Small World?

If you didn’t like my post about Stan Kesler on Sunday, you’ll probably want to pass on this post. But if you like this one and missed the one about Stan, you’ll definitely want to go back and read it. (That’s the one about “My Favorite In-Law-In-Law”.)

Some years ago I worked—but not closely—with a lady in another department. Her name was Sharon.

I’ll never forget the story I heard her tell.

Sharon was living in Memphis and working as a babysitter for a song writer. She didn’t say who.

One evening she’d come over to babysit. While the song writer was getting ready to go out, somebody rang the doorbell, and Sharon went to answer the door.

Can you imagine her shock when she realized Elvis was standing on the other side of the door? He was dressed in all black with the collar of his shirt flipped up and hair in his eyes.  He’d come to pick up some music .  She made him stand on the front porch while she called her employer to verify that and to get her senses back.  Elvis was so impressed that she’d made him stay on the porch that he invited her to dinner at Graceland.  She was picked up in a pink Cadillac.  After dinner, they looked at photo albums in the music room.

What a special memory.

When I first heard that story, I didn’t hear  the details. But when I met Stan Kesler, I couldn’t help thinking about that story. It never occurred to me that he might have been that song writer, and I didn’t think to ask him. That would have made for a very small world, wouldn’t it?

Today I received confirmation that Stan Kesler, my favorite in-law-in-law, WAS that song writer.

Now I truly believe in this being a small world–and not just because of the Internet.

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Do you have a favorite “small world” story? We’d love to hear it. Just leave a comment.

I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, just go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

By the way, “On Aging Gracelessly” isn’t my only blog. I use “As I Come Singing”check it out here—to post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years. Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. Check here to see the list.

Best regards,
Roger

 

My Favorite In-Law-In-Law

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When a guy gets married—I suppose this is true for women as well—he doesn’t necessarily know as much about the family he’s marrying into as he thinks he does.

No, this isn’t a negative story about my in-laws. I love and respect my mother-in-law and father-in-law as if they were my own parents—most of the time, anyhow—and Kathleen’s brothers and their families are pretty cool characters, too. No complaints.

But the family member I didn’t expect to become interested in is one step removed from being my in-law. That’s why I’m referring to him as an in-law-in-law. He’s the father of one of my wife’s sister-in-laws.

Before I tell you about him, I need to explain something. I’ve met a few well-known people in my life. I shook Spiro Agnew’s hand before he became vice president and got into so much trouble. I shook Paul Ryan’s hand, too, and commend him for not getting into any trouble after not becoming vice president.

But entertainers are higher on my interest list than politicians. One of my favorite people is a comedian and actor named Torry Martin. You’ve never heard of him? Hang on. You probably will eventually. I know him ever so slightly, although I’m not sure whether he knows he knows me or not.

Anyhow, famous people fascinate me.

And the most fascinating famous person I’ve ever met turned out to be that in-law-in-law you’ve been wondering if I’d ever get around to finishing my story about. Especially since he’s not famous in the usual way.

Drum roll, please. Let me introduce you to Stan Kesler. Google him, and you’ll find out far more than I can tell you in a single post. And go visit Sun Studios in Memphis if you want to get a real feel for his accomplishments.

He wrote or co-authored some of Elvis’s earliest hits, including his first gold record, “I Forgot to Remember to Forget.” At least one of Stan’s gold records is on display at Graceland. He has two more at home.

Even though I lost interest in Elvis when he started doing movies, Stan’s accomplishments fascinate me. The fact that he engineered a couple of Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs’ records is pretty interesting, too—even though I couldn’t stand “Woolly Bully.”

And he played bass on one of Jerry Lee Lewis’s hits—a song I actually used to own a 45 rpm recording of. Sure, they mixed the bass so low in the recording you can barely hear it, but it’s there nonetheless.

I met Stan at a special anniversary celebration for my parents-in-law. Didn’t really get to talk to him much then. Just enough to know I really wanted to talk to him more. Especially since he’s an older fellow and in poor health.

My mom-in-law was kind enough to invite him for lunch one time when Kathleen and I came to Memphis for a visit. I shared a few of my original songs with him. Despite his deafness—or maybe because of it—he said I played better than some of the guitarists he’d worked with over the years. My! Somebody grab my feet and bring me down to earth again.

