Par For The Course …

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Do you have something that you love to do, even though you’re not really that good at it?  I have quite a few things that would fall into this category.  The things that pop immediately into my mind for me are singing, bowling, writing, and golf (to name a few).

I have been golfing since I was in high school.  I’ve never been really good at it, but I love to do it.  On Senior Skip Day, my friends and I decided to golf.  Most of my golf buddies and I play with the same set of rules, which contain many “mulligans”.  (For those who don’t know, a “mulligan” is a do-over shot.)  I have played with Joe, Steve, Jeff, Matt, Lee, Chris, Scott, my dad, my uncle, and perfect strangers.  In those many rounds, I have probably lost over 400 golf balls in the woods, 600 golf balls in various ponds, lakes, and rivers, and almost tipped the golf cart at least 3 times.

Over the years, I have continued to go out whenever I was able to, which amounts to about 3-7 times a year!  In Michigan the golf season just isn’t long enough.  To me, there is nothing like being out in nature playing golf.  I love being out on the golf course.  I recently have found the next best thing.

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I am far from being a “gamer”, however, I have found myself playing this game a lot lately.  It has almost become a habit to shoot 18 holes before leaving for work.  I started by just playing single rounds.  These made me laugh because the guy who does the announcing would say things like “Oh, that’s moderately disappointing” or “I’m sure that was not exactly what he had in mind with that shot” when you missed a putt or shanked one out of bounds.

Recently I started playing “My PGA Tour”.  I play a major tournament before leaving for work and for whatever it is worth, it’s kind of a stress reliever, much like actually being on the golf course.  As you play each round, you have a rival player that you are trying to beat, as well.

The graphics of this game are pretty awesome and I love the little details.  You can hear birds chirping, see planes flying overhead, there are “oohs” and “ahhs” from the audience, the crowd offers a “golf clap” when you drop the putt, and the ball leaves marks on the green when it lands.  You can upgrade equipment and clothing with your winning and the more experience you get, too.

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My best round so far has been -15!  I laugh out loud at this, because on an actual golf course I’m lucky if I end at 15 over par!!  If I get a par when I am out on an actual course, I am happy.  If I get a birdie (a rare occurrence), I am ecstatic!!  I have said that if I ever bowl a 300 game or get a hole in one golfing, I’d quit right then and there.  You’ve done it!  You have aced it.  Why go any further!?  It’s such a silly though, but I will often psych myself up when I tee off on a Par 3 hole. “Wouldn’t it be awesome to get a hole-in-one here?”  “Could this ever really happen to me?”  Let me be clear – it has NEVER happened to me for real.  However, in the game it happened twice in the same game!

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It’s also not happened again since!  LOL!  However, I did walk away the winner of the FedEx Cup, which apparently is the big event on this game.

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Sweet victory!!

We bought the Xbox for the boys, for when they are with us for the weekend.  My oldest loves to play Forza Horizon, which is like a racing game.  It’s actually pretty cool and the cars are pretty detailed.  My youngest likes to play Minecraft, The Lego games (Star Wars, Harry Potter, The Incredibles, etc), and some crazy one called Cup Head.  We have Madden football, but I usually have to beg them to play it with me.  Whether I am playing games with them, or just watching them play, it’s fun.

When it’s just me, and I have about 20 minutes, I put in my silly little golf game and de-stress.  It’s the next best thing to being out on the course for real…..

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The King is Gone

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May 1977.  The month I turned 7 years old, two movies were released that would have major influences over my childhood, and adulthood.  The movies were Star Wars and Smokey and the Bandit.  I can recall exactly where I saw each movie, too.

I saw Star Wars at Hoover 11 when the movie theater was still in the complex.  I don’t recall the exact date I saw it, but it was within a month of it’s release.  Eventually, the theater closed and became a TJ Maxx.  It was a one screen theater, and I remember the line was long.  I remember waiting in line for what seemed like forever and it being a full house!  I also remember not being able to sleep for a week, because Darth Vader scared the hell out of me.

