Friday, August 26, 2016

Eenie, Meenie, Miney, Moe

Thought for the day:  It's easy to make a decision when there are no choices.

True. There weren't a heckuva lot of choices for me to make as a kid. Nothing important, anyway. There were the silly eenie meenie kinda decisions we neighborhood kids made when playing games, but around our house, my choice was generally to do what I was told.

However, there was one memorable occasion, when I was no more than ten years old, when I had to make a decision on my own. It wasn't the right decision, mind you, but it was a decision.

Be decisive. Right or wrong, make a decision. The road of life is paved with flat squirrels who couldn't make up their minds.

You have to understand, where we grew up, lots of people hung out in bars. It was like... a hobby. Well, it just so happens that my parents, aunts and uncles happened to enjoy this particular hobby very much, and we kids... some of my cousins and I... were often given the choice to go with them. Oh, it wasn't so bad. Some of the places were located on the waterfront, so we kids were allowed to go out on the pier to fish, crab, or just dangle our feet in the water. We got to dance in some of the places, sing in some of the others, played lots of shuffleboard and pinball machines, ate all kinds of barroom junk food, and there was always a copious amount of either Yoo Hoo or Squirt to guzzle throughout the day. Which is what led to my momentous decision one Sunday afternoon.

As anyone knows, what goes in must come out, and after numerous bottles of Yoo Hoo, something most definitely wanted to come out. I was directed to go through the back room, past the dance floor, and I'd find the rest rooms against the back wall. Yep, I did all that, and there they were. The problem was, I didn't know which one to use. See, instead of the helpful men and women signs to which I was accustomed, this bar tried to be clever. So there I stood, in considerable discomfort, dancing back and forth from foot to foot, while trying to choose between the two doors, each of which bore a picture of a dog. Yeah, a dog. I kid you not. One was an Irish setter, and the other, a pointer. Yeah, yeah, I know what it means now,  but it was a very important and difficult decision for a little girl in serious danger of wetting her pants.

Matz's maxim: A conclusion is the place where you get tired of thinking. 

So I just picked one. Didn't even go eenie, meenie. Just yanked open the pointer door and ran in. When I got back to the table, I told everybody about the bathrooms, and said I thought I might have picked the wrong one... because there was a cigar butt lying on the floor.

Trust me, the family teased me about that for years.

With all of the hoopla that's been in the news for the past few months about who can use which bathroom, I got to thinking about those ambiguous toilet signs from so long ago. (Ambiguous to me, anyway.) As it turns out, there are a lot of clever toilet signs to be found these days, and I'm guessing they'd be just as confusing to a ten-year old today as those dog signs were to me back then. But... some of these signs really are clever. Wanta see? (As if you had a choice... HA!)

I'm considerably older than ten now, but that last one is still a bit confusing. Can you imagine a couple of gals chatting as they walked to the rest room together... blah, blah, blah, blah, etc... and just seeing the word women? Tricky, tricky, tricky.

                               For some reason, I suddenly have the urge to...

                      Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Forget Your Sign... What's Your Story?

Thought for the day: Ask people how they're doing, how's life? Everyone has a story, and you may be the one they want to tell it to. [author unknown]

From 1998 to 2004, CBS news had a segment called Everybody Has a Story, based on a visit to a random location within the United States, which was determined by the toss of a dart at a map. Once he arrived at that location, correspondent Steve Hartman would pick out a random name from the telephone directory, and do a story on someone who lived at that address. Much to his surprise, what started out in the beginning as a bit of a lark ended up unearthing terrific stories... some heart-warming, some heart-wrenching, and some downright funny. But always, always interesting.

