Zebras or horses?

February 28th, 2009 by John Morris

A lucky few of us will avoid the memory lapses that come after six decades of life. Going into a room and forgetting the purpose loses its charm quickly. We’ll joke about having OldTimers and “senior moments”. These episodes seem to multiply just a little quicker than we can develop tricks to offset them.

While forgetfulness is common enough for aging boomers, the ante goes way up when there’s a parent passing into that good night at a dementia ward. When we surrendered our Mom to this care, I studied Alzheimer’s Disease. I learned there is much more to be learned about it. They’re dealing with symptoms as best they can, and the nursing care approaches heroic. The cure seems ever so close but remains illusive.

One fact is that it passes through family lines which puts the children of patients in a higher percentile.

This point came to me today when my wife asked me if I knew I left the bathroom faucet running. The answer was no I didn’t. In years past, I would have laughed this off to my renown absentmindedness.

Today, I wondered if the mental devils are beginning their assault, or am I hearing zebras where horses are running?

My Dad lives on

February 20th, 2009 by John Morris

In a recent blog, I wrote about my Dad’s home repair skills or lack thereof. Recently, I was reminded that his skill level included the vision part.

I painted the rooms of my home recently. The wife chose a green for one room and a beige for an adjoining one. To make the color transition, I ran a 1″ vertical tape line separating the two colors. When completed, I removed the tape exposing the original wall color: blue.

This forced blending of colors reminded me of when Dad painted the basement walls of our home. His project included a yellow band to about five feet up. The upper section was painted green, and he used a two inch horizontal blue stripe between the colors.

I don’t know if this paint project was guided by lack of forethought or existing paint inventories.  Since Dad would use whatever was lying around, I’m guessing he creatively used the existing paint inventories.

My senses of color and design took a hit each time I entered the basement. But I’d smile and remember this project was an example of my Dad’s way of doing things.

I may have inherited some of this last trait. It’s confirmed each time one of my children looks at one of my creative “improvements” and says, “So Dad.”

Baby brother turns 50

February 18th, 2009 by John Morris

Kevin Morris was born on February 13, 1959 and became the last edition to our already large family. He was child number six.

His arrival was met with joyous relief by me, my siblings and mostly by my Dad. The pregnancy was marked by how badly my Mom took to being pregnant for the sixth time. She was at the age when this was in her past – she thought. She didn’t want to be pregnant; she didn’t want to raise another child; and she didn’t want to be anything but miserable about it. All around her paid.

My Dad was inexhaustibly patient during this time. We older kids learned to keep a zone around Mom and not to engage her. We would challenge her at our peril.

Mom’s attitude was such about her condition that the couple next door didn’t know she was expecting until Dad told them about Kevin. The two women had continual contact until the last few weeks. I guess my Mom was a good actress.

I was thirteen and in eighth grade at a Catholic school. I don’t remember being embarrassed by the addition of a little brother or the realization that my parents still did what was needed to have a little brother for me.

Unlike today’s “churn ’em out” hospital policies, women stayed for about a week before going home. Dad cared for us during Mom’s stay at the hospital. Breakfast was always toast and coffee. Dinners were provided by family, friends and neighbors and Dad always brought home dessert for us. However, Dad’s bagged school lunches became the thing of legend. His heart was in the right place, but he was clueless about what to pack.

Dad would review his plans for Mom’s return with his two eldest children: me and my sister, Ellen. We were expected to help out even more than before. Ellen was assigned the baby related chores: diaper changing, feeding, holding. I was promoted to family boss in Dad’s absence.

Ellen got the worst of the deal, but my chores had problems. I learned if my two cantankerous brothers acted up, I would be held responsible for their actions. Bummer.

This time marked my entrance into adulthood. Acting like a child was now replaced by stopping other children from acting so. I learned what it was like to accept blame for failing to control the actions of those in my charge. This early training served me well in facets of my adult life.

As I write this, I remembered that at the age of thirteen, Jewish boys and girls undergo bar and bat mitzvahs marking the dividing line between childhood and adulthood. I always admired this ceremony since it celebrated a boy’s or girl’s public elevation to adult.

I guess this time for me was marked by the arrival of brother Kevin.

It was well worth it.

My Dad

February 16th, 2009 by John Morris

I’ve been using my “guy skills” a lot lately. Defined as painting, woodworking and electrical, these talents were honed in my time spent as a sign maker. This great learning environment was more about learn or go home.

Most men learn these skills working with their Dads. Not me. My Dad had remarkable repair skills. Unfortunately, it was confined to camera repairs. He couldn’t fix much else.

When my Dad left the Navy in 1945, he had a wife and a newborn son, me to support. He started working at fifteen to help his family survive. He knew how to work, but the situation then was much like today: many workers chasing few jobs. The World War II guys were returning home to reclaim their pre-war jobs, and this kicked a lot of others into the jobless status. Unemployment was high and industries were scaling back because the wartime economy had ended.

He found work at a local camera store and stayed there for 40 years. His job could best be defined as an inside sales. He became a resource for local photographers. While he didn’t become one, he was a go-to guy for their questions.

Until the 1970s, cameras were made to be repaired. Dad fixed broken cameras at home as a part of his job. He had a knack for this work, and if he couldn’t repair it, they were trashed or saved for parts.

The tools for such repairs were delicate and remarkably old. We learned not to touch them usually by doing so and paying for the transgression.

Dad didn’t teach his four sons camera repair. But better still, he didn’t try to teach us what he didn’t know how to do: home repairs. He kept a rag-tag grouping of the common tools and tried to make due with what he had. His best outcomes were short-lived.

I learned a lot from my Dad about many things, but not how to build or repair. When the circle of life put me in the Dad role, I learned I lacked the patience to teach my children. I excused my decision by believing I could always do it better, and the family would benefit more.

I’d like a redo for this misstep.

Old geeks rule!

February 7th, 2009 by John Morris

I can trace my geekiness to my time spent with the Army Security Agency.

The time was 1965.  Because I was not in college but was sound of mind and body, my draft notice was a few weeks away. The Vietnam war needed more and more people like me to play Soldier.

My choices were limited, and none were good. A lifeline came in the form of a letter from the regional Army Security Agency recruiter. He spoke about my good fortune to be invited to join the ASA. He said this agency was “elite” and only a selected few were able to join. He sold the idea this was a superb opportunity for me to make good use of my service time.

I bought this bill of goods and signed up. This was the last time I controlled my life for the next four years. 

In Fort Gordon, Georgia, I learned how to type and run advance radio gear. It was pretty heady stuff.

My first duty station was Vietnam where I camped in the boonies with my truck-sized radio hut. We played at radio messaging. We used all available methods to communicate, and few that were not. There were few of us, and we had to be good at our jobs.

I’ve wonder how many of the radio guys were able to segue their learned skills into the computer world like I did in the 1980s.


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.