Memorial Day Lessons

Memorial Day Lessons

by Jeff Tolman

My old friend’s wife called. “Joe (not his real name) is terminal and he’d like you to come out to the house.”

I went to their home and over the next hour we laughed and cried and reminisced about our three decades of friendship. At the end of the conversation I, as I often do with my elderly clients, asked “Joe” what, looking back on his life, he thinks I should pass on to my children and grandchildren.

“Joe” thought for a moment, then said, “First, take every conversation with a grain of salt. Almost always there is another side to the issue.

Second, I believe this generation is living life as a blur. They value themselves on how much activity they can pack into every day. I fear they are missing moments that would add joy and peace to their lives.

Finally, the best investment anyone can have, irregardless of the stock market or Prime Rate, is kindness. It continually pays great dividends.”

Over the years I have asked many elders about lessons they hope pass to the next generations. Most are common sense life lessons we sometimes just need reminded of in our busy daily lives.

Say “I love you” whenever you leave your family.

You can never hold hands with your spouse enough.

The most beautiful sound in the world is young children laughing.

Never go to sleep mad at your spouse.

Don’t sweat the small stuff.

You will regret, as you get older, the things in your life you didn’t do more than those things you did.

This, too, will pass.

Surround yourself by people who can be happy for you. Stay away from people who are always trying to top your stories and experiences.

When you are young you think everyone has the perfect family. When you are older you wonder if anyone does. Don’t expect your family – or anyone’s else’s – to be perfect.

The answer to a good life is moderation.

Everyone likes to get a letter from a friend or family member.

One crusty old gent asked, “Are you kids boys or girls?” “Boys,” I said. He thought a minute, then said. “Tell them to keep their zippers up and learn to type.”

All good advice.

This Memorial week-end, as we remember and honor those who have passed before us through our thoughts, our flowers, our smiles and stories of times with them, let us also show our respect by hearing, respecting and living the lessons that they, looking back on their lives, felt should be passed on to the next generations.

Happy Memorial Day. May our week-end by filled with happy memories of those who have touched our lives, and, though now passed, are still a part of our daily thoughts.

Copyright Jeff Tolman 2013. All rights reserved.

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Follow Me and You Will Know the Answer

Follow Me and You Will Know the Answer

by Jeff Tolman (for a friend who was working way too much)

 

                The snow was falling outside his law office.  Everyone’s wish for a white Christmas was coming to pass.  He didn’t notice.  As always, Christmas Eve had been hectic.  The holiday visitation disputes had kept him on the Show Cause calendar late.

            His secretary had been gone when he returned to the office.  Only the Christmas card she left reminded him tomorrow was a holiday.

            Tired, but determined to shorten the pile of “needs to be done pronto” files on his desk, he began dictating Orders from that day’s hearings, demand letters and drafts of leases that were needed as soon as possible.

            The street outside was quiet, abandoned.  Snow was gently falling.  Inside, oblivious, he continued to work alone.

            “FOLLOW ME, AND YOU WILL KNOW THE ANSWER,” a voice from nowhere suddenly said.

            “What?” he blurted.

            “FOLLOW ME, AND YOU WILL KNOW THE ANSWER.”

            “Bull….” He muttered and continued his dictation.

            Finally, fatigue and concern about the continuing snow took their toll.  He carried the completed files and dictation tapes to his secretary’s desk, swore when he realized she wouldn’t be at work the next morning, then shut the office up and walked briskly to the only car in the lot.

            While he was waiting for the car to warm up the voice again said, “FOLLOW ME, AND YOU WILL KNOW THE ANSWER.”

            Now, though, he noticed a strange light in the night sky, incongruous with the snow.

            “Why not?” he asked, and he pointed his car toward the odd light.

            In minutes, he had driven the empty roads and discovered the light’s end – the beautiful home he had worked so hard to buy on the politically correct street.

