LIVING LIFE TO THE FULLEST

I recently heard that expression from a friend of mine. I have never really examined what that means to me or anyone else. I guess, for me, it means a number of years of healthy living and doing some of the things that I would like to do. For the friend of mine, who is in his early 80’s it probably means something entirely different.

You see, my friend has an amazing amount of money. His view of living life to the fullest is to go on many cruises to esoteric places and taking fantastic photographs of volcanos and strange flora and fauna. Somehow that does not match with my view of things.

For those of you who saw the movie, “Bucket List,” another way of saying living life to the fullest, was an example of how one might do that if one had money. The kinds of folks that we are working with in a poor and rural county have fewer and less grandiose notions of what living life to the fullest might mean. For them, it is a steady paycheck, an automobile, food on the table, hope that their children will do better than they, and things on the bottom of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Maybe that’s a class distinction that for which I was not aware. Perspective is the keyword here. Each us has a set of priorities and dreams. Right now, for me, it is a great deal when I work with the kids at the high school in the rural county in SC. I look forward to each meeting and enjoy wandering through the lunchroom, talking with the teachers and the administrators. I was very happy to get my security clearance so that I could do those things. The next part of my bucket list will be to take a jump shot in the gym, come down on my feet and not break any bones.

I can’t help it if I have paltry desires. I guess growing up kind of poor had more of an effect on me than I believed. I eschew thinking about cruises (although if offered, I would take it), new clothes, new cars and the like. I guess that I am happy with the things that I was always happy with- helping out where I can. To me that is “living life to the fullest.”

 

I AM FINALLY HOME

We finally sold our home in Harrisburg, PA. It was not easy and we took a financial bath (whatever that means). Even at the last moment, the purchasers complained of a sound from our water heater. We settled it with at $151.55 cent sharing of the cost of a home warranty. The finality of it all was like letting air out of a balloon very slowly. There were days when I wondered if I could survive the constant pressure.

I guess it was not just the monetary problems, but a sense that nothing would ever be final. The answer now is that it is final. I believe that I am just now getting over the sense that this new place is just temporary. It is not temporary. It is final, and this will be our home for the foreseeable future.

We are now helping some new people accommodate themselves to the new place. They are next door neighbors whose last name is very similar to ours. I can see us becoming friendly.

It may now be possible for me to reach out and make some new friends. I have not joined anything at all. I was thinking of establishing a club for those who don’t want to join any club. There will be no meetings, emails, or dues. I have a feeling that the membership will grow like crazy.

Our endeavors in the local rural high school seem to be working well. We will be taking about 20 young people on a trip to a local college. It is gratifying that we are getting support from many of the staff at the school and school district. Carol is writing positive articles that are appearing in the local papers. That was a difficult thing, but you know Carol. She will dog you until she gets things accomplished.

 

JEREMIAH NEBBISH RETURNS

Over the years, Hillman has allowed me to scribble a couple of lines in his blog. He and me go back at least thirty four years. We met at a diner in New Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. I think it was called the Dinner Bell. I used to eat there a lot and he was in there with some educator friends of his. I could never imagine that this suit wearing guy would befriend an old redneck like me, but he did.

Over the years, he and me have both gone through some tough times. We haven’t been able to help one another, but we at least were able to share our misery.

I can recall when he was being blasted in the local mackerel wrapper for making such a large salary. I think it was about $45,000 a year. Most people at that time were making about $18,000 and were pretty head up about this carpetbagger coming in and stealing our money. Well, it turned out that he was stealing other people’s money from other parts of the state and bringing it to us. By the time he finished, he had hired a bunch of other educators who took care of our handicapped kids. That fact really never made the papers.

When my wife of fifty years, Martha died, he was there to whisper a kind work in my ear. I will always thank him for that. I was also aware of his own personal problems. We would talk about once a month and kind of lay it out for each other. We did not agree much on politics. He was one of these old timey moderate Republicans like William Scranton and Nelson Rockefeller and John Heinz. I was a pure Reagan Republican through and through. We had some heated words about government and its place in our lives.

Hillman and I kind of parted company in 1992 when he moved to Harrisburg to sue the state on behalf of rural schools. I thought it was a dumb thing to do and I told him so. The suit didn’t work out too good. It failed the court’s smell test. However, rural schools did start to get more money somehow.

We caught up with each other a few years ago. We were both in the process of deciding what we wanted to do for the rest of our lives. Hillman and his wife decided to move south to a place in South Carolina. I decided to move to someplace warm. My kids really did not want me to leave Clarion County After all, they said, your grandchildren need you. I told them that they had enough of their grandpa and that they could all make it on their own. They were also teed off at me because I had a new girlfriend who wanted to live with me in a warmer climate.

