WHEN TO WALK AWAY FROM THE TABLE – Garry Armstrong

The lyrics of Kenny Rodgers’ “The Gambler” are applicable in many places today, from sports to politics and beyond.

In the classic western, “Shane”, the hero has sharp words with greedy land baron, Ryker, about violence and the days of the gunfighter being finished. Ryker implies it’s “over” for gunslingers like Shane.  Shane retorts “Yes, it is. The difference is — I know it.

The closing scene of another classic western,  “The Magnificent Seven,” has the same message. After the heroic gunfighters have driven a horde of bandits away from a poor village, they are thanked by an elder who tells them the farmers are the only victors because they survive to continue normal lives. Will the gunmen be able to ride or walk away from the profession that has given them fame and money?

The Magnificent Seven

As the two surviving gunfighters reluctantly leave the calm of the village, Chris (Yul Brynner) wryly observes. “The old man was right. Only the farmers have won. We lost. We’ll always lose.”

It’s the observation that their way of life is essentially over. They need to find a new way to live if it is possible.  The day of the feared, idolized gunfighter is passing into history before their eyes. It’s a bittersweet ending for our heroes.

As I write, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots are giving the Los Angeles Chargers a nasty whipping in a playoff game that many felt would show cracks in the vaunted Patriots’ success, would show signs that Brady, the esteemed “GOAT” (Greatest of all time) would show age catching up with him.  So far, Brady and the Patriots are winning,  running the table with impressive success.

If victory is sustained, will Tom Brady continue to play until he’s in his mid-40s — or retire while he’s still at the top of his game and is recognized as the greatest quarterback in professional football history? It appears to be a no-brainer for Brady while many of his greatest admirers feel Tom Terrific should walk away he’s still physically intact.

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – JANUARY 13: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots throws during the first quarter in the AFC Divisional Playoff Game against the Los Angeles -Chargers at Gillette -Stadium on January 13, 2019, in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

When to walk away is a problem faced by many successful people who never want the music, money, or applause to stop.

In politics, it goes beyond the lives of the public official and his family. It impacts countless families represented by the Pol. Power is the elixir that our elected officials are reluctant to yield.

John McCormack with President Ford

I remember afternoons with the legendary John McCormack,  the one time widely respected Speaker of the House. I lunched with McCormack who usually sat alone at one of Boston’s iconic restaurants. “Old Man Mac” as he was affectionately called by friends, would observe people at other tables. Usually younger politicians, their aides, and lobbyists trying to curry favor.

“Mac” would chuckle to himself, wiggling his fingers at the other tables. He’d speak to me in a somewhat hoarse voice. “Son, those fellas don’t get it. It’s not a game. They don’t know what they’re doing and don’t care. They’re ignorant and blissfully happy in their ignorance.”

I’d listen closely as this venerable man schooled me in living history. He said the younger officials were making deals for reelection while ignoring promises made in their previous campaign. He laughed sadly, “You’ll never get the job done unless you listen to the people. It takes years.”

He paused, shook his head and continued, “Just when you get to know what you’re doing, it’s time to walk away.”   I stared at John McCormack. “You must walk away because you’re too old. Your mind argues with your body. But it’s obvious when you shave with toothpaste.”

I repressed a smile but he was laughing. “It’s not funny, really. You’re young, but it’ll happen to you. Trust me.”

I remember sharing the McCormack stories with Tip O’Neill, another widely respected Speaker of the House who shared lunches and stories with me.

Garry with Tip O’Neill

All Politics Are Local was O’Neill’s mantra. He was a man of his word. He nodded in agreement about John McCormack’s advice about knowing when to walk away. Tip O’Neill was keen about helping young politicians who could “carry the ball” when he walked away. He shared stories about colleagues who snored their way through crucial hearings. I’m sure Tip had advice for then young and rising Congressmen like Ed Markey — who we profiled in a shameless rip off of “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.”

These days, we look at video snippets of veteran pols who walk in lock step with the President.  These are seasoned officials who’ve made countless promises to do the right thing for their constituents. The recent mid-term elections were loud mandates for some of these pols that it’s time to walk away from the table.

Kenny Rogers – The Gambler



It appears some of our leaders prefer to hold their cards. Maybe they should listen to “The Gambler” again.

2020 is coming … and hell’s coming with it.

