Archive for the ‘Biography’ Category

Do things signify love? Part IV

By Bob Litton

¶But I need to return to my early childhood—a very strange time. Whatever time my parents’ divorce was—when I was two or when I was seven—I was living with Mama and my two brothers in that shotgun apartment. Mama and I slept in the front room; my brothers shared a bed in the middle room.
¶Papa came over every once in a while to pitch a softball back and forth. One day he brought me a fielder’s glove. I was both happy and disappointed because the fingers were not connected with leather tongs like a first baseman’s glove is and, to my way of thinking, there wasn’t enough padding in it: the ball hurt whenever I caught it with that glove. But, in tune with my usual behavioral pattern, I did not complain.
¶Another event of that time now makes me wonder just how complete the divorce was. One afternoon, I came home after playing with some neighborhood friends to find the door locked. This was very odd: crime was at such a low level in those days that we never locked the door. The door opened about nine inches, the room was dim, Papa was there bare-chested, he handed me a quarter and told me to go to the neighborhood movie theater. I was too young to be aware of what was transpiring inside the apartment then, but of course I have reasoned it out since. O blessed reasoning! At least occasionally you work in my favor!
¶My parents early on noted my adoration of Gene Autry and cowboy things in general. Pappy accompanied Mama and me to attend an appearance of Autry at the State Fair Music Hall in Dallas. Instead of rushing to the dressing rooms afterward, as I’m sure many fans did, we went outside to wait near the exit door. My parents stood a few yards out on the sidewalk but urged me to wait nearer the door. A bunch of performers and stagehands came out gradually in twos and threes. I was about to give up, but suddenly there he was, with some woman. I said “Hi” shyly. He said “Hi” nonchalantly and kept on walking toward a black limousine. But my mother called out to him, “Mister Autry, won’t you speak with my son? He idolizes you.” So, Gene squatted down, shook my hand, and chatted with me a few minutes.
¶What Pappy taught me, one could write on a fingernail. Once, when I was barely in school, he phoned and, during our conversation, asked what time it was. The table clock was nearby, but I didn’t know how to read it. He coached me about the import of the big hand and the little hand. Another time, while we were eating supper, he instructed me in a bit of table manners: he told me not to push food onto the fork with my fingers but to use a knife or a piece of bread. I never have figured out why one finger touching a pea was less sanitary than several fingers holding a slice of bread.
¶No, Pappy never taught me anything very useful, like how to build something or repair it, nor anything about ethics and morality, nor how to respond well to questions in job interviews. Of course, some of that information he was ignorant of, having gotten through the second grade. It now makes me wonder about how he was raised, or wasn’t raised.
¶Pappy was very proud of his English ancestry, peppered with gentry and nobility. His genealogical line goes back to the late 14th century when tracing it with any reliability as to accuracy. One of his ancestors was Sir Robert Litton/Lytton, who in 1499 was “Keeper of the King’s Grand Wardrobe”. (Robert was a very favorite name back in the days of chivalry, which is one reason I gave up trying to research beyond the 15th century.) Here’s a document, signed by Henry VII, that will confirm what I have written; however, it might not be viewable very long because the document is for sale: (£27,500)

