Sunday, May 21, 2017

Sunday Blarney Sunday

Blarney Castle
Blarney Castle - one of Ireland's top three iconic tourist stops - was on today's agenda and it didn't disappoint. You should allow a minimum of four hours for this destination because it's not just the castle on these grounds. There are nature trails (some of which will take the better part of an hour to hike), the Rock Close (a druid stone garden), the Stable Yard, the family mansion, a cave or two, and the Poison Garden.

Cormac McCarthy built this place on the bones of a wooden hunting lodge. McCarthy's work was done in 1446, predating Columbus sailing to America by almost half a century. So yeah, it's old and a miracle of engineering that it remains standing today, some 570+ years later.

Legend - according to Blarney Castle officials - says that the stone was once called "Jacob's Pillow" and was brought to Ireland by the prophet Jeremiah in his travels. After it was used as a pillow on the deathbed of St. Columba, it was moved to Scotland where it was used as the "Stone of Destiny" and in some manner selected the succession of kings and leaders there. When McCarthy sent 5,000 men to Scotland in the aid of Robert the Bruce in his fight against the English, a portion of the stone was struck off and given to McCarthy in appreciation. But there are also several other origin stories.

It was a witch, the legend goes, who revealed to McCarthy the secrets of "The Stone of Eloquence" after he had saved her from drowning. There are several other legends involving the witch in The Rock Close nearby.

The word "blarney" was actually attributed to Queen Elizabeth (the First) who had sent officials to Munster (the Irish province on which the castle sits) in order to negotiate ceding the property to England. McCarthy Mor (a son and heir) refused but did so in such flowery praise of Her Majesty that her agent was sent back to England feeling he'd accomplished something but, in fact, hadn't. When the Queen heard the report from her negotiator, she reportedly burst out in anger, "this is all blarney!"

I loved one explanation I heard about the difference between blarney and baloney. Baloney is telling a woman she looks lovely for her age. Blarney is asking a woman how old she is, because "I'd like to know the age at which a woman looks her finest." It is, as I've read, the "varnished truth."

I kissed the Blarney Stone when I was here with my father in April of 2014. Today my wife had the honor. (See the photo.) You lay on your back and lean way out over the edge at the top of the castle parapets (about four stories high) and bend down backward for your lips to reach the stone. Imagine what it must have been like in the days before those handrails were installed!

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There are plenty of other pictures available for all to see at my Facebook personal page, including this beauty from The Rock Close (photo should be at left). Well, okay, *not* this particular one, but plenty more like it and others.



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PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR GPS
So, yeah, we thought we were following our GPS instructions closely but missed a turn. Rather than turn around and go back and pick it up, we just kept going and waited for it to recalculate a new route. If this happens to you, let me just say emphatically right now, this is a mistake.

The main roads in Ireland are a thing of beauty. Decently wide, and smooth as silk. But once you get off the main roads (the Motorway and National roads), all bets are off. They become winding, twisty, narrow (to the point of breath-holding fear as you pass cars going the other direction), and pretty much the opposite of smooth. Let's just say that today we took so many back roads to get us back on the correct path that my spleen received an excellent massage. And at one point, we were so lost that the arrival time on our GPS changed to: ???

The ironic thing as you wind and twist your way through hairpin turns is that the speed limit often increases and the drivers behind you have not much patience for hapless Americans just trying to survive until they reach their destination.

If you're an American driving in Ireland, your GPS becomes one of your most valuable assets. Treat it like gold.

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Mark's Musings is published on an occasional basis but that may change without notice. This blog is considered to be a digital periodical publication and is filed as such with the U.S. Library of Congress; ISSN 2154-9761. Click the photos. You'll be glad you did.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Of Crystal and Cobh

Today's first stop.
Bonnie and I set out today fully rested and ready for a pair of stops sure to be interesting. First up was the House of Waterford Crystal, a location that my Pop and I had visited in 2014 but it's another iconic stop if you come to Ireland so I wanted Bonnie to see it. We once again took a good number of photos which can be seen on my Facebook page here, but you may need to "friend" me in order to access the photo album.