Last weekend, this lucky gal didn't have to throw a single dart, and didn't have to hop on an airplane or bus to hear somebody's story. All I had to do was go to a flea market with Smarticus, who happened to be wearing a Vietnam vet cap. As often happens, a fellow vet spotted the cap, and he and a buddy approached to shake his hand and welcome him home. We stood chatting for some time, and this former Marine... this complete stranger who, for some reason, immediately felt like a long-time friend... made a point of telling me a story. He had some fun yanking my chain with some pure BS, too, but we had a good laugh over that. But this story... it was true, and like the thought for the day says, I guess I was the one he wanted to tell it to. 

A true man will listen to anyone, no matter how young or old the person. For everyone has a story to tell and a lesson to teach. [Ash Sweeney]

I'm not exactly a true man, but it was a true honor to hear his tale. Now, I'm gonna share it with you. Since he even told me how I could find more information about it online, I have a feeling he'd approve.

Considering what I'm about to tell you, this 1917 recruiting poster seems the perfect accompaniment. Although this true story isn't about a Marine riding a big cat, it IS about a near-deadly encounter with one. A tiger. A BIG 400-pound-plus tiger. In the middle of the night in the dark jungles of Vietnam.

On December 22, 1968, a team of Marines from the 3rd Recon hunkered down for the night, hoping dawn would bring more conducive conditions for extraction by helicopter. A couple of the guys took watch, while the others settled down on the ground and tried to catch some shut-eye.

In the middle of the night, they were awakened by Staff Sergeant Richard Goolden's blood-curdling screams.

To everybody's horror, Goolden's head was held fast in the mouth of an enormous tiger.

When one of the guys tried to beat the cat off of him, the tiger took off, and still holding Goolden in its jaws,  jumped down into a bomb

Bottom line, the Marines won. The whole team shot down into that crater to kill the cat... which had already killed another Marine the month before... and miraculously, they saved Goolden's life.

 Despite his serious wounds... our flea market friend said Goolden's tongue was nearly severed, his neck severely cut, and his head so torn up, his brain was exposed... the Staff Sergeant survived. Needless to say, he spent a looong time in the hospital, but he is still here to tell about it.

The Army may have had a Special Forces unit called the Tiger Force, but this young Marine, Staff Sergeant Richard Goolden, spent what must have felt like an eternity in the actual jaws of  a tiger.

If you'd like to see more photos, and read an article about this event, written by Sgt. Bob Morris, and published in the Northern Marine magazine in 1968, you can find it here

While doing research for this post, I also came across another really interesting piece, about some of the critters soldiers encountered in Vietnam. You can find that here

I also found out that SSgt Goolden, although initially told he would receive a Purple Heart... never received one. He got all of the other awards he earned, but there were no written orders for the Purple Heart, so he was denied that medal. The most recent article I found was from a few years back, when his daughter was still doing her darnedest to go through the proper channels to get him that medal. Evidently, receiving catastrophic wounds while in a war zone only counts if it happens at the hand of the enemy. Not at the jaws of a tiger.

Good news, though? Goolden, though scarred, both physically and mentally, is still going strong, and our flea market friend still has a beer or two with him every week. Alas, our flea market Marine never told us his name

 Just his story.

Maybe because that's the part he thought was most important.

There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them. [closing line for TV show Naked City, which aired from 1958-'63]

Just curious. Do complete strangers ever tell you their stories? This certainly isn't the first time it's happened to me... and ya know, I certainly hope it isn't the last.

                           Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Making a Difference

Thought for the day:  We can't all do great things in life, but we can all do small things with great love. [Mother Teresa]

With temperatures still high enough to sizzle an egg on the sidewalk, it's hard to believe summer break is over, and the new school year is already underway. Thinking about our grandchildren being back in school reminded me once again of just how important teachers are. Their attitudes and interactions with young people can leave indelible impressions... whether good or bad... that can last for a lifetime. I suspect that all of us, no matter how young or old, can name at least one favorite teacher. (Right?)

