Birthday Tribute to “Fred”

If you have read my blogs in the past, you know that it consists of a mixture of pop culture things (like movie, TV and music thoughts) and personal things (radio stories, school memories, and things from my childhood).  As I thought about today’s blog topic, I realized that without this man in my life – this blog would probably not exist!  I guess I didn’t really realize it until now. As I scrolled back over the blogs of the past, I see just how much influence he has had in almost ALL of them!  I am talking, of course, about my dad.  Today – is his 72nd birthday.  So here are some birthday thoughts for dad.

In March I wrote a blog about his musical influence.  My musical taste is very broad, because I was introduced to so many different genres by him.  He introduced me to rock and roll with the music of Little Richard, Bobby Darin, Roy Orbison and Elvis.  He introduced me to the “Great American Songbook” with music from Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Bing Crosby.  He introduced me to Jazz with Louis Prima, and Ella Fitzgerald.  He played me music from Johnny Paycheck, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard to introduce me to country music.  The list goes on and on … but what about other influences?

Movies

I could spend an entire week writing about the various movies he introduced to me!  As far as the classic films, most of those were introduced to me because he saw that they were playing on the Monday Night Movie on regular TV or something.  You have to remember VCR’s and DVD players were not a staple in the home yet.  You also have to remember that I grew up at the time where “pay TV” was just being incarnated.  One of the first pay services was “ON TV”.  It came on channel 20 at like 8 or 9 at night.  They put an antenna on your roof and it unscrambled the signal so you could watch movies.  I remember one time I wanted to record Smokey & the Bandit – but as I said, VCR’s were not for home use yet.  The last showing of it on ON TV was at 1am one Friday night.  My dad actually stayed up with a cassette recorder in front of the TV and recorded the audio for me.  What makes this even better is there were scenes that were so funny to him, you could hear him laughing in the background as the movie played.

With Cable TV came The Movie Channel and HBO.  As more and more channels became available, American Movie Classics, Turner Classic Movies, and others were the way to watch them. So he’d tell me “You gotta watch AMC at 3 today – they’re playing ‘Angels With Dirty Faces’!”  Growing up, I remember hearing my dad talking with my grandparents, my Uncle Tom, or his friends about actors and actresses and the movies they were in.  “Great Movie!” or “What a great flick!” I’d hear him say.  Well, if he thought it was great – I wanted to see it!  Movies I remember watching – only because I had heard him talk about them included The Godfather, White Heat,  Little Caesar, Key Largo, Patton, Midway, The Maltese Falcon, and Night of the Hunter.  Many of these were films that I’d walk in to the living room and dad would be watching and he’d tell me about them and catch me up so I could watch it with him. I was introduced to Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, The Marx Brothers, The Three Stooges, Abbott and Costello, Alfred Hitchcock, Robert Mitchum, Burt Reynolds, and SO many actors just be casually walking into a room where he was watching TV!

The Godfather Part 1 & 2 and Patton are probably some of my favorite films.  I remember watching Godfather the first time trying to keep all the names straight.  Don Barzinni, Don Stracci, Luca Brazi, Sonny, Fredo, and Tom Hagen were all characters that I had to remember (amongst many more).  Dad was there to explain so many things to me as I watched this film the first few times through.  I have found myself doing the same thing when I sit and watch it with someone who has never seen it.  (On a side note, for one class I had to read books and write book reports for it.  I remember dad wrote a book report for me on The Godfather! He got an A!)

TV

Look through my DVD collection and amongst the movies are entire series of classic TV shows.  This, again, is a direct result from my dad’s influence.  I remember watching re-runs of The Honeymooners on channel 50.  I remember when dad told me that Ralph Kramden and Sheriff Buford T. Justice from Smokey and the Bandit were the same person!  I don’t know if I would have known that as a 7 year old!  I remember staying home sick and watching re-runs of the Dick Van Dyke Show on channel 9 out of Canada.  I knew about Carl Reiner because he was one of many cameos in the movie It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (which should have been mentioned in the movie section of this blog).  The other stars of “Mad World” were also known to me because of my dad:  I knew Mickey Rooney from a flick called Quicksand he rented.  I knew Milton Berle from The Dean Martin Roasts and other TV appearances. I knew Jonathan Winters from a classic Twilight Zone episode (Loved watching TZ with him).  Among the other “classic” TV shows he introduced me to:  The Untouchables, F-Troop, The Munsters, Car 54, Where Are You?, McHale’s Navy, Perry Mason, Combat, Star Trek, Hogan’s Heroes, Mission: Impossible, and Get Smart.