Crystal is made from combining lead, ash, and sand at very high temperatures. As in, only the Sun gets hotter. The lead content in the glass has to be at least 25% to be called crystal, and Waterford Crystal is a remarkable 33% lead, which not only gives the crystal its clarity, but makes it hard enough to withstand the complex and rigorous cuts, grooves, acid washing, and etching. There is a more detailed explanation of the process on my Facebook page, in the "Ireland 2017" photo album, though you may need to "friend" me in order to see it. If you don't know me, send a Private Message as well so I'll know to accept the request.
Lismore Castle, the design of which is the
inspiration for their best-selling pattern.

Waterford has 178 employees and I believe most of the work they do here in Ireland is specialized orders on contract. The bulk of the mainline crystal work (from online orders and catalog sales) is done at their factory in Slovenia.

Remember you can click any photo and see a larger version of it.

After touring the crystal factory and buying a couple gifts and souvenirs, we made our way down to the harbor area by the River Suir and toured Reginald's Castle.
This is supposedly the oldest standing building in Ireland. We were told today that, in fact, only London and Paris are older than the city of Waterford.

The tower started out as a two-story structure and defensible fort for the Viking establishment. Eventually it came under siege and was always the last bastion of defenders ... though not always successfully so. As rule of this location changed hands, different kings would add on to the structure until now it is four stories tall. After being a fort and stronghold, it was eventually turned into a jail. From there it became a mint, where currency and valuable goods were stored. Then it was a jail again, and back to a mint, and eventually a museum.

Right across the street, along the river bank, is a special spot. My father and I had spent a night in Waterford when we came  here back in 2014. There is a bench by the river that is labeled the "Seat of Wisdom" and I snapped a photo of Dad sitting there. It became one of my favorite shots of him. So today I was able to pay homage to the man, and it was a special moment for me. Thanks to my lovely wife, Bonnie, for playing photographer.
2017 on the left, 2014 on the right.
Then it was off to Cobh (pronounced Khob, with a long "o" sound). Cobh was the final stop for the RMS Titanic before leaving on its fateful journey to New York. Besides being a lovely old city, it houses "The Titanic Experience," a museum and audio-visual tour that focuses on the 123 individuals who boarded there at Cobh. But first, a word about some of the eight people who got *off* the Titanic,  having traveled from Southampton in England to Cobh.

One of them, a Mr. E. Nichols, we were told traveled first class and disembarked ... and was never heard of again. Lost to history. Just disappeared. Another passenger was the Reverend Brown. The Bishop in Cobh had paid for his first class ticket from England to Ireland. An American couple on the boat offered to pay the rest of his passage to America. When the Reverend wired his Bishop in Cobh, asking for permission to go, the Bishop wired back: "Get off the boat." And so Reverend Brown's life was saved. And, as a bonus, the 79 photos he had taken on board are some of the documentation we now have of what the Titanic was actually like.

The harbor in Cobh was deep enough to have anchored the ship, but because Captain Smith wanted to set a record in the crossing to America, he anchored out in the channel so it would only take an hour and a half to transfer passengers, luggage, and mail instead of four to five hours to come in and jockey around the harbor. I don't know about you, but this gives me some insight into why Smith refused to stop or slow down despite many messages from other ships about icebergs impeding their progress on that fateful night of April 14.

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It rained twice today, but both times we were under cover. Once while we ate lunch after the Crystal Factory tour, and again while we drove to Cobh. But after that the sun came out and while it was cool (high in the upper 40s Fahrenheit) and windy, it was still a lovely Irish day. 

We drove on up to Cork and tomorrow: Blarney Castle!

