Archive for April, 2010

Ain’t nostalgia wonderful? Ouch, bad grammar and poor English; however, I can’t think of a better way to drag you into this piece which is a follow-up to the one below. I had forgotten some of the ‘other’ memories of my youth until a friend sent me a sandwich menu from F.W. Woolworth Company.

Woolworth’s, as we knew it, was one of the original five and ten cent stores. That, of course, was a misnomer because they had several things that cost a bit more than a nickel or a dime. In my home town they were right next to W. T. Grant’s. Despite there being over a million hits on “Grant’s retail stores” on the Net, they don’t command half the space that Woolworth’s does. That’s basically the way it was in my home town; if there were 20 people in Woolworth’s, you’d probably find about ten in Grant’s. But, they successfully competed with one another throughout my childhood and well into my collegiate years. Grant’s was the first to shut its doors, followed shortly by Woolworth’s. First National, a sizeable food chain at the time, took over both stores and became the supermarket to which people flocked. Looking back, I wonder now how they survived for as long as they did. The only parking was diagonal on Union Street, and since that was the main drag in town, space was usually at a premium. I guess people didn’t mind lugging groceries some distance in those days.

Woolworth’s went completely kaput, defunct, or, more politely, out of business in 1997. What remains is one of the subsidiaries of the company, Foot Locker, and I often wonder how they stay in business, what with all of the factory outlet and discount stores selling the same brand name merchandise for much less. Grant’s preceded the Woolworth fall from grace 21 years before, in the second biggest bankruptcy in U.S. history.

Okay, enough of the history lesson. Let’s get back to the nostalgia part, the critical element that we began to discuss in the first paragraph. Woolworth’s had a long counter on one wall of each store. It was designed to keep you in the store; to give you the opportunity to rest your weary bones, have a bite to eat, and return to spending more money in the store. The food choices were no big deal, consisting mainly of sandwiches, ice cream in various forms, with coffee or Coke for a drink. If you were really hungry and could afford it, you might, “try our super deluxe ham sandwich—baked ham sliced very thin and stacked high on plain bread, toast, or hard roll.”It was rather pricey in 1957 at forty cents. Today, of course, you’d have a choice of breads, get half the ham, and pay over $4.00…ah, how the times, they do change. Lest you believe that to be the most expensive thing on the menu, I assure you that it was surpassed by the chicken salad three-decker at 65 cents and other “club” sandwiches such as baked ham and cheese, bacon and tomato, and ham salad and egg salad. Sundaes were a quarter and a banana split set you back all of 39 cents.

All of this may sound a bit daffy when we try to compare yesterday with today…and it is. Were those the “good old days?” Nah, probably not. I’m certain that people complained about this or that. In October, people were terrified that Sputnik, the low-earth-orbit satellite put into space by the Russians might mark the beginning of the end for the United States. Of worries were for naught. My salary in 1957, in the first full-time job I had after graduating from college, paid a whopping $3,500, and that was considered decent money in higher education in those days. When I hear the Statler Brothers recording of “Class of ’57,” it brings back a lot of memories. They’re singing about what happened to a high school graduating class, but ’57 was the year I graduated from college; the year I got married; and the year I went into the service…quite a lot to absorb for a young kid from a small town. Fifty-three years later, I guess I can look back and say that most of those memories were great. I’ve been told by some psychiatrist friends that we tend to block out the worst of our memories and I think that, too, is a good thing. Who the hell wants to be saddled with them?

The last time I had lunch at a Woolworth’s was about 1975.My late wife, Joan, and I were in Falmouth, Massachusetts. It was a summer afternoon, and for those of you unfamiliar with Cape Cod, Falmouth has some of the most beautiful beaches in that part of the state. As we walked along the main street, I remember her looking at the Woolworth’s and saying, “I used to eat in there with my mother,” and so we did. We went in, had hot dogs – the menu had changed a bit – along with a coke and a hot fudge sundae for dessert. The menu from my friend reminded me of that. Memories, nostalgia, whatever you wish to call it, sometimes it’s good to sit back and recall those days. We’re all so busy looking ahead and trying to keep up, that maybe taking a bit more time to “smell the roses” might do us all a world of good.

