Monthly Archives: October 2014

Halloween Memories

With Halloween fast approaching and with me seeing many Halloween decorations in people’s yards, I have been recalling some memories of Halloween when our kids were growing up. Halloween was always a fun family time and unlike Christmas, didn’t take a lot of preparation. A number of years ago when I was scanning in photos of our kids, I included a number of their Halloween costumes that we had captured.

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The earliest photo I have our kids is from 1984 when their costumes were fairly simple, a cape, a hat, and a cloth pumpkin bag for treats. But I seem to recall these were handmade by someone since our son’s and daughter’s names were stitched into the pumpkin bag.

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These costumes served our kids well for several years and were even enhanced the year my company came out with Halloween face paint that I brought home from work. Thankfully it was formulated to easily wash off with water.

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One year in fact, costumes were so popular that our daughter had a pre-Halloween birthday party with invitees coming dressed in their planned Halloween costume for that year.

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After several years, our two oldest kids outgrew these first costumes and moved on to other creative attires but our youngest son, just one and half years old at the time, seems to have been most displeased to have inherited the devil costume for his first trick-or-treat outing. Either that or his brother and sister scared him with their costumes.

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Years later though, our youngest son would come up with his own creative idea of a scary outfit to wear door to door.

Another fond memory of Halloween was buying and carving a pumpkin. This was always a favorite of mine with the kids helping come up with interesting faces while I did the carving. I would usually buy the pumpkin as soon as they were out in stores to make sure we got a really good one before they were gone.

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A real treat one year was to find gigantic pumpkins—at least 3 to 4 feet tall—for sale at the garden center where we shopped.

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We put it out on our porch the night we got it but sadly the next morning, we found it had been stolen off our porch before we could even carve it. Obviously we had to go buy another large one and this one after being carved, was placed on a table inside the house in the front porch window to keep it safe from theft.

With pumpkin and costumes taken care of, the real fun could begin at dusk on Halloween. Some years when our kids were small, we would go to friends’ neighborhoods to trick-or-treat. But usually, we just went around our own cove and a few streets over, mostly where we knew the neighbors. This was, after all, soon after the Tynenol poisonings and everyone had to be extra careful not knowing what danger was out there. We would often go with our neighbor across the street and her kids while my wife stayed at home to hand out the candy to our scary visitors. I remember one Halloween in particular when the weather was just perfect feeling such happiness watching our kids run door-to-door and seeing all of the other neighborhood kids in their costumes. Then when we came home, we would typically drive over to grandmother and granddaddy’s house so they could see the kids’ costumes and get their extra special Halloween treats from their grandparents.

Once home, my wife and I would help each child empty out his or her “haul” so that we could go through it to make sure nothing had been opened or tampered with. I must admit I occasionally found some “suspicious” wrappers on candy I particularly liked that I would set aside to eat after the kids went to bed.   We certainly didn’t want our kids to get sick from consuming all of the large quantity of candy they brought home and usually had to keep it downstairs so they would not get into after they were in bed. After we knew they were asleep, probably a few more “suspicious” looking candies were consumed by my wife and I.

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Now that I am a granddaddy, I hope one day to be able to take my grandson trick-or-treating when he is old enough. It is a fun activity I know we can share together and one where I will reminisce about times his mom trick-or-treated with her brothers, his two uncles now.

Box of Old Photos

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I recently started cleaning out a rather overstuffed closet that was in desperate need of reorganization when I came across a plain brown box addressed to me. From the yellowed return address and postage, I could make out that it was sent to me from my brother in January 2000. Upon opening this box that had undoubtedly been sitting in this closet for over 12 years, I found it contained old black & white photos, negatives, and a letter from my brother. Needless to say, I had to pause my cleaning activities to go through the box.

