Sunday, June 10, 2012

Comfy Pants

QUALITY may not be important to everyone but it is to me. As much as I can afford, I like to buy quality products. I've found that quality usually lasts longer, works better, and in the long run, saves me money. Sometimes, however, I have a brain-freeze and forget. Not long ago I purchased a package of three lounge pants (aka "comfy pants") at a local big-box discount store at a great price. But even before the first washing, each one unraveled and came apart at the seams. My bad. I have similar pants I've worn for years but they're still in good shape, other than a few paint stains. Maybe I should have paid more attention to the label. Where is Bangladesh anyway? The price should have been a clue, too, although that's not an infallible indicator.

I even apply the quest-for-quality principle in cars and tools, and I notice which brands those in-the-know seem to prefer. I try to learn from them. When it comes to retail establishments and professional services, I look for quality here, too. When traveling, I've found that it's usually cheaper and more pleasant to eat at a nice sit-down restaurant than it is to buy a bag of junk food and a soft drink at the quickie-mart.

I also notice quality in other ways, too, and sometimes respond. It's sort of a game I play as I make mental notes. If I stay at a hotel and they send me a satisfaction questionnaire afterwards, I'm usually prepared. If I have any suggestions I try to give them my honest observations, both positive and negative, but do so in a cordial, constructive way. Years ago, I even sent a letter with some concerns I had to Paul Harvey about his radio broadcasts, and to my great astonishment, and in just a few days, he paraphrased my letter over the air. He began by explaining that a listener had some concerns about occasional vulgarities contained in his broadcasts, then stated my name and where I lived. I must admit, I was scared to death as I listened on my car radio. I didn't know how he would react and if he would get mad and tell me to go jump in the lake—or worse. Finishing the segment, he was not mad, but said in his classic voice, in a most kind tone, adding that famous pause of his, "Mr. Norwood...thank you...I mean it...thank you!" Whew. My heart was racing and still does as I think about it.

Even when shopping, running errands or traveling, I see quality, or the lack of it, all around. Sometimes it's impossible to ignore. I notice how clean the rest rooms are in an establishment (and if they have such novelties as paper towels and soap); how friendly and helpful the sales clerks are; if the walkway is clean leading to the entrance and even if the store's complete address or business hours are listed on their Website.

Don't you hate it when the shopping cart wheels don't work properly and go bumpity-bump, bumpity-bump with every step you take? And how many customers have to be offended by the perpetually rude clerk at the post office before the supervisor intervenes? Are the hours of operation convenient to those who work for a living? I like to think how things would be different if I owned the store or ran the business or was Postmaster General. Oh, I could go on and on, so don't get me started. Is it any wonder so many stores and businesses go bust or beg for government bailouts? Do they even know why?

Quality is why I go back to the same store, the same restaurant, the same dealership, the same church. Well, yes, there's always room for improvement and ways to make things even better, right? In fact, you'll notice that the top notch establishments, the successful ones, continually make changes as they seek to improve. At least they're trying, I think, even if I don't like the changes. They're never satisfied with the status-quo or the "we've-always-done-it-this-way" syndrome.

Don't get me wrong, I don't just focus on the negative but look at the good things and what I like, too. I'm usually swift to give a compliment to the deserving clerk, waitress, manager or store owner, giving them the specifics of what I like and appreciate. I've even done this at drive-up windows. It makes their day! Although I want to improve in this area, I've left notes to the hotel maid, sent thank you letters and e-mails, even gifts of appreciation. About five or six years after graduation, when I was teaching elementary school in Florida, I sent a belated letter to my anatomy professor, Dr. Knight, at East Carolina University, telling him how much I appreciated him and the job he did. I told him specifically why I thought he was one of the best teachers I had ever had. A week or so later, he wrote back telling me that in all his years of teaching, he had never received a thank you note from a former student. Mine was one of a kind, and a first. I also have a hand written reply to my letter from the late H. A. Rey, the author of The Stars and the Curious George series. It's wonderful. (I donated a copy of it to the H. A. and Margaret Rey Papers for the Ellen Ruffin and the de Grummond Children's Literature Collection at the University of Southern Mississippi). Even Lincoln said, "Everyone likes a compliment."