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            “Nostalgia is the good feeling you get when you remember things from your past. When you kind of sit back and smile and think to yourself, wow that was fun, or happy.” It seems that the world is moving so quickly today that we have little time for nostalgia. Those who do take the time to remember things are not thought of kindly but more like they’re showing the early signs of senility. As one who came of age in the fifties, I find the attitude of many of today’s younger people to be unfortunate. “What will make their memories,” I wonder. “Will any of their memories be of good times, or will they remember how fast-paced and stressful their lives were?”

            The first thing I do on getting home from the gym is to get out of my sweaty clothes. I work hard at the gym to keep myself in shape…yes, round is a shape! One day, a rather mean-spirited individual commented, “You come here just to socialize.” Since it’s considered gauche to bitch slap a woman up side the head, I let the comment pass. It’s unfortunate for her that she has yet to find that one can blend socializing and working one’s butt off, but I suppose there are people who have shed a sufficient number of brain cells that they cannot understand the concept of multi-tasking. Her memories of the daily workout will never bring her the nostalgic memories that I have of the many friends I’ve come to know.

            Nostalgia is remembering many of the wonderful things Joan and I did during our 50+ years together. It’s remembering climbing through caves in New Hampshire, never realizing that your wife is pregnant with your first child; it’s the times in Bermuda, walking on the beach or walking down Front Street in Hamilton, or buying outrageously priced goods…just because they had a Bermuda label. It’s having Bloody Mary’s with scrambled eggs at eight o’clock in the morning, looking out at the ocean in Falmouth.

            It’s remembering how terrified I was giving my first pint of blood and how sad I was five gallons later to be told that I’d have to stop giving. See, sometimes a positive nostalgic feeling can also trigger some feelings that aren’t so good. Nostalgia is the first time you hold your baby son or daughter and try to understand how this little person who bears your name came to be. It’s also watching all of the steps along the way as that baby grows to adulthood and then to parenthood of its own.

            We were lucky. Our kids liked sports; they also liked school. I’m certain there are times that have been kept secret from us. Those were times that would have caused Joan to go gray sooner rather than later and that would have left me bald and with ulcers. However, when I think of the times we had as a family, the bad has faded and only the good remains.

            Nostalgia takes me back to my senior year in college when I thought I’d give teaching a try. The first day on the job, I happened to see a young and very attractive English teacher sitting a couple of tables away in the “teacher’s lounge.” Smoking was popular then, and the room had a blue haze. It looked to me more like a halo around that teacher’s head. That was in November and we were married the following July.

            Nostalgia takes me back to that same high school when, as a student, I was privileged to have teachers who genuinely enjoyed what they were doing and who appeared to take special interest in those of us who were nosy and asked questions. Those times in the classroom were almost as great as the times on the basketball court. Nostalgia is remembering Dickie Crowley, a teammate, getting mad, taking out his glass eye; tossing it the length of the court, everything stopping while people searched for Crowley’s eye. I, along with his other teammates, was too busy laughing at Crowley’s explosive temper getting the best of him…again.

            I remember sitting in the McKinley School auditorium and being told that President Roosevelt had died; standing on the corner of Belmont and Union Streets, holding hands with my Dad as a spontaneous parade marched down the street celebrating the end of World War II, although I didn’t realize what horror would be unleashed by learning to smash the atom, and; going to a neighborhood grocery store with my folks on Friday to do the week’s shopping. I remember cycling to Cohasset – about a dozen miles one way – to go to the beach for the day, and I remember being there with my folks, watching my Dad cut through the water like an arrow as he headed to the raft…you knew you were a good swimmer when you could make it to the raft.