DON’T YOU HATE WHEN THAT HAPPENS? – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Rebuke

On a day with little to be done, I got up to discover that during the night, some dog (I’m looking at YOU Bonnie!) peed all around the legs of the dining room table. I would put the gate up to keep the dogs out, but I already know that the Duke just knocks the gates down and if that doesn’t work, he jumps them. But these plastic baby gates that have worked for many dogs over many years and are useless now. The Duke has discovered they are lightweight and easily pushed down.

Any of our dogs could have pushed them over but none of them did. Just The Duke. He’s special.

A glass-fronted desk full of memories

He’s a thief but otherwise, a clean boy. Bonnie, on the other hand, doesn’t like going outside unless someone forces the issue … and even Gibbs occasionally feels a masculine need to lift a leg. Despite all that, this is the first time any dog has done anything in the dining room.

Dining table with French doors

This made me very cranky. I was looking forward to several hours of lurking over the computer, sipping coffee, and contemplating the nothingness of modern life, brooding on politics, and generally readying myself for a day of nothing in particular. Instead, I had to clean the dining room which is difficult to clean because it’s crowded with stuff. Mostly, it’s crowded with a huge table and a non-working organ. The table is used to keep my cameras ready for the shooting birds.

As a matter of fact, the reason I was in the dining room at all was that there was a nice, fat Cardinal waiting to drop by for a feed and instead, I was mopping the floor and realizing that there were cobwebs on absolutely EVERYTHING — and several of the oak chairs were splitting along seam lines and needed to be glued and clamped.

When this stuff happens, I always feel like life is simply falling apart around me. It isn’t really. The dining room rarely is used for its original purpose. Maybe twice a year we have a sit-down dinner. The room is largely pretty clean, except for dust. But it had been a while since it was cleaned and the dust had done a good deal of gathering.

Meanwhile, at least two chairs were splitting for no reason except, I assume, the glue gave out. I bought those oak chairs about 32 years ago before we were married. It really doesn’t seem that long ago. I was getting my first place and was working in a furniture store. Instead of a percentage of what I sold, I got furniture. Oak. All oak, mostly made by the Amish and until now, it has lasted. Somehow, I thought it would last forever.

Nothing lasts forever.

Vines in the dining room against the French doors

Meanwhile, the Cardinal finished eating and moved on. Just as well. My arm is telling me to “PUT THE CAMERA DOWN.” How can I be so smart and be such a slow learner?

I was snippy. Garry took this as a rebuke, a kind of blame for the mess.

I wasn’t mad at Garry. I was just mad because I didn’t want to start the day moving all the furniture and clearing the table. My back already hurt and the idea of floor washing before I had my coffee was distinctly unappealing.

Don’t you hate when that happens? Something you really don’t want to deal with comes up and there’s no one to blame, so you snipe at whoever happens to be in the room. It was really the dogs’ fault, but there’s not much use in sniping at them. They really don’t care and probably don’t remember whatever they did that they should not have done.

My memory is like that these days. Fifteen seconds and everything is just gone. Poof. But for the dogs, their whole lives are like that. That’s why they need constant repetition to learn things … although we have had some very smart dogs who learned on one or two lessons. Duke is like that. If he does something he’s not supposed to do, it isn’t because he doesn’t know better. He knows. He just doesn’t care.

Now Garry is doing his ritual morning cleansing in the bathroom. Yesterday’s cleansing resulted in today’s post. He said I should remember that he does much of his thinking in there. I don’t really see why he can’t think somewhere else, thus freeing up the bathroom for me, but it’s his … meditation (?) room.

And now, the sun has come up. It’s a very cold day outside. I know because I could hear the radiators rattling this morning. We keep the house at around 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius) — cool, not warm. If it gets colder, that’s what sweaters and sweatshirts are for. I prefer a cool house to a warm one anyway. I grew up in a chilly house and it feels normal.

But I have to apologize to Garry when he gets out of the bathroom … any time now. Because I was irritable and he hadn’t done anything wrong. I just didn’t want to do all that work before I’d had my first sip of coffee.

Don’t you hate when that — ALL of that — happens?

I thought you would.

ORGANIZING THE PAST – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I just spent three weeks with my 34-year-old daughter, Sarah.