¶Keeper of the Grand Wardrobe is not a very prestigious position, it seems to me, but perhaps there are reasons of which I have no knowledge (some moderate illness or old age) that made the job suitable. At any rate, I’ve seen no record of the clan distinguishing itself until Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer-Lytton gloriously popped onto the literary scene contemporaneously with Charles Dickens. However, only scholars and grad students now read his works. I must say, I rather liked his Last Days of Pompeii and Pelham, which Pappy never handed me but instead left on a shelf in the kitchen/dining room of the very modest house Mama had recently bought.
¶He also bought me a pair of spurs, although I had no boots. The problem with the spurs was that they were cavalry spurs, which had no rowels as cowboy spurs do. But I did not complain.
¶It seems to me now that my parents spent a lot of money on my enthusiasms. In fact, one of my parents—I wish I could recall who—bought me a cowboy arrangement of leather chaps and vest. They were very nice. I wonder now if I hugged the giver and said “Thank you!” I wonder if the gifts were intended to express love.
¶Then there was the Gene Autry guitar. It probably would be considered an antique now, although I don’t know how many of those instruments still exist, a factor which would affect its price. I see on Ebay one for sale for $250 (needs some restoration) and another for $429. The first dates from the 1940’s (coequal with mine), while the latter dates from 1954, when I was fourteen and no longer interested in strumming it much. At first, my parents paid an old man to give me a couple of guitar lessons, but I quickly gave it up. I’m not sure now why, but I have some reasonable surmises: my teacher tried to talk me into learning to play the violin, the congenital extra volume of flesh on the little finger of my left hand made fingering the chords difficult, and/or I was just too lazy.
¶So, Pappy gave me stuff and once let me stay a couple of weeks in his shed during a penurious moment in my life, but he never taught me anything except perhaps how to survive on virtually nothing. There was one dramatic scene during my teen years. He and I were standing in the kitchen of Mama’s small cottage. I was looking through the door screen and crying while I accused him of being a no-father. He had never hit me like he did my brothers and Mama, but he had always been mostly absent and he had never taught me anything needful, especially about sex. He raised his voice and in a silly defensive tone said, “All I could have told you is that the penis in your pants causes babies!” I decided then that there was no sense in trying to discuss anything serious with that man, my father.







Do things signify love? Part III

By Bob Litton

¶I’m still not sure when my parents divorced. For most of my life I thought it was when I was seven years old, but when Pappy’s will was contested in the late ’80s, one of the documents indicated that I was two at the time.
¶Pappy’s girlfriend “Goldie” contested the will which my senior brother (I had two) had presented to the probate court. When the old woman presented a holographic will, we had a problem that reminded me of Charles Dickens’ Bleak House. After about seven years of discussions and unpaid and rising legal fees, my brothers thrust the executorship onto my shoulders.
¶Mama showed me a photocopy of “Goldie’s” version of Pappy’s will. It was handwritten on a #10 envelope and dated later than ours. However, I immediately agreed with Mama when she pointed out that the body of the holographic will had been written by Pappy but the signature was clearly not in his hand-writing.
¶When the judge summoned all parties to his courtroom soon thereafter, I did not mention the signature discrepancy for I figured it would only extend the case even further. I didn’t care what we might gain or lose; I just wanted to eliminate the legal fees. Early on, our attorney— who suspected my brother of stealing eighty acres of East Texas farm land from ‘Goldie’ (which brother probably did since he told me he had been with Pappy when Pappy stole it)—stood up and petitioned for an increase in his billing.
¶I immediately stood up and loudly exclaimed, “No! May I say something here?” The judge smiled and said, “Go ahead.” I don’t recall my exact words, but basically I said that I was poor, that I had recently received a bill  from our lawyer for thirty-something thousand dollars, that this whole lingering show was beginning to look like a Charles Dickens novel, and that I just wanted it to be over.
¶The judge asked me a few questions and then instructed the two parties to go out in the hall and try to find a way to settle the issue amicably. My brother had sent another lawyer to listen to us but not enter into the negotiation. So, the three of us stood there out in the hallway while I and the lawyer agreed that I would pay him and he would accept $5,000 out of the anticipated $12,000-plus we would receive from the Dallas Independent School District, which had confiscated Pappy’s dilapidated building through the eminent domain law. My brother’s attorney leaned toward me and said I had hit on the appropriate amount. Brother had already paid our attorney $1,000 back when we had thought it would be simple probate.
¶We all returned to the courtroom, and, while I sat on an audience bench, the lawyers stood before the judge and told him they were willing to meet in “Goldie’s” lawyer’s offices and strain out a compromise. They did so the following week. When they came out of an office and met with me and my attorneys in an ornate conference room, I agreed that my family would accept the building and its contents, while “Goldie” could have the contents of his safe deposit box. I’m not sure but I think the total value of what was in the box was something like $20,000.
¶After the judge had approved our agreement and ordered the county to issue a single check to my brothers and me and to the attorney, I met with the attorney at a bank and told the teller to take out $5,000 in cash for the attorney and to divide the remainder into three equal checks for my brothers and me,
¶The next day I handed middle brother his check, a little over $2,000. He whisked himself off to Las Vegas to try for a big win in an effort to save his carpet business, which was under bankruptcy control. When he returned, I was sitting in the office talking to a bank teller on the phone about what was needed to cover a couple warm checks. He stood in the doorway with both arms spread out, his hands clasping the door jambs, a look of exhausted unbelief on his face. “I lost it all!” he uttered.
¶What our senior brother did with his “inheritance”, I don’t know.
¶As for me, I used mine to buy a roll of carpet for a customer who had selected the pattern out of a sample book. Since all of our suppliers were aware of the bankruptcy, they wouldn’t sell us any rolls on credit, and the large store was virtually empty except for remnants and half a dozen full roles. It was the time of the Reagan recession. Our bank closed its doors.
¶But my brother was sort of saved by a factory rep who sidelined in his own enterprises. The rep basically bought brother out but let him retain a part ownership so that my much overweight and sedentary brother would have a regular $500 a week income.
¶I did not participate any longer, but started working for three temp agencies, hoping to find my suitable niche.