I do remember the exact date I saw Smokey and the Bandit. August 16, 1977 – 42 years ago today.  I believe my folks had a station wagon at the time, and we drove to the Gratiot Drive-In in Roseville.

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When you saw a movie at the Drive-In, you always got their early.  You found a good spot where you could see the screen without obstruction.  The spot also was ideally close to the bathrooms and concession stands.  You had to pull up to the pole that held the speaker that you would hang from your window, so you could hear the audio of the movie.

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The movie never started until it got dark, so I remember bringing a baseball and mitt to play catch, or we’d go to an old playground that was up near the screen.

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As the sun began to go down, we’d go back to the car and dad would usually turn on the radio.  We had an AM radio in the car, and Dad turned on Honey Radio (where I would years later have the honor of working).  I remember the DJ (I don’t recall who it was) coming on and saying that Elvis had died in Memphis.  He was only 42.  They played Elvis music for the remainder of the time we listened.

I remember the news sort of putting a damper on the night.  My dad was a big Elvis fan.  I remember him watching the Aloha From Hawaii concert in the living room. I remember the many albums he had (including the Moody Blue album on blue vinyl). And I remember how he recorded the song Way Down on 8 tracks that we listened to on the drive to Caseville.  Dad would often put Elvis songs on the stereo and play his guitar along with them.

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I’m glad that we were at the movies to see a comedy.  I recall my dad being visibly upset by the news.  I don’t know that I had ever seen him that way before.  Once the movie started, I knew he was ok.  I recall the hearty laughter from him as Jackie Gleason shouted out profanity into the CB microphone.  Those scenes continue to make dad and me laugh out loud today – no matter how many times we’ve seen them!

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I remember in the days before VCR’s.  I used to record movies on cassettes so I could hear my favorite scenes.  I had no idea that in the future you’d be able to go out and buy your favorite movies on DVD and Blu-Ray.  Smokey and the Bandit was on cable one night at like 12:30am.  It was the last time that month that it was airing.  To me, it could have been the last time it ever aired!  I asked my dad to record it for me on cassette.  When I listened back to it, I could hear dad laughing at all of the Jackie Gleason scenes.  I was probably mad about it at the time, but looking back, I know I’d have done the same thing!

In everyone’s life, there are events that become etched forever in your mind.  For some, it was when they heard Buddy Holly died.  For others, it was when JFK or Martin Luther King Jr. was shot. Those become memories that when you look back on them, you remember exactly where you were, who you were with, and what you were doing.  I have a few of those memories – President Reagan being shot, the Challenger explosion, and, of course, 9/11. The first one that is forever etched in my mind, though, happened 42 years ago today.

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The Ghost of Christmas Eve Past (and Yet To Come)

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For as long as I can remember, Christmas Eve was always spent with Grandma and Grandpa P. when we were kids.  I don’t necessarily know that there was any particular reason for this, I only know that from a very young age, this was the tradition. I also remember that dreaming of a White Christmas was hardly ever necessary.  If my memory serves me right, as a kid, there was maybe one or two Christmases that were we didn’t have snow.

The excitement for Christmas Eve was a bit different from Christmas Day.  Grandma and Grandpa always seemed to ask for our Christmas list early …. like July early!  She obviously planned ahead and shopped throughout the year, which must have saved her a ton of hassles finding things.  We usually were dressed and ready to go to Grandma’s house by 2 or 3pm. We would leave knowing at least one thing we were getting – a winter coat.  She got us one every year (which we hated, because she’d take us out shopping for it as early as October!).

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Christmas Eve dinner was always the same with very little variance.  Ravioli was the main dish.  There would be a feast that included breaded steak, sausage or meatballs, dinner rolls, and just about every other things you could imagine. Grandma prided herself on being able to make dinner that could feed an army! Grandma always made her Ammoghio (pronounced Moy-Gyoo) sauce to go on top of the steak.  This was made up of olive oil, tomatoes, some seasonings and a WHOLE LOT of garlic!  I never ate it as a kid, but as an adult – I love it!  Everyone who ate it smelled like garlic for like a week!

