Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The first failure I remember, or swimming with the sharks.

     I know some people that can remember back to their toddler years, but I'm not one of those people.  My first memories are glimpses of my kindergarten class, the teacher's husband showing up with golf clubs one day wanting to take her out, acting in a school play (I'm pretty sure I was a green light cuz I was too short to be the red or yellow one), and my friend Rob that I played with at Sonnenberg Park that summer, but who went off to a public school, while I went to St. Mary's. Those are my earliest memories, but today's blog is about the first time I remember failing at something, and disappointing my mother, and it happened just a few years later...

     It was summer again and they were offering swimming lessons at the junior high school right up the street from where we lived in Canandaigua.  It cost $.50 to register, and if you completed the lessons, they gave you back your registration money.  My mom wanted to make sure we all were good swimmers (Dad and her were Navy folk), so she sent about 4 of us up to register.  Before she did, she went into her bedroom and came out with an envelope, and placed
a Kennedy half dollar into each of our palms. You could tell that they were important to her, I'm not sure what she was saving them for, but the expectation was clear, that this was a loan, she expected to see those coins again.  I was the youngest of the group, maybe 7-8 at the time and I think it was Brother Redface, Aquaman (yes, I get the irony), and Ace that walked up the street with me.  We handed over the coins, and then they started to sort us into our swimming abilities.  My swimming time heretofore was moving around in a tub of water that my brothers had all previously bathed in, so it was kind of like floating in the Dead Sea, it was almost impossible not to.  I'd been to the beach and touched my toes to the water, but I don't think my head had ever gotten wet at this point (My siblings would argue this to be true, even at bath time).  Amazingly we all were put into the same group, along with a few others.   What a momentous day, I was going to learn to be a swimmer !

They said jump, and I just couldn't.
     The instructor lined us up, and marched us to the deep end of the pool.  I watched the depth markers pass by my little feet, and I was roughly aware of my height, thanks to all the amusement park ride signs that said I had to be "this tall" in order to ride (I wasn't "this tall" yet, hence being typecast as a green light, but I was just a eensie-weensie below "this tall").  We quickly passed the "this tall" mark, and went even further.  I was a little confused, but at this point in my life I didn't question authority, so along I went.  We went all the way to the deep end of the pool and he lined us up there, shoulder to shoulder toes facing the water.  The instructor then directed us to jump in.  WHAT?  I was sure I had misheard him, or he thought he had the advanced swimmers in his group.  Apparently that
wasn't the case as he kept repeating the instruction to each of the kids including my brothers.  They all dutifully jumped into water over their heads and the pattern was repeated right until he came to me, and I refused to comply.  I probably wouldn't have drowned, but in my head, I kept thinking, "They haven't taught me anything yet, how do they expect me not to drown?" After a short debate, they separated me from my brothers and brought me to the shallow end of the pool for my instruction.  Six weeks later, after the end of my instruction, most of which I do not remember except for using a flutter-board, I had not advanced my skill and when they lined us up to receive our coins back, my hand remained empty as I still couldn't jump into the deep end of the pool.  My siblings all had advanced their abilities and were given cool monikers that showed how they had done, like dolphin, otter, or shark.  I'm pretty sure I went home as a tadpole or a turtle.  I dragged behind the others on the downhill walk home, and I'll never forget the look of disappointment on my mother's face, when I was the only one who didn't hand back her investment.  It was a look that I tried to avoid seeing in the future.

The kid on the left has my technique down pat
     I eventually learned to swim, however, it was no less embarrassing when I did.  I was in the 8th grade at St. Mary's and we used the local YMCA pool for lessons.  This time my instructors were two of my classmates who swam competitively, and they took turns monitoring my progress (yes, with a flutter-board). This time I got the basic mechanics of it all and could dive in the deep end and navigate across the pool.  No one offered to try and get my coin back when I finished, although it seemed like it would have been fair to me.  It was one of those life lessons that stuck with me, "It's not always about getting it right, sometimes it's about getting it right, when it is expected of you.  There are no prizes, when you miss it the first time."  I don't even think I told my mother of my eventual success, as it would have only reminded her of my first failure.  As an adult, I'm now sure that my mother would never have thought like that, but you would have been hard pressed to get me to believe that, back then.  I remained a struggling swimmer for all of my life, with heavy handed strokes, and more gasping for breaths than anything that looks remotely like I was in control of the process.  When I started going to Scout camp with my sons, I realized that in order to stay with them in the aquatic activities, I would have to pass the BSA swim test which required 2 types of strokes and the ability to float (this was exactly one more stroke than I knew, and required exactly one ability that I didn't have, I blame the dirty bathwater).  With practice, by the time my sons passed it, I did too, but barely, and it was the floating requirement that almost sunk me, no pun intended. 

