With the aroma of blackeyed peas and cabbage wafting throughout the house on this New Year's Day, I sit beside the artificial fireplace gazing at an artificial fire, wondering among other things...so why are my feet still cold? Just a fleeting thought that interrupts my reflection of a year that is now nothing more than history. It was a year of change and accomplishment, and a year of newfound freedom. Exactly one year ago on this New Years Day was my first day of official retirement. Elated, excited, and hopeful, I set out on a new adventure as 2018 made its appearance. And yes, it was indeed, a year of adventure. As a storyteller, I yearn to share so many stories with you, but alas, there are stories I cannot tell.
This day one year ago was much like today, with just myself and Stinky the Boston Terrier, my loyal companion, celebrating a holiday of no substance. I suppose mankind in his feeblest of reasoning, deems the mere survival of 365 days a major accomplishment worthy of celebration. Or perhaps the creation of such holiday was simply to nurse a massive nationwide hangover. And while I personally think New Years Day is a foolish holiday, I will not allow the day to end without consuming black-eyed peas and cabbage. Call me foolish, but I simply cannot take a chance of screwing up an entire year by not partaking in this necessary tradition. Ah, but I stray from the topic.
The highlights of this past year that I can tell you about...well, let's see. I have to be cautious, there are stories I cannot tell. As the new began to wear off of the new year and my retirement plaque hung prominently on the wall of my man cave, I and my faithful, flatulent companion began settling into a comfortable routine, weathering the winter months with me writing frivolous nonsense and Stinky hibernating, both dreaming of spring and warmer weather. When spring finally came, my daughter came with it, home from college. Stinky and I welcomed the refreshing change and happily realigned our mundane existence to accommodate her return to the nest. And with the three of us dreaming of a summer filled with all things that make summer great, came a very unexpected surprise that would send our beautiful world spinning out of control. I believe it was on my birthday...
She appeared at my door...with a large suitcase. She had left back in 2001 in search of bigger and better things and now here she was, seventeen years later, on my doorstep, the mother of my child. Imagine that. You'll have to because most of it is a story I cannot tell.
It was just temporary, she said. She just needed a place to stay for a while, she promised, as she staked her claim within my man cave, tossing everything dear to me into the hallway. "Just a mattress on the floor would be fine," she said, and "Is this all the closet space you have? I have lots more stuff I need to bring over."
Here I sit writing stories I cannot tell and almost scorched the blackeyed peas. I think they'll be okay. I have to eat them anyway. I need some good luck this year. A man from church just left. He stopped by to see why I hadn't been coming to church lately.
"Well," I paused, debating whether I could tell him the story before continuing, "I was involved in a horrible explosion back on July 4th. My ex, the mother of my child, blew me up. In fact, she blew us both up with a really huge firework mishap. I haven't been able to hear since, so really didn't see a reason to go."
Yes, it's true and just an example of stories that I cannot tell. But I hear better now. The doctor said my ears would likely heal over time as he scribbled a prescription for nasal spray. I've been squirting it in my ears for six months and finally, last week thought I'd try squirting it up my nose, and believe it or not, it's working.
As an author, I constantly search for something entertaining or meaningful to write about. In the past, perhaps I've not scrutinized my subject matter as thoroughly as I should have. The eight months that I shared with a woman who I loved deeply at one time and who I still value her friendship tremendously, did indeed offer some fabulous fodder for a storyteller like myself. There were adventures I never dreamed I'd ever experienced, some were good...some not even close. But I'll not jeopardize a valued friendship to give you and those other 160,000 people who stopped by to read my stories in 2018 a chuckle. For I have learned the hard way that words hurt. Sometimes very deeply.
So, the story I tell today is not the story that weighs heavily on my mind, but I cannot tell that story. I told a story once that perhaps shouldn't have been told and well, stories sometimes come back to haunt you. It was a reminder of something that as an author I already knew...there are stories I cannot tell.
Ah, but there are still plenty of stories for me to share with you in 2019. So, cinch that saddle up tight and hang on!
"So, let me get this straight," raising her voice above the country music booming over a speaker, the attractive brunette pointed at the dance floor. "The woman dancing with that fine looking cowboy is your ex?"