            Nostalgia is a book unwritten, of disjointed and disconnected memories. I would argue that the definition of “good” feelings is not always the case. Nostalgia is sometimes sadness; the death of a parent or a friend, gone without the hope of ever being able to ask questions again or without being able to go to dinner. No, nostalgia is not always good. Some may say that I’m confusing memory with nostalgia, and that’s probably true. You have your definitions; I’ll have mine. Like yours, mine, for the most part, do bring smiles. Here’s a wish that for you…that every single one of your nostalgic memories will bring a little grin, a guffaw, or a tear of joy.

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Why go to college?

A recent Wall Street Journal article noted that the “typical American worker with a four-year college degree earns a great deal more money than a similar worker who didn’t go beyond high school – 45% more.” On the surface, that’s a sufficient reason to push your kid toward the halls of academe, right? Not necessarily. All right then, you wish your child to be “an educated man or woman.” Educated people are a dime a dozen, more so today than ever before. Charles Kettering, noted engineer and inventor of the electric starter, is quoted as saying, “My definition of an educated man is the fellow who knows the right thing to do at the time it has to be done. You can be sincere and still be stupid.” I would contend that sincerity to learn in a collegiate environment can teach you the right thing to do at the right time, but if you are not sincere in your efforts, you will emerge from a college or university setting just as stupid as if you never attended. As Calvin Coolidge said, “…the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

Statistically, yes, you may earn more money than those with only a high school education. It says so in every study that’s ever been released. The more recent studies, however, are also saying that college graduates may pursue as many as six and some say twelve totally different “careers” before they retire. This raises the question of exactly what it is that colleges teach. You can’t use business majors as a yardstick. Business practices are in a constant state of flux. Engineering, information technology, medicine, knowledge in almost any field you can name is exploding exponentially, and it’s damn near impossible to be ahead of the curve come graduation time. So, why go to college? It is my contention that the single most important thing that college can teach one is how to think, and if a student is not ready for that, college is a waste of time and money.

There was a bumper sticker a few years ago that read, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” Thomas Jefferson wrote, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, it expects what never was and never will be.” There are a ton of quotes from men and women far more intelligent than I who proclaim the value of never ceasing to learn, and that is something I support wholeheartedly. We have only to look at societies that have been ruled by tyrants, dictators who refused to allow honest and truthful learning, to se the benefits that we, as a free nation, have reaped.

My problems with children attending college immediately upon graduation from a secondary school are twofold: First is the question of readiness. Do they know the field for which they wish to prepare themselves? Certainly, in most colleges and universities, one has some time before declaring a major. Why? What’s going on in those first couple of years? Are the survey courses or whatever they’re calling them these days absolutely necessary? Are these the, we’re-teaching-you-how-to-think courses? That’s a heck of an expensive program to teach one how to think. Besides, wasn’t that the job of the first twelve or more years of a student’s education?

I cannot tell you the number of students who found their way to my office during my 40 years in higher education and said, in effect, “I don’t know why I’m here or what I want to do.” My story isn’t unique. My job was not to counsel with students; they just didn’t know where to turn. Multiply me by the number of other concerned faculty members and administrators and the results are frightening. One solution might be to put these kids into environments where, for a minimum two-year period, they have to learn to accept real world responsibility and to think on their feet. I used to say, “Let them spend two years in the military to learn discipline.” Many other countries do that; there is a mandatory military responsibility for both young men and young women. With the way our kids in the military are being so cruelly used today, however, that’s probably not a good idea. In addition, we speak of a professional military – an all-volunteer force – and my idea gets blown all to hell. I also said at one time, “Let them work retail for a couple of years. That will teach them about people.” However, it’s obvious from recent shopping ventures that even retailers aren’t doing a very good job of training their collective staff. So, I’m at a loss. I just don’t believe high school graduates, as a group, should be allowed to attend college until they’ve learned some of the harsher realities of the world; until they have gained a focus that will allow them to approach higher education with the passion it deserves. Could this mean something such as a domestic Peace Corps, City Year or similar program? Some of them are already in place. Probably, however, this is a bad idea because we’d be falling back on government spending, with all of the bureaucracy and potential problems associated with it. And who needs someone else suckling at the government teat? So, I admit that I don’t have the answer. If you do, let me know.