With the availability of video rentals, I remember dad bringing home TV shows that were not shown on TV anymore or shown late at night.  You couldn’t really watch The Little Rascals, Laurel and Hardy, or The Three Stooges on TV unless you stayed up late for comedy classics – which usually was on at 11pm or midnight.  With the VCR, though, we could go to the store and rent them!  I had listened to Jack Benny and Amos and Andy on cassette tapes of old radio shows (again, thanks to dad), but now I was able to see these TV shows – and they were amazing! I used to love watching these shows with him.  One thing I always love seeing is my dad laughing and these shows (and a couple I will mention in a minute) always made him laugh – I mean big belly laughs!

I guess you could say that I grew up at a time where some of  the “current” shows are now considered classics.  Those shows, my brother and I watched on a weekly basis and watched in re-runs.  These shows included The Love Boat, Mork & Mindy, Happy Days, Lavern and Shirley, The Dukes of Hazzard, Emergency!, Welcome Back, Kotter, All In the Family, The Jeffersons, The Carol Burnett Show, Barney Miller, Fantasy Island, and Charlie’s Angels.  Some of those dad introduced me to, while others he really couldn’t stand.

Sanford and Soupy

The one show that I will forever associate with my dad is Sanford and Son.  These shows, no matter how many times we see them remain funny.  I can be on the phone with my dad and say, “So last night I watched “the piano movers” and we will both start laughing!  Years later, we can quote this show to each other and still crack each other up.  Why do we and can we bond over this show? Perhaps it’s the fact that the show is about a father and son and their relationship.  I remember how I thought it was odd that Lamont always called Fred, “Pop”.  I never used to call my dad that, although somewhere over the years, dad has become “Pop” to me.  I call him that all the time now.  As a matter of fact, he still often calls me “Lamont”!  It is not used flippantly, I use it as a genuine term of endearment!  He’s my Pop – and I use it with much love and affection!

Another show that dad introduced me to was The New Soupy Sales Show.  He grew up watching Soupy at lunch time.  My grandmother often told stories of how Soupy would say “Tomorrow, we’re having bologna sandwiches for lunch” and if dad didn’t have them, he was pissed!  Soupy’s new show on channel 20 was pretty much just like the old show.  It was full of puns, bad jokes, clips of old movies, funny horoscopes on the radio, the Words of Wisdom, and his friends White Fang, Black Tooth, Pookie and Hippy.  It may have been on right after school and before dad came home from work, because I don’t recall him watching it too much with me, however, when it became available on video – we talked about it just like we talk about Sanford and Son.

Traits of a Good Dad

When I became a father, I remember reading something about what makes a good dad.  Let me say here that none of us is perfect.  My dad was not perfect and neither am I.  My point is that when you look at these things, we can assess things we are doing well, things we can improve, and things that we will start doing.  As I think back on those things – I can see where I strive to achieve those things and, at the same time, can see a lot of those things in my own father.

For example, a father must be a good disciplinarian.  All dad’s love their children, but you know and I know that you can’t let them get away with everything.  Dad was this way.  The old story about mom saying “Wait till your father get’s home” and the child being scared to death?  Yep!  That was me!  You didn’t want to make dad mad!  I would say I made him mad more than a few times.

One time in particular I remember telling him I was spending the night at a friends house.  I was out with my girlfriend at the time.  We were still in high school, and it was a weekend.  We had no money, so we weren’t going to a hotel or anything like that.  We just planned on staying out all night.  I don’t remember how he found out, but  I remember getting a page from the friend who I said I was staying with and he asked why my dad thought I was there!  I think my girlfriend’s mom had called my house or something.  At any rate – I was in BIG trouble! Dad’s punishment was a fair one (even though I didn’t think so at the time).  He proved a point and I NEVER did that again.  He let me know that he was in charge.  Another time, I got in trouble at school for something.  We had a meeting with the teacher and he said what he would go on to tell every teacher afterward in parent teacher conferences, “If he gets out of line again, you have my permission to smack his ass!” (Yes, this was back before a teacher giving the kid a paddle was considered wrong).