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There was always a dish with olives (green and black), sweet pickles, and veggies.  You would also find a big bowl with pistachios, and another one filled with nuts of all kinds.  The nuts were still in the shells, so you had to crack them open with the old silver nutcracker that was probably older than my grandma!  I can’t remember, but I think there was also a bowl or two of M&M’s and Hershey’s Kisses out to snack on, too.

For dessert – there were ALWAYS cannoli! Early on I think she made them from scratch (I may have her recipe somewhere), but I really remember her getting them from the Italian bakery.  There were also always plenty of cookies!  Grandma spent days baking them and by the time she was done, I think she had like 400 dozen!  She used to store them in these big tin cans that Better Made Potato Chips used to come it.  She always made chocolate chip for me, oatmeal for my brother, cut out sugar cookies and these little ice box cookies that none of us ate … well, I can’t say that … we fed them to the dogs and they seemed to like them a lot!

I recall the year that my grandmother bought my brother and I every Star Wars Figure that was out.  There were one or two that were very difficult to find, but she found them.  We each got a set!  Then there was the year she bought us the Atari 2600!  This was long before the fantastic graphics of Play Station or X-Box.  The games on this thing were very primitive as far as graphics went!  Oh, the hours I spent playing Sea Hunt, Pac-Man, and Pitfall!!  Even after all of the gifts were open, there was always an envelope for us.  For many years there would be a crisp $100 bill in it.  $100 was a LOT of money and I was always amazed at how new the bill was – it was almost like she had printed it herself!

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One Christmas Eve I remember particularly well.  Unlike previous years, when we came in the house, we were ushered immediately downstairs.  Usually, we went into the sun porch off the back of her house, where tables would be set for dinner and food would be out.  This year, dinner was in the basement.  We hardly EVER went in the basement, so I wasn’t sure what was happening.  In the middle of dinner, we heard a noise from upstairs.  Someone was walking (actually stomping, I think) around upstairs.  I think she had my great Uncle Ralph some in and do it.  My grandma said that Santa was probably up there leaving presents.  It was well before midnight, and you know how kids are – we knew that Santa came at midnight and we questioned it.  Grandma said she had called and “made special arrangements with Santa”.  Looking back on it now, I can totally see Grandma like Don Corleone of the Godfather making “special arrangements” with Santa!  At any rate, soon after the noise was gone, we were allowed to go upstairs and into the porch.  I am sure I am over exaggerating when I say that the porch looked like Toys R Us!  It was loaded with presents and a bike for both my bother and me.  I don’t even know how we got the presents home!

After dinner and presents, my brother and I would go watch movies, play the video games, or with our toys, while the adults went back into the porch to smoke and play cards.  Pinochle was what they usually played, although I seem to remember one year they also played gin rummy.  Depending on the people who were present, sometimes dad will play his guitar, Uncle Sam would play his accordion, or grandma would sit on the old Hammond organ and sing songs and play. Grandma played by ear and had no sense of tempo (or time signature for you musical folks), so she was either hitting wrong notes or playing ahead or behind everyone else.  From a child’s perspective, the music wasn’t very good, so my brother and I would go to another room.

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When I had finally learned how to play pinochle, I was a welcome addition to the card table.  My dad played, but he was usually done after a few games, so I gradually took his place as a “regular” at the table.  I LOVED this!  We could play forever!  Grandpa and mom were always partners.  He would often over bid my mom because he thought he had a good hand, then they would lose the hand.  They would get so mad at each other.

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I remember before I started playing, they would play cards until well after midnight.  My brother and I would be struggling to stay awake, our job was to remind mom and dad of how late it was getting – God forbid Santa not come because we weren’t home and in bed! Dad would constantly remind us that he paid for Santa to bring toys, and Santa would “circle the house” until we were home and in bed before delivering the toys.

When I began working in radio, it seemed that I was always on the air on Christmas Eve.  One of the “on air” traditions that I started was to call grandma and ask her how the preparations for dinner were coming. She would go into detail about what was on the menu and what time dinner was.  She would often razz me on the air and warned me not to be late.  She was an instant hit.  It was amazing how many people would call and ask if I was gonna check in with Grandma!