"...and she lives with you?"
"Yep," I replied.
"And you're over here putting the moves on me?"
I filled a void in my life a couple of weeks ago. Yes, I can now move on. I don't partake in too many big screen films, having forked out my hard earned money on three movies over the course of as many years. I have had an insatiable desire to see 'Wonder Woman' ever since it came out earlier this year, but frugal as I am had patiently waited for the movie to appear on Netflix, Hulu, or TubiTV. As the end of the year loomed before me, just days away, I found myself distraught that I'd not fulfilled the one item left on my 2018 bucket list. And then a miracle happened, small, perhaps too small to be classified as a miracle, but nonetheless, the DVD magically appeared on my kitchen table.
I inserted the DVD into the play station hooked up to my tv that evening and after an hour of trying to figure out how to work a PlayStation, settled into my easy chair. For the next two hours, I blinked not one time, my mind transported to the midst of World War II. The plot was of sufficient substance, the characters were solid as Lego blocks, and yes, Wonder Woman found her way to my heart. And then the last few moments of the film flickered before my eyes and the credits rolled.
"What kind of an ending was that?" I wrinkled my nose. "That's not how I would have ended the movie!"
But it wasn't my story to end, and that's the end of that.
I am a writer. I've written a few books and believe it or not, I've yet to end one. Perhaps it's the old saying, 'Never burn a bridge.' Can I one day put my star character out to pasture? Well, of course, I will have to. I know how the story will end...and that's two books away. Will every reader be satisfied with the ending I, the author, choose? Probably not, but it's my story and I get to pick. I get to play the god of my imaginary world and like chess pieces, I get to manipulate my characters any way I want. It is an awesome feeling!
I was surprised to find myself in a quandary after viewing the movie. I realized the immense responsibility an author has to his/her readers or viewers. But the thoughts rambling around in my head as I spent the next hour trying to get the disk out of the PlayStation were not all about the movie. I found myself pondering how I want my story to end...no, not a book. My life story...how will it end? Do I get to choose my own ending? Will I ride off into the sunset in my never-ending quest of a perfect woman? See, that's not a good ending. I would want the story to end after I found the woman of my dreams...well, not right after I find her. Maybe a hundred years later. Will the movie of my life draw to a close as I stand on the porch of my vast ranch house with the love of my life by my side as I gaze across an endless landscape of ranch land? At the last few seconds of the story, I gaze into my woman's eyes and exclaim,
"It was a good life, wasn't it Bessie?"
To which she would respond, "Bessie? Who the hell is Bessie?"
Well, I don't know about that one either. I guess we don't get to pick our final chapter. I suppose most of our endings come with us laying in a coffin with, as my daddy used to say, people you never knew gawking at you. Maybe I shouldn't worry much about the final chapter. Perhaps I should concentrate on all the chapters between now and then. I do have a choice on how my story plays out, however many chapters I happen to have left. We, being the feeble minded humans we are, tend to think a new chapter begins with each new year. Maybe I need to work on making my next chapter eventful and exciting. Maybe that needs to be my New Year's resolution! So when that clock strikes midnight on December 31st...I'll be ready. A blank page just waiting for me to write something down on!
As I sit here pondering my obligatory Christmas blog post, I rack my brain in search of magical words and thought-provoking philosophies that might propel me to the heights of world recognition. Ah, to pen a piece of literature destined to be reflected upon for generations to come, isn't that the dream of all writers? But alas, I am a mere storyteller and not of the caliber of Dickens or Hans Christian Anderson...not even worthy to stand in the shadows of Mark Twain. And so, defeated before I even start, I shall put aside those great expectations...and simply reflect upon Christmas's past.