Would you believe that I am now living just a few doors down from Hillman and his wife. We don’t see each other that much. It was really a big time coincidence. I think it was meant to be. My girlfriend Linda is really involved in some of the activities here and once in a while she meets Hillman’s wife Carol at the quilting club. I am not yet involved in anything. I have gone to see the candidates who have come down here. I have not been impressed by any of them. I have not seen Kasich yet, so I guess I should not really include him.

I would not vote for Clinton or Sanders if my life depended on it. If you think the national debt is big now, if Sanders gets in, it will triple in a month. This guy has no idea of what he is proposing. He seems to have gotten the attention of the young folks. He is not my kind of presidential candidate. He is promising too much. As for Clinton, her husband did a fair job and lowered our deficit. He was not a big time spender. However, this Clinton has to bow to her far left people and promise things. I really don’t understand this Planned Parenthood thing, or the gun thing but Republicans seem to dislike her because of some of that.

She does have foreign policy experience. I will give her that. I saw her 11 hours of testimony (I really don’t have much to do) and was not impressed by the questioners. So, that leaves me up in the air about who to vote for. I would like to hear what Bloomberg has to say, if he gets in. I might even favor Joe Biden coming in. He is a real person with some experience with tragedy. Hope I wasn’t too wordy. See you sometime.

 

IN WHICH I CHALLENGE AGING-UNSUCCESSFULLY

 

I’m not sure what the expression, “aging gracefully” means. I sometimes hear it in connection with some movie star or some world famous person. I have never really understood its meaning. I believe that I now have some idea of its meaning. I believe that aging gracefully is a euphemism for not complaining about growing older and dressing in stylish clothes (a la Cary Grant or the Dos Equis guy).

I have not yet come to that place in my life. I have a feeling that I have been aware of my mortality since I was 10 years old in August of 1949. It was at the moment in Willard Parker Hospital on the east side of Manhattan when I realized that I had polio. I was lying in a bed next to a glass window that separated the beds. I tried like hell to raise myself to stand and could not. The fact that I remember that instant so clearly is proof that immortality melted away. Something could bludgeon me and I would be no more.

My mind rolled back to a scene in a Williams Avenue apartment in February of 1943 when I saw my dad collapse and was taken to a hospital. I never saw him again.

Those are the kind of things that stamp your view of life and death forever. As I read the descriptions of Antonin Scalia passing away yesterday, I was reminded that he was 2 years older than me. True enough that he did not seem to take care of himself, but that is of no consequence. He no longer exists as a person, although his influence lingers on.

Living here in Adult Disneyworld one can look at mortality in a number of ways. As I make my way to the gym, I see displayed before me people in all stages of health. We are all there to extend our lives, or at the least make our lives more comfortable. I place myself in the latter category. I never thought that I would reach the year 2000, much less 2016. I could never even dream of the 2016 world with me in it. That is truly a remarkable thing.

As I contract more tiny little discomforts, I realize that I have been fortunate enough to have a heart procedure and I knee replacement. However, things like taking 20 pills a day (better living through chemistry) make me realize that I am trying to reconstitute myself to a former life. I spend more time in the bathroom these days applying cremes and unguents, toe devices, and shoe inserts than ever before. It is a reminder that without these things, I would not be able to function properly.

A constant reminder to me of my aging is the age cohort in the place where I am living. No matter what gathering, a movie, a play, a meeting, a political gathering, etc., the heads that I see spread before me is grey. Yes, there are bunches of women with hair of differing hues, but most are grey. I am trying mightily to get over these scenes. I have actually moved to a place in my daily life where I am going to high school basketball games and meeting with young men who may need a bit of some help with the next stages of their life. In those situations, I am neither old, nor young. I am the same person who has worked with young people for most of my life. That is my defense against aging and my frailties. The young folks that I work with are still trying to push me to take a jump shot. My answer to them is, “I am so old that when I played basketball, white men COULD jump.”