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I first read the hand written letter dated 22 Jan 2000 in which my brother described how the photos had been included in a box sent to him that had contained some of his old things. He couldn’t recall how the box had come into his possession but that in addition to the photos, it contained some old photographic developing and printing supplies. He then went on to describe how seeing the photos had brought back wonderful memories of the two of us taking photos together and then developing and printing them in the darkroom we had set up inside the metal shed behind our parents’ house.

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I then turned my attention to the photos. These 5” X 8” photos, all with curled edges showing their nearly 40-year old age, were from 1977, my junior year in college when I had bought my first nice camera—a Cannon FTb SLR—for a photography class I took. Some of these black & white photos captured one of my assignments for that class which was to take a photo that had depth…

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… and one that was “flat.”

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This last photo was a test development where progressively longer exposures during the printing process helped determine the best exposure time for printing. This technique also can allow the photographer, in this case me, to correct for over- or under-exposure of the film in the darkroom.

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Also enclosed in the box were “contact sheets”, full size pieces of 8” X 10” photo paper where the negatives were simply lined up on the paper and exposed by the enlarger so that miniatures positives of the photos could be easily previewed before selecting the best shots for printing. I felt a bit sad when I recognized among the frames a thumbnail image of my mom, gone from us since her death in 1999.

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Another of these contact sheets included images we had captured in 1977 on a family vacation to Montreat, NC, a vacation spot we went to almost every year growing up. As I scanned over these small shots, I felt more sadness as I relived the disappointment we all had experienced that summer when upon arrival in Montreat, we gazed out over what should have been Lake Susan only to find no crisp lake, but rather a construction zone along the dam that formed the lake from the cold mountain stream that fed it.

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But there were also happier images of driving up the Blue Ridge Parkway to Mt. Mitchell, a regular picnic spot for these vacations.

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And included was this near silhouette shot of our dad, from the tower on top of Mt. Mitchell, a shot my brother had professionally enlarged for all of us.

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There were also shots of that cold mountain stream that could be heard as a calming symphony almost everywhere in Montreat and where we always “rock-hopped” every visit there.

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I have to say to my brother thanks for this break from my task and helping me take this stroll down memory lane. I have recently written how important old photos are to me and this newly discovered box just adds to those treasures. So again thanks bro, for not just throwing those old photos away when you found them but rather taking the time to box them up, write a letter, and mail them to me all those years ago.

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As I return to cleaning out that closet, I do so without dread of an overwhelming task but with a happy heart filled with anticipatory wonder of what other treasures I may discover hidden away for all these years.

Dad’s Birthday

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Yesterday would have been my dad’s 88th birthday. But unlike my Mom who would celebrate her birthday for at least a week, I have very few memories of celebrating my dad’s birthday. I seem to recall when I was young, that most of the gifts my dad would receive would be practical items—new socks or a new white “preaching” shirt. And I can’t seem to remember a single birthday cake that was for my dad.

While this may seem sad to some, you would have to know my dad to understand that this probably was not the case, because my dad willingly put other people’s needs ahead of his. In fact, he spent his life as a Presbyterian minister serving others. And with the smallish salary he probably made, he put the needs of his family first. So when it came time to buying presents for my dad, the little money that was left went towards items that were needed rather than discretionary items that were wanted.

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The one exception for my dad probably would have been fishing tackle. In his adult life, I think my dad went fishing almost every week—he certainly loved to fish—and whatever item would help him catch the big fish was probably on his wish list. However, on one occasion when my brother accompanied my dad, the boat overturned sending his tackle box with all his lures to the bottom of the lake. Fortunately neither of them was injured in the accident but Dad had to start all over again replacing his lost fishing gear. Maybe some of those replacements became birthday presents, a different kind of needed item.

Sadly I have but three birthday memories of my dad. The first was a story Dad wrote about when he turned four. For his birthday that year, Mama (his mother) had made him a blue and white sailor suit. Papa (his dad), promised to take him into town to show him off in his new suit. Unfortunately living on a rural farm without a car, the two of them waited all day long at the end of the drive for a ride into town that never materialized. I know this was very disappointing for my dad.