Christmas's, I've seen more than most of you, more than fifty. Surely I have a memory or three that might bring a chuckle or at least a nod of agreement. Throughout the course of life I've been blessed with a wife or two, and even more children beneath my feet, or hovering above my face hours before dawn on Christmas morn, waiting for me to awake with a start as their piercing eyes stirred me to consciousness. More often than not, it was not the stare that startled me, but what seemed to be multitudes of children pouncing on my bed, cheerfully announcing that Santa had not disappointed during the night. As I trudged past the tree each year in search of a coffee pot, the patter of tiny feet following behind would reach my ear. I would shrug off the fleeting notion of glancing toward the tree. The addiction of caffeine beckoned me to postpone Christmas for just a few more minutes. Just as I would sit in my easy chair across from the magical tree with coffee in hand, the wife, whichever one she happened to be that year, would dutifully trudge past the children now gathered close to the tree. We all grew quiet, for we knew not to spoil Christmas by rushing Mom before her first sip of coffee. As she reappeared from the kitchen, the children wiggled and squirmed in anticipation. I fumbled with a camera in preparation for the event about to take place. With a firm warning that no pictures were to be taken of Mom at that time of day, I then directed the lens toward the tree, and with a nod of my head, gave the order to let Christmas begin. Just minutes later, the hustle and bustle of Christmas came to an end, laying beneath shredded wrapping paper and discarded boxes.
For years I lied to my children...lied about Santa. When the truth eventually came at some point in time, I always felt a twinge of guilt for misleading those naive and vulnerable youngsters. But still more children were to come and again I would lie. I went to great lengths to cover up the truth, stealthily creeping through a dark house at midnight on Christmas Eve, my arms laden with presents. I ate cookies and drank milk left for someone other than myself. As children grew older, I trekked through mounds of snow beneath a Christmas moon, struggling to carry a basketball goal or a bicycle, hoping not to injure myself in the process. How would I explain a broken leg the next morning as my child questioned why Santa left their present at the end of the drive?
I recall the Christmas that my youngest knew the truth. We said our 'good nights' late that Christmas Eve and she disappeared into her bedroom. Moments later she reappeared, making her way into the kitchen. I followed her and watched as she poured a glass of milk, then arranged chocolate chip cookies on a plate. Our eyes met as she laid them on the table...and I spoke only one word,
"Baby..." and I shook my head as I felt my heart break.
"I know, Daddy."
I remember how sad I felt as she returned to her room, thinking how sad she must feel...knowing the man who never was would never come again on Christmas Eve.
It was the next Christmas that I would find myself alone. There were no children underfoot, nor a wife to worry about buying a gift for. Perhaps it was desperation, or maybe an attempt to hide from memories of Christmas's past, that I took a different look at Christmas. On a cold Christmas Eve, I pulled into a parking lot, and staring at the building before me through a frosted windshield, decided there was surely more to Christmas. I stepped into an overflowing auditorium and searched for a seat where hundreds had gathered to celebrate. Settling at the back of the room, I gazed around in amazement. Had I been missing this all these years? Moments later I stood with the masses and lifted up my voice and sang,
'Joy to the world, the Lord has come!"
And for an hour I worshipped and praised the birth of Jesus Christ, my heart light and my mind marveling. I cried, near sobbing as the room grew dark then became light again as hundreds of candles illuminated the faces of those around me. And we sang 'Silent Night'...as tears of joy streamed down my face.
No longer would I lie about a man who never was who would never come again. This Christmas and for every Christmas to come, I shall celebrate a Man who always was and who will always be...and who will certainly come again! Politically incorrect? I could care less! Happy Birthday, Jesus! Merry Christmas and may God bless each and every one of you!
I slept through the revolution. Last time I was paying attention, Hollywood was churning out movies brimming with an overabundance of nudity, murder, and profanity. Rap artists were promoting hate, rape, cop killings, and the degradation of all women and anyone not of their race, yes, racial prejudice. What's that? All that is still happening? So, what's the deal with our Christmas songs?
Suddenly, the popular Christmas tune 'Baby It's Cold Outside,' written in 1944, has been labeled a song about perverted pedophilia. 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer' promotes bullying. And right out of the blue comes the revelation that Santa should be recognized as a genderless being, like the angels in heaven. I saw the movie, 'Bad Santa' and I'd venture to say Santa is no angel.
It appears to me that those folks who will never accept the status quo have decided to regroup. Their 'Right to Choose' movement is on shaky ground. Abortion clinics have been shuttered throughout the country. State legislatures have passed laws not favorable to their agenda. Ohio is even considering making abortion a crime punishable by death to both the mother and any doctor who performs abortions. Public opinion is shifting as multitudes around the nation begin realizing we've been murdering unborn babies by the millions.