Finally, I leave you with this one last whimsical image: 

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Mark's Musings is published on an occasional basis but that may change without notice. This blog is considered to be a digital periodical publication and is filed as such with the U.S. Library of Congress; ISSN 2154-9761. Click the photos. You'll be glad you did.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Friday, Thy Name is Frustration

I once heard a comedian do a riff on snooze alarms. "We hate waking up in the morning ... now, thanks to snooze alarms, we're waking up three times every day!" Today made me feel that way. I had already suffered through driving in Dublin to get to our hotel. Today, the plan was to make our way south to Wexford, taking in a castle or abbey or two along the way. Bonnie hadn't yet seen a castle, and she felt that a trip to Ireland would not be complete without that.

But our trusty steed threw a shoe. The Ford Focus we had rented had, somewhere along the line, blown out the fuse to its power sockets, leaving our GPS running on battery and this morning, within two minutes of leaving the hotel, it went completely dead, leaving us driving blind in Dublin with NO IDEA of how to get back to the airport. While I was fighting Dublin traffic - and have I mentioned that there seems to be construction going on with detours (the Irish call them derivations) on nearly every street - we were trying everything but mouth-to-mouth to get the GPS unit back up and running.

Finally, in desperation, I turned on my phone. We had international calling and data installed on our plan before we left the States. Only you know what? AT&T couldn't find a signal. The phone was offline completely. I might as well have left it in Airplane Mode for all the good it did us.

So I was driving in one of the worst cities of the world to drive in - for the second time - and I was navigating literally by the seat of my pants. And that can't possibly be a good thing because my pants couldn't even see over the steering wheel. 

Pretty, and pretty useless.
So, once we hit the waterfront (or nearly there) we turned north. I knew the airport was north of Dublin so we started heading that way and before long, we were out of Dublin. It turned into a quite nice drive, mostly along the coast, but we still had no clue where we were or where to go. The map provided by the rental car agency (see photo) was, umm, really no help.

But before long we saw an airplane icon on the road signs, so we rejoiced and began following them ... only to have them lead us right back into Dublin!!! For the third time, just like a snooze alarm! By this time I could have chewed through nails and my blood pressure was approaching Dow Jones territory.

Lo and behold, what to our wandering eyes should appear, but another airplane icon! So we began following that and when we hit the M1, we knew we were finally on the right path. Having successfully and at long last reached the rental car agency - albeit three hours after we had started out this morning - we swapped out one trusty steed for an identical vehicle, making ABSOLUTELY SURE there was not going to be a further issue with the GPS. We were issued refunds, made promises, and once again we set out for Wexford ... but our day of sightseeing was shot.  It was after 2:00pm by the time we got to the hotel and I instantly crashed for a good long nap, having been up late the night before and a complete bundle of nerves by this time.

So today turned into a "rest" day, where we just stayed at our hotel and enjoyed the view from our hotel room (see photo). To be honest, with the change in time - Ireland is five hours ahead of the States and the travel over takes about 16 hours with very little sleep - we really kind of needed a slow day.

By the way, you can click any photo on my blog and see it in a bigger version, much easier to make out details and such.

Tomorrow is a big day as we head west to spend an hour or two in Waterford, then on to Cobh (pronounced Koahb) and finally to our next hotel in Cork.

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Mark's Musings is published on an occasional basis but that may change without notice. This blog is considered to be a digital periodical publication and is filed as such with the U.S. Library of Congress; ISSN 2154-9761. Click the photos. You'll be glad you did.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Day in Dublin

Dublin, Ireland, is quite cosmopolitan. At breakfast this morning, we heard French, German, and what we think was Italian, with a mix of strong Slavic English, as well. If you think America is a "melting pot" of diversity, you haven't been to Dublin. It's Ireland's capitol city and has more ways to get around than you can shake the proverbial stick at. You can't throw a rock in this town without hitting a public transit bus.