I’ve told the story many times, but it bears repeating. Several years ago, I was having lunch with some faculty, and I raised the question, “How will the Internet affect your teaching.” One faculty member jumped in immediately. “It won’t have any effect at all,” he said. This fellow taught management information systems and information technology courses. The table went dead quiet. The others just looked at him, aghast I’m certain, that he could be so short-sighted. The Internet, as you well know, has changed the way in which our students learn, and any faculty member who thinks otherwise should get out of the business of higher education. Undergraduates have access to billions of bytes of knowledge. Seems to me that the job of today’s educator is to focus the student and give him or her direction as well as how to tell truth from fiction. It’s a radical change in the job of the teacher.

My second concern is cost. Forty, fifty, or more thousand dollars a year in a private college or university is not an uncommon figure. That’s tuition, room, board, and fees. It does not include ‘incidentals’ that have a way of mounting up. Over the course of four years, that might be as much as a quarter of a million dollars. That’s a lot of money to invest, and if there’s more than one child, it gets doubled or tripled or whatever’d. Those are today’s figures. They have nowhere to go but up. Tuition increments have been creeping up again and today, the national average is increasing annually at approximately 5.9% Are wages increasing similarly? We both know the answer to that one.

Should all kids be forced to go to college because that’s what Mommy and Daddy and older brother or sister did? Should they be forced to go if they’d rather do something that doesn’t require a college education? Should they be forced to go because if they don’t there’s some kind of stigma attached that says they “didn’t make it?” Yes, a baccalaureate degree might help you to earn $2.1. million in your lifetime, and with a master’s degree, that figure may increase to $2.7 million, but unless you’re ready and focused and unless you can justify the expense, maybe you should hold off and explore other alternatives.

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             “History is written by the winners,” Napoleon said. That’s somewhat like saying, “What your government and its media tell you is true.” Both are only half truths, and, in some cases, not true at all. I would prefer to posit that “history is written by the people who have either ‘made’ it or lived through it.” Unfortunately, too few of these people are writers; thus, history of any kind which does appear on paper may very well not be what history was at all.

            Can we honestly say what happened at Lexington or Concord that began the Revolutionary War? We have any number of documents that support the side that most Americans prefer to hear. Are we positive of their authenticity? How prejudiced or objective were the writers? Why do we have these papers but not other views that might counter what is said? The truth is that no matter how many descendants of George Washington or Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, or any of the ‘heroes’ of whom we speak so reverently, say that this or that is true, we really don’t know.

            At one time, I believed that United States history should be taught from elementary school through high school. “We have a proud heritage,” I thought, “and our children and their children should learn that heritage.” Nowadays, I’m not as certain of that. Yes, we did fight and win a war that allowed us to become an independent nation. Of course, we needed the aid of a nation that many people now decry and that some have branded as a bunch of cowards, sex maniacs, and anti-American. Without the French, however, we’d probably still be a British Colony…although I personally think we might have just kept on fighting until the last Revolutionary was either killed or prevailed. How’s that for fanciful thought?

            When newspapers were the main media outlet for the country – and for that matter, the world – there was a saying that went, “Believe none of what you read and only half of what you see.” With the explosion of television as our main source of information, perhaps that old saw should be changed: “Believe none of what you read and less of what you see and hear.”  When the Vietnam War – and that’s exactly what it was – when the war was in progress, we would receive nightly reports from the seven o’clock news about how America was kicking butt. The truth was something far different when you talk to some of those who served and who lost friends because of our stupidity. When it came to Iraq, we were sold a bill of goods by the politicians in our country and by the media they controlled. The truth is that we don’t really know what the truth is. The truth for me is that I’m 75 years old and know for a fact only that in which I have participated or have seen with my own eyes. At one time in my life, I was willing to believe what people in and out of the media told me; I was willing to think that politicians did, in fact, have my interests at heart. However, I have heard and read and listened to so many lies that I now question almost everything I hear, read, or listen to.