Being a connoisseur of quality has the responsibility, not only of an appropriate response, but a timely one. Don't wait. Still, I believe it's never too late to say "thank you," but why make the person wait for years to hear, to unwrap the words you've wanted to say—a gift which may mean the world to them? Even worse is having the burden of the re-occurring thought, "I wish I had..."

A positive word or a sincere compliment can change a person's day—even their life. There are so many opportunities each day and we should remember to appreciate the people we meet and the things they do, and let them know. The effort is minimal yet the results are huge. There's no excuse to hoard or try to economize on kindness, or a golden word of encouragement. That's how it's seen in us you know—quality, that is. After all, we're more than comfy pants.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

9 Hours in Reality

Perhaps you've read or heard of the 2004 best selling book, 90 Minutes in Heaven, by Don Piper, co-authored by preeminent writer, Cecil Murphy, or “Cec.” I can call him that since I've met him a couple of times. It's a true story about Pastor Piper's drive home and his tragic encounter with a semi resulting in his instant death. The book's 205 pages chronicles Piper's experiences, testimony, and miraculous recovery back to life, but more importantly, the memory he came back with—a memory of, well...heaven.

There's another book which soon followed, though not as successful, titled 23 Minutes in Hell, by Bill Wiese. (Cec says that you know your book is successful when spin-offs follow.) In this case the author claims to have seen and briefly tasted the torments of hell in a dream, being transported there by God so he could come back and share what he saw—to tell others that hell was real.

Do you think maybe these will work if readers don't believe what Jesus or Paul, John, Jude, Daniel, David, Isaiah, Habakkuk, and other prophets have to say about heaven and hell in the Bible, both in the Old Testament and New? Well, whatever it takes, I suppose. I hope so.

Fortunately, neither of these events ever happened to me, although I must admit, I think it would be heavenly to have written a book like Cec's that's in its thirty-fourth printing and has sold over a million-and-a-half copies. Some authors might even be willing to go to hell and back for that—but not me, even if a round-trip were possible. I say that in all seriousness, really, because of what I recently experienced with my second and most painful kidney stone attack.

But clearly, a lot of people are interested in what heaven or even hell will be like, that is, if one believes in the reality of these places at all. I do, but I'll go with what the Bible says. I think it’s OK to want to check these places out before moving there and the writers of the Bible did, too, because they gave a fair amount of information about these places—enough of a preview, that is, to help us decide in advance. Jesus spent a lot of his time trying to tell people how to get to one place and avoid the other, and even endured the cross so we could. After all, we’re talking about a long-term lease-purchase here—eternity—and despite what dreams and near-death experiences others may claim, there’s no escape-clause or a return-after-90-day plan, according to scriptural teachings.

No, my second experience with a kidney stone was definite reality—not something I dreamed or had visions about or a place where I was teleported. By the way, I still think the term "stone" is unfair and inaccurate. Mine was a kidney boulder. The level and type of this top-of-the-scale discomfort induced by kidney stones, confirmed by the hapless victims of its agony-induced death, is legendary and is certainly nothing new. In fact, a prehistoric female skeleton was discovered along the Orange River in the Cape Province of South Africa which had two large kidney stones—the likely cause of her excruciating death at the age of about 55. And kidney stones have been found in Egyptian mummies, too, which may explain their ghoulish expressions and grimaces I can easily recognize now. So yes, call them what you like, stones, boulders, or renal calculi, they have been with us a long time. Maybe you have your own horrific story—if not, I hope you never will.

My experience was not 90 Minutes in Heaven, obviously, or 23 Minutes in Hell, but it did make me think of both locations, especially the latter. Not that I went there, mind you, but my kidney stone experience revealed some thoughts I'll never forget. I think you should know about them, too. The good news is you won't have to go through what I did to find out—just bear with me for a while; it won't be as painful, I promise.

