Less Red More Blue

In the real world, the world that matters… blue ink is for friends that last a lifetime.

Okay, hold it right there… this is NOT a political post! I am not suddenly espousing the increase in the number of Democrats in office and a reduction in the Republican numbers. I did read an article just the other day, though, about the need to really get a better handle on the titles we use for articles and such. That article claimed that some titles beg you NOT to read any further just by the way it is written. The author called it the “Cookie Sale Planned” type of titles versus the “Headless Body Found in Topless Bar” headline. The latter screams at you to read it (assuming a headless body can scream). The former, not so much. So, if my “Less Red More Blue” got your blood pumping then, good; it did that for which it was contrived.

When I actually do get around to explaining what the title means, I do not want you to think that I have gotten really hard pressed to find a topic upon which to spill some ink. The only thing that prevents me from spilling gallons of ink on articles, that may or may not ever be read, is the amount of time I have for writing undistracted. Right now, it is the wee hours of the morning; the house is quiet and I should be asleep; but my back, knees and hips have allied themselves with my brain in a conspiracy to keep me from ever falling asleep or sleeping for more than sixty minutes at one stretch. When the pain levels are high, my brain goes into overdrive. For example,  just now; while penning this article, I came to realize why they call it the “Wee Hours of the Morning”… because that is when people my age have to get up out of bed to… you know… go wee!  But, I digress.

All of my growing up years, each year around Thanksgiving I would see my Mom begin the ritual of preparing to send Christmas Cards. She had a small semi-formally bound ledge that carried the names of all those to whom she would be sending cards All of the names were carefully recorded in blue ink and there was a place for a series of checks, ‘card sent/card received’. It was a tit for tat ledger. A no card received one year could maybe not get a card sent the next; but, I don’t think my mother ever succumbed to the pettiness that would direct such a reprisal. The book was meticulously kept year after year and when the spaces for checking off sent and received was full, an identical ledger was purchased to continue the tradition for another half decade or so.

There was a second part to this strange tally keeping but, before I divulge it; it behooves me to advise the reader that, so enamored was the world of the 1960’s with such a tradition that. when I met and married my wife she was already indoctrinated in this ritual. She, however, grew up hundreds of miles from where I was in the rural Ohio-transplanted Appalachian world.  In point of fact, even as a product of the counter-culture of the 50’s and 60’s that found its niche in the suburban Washington D.C. area, which was then a solaced area for the intelligentsia, their ledger books were identical to ours in the heartland! Sadly, where my wife grew up is no longer the neighborhoods of the Cleavers or Fred McMurray and his three sons. Now it is all just one more blip on the hydra-snakes of the Washington Metro.

At this point, I must take a very quick sidestep, because I just re-read the first sentence of the last paragraph. I didn’t realize the bees had hooves… I’ll have to think about that one for a bit. (A bit?… no, I won’t go there, bees have enough trouble keeping the Queen happy, I won’t degrade them further by continuing to horse around with this idea.)

The small tan book that was such a focal point of the pre and post holiday season could arguably be considered the 1950’s and 1960’s version of FB ‘Likes’ or to use the 21st Century vernacular, also for those who are ‘Unfriended.’

Amazingly, I must report that my wife and I carried this tradition on in our own home until computers made the little book obsolete. Though I dare say it has probably been secretly kept up just because some things don’t ever end… Like a Lucille Ball/Desi Arnez rerun.

I know it may not seem like it, at this juncture; but, this article does have a point to it that is somewhat serious. The second part of the tradition that my mother and my wife have kept, as well as my wife’s mother and countless others; was to put a red line through those who had deceased. Now, I must go back and correct a misconception I may have given you. Only the name of the person was ever in blue ink; because people were moving regularly in past decades and by writing the address in pencil you could maintain a neat and orderly appearing ledger. For those reading this who were born after 9-11, a pencil is a slender wooden device that has at its core an even more slender piece of lead which is visible through one end of the instrument where the wood has been whittled or shaved down to a point; often homes and certainly classrooms would have a hand cranked device for shaving these pencils down to a point so they were useful for writing. Later, electrical sharpeners became popular which ate pencils at an alarming rate. The opposite end of the device had a small piece of a rubbery, gummy type substance that when rubbed with sufficient pressure against the word or letters written in pencil it would make them invisible. Think of it as a manual ‘delete’ button. However, caution was necessary, for too rapid a rubbing or too strong the pressure used to delete the writing would actually tear a hole in the paper. More than one of my math worksheets looked like Swiss cheese more than like a homework paper. In their earlier form these devices were almost always yellow and had a No. 2 emblazoned on the side. When the world had circumnavigated the sun enough times that school children were now taking tests by shading in small little circles; it was so highly sophisticated that the directions were very specific, “Only a No. 2 Pencil Could be Used.” But, now, allow us to return to our part blue ink, part lead pencil and occasionally a part red ink ledger.