I doubt that I’ll ever get to visit with Stan again. Not in this life, anyhow. But I’ll never forget him—or quit talking about him. Who wants to talk about Spiro Agnew or Paul Ryan when he can talk about Stan Kesler?

By the way, there’s a great article about Stan in a recent edition of Memphis’s Commercial Appeal newspaper. One of the pictures at the top of this post is of the beginning section.

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Who’s the best-known person you’ve ever met? Leave a comment and let us know, please.

I’ll be back again on Wednesday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, just go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

By the way, “On Aging Gracelessly” isn’t my only blog. I use “As I Come Singing”check it out here—to post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years. Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. Check here to see the list.

Best regards,
Roger

 

Too Old to Give in to Ego

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It’s a good thing I didn’t decide to become a novelist until I was in my late fifties. My ego couldn’t have taken it.

Of course, I don’t think I could have become one much sooner anyhow. Although I’d always wanted to write a novel—who hasn’t?—I’d never had the time and I’d never come up with a novel-worthy idea.

So much of what I put into my novels has resulted from whatever wisdom—well, whatever experience, anyhow—I’ve gained over the years.

The advice to write what you know about isn’t always valid, but it has been for me. As a Christian, a Preacher’s Kid, a happily married man (following an unhappy marriage), an amateur musician and song writer, and an all-around nice guy—all of those things have enabled me to write the books I write.

And it’s taken many years for those factors to meld into meaningful stories that have me in them, yet aren’t really about me at all. Maybe I’ll explain that someday in another post.

If I’d started writing novels twenty or twenty-five years ago, I would’ve still been so much under the influence of my former favorite author, James Michener, that I couldn’t have made the transition to the contemporary way of writing novels.

That means—among other things—no purple prose (it even sounds nasty, doesn’t it?). No starting with page after page of unnecessary backstory and setting. No writing so beautifully that it distracts the reader. And no compulsion to follow the rules of grammar. Of even the rules of writing, which seem to fluctuate—or at least to vary according to the expert being consulted.

If you recall how I began this post, I have to commend you for your patience. The one thing I haven’t mentioned since the first paragraph is ego.

I spent various parts of my life thinking of myself as a success. And other parts considering myself a failure. Now, in retirement, none of that matters very much.

Yes, I’m quite pleased that my first book, Found in Translation, sold 5,000 copies (the other 5,000 copies were remaindered off) and the second, Lost in Dreams, half that number.

But I could easily look at the hundreds of thousands of books my author friends have sold and feel insignificant. Fortunately, I put my writing in God’s hands, and I count on Him for the results He wants. I’m not sure I could have done that when I was younger.

Right now I’m experiencing what could have been an ego blow—if I’d let it. I’m reviewing the edits to one of my manuscripts made by the professional editor my current publisher has assigned it to. She is GOOD!

But what helps is that I’m open to her suggestions. Instead of feeling that she’s “plucking the pedal off my rose,” to use a quote from poet T. S. Elliott, I recognize that there’s a huge difference between my being a creative novelist and my insisting on having the final word on what will make my book the best it can be.

Out of the dozens of suggestions she’s made, especially regarding what to delete to bring the book down to a reasonable length (from 100,000 words to 80,000 or less), I have only insisted on keeping one very brief section she wanted to delete. But I knew how that section affected the story later, whereas she hadn’t gotten far enough to realize that. She won’t object.

Furthermore, she’s been so good about pointing out various things she REALLY likes. Amazing how far a positive attitude goes, isn’t it?

So her suggestions don’t come across as blows to my ego. I hope she’ll be my editor again in future ventures.

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Please leave a comment if something in this post has spoken to you. I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, just go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

By the way, “On Aging Gracelessly” isn’t my only blog. I use “As I Come Singing”find it here-to post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years. Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. Check here to see the list.

Best regards,
Roger

 

My Changing Taste in Music

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A few years ago—or has it been ten or fifteen now?—I read an article on the C.F. Martin guitar company’s website claiming that many of today’s baby boomers have lost all interest in loud, electrically enhanced music. They seem to prefer quiet, mostly acoustical music. The kind more commonly associated with Martin guitars, as a matter of fact.