A good dad allows his kids to make mistakes. Dad watched me make a TON of them, but he knew that if I was going to learn, I needed to make those mistakes.  He’d never let me make a mistake that was life threatening or would put me in danger, but he’d let me make mistakes that he knew, when all was said and done – I’d mature and learn from it.  While there were things he questioned, he never really interfered.  I learned a lot from that – even though there were times I wish he HAD said something!

A good dad has an open mind.  Times change.  The way that things were done when he was growing up, well, they may be handled differently now (the paddling in school is a good example).  He respected that and embraces it to a degree.  As someone who loved all kinds of music, I will never forget the time he called me into the living room to play me this “cool song” he heard and liked.  It was “Groove is in the Heart” by Deee-lite.  The song was not like anything he’s ever played for me, but he liked it and played it at DJ jobs!  He embraces change!

A good dad teaches his kids to appreciate things.  Those things can be anything.  My dad certainly taught me how to appreciate family and friends.  He taught me how to appreciate good music, movies and TV.  He taught me how to appreciate what you have and the importance of living within your means.

A good dad accepts that his kids aren’t exactly like him. This may or may not have been a lesson he learned from my grandpa.  My dad had always been very accepting of my brother and I.  While we all have a lot of similarities, we are all SO very different.  He respects that our religious and political views may not be the same as his.

A good dad spends quality time with his children. This is one of those things that is difficult to do in today’s society.  We spend so much time working and trying to get things done, that we often spend the hours we are not at work doing these things.  As a divorced father with limited time with my boys, I really try hard to make the time we spend quality time, even if it is just a car ride.  Some of my favorite memories with my dad are just him and I throwing the ball around in the front yard.  That meant more to me than he will ever know!

A good dad leads by example.  Dad was never really the “Do as I say, not as I do” kind of guy.  He was a hard worker and knew the importance of providing for our family.  I never once thought of growing up and not having a job.  Dad wasn’t always perfect in this area, but because of that, I was also able to take some of the things that I didn’t like him doing (like smoking) and not doing them.

A good dad is supportive and loyal.  I am sure that in my 30 year radio career, my dad probably thought “he needs to get out of that career and find something more stable”.  If he thought it – he never once told me that!  He was nothing but supportive!  If I ever came to him with something that he questioned, he might ask a question or two regarding the opposite viewpoint, but that was it.  He might ask “are you sure you want to do this” or “have you thought about what might happen if…”, and then he let me decide.  Whatever the decision, he supported it.  I have a great respect for that.

A good dad is someone who challenges his kids. I’m sure that there were many ways that dad challenged me.  I know there were times I wanted to quit something and he gave me the pep talk to keep going.  I cannot recall specific incidents, but I know they were there.

A good dad is a teacher.  While dad taught me how to throw a “submarine” ball and how to swing a golf club, he also taught me some valuable lessons.  One of the things I have hoped to do is to write down some of those lessons and pass them down to my own children.  To illustrate my point: there is a cartoon I saw once of two guys standing in front of three piles of stuff.  The one guy asked what they were.  The second guy points to the first pile and says, “this stuff is the stuff my dad gave me that I want to pass on to my kids.”  He points to the second pile and says, “this is the stuff my dad gave me that I don’t really need.” He points to the third pile and says, “this is my stuff that I want to pass on to my kids.”  That’s the way it is – as a father, you take things that you learned from your dad and keep the stuff you want to share, throw out what you don’t, and then add stuff of your own.

A good dad protects and provides for his family.  When times were tough and money was tight, my dad would DJ or play in the wedding band to bring in extra money.  I remember as a young boy my dad going back to college to get a degree so he could move up in his place of employment.  It took me over 20 years, but I also decided to go back to school to better provide for my family.  I know that my dad would do anything for us, and I would do the same for my family.

Finally, a good dad shows unconditional love.  I read where this is the greatest quality of a good father.  Even though his child may let him down, upset him, make him mad, disrespect him, and disappoint him … the love remains constant.  Not to get theological, but it is one of the great principles spoken of about God in the Bible.  It says that no matter how much a child of God angers Him, ignores Him, or disappoints Him – His love is never ending and ever present.  THAT is the kind of love a father has for his children.

I am lucky that I have never had to question whether or not my dad loves me.  He has done so much for me during my lifetime and continues to do so.  I can only hope that he knows how much he is appreciated.  I can only hope he knows how thankful I am that he was chosen to be my father.  I can only hope that he knows of the impact that he has made on me.  I hope that he will never have to question how much I love him.

