Feeds:
Posts
Comments

IMG_1404It is not my most urgent desire to write about music.  I don’t really know much about it.  I mean I can read music but I can’t really carry much of a tune.  I don’t understand the inner workings of a song, how the technical parts bring the lyrics and the music together.  Like most of us, I just know what I like, what stirs something in me.  My last letter made reference to music and my plans were to move on to another topic.  But from conversations we have had it seems that I have some explaining to do.  An explanation of why I enjoy some of the music that I listen to.  Some of the lyrics contained in these songs are a puzzle to you because you don’t think it is very positive, it does’t fit my glass half full outlook on life.  But really, for me it is quite the contrary.  The music I listen to exposes me to the expressions of other people’s thoughts and ideas.  I enjoy songs with lyrics that allow me to think, they have a message for me, they allow me to look outside of my daily life and to imagine.  For me it does reflect my glass half full perspective on life.  For some listeners it is the melody that hooks them to a particular song.  For me it is the lyrics first and then the melody puts it all together, the finishing touch.

If you google music types, thousands will be identified.  There is a classification that can be used to place every song that has been written into a genre.  So, to explain the genres of music that I most enjoy I will try and make it simple by arbitrarily placing all music in two very general categories.  These two general categories are Bazooka bubble gum and Dentyne chewing gum.  Bazooka bubble gum has a very sweet taste and its intended use as stated in its name, is for blowing gum based bubbles.  I describe the Bazooka bubble gum category of music as having an upbeat sound with sing along choruses and also an innocence in the sound and lyrics.  This music is about feeling good or being happy.  There is nothing wrong with this general category of music.  Songs by the Ronettes, Crystals and the Everly Brothers comes immediately to my mind.  I really enjoy this category of songs.  The Dentyne chewing gum category of music is best described from the gum manufacturers own advertising:  Dentyne provides an aid to oral hygiene.  It prevents tooth decay.  Dentyne keeps teeth white.  Dentyne chewing gum as advertised, in my opinion has a more utilitarian purpose that explains its reason to exist.  I describe the Dentyne chewing gum category of music as being imaginative.  It can be philosophical.  It may be politically or socially orientated.  Experiences are expressed by the song writer and singer.  The Dentyne chewing gum category of music is helpful in understanding and then accepting or rejecting expressed thoughts and ideas of the song.  Empathy?  Perhaps.  These two very general categories that I have shared with you allow me to attempt to explain music that I enjoy.  It also helps me to sort out a very general category of music that I want to listen to at any specific time.  What is my mood?  Something a little light or music with more bite?  I usually prefer the Dentyne chewing gum category of music.  The bite.  You probably enjoy this category of music as well.  Think of the songs that you enjoy listening too.  Do the lyrics more closely align with the Dentyne definition that I have described?   Within the Dentyne category is a genre of music that seems most puzzling at times for my family to understand my connection.  To best describe the genre of music I most enjoy it is much like receiving a piece of Dentyne gum from a stranger, with no wrapper.  I take it.  I put it in my mouth.  I chew it.  I accept Dentyne.  I accept my music.

King Me!

When I am riding my bicycle alone on bicycle paths, I often listen to music on my Ipod.  I usually get to the trail and then decide which artist I am going to listen to first while riding my bike.  My bike rides often last more than one album and my music choice of the second and sometimes third album usually comes easy, kind of a spinoff of my first selection.  My music selections can motivate me to ride my bicycle faster and farther.  My selections can also bring about feelings of calmness, relaxation, thoughts of just letting the world go its way while I go mine.  Then, other times the music I listen to can lead to troublesome thoughts and ideas that result in a less than relaxing or enjoyable ride.