She lives 3000 miles away, in LA, so this was a rare treat. We have so many interests and views in common, we never run out of things to talk about, even when we spend 24 hours a day together for three weeks!

Sarah

Beyond great conversation, visiting with friends and family and watching TV and movies together, Sarah provided an invaluable service. She is a world-class organizer and loves going through the boxes and boxes of photos and memorabilia in the attic.

She organized our family photos going back to my grandparents from the early 1900s. Everything is now in plastic containers, organized by category, dates, properly labeled. We had a serious mouse problem so the plastic boxes with lids are life savers.

Organized boxes in my attic

We found wonderful treasures buried in the attic boxes.

We found the hospital bracelet I wore when I gave birth to my son in 1980. We found a large photo negative of the Surgical Army Hospital my ex-husband ran in Vietnam in 1970-1971.

Letters I wrote to my Mom from my first trip to Europe with friends in 1965 were a hoot to read. We also found a sterling silver cup with my name engraved on it – a gift to my mom in honor of my birth in 1949.

The oldest find was a series of love letters to my grandfather dated 1914. They were from someone who was clearly in love with him and equally clear was the fact that her feelings were not reciprocated.

Letter to my grandfather dated 1914

I was blown away by a particular set of writings from my early life. I had saved my teachers’ comments and evaluations (given in lieu of grades) from third grade through sixth grade. Most interesting was the fact that my basic personality has not changed much since then. I apparently had only a few close friends then, as now. I was considered a leader in small groups but faded into the background in large groups. Like now.

I was curious, inquisitive, creative and intelligent but lacked confidence. I seemed to have constantly sought the approval of adults. I’m better today but still lack confidence and undervalue my talents and accomplishments.

My senior thesis in college

The second category of writings we found, were papers I had written from grade school through college. I was thrilled that Sarah actually read some of these – my early evolution as a writer. She was impressed by my organization, persuasiveness, and writing style. I was impressed too. I was very sophisticated for my age, in writing and thinking.

Our exploration of our family history was gratifying. I’m very happy my daughter will keep our family treasures and pass on our stories. In fact, Sarah encouraged me to write about the many family stories from my grandparents down to my kids. I spent about a year writing and posting autobiographical blogs for Serendipity. I have over 330 pages of these blogs.

Sarah and my dogs

Sarah helped me put them in roughly chronological order, copy them, and put them into large three-ring binders. We added tabs to indicate stories from different people and periods of time.

For example, my life is divided into my early years, living with my first husband before kids, my kids’ childhoods, and life with my second husband.

My Family History with Tabs

I gave a copy of the Family History in Blogs to both my children, so we all have a collection of the most interesting stories about everyone in the family. I feel great that I’ve preserved in writing what the photo albums preserve in pictures. It’s one of my proudest accomplishments.

Binder I had customized for my Family History

And you, Serendipity readers, came along with me for this amazing ride. You gave me the motivation to write all these stories and sharing them with you has been fantastic.

Thank you for reading them and commenting on them. My children thank you too!

SECOND SUNDAY’S BIRDS – Marilyn Armstrong

We filled the feeder yesterday and the birds scattered. I was pretty sure they’d be back today.

One flies off as the other gives it a push

Nuthatch and Warbler

Boyoboy, were they back. It was like a bird festival out there. Every bird in our woods was trying to knock every other bird off the feeder. They do play a feathery version of “king of the feeder.” However, when the woodpecker showed up, they gave a collective sigh and waited until he’d eaten his fill.

Junco with toad

The Woodpecker and the Nuthatch. You can see how much bigger the woodpecker is because the nuthatch isn’t small

I haven’t even processed half the pictures I shot so they will show up later in the week. We still haven’t had any snow, but I think before the month is out, we’re going to get hit by something. So far, all the storms have been south of here and gone out to sea, or in the north while we got rain.

Woodpecker takes the feeder

He likes to circle the feeder to make sure he gets a little of everything

So we shall see. I gave in and I ordered a bigger cover for the car. We need a garage, but lacking one, we need something more than just a windshield cover.

Yellow Warbler

A couple of Mourning Doves

It’ll take two of us to get this one on the car. It looked really easy in the online instructions, but I have a feeling it’s not as easy as it looks in their video. Meanwhile, our birds will be fed. That makes me feel better. I always felt bad for them when the weather got really bad.