Anyhow, that's what this post is about... on the surface, anyway. It's about a story I read some years ago about how one very special teacher made a huge difference in the life of a young boy. First, a little background. Three Letters From Teddy was written in 1976 by a gal named Elizabeth Ballard, and was published in a small Christian magazine. Since then, variations of her original story, tidbits of which the author drew from real life, have been used by many other writers and inspirational speakers over the years. In fact, copies of her story were sent to every teacher in the state of Colorado in 1998, and later that year, Paul Harvey read it on-air as a piece of news. When interviewed in 2001, the author, now named Elizabeth Ungar, expressed disappointment that her piece of creative writing continues to be passed around, both on and off the Internet... without her name attached... as though it were a true story.

Okay, so it isn't a 100% true story, and there was no real Teddy, as portrayed in the story, and there was no real Mrs. Thompson, as portrayed in the story, but other children... and adults... with problems do exist, and the genuine compassion of real teachers... and other real people... most definitely does make a difference. Those real truths contained within Ms. Ungar's story explain its longevity, and the fact that it continues to resonate and inspire. We want to believe.

Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle. [author unknown]

So, with a nod and a tip of the hat to Ms. Ungar, are you ready for a Swiderski-ized version of her tale? Here goes...


As she stood in front of her fifth grade class on the first day of school, Mrs. Thompson couldn't help but notice Teddy, the slovenly boy slumped in the back row, and she silently resigned herself to the fact that he was going to be a royal pain in her sizable keister all year long. According to his fourth grade teacher, he didn't work or play well with others, he dressed like a slob, and was constantly in need of a bath. In a nutshell, the boy had an uncanny knack for being a trouble-maker.

[image by Gianne Rensen V. Antonio]

As the weeks went by, the boy turned out to be exactly what she'd expected. Everything she'd been told about him was true.

Each year, she reviewed the past records of all her students, and for whatever reason, she looked at Teddy's records last. When she did, she was mortified. His first grade teacher wrote, Teddy is a bright child with a ready laugh. He does his work neatly, and has good manners... he is a joy to be around. His second grade teacher wrote, Teddy is an excellent student, well-liked by his classmates, but he is troubled, because his mother has a terminal illness, and life at home must be a struggle. His third grade teacher wrote, His mother's death has been hard on him. He tries to do his best, but his father doesn't show much interest, and his home life will soon affect him if some steps aren't taken. And his fourth grade teacher added, Teddy is withdrawn and doesn't show much interest in school. He doesn't have many friends, and he sometimes sleeps in class. 


 Mrs. Thompson was ashamed of herself, and felt even worse in December, when her students brought her Christmas presents. All of them were wrapped in beautiful ribbons and bright paper... except for Teddy's. His was clumsily wrapped in a brown paper bag.  Inside was a rhinestone bracelet with missing stones, and a nearly-empty bottle of perfume. When she opened it, some of the children started to laugh at first, but she quickly quieted them when she exclaimed about how pretty the bracelet was, and put it on. Then she dabbed a bit of the perfume on her wrist. Teddy stayed after school that day just long enough to say, "Today you smelled just like my Mom used to."
After all the children left, she cried, and that was the day she quit teaching reading, writing and arithmetic, and began to teach children... and she paid particular attention to Teddy every day.  As she worked with him, his mind seemed to come alive. The more she encouraged him, the faster he responded. By the end of the year, Teddy had blossomed into one of the smartest children in her class.

A year later, she found a note from him under the door to her classroom, telling her she was the best teacher he'd ever had.

 Six years after that, she got a letter from him. He told her he'd finished high school, third in his class, and she was still the best teacher he'd ever had.

Four years later, she got a second letter, saying that while things had been tough at times, he'd stayed in school, had stuck with it, and would soon graduate from college with the highest of honors. He told her yet again that she was still the best and favorite teacher he'd ever had.

The third letter came four years later. This time he explained that after he got his bachelor's degree, he decided to go a little further. The letter explained that she was still the best and favorite teacher he ever had, but now his name was a little longer. The letter was signed, Theodore F. Stoddard, MD.

