Simpler Time
January 23, 2018

Train

As i sit here preparing a sermon, I hear the blowing of the train whistle which immediately took me back to my childhood.

I remember on warm summer evenings, not having air conditioning, we’d have all doors and windows open. And whether talking to each other or watching TV, the whistle of the train would drown out, for brief moments, the auditory activity we were engaged in.  At some point, it would become irritating.

I remember trying to get to the east side of my hometown, Sharon, PA, from my parents and my home on the west hill.  There were two ways for us to get there, and both ways involved crossing train tracks.

If I went the way of going through town, there was a chance of being held up by the train. If I went the route of going past the steel mills, the chances of being held up were less, however, and it’s a big however, the wait could be excruciatingly long.

They would stop their railroad cars on the street, blocking them while they attempted to drop the cars off on different tracks. They would back up, just leaving the engine on the road to block us, then pull forward. Repeatedly. Always. So either way, we had to choose our poison on which way to go.

I find it ironic that a year of my life was spent in a steel mill that manufactured, yep, you guessed it, railroad tank cars. Then I moved south, then to rural Pennsylvania where I didn’t have to be bothered with them.

As I’ve moved back to Sharon after 40 plus years of elsewhere, I find the trains  being stopped less irritating. Maybe because I’ve gone away and came home. The saying goes, “You can never go home”, but I did, and it’s good.

It’s January and it’s actually warm today, having my window open, I hear the train whistle and it makes me happy and melancholy at the same time. It’s a throwback to simpler times and places, relatives long gone being still alive and healthy, cares and problems minuscule compared to today, my ’64 Lincoln, walking to school, first dances, sitting by the fires and listening to the whistle blow.

And I always liked train songs. “City of New Orleans” by Arlo Guthrie. “Long Time Blues” by the Smothers Brothers (look it up on YouTube, it’s a cool song). “King of the Road” by Roger Miller. And “Early Morning Rain” by Gordon Lightfoot, about a drunk guy at an airport where he realizes “You can’t jump an airplane, like you can a freight train”.

My friends and I would stand on the bridge where the train drove on and run across it on the railroad ties before the train got to us. Or even wait until the train was close then jump in the Shenango River as the train passes over it. That bridge would really shake. Sometimes when the road was blocked with the train being stopped and I was walking, I’d crawl under the train to get across the road.

And I don’t have regrets in life, if I do, not many. But I’ve always wanted to jump a freight train, ever since I was a kid. Just hop on an empty car and see where it takes me. That would be fun. Reality tells me, that at 62, that would be  foolish. And dangerous. So I live with the fact that it would have been very cool.

And the sweet reminder of a simpler time, thanks to the engineer who blew his horn as he passed through Sharon, Pennsylvania tonight.

 

 

 

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Homeward Bound
March 31, 2016

 

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I love where I live. It’s a pleasant little home, in the city, and I really like it. I lived in the country for over 20 years and then was “transplanted” back to my hometown of Sharon, Pennsylvania. It’s not a bad place.

But my house, I love it. I find that I don’t like to leave it. It’s “homey”. Now my other house was homey too, but I found we liked to leave it to do things. Maybe it’s age, maybe it’s complacency, or maybe it’s that I like being home. Either way, I like it.

When Paul McCartney left the Beatles, he had difficulty talking about the Beatles. When his new band, Wings, was playing, many times the interviewers were asking about Beatles times, and he didn’t want to talk about it. In fact, many of his concerts featured zero, or only a couple Beatles songs. It’s like he didn’t want to remember his time there, as he isn’t THAT GUY anymore. He couldn’t embrace what it was because it ended badly.

I thought about that when I got out of high school. I didn’t hate high school, but I didn’t love it either. I was into alcohol pretty regularly my last two years, and discovered pot my senior year.  I had two sets of friends, actually three. Those I drank with, those I smoked with, and those I didn’t do any of those with. Obviously, I had NO relationship or awareness of Jesus Christ at this point in my life. I’m beyond thankful that I do now. And so do my kids.

I was a pretty friendly fellow, had lots of friends.  I had a good relationship with my classmates. I was the class vice-president for the Class of 1973. It was fun. I didn’t run for president, too much work. We’d drink a lot, spent a lot of time drinking at a doctor’s house where his wife would actually serve us drinks. His son was in my class. Drank a lot with my friend Chuck and would be with him at Francis’s house, where his mother never minded if we drank there.

I was unbelievable slow with girls. Only had a girlfriend or two during the high school years. Even though I was popular, I was never pushy with them. Had tons of crushes but, believe it or not, was actually too shy to pursue them.  I was a virgin when I graduated high school. Never went to prom as I didn’t want to go. I’m still not much of a dancer.

We started a group called “Bleacher Bums” and we’d travel to all the basketball games. We started chants and choruses of songs.  Chuck, Frank, Scott, Tom, just a bunch of us having fun. What a great time that was. Usually drinking. One game Chuck and I arrived late, and there were no seats so we sat in the New Castle section. This was back when we were a big school playing big teams. For some reason that I don’t remember, we were kindly escorted out of the gym by two of Sharon PD’s finest. The principal, Mr. Bennet told us to meet him in his office on Monday .

We went to our usual parties, and my buddy and I  were at the party imitating Mr. Bennet, saying “Get your hat and coat son, you’re going home”.  We thought we’d be expelled. Well Monday comes, and no call to meet with Mr. Bennet came……..until 10 minutes before dismissal.