Our ride the last couple of days.
Yesterday afternoon, after taking a short respite from that long travel day, we took a bus tour of Dublin, courtesy of one of the "Hop-On, Hop-Off" tour buses. Saw more than two dozen attractions in the city, and learned a tremendous amount of history and trivia and bus driver personal opinions of other drivers.

You could easily come to Ireland and spend your entire visit here in Dublin, and still probably not see it all. From Phoenix Park in the northwest (you can fit two of New York's Central Parks into here) to the Guiness Storehouse (see below) to St. Stephen's Green in the southeast to the Kilmainham Gaol in the west, there is just so much to feast your eyes and ears upon, well, our two brief days cannot begin to do it justice.
Couple o'cool cats on top of a double decker bus.

But having been all around the tour bus perimeter of the city, we fixed our eyes upon three locations to visit today: The Book of Kells at Trinity College, the Guinness Storehouse (can't go to Dublin without that on your itinerary) and the Kilmainham Gaol (pronounced Kill-main-em Jail), where we had read you can get a nice history of Dublin through the eyes of the people held prisoner there (many of them political arrests in the Irish fight for independence). 

Three years ago Dad and I drove around Dublin. We drove through Dublin. We pulled our hair out and nearly threw out the GPS in Dublin ... but the only stop we managed to make was the Guinness Storehouse and then we didn't see much due to restricted wheelchair access at some points, and Dad's fatigue level. And we never spent the night here. So almost all of this was new to both Bonnie and myself and, in so many respects, absolutely delightful. More on that in a moment.
"The Long Room" at Trinity College.
In 1801, "The Copyright Act" designated Trinity College as the legal deposit library and a copy of every book published in England and Ireland and Scotland was to be kept on file here. The storage problem this caused, coupled with a collapsing roof, caused this room to be built, finally completed in 1861. It is over 200 feet long and houses more than 200,000 books. Each alcove has books filed not by title, or author, or subject, but by size. But each alcove and each shelf is designated with a letter of the alphabet, A-to-Z. A huge reference is located at one end that will, much like a map, tell you the letter coordinate to find the title you want. They can get it down to which shelf it's on, anyway. 

When you first walk in, you are overwhelmed by the smell of old books. I loved it! There are also - lining both sides of the room - 38 plaster busts of teachers, philosophers, scientists, and local influential persons who have had some great impact upon education or Irish society. I suppose they serve as role models for the students. Trinity College - also called the University of Dublin - is still very much a working academic institution. 

But the main event here is the Book of Kells. It is an illustrated manuscript, produced with colored ink on goatskin pages by Irish monks in the late 700s and early 800s. When Vikings began to conquer much of Ireland, the book was sent to a monastery in Dublin for safekeeping. It is an unrivaled exhibition of calligraphy and sacred drawings. In the early 1950s, the Library separated the four gospels into individual books, and two of them are always on display. We saw the books of John and Luke. They are kept in climate controlled displays and you can look, but never touch. A digital copy of the complete work of the Book of Kells - considered Ireland's most precious national treasure - can be found on the library's website here.

Selfie's a little blurry, but we're happy.
From here it was over to Arthur Guinness' Storehouse. He made ale early in his career, but after tasting a dark porter in England, decided to brew his own here in Ireland. His first version was called a "porter stout" and eventually he dropped the word "porter." At the height of its production, Guinness employed 5,000 people here in Dublin. (Now, mostly due to automation, they are down to about 800.)

One mind-blowing fact: Guiness - for 300 pounds and 45 pounds annually (remember, this was before the euro) - leased 64 acres from the city of Dublin for ... are you sitting down? 9,000 years! The company built housing for its employees that had the city's first running water in the bathrooms, and also included healthcare and a creche (preschool and nursery) for the workers' children.

This storehouse was started in 1902, finished in 1904, and the first fermented stout was produced in 1906. Guinness quickly outgrew this place and it sat idle for many years before being turned into a tourist attraction. From here, they built Storehouse #2. They are now on Storehouse #4, with Guinness being sold in more than 150 countries.