The article made sense. Because I’d paid good money for CDs of Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and Jimi Hendrix, I force myself to listen to them once every couple of years. If I remember to, that is.

Forty-some years ago I spent hours and hours listening to artists like those—under headphones with the volume cranked up dangerously loud. I didn’t need illegal drugs to enjoy that kind of music. And I didn’t have to roll up the car windows because the music from the next car over at the traffic light was giving me a headache.

But those days are gone. Along with some of my hearing.

I started playing guitar during the “folk fad” of the 1960s and early 1970s, and I’ve never lost my admiration for the acoustical musicianship of the Kingston Trio, Ian & Sylvia, the Chad Mitchell Trio, and dozens of similar artists who didn’t deafen me with unnecessary volume.

I haven’t lost all of my interest in rock, but I never listen to the radio anymore. I couldn’t tell you what singers are popular now or what song is currently number one.

But let me listen to the Everly Brothers or Bread or The Association, and I’m more than satisfied. Even folk rockers like The Byrds continue to appeal to me. And what about the wonderful story tellers-in-song like Jim Croce, Harry Chapin, and Gordon Lightfoot? Their songs from “back then” are still just as enjoyable today.

I also listen to some of the country songs I used to enjoy. John Michael Montgomery, Ronnie Milsap, early Olivia Newton-John. Songs I could understand the words to. Words that made sense. Uh, usually, anyhow.

Has advancing age turned me into a retro fan? Or have I always been one? I don’t care. I like what I like, and I don’t have to justify it to anyone.

What about you? Has your taste in music changed? If so, how?

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I’ll be back again on Wednesday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, just go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

By the way, “On Aging Gracelessly” isn’t my only blog. I use “As I Come Singing”check it out here–to post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years. Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. Look at the list here.

Best regards,
Roger

 

I See

cataractBefore     cataractAfter

Dr. Everhart smiled after examining my eyes. “Mr. Bruner, have you noticed your vision getting more blurred?”

I wrinkled my brow. “Not overly. But if I hadn’t felt I needed new glasses, I wouldn’t have come to see you.”

She nodded. “Have you noticed little flecks crossing your field of vision?”

“Now that you mention it, yes. My left eye only, though. I’ve almost reached the point of ignoring them, but they really bothered me at first. It’s like watching a tiny insect crawl across my glasses. In fact, that’s what I thought it was at first.”

She continued in a sympathetic tone. “I’m not surprised. Your left eye needs cataract surgery. Your right eye will need it eventually.”

I felt my mouth fall open. “What? Cataract surgery? Surely you’re kidding. I’m just in my lower sixties. Cataracts are a problem OLD people have.” I wasn’t about to admit I was feeling more like an old person with every passing day, and I’m sure my vision contributed to that feeling.

She patted me on the shoulder. “Not restricted to old people at all.”

Hmm. Then why was her waiting room full of only old people. People a lot older than me, that is.

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While that dialogue is partially fictitious, my need for cataract surgery in my early sixties wasn’t.

I knew that cataract surgery was such an established routine that I shouldn’t have anything to worry about. Dr. Everhart was not only a sweetheart of a lady, but a well-established eye surgeon.

I won’t bore you with the details, but the front office scheduled me a few days later to be fitted—probably not the correct word—for my replacement lens. Other than having my eye dilated once more, that was no problem. I was scheduled for the procedure itself for several weeks later.

I awaited that day with a combination of confidence and terror. I prayed a lot for God to replace all of the terror with confidence, and I believe He did—to whatever degree I was willing to trust Him.

The big day came. Kathleen had to be there to drive me home, and we had to be there at the break of day. The outpatient surgical unit liked to get Dr. Everhart’s first few patients ready early so she could move through them quickly. Great idea…except it meant an hour or two of waiting and wondering.

Reading wasn’t really an option. Not with those drops they kept putting more of in my left eye. I almost fell asleep a couple of times, but I was in a busy area. Between receiving more drops, having a visit from the anesthesiologist, and who knows what else, sleep wasn’t practical.

