in Sharon’s assertive discipline approach to education.  Narcissism, as we know it, has it’s origins in early childhood, resulting in the necessity of “safe areas” for our college youth who gather at the flagpole because they have been offended in some fashion, where they can wring their unsullied hands in unified agony.  In this hyper competitive age, the fact that you were awarded a pink ribbon for finishing 38th in a class of 38 will carry little weight in a job interview.  Sharon’s children understood that when a direction was given, there would be no follow-up begging or threatened consequences, beyond the first explanation as to what was expected.  That, my dear readers, is what employers will expect of their employees.  

An important tool for folks in any learning environment is discipline.  In this case, I am not referring to corporal punishment, a consideration that my generation understood clearly, rather the establishment of rigorous academic expectations and the demand to accomplish the goals inherent to those standards.  We have strayed from the real world acknowledgement that some will excell, some will squeak across the line and some will fail, in spite of the efforts of our finest educators.  There exists today, an adversion to holding a child back when that action is exactly what the child needs.  In many instances, failure is a strong incentive to be successful the next time around.

Sharon can be a handful.  Her metamorphosis from the classroom to the corner office was not easy.  She recognized early on that her concerns had expanded exponentially from a handful of troubling parents and demands to the issues of every one of her staff members.  She worked hard to incorporate today’s expectations into the monumental demand that she provide the guidance and interpretation of new programs and methods into the common sense reality of public education today.  She made it a priority to recognize excellence in the classroom, however could be cat quick when her expectations were not met.  Perhaps this is why I refer to her as my bobcat, quiet most of the time but…….well, we all know what a bobcat is all about.  

I am closing this writing with a strong vote of confidence to those who are up to the task of stepping back into the classroom for another tour.  We are behind you.  In this household, you will ALWAYS get the benefit of the doubt!

It was kind of fun, being Mrs. Johnson’s husband………the guy who fried the fish at the staff fish fry.

The Fence…….

The US Army teaches you many of life’s lessons.  They rely on experience to be your teacher, as opposed to picking up a book and reading about it, although they are notorious for their training manuals that can break the simplest of tasks down into a series of steps and considerations that are referenced in the simplest of terms.  One of those lessons is that if something is there, pick it up and move it, if it cannot be moved, paint it.  We have a nice Carnahan-White, treated lumber fence around our back yard and it cannot be moved……..so we are painting it, or staining it as the case may be.  A manual would have been most helpful.

Missourians are a unique people.  Most folks that I know are loathe to pay someone to do something they can do themselves.  I suppose this characteristic has it’s roots in the adventurous nature of the folks who settled this state where our beauty is measured in rivers, rocks and vast forests.  It is said that necessity is the mother of invention, and we decided to transform our nicely greying fence into one of the terrific stained fences that many of our neighbors have, a consideration that we considered a necessity.  We decided to merge the fence painting project into a deck staining project and “git ‘er done” as the cable guy would say.  Never mind the task was begun in the hottest week of the year thus far, with humidity levels chasing the thermometer.  As folks do these days, we hopped on the internet to help us find the sweet spot that exists between expense, efficiency and quality before diving into this job.  We found that many people who write about such matters really don’t know their butts from a bucket of paint resulting in us attempting to stain hundreds of feet of fence with a roller, garden sprayer and brush.  I can attest that if you have enough time, you can paint a long fence with a toothbrush and Q-tip, but that would not constitute working in the aforementioned “sweet spot” .  We bought two different garden sprayers, suffered through the laughable experience of “backbrushing” the the mess they created and pitched them into the dumpster.  Our fence is a staggered board style and does not lend itself to being stained in this fashion.   I admire the garden sprayer industry for their remarkable marketing savvy in locating enough shills to write about their great success with these devices in convincing terms.  I am confident the folks who are pushing this technique are writing under an assumed name so as to avoid being beaten to death with a garden sprayer.

My good friend, Neil Atkinson, was also caught up in a staining project involving a new deck at his home.  Neil advised me to buy a simple Wagner airless sprayer, apply the stain and pitch the thing afterwords.  These sprayers can be had for 80 bucks or so, and really do a nice job.  I own one, am about halfway through the fence and it is holding up reasonably well.  Oil based stains and paints constitute their own particular kind of hell, clogging up equipment, requiring copious amounts of mineral spirits to clean, and producing a fine mist that effectively stains everything around you, to include your ceramic bar-b-cue grill, extruded aluminum deck furniture and stainless steel prep table close to the grill.  Mineral spirits go for about 10 bucks a gallon and leaves your exposed skin tingling after you scrub the stain off. We found that about a gallon of spirits is necessary to clean the Wagner up to the extent that it may again be used for it’s intended purpose.  We would have to have some sort of license to buy enough spirits to clean up everything else we have managed to stain.  I should offer a hearty shout out to Neil, as his advice has been most helpful, as long as reasonable precautions are taken to protect everything else you own from the overspray that can drift ever so easily.  While walking the neighborhood, I did locate an enterprising young man who had just finished spraying his own fence and upon my inquiry, indicated he bought a handfull of sprayers from Harbor Freight for the price of a hamburger, used one each day and then gave it a toss as the clean up would have cost more than the sprayer.  Every neighborhood has a resourceful guy who relys on guile to get the job done.

About my theory that I don’t want to pay someone to do what I can do myself.  I found that folks who do this stuff for a living and can powerwash your fence and stain it over a three day period want somewhere between a thousand and two thousand dollars, including the stain.  Outrageous you say.  a quick breakdown of our expense for this project looks like this:

A new power washer, on sale at Home Depot                     300.00

Gasoline for power washer ( 10 gal. X 2.25 gal.)                    22.50

Cabots semi-solid stain    ( 30.00 a gal. x 15 gal.)                  450.00

Mineral Spirits          (10.00 a gal x 4 gal.).                               40.00

Wagner Sprayer                                                                            80.00

New extruded aluminum deck furniture                              500.00

Two garden sprayers                                                                    30.00

Miscellaneous.                                                                            250.00

The miscellaneous category includes four serviceable shirts, four pairs of pants, two hats, two pairs of tennis shoes and socks, two bundles of paint rags, filters for the Wagner sprayer, drop cloth for work table, brushes, and contractors trash bags.  

The experience of doing it yourself and the satisfaction of a job well done is priceless.  I said that?  Excuse me while I pour another Bailey’s and coffee.  There was a time when I changed my own oil, maintained my own lawn, washed my own vehicles, and did my own exterminating. ( I still do my own interior painting, latex of course, where the clean-up is as close as the nearest faucet).  In a year or two, depending on which shill is evaluating the stain that you use, this job will need to be done again.  You may be assured that I have no intention of seeking the satisfaction of doing it myself and thus preserving that proud Missouri tradition of not paying someone to do what I can do.  The power washer will be perfect for the RV and the Wagner will be reposing in a landfill somewhere.  

Tom Sawyer had it right all along!