Several months ago prior to a ride, I was going through my music wondering what to listen to while cycling.  After some deliberation, I chose to listen to some Tom Petty music.  One of the songs I listened to during my bike ride that day was “It’s Good To Be King”.  While cycling and listening I got to thinking about a comment that was made to me.  It was information shared with me, that after hearing, I believe I just stuck it in the back of my brain because I didn’t want to deal with the topic.  Now, while listening to this song I was reminded of the information, a declaration that had thrust me in to a place I had not been before, a place where there was only one way out, a place where I had not planned, bargained or made promises to be there.  It was nearly three years ago that my brother unceremoniously said to me shortly after we had attended a family member’s funeral that I am now the oldest living male on our father’s side of the family.  I don’t remember what my response was towards my brother, I do know that I felt confused, actually kind of nauseous.  I felt one step closer to that inevitable “end”.  I thought, “How could this be?”  There had to be a mistake in his calculations.  While driving home I went through the family lineage, something I don’t recall ever having done before.  Okay, how many females in my father’s family are older than me?  I thought I’d try the avoidance tactic for as long as I could.  After some thought I could count three who represent the female Grimm family lineage who are older than me, they are in their 80’s and 90’s, but me, me the oldest living male?  How could this be true?  I started going through the males, humm, but what about?  Humm, my brother was correct, I am in the dubious position of being on top of the living male Grimm family lineage.  When I got home I shared with Linda what I had learned, having confirmed by running the family tree through my mind, my brother’s declaration made only a few hours earlier.  There was not a lot of discussion, I don’t recall losing any sleep over this revelation and I had forgotten about it, I had moved on.  That is until I was reminded of my position when I heard “It’s Good To Be King” by Tom Petty.

I started thinking about what it means to be the oldest living male in the Grimm family lineage.  I quickly came to the conclusion that first and most importantly, it means I am alive.  After this happy conclusion, I started to wonder if there were other obvious benefits and responsibilities?  I spent days reviewing the lives of the men who held this position prior to me and could find nothing to suggest recognition for the position they held.  There was no wisdom that other family members sought from the eldest male.  There was no mountain to climb to obtain knowledge from the eldest of all others.  There was no outward recognition that such a position even existed!  So, I came to the conclusion that I am not a king.  After all, in addition to the findings described above there is no land or country, no subjects, soldiers, servants or scepters, not even a court jester.  It doesn’t pay very well, actually any monetary amount is nonexistent.  There is none of the trappings of a crown, thrown, no cape, not one scrap of velvet.  Yet inside each of the Grimm males there must be thoughts, ideas and emotions that suggest pity and also relief that it is not them that hold the position that has been placed upon me.  After all, I can’t choose to retire and move to Florida, wear white shoes, pants and belt and escape my position.  I can’t even go on vacation, there is no time away from my position at least while I am alive.  I am “it” for as long as I will remember, so I have decided that I am going to hang onto this position for a very long time and I trust that there are no males in the Grimm family lineage that are dying for the opportunity to be on top of this lineage heap.

We have all been at one time the youngest in our families.  Although, in each of our stories we face and endure the circumstances of our own life’s progression. Unlike each of us having a turn at being the youngest not everyone will have a turn at being the oldest in the family lineage.  But, you know the position is really just a number, a place held by circumstance.  We are really all in this life experience together, young and old, male and female and there are no kings or queens.

Identity crisis?