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Over the years, the faces of Christmas Eve changed.  Some years there were more relatives than others.  Aunt Rose became a staple after Uncle Sam passed away.  After Grandpa passed away, friends of the family often came by and the pinochle games continued.  As the years passed, there seemed to be more reflecting on Christmas Eves of the past with laughter and sadness.

Over the last few years, Christmas and Christmas Eve has undergone many more changes.  While many of the voices of Christmas Eve have been silenced, those wonderful memories warm my heart.  I look back at the memories fondly, and I also look forward to the new memories that will be made.  This year, my two amazing sons will be with us Christmas Eve morning to open presents with us.  They are older, but still full of excitement.  When they saw the gifts under the tree their reactions were typical for their age.  Dimitri, 11, saw the big box and said “Whoa, is that for us?”, while Dante’, 16, said “Is this all of the presents, or will there be more?”

I sit writing this as everyone in the house is still asleep.  Sam and I have joked around at what is in the big box under the tree more than once.  The camera is ready to capture the moments from this Christmas Eve, ready to provide them both with memories to look back on themselves in years to come.  I hope that someday, they will look back at Christmas Eve as one of their favorite holidays, just like I do.

Mom Dad Keith and Chris 1980

 

 

To: S. Claus. North Pole.

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December 19, 2018

Dear Santa,

I know it has been some time since I have written a letter to you, and I bet you are wondering why I have chosen to do so after all these years. Well, to be honest, there have been a lot of changes in my life over the past few years. I am seeing life with different eyes, and it is wonderful! I have made a decision to weed out negativity and to stay positive. There is too much judgment, hate, and sadness in the world and I have done what I can to steer clear of that. By doing so, I have found great happiness. So, why am I writing to you, you ask?

The answer is that I am not sure. It may be the combination of a couple of things. First, I have played the song Grown Up Christmas List a few times at the radio station, and this year the words hit me a bit harder than in previous years. Second, I’ve watched a few movies where the lack of Christmas Spirit has played a big role in the plot, and I fear my Christmas Spirit may be lacking. Third, I am newly married to a beautiful woman who has changed my life in ways I can’t even begin to explain. She has brought about a happiness that has been absent from my life for way too long. Finally, after my annual reading of A Christmas Carol, I have pondered some things about the future, while thinking about the present and the past.

The Christmas season has always brought me great joy. As a little boy, rushing out to see what you had left under the tree, I remember being overcome with happiness! I recall the many notes that you left for my brother and I each Christmas morning. I recall the notes that you left for my sons years later. (We often wondered (and I still do) how you could eat so many cookies and never gain weight!) What an amazing job you have! To quote Stan Freberg in his record Christmas Dragnet, you’re the only guy who “can make everybody happy in one night.”

With the passing of many years, I now sit here to write you this letter. I want to say first of all, thank you for the many gifts that you have brought over the years. While I was never too keen on the socks and underwear, as an adult I do realize that they were something I needed. Thank you for the Millennium Falcon, the numerous Star Wars figures, the countless books and movies, as well as the straight mute for my trumpet. Thank you for the various games, Hot Wheels cars, my bike with the cool handlebars, and the Sound Gizmo! Thank you for the many Lego sets, the Wii, and the toys you brought for my sons! Before I give you my list of requests, I wanted to be sure that you are aware of just how grateful I am for the many gifts of Christmas Past.

I do realize that you get many requests, and this is probably your busiest time of year, but I hope it is not too late you ask you for a few things. This list is kind of a tall order. Take all the time you need on them, I will understand.

For Kids

I have noticed that children seem to be growing up faster than they should. It is almost as though their innocence is taken from them sooner than it should be. My first wish is that they be allowed to be kids and do kid things for longer periods of time. Allow them to play and imagine! Allow them to experience the happiness and freedom of not being an adult. Shield them from the miseries, tragedies, and unpleasant things of the modern world. Allow them to share more smiles and less tears. Fill their lives with laughter and people who care. Protect them from harm and needless worry. Allow them to experience the magic of childhood, free from cruelty and bullying. Children are our future and we need them!