((More later. I’ve got to get back in bed. Adieu,))


Do things signify love?

©2017 By Bob Litton
NOTE TO READERS: Please don’t become expectant just because I am publishing this post. I am still having various physical problems that make daily living painful, particularly degenerative joint disease, sciatica, and general low energy. But at least now I can get out of bed without the excruciating pain I was experiencing since earlier this month; it still hurts, but I don’t have to grit my teeth.
¶No, I forced myself up and to the computer keyboard because it is Father’s Day here in the U.S.—albeit a bit late in the day (6:39 P.M. Central Time). I want to display for my readers some facts about Papa that might make you think about character both obvious and hidden. I have tried to figure my family out for many years without much satisfactory success. I didn’t ask many questions of them, and they are all dead now; so our lives together and apart will remain a strange mystery to me until I too am dead.
¶I hope I have explained enough to make the following post understandable.
* * * * * *
¶Father’s Day is not celebrated as fully as Mother’s Day and, I think, with good reason. The moment of conjugal embrace, from which conception and birth results, is usually a time of pleasure for the husband and for the wife. However, the wife has to endure all the physical and psychological pains of pregnancy for nine months and in some cases longer. She is the portal through which the baby joins the universe.
¶Yes, all the father experiences is pleasure and, usually, pride when he sees the delivery has been successful and the baby is of the gender he had hoped for. Pappy was devoted to pleasure. He was a philandering gallant. That plus his occasional brutal behavior is what led to their divorce a few years after I was born.
¶But Pappy had other problems which I think were due to his limited education. I was told that he got through the second grade. Now, it’s true that many a youth at the beginning of the 20th century did not finish the regular school course, and that did not hinder them from finding a suitable occupation and satisfactory livelihood. However, as the century moved on, education level became a more prominent component in job interviews.

((Excuse me. I’m going to have try and finish this tomorrow. I am just too sore and weary to proceed any further right now. Goodbye.))