So as I wait for the doctor to do his thing—I'll be unconscious anyway they tell me—let’s start from the beginning:

It began last Saturday night—that familiar deep ache I hoped would pass but knew wouldn’t. I isolated myself in the spare bedroom and lay on my back hoping the grinding ache would fade away or for the anesthesia of sleep to come. Neither happened. About midnight I finally woke my wife and told her she’d have to drive me to the emergency room; I was doubled up and vomiting periodically from pain. I knew it had to be a kidney stone, a particularly painful one. I also knew the hospital’s ER routine as I had been through the drill before, a couple of times, actually, with a stubborn stone a few years ago.

After the CAT Scan, the doctor confirmed that, yes, it was indeed a kidney stone and—no surprise to me—it was a whopper.

He then informed me that this puppy was too big to pass. It would probably require a lithotripsy—a procedure which blasts the stone apart by an “extracorporeal shockwave” machine, known as a lithotripter. Fortunately the hospital had one, but I would need to see a urologist first and schedule the procedure through him. He gave me a name and number to call, since I couldn't remember the name of my previous urologist—I don't know why, but do you think that maybe the morphine had something to do with it? He also gave me some additional painkillers for the night, a prescription to pick up in the morning, and with a smile and a pat on the back, sent me home.

That was five days ago and I'm still toting this bolder around in my gut. But now, it won't be long until I'll have my turn with the machine, the million dollar life-saver my insurance company will help pay for. I've waited an eternity, it seems, to get under it, as I'll explain later.

When the good ER doctor sent me home, I spent the rest of the night and all the next day, which was Sunday, in bed and with the door shut, mostly lying on my back. No position relieved the ache. The pain was steady-constant-and-deep. It couldn’t be isolated, held or squeezed, like you can do with a cut finger. This thing from the abyss involved my whole abdominal area, and for me, that’s a lot. I couldn't eat—didn't want to—and sleep was elusive, sporadic, often impossible. Minutes passed in throbs. Hours crawled with groans. The hash-marks of time seemed endless and oh, so long. The so-called pain killers seemed a cruel joke but I took them every four hours, just as the prescription label said to do.

Monday morning I called the urologist’s office first thing. To my horror, the answering service informed me the office wasn't open on Mondays. My moan of disappointment echoed in the empty house. Evidentially, kidney stones have Mondays off—they have to wait: Tuesdays through Fridays only. Looking back, I should have called another urologist, or found the name of my previous physician, but for some reason—maybe I wasn't thinking clearly—I felt duty-bound to stick to this one.

I resigned myself to survive yet another day and another endless night: another night when the demons of pain crawl out of their hiding spots and torment your mind and your body, holding you captive and taking great pleasure of robbing you of the bliss and escape of sleep.

Tuesday finally dawned and after my wife went to work, I called again. The receptionist mercifully gave me an appointment with the doctor promptly at 9:30 A.M.

It felt good to be out of the house, even under the circumstances, clutching my waist like a gun shot wound as I drove. I was there early. In the waiting room I had a chat with two friends of mine, husband and wife; and as I heard about the Appalachian Trail and the exploits of their son, I tried to focus and keep a pleasant smile until the nurse called my name at last. I don't think they were there for the same reason I was; they never asked, fortunately.

When the young urologist sporting a polka dot bow-tie sallied into the examining room, his first words to me, a total stranger, was a question punctuated with a barnyard profanity. He probably thought it was cute and would immediately establish him as a good ol’ boy and just one of the guys. It didn’t. I wasn't impressed nor amused and certainly was in no mood to hear this kind of language, especially directed toward me. Not here. Not now. I had seen his framed diploma on the wall and had planned to tell him that we shared the same alma mater, but now I was disappointed and ashamed, so I didn’t. I remembered how hard our college president had worked to get a medical school when I was there. I wish now I had walked out of the examining room, but not before explaining why. This fellow needed to learn a lesson, one evidentially he hadn't learned from his parents or his twenty-two plus years of education. But, at this point, after waiting so long and feeling at his mercy, I stayed. Never again, I promised myself.