The time came. A couple of nurses rolled me to the operating room. I didn’t receive general anesthesia, but was sedated enough not to give Dr. Everhart any problems.

During the actual surgery, I heard her and her assistant talking, but that’s all I was conscious of. A short time later, I was in the recovery area, where I spent maybe fifteen minutes.

Dr. Everhart checked on me before letting Kathleen drive me home and gave me a bag of “stuff,” including three types of drops I would have to use four times daily until I’d used them all up and a high power set of sunglasses that would fit over my regular glasses. I wore a patch home, which I was permitted to take off at noon; I had to wear that at night for a week.

I had a checkup call from Dr. Everhart that evening and went in for a quick followup visit the next morning. From that point on, I was permitted to drive again. I made an appointment for a regular eye exam for those new glasses I’d expected to get a month or two earlier.

I could see again. Quite well. Maybe it didn’t matter whether the thought of cataract surgery had made me feel older originally.

So, when I learned the right eye needed it now—this was about a month ago—I shrugged. Okay. Let’s get it done. I’m thankful to say I didn’t experience any apprehension this time, and everything went just as smoothly.

In some areas, I suppose I’m aging more gracefully than in others.

What about you? Have you experienced health problems that weren’t super-serious, but made you feel a little older?

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Please leave a comment if something in this post has spoken to you. I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, just go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

By the way, “On Aging Gracelessly” isn’t my only blog. On “As I Come Singing” I post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years. Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. Check here to see the list.

Because I’ve already posted all of my songs, I revise and re-post a previous post each Wednesday. If you’re interested, please check that blog out here.
Best regards,
Roger

 

Blessed to be a Blessing

Click on thumbnails to see larger images. Many additional pictures from Nicaragua are available here.

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[NOTE: This post was originally included in the Winn's Baptist Church newsletter. I've edited it just slightly to post here.]

Every Christian should have a chance to go on a mission trip to Nicaragua. One word of caution, though. That experience is apt to be life-changing.

Using the Internet to learn facts about Nicaragua, the second poorest country in Central America, is one thing; seeing poverty like that in person is something else. But the enthusiasm and dedication of the local pastors as they minister to the physical as well as to the spiritual needs of their communities is uplifting beyond description.

I went to Nicaragua on March 5—we returned on the 10th—with fellow Winn’s members Bruce & Renee Bingham, Richard & Leslie Gray, and Jason Harris. Although Leslie had been to Nicaragua before, the rest of us had not.

In order to check six large duffel bags of baseball equipment, used clothing, and other mission-related items, each of us packed our personal things in our carry-on bags. Our back packs accompanied us every day, as did bottled water, hand sanitizer, and cameras. Most of the group wore shorts or capris except on Sunday morning. Temps were in the 90s.

Pastor Carlos Garcia and his wife, Luisa, were our hosts for the week. Carlos had served as the translator on past trips and ended up feeling called to the ministry. In addition to pastoring a church, he also works for the Asociación de Iglesias Evangélicas La Gran Cosecha de Nicaragua. We participated in activities at most of the churches in that association of churches.

We hit the deck running soon after our arrival…a trip to the station where Carlos has a radio ministry. He interviewed Bruce, and Luisa interpreted.

Renee makes jewelry, and she presented each pastor with a bracelet made of fishing tackle—appropriate for “fishers of men.” She gave their wives an angel necklace. At two of the churches we visited, she also did crafts with large groups of children and let them blow bubbles.

We spent two afternoons taking food and Bibles to needy people and seeing their homes up close. The average “house” was probably no bigger than a single-car garage. Although we saw electric cords strewn all over, no one had an actual kitchen—or anything more than a simple outhouse, if they even had that much of a bathroom.

The better homes were cinderblock. The poorer ones were constructed from whatever sheet metal scraps the resident could scrounge up. Many of the homes didn’t have doors. Many were incomplete. Heavy rocks held the metal down on a number of roofs.

Probably our most meaningful activity took place on Thursday, when we washed the feet of a hundred needy children and put new socks and shoes on them. As reminiscent as that was of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, I sincerely hope he didn’t have the problem of dropping the towel in the basin of water.

We stopped at Pastor Leon’s church, much of which Winn’s helped to build, and enjoyed fellowship with him and his wife.