¶According to my blog’s statistics page, I have 177 “followers”. That is not nearly as many as most other WordPress bloggers, unless you consider that I don’t use any of the social media venues. Followers come and go for a variety of reasons, but even if they go they don’t always remove themselves from the “followers” list, so I take the 177 figure “with a grain of salt”. Anyway, those of you who remain will probably see this post.
¶Primarily, however, it is the non-followers that I want to address here. They are the ones who constitute the vertical lines on my statistics page graph and whose homeland flags I see beside the post page titles below the graph. I wish I knew who they are, what drew them to my site, and how they reacted to what they read. Yes, it is they I wish to speak to here, to apologize to …nay, just explain why I haven’t posted anything for 19 days now.
¶You see, I woke up one morning about the middle of this month with a feeling of constriction clear across my chest at the sternum level and a severe crick in my neck. I thought I must have had a mild heart attack, so I had someone drive me to the VA hospital 210 miles from here. The VA staff did their routine of x-ray, ekg, and bloodwork. The final result was not a heart attack (which, frankly, had been my hope*) but COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).
¶COPD is an “umbrella term” that covers emphysema, asthma, bronchitis, and some forms of bronchiectasis; most of its sufferers are victims of emphysema. However, although I smoked a few cigarettes in high school and puffed a pipe occasionally in college, my indulgence was mostly for show—I was posing as an intellectual…well, and to keep my hand warm in the fall. But I never consciously inhaled the tobacco. Still, since I frequented smoky pubs for hours on end in my college years, it is quite plausible that I was affected by second-hand fumes.
¶Now, what I have read about COPD lately has led me to believe that my nearly constant state of tiredness and low concentration level were symptoms of the COPD. What I gathered in my reading informed me that it cannot be cured; that I will be extraordinarily vulnerable to colds, the flu, and pneumonia; that it will shorten what would have been my life span; and that all I can do to control it is avoid contact with people who are ill, wash my hands frequently, drink lots of fluids (especially water), eat healthy foods, get pneumonia vaccines and a yearly flu vaccine, and engage in mild to moderate exercise.
¶So, dear readers, that is primarily why I have been absent from these pages. My low energy level and difficulty in concentration make writing a worthwhile post not very appealing. I wanted to tell you all of this because I appreciate you and because I don’t want you to feel frustrated when you pull up my blog and find nothing new there. I don’t know when I will create something fresh and worth reading.
¶Thank you for your faithful attendance.
Bob Litton

* See the reason for this preference in my blog post of 12-29-2014, “Diamond Anniversary”.

Whatever Happened to “Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice”?

By Bob Litton

¶I believe I have always been averse to absurdities, especially grotesque and gruesome absurdities. That’s why I am coulrophobic (turned off by clowns). The aversion probably circumscribed my enjoyment childhood, affecting not only my reaction to clowns but also to some children’s stories and nursery rhymes. I couldn’t see anything amusing about Humpty Dumpty breaking his “crown” or in Jack breaking his either. And those poor three blind mice whose tails were cut off by the farmer’s wife? Phooey! One nursery rhyme particularly annoyed me, this one:

What are little boys made of?
What are little boys made of?
Snips and snails
And puppy-dogs’ tails
That’s what little boys are made of.

What are little girls made of?
What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice
And everything nice [or “all things nice”]
That’s what little girls are made of.