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Thanks, Pop, for being such an amazing man!  Thanks for being a wonderful example to me.  Thanks for everything you have done to support, encourage, accept, and love my family.  Today, I wish you a very happy birthday and wish you many more in the future!  I love you, Pop.

“Lamont”

 

 

 

 

My Biggest Musical Influence – Dad

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Over the years I have been influenced musically by many people, but I would have to say that it is my father who has had the biggest influence. This blog is sort of a continuation of the “series” I have been doing based on “songs from my iPod”.

My dad introduced me to almost every genre of music. My love for oldies music comes from some of my earliest memories of songs he played. I was also introduced to classic country and country music in general by him. He played in a wedding band for years – the first being Now & Then, and the second was Foxfire. I recall him sitting in front of the stereo playing along with 45 records of songs that they were learning for gigs. I remember long nights when my brother and I had to go to “band practice” as well.

Rock and Roll music was a staple in our house, probably because it was the stuff he grew up listening to. The first song that comes to mind is Dream Baby by Roy Orbison. As a kid, I would ask, “Daddy please play ‘boom boom boom….bum bum boom'”. This was a reference to the bass notes that open the song. I loved that song. While so many other folks always connect Roy to Pretty Woman (a classic, no doubt), I remember Candy Man, In Dreams, and Crying. Roy was awesome – and dad introduced me to him.

He also introduced me to Elvis. Man, Elvis was cool! Sure, every one knows Hound Dog, All Shook Up, and the biggies….but dad played me songs like Steamroller Blues, Moody Blue, and Way Down! He had the Moody Blue album (which was on Blue Vinyl) and Elvis In Concert and I remember playing them on the stereo many times. I remember the look on my dad’s face when the news came on the radio that Elvis had died. We were at the drive in movie getting ready to watch Smokey and the Bandit, when Honey Radio announced it. Dad was shocked. We listened to Elvis music until dark and the movie started.

I have to include another person in this section about music – my Godfather, my Uncle Tom. He and my dad grew up together and their exploits can be an entirely separate blog. For now, let me talk about R&B and “local” music. When I first started working at WKSG (Kiss-FM) in Detroit, my dad asked if I could find him some songs. I told him I would look and if they were at the station, I’d throw them on tape for him. These were songs that he and my Uncle Tom grew up listening to.

As I looked over the list, I remember thinking, “What the hell are these songs? Were these even hits? Who are these people?’ The result was me getting a taste of some really amazing music. I cannot listen to any of these songs without thinking of them. This is music that was stripped down, funky, and amazing.

Mind Over Matter by Nolan Strong jumps out at first. This song is classic! Backing Nolan on this is the group the Diablos. Simple instrumentation and a powerful vocal makes this one of my favorites. This was not a song that would play on the radio much in the late 80’s, and I recall watching my uncle and my dad listening to the tape I made and loving every damn second of it. I watched them become transported back to when they were teens and jamming to these songs for the first time – it was magical!

Village of Love by Nathaniel Mayer is another one that is worth a listen just for the bass singer – it is R&B gold!. Two songs that were on his list (and now on my iPod) that were local hits that I absolutely love were by the band The Dynamics. I’m The Man and Misery are two very different songs, but they capture the sound of Motown prior to the Motown sound emerging.

A couple oldies that were on the list which we actually played in a regular rotation at WHND Honey Radio were Don’t Let Go by Roy Hamilton, You Can Have Her by Roy Hamiliton, So Fine by the Fiestas, Let’s Go Let’s Go Let’s Go by Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, What In the World’s Come Over You by Jack Scott, and Agent Double O Soul by Edwin Star. I loved when these songs would come up on the play list.

Another one that would come up was the song You’re So Fine by the Falcons. Wanna talk about stripped down? This one was as simple as they come. It was recorded in a garage with probably one or two microphones. You can totally tell that they it recorded all at once on one track and it was one take. You can even hear a little guitar feedback at the end. GREAT song! I love it!

My dad was instrumental in introducing me to blues music too. One of those songs that he and my uncle asked for was Baby, What You Want Me To Do by Jimmy Reed. Wow. It is one of those songs that DEFINES the blues in my opinion. Other songs he had me listen to were Fannie Mae by Buster Brown, which we played at WHND, Baby, Scratch My Back by Slim Harpo, Shake Your Money Maker by Elmore James, and The Thrill is Gone by BB King. The blues and R&B music helped shape Rock and Roll and these songs are a must for my iPod.