The second birthday memory I have is from when my dad turned 75, just two years after my mom died. When I learned that he would be spending the day without any family members around, I decided to drive over from Memphis to Hot Springs to take him out for a birthday lunch. I didn’t want this Dodranscentennial milestone to pass without at least some small celebration. As it turns out, I am so glad I did since it was his last birthday.  He succumbed to cancer less than six months later.

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My last memory is of the one birthday gift that I regularly gave my dad—a daily planner calendar. Just before his birthday each year, I would go over to Cokesbury to buy him the devotional calendar for the following year. It was a glossy, spiral bound planner with a colorful photo on one page and devotional passages for each day of the week on the opposite page.  While after the first year, this was no longer a “surprise” present, it was one that he always appreciated and I know he used everyday. In fact, my sister still has all of them, chronicling his daily events for the last few years of his life, just awaiting our perusal.

So while it was my mom who taught me that your birthday was a cause for great celebration, it was my dad who taught me it was better to give than to receive. Although I had seen my dad live this way all his life, it was a compassionate message that came through loud and clear at his funeral in the kind words shared with me by those Dad had helped during their lives. So, thanks Dad for an all important life lesson, and Happy Birthday!

What Will We Be Known For? – Part 2

Family

An even more important factor for which we are known is our relationships with others—who we are to our family, friends, and loved ones. And many of these relationships are built upon who we are as individuals and how we chose to live our lives.

Whenever I have to self identify character traits of myself, I invariably gravitate to words such as: dedicated, honest, loyal, trustworthy, dependable, loving, considerate, funny, happy, and spiritual. While none of these words I say can evoke these descriptors from others, hopefully my actions can adequately convey them to the people I know.

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Of these relationships, the most important is with my wife of almost 35 years. She is absolutely my life partner, my best friend, and the person I want to spend my entire life with. In fact she is the one person I spend most of my waking and sleeping hours with each day.

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Since we were married relatively young (at least by today’s standards), I have had a long time to build this relationship since I have been married for over half my life. While I was certainly an inexperienced husband when we first got married, I have had almost 35 years to develop this relationship into the most enjoyable one I have ever had, an absolute treasure.

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Of no less importance, just shorter in duration is the relationship I have with my three children. These relationships have certainly evolved over time as each of my children has aged. From the early years of caring for and providing for…

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…through the sometimes challenging years as teenagers…

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…to the adults they are today. Throughout their lives, I always enjoyed the age they were at the time and the ways in which we interacted.

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And today, I enjoy a very special, but different relationship with each one of them.

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But the relationships I have had the longest are actually those I share with my three siblings. These are the individuals I grew up with. And while we would occasionally fight in those early years, we share a lifetime of memories together. And since our parents are no longer living, they are the “go to” individuals for remembering long ago facts or events. Although many miles separate the four of us today, we still get together once a year for a special weekend together—our “Sib Sab.”

Of close friends, I have one dear friend, R. who has known me for almost as long as my siblings, dating back to the time when I was about five or six years old. When my brother and I were young and before we went off to kindergarten or first grade, she would spend weekdays with us playing together. In fact, my brother and I used to fight over who would get to marry her one-day.

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Having moved a number of times growing up, I was always losing friends and making new ones. Some of those I have reconnected with thanks to Facebook. But to this day, R. is the one life-long friend I have. And though we live many miles apart and had a number of years without contact, we still correspond regularly via e-mail and share family photos and family activities with each other.

But beyond these relationships, what has unleashed a burning desire in me to retire sooner rather later is a new relationship I want to develop—a new descriptor I want to become known for—granddaddy. And all it took was a week with this little fellow to realize that this was the next important thing I needed to do in my life.

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“So Micah (and future grandkids), here comes Granddaddy. Let’s play and have some great fun!”