¶The reported consensus of literary historians is that the above verses were composed by English poet Robert Southey (1771-1843), although they did not appear in any of his published works. Besides his own seven children, Southey and his wife supported the wives and children of his companion romantic poets Robert Lovell and Samuel Coleridge, after the former died and the latter abandoned his family, so we cannot criticize his personal observation of what children are like. He wrote some poetry and stories for children, including “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”, which was probably my own favorite in childhood.
¶But I am digressing too much from my topic: the change in our image of girls and women.
¶What bothered me about the sketches of gender above is that it paints boys in such miniscule and dingy terms (Did Southey’s boys cut off the tails of puppies?). Of course, individual grains of sugar and spice are miniscule, too, but they are usually partaken in bulk and children of both genders can’t seem to get enough of them. Moreover, reserving “everything nice” for girls pretty much excludes any pleasant attributes for boys. As another grownup male complained on an Internet site that critiqued the verse, “It isn’t fair!” Hearing that poem read aloud was my introduction to the “battle of the sexes”.
¶Back in Southey’s time, girls and women, of the upper classes in England at least, were pointedly sheltered from the cruder aspects of life. They were expected to be the moral exemplars for society, maintaining values which men, for their part, had not many qualms of abusing. Sure, there were some young gentle women — Mary Shelley, for instance — who breached that rule; but, overall, it seems that people paid at least lip service to it until the early 20th century. And it has been a downward spiral ever since Lady Chatterley’s Lover. I was especially disappointed when, in 1987, the editor of the New Yorker magazine caved in and allowed a four-letter word to be printed; now that magazine’s pages are littered with words ordinarily reserved for Penthouse.
¶I was raised under the old code. Mother instructed me to surrender my seat on the trolley to ladies, especially old ladies. And I was taught by various elders that profanity was excusable only among adult males, never in the hearing of ladies. Recently, I mentioned my developing dismay about the modern trend of ubiquitous profanity to a female acquaintance at our local senior center (she is about my own age). “Yeah,” she said. “When I was young we couldn’t even say ‘sex’; we had to spell it, s-e-x’!”
¶One of the former residents at my apartment complex was an old harridan, whose unit was two doors south of mine. She was quite loud in every way: face-to-face conversation, her television-viewing, and on the phone. For some reason I never discovered, she would not have the courtesy to shut her front door when engaged in her racket-making and especially liked to stand on our common porch and chatter away on her cell phone. One afternoon, while I was outside sweeping leaves off the porch, she was in her living room, practically yelling into her phone. I walked over, opened her screen door, and pulled the main door shut. She jumped up from her chair and came to the door, opened it, and started cursing a blue streak. That old cliché about “words that would make a sailor blush” seems hardly adequate to describe her behavior. I silently kept on sweeping.
¶Don’t gather from the above that I am a “goody-two-shoes” (whatever that is!). I sometimes utter curse words, mostly while I’m driving, but my vocabulary level in the vulgar range is limited and I’m certainly not proud of my profanities; it’s just a release for my frustrations, I guess. It is mainly an echo of that old lesson “don’t swear in the company of ladies” that causes me to get slightly irritated when I hear fellows at my favorite bar punctuating their conversations with the activities and products of their body parts.
¶The problem is not just the presence of “ladies” (for they can be just as foul-mouthed); the issue is also the gratuitousness of such extended vulgarity. Imagine: If all of us — men, women and children alike — include an obscenity in every sentence we utter, those profanities would lose their effectiveness. After all, the rare use of a four-letter word used to signify a sudden change in temperament or it charged an incident with emergency. Now they are just wasted puffs of breath with a slightly foul and boring odor in them.
¶Female use of profanity is all part of the “women’s liberation” movement which began in the 1960s. It was also connected to the growing prevalence of smoking among professional women, epitomized by Philip Morris Company’s 1968 advertising slogan for its new Virginia Slims cigarettes: “You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby!”* Of course, smoking by women was common in the 1920s, -30s, and -40s, in the movies at least; but the trend seemed to have burgeoned in the 1960s.
¶Before I go, I want to add a few words about the other new trend: tattooing. Like cursing, this feature used to be almost the exclusive property of sailors and South Seas islanders; but now it seems to have become fashionable in my home country. I frankly don’t understand it. The human body, at least for many of us, can be beautiful; but we seem determined to besmear it with ugliness. Those generally indistinguishable markings with their lurid colors, that look more like signs of a blood disease than artwork, are just another way of attracting attention to one’s self, when the best way to do that is to be well-groomed and courteous.

*If you would like to see how this slogan developed over the years, check out this site:


Solitaire and Christmas films


©2017 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

¶You have my permission to skip this post. Just realize all the while that you probably will have missed something that someday might have helped you significantly.

Where’s the queen of hearts?