            He parked his car next to his wife’s in the garage and wandered into the dark, quiet house.  Even the dog, who was used to his late hours (2,100 billables don’t come by working daylight alone) didn’t waken as he entered.  The Christmas tree lights were off.  Two “Merry Christmas, Dad” notes lay on the kitchen counter.  Gift wrapping from the one present each child was allowed to open on Christmas Eve lay on the rec room floor.

            “FOLLOW ME, AND YOU WILL KNOW THE ANSWER,” the voice again said, and the tired man realized that the light was shining from below. 

            Taking off his coat and tie, he trekked downstairs, searching for the light, wondering what the voice was talking about.

            Suddenly he saw it.

            For reasons only a seven and a ten-year-old could invent, his two sons were out of their beds, asleep on the floor together, covered by the blankets each had had since infancy.  The light through the frosty window showed the beautiful faces he had looked at too seldom recently.  Clients, overhead, bills, trials and hearings, and community service work had him spending more time on others’ problems than on his own.

            Now he knew he’d been misguided.

            He pulled a quilt from the closet and laid it over the boys.  Then he went into the bedroom and gently woke his wife.

            “Come with me, please,“ he asked.

            “Are you OK?” she responded, still half asleep.

            “Yes, I’m great.  Please just come with me – and bring your pillow.”

            Together they walked into the room where the boys were sleeping and gently lay by them beneath the quilt.  For the first time in too long, they looked at their kids and held hands.  Instead of the usual ritual of the kids talking quietly like conspirators before they fell asleep, tonight it was the parents who did.

            Later, as he listened to the three people he loved most snoring peacefully, he called softly to the Voice, “You were right.  Everything I need to know is here.  Love.  Patience.  Spontaneity.  Innocence.  Honesty.  Dedication.  Perspective.  They are all under this quilt.  This is the answer.  Thank you.  Merry Christmas.”

            And as the snow fell and the world began rising to celebrate a great birth, a small birth had also taken place.  Not one that would change the world; one that would change a family.  Not one that would be scorned by those in power; one that would be envied by those chained to their work.

            The answer was always there in the sleeping children’s faces.  For him.  For each of us.  If we just take the time to see it.

            FOLLOW THE VOICE TO YOUR HOME AND YOU, TOO, WILL FIND THE ANSWER.  Happy Holidays.

            Copyright Jeff Tolman 2012. All rights reserved.

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Greatest Songs of the Millennium

   Greatest Songs of the Millennium
                                                                                       by Jeff Tolman
    Now more than a decade ago, as the Millennium change was approaching and we all wondered if our computers would work in 2000, my brother-in-law and I played table tennis and listened to the countdown of “The Five Hundred Greatest Songs of the Millennium.” Quickly we both realized that, according to the countdown at least, the “Millennium” was thirty-eight years long, from Elvis’ early hits to the last second of 1999. Certainly the list was in no way an evaluation of songs of the past thousand years. There were no Roman tunes, Moor dirges or Celtic ballads. No songs from Asia or Africa made the list.  No music from the Revolutionary or Civil Wars topped the chart. Even the great American artists Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Goodman, John Coltrane, Louis Armstrong and Stan Getz were left off the count down.
    What songs would a real list of fifteen of the top Millennium tunes be, I wondered.
    Certainly “If I had a Hammer” would have been a popular song with the builders of the Great Wall of China and The Pyramids.
    Marco Polo likely would have hummed “The Long and Winding Road” as he trekked between Europe and Asia.
    I wonder if the Pompeii Choir had a bouncy version of “Fire on the Mountain” before Vesuvius blew its stack.
    Hitler, Hirohito and Mussolini probably had “You and Me Against the World” on their common play list.
    No doubt Marcel Marceau mimed a mean version of “The Sounds of Silence.”
    In 1953 Sir Edmund Hillary would have had a big hit with “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” upon his return from conquering Mount Everest.
    Could Adam have performed the first version of Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry,” expressing his troubles with Eve and the snake?
    There has to be a rousing “I’ll be Watching You” by members of the CIA.
    Did Daniel Boone hum “Rocky Raccoon” as he hunted in the woods of Tennessee?
    I am confident many historic religious leaders knew the lyrics (though each may have had a slightly different version) to “Stairway to Heaven.”
    It’s easy to imagine the CEOs of Bank of America and Citigroup facing a Senate Committee asking for bail-out money singing “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.”
    One December Mother, surrounded by wise men, would almost certainly have been heard softly humming  “Proud Mary.”
    I suspect Albert Einstein’s favorite ditty was “Imagine,” which he did very well.
    Many Walla Walla and Yakima gossips would, I suspect, routinely vocalize “Heard it Through the Grapevine.”
    And, while the song in my head isn’t “(Don’t They Know it’s) The End of the World,” it is the end of my Millennium song list.
    Copyright Jeff Tolman 2011. All rights reserved.
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Now You Know How Much I Love You