Transexuals are losing their foothold and gays and lesbians are trembling that they may be next as the radical leftwingers leave them behind in the dust in their pursuit of another cage to rattle. After all, the Confederate statues are nothing more than chunks of concrete in some landfill. Luckily the NRA is still standing though and we still have our guns. The restless ones have grown bored of the same old battles and now seek new challenges.
So, while you and I were sleeping, they have decided to take on morality, in fact, redefine it to suit their agendas. Some Millennials are now approaching their forties and woe to the rest of us, are beginning to take their 'rightful' place as those who will lead America to greatness, not Donald Trump's vision of a great America, but theirs. What has been accepted as acceptable for generations is now subject to intense scrutiny. American patriotism is now viewed by those on the other side of the fence as something of an evil force to be quelled. Democracy belongs in a museum, nothing more than an antiquity as the voices of the misinformed preach the concept of socialism. Free Enterprise is the work of the devil if there is such a person in the minds of the secular morality definers. And the Constitution is just an outdated idea on faded parchment.
Yes, secular morality. Not the morality spoken of in sixty-six chapters of the Bible, but a morality being carved out by the 'game changers.' Their intentions may be good, indeed by their own definition, they view themselves as 'do-gooders' determined to change all that is 'not good' in their eyes. Intent on changing the world to suit themselves, a vast number of these people have no interest in serious romantic relationships, in fact, little interest in sex, refusing to put their smartphones down long enough to accomplish the act. In a recent poll, this segment of society said they'd rather give up sex for a year than forego their Amazon account. As a result, pornography finds itself on wobbly knees. Playboy put clothes on its Playmates and Tendr has abolished nudity on its site. More will follow. I don't oppose the change but would have scoffed five years ago had anyone told me this day would come.
The #MeToo movement has been a success, destroying many deserving individuals and some not so deserving. This new view of morality is merciless to those who refuse to conform. There will be more who fall. Guided by misguided encouragers like Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Mr. Amazon himself and owner of the biased Washington Post, and Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, the new morality crusaders will have the rest of us cowering in fear. When we allow a select few to set the norms, our very freedom is at stake. Recently Tim Cook, who proudly boasts of his homosexuality, defended the banning of certain speech and news media on Apple platforms when they violate the "values" of their company. 'Not banning those who violate Apple's values is a sin.' That should concern all of us.
He continued, " I believe the most sacred thing that each of us is given is our judgment, our morality, our own innate desire to separate right from wrong."
Yes, but not define what is right and what is wrong. Not to impose your definition of moral upon our society. And not to persecute those who don't see your morality as their morality.
As human beings, we don't get to define morality and sin to suit our own desires, preferences, and agendas. What will we become if we are censored according to someone else's definition of right and wrong?
A psychology professor and sex therapist at Minnesota State University and apparently a satanist, has even pointed his finger at God Himself concerning the Virgin Mary. I'll not be a party to blasphemy, but you can read the article here. It is deviant individuals such as this who are leading the misguided morality crusaders into battle. As the Bible states, mankind is like the sheep, easily led by whoever chooses to lead. My daddy used to tell the story about a slaughterhouse that kept a got in the holding pen with sheep that were to be slaughtered. When to door to the slaughterhouse was opened, the goat would walk into the slaughterhouse. The sheep would follow him inside, where two men waited with sledgehammers. We cannot follow the goats to our doom.
On this subject, Franklin Graham said, "Sin and morality have been defined by the God of the universe. God and God alone. God’s Word, the Bible, is the standard by which questions of good and evil, and right and wrong, are determined."
Hey, Frosty the Snowman is on TV. Oh, he's not wearing any pants...and he is smoking a pipe! The 'Secular Morality Sin-Busters' are gonna ice that guy!
The Best of Strange Thinking
I picked the leather coat from the rack, lifting it head high, studying the price tag. Forty dollars was a fair price, I thought. I tried it on and it was a tailored fit. 'Hmm,' I thought, 'did I really want to spend forty bucks on a coat?' I carried the coat to the counter, where an attractive young Hispanic woman smiled and greeted me.