I grew up in the Urban Cowboy era when country music got a lot of attention and a lot of radio airplay. I don’t know that I would say country music is my dad’s favorite genre, but he sure introduced me to some great artists and songs. He, of course was responsible for me hearing Willie Nelson & Johnny Paycheck (who are mentioned in other blogs), but he also introduced me to Hank Williams Sr. and Jr. I recall him playing the two of them singing a duet on Tear in My Beer. This was high tech at the time, they took Hank Sr’s vocal and isolated it and then Hank Jr. sang with him, It was a great song with just Hank Sr., but adding Hank Jr. was excellent.

Another song he played for me was Okie from Muskogee. The opening line is “We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee”…not exactly the best song for a 10 year old to hear, but I had no idea what it meant and I liked Merle Haggard’s voice. I also recall him playing Amanda by Waylon Jennings. It is probably one of my favorite Waylon songs. Such a simple ballad, but I could listen to it over and over. I also loved when he bought the soundtrack to Smokey and the Bandit II because it was the only place you could find a great song by Don Williams called To Be Your Man. Among other acts he played were the great Ronnie Milsap, George Jones, Juice Newton, and Charlie Pride.

Two country albums I remember him calling me in to hear were from Dwight Yoakam and The Kentucky Headhunters. The Headhunters album had a great cover of Oh Lonesome Me on there, but the song he played for me was Dumas Walker. It sounded fresh and almost a little rockish. I remember immediately getting this on cassette for the car. The other album was If There Was a Way from Dwight. In my opinion, this is one of his best. My favorite cut from the album was never released as a single – The Distance Between You and Me. The instrumentation is perfect and the lyric is classic – almost Brad Paisley-ish. I crank it up ALWAYS.

On the “pop” side of things, a few songs stand out, most of which because they were songs he learned and played for his wedding band gigs. The first one I think of is the Breakup Song by Greg Kihn. I remember him putting the 45 on the stereo, and playing that intro over and over. The first time I heard him play it note for note, I was blown away! I loved watching him work out licks and chords and stuff by simply listening to it on the stereo! America by Neil Diamond was another. By the time this one came out, he was in Foxfire and playing bass guitar, not lead guitar. These guys were good. Not that the other band wasn’t, I just know that they sounded amazing. Dennis, the lead singer, (and at one time my boss at my first job) NAILED his vocals. I could swear he was Neil Diamond! Every song he sang was dead on. Man, I miss that group of guys!

Probably the craziest musical incident involving my dad was when he introduced me to the music of Red Prysock. My grandmother always wanted to go to garage sales. I think my dad hated it. There was a familiar look of disgust on his face one day when she asked to go. While at one garage sale, he was going through old 45’s. His face lit up with boyish excitement as he stopped at one 45 with a black label on it. I heard him so, “I can’t believe it…” He bought the 45 and couldn’t wait to play it for me … and to be able to hear it for the first time in years. Hand Clappin’ was the song. It was a jazzy sax number that caused to you tap your toes. It was GREAT. It was like nothing I had ever heard. My dad said that DJ’s used to use it for their “theme song” back in the day. Still remains a favorite for me. Who says garage sales are bad?!

Over the years, my dad has called me over to the turntable, the cassette deck, the CD player, the mini-disc player, and his computer with the words, “Hey son, listen to this …” Very rarely was I ever disappointed. Today, I listen to almost every type of music and have always kept an open mind to genres because of dad. I am so lucky that he was such an instrumental (pun intended) part of my musical influence. Thanks, Pop!

Music and my Grandparents

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As I have mentioned in previous blogs, I can take almost any song and connect it to a person in my life, a life event, or a time period in my life. Today, my iPod shuffle focuses on four very special people – my grandparents. What is interesting as I looked at the music, was that the list of songs for Grandpa D is the longest. Why is that interesting? As I stated in a blog entirely about him, he is the grandparent who was in my life for the shortest amount of time.

Grandpa D’s list consists of big band and country music. As stated in the previous blog, Willie Nelson’s Stardust album will forever be connected with him. September Song, Moonlight in Vermont, Stardust, All of Me, and Georgia on My Mind from that album bring back vivid memories of him. Willie Nelson, in general makes me think of him though. Blue Eyes Crying In the Rain, while I don’t think I ever heard him play it, makes me think of him. So does Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground or the amazing duet with Ray Charles, Seven Spanish Angels.