Now You Know How Much I Love You
                                                                               by Jeff Tolman
    The birth of a grandchild is a remarkable event. That first small cry announces two other new births, parents and grandparents.
    As a young husband I thought I had found the boundaries of love with my wife. Then we had a child and everything I thought I knew about love seemed small. Here was a child who carried my genes, my hopes, my dreams. I would have taken a bullet for him and died with a smile. He even entered the world looking like me: short and bald.
    When my second child was about to be born I fretted that I would have no feelings for him. His older brother had been the center of my universe for three years. I had given him all the love I had. What if I had no more to give his new sibling?
    My wife laughed at my worry. “You have enough love for a hundred kids. Don’t worry.” As usual, she was correct. Love seems nearly boundless, the closest thing on Earth to infinity. It expands as families grow.
    I had no such worries when my grandchildren were born. We would be pals, I hoped. They would be deeply loved, I knew.
    Families differ in how they express love. I have friends with very close families who have never heard the words “I love you” from their parents. The parents show it, they just don’t say it. I was raised in a family who expressed their love often. There was never a moment I didn’t know my Mom and Dad loved me. Even when we had a disagreement I knew their advice was from their heart, and was what they felt was in my best interest.
    I knew my son Chris was understanding his role as a parent last Father’s Day. He was away on business, but called me to wish me well on the holiday. “I think I understand now,” he began. “Father’s Day isn’t really about fathers at all. It is about celebrating the extraordinary gifts being a father brings you. Right?” Yes, right. Now you get it.
    But part of the love equation he didn’t seem to yet understand.
    One evening he and I were alone and he was feeding the baby. He was telling me what a great journey fatherhood was; how his highest hope was to be a good parent; how deeply he loved his children; how the old parental saying “This hurts me more than it hurts you” now made sense. As he spoke, our eyes met and I smiled.
    Finally he was ready to have two “dots” in his life connected; to appreciate a view behind, as he was now appreciating ahead of him.
    “Now you know how much I love you,” I said. “Until you have a child of your own you can’t imagine, or understand, how much you are loved. As a baby, infant, toddler, boy and now as a man, husband and father. Now, finally, you can know.”    And, I think, he does.
    Copyright Jeff Tolman 2012. All rights reserved.
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Mokita