            “You are so cynical,” some friends have said. My response is that it’s not cynicism but realism. I find myself skeptical of people, places, and events until someone can demonstrate truthfulness. One of the things that I truly enjoy about the majority of programs on the History Channel is that the try to tell both sides of a story, and if there happens to be more than two sides, they attempt to have all sides heard. Do I believe what I hear on the nightly news? No, not unless they can show me news as it happened.

             What fuels my doubt about the pap we are fed are the lies in which the liars have been caught. Few people are willing to admit that the number one ally we had in Afghanistan, the person we supplied with the arms to drive out the old Soviet regime was none other than Osama bin Laden, our friend of yesterday who became our most sought-after enemy of today. No question that Saddam Hussein was a dictator, but come to find out, he really wasn’t a threat to the U.S.; he didn’t have weapons of mass destruction; and the number of terrorists who were training in his country was so insignificant compared to what is still going on in Saudi Arabia as to be laughable. For those not in the know, the Saudis provide millions of dollars as well as numerous camp sites for training terrorists…but they do have the oil. All of the talk about America moving away from its dependence on foreign oil is little more than a smokescreen as long as the big oil companies are making money, some of which is no doubt finding its way into the pockets of congressmen and senators.

            What will future scholars write about this period of history? Will they conclude that America was honestly trying to rid the world of tyrannical behavior? Or, will they be told by their government what they should write and what they can say. If we’re only getting half truths today, will future generations be told outright lies? I can think of no quicker way to foment another revolution. Perhaps the talking heads at the networks and in the political arenas should be taking careful note of that. As Thomas Jefferson so eloquently put it, “The tree of liberty needs to be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

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            You’d like Andy; he’s a little north of insane, and just a bit south of cuckoo. Andy is a trainer at the gym. He is also, and not necessarily in any order, a cancer survivor who lost his sight in one eye to the disease, a cook slash chef who can conjure up a meal and describe it to you in such a way that your mouth will begin to water. Perhaps, above all, he is street wise beyond his years which, if I’m correct, have yet to see the big three zero. Oh, yes, and Andy is a pretty darned good trainer.

            If you can imagine it, Andy and I greet each other daily with fist knocks or intricate hand slapping as friends sometimes do…particularly in a gym; a 75-year old, bald, overweight guy rapping fists with an Asian kid under 30. I imagine it must be quite a sight to those who don’t know us.

            Recently, Andy asked me, “What’s the word?” Not being certain that I comprehended what he was saying, I asked him to repeat his question. “I ask you what the word of the day is,” he said. I thought for a moment and then said, “Love. Love is the word of the day, Andy.” He put his hand on his chest and thought about it for a minute or so; then he looked at me with his one good eye and the one that is sightless. “Thass a good word; I like that word,” he told me and went off, shaking his head, to train one of his clients.

            Before I left the gym that morning, Andy came over to where I was ‘doing’ some weights – I learned a while back that one doesn’t “lift” weights; one “does” weights, much as one “does” cardio – and Andy watched me for a minute. When I had finished he said…again, “Love is a good word for the day. I really like that word.”

            That was three days ago. Now I find myself in the predicament of having to have a word for Andy each day that I see him. It’s not difficult to select a word; I would like to believe that words come easily to me. However, it has to be the right word, the right word for Andy. It has to be the word that he can carry throughout his day. Therefore, great thought must be given to the word I select for him. It’s a responsibility and one that I take very seriously. When he first asked the question, I thought of it as nothing more than a “Hey, what’s happening, brother?” type of statement. It’s not, but you might have to look at Andy to understand what I mean. The ‘word’ to him, and now to me, is very important.