The story doesn't end there. Mrs. Thompson heard from Teddy again, telling her he'd met a girl, and was planning to get married. He said his father had died a couple years earlier, and he wanted to know if Mrs. Thompson would be willing to come to his wedding, and to sit in the place that was usually reserved for the mother of the groom.


She, of course, went to the wedding, and she humbly sat in the mother-of-the-groom seat.  And she proudly wore the bracelet and perfume he'd given her so many years before.

When they hugged each other, he whispered in her ear, "Thank you so much for believing in me. You made me feel important, and showed me that I could make a difference." 

With tears in her eyes, Mrs. Thompson whispered back to him, "You've got it all wrong, Teddy. You're the one who taught me that I could make a difference. I didn't know how to teach until I met you."


It's a great story, isn't it? And one of the greatest things about it is that it speaks to all of us. Teachers carry a huge burden of trying to make a positive difference in the lives of the children in their classrooms, but each of us can make a difference, too. We may not make a living standing in front of a classroom, but we do interact with people every day. Our attitude towards them can make a difference. A kind word, a smile... they can both make a difference. Every day, each of us has the potential to be the bright spot in someone else's day. A kind word of encouragement from us has the potential to give someone the strength to continue. Quite a responsibility, eh? But we can do it. Our name may not be Mrs. Thompson... but I'm very confident that we can be just as compassionate.

                                        Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirits. [Albert Schweitzer]

Hell! Why not aim to BE one of those people who rekindle inner spirits? [me]

Try to be a rainbow in someone's cloud.  [Maya Angelou]

One kind word can warm three winters. [Japanese proverb]

Appreciation can make a day, even change a life. Your willingness to put it into words is all that is necessary.  [Margaret Cousins]

Be careful of your words. Once they are said, they can only be forgiven, not forgotten. [author unknown]

I had a friend who believed in me, and I didn't have the heart to let him down.[Abraham Lincoln]



Friday, August 5, 2016

Who Says Women Can't Drive?

Thought for the day: The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of  age, gender, religion, economic status, or ethnic background, is that, deep down inside, we all believe that we are above-average drivers. [Dave Barry]

Yeah, that's me sitting in the dragster. As you can tell, the car wasn't on the race track, or even on the street. It was parked on a backyard driveway.

And the engine wasn't running.

Come to think of it, that's about the only time Smarticus ever felt comfortable when I was sitting in the driver's seat. That, and the time I drove him home from the hospital while he was still feeling the effects of anesthesia. Okay, okay, okay... I'm not saying I  never earned his misgivings. It's possible that I may have been in a fender-bender or two when I was young and newly-licensed. Smarticus likes to say that when we sold it, there wasn't a single piece of straight metal on the tank of a station wagon I drove back then, but that's a slight exaggeration. The roof looked great.

But this post isn't gonna be about me, or about how our then-toddler son laughed hysterically when my hubby tried to teach me how to drive a stick shift around the parking lot of his workplace. I mean, maybe it WAS a bit of a carnival-like herky-jerky stop-and-go ride, but still, it was terribly rude of him to laugh, dontcha think? Between his laughing and Smarticus' yelling, is it any wonder I never got the hang of it? Anyhow, I'm not gonna write about that, or about my missing sense of direction, either. (I think when God was handing out that particular gene, I never made it to the line, because I got... lost.) So what if I like to take scenic routes?

Some beautiful paths can't be discovered without getting lost. [Erol Ozan]

Anyhow, so what am I gonna write about? Or I should say... who? I'm gonna write about an amazing woman that most of you probably never heard about before.  Her name was Alice Huyler Ramsey, and man oh man, could that woman drive! And find her way around.