Grandpa died in 1981. In 1982, Willie Nelson released on of his biggest hits – Always On My Mind. I can recall the first time we heard it on the radio. We were driving in the car, the entire family, and it played. My mom started crying immediately. “Maybe I didn’t love you quite as often as I could have. Maybe I didn’t treat you quite as good as I should have. But you were always on my mind.” I remember mom saying that it was like grandpa sending a little message to us. I’ll always remember that.

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Grandpa liked classic country, too. So songs like Behind Closed Doors by Charlie Rich, Amanda by Waylon Jennings, I Believe In You by Don Williams, You Needed Me by Anne Murray, Colorado Cool-Aid by Johnny Paycheck, and Kiss an Angel Good Morning by Charlie Pride make me think of him too.

Grandma D’s list is shortest. I’m not sure why, but I don’t remember much of the stuff she listened to. I remember her clock radio at her house and it always seemed to be on a talk radio station or a news station. I do recall her listening to a few songs, though. Sentimental Journey is a Big Band Classic. I don’t recall if it was in a commercial or on a TV show, but I remember saying that she liked it.

Because we spent a lot of time in Caseville with Grandma, she listened to the same cassettes as everyone else. Johnny Paycheck’s Greatest Hits Volume II included the song Loving You Beats All I’ve Ever Seen, a wonderful ballad about a guy who has seen some of the most beautiful things in the world – but loving his woman beats it all hands down. I recall her liking that song.

The one she loved the most on that album, though, was Rhythm Guitar. As old as the song is, it still paints a picture of people today. “Nobody wants to play Rhythm Guitar behind Jesus. Everybody wants to be the lead singer in the band.” The rhythm guitar player in the group is there to hit the chords and keep the tempo. He is in the background while the lead guitar player has all the solos and such. Nobody wants to be in the background today. In a spiritual sense, Jesus is an example of how we should live our lives. Throughout the Bible, He gives instructions on what to do and not do. However, we as people, often disregard those rules and instructions because we’d rather be the lead singer and live by our rules. I remember that was in a nutshell how grandma explained that song’s meaning to me.

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Here, I would like to include my Aunt Jodi. She is only 4 years older than me. When I think of Grandma and Grandpa D, I think of her. There are songs that make me think of her and some of those great times in Caseville as well. The one that comes to mind immediately is Music Box Dance by Frank Mills. It was one of those instrumentals that you would hear on the radio all the time up there. It was a “current” (as we call it in radio) and it played like every three to four hours. She loved that song and we did too.

Another instrumental that makes me think of her is from Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass (who will be mentioned again in a second). We had their Greatest Hits album and they did a song called Zorba the Greek. It was a fun song that started out fast … then the song slowed WAY down……and gradually sped up to the original speed and finished. It was a fun song and I can remember dancing around the living room to it. When it was fast – we were crazy kids running and laughing. When it was slow – we were glad, because we caught our breath from running around at the beginning of the song.

Other songs that remind me of Jodi are Urgent by Foreigner and Ebony and Ivory by Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder. Those songs were on vinyl albums that she had. My grandpa had this big console record player. It was the one that had the lid that flipped up and the turntable was inside. I recall her listening to those as well as David or Shaun Cassidy on there. I am sure she had some other albums, but there is one more I recall….

The last song that makes me think of her is called “Soupy Wails”. Another instrumental from an album called “The Soupy Sales Show”. It’s basically the Soupy Sales TV show on record. All the characters are there with songs they wrote – White Fang, Black Tooth, Hippy, and Pookie. This song is played because the neighbor tells Soupy to cut out the singing so they play an instrumental. Great stuff!

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Grandma P’s list is a short one, but the songs on it generate powerful memories. A Taste of Honey was a song that was popular and recorded by a few artists. The version I am talking about was done by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. Why does this make me think of her? Because Grandma loved the Detroit Tigers. I remember many Sundays going over and watching the game on TV after eating dinner. Most of the time, she had it on the radio. The voices of the great Ernie Harwell and Paul Carey called the games while we sat in the sun porch or outside. One of the sponsors of the game was the Honey Baked Ham Company. They always used that song in their commercials. Yeah, a long stretch….but it always reminds me of those ball games and Grandma.