The picture at the top of my blog was taken in Death Valley while we were hiking several years ago.  Just to the left of center, if you look closely you will see a person hiking in the sand dunes.  This person is not me.  I often have to say, “No, not me”.  I don’t have to say no, not me to defend myself, it is because strangers and even a few people who know me think I am somebody else.  My secretary in the office where I once worked would sometimes mistake me for my office partner and good friend George.  Robin Williams, David Letterman, these are the men people most often mistake me for in stores, restaurants, airports and on the street.  I have to explain who I am not.  Not who I am.  I have been mistaken for a former wrestler at the University of Northern Iowa and I have been stopped and asked the question, “You look very familiar, weren’t you a teacher I had in high school?”  One person thought I was my son, and she introduced herself as the professor of my father when I was actually the student of hers in 1993.  Confusing?  How would you like to be me explaining that I was the father, not the son.  I was the student!  I have received phone solicitation calls and I have been asked if I am Russ Grimm, the former NFL football player.  Last month I was at the T J Maxx store in Rochester, Minnesota and I began to feel uncomfortable when I noticed that people were gathering around me.  They would come close and then back away only to come close again.  Before I had a chance to figure out what was going on a middle aged man approached me and said, “Good morning Mr. Williams.”  I always explain who I am not but this time instead, I walked away.  This was a mistake because a number in this group began looking for me.  When no one was watching I hid by sitting on the floor, under a rack of women’s long winter coats until they left.  It’s a bitch being famous when you are not.  Two days later Linda and I were in Des Moines.  While Linda did some shopping I went to an assisted living program to visit an old friend, Larry.  When I arrived I was told that Larry had died a few months earlier.  In our discussion, Joan, who was wearing a name tag that read “ambassador”  asked if I would be willing to share some information about Larry and how I knew him.  She gave me a sheet of paper and I sat in the open community area writing, recounting memories of Larry, a man Linda and I had met professionally in 1972.  Over the years he came to our home for dinners and had played with our sons when they were very young.  As I was writing I could not help but notice residents passing by me, many in wheelchairs or using walkers and others with oxygen tanks moving towards the dining hall for their evening meal.  Larry’s death and now this parade of reality of those who did not die at a younger age, presented for me, a very sobering experience.  As I was completing my writing I noticed a couple in their forties come down the stairs, we made some eye contact and they approached and asked, “We just placed our mother in this program, do you enjoy living here?”  I got up on my own, walked to the office with no assistance and gave the sheet of paper to Joan, I didn’t say a word and I left.  It’s a bitch being a resident even when you are not.

Identity crisis?  I know who I am.  My wife, sons, daughter in law, even my two year old grand daughter know who I am.  My relatives and friends, we are all on the same page, united in the fact that I am Russ Grimm.  I’m not worried.  Everyone else is going to have to figure it out on their own and until they do I guess I will have to continue denying who I am not.

Footpaths

In late spring, Linda and I returned from a vacation in Scotland and England.  Our vacation was spent in a large part, hiking.  We hiked footpaths, many of which are centuries old, throughout England and Scotland.  These footpaths are fantastic ways to see the countryside, visit with others, and experience little, out of the way places.  These footpaths are unique compared to what is available in Iowa and for that matter probably anywhere else in the United States.  They crisscross all parts of the country and what would puzzle the American way of thinking and for the hiker, is that most of the footpaths are on private property.  We hiked farmland, walked next to farm buildings, homes and among herds of sheep and cows.  We hiked through private timber, pastures and cropped fields.  We crossed streams on narrow bridges and in some cases walked on stones placed in the shallow water centuries ago.

In pastures with herds of sheep, Linda and I could walk next to stones placed in circles older than Stonehenge.  There are fences to separate the cows and sheep with clever gates for hikers and travelers to move from field to field while leaving the animals in their friendly confines.  Many of these footpaths were once the roads that went from village to village.  One of the footpaths we hiked was called the Coffin Trail that linked the villages of Ambleside and Grasmere in the Lake District of England.  It has this name because St. Oswald’s Church was located in Grasmere and until 1821 the village of Ambleside did not have a church.  Prior to 1821, when a friend or relative died in or near Ambleside they would be carried in their coffin to Grasmere where the church was located.  Along this trail there remains large flat stones that were once used to sit the coffin so that those carrying the deceased could rest.  While the original purpose of these centuries old footpaths has changed, they continue to be traveled on extensively today by local citizens and visitors.  Sharing, showing respect for each other, an expectation of togetherness was evident in the heritage of these footpaths and when we hiked these trails these feelings and ideas were felt by us.

The footpaths invited us to explore.  For me these footpaths are symbols of the paths we all take alone and with others throughout our life.  Which way to turn?  Move forward or retreat and look for another way?  Is there enjoyment on the paths being taken?  Decisions to be made.  Paths I take on my own and those with Linda and others.  Much like the information gathered in day to day life to help shape and move forward down our footpaths, there are small books to read and maps to follow with explanations on how to navigate the walks.  So, while we hiked we read, discussed our options, at times disagreed and had to compromise and in the end we moved down the path , the direction we would take.