Mokita

by Jeff Tolman

Four years ago, on my 55th birthday, in addition to the realization that I was now eligible for a number of “Senior Specials,” I received an unusual, but important, gift – a new word: mokita. Some years ago I learned a great Hawaiian word, and concept, kina’ole: doing the right thing in the right way at the right time in the right place to the right people for the right reason with the right feeling the first time. Recently a friend and I were chatting over coffee when he used the term. Acknowledging to him that I was unfamiliar with the word, he defined it (as does Wikipedia):
Mokita: a Papua New Guinean word which describes the concept
of “truth we all know but agree not to talk about.”
It is the elephant in the middle of the room. The 800 pound gorilla. The problem bothering a couple that they ignore, hoping it will somehow, some way, die of old age before they do. The common, unspoken concerns and fears and dreams.
Mokita has been part of most of our lives. In Little League I feared the other team’s pitcher (usually their biggest kid) would hit me in the head or chest with a pitch and kill me right in the batter’s box. Though I sensed other kids on my team felt that way too, we never spoke of it. We simply went to bat terrified.
When I was older, a teen-ager, and governed by peer pressure, I fretted about dressing wrong, or saying something stupid (both which I did with some frequency), or being considered a dweeb. I bumbled through adolescence filled with insecurity, not realizing at the time others – arguably every other teen-ager on the planet except those too vain, stupid or insensitive to think beyond their own skin – felt the same. We never spoke of our feelings of insecurity or potential dweebness. It was pure mokita.
In law school my roommate, Darrell, and I had a huge party once we figured out we’d have to be in a coma, brain-dead or simply skip tests to flunk out. We were going to become lawyers. As the joy and libations flowed, many classmates confessed that they, too, felt the angst and fear of failure. We had all simply, tacitly, agreed that truth wouldn’t be discussed.
Through my adult years mokita has been less present. One’s hopes and fears and foibles and insecurities have become soil for comedy. Rodney Dangerfield’s line, “When I got sick they gave me second aid,” makes us smile at the unimportance we’ve all felt from time to time.
Instant communications and the flattening world has shown us that we citizens of the world have more similar feelings and experiences than dissimilarities. Heck, there’s even Deal or No Deal in every country on Earth.
Certainly raising children has helped dialogue as we parents discussed our growing offspring, looking for successful ways to help them grow into well-centered adults. Maybe we couldn’t talk about mokita with them – the loser friend they had or the lack of interest in school that could haunt them in their later years. We had no problem, though, talking to other parents.
The reality is that when we talk about our fears we discover that we have more in common that not. Most lives are more similar than dissimilar. We are, usually based on our ages, work and family situations, dealing with the same issues. A school administration once told a friend of mine that he could walk through a class reunion blindfolded and know what year reunion was occurring by the conversations. People are that predictable.
Oh, how I wish I would have known others shared my emotions and feelings – that I’d recognized mokita earlier in my life. Then I have had many helpful conversations as I struggled with issues over the years. Knowing that others felt the same I might have not hesitated to call for a pinch hitter for myself in Little League. And I wouldn’t feel the least bit uncomfortable asking for the Senior Special price the first time.
Copyright Jeff Tolman 2012. All rights reserved.

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Doing the Dishes is Not What it Seems

Doing the Dishes is Not What it Seems

by Jeff Tolman

In the great book To Kill a Mockingbird there is a scene in which Jem gets in trouble. His punishment, which seems inordinately harsh, is to read to a neighbor lady until an alarm goes off. Day after day he reads until, one day, he is told the neighbor passed away. Only then does his dad, Atticus Finch, disclose what was really happening. The neighbor was terminally ill and had become addicted to a medication. She wanted to die free of the “dope.” Jem’s reading was to distract her longer and longer between doses, helping free her from the medication.
My Mom was tricky like that. Many things when I was growing up were not as they seemed. Like doing the dinner dishes.
As with most of their generation, my parents were card players. They passed this hobby on early in my sister’s life and mine. For most of my growing up years, nightly after dinner my family played cards to see who did the dishes. You lose, you wash, dry and put away. This was Mom’s idea, I always thought, because she was the best card player and didn’t like doing dishes. Only when I had kids did I come to understand that the real purpose of the exercise had little to do with cards or dishes.
Through the process we all became reasonably proficient at many card games. Cribbage. Several type of Rummy. Pinochle. Bridge. Three or four different Solitare games. Hearts.
Nightly we were reminded that we were on the same team, a family, even when we had different points of view.
It was family time in its purest form.
We learned how to be competitive without malice or aggression.
Our family spent time together in conversation while we played. We debated politics, news and current events. Everyone had better read the daily newspaper and watch the news or you would be left in the conversational dust.
We learned how to play fair.
We learned that in cards, and life, you both win and lose, and how to be graceful at both.
No doubt Mom and Dad got a lot of information about my sister’s life and mine that they normally would not have acquired as we played.
In the end, we learned how to do the dishes and that it is not a bad job if you lose fair and square.
Kids don’t play cards now often. The games are too slow and repetitive compared to the available video games. Card playing is becoming a lost art. That’s too bad. Much can be learned over a game of after dinner cards. About cards and families and life. And it never hurts to be an experienced dish-doer.
Copyright Jeff Tolman 2012. All rights reserved.