¶I have a confession to make in my cyberspatial confessional. I’m addicted to the Internet game “Yukon Solitaire”. It could be worse, I guess, if I had a smartphone. I saw on the Internet today that many Americans are addicted to that device, which I don’t have; just have a cheap old flip-phone. I tried a smartphone a year ago, but it didn’t respond to my fingers accurately enough, had a bunch of apps that I couldn’t afford to use, and ran out of juice too quickly.
¶But back to the solitaire. I know what many well-meaning folks will say: “Be happy! Playing solitaire can keep your brain rejuvenated! Keep you from becoming senile.”
¶That well may be, but I view playing the stupid game a major waste of time. I could be writing the “Great American Novel” or drawing masterpieces. Instead, I gaze at my monitor’s screen and try to determine if there is some magic strategy for attaining the “perfect win”. And that’s what I actually call it: “the perfect win”. It’s when I can get all the cards in their proper columns and complete down to at least the number “3” cards. Of course it is quite possible (and usual) to win when I’ve had to move several lower cards up to the top, but that’s just a “win”, not a “perfect win”.
¶I must admit that, besides the supposed benefit of keeping my brain active, playing “Yukon Solitaire” has revealed to me some interesting facts of life and facets of my personality. Probably the profoundest fact is that losing is as important an element of playing Yukon Solitaire — or, for that matter, any game — as winning. If I won every game or even several games in a row, boredom would quickly descend upon me. Of course, the opposite is also true: whenever I lose too many games sequentially I become frustrated and irritated and I resolve (for a day) to give up the game. But then that old lust to play returns and there I am before the computer again.
¶A year or so ago, I heard on one of the NPR talk shows a woman who had written a book (or maybe it was just an article) about how people can learn much about their own psyches from playing “Scrabble®”. I played that game only once, many years ago, and it bored me so much I never ventured into it again, so I didn’t listen very long to the radio conversation. However, I did attend enough to gather that it must be possible, indeed, to discover a lot about one’s personality and perhaps even improve it by playing Scrabble® and other such games.
¶Another thing I learned about the Yukon Solitaire game is that the outcome is not as much a matter of chance as in the original solitaire game. The player can calculate odds of moving certain cards as opposed to moving others at times when mutually excludable options exist. Also, one can begin to gauge which rows demand more attention because, if too neglected, they contain too many uncovered cards near the game’s end. Naturally, those rows tend to be the last three. Yet another insight is noticing that one’s odds of winning are proportional to the balance of red and black cards at the opening.
¶I could go on with my insights, but I don’t want to tempt my readers to try the game; for it truly is addictive, and I don’t want to be responsible for your fall.

* * * * * *

O Merry…Merry…something or other

¶While I’m still in the confessional, I guess I might as well admit to having spent a bunch of hours over several weeks in November and December watching Hallmark Channel’s massive array of Christmas romance movies. Even beyond the twelve days of Christmas.
¶It was all part of my attempt — only slightly successful — to escape the pall of gloom that fell over me and millions of my fellow citizens following the November 8 election. I was trying to avoid the news programs, which, in my case, is very difficult because I am something of a news and political junkie. I’m only a nominal Christian: a fellow who no longer attends a church and does not adhere to the Apostle’s Creed. Nor have I paid much attention to Christmas in decades. But this time I wanted to escape into some kind of cheery mythical world. And I found a bunch of that in several of those movies. Of course some were rather saccharine, but others were worth the viewing.
¶When one watches a series of films all pretty much about the same motif, one picks up on common elements. Two of the most common themes in the Hallmark Christmas movies are (1) the Scrooge theme, and (2) the real Santa theme. If you have seen the 1947 film “Miracle on 34th Street”, you might recall that it contained both themes.
¶I am using “the Scrooge theme” rather broadly here, meaning that the storyline presents a case of a person who loved Christmas as a child but, due to some unfortunate experience in the past, now either denigrates or ignores it. The protagonist is not a “Scrooge” in the sense of being selfish or inhumane, although some might be business executives more intent on making money than on sharing cheerful hours with others. One, for instance, was the story of a developer who wanted to convert a building that, on one floor, had housed a music therapy center. In another, rather preposterous story — even by fictional standards — the reindeer Dancer is too ill to fly on Christmas Eve — so Mrs. Claus sends the North Pole’s handler in cognito to buy a replacement at a reindeer farm; when the farm’s owner declines to sell, she orders the handler to steal a reindeer. (Don’t be concerned: Mrs. Claus finally recognizes her fault and the whole situation is resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.) In yet another, a Christmas tree farmer is about to lose his place because, due to bad weather, his crops have not sold well during the past two years, and the banker is set to foreclose on him; but he is saved by the story’s heroine, a marketing executive from New York who creates a “brand” campaign for his trees and drafts the farmer’s daughter and his friends to promote them countywide.
¶By far the most fascinating of the stories, however, is the fantasy tale of a nurse in 1945 who has not heard from her soldier husband. She worries that he is possibly a war fatality. After a few early scenes in which she reveals her charitable good nature, the nurse drives home during a blizzard and runs off the road into a ditch. After she crawls out of the ditch she stumbles through the snow to storage building, climbs through a window, and falls asleep. In the morning she goes to a local police station for help, but on the way she doesn’t recognize any of the vehicles on the road. During her interview with the police, they suspect that she has suffered some brain damage. Eventually, she comes to realize that she is in the 21st century, not the 20th. The police chief takes her home to spend Christmas with him and his family, and to further examine her to see is she is mentally off or perhaps is playing a confidence game. Through some ingenious detective work, the policeman concludes that she really has time-traveled; and the problem now is how to get her back to 1945.
¶I won’t take up the necessary time or space to explain it all, but the nurse’s situation involves a comet that passed by Earth in December 1945 and is scheduled to also pass it this December. So that policeman and the community — which has come to appreciate her because she has reminded them of their long forgotten customs of caroling and hanging Christmas lights on the town gazebo — accompany her to the storage building. She goes inside; and, after the crowd watches the comet pass overhead, they open the door to find she is no longer there. The last scene in the movie is of her shoveling the packed snow from in front of her car and her husband, in uniform and a duffel bag over his shoulder, showing up to help her.
¶Yeah, pretty far out but still heart-warming.
¶And now I, too, am back in the real world. Alas!