I began to notice that my parents’ ledger was gaining much more red and rather rapidly it seemed. That was not truly the troubling part, because, certainly they were aging and it was expected that many of their compatriots were also aging and eventually dying. What I found troubling was that there was almost no blue entries being added any more. In fact, it seemed that a plateau had somehow been reached and there was no longer any interest, by my parents, for seeking out new blues. It was as if they had filled their blue quota and so, they stopped. Maybe, once in a great while someone would join their church or a new neighbor that actually would reach out and talk to them over the garden wall; even though we did not have a garden nor a wall would be added to the book. Still, there was a barrier there and new neighbors dare not cross. Why was there an aversion to new blues? Certainly, old friends are to be cherished but aren’t new friends an opportunity for growth and life? I’m not advocating for a city block hug-fest or becoming close enough to share one another’s socks; but maybe to get to know someone well enough to send them a Christmas card once a year. (I found that sending Christmas cards twice a year was off-putting to some folks, so I’m looking for a summer holiday that involves snowmen, candy canes and a Jolly Old Elf. I haven’t found one just yet and I have a LOT of cards already made up ready to send!

I don’t know what, in the cyber-world will replace the little tan ledger book with the blue and red ink (and the penciled in addresses); likely it will be some form that auto-fills in all the spaces and immediately corrects to a new address because there is a hyper link to the U.S. Postal Service to update the addresses whenever you click on the name. It may have an automated e-send for a holiday greeting of your choice so you don’t even have to sign the card, lick all those envelopes and put on those stamps with the snowmen and candy canes and elves. It will probably also include an instant family photo update from the year previous! Perhaps, too , with a link to the U.S. Census database, it can auto-redline for you all those that you didn’t even realize had died that year because you never saw them in a text message or an FB post. But, one thing it cannot do, no matter what… regardless of the number of LIKES you get on FB, is add in the real blue inked names. In the FB world, I suppose even the names would be in pencil because they can be written off with the click of a mouse. But in the real world, the world that matters…. blue ink is for friends that last a lifetime.

Of Trains, Radios, Fishing Lures and Time…

Dad's pocket watch    As of this moment, my third daughter is in with her OB checking on her health and the health of a granddaughter I have not met yet. Her husband, my son-in-law went to jail today. I’m glad he did. It was his first day in his career as a Deputy Sheriff/Corrections Officer! Earlier today, I had a conversation with a fellow who, following in his grandfathers, fathers and uncle’s footsteps, he collects toy trains. He pays top dollar for toy train sets that used to circle every Christmas tree or glimmer in the hopes of little boys as they decided what Lionel train they wanted for themselves. Yet, he worries because as collectable as the old trains are, there is a growing fear among collectors that if the interest does not re-emerge for the small gauge track with the real looking train cars, they will be stuck with thousands of miles of track that lead nowhere.

Then there was a conversation I had over the weekend with a man who buys up old “Ham” radio equipment, not so much for re-furbishing because with the new digital markets the newer radios are smaller, lighter, cheaper, better sound, overall quality and focus on replacement not repair. So why buy up the old stuff? A sense of nostalgia for when times were, in B.C. terminology (before computers) slower, calmer, and even quieter brings those who remember those times looking for a connection to the past. There were times when people on “Ham” radio would Ragchew – in fact, yours truly has a certificate to show that I am a bona-fide ‘Ragchewer’. To prevent questions of my oral hygiene, I’ll explain that to ragchew means to spend time on the radio talking for fairly lengthy periods to someone they do not know, who they will probably never meet and may never talk to again. So taken were they with their long conversations about practically anything and most often nothing at all, that they would exchange post cards, called QSL cards – QSL being the abbreviated Morse Code for ‘confirm contact.’ They usually include the date and time of the conversation, which is recorded for posterity!    The card to the right is an example, showing the author hard at work. QSL

What has become of those who build a small city with mountains and tunnels, with curves and bends that bring the roaring train across the plywood over top of the billiard table which was used for at least two weeks after the Christmas it was dragged into the house, but now proudly holds the Lionel set including the water tower and depot? Where are the all-night ragchewers that are also running phone-patch traffic for maritime mobiles (ships at sea) or missionaries in the heart of the Amazon, even for scientific expeditions at South America?