"Can you tell me what kind of leather this coat is made of?" I asked.
She shot me a puzzled look with her big, brown eyes, "Um, cow leather?"
"Well, I don't know. The tag says it was made in China. It could be dog leather."
She wrinkled her nose in the most adorable way, "Oh no! See, it's a Polo! I'm sure it's cow leather. It's been reduced to half price!"
"Yeah," I replied doubtfully, "I really wasn't looking to spend that much on a coat."
"It's a LEATHER coat...Polo!" Her brown eyes sparkled and the grin on her face grew wider. It had now turned into an entertaining game.
I balked. Did I really like the coat?
"I'll tell you what. If you apply for our store credit card, you get an additional twenty percent off." She stared into my eyes, trying to read my mind.
"And if you are instantly approved, you get a coupon for another ten dollars off." She grabbed a hand-held calculator, "That get's this coat down to twenty-one dollars...for a leather Polo coat!"
"Could you maybe throw in a free pair of socks?"
As I pulled my wallet from the back pocket of my wranglers, the clerk laughed, commenting, "If more customers were like you, I would truly love my job!"
Now that goes both ways. Had the clerk been a stuffy stick in the mud, I probably would have talked myself out of that coat, and I really needed one seeing as how I had busted the zipper out of my old leather jacket. Granted, this girl is getting paid minimum wage to be friendly and helpful, and probably ninety percent of the customers don't appreciate that. Hopefully, every now and then someone like me comes along and makes it worthwhile for her.
I thrive on one on one social interaction. Some days, like today, for example, I spend hours slumped over a computer writing fictional stories about imaginary people, and usually, after my eyes begin to cross and my brain turns to soured mush, I decide I desperately need to see a real bona fide living, breathing human being. If I'm lucky, I'll happen upon a wonderful person like that little clerk. More often than not...I don't.
There are two things I know...well, I know more than that, but for the purpose of this story, I know this:
1.) I enjoy NOTHING more than having a one on one conversation with family, friends, or total strangers. Long before I was an author, I realized that there is a story behind every face. As an author, I am constantly on the lookout for my next imaginary character, and as imaginative as I am, I need something to go on. It is those people who take time to connect with me on a personal basis, be it five minutes or a lifetime, that always seem to stand out in my mind.
2.) I know all too well that the vast majority of people who cross my path have absolutely no desire to waste a single moment on such meaningless and trite formalities such as sharing eye contact, a smile or a 'hello', heck not even an obscene gesture. Everybody they need in their life is right there on their smartphone. There is no room for anyone else. They're busy! Leave me be, they scream silently!
Well, I know three things...
3.) I'll leave them be. Got no problem with that. Let me just shoot straight from the hip, honest as Saint Pete, you folks serve no purpose. You contribute zip, zilch, nada, to the world around you. Go ahead and put that phone back in your face and pretend those tiny words on that little screen are all the people you need in your life. You know what...you're BORING! Fear not, I'll waste not a second of my life trying to make your day a tad bit better with a smile or a friendly 'hello.' There's someone out there just wishing for a smile to come their way. Okay, perhaps I was a little harsh. I'll be roadkill after that statement!
I do think the Good Lord puts people in our paths for a reason. Sometimes it is just to make a few seconds of our day better. Sometimes...sometimes...those people who cross your path...stay. Some stay for a dance or two, some stay for a month or two...some stay for a lifetime. I for one don't want to miss out on a single opportunity. Do you know what's warmer than a free pair of socks and a twenty dollar jacket? A smile. And they're free! Try giving one away...bet you'll get one back!
It has always been my intent throughout life to maintain a low profile. I've never been one of those needy people who crave constant attention, planting themselves firmly before any and all and proclaiming, "Look what I did! Look what I did!" Perhaps it has been due to a subconscious knowledge that those who stand out in the crowd always become a bullseye for well, the rest of the crowd. And maybe my desire to fly under the radar has simply been a result of my introvertedness. Really, take it from an introvert, introverted people are not seekers of fame. So, as little fame as I've garnered over the years as an author, I like to refer to myself as 'anonymously famous,' even taking the alias of 'The Rusty Goat' to ensure my flight from fame would be a success.