     Coming up this winter, I'll be working with the younger patrol at Scouts to help them with a few swimming requirements.  I've got to book some time at the high school pool to do it. All my older Scouts in the troop have passed the swim test, except for one.  The kid struggles with a fear of the water, and then with the lack of swimming ability to actually pass the test.  He's just an eensie-weensie short of "this tall".  It took me a whole session with him last year, just to get him to jump into the deep end, but I did get him to do it, and that was more than the school was able to do during his lessons there.  I'm sure he'll eventually be a swimmer, when something motivates him more than the fear he has of the water, and he sets his mind to the spot he needs to, to do it.  It's all about motivation.  You see, I fail less as an adult now, than I ever did as a kid, because the stakes are higher.  I've got a family to support, bills to pay, kids that look up to me as an example, friends that wish me well and competitors that don't, and these are all powerful motivators.  I'll help this Scout find his motivation, and when he completes the BSA test, maybe I'll have a shiny Kennedy half dollar there as his reward.  It's the least a fellow green light can do. 
We'll never know the lives we saved with these lines. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The clothing lady with the one shoe story.

     As many of you know, I get to volunteer some time with my local Boy Scout Troop in Hall.  I say "get to" because this relationship always gives more back to me than I put into it.  This is a perfect example of that, as this story came to me a few weeks before Christmas, one year, and I would have never heard it, if not for helping the Scouts with an annual event.

     The tradition started well before my involvement with the Troop, but I will say I've been proud to help keep it going for the last 8 years or so.  A few weeks before Christmas each year, the Scouts of Troop 68 in Hall NY, distribute fruit baskets to the aged, unemployed, needy, infirm, and to the new residents of our little hamlet.  They spend the monetary equivalent of 1-2 fundraisers on this project (Ever wonder what we did with the money raised selling overpriced popcorn or spaghetti dinner tickets?) and they go out and purchase 15 cases
of fruit from a local produce wholesaler, and spend a Saturday morning, sorting, packing and distributing boxes of fruit around to the people on our "list".  We poll our neighbors and the local postmaster as to who might be in need that particular year, so the "list" is ever changing.  A small sign goes up in the local diner, hardware store, and in the Post Office, so we try and insure that we capture all who are in need. Most years we distribute 40 boxes, complete with fruit, candy canes, and a card signed by all the Scouts, wishing them well during the Holidays.   It's the finest thing we do as a Troop, and I've heard from the recipients for so many years, that it speaks volumes about the caliber of the boys in the Troop and how much this gesture means to those recipients.  The thank you cards we get back some years almost make you cry, but one has always stood out amongst the others, and it was the one from a woman known simply as "The Clothing Lady".

     The "Clothing Lady's" card always came with a scripture verse attached, or an additional inspirational card inside of hers.  I suspect that she gives money to religious organizations and receives many of these back and keeps them.  I envision her going through her piles of them to find one that is apropos for the Troop, and
Not the actual Clothing Lady, but close.
each year she does.  I had enjoyed reading them for many years, before I actually got to deliver my first fruit box to her, and it took a few years of doing that before I got to meet her.  She has a modest house, close to the church where we donate the remaining boxes each year, and it has a heated foyer prior to going into the house.  For a few years, we'd go and ring the doorbell, and knock, but no one ever answered, so we'd leave the box in the foyer, and the only evidence of the receipt of it was the thank you card that would come back a week or so later.  She appeared on the distribution list with her name (It's one of those great older people names that no on uses anymore)  but also with a description in parenthesis that read,  (The Clothing Lady).  My curiosity about the meaning of her nickname went unanswered until just 2 years ago, when I finally found her at home when we delivered.  My son Nolan and I had followed the usual procedure and the door went unanswered but while we were turning to leave, we both heard a commercial come onto the TV inside (Ever wonder why commercials are so loud?, Mysterious ways....)  We peered in and could see just the top of the Clothing Lady's head in a armchair facing the TV.  We knocked louder a few times, but it wasn't until we actually opened the inner door, and yelled, that she became aware of our presence.  She likely was home all the other years too, but had never heard us.  She invited us in, and in the 20 minutes we shared together that morning, she told us the story of the one shoe.