The Nations of the World

It seems that every time I hear a news report, there is a story about crimes related to gender, religious beliefs, sexual orientation and racism. When will the people in charge realize that the more we are different, the more we are the same?! The words of Maya Angelou ring true here – “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.” I hope you can help us with this. We all come from a family. We all have the ability to love. We all have the capability to do good. We all have the ability to problem solve and to find “middle ground”. We all can take advantage of the power of “compromise”. My secnd wish is that you please help people to remember the following powerful quote: “We are all one race – the human race – and we are all members of it.”

Financial Freedom?

This one is a bit of a sore spot. Is it too much to ask that people be allowed to earn a living? I’m not talking about overabundant wealth, because you and I know that sometimes comes with its own set of troubles. My third wish is that people have the ability to go and work at a job and make enough money to live debt free. That they have the ability to live within their means, and enjoy life. Now, I am completely aware that there are many people who suffer because of their own addictions and actions. I am not talking about those people. However, there should be no reason for someone to have to work two and three jobs while their spouse works more than one job and still struggle to make ends meet. I hope you understand, I am not against working! I have a college education (and student loan debt out the ying yang) and I have a good job. Many people are just like me and struggle to keep their heads above water. Perhaps you and the elves can find a way to help out the ‘average Joe’ ? We are worrying too much, working too much, and stressed beyond belief. They say we need to stop and smell the roses, but it seems that life won’t let us slow down enough to do that.

Enough with the Cancer

This one is a bit selfish. This cancer thing has taken some people from me who I loved very much. It’s not just me, though – cancer has taken people from some of my friends, too. Let’s face it, it is out of control! Cancer is a monster that knows no age, I learned that when I visited St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Kids should never have to deal with fighting cancer and their parent’s shouldn’t have to be burdened with all that treatment entails! You’ve got connections, right? You have to know people who can finally find a cure for this. Maybe you can even help us figure out what is the cause of cancer and why we see so much of it? The elves can magically whip up any and every toy imaginable – isn’t there something you can do to help us find a cure for cancer? If you can figure this out, maybe we could tackle the other health issues and diseases, too!

For Me, Personally

Before I close, I do have a few personal requests to make. If possible, throughout the year, please help me to be a good husband, a good father, and a good friend. Send along little reminders throughout the year that remind me to be like Scrooge and keep the Christmas Spirit throughout the year. Help me to be a giver of gifts that do not cost anything:

  • The Gift of Listening. Help me to REALLY listen to others! No interrupting. No planning my response. No daydreaming. Just truly listening.
  • The Gift of Affection. Help me to be generous with appropriate hugs, kisses, hand holding and pats on the back. Help me to show my family and friends how much I treasure them.
  • The Gift of Laughter. Help me to spread a smile. Help me to bring joy and help others forget their worries and stresses. Help me to always make people happy!
  • The Gift of Writing. Help me to expand on the writing that I enjoy. Help me to find topics that others find interesting and thought-provoking. Help me to remember that sometimes a handwritten note is sometimes more meaningful than a phone call or meaningless text message.
  • The Gift of a Compliment. Help me to always compliment someone on a job well done. Help me to compliment someone on a simple haircut or new outfit. Help me to never let someone’s work be unnoticed.
  • The Gift of a Favor. Help me to always do something nice for others. Help me to lend a hand. Help me to assist those who need something. Help me always think of ways to lend a hand.
  • The Gift of a Cheerful Disposition. Help me to always wear a smile. Help me to stay positive. Help me find the positives in a negative world. Help me to spread cheer through a smile.
  • The Gift of Solitude. Help me to be conscious of when someone needs a few moments to themselves. Help me to respect when someone does not want to talk or share feelings. Help me to occasionally get this gift for myself, too.

Thanks for taking the time to read my letter. Thanks for spreading Christmas Cheer throughout the entire world. Thank you for the awe and wonder that you bring to little children who look forward to your yearly visit. On behalf of parents everywhere, thank you for helping those little ones steer away from doing wrong and making an extra effort to be on their best behavior.

Merry Christmas, Santa!

Keith