 I guess you could say it all kinda started with a frightened horse. In 1909, her husband John encountered a monstrous driving machine while he was on horseback near their home in Hackensack, New Jersey. His terrified horse took off running, and John started to worry about his wife's safety, should the same thing happen to her. So he bought her a car. A 1909 dark green 4-cylinder, 30 horsepower, Maxwell DA, a touring car with two bench seats, and a removable roof.

[National Automotive History Collection, Detroit Public Library]
She was a natural behind the wheel. In a day and age when driving was still a rarity, in her first summer alone, this 22-year old mother of two put 6000 miles on her new car. Then she took part in a 200-mile endurance race. Representatives of Maxwell were so impressed by her driving skills, they made her an offer she couldn't resist: an all-expenses paid trip to prove to the world that a Maxwell could take anyone... even a woman... all the way across America. To Maxwell, it may have been a publicity stunt, but to Alice, it was a challenge. Her husband agreed to let her go, but he didn't want her to do it alone. He wanted her to take some other women with her.

Good driving has nothing to do with sex. It's all above the collar. [Alice Huyler Ramsey]

[National Automotive History Collection, Detroit Public Library]
Talk about the original girl trip! Two older sisters-in-law and a friend joined her for this incredible 59-day trek across the country. Alice did all of the driving, and the others provided company, and helped as best as they could.

[National Automotive History Collection, Detroit Public Library]

Of the 3800 miles this intrepid foursome covered from Manhattan to San Francisco, only 152 of them were on paved roads.

[National Automotive History Collection, Detroit Public Library]
Which led to eleven flat tires. In addition to the dirty task of changing tires, Alice also cleaned the spark plugs numerous times, and fixed a broken brake pedal. .

[National Automotive History Collection, Detroit Public Library]

Because of all the unpaved roads, it should come as no surprise that Alice's Maxwell bumped over many muddy holes, and got stuck in quite a few of them. In Nebraska, a clever farmer's son used a horse to pull them out of one of those holes... for a fee. When the car bottomed out again a mile farther down the dirt road, he was waiting for them. He happily pulled them out again... for a higher fee, of course.

Since there weren't many decent roads in those days, road maps weren't terribly plentiful, either. They had some from AAA, but for the most part, they navigated by following the telephone poles. They figured the more wires they saw, the more likely it would lead them to a town. This method wasn't fool-proof, though; they had to backtrack on several occasions.


Although the ladies spent most nights in a hotel, few offered deluxe accommodations. They may have had sheets on the beds, but some of them also had bedbugs. One night, they had to sleep in the car.  (Yep, it was stuck in another hole.)

In Nevada, they were surrounded by a Native American hunting party on horseback, bows and arrows at the ready. Not to be outdone, in Wyoming, they were waylaid by an armed posse that was chasing a murderer.

When they arrived in San Francisco on August 7, 1909, they were met by a cheering crowd. (More women than men, I'll betcha!) Some newspaper articles, however, called the journey ridiculous, and beyond the capabilities of women drivers. 

Her response? The criticism, of course, merely whetted the appetites of those of us who were convinced that we could drive as well as most men... it's been done by men, and as long as they have been able to accomplish it, why shouldn't I?

This feisty woman, Alice Huyler Ramsey, was the first woman in history to drive coast-to-coast across the United States. (And only one man accomplished this feat prior to her: Dr. Horatio Nelson Jackson, in 1903) For Alice, this trip was only the first of many. Between 1909 and 1975, she drove across the country more than thirty more times. (She stopped counting.) In 1960, she was named the Woman Motorist of the Century by AAA, and in 1961, she wrote a book about her cross-country adventures: Veil, Duster, and Tire Iron. In 2000, she became the first woman inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame.

What a gal, huh? Oh, by the way, her husband, who became a U.S. Congressman, never learned to drive.

                             Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

Men may or may not be better drivers than women, but they seem to die more often trying to prove that they are. [Tom Vanderbilt]

I have an idea that the phrase 'weaker sex' was coined by some woman to disarm the man she was preparing to overwhelm. [Ogden Nash]