After looking at the X-rays on his computer screen, he swaggers around, then tells me that his day for the hospital's lithotripter was Thursday. This was Tuesday, and no, he couldn't get it any sooner. He magnanimously offered a prescription for more pain killers, as I was almost out. Big deal, I thought, these so-called pain-killers are just glorified Tylenol. But not to look a gift horse in the mouth, I would welcome even the placebo effect at this point. Honestly, I didn't think the pills were doing anything but giving me false hope and a distraction from the misery, but something's better than nothing, I say to myself. On the way out, none too soon for me, I picked up the prescription and some literature on the up-coming lithotripsy procedure. My friends were gone.

Back at the house sometime later, the hospital calls and tells me the time to be there on Thursday—6:30 A.M.—and that I couldn't eat or drink or take any medication past midnight, the night before. Nothing. I would need someone to drive me home. They didn't ask how I planned to get there, so I presumed they didn't care. Is crawling OK? I wondered.

The rest of the day Tuesday passes in boredom and pain, then another sleepless, comfortless night. As I lay in bed Wednesday, listening to the cheerful Spring birds waking up outside, I tried thinking of how I could describe my pain. The word "pain" just didn't fit. That's for a bee sting or when you bump your knee on a table or hit your thumb with a hammer. This was different. It wasn't sharp—not an "ouch" type thing. This was closer to a moan or a groan, but deeper. You couldn't isolate it with a Band-Aid or sooth it like you would by rubbing ointment on a bruise, putting ice on a sting or dabbing disinfectant on a splinter. This was deep, pervasive and went beyond the word "pain," with all it's limp, inclusive meanings in all its drabness, paleness and pallor. Too weak. No, this thing was discomfort to the extreme. Eventually, as I envied the beautiful day blooming outside and studied the sliced-up sun that shone through the window-blinds, I came up with the term, "excruciation." I didn't even know it was a legitimate word at the time but I thought it was a good fit because it seemed to be an amalgamation of "excruciating" and "execution." Of course, both of these words are derivatives of "crucifixion," and that, too, makes it even more appropriate. Definitely connected. Death by pain, in other words. I was satisfied with my new term. I was no longer in pain, I was in excruciation. Somehow, that seemed to help.

Then as Wednesday night arrived, I knew it would be special. I was somewhat excited with anticipation, even trepidation; it reminded me of a night-time departure out to sea on a sailboat, or an airplane take-off into a moonless night. It was the night before a big event. I also knew that in four hours, all food, medication and even water would come to a halt. If I had eaten anything since Saturday night, I don't remember, and didn't care, but I hunkered down hoping for a little sleep before the clock struck twelve. I swallowed my last pills, enjoyed a few final gulps of water and closed my eyes.

Almost like clock-work, whether asleep or not, I opened my eyes. The digital clock said 12:00. It would have been time for my next pseudo-pain killer. But you know what? The pain, I mean the excruciation, was kicking in, and I was sure it was growing worse by the minute. OK, I was wrong—the pills had been helping. Before, it was really not pain, after all: only the fringes. This was pain. This was excruciation. I knew then, it would be a long and lonely night.

Sure enough, I was back in the bathroom, throwing up again and again. I rinsed my mouth each time but didn't drink. Then back to my torture chamber. The night was a tomb and I was in it. Comfort was impossible, relief not an option, and the simple pleasure of swallowing cool water to soothe my throat was out of the question. I hadn't eaten since Saturday. This was now Thursday. Really. Food was so far from my mind, it was no longer part of my life. I see now that pain over-rides hunger and takes precedence. Pain must be resolved first. A couple of years ago, I visited a friend in the hospital; it was at supper time the day before he died from colon cancer. He refused to eat and got angry when coaxed. Now I know why.

Now here's the moment, the eternity-like revelation I mentioned earlier: It was here while I was on the floor, why else but to seek a less painful position, when I began to understand only a little of what hell must be like. It was here where five days in pain focused on nine hours of reality and thoughts of hell.

It was here that a deep, remorse for those so destined and so determined set in. My pain paled with these troubling thoughts and with this revelation of reality's eternity and eternity's reality.