            “What have been the other words?” you ask. On the second day, which just happened to be a Saturday and when the gym was packed with ‘weekenders,’ the word was “wellness,” and I gestured to all of the people who were working out. This word was also pleasing to Andy’s ears and to his mind. Today, the word is “heart,” for it’s something that we all must have if we are going to reach our goals. There will be other words: “gratitude, kindness, hope, understanding, respect, faith,” all the way up to ten words.

            Let me clarify something…Andy is very, very bright. He is from the ‘old school,’ despite his youth. His upbringing states, in part, that you should respect what your elders have to say. He’s told me of the respect he has for his grandfather, and it is that kind of respect that he appears to be showing me. I am now extremely honored that he has asked me to provide him with a single ‘word for the day,’ and this is why I look on this as a serious responsibility.

            Andy has asked that he receive a word each day for ten days. That’s a very short space of time. Think about it; you have to give ten words, one each day, to another. Let’s assume they will live their lives according to the ten words you set before them. I’ve made a list of eighteen and I haven’t even given it great depth of thought. It reminds me of a story about Henry Kissinger when he was a fellow at Harvard. Supposedly, one of his graduate assistants was called in and told, “I don’t have time to read this report. Please give me a written summation of it tomorrow.” Leaving with the 250-page report, the student did as instructed, and the following day presented a ten-page summary to Dr. Kissinger. “I don’t have time to read all of this,” the student was told. “I want you to give me a summary.” Flustered and shaken, the student took the ten pages and left. “How can he expect me to make this any briefer and still have the gist of the full report?” the student asked himself. However, he found by the time two days at elapsed that his ‘summary’ was but a single, but very full page. Kissinger still was not satisfied and sent the student away with the admonition to bring him a summary. Totally frustrated and now a bit angry with his boss, the student locked himself in his room. Throughout the night he labored over his sheet of paper, scratching here, making a note there; more scratching; more notations. The following afternoon, he presented Kissinger with a single, short paragraph, summarizing the full report. Kissinger looked at it, read it, read it again, nodded, looked up at his graduate assistant and said, “Now that is a very good summary. Thank you.”

            The same sense of frustration and even anger felt by Kissinger’s graduate assistant could be applied to this new relationship with Andy. He really wants a single word of wisdom each day for ten days. First, he’s assuming that there is wisdom to be given purely because of age, and I know that’s not true. I feel quite certain that, “With age comes wisdom” is, at best, a bold-faced lie; at worst, a trick to be played on the innocent and gullible. I know of many cases, my own included, where age comes alone. That aside, I must now put my faith – oh, my God, I forgot that one; make it nineteen – in a higher  power and hope that my selections will be of assistance to this young man.

            How about you? What words, single words now, but what words are you living by in your life?

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            Yard sales are a hoot! When the yard sale season happens – it’s usually in the fall – it’s time for a wife’s revenge on her husband. How do I figure that? Very simple; if he’s going to be watching football all day, she’s going to spend his money on someone else’s junk. Three quarters of the fun of a yard sale is watching the folks who do the shopping. They fall into a variety of categories.

            The first category of yard sale shopper is the “planner – the person who drives around during the latter part of the week, searching for signs announcing yard sales. She might also consult the weekly shopper or some other newspaper because those who can afford to pay to advertise their yard sales are usually where the “good stuff” is. This means that as the “planner” prepares for the weekend assault, she has already drawn a map or has printed a local area map from the computer and has marked each sale…according to quality, of course. The planner knows exactly what she’s search for…she needs to replace something that she sold at her yard sale with something that will look better. The planner is as specific in her search as she is in the map she has carefully prepared. Look out for the planner, for once she has found what she’s looking for, she will become a fierce negotiator. This is the person who could give the FBI tips on hostage negotiation. Unless you are an experienced yard sale seller, you will not get close to the price you are asking once the negotiator has unleashed her skills.