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Do You Want to Run?

Do You Want to Run?

By Jeff Tolman

I watched the two children, each four or five years old, meet for the first time. Immediately they wanted to play together. There was no concern about the color each other’s skin or the pedigree of each other’s family or who would be the fastest runner. They simply had discovered a like-aged playmate who, they innately knew, had more in common with them than not. “Do you want to run?” one asked the other. And off the two new friends went, running and laughing as if they’d known each other since birth.

Sometimes we adults forget our lessons from childhood. We meet a new person not as a potential playmate, but as a competitor or stranger. Our disconnection is more powerful than our commonality.

A young friend of mine moved to a new city. He emailed me and asked if I had any suggestions on how to make friends in a new location.

I recommended he say “good morning” to everyone and mention the first names of those he knew. When someone says “Good morning, Jeff” immediately there is a ring of friendship. He knows my name and greeted me warmly this morning. I’m not sure I know his name, but will find it out. Soon the conversation is “Good morning, Jeff,” “Good morning, Steve, how are you this morning?” From those few warm words of familiarity more dialogue can, and usually does, bloom.

My friend should, I advised, be a conversation starter. A thousand times I have seen two men having morning coffee at a diner, staring straight ahead quietly. Alone. Then one’s breakfast will be served and he will ask the man sitting next to them to pass the ketchup. Handing over the ketchup, the gent will say something like, “Yep, I like ketchup on my hash browns, too. Not many people do, like you and I.”and a conversation will commence over the passing of a condiment. The reality is that neither man wanted to eat breakfast quietly, alone, staring straight ahead. Each wanted conversation and human interaction. The only issue – obstacle – was who would have the courage to start a dialogue. Five year olds don’t have such barriers to their ego. That’s why they so easily find running companions.

Golf is a great joy in my life. I am an average player, but enjoy the exercise, conversation and competition against the course very much. In the hundreds of rounds of golf I’ve played with people I haven’t previously known, only once or twice I have not enjoyed my new acquaintance. Almost always we know many of the same people and have had similar experiences on and off golf courses. I would have enjoyed running with as a five year old with most the golfers I’ve met.

As the two children ran and laughed, I was reminded how growing up is, in many ways, a contracting, rather than expanding, of our innate human nature. I hope my grandchild, Kinzie, will feel free to ask another child “Do you want to run?” when she’s five. And ten. And fifty-seven. I wish her grandfather – me – would more often.

Copyright Jeff Tolman 2009. All rights reserved.

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Everything I Have Always Wanted I Have

Everything I Have Always Wanted I Have

by Jeff Tolman

On summer nights as a young boy I would look at the stars and wonder what life held forme.

My life goals were pretty modest. Live an honest life. Work hard.

Find someone to love. Have kids. Get a job through which I could make a positive difference in people’s lives. Have good friends and a happy, healthy family.

Not Earth shaking, or unusual, life goals.

I was reminded of looking skyward after reading an article about a couple who above the entry door to their home have a four word Latin phrase: Quod Cupio Mecum Est: “Everything I have always wanted I have.”

What a lovely phrase. And feeling.

So often, too often, we get caught up in comparisons or “keeping up with the Joneses;” never quite being satisfied. When I go on new adventures I write down my goals in advance, just in case I need a reminder. A few years ago I played in a golf tournament in Scotland on one of the most difficult courses in the world. My written goal: Don’t get last and have a good time. When I walked into the clubhouse, third from the bottom, I didn’t feel very good. A hundred
and seventy-two golfers had topped me. I beat two. As I drank a pint with my playing partners I thought of my written goal. I didn’t get last and I was having quite a nice time with the gents from Scotland and England. My day brightened up quickly.