While in England Linda and I visited with our friends Alan and Joan who live in the suburbs of London.  Alan and I have known each other for more than 47 years which is the longest friendship that I have had with anyone in my lifetime.  I met him in September 1964 when he visited my aunt in the United States.  I invited Alan to my school and he was very accommodating and came to my English class.  1964, remember the Beatles?   Well, I had this young Englishman in my classroom and this was my opportunity to score big on the popularity scene.  I thought I had found a less traveled footpath to popularity.  It did not work exceptionally well, however my English teacher told me that Alan’s presence saved my grade.  Popularity can be a fleeting moment in time when one is a teenager but that passing grade is there forever.  Thanks again big guy!  Alan carried on this tradition with visits to both of my son’s school many years later.  I guess in this case for Alan, some footpaths you just have to stay the course.  It was wonderful seeing Alan and Joan, their children and their children.  Wow, these are some awesome footpaths we have traveled over the years.  We had many great conversations, philosophical discussions, cycling stories and many laughs.  Several houses down from where Alan and Joan live, a sign with an arrow reads, “public footpath”.  What more could I have expected?

For as long as I can remember I have been interested in the footpaths that are less traveled.  When I was a child there were adults who mistook my questioning of how things were done.  I was a “why?” child.  Adults at times saw me as troublesome because of choices I would sometimes make that did not fit their norm.  I was told that I was a dreamer and that I should instead, be satisfied.  They must have thought that I was not a happy child, but I was very happy and excited in the belief that there was more than what I had seen, felt, or was told was in front of me.  For as long as I can remember I have looked for the opportunity to do things a little different.  When I have traveled less conventional footpaths I have been surprised at what I have discovered and what I have learned.  If I ever start doubting why I should take a less traveled path I remind myself of how I met Linda.  I was hitchhiking.  Linda picked me up, we fell in love, we got married and we had two sons.  This path has continued with a daughter in law, a grand daughter, more family and our son’s friends.  Where would I be if I had not taken that unconventional footpath?  My life would have certainly been different.  What I do know is that I am very happy.  There are so many more paths for me to discover.  I believe I am going to leave my hiking boots on.  It seems to work for me.

Chocofessions

Growing up there was not an abundance of candy in our home but when Easter came our parents filled our baskets with chocolate, jellybeans and marshmallow treats.  Visits to grandparents and aunts and uncles on Easter weekend brought a bounty of sweets; it was truly a candypalooza.  I have four siblings; two sisters who are younger and are within four years of my age, and a brother and sister who are much younger than I am.  Because of the age difference any memories of Easter and mouth watering candy can only be referenced to my oldest sisters and myself.  The three of us gathered our candy and with baskets filled, I for one began the ritual of eating a piece, then another and another.  I hardly had time to swallow and with induced chipmunk cheeks now filled with marshmallow and jelly beans I was out of control.  On a sugar high I hovered over my sisters who were calculating, processing and devising a plan to make their candy last and last and last.  I kept eating.  They would line each piece of candy in rows in their baskets.  I kept chewing.  They would hold, study and admire like pieces of art, boxes with hollowed out chocolate bunnies.  I kept dreaming.  My sisters thought these bunnies were too cute to eat so they would keep them in their room until the hot summer months would force our mother to toss them out.  Having watched my sisters behaviors, to what must have been for them an overwhelming candy experience, I decided I would help them out by helping myself.  With my candy gone and with desires for more, I began eating jelly beans and bits of chocolate from their baskets.  Because the candy was in rows this at first presented a challenge but then I used a similar technique, an illusion that I used when Mother made Indiana fudge.  The pan of fudge would be partially eaten and instead of cutting out a piece I would cut a sliver straight across the entire pan and no one would know the difference.  I loved mother’s chocolate chip cookies and one was never enough so I would remove all the cookies from the jar and then strategically place them back in the container in a loose manner by tipping and gently placing them so that there was a visual depth of those remaining.  Applying these techniques to the rows and rows of candy that were in front of me, I would eat and then place each piece that remained further apart.  The next challenge for me was, how could I eat the hollowed out chocolate bunnies?  Unlike today, boxes were not sealed so the bunny could easily be removed and then placed back in their decorative container.  Each chocolate bunny sat in a plastic mold that revealed only the front one half of the candy piece so I devised a plan; eat the back of each hollowed out bunny and then simply place them back in the package where they would remain until our mother would throw them out during the summer months.  Although hollow, the chocolate was still thick so by using a knife I could slice off the back without cracking or breaking the front part of the bunny.  It worked and no one was the wiser until I confessed many years later to them of my sweet misdeeds.