Woulda, shoulda, coulda.
Bonnie and I saw things that my Dad and I had missed, and we also found a little out-of-the way place called the Guinness Archives. It was so far off the tour route we were the only ones there. And, of course, we also visited the Gravity Bar on the top floor and took in a gorgeous 360 degree view of Dublin.

From there it was back on the bus and over to the Kilmainham Gaol. Only to discover that all the tours for the remainder of the day were sold out. Should have believed the comments on Trip Advisor, I guess. The photo to the right shows one of the last tour groups kicking off at the entrance to the Gaol (note the serpent logo above the door), and you'll also note that we are not in that group. It was a major bummer. But we toured the attached courthouse and the museum and you can see lots more photos of our day at my Facebook page. Look for the photo album "Ireland 2017."
Note the windows get smaller as they go up.
Couple more notes about the city of Dublin. In the 17 and 1800s, England passed something commonly called a "Glass Tax," that assessed homeowners fees based on the number of windows and how much glass they had. You could often tell how well off a family was by how much glass was in their windows. What many architects took to doing was to make the windows smaller and smaller on each floor. See the photo above.
This move ultimately backfired.
When the Bank of Ireland bought the old Parliament building in Dublin, they got around the Glass Tax niftily - see the photo above - by simply bricking up all of the windows! This move ultimately backfired, however, as it became a popular saying among the people of Dublin, "If you put your money in the Bank of Ireland, it'll never see the light of day again!"

Finally, as Americans visiting, my wife and I would like to officially thank whomever thought up this idea (see photo at right). It's a reminder at every intersection (the Irish call them junctions) that traffic moves differently here. 

More tomorrow.

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Mark's Musings is published on an occasional basis but that may change without notice. This blog is considered to be a digital periodical publication and is filed as such with the U.S. Library of Congress; ISSN 2154-9761. And the road goes ever on.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Wish Fulfillment

SkyDeck Bonnie
Bonnie on Delta's SkyDeck at JFK Airport in New York.
It seems fitting to me that my first blog post following the eulogy for my father from last September is one that he wanted to see happen. You see, when my father realized he wasn't coming back from his last hospital stay, he had two wishes as he lay upon his deathbed.

The first was that I complete his tithe to his church for the rest of the year. He had made them a promise and a commitment, and he wanted to see it through. Just the kind of guy Pop was.

Now, when it came to all the trips we took, just the two of us over the years since Mom passed in 2011, he had always regretted that my wife, Bonnie, was never able to go with us because we were either gone too long or too much of her vacation time was already spoken for, or we were just too spontaneous and left before her work - that has strict time off notification policies - could accommodate.

So as he lay gasping for breath on his hospital bed, in the wee hours of the morning right before he passed, he said, "Take Bonnie to Ireland." Our visit to the Emerald Isle in April of 2014 had always been the highlight trip of his life and he longed to go back. We had, in fact, held several discussions on the best ways to do it, and we were planning on him, Bonnie, and myself all going back once his health was good enough.

That day never came. But his second and last wish has been fulfilled. Bonnie and I are sitting in a Dublin hotel as I write this. I had written a series of blog posts from that trip, starting with this one - if you'd like to compare - and my hope is to do the same this trip.

Unlike that first trip, where Dad and I traveled counter-clockwise around the Republic of Ireland, this time Bonnie and I are going clockwise, and will see a few things Pop and I didn't. Several of the same things, yes, because there are some things that simply must be visited when you travel all the way here from the States.

I won't bore you with the details from our trip over, but let me just say that due to Pop's generosity, we flew First Class (Business Class for European readers). And wow, has it spoiled me.

