My worst New Year’s memory.

December 31st, 2008 by John Morris

If you guessed my worst New Year’s memory was in Vietnam, try again. It was enjoyable. There was a cease fire; we had turkey dinners; and the village people of Ben Luc played Christmas music all day (badly). It was the year before Ho Chi Minh’s and his gang gave us the Tet offensive.

This bad memory was spent in Fort Riley, Kansas. It got a lot better the next day when I met my wife, Lyn, but the day before was a bummer.

There was only a few of us without local girl friends and unable to return home. The lifers were all gone, and we had the run of the company area. The mess hall put out some sandwiches and milk. We decided to substitute beer for the sandwiches and reassemble in the rec hall.

On December 30, 1968, we spent the morning playing foosball and ping pong. We morphed into two separate actions: poker and TV watching. I had lost faith in my poker playing and opted for a coma inducing food and TV binge.

The pre-cable TV at the fort had only four channels. We learned - to our disappointment – they were running soap operas on this last regular broadcasting day of the year. It’s all there was for three hours.

It started out as a lark. Let’s watch these shows for the joy of making fun of them. One ended by showing a perfect TV family gathered around the tree and presents. The lead male character signed off the show by wishing their viewers a Happy New Year. Then he launched into a script about “Will Donna’s baby survive the operation?”; “Will Trevor be heading to prison?” and other such dribble. We actually threw food at the screen. That was fun.

The next soap was going off the air this day. In what was machine gun-like efficiency, they settled all long running questions and traumas. When it was over, all was sweetness and light in their made-up world, but you could see some desperation in the actors’ faces as their gig grounded to an halt.

Men will always make their own fun when left alone. This day we tried and came up short.

This day still ranks as memorable to me if only for the wrong reasons.

An American town icon

December 26th, 2008 by John Morris

Maxwell’s Hardware is a quintessential small town; family owned hardware store. No matter how badly you phrase your questions, the staff will interpret them and show you where the answers are stored. If you need to learn how to do something, they’ll teach you.

Going to Maxwell’s is an almost daily notch for me. Even though the inventory doesn’t change much, going there is my brand of manly fun. I like cruising the aisles for inspiration. I look for alternative ways to use the merchadise and storing bright ideas away for another time. Some folks like going to Starbucks or Cabela’s; give me Maxwell’s.

The owner, Tom Trego, Sr. was the long reigning top gun at Maxwell’s. He was the go-to guy when the questions were really hard or about how things were done decades ago. 

Tom’s legacy – after his family – will be the gift of Maxwell’s for all these years. Our community’s tradesmen and weekend handymen may have not noticed the effort it took to keep Maxwell’s going. But at some level, we’re grateful because Maxwell’s was always there when we needed a handful of hardware.

Tom Trego, Sr. has died, and the banner passed to his proteges. Maxwell’s Hardware stays opened for business, and it’s still the jewel it has been.

The puzzle story

December 25th, 2008 by John Morris

The man entered his home to the familiar sound of young, male voices arguing loudly. It was coming from the kitchen. His son and his friends were leaving for college soon and have been hanging around his house all day talking.

As the man passed by the kitchen, his son said, “Dad, can we ask you a question? We’ve been arguing all day about the important things in life. We have as many answers as we have guys. We’d like your opinion.” It pleased the man that his son would ask for his thoughts. He responded, “I’ll be right back.” He went to the hall closet and found a puzzle box.

He set the box on the kitchen table and said, “Give me an hour to think about your question. While you wait, assemble this puzzle.”

The man went to his study and spent the hour writing in his diary and answering the recent mail.

When he reentered the kitchen area, he found the young men in an agitated state. His son told him they assembled the puzzle except for one piece. They had looked everywhere for it without success.

With some flare, the man held the missing puzzle piece in the air and said, “Can anyone find my answer hidden in this example?”

One young man tried to impress his friend by answering, “It’s the missing pieces that matter. You need them to be complete.” The man said, “You have part of the answer. Who can add to it?”

The son said, “Dad, without all the other pieces there would be no puzzle to show missing pieces.”

The man congratulated the younger men for understanding his little act of theatre.

He explained, “As we go through life, we assemble our personal puzzle. The image represents all the people we have known. Each puzzle piece is a friend, and the missing pieces represent our missing friends.