     Before I could even ask my burning question about why she was listed as "The Clothing Lady", she started to tell us about her late husband.  "We had a mission" she said, "and it was to collect clothing and ship
Her mission looks like my son's bedroom on laundry day
it overseas to those who needed it".  She went on to tell us that they had both heard the call, and started collecting old clothes and shoes.  When they would get enough to fill a container or two, she would arrange transportation to the recipient country that had the most dire need at that time.  She had a contact that would visit her and help out when the time got close, and he also went overseas frequently to see that the clothes were being distributed properly.  Part of their job was to go through the donations, piece by piece, and to sort out the stuff that was not usable. They chuckled over some of the stuff that people donated, and you never knew what you might come across in a pile of donated items, like the time her husband found a single shoe.
     There, nestled among T-shirts with outdated slogans on them (Where's the Beef, I Survived Skylab, etc) was an almost brand new running shoe.  Her husband spent the rest of the afternoon searching the pile for it's mate, but it just wasn't in there, so at the end of the day, he placed the single shoe atop the refuse pile. The Clothing Lady passed it and then went back
I wonder who is wearing this now?
and urged her husband to include it in the shipment.  His response was something akin to "What the hell would anybody do with one running shoe?", but he was a religious man, so I am paraphrasing.  It went on the pile to go overseas. Years later the work got too physically taxing on the couple so they prepared to send their last container overseas.  When it was finished, the contact came, but this time he brought some pictures with him of the recipients of their charity, all dressed in the clothing they had sent.  They laughed as they flipped through the pictures, recalling a lot of the items that they were seeing, but one stopped them dead in their tracks.  It was a picture of a man, smiling a toothless smile, standing with a cane and on his remaining leg, was the single running shoe that they had sent a few years before.  The contact explained that he had lost his leg to a mine, and had been absolutely thrilled to receive the shoe, and it had fit perfectly.  I suspect, that if the couple had ever had any doubts as to the value of their mission, they were taken away immediately after seeing that photo. 

     Looking for a moral in this one might be easy.  I suspect when my wife reads this one, she'll suggest "Always listen to your wife, cuz they know better".  I could suggest back "You never know when the inept things I do are the Lord's work" and it could go on all day.  Let's leave you with this thought, "What do you have that you no longer value, that could become so invaluable to those in need?"  If one shoe can make that big of an impact, what could your donation do?  I hear that the Scout Troop is planning on doing a clothing drive this year, let me know if you want to participate, single shoes will be accepted.  
Shoe still needed

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Our annual Christmas Shopping Trip

     As any reader of this blog can tell, we have made a lot of traditions in my family.  Even setting aside the more common Holiday ones, we have quite a few, but among these all, my favorite has to be the annual Christmas shopping trip with my brothers and brother-in laws.  It's a 20 plus year tradition, and likely has spawned a few knock-offs in it's day, but there is only one way to really do it, Yarger style.

     I don't remember the first one, but for a few years it was just my brother Ace and I.  The formula was simple then, and hasn't changed much, try to shop as little as possible, and then have a good time at a few bars to relieve the stress of Holiday shopping.   The exact correct ratio of the first to the second is 1:7, and the shopping can't take more than an hour.  We started just going to a few local stores (The Red Wearhouse in Flint was my favorite), and then on to a few watering holes.  Nothing prevented our night out,
Sage advice to a young male
we even slid into a pole one night on the way to shopping, and we turned around, switched vehicles, and headed back out the same road.  Over the next few years, the number of attendees grew and we upgraded our shopping site to Eastview Mall.  We still did it in under an hour, we'd meet in the front, set our watches, and scatter to "shop" for the next 50 minutes or so, making sure that we were back by the appointed time.  I say "shop" but none of us do, we go, buy, and come back.  Even holding up 2 items to compare them will likely get you kicked out of this club, we don't have time for that, you'd better know what you want prior to coming out with us.  I remember the first year that my sister Hummingbird's husband came out with us and was 15 minutes late for the rendezvous.  He came back, smiling, and was greeted by 5 or 6 angry faces, and his only excuse was, "I thought you were kidding about doing the entire mall in an hour".  He was replaced with her second husband, whom I'm happy to say has never taken more than the agreed upon time, we think we will keep him.