Tonight was to be my here-and-now, bare-bones-style. I'm not talking about the degrees of pain I experienced, but it was the thoughts of hell—the helplessness, the endlessness, the knowing that no relief will come there—ever. Constant agony. No water. No comfort. No way to find solace, peace, or escape. No way, even, to end it all. It's eternal, but to call it "life" misses the mark. How could this eternalness of torment be called "life"?

Bad as all that, there's more, I thought. Prayers are muted, unheard, unanswered, and unspoken, as most likely, even desire to pray will be gone, as will all hope. The Holy Spirit will be removed. Gone will be the ever-presence and the ever ready and beckoned-call of the Trinity. Faith will have no purpose and no place. All that's left is agony, loneliness, pain, regret and worst of all—separation from God.

There will be deep and total darkness, too—this from the absence of God—the light of the world. We've never experienced God's removal, absence or rejection. He's always been there for us and with us; listening and caring; and as the legend goes, leaving his footprints in the sand as he carried us through our darkest times. He's even there for the fox-hole atheist who prays in desperation, to the thief on the cross who admitted his guilt before the Savior, and the death-row inmate who calls out to him at the last minute. But God won't be in hell. Our life-line will be lost and the blood-line broken. This will be hell's welcome sign: No sleep, no food, no water, no relief, no comfort, no pleasure, no God. Stick this out forever. I ask myself, "Is this what non-believers have wanted all along, to be separated from God?" This is the package they're signing up for when they reject Jesus Christ and the salvation he offers.

When I processed all these terrible thoughts there on the bedroom floor, I also began to feel a sense of appreciation for what I was going through, actual gratefulness, even—I doubt I would have called it "praise" just then, but I do now. How else could I have learned this? Reading about the "weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth" in the Bible just didn't connect with me before. Now it does.

At first light, I drove myself to the hospital, parked across the street from the out-patient clinic, in the designated parking lot, and walked in, though noticeably stooped over in my now familiar gun-shot posture. The receptionist, who needed my photo ID, driver's license, insurance card, credit card, and who knows what else, recommended rather forcefully, if not rudely, that I should not take these documents, my wallet and car keys into the examining rooms, as that they would not be responsible for loss or theft. "How about my life?" I wondered. "Who will be responsible for that?" But, OK, I have no fight left in me, so I took the elevator back down to the ground level, staggered back across the road, into the parking lot, and, finding my car, locked up my wallet, hid the keys, then somehow made it back to the waiting area for my name to be called, which brings us up to the present.

So here we are. At least my wallet and keys are safe. After five days of agony, at last I'm hooked up to an I-V waiting to have the stone blasted to bits by some type of sci-fi ray-gun procedure. Incidentally, the hidden word "trip" in "lithotripsy" didn't pass me unnoticed.

With my head slightly propped up by a tiny pillow, I'm on my back in one of those thin, overly-washed, breezy, embarrassing, and too short hospital gowns. They have the hospital's name stamped on the back, which the nurse informed me is supposed to be in the front, which makes no sense having the tie-strings on the back. And what's up with the logo on a hospital gown? Do they think their patients will be tempted to take the gown home with them along with the hospital socks and tongue depressors? Or maybe it's just clever advertising. Yeah, that's it: marketing the hospital with you as the sandwich-board sign: the hospital's logo leading the way as you shuffle down the hall, gown coming untied at the back, pulling the I-V stand behind you in your hospital socks and tongue depressors. Great strategy. This should generate a lot of kidney stone business.

Since I've been telling you all this, it seems like they've wheeled me to a warehouse or out near the loading dock, but surely not. I'm too out of it to know probably but I've got no drugs in me yet, that I know of. These friendly-looking guys are gathered around my gurney in jeans and burley arms, grinning at me like they know something I don't, and they're not saying. They look like construction workers, not nurse-anesthetists, but I know better than to crack any jokes, not now. My life is in their hands. Maybe the anesthesiologist, whom I met earlier, Dr. What's-his-name, is around someplace. I hope so, and I don't even see the famous lithotripter machine. I did want to see it because I had read about it in the newspaper when the hospital got it, for like a million bucks. And I can only presume Dr. Foul-mouth will breeze through soon, too, with his cute little bow tie, to practice his marksmanship skills on me with the zapping machine. I did ask a nurse if he was a good shot and she assured me he was. So that's a relief, anyhow.