 

I DON’T LIKE ANY OF THE CANDIDATES

I know that the South Carolina primary is coming up soon. The R’s vote On February 20th and the D’s February 27. Carol and I are registered to different political parties. She is a Democratic Socialist and I am a Compassionate Conservative. We do have our political differences in some minor ways. She is not a real feminist and I am a non-fiscal conservative. I can prove all of the above. She has never considered her gender to be a factor in anything she has ever done. I once gave back taxes to the folks in the school district in which I was superintendent.
Those are kind of gross categorizations. We do agree on most things. In this election cycle, we are not impressed with any of the candidates. The sad thing is that we really have not found anyone in the public eye that we would really support. I am looking for someone like Teddy Roosevelt and she is looking for someone like Franklin D. Roosevelt. The interesting thing about those choices is that they both grew up in the wealthy part of our society and did the most for the large majority of our population. They did it in different ways, but they were outstanding in their accomplishments.
Somehow, the current crop of candidates is either destroyers or pie in the sky dreamers. This collection of humanity does not represent anything that I might ever support. We both are for big ideas. However, like all of the panaceas in education, large scale panaceas most often do not work and often cost a bunch of dough. We try and listen to the words and review accomplishments. The words are sometimes lofty, sometimes mean (politics in South Carolina, some say, is a blood sport) and most times disingenuous. The candidate’s view of the needs of many people goes unspoken. We hear lots about the billionaires who are plunging billions into the various campaigns to get their way. Yet, the candidates continually say that the money will not affect them. You know that’s a load of caca dell toro.
What do regular people really want? How about security, so that they can feel o.k. about going to the movies in a mall. I am not really sure that most people worry about that when they go to the movies, but that’s what they say. Depending on one’s age, they want security (not a word used by young people) or prospects for a good life and a good job or career. They do not need large government, but they cannot tell you what to cut. Most seem to like parts of their benefits from Uncle Sam. I know there are cheats. I have seen them close up. However, those who stand in line behind people who buy chips, soda, dips and other snacks need to learn how to shop. Be sure, with that kind of diet, they will not lead a full life. There are statistics about that.
They also want their actual rights. I am told that your rights end at the tip of my nose. I believe in that. The folks want our candidates for public office to stop telling them what to do and not do. That’s pretty universal. That’s what my impression is. Wages need to rise, otherwise consumers can’t buy stuff. That’s pretty simple capitalism. Take a look at who we owe the national debt to. You will be surprised. Let’s get off our duffs and use our uncommon sense. In the current crop of candidates, common sense is pretty paltry. Let’s have the uncommon sense to work along with others to get things done.

THE JASPER GENTLEMEN

Hard to explain how Carol and I got involved with Jasper County, South Carolina. We had been here about a month. We had spent that month visiting doctors, buying furniture and hanging up pictures. After that was concluded we reverted to type and started to go to local school board meetings. What, you don’t do that very thing? Who knows what evil lurks in the minds of men and women. Someone used to say that on “The Shadow.”
Somehow, we are drawn to long and boring meetings where people talk in code and none of the audience has any idea of what they are saying. They start to vote on things. If it’s a rubber stamp board, they agree with everything that is being presented to them. If they are totally against anything the school superintendent says, then you still don’t know what they are saying, but the tone changes and the volume gets turned up.
So it was at a meeting in Jasper County, a poor rural school district, that we met some of the school administrators. We thought that we might be of some use to the school district. Since our experience in rural areas goes back about 35 years we might have something to offer. We even know what it is like to teach in a rural school and have children graduate from a rural high school with a graduating class of 70.
We offered to work with some students at the high school. L.R., one of the assistant principals at the high school was gracious enough to take me on and show me the ropes. We made a date for me to get acquainted with the building and some of the staff. I asked him if I could meet with ten young men in the senior class. That would give me some idea of what was going on. I might also be able to be of some assistance to them if they were going to try and get a job, go into the military or going on to college. I asked that no matter what kind of youngster he chose; please give me young men who were articulate. I didn’t mind if they were bad guys, jocks, nerds or what, just so that they were articulate. L.R. outdid himself.
He gathered 10 (actually 11) guys who fit that bill to a t. They were basketball players, academics, bad guys and nerds. However, no matter what sort of guy they were, they were articulate. They were not the student council folks, nor members of the debating team (they don’t have such a team). They were people who could communicate. They were not afraid of either expressing their opinion or letting me know what they needed. They were also kind.
I must remember that I am in South Carolina and not Pennsylvania. These young men are aware of what is happening around them. They understand that it is tough to get a job. Their families have problems that stem from a lack of resources. Yet, they are ready to take on the world. They know that education is the pathway to success. I did not have to go there with that thought. They already know that by continuing their education, they will have a chance to succeed.
That is the idea of 8 out of the 11 of them. The other three, or sometimes four, will be looking for a job when they get out of school. They have no illusions that there are substantial jobs in Jasper County. They will have to go to adjacent Beaufort County to get some sort of job. Most of the jobs are menial. They revolve around the tourism industry on Hilton Head Island. Yes, there are higher paid jobs in some of the car dealerships as mechanics. However, those are few and far between. They are also competing with the people who now have those jobs. Most will become workers in the various resorts or senior communities.
There is some hope for the future. A port will be built in Jasper County within the next five years. This will bring some jobs to the area. There will have to be training for the new employees. Who will do that training is another question. The Jasper Gentlemen are aware of these happenings.
Most of them want desperately to go to college. They are somewhat aware of the process. They have even gone online at my suggestion to apply for scholarships. They have filled out their federal forms, and have applied to colleges of their choice. However, they are not in tune with what steps they must take next. They have not visited too many of the colleges that they have chosen. Carol and I must make sure that they get to some of those schools. They are also not aware of a backup college in case they don’t make it into their first choice. That will be something that will come along. We will try and prepare them.
Two of the young men are athletes. One of them may be a D-1 basketball player. He is the consummate player at any position. He has had feelers from Clemson and other schools. The other is a quarterback and seriously would like to play on Sundays in the NFL. He is dickering with some schools as a walk-on. I will try and help him with that.
These are truly wonderful guys. Carol and I are enthused about the community. We have been to about 9 basketball games and will go to others, especially if they get to the state playoffs. We have become familiar with Coach Faber and his 31 years as coach at the high school. He is concerned about his players and is a strict disciplinarian. On Saturday night we watched a basketball game between the Deacons and the Preachers. It was a sight to behold. Some of the players were former college and high school players. However, it gave us a chance to see the community as they are. Once again, I had a feeling that I was back in 1955.