Life Among the Ancients


Bingo chip> Photo Credit: Leo Reynolds

©2016 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

¶Well, it’s December 29 again. That day of the year when I change the digits while filling out some questionnaire on the line that asks for my age. The numbers now are “77”. Isn’t that supposed to be a lucky number? No, no, I’m confusing Double Seven with “4” plus “3”, “2” plus “5”, or “1” plus “6”.
¶Ignorant as I am, I Googled “77” to see if it has any meaning besides a highway sign, a TV show, or a whiskey concoction; and, lo and behold, what did I find in a numerology blog but this supposed personality trait: “77 → Intelligent, inventive and spiritually wise.” Wow! That’s awfully flattering, but such spiritualistic readings usually are. And in Dawna Hetzler’s blog I found this explanation: “Seven is the number of completeness and perfection (both physical and spiritual). It derives much of its meaning from being tied directly to God’s creation of all things. According to Jewish tradition, the creation of Adam occurred on October 7th, 3761 B.C. (or the first day of Tishri, which is the seventh month on the Hebrew calendar)…. (He) turned seventy seven—double sevens. (He) must feel exuberant knowing (his) age is the number of completeness and perfection (both physically and spiritually).”*
¶Decades ago, I learned that there is a lot of difference between intelligence and common-sense. Intelligence might be an admirable attribute, but common-sense is more likely to put a roof over one’s head and food into one’s tummy. By the time I had graduated from high school I suspected I was sorely lacking in the latter, so, while I was studying Chinese at Yale, I went to the campus bookstore and bought a paperback biography of Alexander Hamilton. In a letter to my girlfriend back in Dallas, I mentioned that I was reading about Hamilton; and she responded, “It’s nice that you’re reading that book, but why?” I was too embarrassed to explain that I was hoping some of our country’s first Treasury Secretary’s touted common-sense might rub off on me.
¶“Inventive” is, to me, an ambiguous adjective. In its most common use it means able to create something uniquely useful out of raw materials: I never saw myself as an inventor. However, “inventive” can also be used as a synonym for “resourceful”, which denotes the ability to apply one’s wits toward solving a problem with extraordinary elements, material or non-material: now, that I can honestly claim to have done a few times.
¶“Spiritually wise” perhaps might be a positive attribute, but to apply it to one’s self seems, to me, a bit arrogant. I will acknowledge that much of my thinking time is spent on spiritual matters, particularly my relationship with the Holy Spirit. And some people in the past have characterized me as “an astute observer”, “insightful” and “wise”; but their perceptions were based on really minimal evidence; they had not witnessed the moments of my folly. Anyway, I freely and gratefully acknowledge that any “spiritually wise” comments I have uttered proceed not from me but from the Holy Spirit, which I hold dwells within anyone who accepts him/her/it. Sometimes, H.S. surprises even me.