Sunday was special. We worshipped at Carlos’ church—a two-hour service that didn’t seem nearly that long. Luisa led the singing with her guitar, and I was permitted to share one of my songs. Richard and Leslie participated in the service as well. Carlos’ preaching was dynamic.

That afternoon, everyone but me went zip-lining. Even Carlos’ and Luisa’s three kids. Okay, so I’m scared of heights. But it gave me a chance to take pictures.

Although Monday was a long day of travel—thanks to lengthy layovers—we all got home safely.

You often hear volunteer missionaries say that they went to their place of service hoping to be a blessing, but came away feeling that they had received more of a blessing than they had rendered. I suspect all of our group felt that way.

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Please leave a comment if something in this post has spoken to you. I’ll be back again on Wednesday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, just go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

By the way, “Aging Gracelessly” isn’t my only blog. On “As I Come Singing” I post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years. Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. Check here to see the list.

Because I’ve already posted all of my songs, I revise and repost a previous post each Wednesday. If you’re interested, please check that blog out here.

Best regards,
Roger

 

It Doesn’t Take Much to Interest Me

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My recent trip to Nicaragua was fascinating, and I could probably write a ton of posts about it. But I won’t put you through that. Much of what interested me wouldn’t interest anyone else.

Nonetheless, I want to share a few of the things that fascinated me. If you prefer to skip this post, I won’t be offended. Especially since I won’t know you’ve done it.

  • Small three-wheel bicycle taxis were everywhere—even out in the country. The driver pedaled on the single wheel in the back, and the passenger rode in a slightly enclosed area up front. I wish I’d had a chance to ride in one, if only just around the block.
  • I’m not sure I saw a street sign anywhere in Managua or the surrounding areas we visited. If there were road signs, I failed to notice them.
  • Not sure I’d ever seen a set of traffic lights that applied only to certain lanes rather than to everybody going a certain direction. Someone coming from the left could turn left into the far left lane of the street I was on while the two rightmost lanes on my street kept going through a green light. There was only a red light for that far left lane.
  • Billboards crossed the busy Managua streets rather than taking up space at the side.
  • • I knew that travelers are warned to avoid eggs unless hard boiled, but I didn’t know the reason: people don’t typically refrigerate eggs.
  • Taking malaria medicine before, during, and after a trip to Nicaragua is considered a must; seems strange I didn’t see a single mosquito that week, though. In the tropics, are the insects as seasonal as they are elsewhere?
  • We never did exchange American currency for Nicaraguan money. Why bother? Everybody willingly accepted U.S. dollars, and many places—especially restaurants—listed the U.S. price along with the Nicaraguan price.
  • The local police seemed to be on the lookout for foreign drivers. Our van got pulled over once for being too large to be in the far left lane, even though no signs warned of this law. Our host pastor talked the policeman out of taking our friend’s license. Our pastor then “thanked” the officer with a small gift of money, but only afterwards—to avoid the appearance of a bribe. Interestingly, we ran into the same policeman at a routine checkpoint later in a very different location. I think he recognized and remembered us. No problems that time.
  • The mall we ate at the first night was bustling with people. I wish our local mall was in such good economic health. Maybe it had to do with a fashion show or something of that nature that was going on.
  • Don’t know when I ever saw so many motorcycles. I didn’t notice many big ones like we have in the States, and the brands I saw weren’t familiar. Nonetheless, very economical transportation, even though motorcyclists drove even crazier there than here.
  • I can’t say I’ve ever been anywhere before where I could watch the vapor rising from an active volcano. I have no idea how far away that was.

Rather than say any more now, I think I’ll do one post about my team’s activities in Nicaragua, and then I’ll go back to just being a person of age rattling on about other things. *G*

In the meantime, though, what curiosities have you encountered in visits to other countries? Please leave a comment and share.

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I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, just go to the top right of this page where it says, “Follow Blog via Email.”

By the way, “On Aging Gracelessly” isn’t my only blog. I post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years on “As I Come Singing.” Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. Check here to see the list.

Because I’ve already used all of my songs, I revise and repost a previous post each Wednesday. If you’re interested, please check that blog out here.

Best regards,
Roger