THE JASPER GENTLEMEN

It was an unusual request from my wife Carol. She told me that a group of people from a Sun City Club were going to visit a prison in Allendale County. I was not particularly interested. I had done a number of arbitrations in prisons in Pennsylvania. In, at least two, it was necessary to take a tour to familiarize me with the facts of the case. It was not something that would fill in the gaps in my recreational quiver.
I had no idea about ACI (Allendate Correctional Institution). It was a complete blank made even more negative by the 1.5 hour ride that we took. Two of our friends were with us in our van. We had a bunch of time to speculate going up. We also had a bunch of time to review what we had seen. We all agreed that we had never even heard of such a place.
ACI was one of the worst prisons in the South Carolina system of corrections. There were shootings, stabbings, drugs, thievery, et al. When we pulled up to the facility, we had to go through the usual barriers of metal detectors, pat downs and such; just as you might see at an airport. We were also asked to give the guards our driver’s license in return for a badge. From that moment on, things began to become surreal.
The campus, and I do mean campus is divided into dormitories. The buildings are part of the Character Based Housing units. The brick and mortar places are places where programming begins and ends for the men who are housed there. There are 1250 men in the institution.
Each resident signs a social contract with ACI outlining how they are going to proceed. There are 3 parts to the program. The introductory course is housed in one building and lasts for one year. The curriculum teaches the men how to live in society and character building skills. Sounds like what one would want to do in any prison. However, this place works. There are even volunteers in the place who bring donations and work with the residents.
I’ll bet you are thinking that only the non-capital crimes folks toured us around. You would be wrong. Two of the men who walked around with us were murderers and have been incarcerated for 20 and 30 years. The leader of the program is someone who has been in prison for 30 years and is getting out in 8 months.
The second dormitory houses those who have any form of addictions. The third dorm was for residents who were following the program successfully. The residents of the third dorm have the ability to join many activities. Although each prisoner has a job to do, they are also involved with dog and cat grooming. They work with animals to make them service dogs. They create toys for handicapped children. They operate a Toastmaster’s club. They have a large religious component. They have 17 different religions that they accommodate. They really do need a space for that component. They are taught skills that they can use when they get out- truck driving, agriculture, computers, hydroponics, fish farming, growing ornamental plants that are used in government offices across the state. Those are just a small sample of what the inmates are doing.
There is certainly a dorm for people who are not involved in the program. The word used was uncooperative. Their time at ACI is a more traditional lockup. Not sure I would like to visit that dorm.
A peer to peer review is an integral part of the program. It is a way of keeping to the rules of the institution and the social contract. None of the residents that we talked to claimed that they were in prison wrongly. That is a common thread with those who are incarcerated.
The prisoners toured us, ate with us, and served the food. What does the program cost the taxpayer? NOTHING. It is self-sustaining. Why aren’t other prisons in South Carolina using it? I have no idea. However, I do know that leadership was the prime reason for the improvement. John Pate has been there for 5 years and began introducing reforms in the second month he was there. What about the guards. They are unobtrusive. They are certainly there to see that the rules are followed, but they hang back in their offices and are willing to talk to you about how things work. It was certainly an eye opener.