* * * * * *

¶As the late comedian George Carlin noted in one of his sketches, children, eager to be older so they can be taller and supposedly freer from parental constraint, will push their age by saying “almost six” when they are only a few months past their fifth anniversary. And a rather tired old joke is that line about “she’s still 29 and always will be”.
¶We can have all the facelifts we want. They won’t change our internal structure or the way we emotionally react to the passing of time. Some of us manage to stay “happy” or at least “content” for many years beyond the point when others of us falter under regrets and diminishing horizons.
¶I am one of those who have been melancholic almost from childhood. Actually, melancholy can be a pleasant emotion sometimes. I remember how I used to get spiritually inebriated on a winter day when the sunlight pierced the ether at an angle lower than at other times of the year. Emily Dickinson was also affected by that “certain slant of light”, although she received its effect much more negatively than I. Strange, but then, Emily was weirder than I am.
¶As for the diminishing horizon, that has struck me particularly hard. Part of the problem is that I have too many interests: art, poetry, philosophy, theology, history, politics.  Every once in a while, I get excited about a sub-topic of one of those fields and say to myself, “I’ll read up on that (or engage in that) and become a notable expert, ‘blowing away’ every observer with my brilliant performance.” I have a bad habit of hopping from one interest area to another, hardly ever finishing a project to the degree it deserves. Then I am struck between the eyes, so to speak, by the realization that I don’t have the years needed to accomplish such sublime goals.
¶Then there are the regrets connected to personal relationships. Someone I read recently (but can’t recall who) said that indulging in regrets is destructive to the psyche. That well may be, but it’s practically impossible to retard the sudden bolts of regret that strike one’s mind. What is odd about them in my case is that many are about piddling slights, such as not replying to a letter when a reply would have been a deserved courtesy to the correspondent. Many other regrets, of course, relate to psychological or financial injuries I have inflicted; in most cases it is no longer possible to make amends because the hurt ones are no longer alive, or I don’t know where they are. As John Greenleaf Whittier wrote in “Maud Muller”,

For of all sad words from tongue or pen,
The saddest are these, ‘it might have been’.

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¶The worst of aging is “ageism”. This is a current issue in the United States, not exactly on a par with racism or sexism but still controversial. Now is not the time for delving into the general debate, which has more to do with jobs than with socializing. Since I am retired, the job issue holds only an academic interest for me; I am affected more by the social impact of aging, such as those occasions when I irritate customers behind me in the grocery store or café  while I try to count my dollars and coins.
¶There are a few positive benefits in graying. Most young folks will hold a door open for you, especially if you have a cane. They will also surrender a stool for you at a bar if the place is crowded. The problem with that is, in my case at least, they will try to herd you to a stool next to some other old codgers — to corral you in with your generation. I use the terms “herd” and “corral” on purpose because the two other elders at my favorite “watering hole” are a retired Border Patrol agent in his late 90’s and a retired cowboy in his late 80’s. Don’t interpret me amiss: both these fellows are decent, well-mannered gents. The problems are that neither one can hear very well, so talking with them is a chore from the get-go; and I have begun to resent being ushered to a stool beside or between them as though nobody else will be interested in my conversation. It could be that, in fact, no one will be interested, but I’m not ready to face that possibility yet. I will never forget the first time, during my early 30’s, when a young man in a Dallas pub addressed me as “sir”; it was like a flick of cold water in the face.
¶Well, I have to go see if that cake over there can support seventy-seven candles.
¶Happy New Year!


 ∗ Ms. Hetzler used the feminine pronoun (without mentioning any antecedent). Since I am male, I have changed the pronoun to masculine for context’s sake. Thus the parentheses.
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