I have achieved my goal to become a non-famous writer. However, I've not been so lucky in my role of...wait for it...a pecan farmer. I wholeheartedly agree with you, pecan farmers should not be amongst the famous and to make it clear, I am only famous among folks who dicker with pecan trees. Over the years, twenty-five to be exact, I have become the 'go-to guy' when someone has a question about growing pecan trees. This is how it came to be; with the purchase of a spot of west Texas dirt on which over a hundred young pecan trees stood, I set out to learn everything I could about growing pecan trees. Now, stay with me...there's a story here and it's not about trees.
My venture in the pecan business became successful with me shipping pecans to customers all over the world. It was quite common for folks to stop by as I worked in my orchard and ask questions about their own pecan trees. I'd even receive phone calls and e-mails from people asking about how to care for their trees. So, realizing the opportunity to share my knowledge about these trees, I created a website called Texas Pecan Trees. It became an instant success and even more folks began contacting me about how to take care of their pecan trees. I wrote a book on the subject and it became a best seller on Amazon. Lucky me, right?
An email notification came on my phone while I was watching Gunsmoke on MeTV the other day. I glanced down, figuring it was nothing more than useless spam. But alas, the message was from a reporter for the Texas Monitor, a popular news organization for folks in Texas. Curious, I decided to read his message.
'I am curious about your opinion on HB32, a proposed bill scheduled for the Texas legislative session in January...'
Well, he obviously had the wrong person. I don't do politics. I grow pecans. I sent a reply asking what this bill was about. He responded that it concerned pecan weevils. I thought how odd that our state government would take up valuable time and resources pondering an insect. I found the bill proposal online and read through it and sure enough, a state representative from El Paso has proposed that the great state of Texas declare war on the pesky bug by...wait for it...imposing a licensing fee upon pecan buyers to the tune of four hundred bucks a year. Well, I thought, there are several ways to get rid of a pecan weevil, but I'd never heard of this method. The reporter said he was told I was the 'Nut Guru' of the pecan industry and I thanked him for the compliment but no, I was really just some old goat who picks nuts up off the ground. But, in spite of the fact that I was missing Gunsmoke, I sent a lengthy and detailed response about everything I know about pecan weevils. And as is typical with me, I threw in a few personal opinions as well. Little did I realize at the time that his article was not about bugs, but rather a focus on how stupid government officials can be if left unattended. I played right into his scheme.
It was not the reporter who alerted me of the published article a few days later, but an assistant to my Texas representative. My phone rang right in the midst of yet another episode of Gunsmoke, and assuming it was likely a scam call, sighed in disgust as I muted the TV. I'll get back to that phone call in a bit, but first let me tell you about the article, which I had not seen when I got caught up in this conversation.
I don't follow the Texas Monitor and was unaware that its primary function is to be a watchdog publication, shining light on 'all things stupid' within the Texas legislature. I admit I smirked as I read the article, which you can see here. It contained little information about pecan weevils, but how irrelevant and irresponsible this piece of legislature is. And yes, it quoted me.
'Rodney Strange, a West Texas pecan grower and curator of all things pecan on his website, Texas Pecan Trees, was not aware of the bill until told about it by The Texas Monitor. After reading it, he called it irrational.'
“As is typical with the Texas Legislature, yet another attempt to tackle an issue by initiating a revenue-producing fee of $400,” Strange said.
And then there was this quote:
“I’m not one who believes the government can solve all my problems, especially by imposing a $400 license fee on me..."
I obviously came off as a dissident, right? I suppose I am much of the time, but a dissident under the radar...until now. Back to the phone call from the state representative.
"Mr. Strange, our office came across an article published in the Texas Monitor, and the representative asked me to contact you concerning this proposed bill. If the bill comes before the legislative session in January, would you be willing to travel to Austin to appear before the Texas Legislature?"
I paused for an uncomfortable length of time, "Well...sure. I would be happy to drive to Austin (not a short drive in the dead middle of winter) and give the legislature my expertise (on bugs, of all things!)
Throughout all my adult life, there have been so many things I would have liked to have the opportunity to confront my state legislature with. Bugs were never one of them. Standing before the people who govern my great state and discussing insects...that's way off my radar!