            A second category of yard sale shopper is the “holiday bargain hunter.” If what you have to sell has all of its parts and doesn’t look too used, the hunter will pick it up as a gift for a distant relative or for the Holiday Party – can’t call them Christmas parties anymore; must be PC – where they have one of those “auctions.” That’s where everyone draws a number and, in order, picks a wrapped gift. There’s always some sucker who didn’t obey the rules and stick to a five, ten, or fifty dollar gift, and brings in the thing everyone covets. Of course, since number one not only gets the first pick but also the last, the big prize goes to the person who thought they were getting short changed in the first place. It’s complicated, but you can figure it out. Should the holiday bargain hunter accidentally stumble on a prized gift, he or she always receives a few back slaps and “attaboys” from the staff. While the gifts are supposed to be anonymous, there seems to be an information highway of some type to expose what gift was brought in and by whom. I never could figure that one out.

            The third category of yard sale shopper is the “lookeloo.” The lookeloo has no intention of buying a thing. She was out shopping with the kids; saw a sign that said “Yard Sale” or better yet, “Estate Sale” and just had to swing by. The problem with the lookeloo is that while she’s looking at nothing in particular, the kids are running around like a bunch of chickens with their heads cut off and raising holy hell for the poor yard sale sponsor. Should the lookeloo actually purchase something from the yard sale, it’s more likely to be something for one of the kids, which will cause an uproar and require that she buy something to please however many other children happen to be with her at the time. A word of advice to the lookeloo…”Take the kids home and go back; it will save you money in the long run as well as a modicum of embarrassment.”

            Another yard sale groupie is the “socializer.” She knows the folks who are running the yard sale, and attends for the express purpose of just having a good time. All too often, however, there is a more devious motive: “I wonder why they’re getting rid of that?” or “I never saw that in the house,” or “What a bunch of junk,” or anything else that you might possibly be able to concoct with your own nasty mind.

            The old expression, “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure,” can also apply to yard sales. When we moved to Westwood from Newton, we did, in fact, have a yard sale. We made all of the mistakes first-timers make. We priced high when we should have priced low and vice versa. We put out everything we had for sale simultaneously rather than creating a display of goods and then adding to it on a timely basis. We didn’t negotiate well and, in retrospect, experienced yard sale buyers took us to the cleaners. We sold an Oriental rug that was probably still worth thousands for a hundred bucks. I remember becoming so frustrated with one woman that I just wanted her to go away. “How do I know all the pieces of this puzzle are in the box?” she asked. Being wise beyond my years, I replied, “Because I did the puzzle last night and counted each piece as I put it back in, just to make certain each of the 1,500 pieces was there.” She accepted the answer, if you can believe it – did you ever complete a 1,500 piece puzzle in one evening; better yet, did you ever count the pieces as you put them back in the box? Then she wanted to know why I wouldn’t sell her two puzzles for the price of one, “…just to get them off your hands.”  I told her that the prices were the prices and that’s how things were going to be. After staring at the puzzles for about half an hour, off she went, empty-handed…just another trouble-making lookeloo.

            The final type of yard sale visitor I’d rather not even mention is the crook. Unfortunately, there are people who will try to steal from the yard sale. Even if you put up a sign that said, “All proceeds go to breast cancer research,” it doesn’t matter. We had a couple of thieves at our yard sale. They stole some books; one even grabbed a couple of puzzles. It wasn’t worth chasing them or calling the police. I’d rather just let them go and hope that their own guilt catches up with them.

            I admire people who can conduct yard sales and keep their sanity. My neighbor has one every year. She seems to enjoy it. Her husband helps…until football starts…and the kids are out there. However, I’m willing to bet that when the day is done, and the sale is over, a good, stiff drink tastes pretty darned good. Enjoy the sales.