Recently I have learned that one of my sisters likes bunnies made of concrete, metal and porcelain.  Did my behavior as a child affect her adult desires for bunnies?  No one can slice and eat a bunny made of these materials.  I wonder why she chooses to have bunnies in the garden when toads, frogs and dragonflies are available?  I have observed in my other sister no disturbing signs that I can attribute to my wily childhood ways but I am waiting for the other shoe to drop.  When will bunnies appear in her garden, doorstep or on a shelf.  Horrified, I am wondering if my childhood behavior has shaped their thought processes?  Concerned over how my behavior may have altered their behavior, last year at Easter I sent both of them a solid chocolate Easter bunny, attempting to atone for my youthful thievery.

I have got to get a grip, a hold on my chocolate desires for other people’s sweets.  I thought the days of old were well behind me.  I never took my children’s candy.  Then recently my wife Linda, and I were visiting our son Tate and our daughter in law Tammie, and she asked if we would like a fudgesicle.  I eagerly replied yes and then expounded on how much I enjoyed the Schwann’s fudgesicles as they are large and rich in flavor.  I stated with great exuberance that they are like those I remembered as a child.  During this conversation Tammie began to wonder and then asked how I knew so much about these fudgesicles.  I confessed that I knew all about this taste treat because during previous visits, after everyone had gone to bed, I watched television and treated myself to a fudgesicle, sometimes two.  She began to laugh so hard and then all four of us laughed as she explained with great relief that she thought she had been eating all of them.  She thought she was out of control, when all along it was me.  My old behaviors were resurfacing and it was affecting, once again those I love.  I have got to stop this madness, although tempting, I must, I will control myself.  Oh, what’s under these papers that Linda has on our desk?  Mmmm, Dove peanutbutter and chocolate candies in an open sack.  I wonder?

Coolness

Meat and Cheese Patch

Ryan and I were fixing a sandwich when he slapped a meat and cheese sticker on the sleeve of the sweatshirt that I was wearing.  For us it was a spontaneous goofing around response to just being happy that we were all together at Tate and Tammie’s home.  Because of this happy feeling I did not want to remove the sticker so it has remained for the winter and spring months.  I like it, so I have been thinking about the word “cool” since December 24th when I began wearing this meat and cheese sticker. Let me just say that what is cool to one is not always cool to another.