Grandma loved Dean Martin. He was her favorite singer. One day we got into a discussion about other Italian singers and she mentions that she she never liked Tony Bennett. Can you imagine?! Here is a guy who is STILL making music today! He’s 90 and a musical ICON. His style was very different from Dean or Sinatra. She said once that she couldn’t stand “that pimple faced, no talent, wanna be”! It still makes me laugh to think about it. One day I went to a record store and bought a few Tony albums. The funnest part of our visits became hiding them in places where she might find them (on her pillow, in the fridge, on the kitchen lighting, in the bread box….). Sometimes we were there to catch her reaction, and sometimes it was a phone call saying she found it. Fun times.

The last song that reminds me of her is Lazy Mary by Lou Monte. Lou was an Italian singer and it is a tarantella type song that has some “risque” lyrics. It is a song that many singers have sung, but Lou had a hit with it. When I got married, I wanted a dance with my grandma. I chose Lazy Mary. I am sure that I wore her out dancing to such a fast song, but I can still remember the smile on her face during it. Priceless memory.

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Grandpa P’s list is mostly big band music. I remember him telling me that his favorite song was String of Pearls by Glenn Miller. While many people remember Glenn for In The Mood, I feel String of Pearls is one of his best. A couple other Glenn Miller songs that remind me of him are the classics Sunrise Serenade and the counterpart, Moonlight Serenade. Begin the Beguine by Artie Shaw, Ciribiribin by Harry James, and many other big band songs remind me of him, too.

The odd song on this list is one he never heard. It makes me think of him because a friend of mine, Allyson, bought me a CD for Christmas the year my grandpa died. She knew that I was close to him and said there was a song on there that I had to hear. She said to listen to the lyrics and think about him while listening. That song was If I Had Only Known by Reba McEntire.

If I had only known
It was the last walk in the rain
I’d keep you out for hours in the storm
I would hold your hand
Like a life line to my heart
Underneath the thunder we’d be warm
If I had only known
It was our last walk in the rain

If I had only known
I’d never hear your voice again
I’d memorize each thing you ever said
And on those lonely nights
I could think of them once more
Keep your words alive inside my head
If I had only known
I’d never hear your voice again

You were the treasure in my hand
You were the one who always stood beside me
So unaware I foolishly believed
That you would always be there
But then there came a day
And I turned my head and you slipped away

If I had only known
It was my last night by your side
I’d pray a miracle would stop the dawn
And when you’d smile at me
I would look into your eyes
And make sure you know my love
For you goes on and on
If I had only known
If I had only known
The love I would’ve shown
If I had only known

POWERFUL! Typing those lyrics bring tears to my eyes instantly! In truth, you could think about any loved one who has passed away when you hear this song. I do. The message is clear – treat every encounter with your loved ones as if it might be your last because you never know.

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Our band director, Mr. Shaner, used to write announcements on a grease board every day. At the end of them, he’d always have some quote to think about. One of them, in particular, I have NEVER forgotten. It plays in to what I just said:

“Live every day as if it were your last – someday, you’ll be right”.

Make every day count. Always tell someone you love them. Treasure ever moment you have with family. Life is too short. Make memories that will last long after those special people in your life are gone!

I only got 11 years …

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I was 11 years old when I was forced to deal with a death in the family. As an 11 year old, you don’t really understand or comprehend what that really means. “What do you mean we’re not going to see him again?”, “Why do people die?”, “There are a lot of bad people in the world, why is he the one who had to die?” Those are many of the questions that ran through my mind as I tried to make sense of it all. My grandfather would have been 95 today. This year he’ll be gone 37 years. Still, after all that time, the lessons I learned from him (either by his example or by him vocally) remain with me.

One of the things I remember most about him was playing cribbage. He had a cribbage board that we played on when I was at his house. He always beat me. He was good! One day I noticed that there was something written on the back of his board. He told me that when I finally beat him, I could “sign his board”, too. Well, now I had something to play for! On February 3, 1980 it happened. “Super fourth grade student wins the big man on this day. Super student feels great. Big man feels bad. I love it” is what I wrote. He got me back on my own cribbage board – twice!
On my cribbage board, he wrote: “Skunked Charlie on this board 7-18-80. H.D. And we know who Charlie is, don’t we” is what he wrote the first time he beat me. Followed immediately by, “Did it again on 12-31-80 – on New Years Eve”!cribbage

That was the last game played on that cribbage board!