One of the important things in life is to make your puzzle with as many friends as you can. Their contributions to your life do not go away when a friend does.”

Dedicated to the memory of Jerome Chappel

One of life’s tipping points

December 24th, 2008 by John Morris

My year as a Rotary Club president offered weekly speaking and writing challenges. Being one of the youngest members, I didn’t want the elders to see me sweat at the lectern so I prepared well.

One meeting was an emotional one. A beloved member had died suddenly following an operation. There was no warning, and we had all been advised to how well his recovery was going.

There would be none of the usual light-hearted banter at the meeting. I knew the club would look to me for leadership in dealing with the tragedy.

We plowed through the usual business and listened to our scheduled speaker. As the somber meeting geared down, I stepped to the front and read the humble offering I had written dedicated to our lost friend. When I finished, I heard what was the complete absence of noise. No chairs shuffled; no one spoke or even breathed loudly.

The club members just stood up. Most of them left but several stopped by to congratulate me on this piece. When asked where I found this writing, I answered I wrote it. I admit I enjoyed the surprised look in their faces a little too much. This event started my writing life.

My next blog will be the story I wrote for the occasion.

One memorable Christmas

December 15th, 2008 by John Morris

During the holidays, Dad worked monster hours at his retail job. Mom was a stay-at-home one before the term was coined. She kept the house in fine order. There were six siblings, and we always had want we needed which is a tribute to our parents.

One Christmas eve, we had unexpected guests. One of my brothers or sisters had a friend who had been thrown out of their home after their Dad came home broke and drunk. Her family needed emergency housing, and my family took them in. This influx raised the children count to nine staying in a half-double home. Their Mom was too shaken to deal with the emergency and stayed with a sister.

Of course, there were no planned gifts for the new kids. I don’t know if we discussed it or not, but suddenly there were two marked for each one. Even my much younger brothers and sisters made no complaints as we each gave up two gifts.

We visited my Grandmother later that Christmas night, and she unexpectively had gifts for her  temporary grandchildren. Aunts & Uncles had left small gifts for them too. The new kids felt special and for a moment, forgot their troubles.

Two days later, their Dad and Mom reconciled, and the visitors went home. I remember being worried if their lives will get better. I never heard about them again.

On this Christmas, I experienced the Christmas spirit the most. The kids in my family usually hoarded their possessions and to have them unselfishly watch their gifts go to others still makes me proud they’re my family.

Three word motto follows

December 3rd, 2008 by John Morris

“Don’t act; be.”

I no longer worry about how to act. I accept the fact I have the traits to be what I need to be.

This motto can be applied in almost any circumstance.

Here’s an example: rather than acting mature; be mature. You can replace the word “mature” with any other trait, and it’ll apply.

Get the gist!


The old boy writing this blog wears many hats: Vietnam Veteran, husband & father, salesman and techno-dude. After my service with the Army Security Agency, I operated a sign company for nineteen years, The sign industry changed after CAD/CAM machines made the task easy enough for the non-talented. I sold my company and never looked back.

Life has granted me a life partner better than I deserve. My wife, Lyn is a transplanted Kansas gal. Her bliss is teaching kindergarten and first grade.

I am the most proud of my children. My son, Adam lives an international life teaching English and living in Sozhou, China. He is married to one of life's truly lovely women, Yuri Kim. My daughter, Beth grew up in a small town and found her way in life means working and living in major cities like Chicago and New York. She and her life partner, Julie Sterling married in LaJolla, California in 2010.

I like getting the newest gadgets, but also I like to use things until they are useless, i.e., my last personal car was an 88 Honda Prelude Si.

I wrote a Vietnam Veteran newsletter for nine years. During this journey, I learned I like to write. It is a harmless exercise that rewards honest effort while tolerating failure gracefully. I been away from it for too long. My son gave me the blog, and it was a lifeline back to writing.

My best advice is to show the world what you can do but to accept only your opinion of who and what you are.

Update: In August 2008, my job became one of the half-million jobs that went away that month. I took the following year getting the home ready for my official retirement.

In October 2009, I took a part-time job as a saleman at the vaulted Maxwell's Hardware.

On November 29, 2011, I reached my 66th birthday, and I officially started Social Security. I intend to stay with Maxwell's as long as I can contribute.