A few minutes ago I was in some type of holding cell with curtains, nurses, needles, tubes and people, and was visited by the head honcho anesthesiologist himself. I asked him what was the name of the drug they would use to put me under, I was just curious, I said. What else do you ask the anesthesiologist under the circumstances? The nurses were listening when he turned to me and blankly said, "Propofol."

"Hey," I said, raising up from the gurney like Frankenstein's monster. "Isn't that the drug that killed Michael Jackson?" The nurses tried to hide their giggles; one simply couldn't. At this point, maybe I'm getting so used to the pain I'm beginning to act slap-happy.

"Yes, as a matter of fact it is," he said stoically," but we won't use as much."

At least the nurses got their laugh for the day.

"Good," I said, or something similar.

That's about when they wheeled me out to the next stop. That's where I am now—the warehouse. If something goes wrong, this may be my last memory this side of the pearly gates. At least I know I'm ready. Hope to see you there.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Keep the Bubble in the Middle

YESTERDAY was Day 3 or maybe it was Day 4 in my wall-building project--I'm losing track. Anyhow, it took only a few minutes to take down the wall I had errected just the day before. I had to. One end was one inch lower than the other. There was no way to hide it. It would have been forever obvious. As I gazed at this ugly gap, I even played with the idea that no one would notice except me. You see, the guys who poured the patio, and my wall rested along side it, were experts, craftsmen really, and their job was true and level. My wall's imperfection just couldn't be missed and you didn't need to be a master builder to see that.

It took the rest of the day, however, to put the wall back--level this time. A hard but valuable lesson. For me it wasn't entirely "do it right the first time" (I knew that one), but how important it is to start the project, the first course, straight, square, plumb, in-line, and the level's bubble in the middle. Left to the random aspect of nature, and contrary to the supposed contemplative methods of evolution, a project such as this will not simply work out and happen to be level and square in the end--too many possibilities. The foundation (gravel in this case) and it's first course of segmental block, each weighing 87 pounds, is the most critical. With each block, there needs to be constant checking and rechecking in all directions. All the other courses rest on this first row, and in this type of wall with no mortar, there's no adjusting afterward. When the final block is laid on top it's "WYSIWYG" (what you see is what you get). Unfortunately, my first WYSIWYG, after three or four days of effort, was one inch below where I wanted it to be. It was not level. It was my good fortune there was no mortar involved and the re-do only cost me time--one whole day. Yes, I'm tired and my back aches, but my wall is now level and straight.

I go into detail on this as there is the obvious lesson to life, an analogy that has not escaped others but bears repeating and pondering. Oh, how grateful I am to have had Christian parents, grandparents, pastors, teachers, friends and neighbors who helped keep my plumb line straight. Not an easy task for such as me, they would tell you.

Now, I know my life's wall is not the straightest on the block, but I'm just grateful it has held up these sixty-six years and not fallen in shameful crumbles, hurting others on the way down. And I can tell you that the efforts of these loved ones were true and correct, although I resisted at times. I know it must have brought frustration when it unnecessarily cost them extra time and effort and sometimes money. Although many are no longer living, if they could drive by now and glance at my life, perhaps they would find some pride--the good kind that says, "I helped him build his wall."

Today, whether it's day 4 or 5, I won't worry. I'm putting on the finishing touches and the final corner section. A friend who stopped by said I need to re-do a small drainage system, too. Maybe there was a time in younger years I would have ignored and scoffed at the advice, but not now. I'm building more than just a wall.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Where Are Our Children After School?