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 It’s genuinely fascinating where ideas come from. Someone, it rarely matters who, makes a comment; the comment raises a question; the question is explored and, voila, an idea for an opinion piece is born. At least that’s generally how it happens for this particular loudmouth. Sure enough, it’s happened again.

 The other day a police officer friend remarked, “When I first joined the force, I wanted to change the world. However, I’ve dealt with murderers, bank robbers, and all kinds of bad people…and I really haven’t been able to change anything. Looking back at those experiences, and now looking ahead, I just want to be remembered as someone who cared about people and who got a scholarship program going that would help kids. I’d really like that to be my legacy.”

“My legacy?” What an interesting choice of words. How many of us have ever considered that we have a legacy to leave, or to whom we would leave it. Initially, I was reminded of Shakespeare and Marc Antony’s quote from Julius Caesar, “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” Now there’s a frightening thought…shuffling off this mortal coil with no one having anything good to say about me. I found my policeman friend’s comment so intriguing that I began to ask others about their “legacy,” what it might be, and to whom they would wish to leave it. A high school classmate in Florida, a former educator, said, “What I would like for my legacy is that my children would, through the process of osmosis, continue to instill in their children the wisdom that I feel would help them and this world be a better place in which to live. As a teacher, I feel I have contributed to society and given back through the proper ideals I have taught the children, and I hope that they, in turn, will continue on to become responsible and productive members of today’s society who will keep spreading those ideals for the good of this earth.” It may sound simple, but that’s pretty heady stuff folks, and when you get right down to it, what greater legacy could a father and a teacher wish to leave his children and his former students.

A former Babson colleague, true to his calling, commented, “I would like to be remembered for making the sources of information and historical knowledge of this institution as widely available as possible. It pains me that students, faculty, and alumni know so little about the place that has been their ‘home’ for four or more years.”

 “That’s it?” I asked. “Are you so committed to the College that it dominates your thinking regarding your legacy?”

 “Ah, so it was a trick question,” he answered quickly. Like my high school classmate, my colleague then talked about his daughter and the lessons of life that he and his wife are trying to instill in her. He concluded by saying, “I just hope that she always thinks well of me.”

We all have some legacy to leave; we rarely think about it as such. It has been said that life is what happens to you while you’re planning for it. I would offer that legacies are what are created when we’re not thinking about them.

Those of us who are parents, most of us anyway, try not to embarrass out kids too much. We really do believe that there are few children as academically brilliant or athletically gifted as our own…and, of course, we’re wrong. We truly do feel that the examples we set for our children are always proper…and we screw up there also. We can only try to leave our children with the legacy of, “My parents were very good people and good examples of how I should live my own life.”

            You’re sitting there saying, “That’s it; that’s all you expect my legacy to be?”

            No, not really. If you want to discover the cure for cancer, a formula for world peace, or locate life in some faraway galaxy, feel free. If you can do these things, good luck. I wish you well. It’s nice to see you’ve set you sights so high. And there’s no doubt that you will be remembered. For most of us, however, our legacy will be more modest. My teaching friend may never realize the number of lives he influenced for the better. My colleague at Babson will, I’m certain, never understand the impact that he has had in getting faculty, students, and staff to understand that making a living is far less important than making a life.

            Okay, what about me? Sure, I wanted to leave a legacy. In many ways, it mirrors that of my friends. I’d like to be remembered as a loving husband, a good father, and a doting grandfather. Beyond that, I’d like to be remembered as someone who caused one or two others to question and think…about what their legacy might be.

What will people say of you when you’re gone? Do you care? You should? Will they, for example, say things like: “She was always the first to say ‘hello,” or “She was the kindest person I ever met?” Will they say, “He always kept his promises,” or “You never met a more honest person?”  Admit it or not, we all have enough of an ego that we wish to be remembered fondly. What are we doing to ensure that will happen?

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