If I could change human nature there are three characteristics many, too many, people possess. First, I would make it easier not to compare. Really, most things in other people’s lives have nothing to do with me. If they win Lotto, or their child graduates with honors, or they get a hole-in-one, it is no reflection on me at all. I should be (and hope I am) happy for them. Not so with many people. Everything relates to them. They either become jealous of another person’s
achievement, or try to minimize or one-up it, spending their energy trying to lift themselves up by beating others down.

Second, I would formalize a time daily to think of the positive. Recently I had dinner with a young family. As the meal began they automatically took turns reporting on the best part of their day. When their turn came each started a sentence “The best part of my day was…” It was a nightly moment of positive reflection and sharing which I hope their young children will pass on to the next generation. In any day something good – often many positive things – happen. A reminder, and sharing, doesn’t hurt at all.

Finally, I would make it a daily goal to make someone feel important in some way. By complimenting them, or honestly listening to an experience they are sharing, or simply reminding them that, usually, life is pretty good.

Recently Laurie and I went on vacation with some good friends. What I noticed for the first time was how our friend said something nice to every waitress we had. One was complimented on her necklace, another on her hair-do. Our friend told a server, “You look so beautiful tonight,” to which the recipient’s eyes teared up and she said “Thank you, I really needed that tonight.”

Honest, natural positive remarks that made three nice ladies feel better.

My friend, Bruce, stops by for coffee once in awhile and I always enjoy our chats. Recently he told me of a Poulsbo resident who always brightened Bruce’s day a little.

“I loved the guy,” Bruce said. “Every time I asked ‘How are you?’ he
would reply, ‘I’m surging with power, Bruce! Nothing can stop me today!’ And I always came away from our time together positive, energized and enthused about the day ahead.”

I’m surging with power. What a nice way to feel. That you control your destiny. That little things aren’t going to stop you. That you have the ability to make the day great.

Nothing can stop me today. Wow! I want to feel like that – and make someone else feel like that. Today. Every day.

Maybe if we all began the day surging with power, unstoppable, remembering our dreams as we looked up at the stars years ago, complimenting others and routinely reflected on the best part of our day, Quod Cupio Mecum Est would adorn more front doors.
As it should.
Copyright Jeff Tolman 2011. All rights reserved.

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Machrie: Our Hearts Beat Together

My grand-daughter was less than a month old. Across the table were four
golfers from Galway, Ireland sharing an after-round libation and solving,
through the filters of two nations, the problems of the world.

“I need a Gaelic word,” I said, “A beautiful Irish word that
tells my new granddaughter how much I love her. I’ll bet your ancient language
has a lot better words than English to express such deep emotion.”

Immediately the lads broke into a foreign language, speaking quickly,
discussing loudly, their conversation making no sense to the English-trained
ears on the sides of my head. Finally, my new friend Garrick wrote on a card
“Mo Chara” and “Mo Chroi.” “The English pronunciation
of the word is ma-kree.” he said. “It means ‘our hearts beat
together.’ You should sign your letters to her and finish your visits with the
wee one always telling her ‘Machrie.’”

Machrie. Our hearts beat together. What a gorgeous, personal, touching word
and phrase.

Most of us know the concept, and have experienced it. How great it would
have been to know the word earlier in my life. I knew the feeling. I just
didn’t have a the perfect word to convey it. Machrie.

How appropriate it would have been to add to my cracking voice as I asked ,
“Will you marry me? Machrie.”

Those nights as I rocked my firstborn, who wasn’t a big fan of sleep, after
the four hundredth verse of “House at Pooh Corner,” to say “I
love you, Chris. Machrie. It’s time to sleep.” And later to my second son,
Andy, as I held him close.

As I said my last words to each son as we hugged before they got married. My
heart and theirs were beating together. As father and son, as men, as grooms,
and, then, as husbands. Machrie.

But there have been other times in my life when I felt I had a joined heart.
With Bob Jungert and Rick Guenther, my high school friends and teammates, those
early mornings when we opened the gym to practice at 6 a.m., dreaming together
of making it to the State Basketball tournament (as we did!).

With my law school roommate, joined together initially by the fear of
failure, then working together for three years to learn a profession that would
capture our energy, attention and effort for (now) over three decades.