Summers were spent in Caseville, MI (long before the Cheeseburger Festival began). We’d go up to the trailer and spend days fishing at the back lake, riding the mini-bike, and eating dinner at the picnic table. I remember helping lay down the rocks for the driveway. I remember one holiday weekend the family was there and my grandpa had left his glass of peppermint schnapps on the table. I thought it was water and when I tried it I remember thinking “wow, this is tastes different” and drank it all (which was maybe 2 ounces). When he came to the kitchen looking for it, he found the glass empty and me sitting in a chair. “Buddy, you are gonna sleep well tonight”, he told me.

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In Caseville, there was only like one or two radio stations that came in. Early on, there was no TV at the trailer, so it was the radio or cassette tapes for entertainment. Two tapes I remember very well. Johnny Paycheck’s Greatest Hits Volume 2 and Willie Nelson’s Stardust. My grandpa played that Willie Nelson cassette over and over and over! It drove my mom and others crazy! I remember him saying that his favorite song on the album was September Song. Probably just a coincidence but he passed away in September. That album remains one of my all time favorites.

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I remember we were out walking the railroad tracks during one of the summer stays. Whether we were in Caseville or on a trip up the road to Port Austin, or Pidgeon, I don’t recall. They had put in new rails. As we walked my brother and I spotted old railroad spikes. These are the big nails that they pound into the rails. My grandpa told us each to get one. They were old and rusty, but he said he would “fix” them. He worked a a place where he nickel plated them for us and I still have mine to this day. A fun memory for sure.

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I only got in trouble with him twice. Incident number one involved water balloons. Kids are stupid. For some reason we thought it would be fun to roll water balloons out into traffic at the end of my street and watch cars run them over. So here we are at the corner, during lunch time rush hour rolling these things in to traffic. Who drives by? Grandpa. He honks his horn and makes eye contact with me while he is waving his finger at me. Without saying anything, he was saying, “Get away from the road dummy! You could get hurt”. I remember when my dad got home from work and after dinner we were told we were “going to see grandpa and grandma”. The entire trip my stomach churned. I was sweating. NO ONE had said anything about the balloons since I saw him drive by. Upon arriving, my dad casually said something like, “So I hear we had an issue with some balloons today…” He pulled me on his lap and told me how dangerous it was for us to be that close to the road, and how it may have caused an accident. Never did that again.

The only other time I was in trouble, was also the only time I saw him angry. He had a big basement with a bar and pool table. Behind the bar was a door set into the wall that you couldn’t really tell was there because it was paneling and the door blended into the wall when it was closed. I don’t recall much of what was in there with the exception of a table lamp that was a hobo or something and a box of dance wax. Here’s all I knew about it: when you put it on the floor, it made it slippery. To a boy of 8 in a basement sliding around in his socks on a slippery floor – it’s pretty fun. I remember my aunt, who is only 4 years older than me, came down and probably instantly realized what I had done and said she was going to tell on me. She did. My grandpa, who was always so gentle and jovial was livid. Wow. When his voice boomed at me I was scared to death. I never felt more ashamed in my life. I don’t recall the words he said, but I remember crying, and him hugging me afterward. I’m glad that I only truly mad him angry once.

The last time I saw my grandfather, he had come over to our house. When he left, I was sitting on the floor in the front room with headphones on listening to “Minnie The Moocher” from the Blues Brothers Soundtrack. Knowing my grandpa’s love for big band music, I told him that when I saw him next time, he just had to hear this song. I never got up to say good bye to him. I didn’t hug or kiss him that day. He went on a business trip across the state and we talked to him from his hotel a night or two before he passed. I don’t recall much, but he told me he had pizza and beer for dinner. I do remember telling him I loved him. That was the last time I heard his voice. He had a heart attack while on that trip and died September 24.

The first real life lesson was learned by me that September. If there is someone special in your life who means something to you – tell them! If you love someone – tell them! Never pass up the opportunity to hug or kiss someone! You may never get the chance to do it again.

After he passed away, my brother, my father and I all went golfing in Caseville. My dad and my grandpa used to golf all the time when they were up there. This time, dad took me. As we left to go to the first tee, the starter asked if it was ok to pair us up with someone. Out walked a man who was the spitting image of my grandpa. I remember how nice he was and how he helped me stand and putt (it was one of the first times I ever golfed). It was like HE was there with us. I remember afterward, we got in the car to go back to the trailer and I said, “Dad, didn’t that guy look like….” and before I could finish, my dad firmly said “YES”. Deep down, I wonder …..

I only had him in my life for 11 years, and those 11 year were very special ones – because he was in them.

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