The phone patch traffic has gone the way of the local telephone operator with the advent of cellular phones, sat-phones, internet and SKYPE. Most “Hams” these days are techies that work only 2 meters or 440 MHz on repeater systems. Thankfully many are volunteering on Tornado Spotter teams and rescue and emergency communications back-up. Now the all-nighter is spent on FACEBOOK or IM-ing someone with texts about the steak they had for dinner. Sure, I know that ragchewing conversations were never going to be the upcoming agenda for MENSA discussions but, come-on… rather than go to some recent FACEBOOK or texting sites; I can get a more intelligent conversation on a Saturday night at Wal-Mart with the unarmed manikin that doubles as a security camera!

The leisure time activities of old have been replaced by twenty-four hour news, text alerts for whatever style of news you desire, computer games that will allow you to land on Mars in virtual reality or draw down on Zombies that are dragging their way across your 87 inch plasma screen with surround-sound so realistic the neighbors have called the cops twice thinking there was a real gun battle at your house and your closest neighbor is two farms down the road about three-quarters of a mile! This is quite different than the good ol’ days of uncle and nephew leaning into the crackling noise of the speaker to try to make out the call sign of that maritime mobile that was looking for a phone patch into Ohio. Gone are the days when, just before the ‘test pattern’ came on to the black and white TV screen there was the footage of a fluttering American flag and background music playing the Star Spangled Banner as the station signed-off for the night. It was night, time for rest to not be haunted by the cable news network talking heads going over the same discussion they have continued nightly for more than a week!test pattern

Oh, yes; I love to be able to pull out my Droid phone and check email as I wait for the plane to take-off or jump on to FACEBOOK and see my grandchildren’s most recent pictures. And at home… the Night Before Christmas might end up re-written “And mother on FACEBOOK and me with my Kindle, had just checked out a NETFLIX film about reindeer…” As much as the nostalgia side of my brain yearns for the simpler, quieter times; I love the electronic toys, the ease of communicating and the instant everything that the Internet brings. So what is the answer to the conundrum?

It must, and I would underscore must come down to Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.” If ever there was a time in our world’s history that people must be admonished to “Be still” it is now. The whirling sounds of computer fans, the clacking of keyboards, the incessant ringing of the cellular phones all bring a cacophony of noise that can drown out the soft sounds of the Holy Spirit directing your heart. So how do we find that delicate balance between the quiet space with the Spirit and thriving in a breakneck paced world that can be exciting and full of great things?

The answer lies in the remainder of verse ten of Psalm forty-six. God states, “I will be exalted above the nations, I will be exalted above the earth.” If we truly allow ourselves to see God as higher than any President or King; if we truly see Him as above anything in nature, we will find a way to give Him the time  due to Him. I dislike using the following example but let us assume for this one analogy that ,whoever is the President of the United States at the time this happens is THE one President in all history, or yet to come, that you would like to talk to… If the President of the United States calls you and says, “It is very important that we meet every morning for the next two weeks for about thirty minutes each morning…” Chances are you or I would move everything else off our schedules to make certain we were free for that time period. Well, the Sovereign God, Creator and Master of the Universe has told you that He desires to have that thirty minutes with you every morning for the next two weeks (as a start). Will you being willing to at least put down your sports section of the newspaper or turn off Fox and Friends for thirty minutes for the Master Ruler of the Universe?

The best part about ‘giving up’ time like that for God is that YOU are the one that will receive the blessing for it. You will come away refreshed, encouraged, and yes, even the rest of your day will change because you took the opportunity to spend quality time with God.

Someone mentioned to me that, they agree with taking the time with God but, they have their devotional material on their computer. Well, if that is where you want to start reading it, Okay; but after you have read it, switch that screen off and let the Holy Spirit talk to your spirit for the rest of the time. You won’t regret it and, believe it or not, the computer switch will allow you to turn it back on again when you need it.

“Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted above the nations. I will be exalted above earth.” – Not enough ‘time’ to get quiet with God? The One who created Time, will give you all you need. If you cannot find a way to set the time aside yourself, God may do it for you and it may not really be ‘convenient’ if He has to choose what will make you slow down and listen.