     In the early years, we'd bring our food with us to try and save some time.  I'd do up some appetizers and some fried foods, and I had a plug in warmer that I used for my job as a food salesperson which we would bring with us.  The crowd, after the first few years, ran from 5-12 attendees depending on how many
Typical night at Eddie O's Canandaigua
brothers, brother in laws, nephews and friends could join us.  It has always been guys only, although a sister has crashed a portion of it, a time or two.  Early on we hits bars like McGhans, The Black Diamond Hotel, and then headed to Canandaigua.  The likely schedule any given year now is, Shop, Jose and Willy's, Wally's Pub, Rocky's, Cdga Brew Pub, Eddie O's, The Pickering, Farmers Inn, Niagara, and possibly Don's on the way home.  It's not quite the 12 Bars of Christmas, but we get close some years (give us a break, we have to shop you know, and our trip pre-dates any 12 bar outing that I am aware of).  The longest stop now is likely Wally's and we stop there to re-fuel.  Tradition holds that we order 20 chicken wings per person and try and finish them off.  Some years we do better than others (one year the last few wings were inserted in my coat pocket for my wife to find later, it did not give here the Christmas spirit, trust me).  The jukebox at Wally's has always been the best one in town, so that helps to get us psyched  up for the fun that is to follow.  I never claimed we Yargers were good dancers, but that has never stopped a few of us from trying.

     The most common place for us to dance is the Brew Pub, although we have done others depending on the band or DJ.  I like the Brew Pub, because we don't go there on a regular basis, so few people know us.
What it looked like when I danced with Xena
That makes for some interesting nights.  Admittedly I do more dancing than the rest of the group, but you haven't lived until you've seen my BIL's "statue dance" in the middle of a dance floor.  He struts out, crosses his arms, and stands there for the entirety of the dance, with his partner(s), dancing around him.  He's the one that married "She Who Shall Not Be Named" and he is in pretty good shape, so he actually attracts girls this way.  I, on the other hand, don't have a chiseled chest, so I have to rely on witty banter, and plying girls with alcohol, in order to get my dance partners.   Truth be told, I didn't have a chiseled chest when I was younger either, so I'm pretty practiced in the alcohol plying and witty banter method.  I could write a few blogs about all the good times we've had dancing, but here I think I'll highlight just a couple.   We've met a nurse who looked like Monica Lewinsky, who made "house calls" and wanted to share her number and her limo with us, we danced with a Xena Princess Warrior clone, who towered a foot over us all and could lift us off the floor, spent time with two frisky factory girls that my brother Aquaman met, who were fixated on my nephew, and ended one evening talking to a nymphomaniac pretty blonde who felt awfully comfortable confessing her intimate needs and talents.  You really can't make this stuff up.  Each time, however, we left with just our original group, our morals intact, and of course these great stories to bring back. 

     The rest of the night becomes a  pattern after this, drinking, talking, dancing, rinse, repeat.  At some point someone is bound to suggest we do a shot (usually it's me), so we do.  We finish when the bars close, and then head for home with our designated driver safely at the wheel (we'd do breakfast, but do you know how long it takes to digest 20 wings?).  We wake late the next morning, most of us with hangovers, and start thinking about how we are going to improve the gathering next year.  It's amazing how often we do have progressively better times in spite of our advancing ages.  Trust me, it's a much needed stress reducer for us as the year draws to a close.   As this blog draws to a close, I invite you to start your own such tradition.  It's safe, it's fun, there is great camaraderie, and you'll have something to look forward to each year.  I know I do, and you might too, after all, the limo is still waiting. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Oh, deer.

     I was coming back from my gym workout this am, and I was stumped for any inspiration for this week's blog, when suddenly God provided it for me.  It was shortly after sunrise, and while driving back, suddenly I spotted a deer coming across the road on a trajectory with my car.  I was easily able to avoid it, I was alert and going a reasonable speed, but it made me think that my history of accidents involving deer might make a good blog plot, so here it is.

     I'm pretty sure my first deer was on a Halloween weekend, some 25-30 years ago.  I'm not a hunter, but at last count I had racked up 7 of these creatures, and none intentionally.  The first time, I had just purchased a new car, a Toyota Tercel hatchback, and my wife and I were headed to Rochester dressed for the party. I had just finished remarking to my wife that I really hadn't gotten used to where everything was on the car yet, when someone driving in the opposite direction flashed their lights at me.  I looked down to see if my high beams were on, and in those few moments, I heard an awful
What my car looked like after the deer
thud, and felt the impact with something at the front of the car.  I remember the sickening feeling that I had, and my first thought wasn't that I hit a deer, as I was on a stretch of Route 332 where some kids had been hit by a car several years earlier. I pulled over and exited the car, and then confirmed that it was a deer that I hit.  Coincidentally, some cousins of mine, from Newark, were close by and pulled over to help us.  The spotlight that they had on their car was the only thing that allowed us to find the deer.  It had flown over the car and into a ditch and it's legs were crushed.  It had already died, and my car wasn't faring that much better.  The car was only days old to me, but at least it took the worry out of who was going to get the first scratch.  As I had mentioned, we were headed to a party, but I hadn't mentioned that we were dressed as a 50's couple, complete with greased hair, leather jacket, and a poodle skirt (Char, not me.).  After we got home, we scrubbed the idea of driving to Rochester, and went out and visited friends in Cdga, and got to meet my best friend's new girlfriend for the first time (Shout out to Dan and Peggy).  This wouldn't be the last time we interacted with them on evenings that we hit deer.