Sharing daily life with my law partners as we grew together from our
twenties to sixties as businessmen and advocates.

And thirty-two years later, nearly everyday living with my wife.

I have a friend who is constantly looking for the “Pow!” in life.
Perhaps we are saying the same thing. His description is just more dramatic
than mine. There is great “Pow!” when two hearts beat together.
Whether they are two people in love, teammates, business partners, a parent and
child, or a grandparent trying to express his love to an infant who, already,
has him hopelessly wrapped around her tiny finger.

May the quiet Pow! of two hearts beating together warm your soul and fill
your memories often. Machrie.
Copyright Jeff Tolman 2012. All rights reserved.

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Gifts From My Parents That Remain –

Chapter 1

Though my Mom and Dad are now gone – Dad for six years, Mom for ten – gifts
they gave me are still important parts of my life. Often I reflect fondly on
their generosity to me and their gifts that remain with me.

An irresponsible act of one can have negative consequences on many.
The circus was coming to the Big Horn County Fair Grounds in Basin and I could
hardly wait. There would be elephants and clowns and maybe acrobats, just like
Barnum & Bailey. When our tickets came I demanded to be the custodian. The
clock seemed to suddenly slow down. Days seemed to be fifty-three hours long.
Finally, circus day was upon us. “Let’s go!” I chided my family.
“OK, Jeff, where are the tickets?” The tickets were no where to be
found. I tore my bedroom, and the rest of the house, apart. We moved the piano
and found my (now fossilized) pet frog that had disappeared a couple of years earlier.
We found change in the sofa cushions and hot dogs my Beagle, Gus, had hidden in
the back of my sister’s closet. We made many great discoveries, but never found
the tickets. And, so, we didn’t go. When I cried and argued and tried to
pain-in-the-neck my way to the circus, my parents stayed calm and firm. I had
requested the responsibility of the tickets and had not lived up to the job. I
didn’t get to see the elephants, nor did they. My gift was an unforgettable
lesson in responsibility.

Having a job is a two way street. My Dad never turned down work at
the paper mill when called. Never. He felt there was an agreement between he
and the mill. It fed, clothed and sheltered his family. When the company needed
his help it was the least he could do in return. I saw him flinch and often
knew he hoped the ringing phone was for me, or Mom, or was anyone but the
foreman asking Dad to come to work. But he always went, and always said,
“I have to go to work. The mill needs me.” My gift was the
appreciation of having a job. Even when it is inconvenient.

Families have good times and bad. Enjoy the good, be supportive in the
bad.
Mom’s family, like most families of that day, lived hand to mouth. My
Grandpa Gould was the typesetter at The Greybull Standard, my Grandma
the evening telephone operator. They raised five girls on very modest means.
One Christmas things were particularly bad. Finances were so tight they
couldn’t afford fabric for Grandma to make the girls clothes. Under the tree
for each girl were two gifts: an orange and a pencil. The first time Mom talked
about that Christmas I waited to hear her complain or make a smart remark.
Certainly she could not have been happy or satisfied getting only a piece of
fruit and a writing implement under the tree. But she never did. Mom realized
it was the best her parents could do that year. My gift was an understanding
that in any life, and any family, there are good times and bad, ups and downs.
Through it all you are still family. That lesson seems particularly relevant
this year as people across the planet struggle through the present world-wide
recession.

Life is a finite number. Enjoy it. My Mom struggled with COPD
(Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) for a couple of years before she passed
away, having, in the end, about fifteen percent of her lung capacity. Every
breath was a battle to get enough oxygen into her system. Dad died suddenly,
about six hours after we had chatted and argued about who the Zags starting
line-up should be, and we told each other “I love you.” In many ways
their deaths could not have been more different. They were similar, though, in
the lesson that we should enjoy life while we can, as best we can. Whether it
is through family or friends, card games, sports or travel. Whatever brings a
smile to your face and some warmth to your heart. Always remembering the life
lessons those who love you have shared.
Copyright Jeff Tolman 2012. All rights reserved.

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