I DON'T KNOW ABOUT YOU, but I was a "latch-key kid" before the term even existed. When I was in the third grade living in Black Mountain, my dad was in the VA hospital in Oteen, my older brother was under the firm control of my grandparents in Georgia, and my mom was at work. Where was I after school?
I was unsupervised, that's where I was. I'm not complaining but I have to be honest in telling you, I'm lucky to be alive or at least not incarcerated. Mom had no other choice that I can see. We didn't have much money, so a babysitter was out, even if she could have found one. Mom worked in Asheville, so that meant about two hours for me to play on my own after the bus dropped me off and to "stay out of trouble."
Back in those days, the bus didn't stop in front of every door either. Not long ago, I went back and measured how far I had to walk to the bus stop. It seemed like two miles, but in reality it was only one-half mile, darn it. Still, that was long enough for me to get into fights and out of close-calls, not to mention walking down the side of a dangerous two-lane highway. However, in those days, I can't say there was lots of traffic because I remember trying to prove I could drive my bicycle down the road with my eyes closed. It didn't work--a telephone pole stopped me like a bat to the head. When I opened my eyes, my rear was on the ground, my chin hurt, and my bicycle was turning into Miss Moseley's driveway.

During these two hours of unsupervised freedom, I remember the time I accidentally burned off a field of broom straw next to the summer camp; the flames of which coming precariously close to their stable of horses. Yes, I was playing with matches (again). Thank Goodness Miss Moseley called the fire department.

Then there was the young rattle snake that escaped from me on the back porch, the afternoons in early spring when I went swimming alone in the camp's lake, hiking into the mountains, exploring mica mines, picking blackberries, and all the cigarettes I could smoke down by the creek with my red-haired, freckled face buddy "Mikey" who came to visit his mom occasionally. My mom didn't smoke but his did. Viceroys. I quit when my third grade teacher wrinkled her nose and asked if I had been smoking. I lied.

So, where are our children after school? Well, my memories are from the 1950s and were somewhat adventurous and Tom Sawyer-like, but what about today?

Would you leave your child home alone at the age of 8? What dangers lurk today that weren't much of a concern back in my day out in the country? What would you recommend to my mother in today's world? What are your own experiences?

Neighborhood Cowboy

I can always tell about the time I burned down our neighbor's garage in Denver, Colorado. It's titled, "Four year old cowboys should never build a campfire in the only doorway of a wooden garage, especially when inside, and boy, was my brother surprised when he came home from school!" It can also be titled, "How I got to be on a first-name basis with the Denver fire chief."

Funny thing, while I was sitting on the fire chief's lap, he never thought to ask me how I got out. No one else did, either, not even Mom. Nor did the chief reprimand the home owner for having removed all the water spigot handles so sweet little "cupcake," who put a piece of roast beef in my milk, wouldn't play with the water hoses. (My parents used an easier solution to such willfulness.) But serves Cakes right that he slept through the whole thing. Mom had been in their kitchen having a Bible study with his mom who, no doubt, needed some blessed assurance. I guess that's why we never went back--the fire that is--and that was fine by me. But I always wondered after a day like that, if the lady ever opened her Bible again. Guess Mom didn't want to risk going back to find out, invited or not. No telling what would have happened next time. Cakes and I were headed for a showdown.

Still, I had to laugh at Mom running frantically around the yard praying for water. And I'll never forget the way those ghastly faucets looked without their handles, too. I knew right then, these people were dumber than a four-year-old. At least I had enough sense to stack up some boxes and climb out the back window.

There could be a lot of lessons in this story for parents:
1) Don't let a four-year old play by himself unsupervised;
2) Don't leave a box of easy-to-strike kitchen matches in a garage, especially when it's old, wooden and highly flammable;
3) Don't leave a stack of old newspapers in the same garage as the matches;
4) And of course, don't take the handles off of the outside water spigots, although at the point Mom came outside, it was too far gone. Luckily, the fire didn't spread to the whole neighborhood.
5) Consider that a Bible lesson on the "Lake of Fire," when all the above are being ignored, could be a hint.
6) If your own little darling doesn't understand the word "No" or "Don't" he doesn't need a vocabulary lesson, he needs an anatomy lesson--the location of his bottom.
6) Oh, and lastly, don't dunk your roast beef in my glass of milk, dummy.