     My next two deer hits were less eventful and both of these happened in the early morning.  I used to drive a lot of miles doing my job as an independent foodservice salesperson.  I'd do 2-3 times the miles that an average person would drive, with my top year coming in at 40,000 or so miles.  I'd be out at dawn and home at dusk, and my schedule coincided with the deer's, almost perfectly.  So the next two hits happened on my way to work.  I had graduated up to used Toyota Camry's by then, and they fared only slightly better than the
Deer look good here.
Tercel when it came to impacting wildlife.  Not a lot to tell about these hits, car met deer, did damage, deer died, car got fixed.  My next one, however, was a little funnier.  We were going to go to dinner in Honeoye with friends (second shout out to Dan and Peggy) one Friday, and we had a rental car at the time.  Char's Charger was in the shop, being fixed from an accident caused by some amorous activity happening in the other car that hit us, so we had a rental.  We had joked about taking the rental over that way, as the area was rife with deer, and of course, we didn't own it.  Little did we know we were foreshadowing.  It was on the way back that we crested a hill, going pretty slowly, when we saw the 3 deer conversing on the side of the road.  It seriously looked like they were talking with each other, and I swear I almost heard one of them dare another to cross in front of us.  He did, and try as we did to slow down, the road was slick and we skidded into the deer and bumped him over.  It was more like cow tipping this time, and the deer wasn't seriously hurt, and we only cracked the headlight cover on the rental car.  It allowed the light to shine into the trees instead of the road, so we looked like we were coon hunting on the drive home. If you have to hit a deer, that's the way to hit one.  We only had to pay a little to replace the headlamp and the deer had a great story to go back and tell to his friends. 

     The next deer I did not hit, my wife and daughter did.  They were coming back from a cheerleading event at night and crested a hill just a mile away from our home (You know that's where most accidents happen, right?).  That's where the deer was too, just a mile away from our home.  There was no time to react to a deer
Deer don't look good here
standing in the road, so the deer was hit, hit the windshield, and then flew over the car.  I say I wasn't involved, but technically I was, cuz they were driving my Cirrus.  My wife apologized profusely, but there was no need, by this time I had figured out that the deer had it in for me.  I evened up the score (with my wife, not the deer) the next year, and hit one with her van, dropping off my brother from our annual Christmas shopping trip.  We were less than a mile from his house (you know that's where most accidents happen, right?).  Not too much damage with this one, and by this time I could just look at the car and guess how much it was going to cost to fix it.  It's a skill that I wish I hadn't had developed.

     The last deer in this litany of roadside rendezvous, we hit while coming back from some friend's' house on Christmas eve (Last shout out to Dan and Peggy).  We were about a mile from their house (you know that's...)
Deer looks best here
The van was loaded with the kids and after we hit it, I surveyed the damage, and Char kept the kids from trying to inspect the carcass too much (That's how you get Vegetarians).  I'm pretty sure we were able to drive, but that's a bold statement to make as I'm telling you about our 7th deer hit.  We made it home safely and the deer was quickly forgotten as the wrapping paper came off the first present the next morning.  My present that year, was that the deer seemed to call a truce on our cars after that, as it now has been years since they have had an impact on our vehicles. 

     I'm not sure if there is a moral with this blog, so let's check.   Slow down ? Nope I've hit them while barely moving.  Get deer whistles?  Nope, had them on at least twice when I hit em.  Don't take a job that gets you up early and brings you home late?  Like we have a choice.  Don't drive to see friends and family on Holidays? Kind of defeats the purpose of the Holiday, doesn't it? The only one I can really come up with is, if you find yourself driving and you see a deer about to cross in front of a car on the opposite side of you, don't flash your high beams at them.  It's really not as helpful as you'd think.