Well, a bit nervous, we approached Mr. Bennet and he was as cool as could be. Said he was disappointed with us, hoped we’d represent the school and team better, and if it happened again, we’d be expelled. Well, from that point on, we made better decisions. Just one beer before the game ( a 42 oz. beer), then party afterwards.

With all that being said, I loved THAT part of it, but couldn’t wait to get out of Sharon. I remember running into Nick and I told him I was living in West Middlesex and he said, “Couldn’t you find a house in Sharon?” as if that was THE place to be in the valley.  I wanted no part of it. Until I came home.

I felt like Paul McCartney (I wish), and being completely sober for 30 years, I am fond of my time in Sharon, and I fell like I really am at home. I embraced who I was then and who I am now. As Paul began doing Beatles songs and embracing his past, I too have embraced those times and celebrate my past. I’m so thankful to be home. The saying is, ‘home is where your heart is’. Well, I guess I’m home.

I really don’t know what I would have done if the principal told my kids, “get your hat and coat, son you’re going home'”. They were better kids than their father was a kid. But I think they had a better father than I did.

 

Winter
January 7, 2016

Well, week one into 2016 and winter has arrived. I’m ok with that, as apparently, I’m a northern kind of guy.

Christmas Eve and Day was like 60 degrees, which is kind of nice. See, I like cold and cool weather. So 60 is cool and lovely. I guess that at my age, I’m over a white Christmas. If it happens, cool, if not, I’m very ok with it.

We’ve had just one snow, less than an inch. I find I like snow also. Not a “Oh boy, it’s snowing”, but more like a “oh, it snowed”. I’m learning to adjust to life. So let’s throw a bit of Bob Dylan in here, which is to no one who knows me surprise.

This song I discovered is called “It’s Not Dark Yet” off his “Time Out Of Mind” CD (in case you want to buy it……). Fascinating song as I am approaching the winter of my life. I’ve learned to accept things that are. There are a few things this song says, and I’ll quote it without permission and hopefully not infringe on copyright laws.

I have come to the conclusion that western Pennsylvania, maybe where I’m at in Sharon or somewhere near by, is where I’m supposed to be. This is where God has me. This is where God wants me. I had wanted to move to California with the kids, but they moved home. I had wanted to travel, but that desire has left me, also. If I travel, I want to do it as a family. I’ve also discovered that I love it here. Maybe that’s the Lord helping me, but I do. My desire is to live where my kids and grandkids will live. I have a friend Bill Jones who picked up and moved with his wife to eastern Pennsylvania because it was between where his two kids lived. I get that.

I never understood why Paul McCartney always dreaded his “Beatles” years after they broke up. He rarely sang Beatles songs, mainly doing his solo work. I’ve noticed as Paul’s aged that he has embraced that the Beatles was a part of who he was, but not who he was. Now he does a nice mix of both in concert, so I’m told.

I’ve found that out about me. I hated the high school years. I think that’s why I drank so much in high school. Started drinking at 13, just hated Sharon. Moved to Florida twice, and came back to the area and when I got married we bought a house in West Middlesex. Not Sharon. As I’ve aged, I’ve noticed that I’m embracing my high school years as a part of who I was, but not who I was, just like McCartney. It was a part of who I am, but does not define me as who I am.

I was popular in school, but it didn’t satisfy me. I look back on the drama of high school and some of the crazy things I did and I should be dead. But God spared me and here I am. Friends who betrayed me, friends I betrayed, relationships that ruined me and relationships I ruined, poor decisions that I made. This brings me back to Dylan.

Always was a Dylan fan. He spoke for my generation, but it wasn’t until lately I’ve encountered some of the songs he did, especially off the Bootleg Series 1-12, that really speak to great depth in my life. Songs that I go, “Yeah, that’s true” or “yeah, I believe(d) that”. As I’ve turned 60, it’s becoming clearer to me that I have become older and wiser. Things don’t bother me like they used to, (well, except the Browns, but I’ve been working on that for years), and I really don’t care what people think. I believe if I had that attitude in high school I would have enjoyed it more. But back to Dylan.

The whole song “It’s Not Dark Yet” is so good and speaks so much to who I am. The one verse goes:                “I was born here and I’ll die here, against my will. I know it looks like I’m moving, but I’m standing still. Every nerve in my body is so naked and numb. I can’t even remember what it was I came here to get away from. I don’t even hear the murmur of a prayer. It’s not dark yet. But it’s getting there.”

I guess as I’m in the autumn of life, late October I’d say, that’s where I’m at. I’m in Sharon, at first against my will but now my will is lining up with God’s. I’ll probably die here. I’m ok with all of that. Heck, I got cemetery plots here.

This is where I’m to be. I like it here. Everything I need and want is here. My wife, my kids and their spouses and their kids, all here. I’m a blessed man. I don’t need a vacation. My life is a vacation. It was 12 degrees this morning and I walked in the Park. Crazy? Nah, enjoying home.

My home isn’t gorgeous or in the greatest neighborhood. I’m not a “fixer upper” kind of fella, so things need done. I get to things eventually, although I’d rather pay someone to fix things because, hey, that’s why we work, don’t we? Ain’t got a whole lot of money (“but I’m so in love with you honey”)But I love where I live. I do. I’m home. People say you can’t go home. You can, but it’s not the same. It’s different only if you’ve changed.

I absolutely have only one regret. I wish I’d married Bonnie earlier in life instead of 30 so I’d be around for the grandkids longer, but who knows? God’s timing is perfect.

Winter is here. It doesn’t last long. I’ve embraced it. Life is very good, and I’m realistic about life and the outcome. It’s Not Dark Yet. But it’s getting there.