First a little history about the word cool.  When used in its slang form it is an idiom which is a word used in a different form from the dictionary definition.  It was used in literature in the 1840’s to describe unexcited, calm and dispassionate.  In the 1940’s it was revived in the description of Jazz.  It has remained a popular word to describe restrained, relaxed, laid back, detached, cerebral, stylish and excellent.  It was the key word for the “beat generation” in the 1950’s.  Cool, sometimes spelled, “kewl” remains a very popular word choice for a description of about anything you choose. So I was going for the cool look with my sticker.  So far, although comments are being made, I haven’t seen anyone else going with the look, it just isn’t catching on. I guess to be cool one doesn’t really care if anyone else thinks it is cool.  At least that is my cool point of view.  As for responses I have received, there was last Christmas Eve when Linda and I were leaving a department store.  When we got outside a clerk came running out and said that I had stolen the sweatshirt I was wearing.  Since I am cool I was detached, so I was several steps ahead of Linda which resulted in her having to explain my coolness to the clerk.  Does coolness need an interpreter or should it transcend the need to explain?  Peace be with you. Then there was the lady behind me waiting in line to order at Wendy’s.  She remarked that she noticed that I was wearing a new sweatshirt.  I explained that I was wearing a meat and cheese patch just like those worn by smokers to stop the craving for nicotine.  She had a very puzzled look.  I ordered a salad.  Over the last months I have had many people, all women, some I know and some who are strangers, who have tried to tear the sticker off of my sweatshirt.  I know they are trying to help me, embarrassed for me that I still have the store sticker on my clothing.  The word “sweetie” is often used to get my attention just before they attempt to rip it from my sleeve. As for being called “sweetie”, what happened to dude, man, guy, stud?  Save the use of “sweetie” for the home when they are feeding me creamed cereal, creamed corn and jello.  I can’t take being harmless, it just isn’t cool.

Growing up I watched my grandparents pump rain water into pails.  The rain water had run off the roof of our house, into gutters, then to down spouts and into an underground cement holding area called a cistern.  Once the pails were filled they would carry them, one in each hand along a narrow sidewalk, up three steps and then a short distance to the milk house where they poured the water into a wringer washing machine to wash their clothes.  This did not look cool to me.  My mother used an automatic washing machine so why not grandma?  I was confused because I respected their thoughts and ideas but I also felt like they should modernize.  Never the less they carried the rain water until they were in their 80’s, then they gave in to the automatic washer.  What I didn’t realize at that time was how much they respected and cherished that rain water and the importance of good stewardship towards the earth.  Pumping the rain water was an act of saving the water in the well and the electricity to pump it out of the ground.  They didn’t take for granted what all of us for too long of time have expected, demanded and required;  a never ending supply of fresh good water.  Forty years ago I held a sign and walked through campus with other students to celebrate the first Earth Day.  The sign read something like, “Save Our Planet”.  At that time I didn’t connect the dots with what my grandparents had tried to teach me.  They didn’t hold a sign, that would have been too conventional.  They lived it, and tried to stay ahead of progress.  This year during Earth Day there was discussion about using rainwater for gardening and in our daily living.  Last summer at the Kickapoo Country Fair in LaFarge Wisconsin I saw systems for sale to collect rainwater.  Were my grandparents ahead of their time?  Was the act of water conservation that was used by my grandparents cool?

Be cool

Living in the Grays

Do you know what it means when someone says, “the answer is black and white”?  Only one answer or only one way that something can be done.  Really? What is so black and white that there is only one side?  An old saying, “the only sure things are death and taxes”.  If that is true, then everything else must be up for interpretation, custom or habit.  I believe that the human being strives for, or wants to look for the black and white answer.  Seems to me to be a pretty lazy way of looking at life.  I am always suspect of the person, idea or proclamation that suggests that anything is that clear.  I don’t get a lot of comfort out of the thought that anything is that certain.  Life is an adventure and an adventure in living can not be filled with what is believed to have black and white certainty.  I begin each day looking for the grays in my life.  It can be a struggle, and sometimes I think I might just take the day off from doing things a little different, and follow the road most often traveled.  But a well traveled road is like negative thoughts and behavior, it’s easy.  It takes some real effort to follow the road less traveled and to have thoughts and behaviors that are positive.  So I strive to live in the grays and I find these shades to be beautiful.

If I am not willing to lose, to make a mistake, then I can never appreciate the adventure of living.  There is always risks in my adventure but life would be extremely boring and tiring if there were no back roads, alleys or dead ends.  I am reminded of our family vacation in Memphis and seeing the National Civil Rights Museum.  I realize how difficult it is for some to imagine our country before Martin Luther King and others who had a dream, took risks and lived through their adventure.  Seeing that motel was a stark reminder for me of history, and for the future and what living can mean for all of us.

Enjoy your grays that make up your adventure in living.