We are once again renting a car for the trip and I am once again driving from the right side of the vehicle, on the left side of the road. Very different. (See the photo.) And let me just give all future travelers this one word of advice: if this is the first time you're doing this, DO NOT SPEND YOUR FIRST NIGHT IN DUBLIN. Driving down into Dublin from the airport - even if you were to be completely comfortable - is often harrowing and frequently terrifying. What you don't see in that photo are my hands warping the steering wheel out of shape from the stress.

Seriously, don't drive in Dublin. If you do, park your car at the hotel and don't even think about it until it's time to leave. Which is what we are doing.

Two days in Dublin, one each in Wexford, Cork, Lahinch, and Galway, with a two day respite in Killarney, where we will take in the Ring of Kerry. Then back to Dublin for the long flights home.

More to come.

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Mark's Musings is published on an occasional basis but that may change without notice. This blog is considered to be a digital periodical publication and is filed as such with the U.S. Library of Congress; ISSN 2154-9761. I believe Dad would be delighted that we are here.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Clifford John Raymond

My wife took this photo. It perfectly captures Dad's good humor
and impishness.
July 27, 1932 - September 6, 2016

My father passed away unexpectedly this past Tuesday. He had been in and out of hospitals a lot lately. He'd gladly tell you he'd been hospitalized 23 times in 24 months. Every time he experienced anything happening in his body that didn't feel right, he'd call my step-sister or his brother Bruce if he was in Florida, or an ambulance and off to the hospital he'd go. Dad was far from being a hypochondriac, but he knew he was in his 80s, lived alone, and didn't want to die of self-neglect. 

Each time the facility would run its battery of tests, give him a clean bill of health, and kick him loose two days later. This visit was no different, in the beginning. Dad went into ER on Labor Day with a bad case of chills and fatigue that wound up being a pneumonia that had set in deeply over the weekend. But then we were told that an underlying lung disease was complicating things. Shockingly, it was the first time anyone in the family - including Dad - had learned he had a lung disease. 

In the end, nothing would bring his blood-oxygen up to survivable levels, and his body shut down very quickly. I was sitting with him in the hospital, talking to him clearly and easily at 11:30 Monday night. Just before 7:30 Tuesday morning, he was gone.

The blessing is that it was quick. The curse is that it caught us all by total surprise, tripling our grief. 

Here, for the record and for anyone who couldn't be at the funeral, is my eulogy. I feel like I failed to do justice to the man, missing any childhood anecdotes completely, but Dad never really talked about his life growing up. So I worked with what I had.

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Dad, circa 1945.
Believe it or not, there was a time in his life when Cliff Raymond had hair. This young, redheaded, freckle-faced boy the entire town of Marion called “Sonny” loved to play and loved to eat. He tried to join the Army more than once during World War 2 and again when the Korean Conflict arrived, but was always turned down due to a childhood illness that punctured both of his eardrums.

He wound up marrying his high school sweetheart, Jane, and they moved away from Marion and struck out on their own life and adventures. The man you know as a devout lay minister with a passion to live and preach the Gospel wasn’t always this way. Christ was an afterthought early in their lives. Dad smoked, swore freely, and both Mom and Dad liked to drink more than they should at one of the local watering holes.

The problem was that they would drink too much and when that happened, well … Jane got a little flirty and Cliff got jealous. It was a bad combination. There were never any barroom brawls, but there was plenty of fighting with each other once they got home. Dad confided in me just recently that if Jane hadn’t died at 33, they probably would have divorced.

Cliff and Jane tried to have children. Oh, how they tried. If everything had worked like it was supposed to work, I would have been one of six siblings … all brothers! But Mom suffered from Juvenile Diabetes (what they now call Type 1), and it made pregnancies extremely difficult. She had one miscarriage, two of my brothers were stillborn, and two others lived for just a few days. They are buried next to her in the Marion Cemetery.

So they tried to adopt. They went through all the applications, all the background checks, all the rigorous agency interviews, and at the final step, they were denied. Jane was livid. Violence was about to ensue when Dad, who had been clued in on the reason, simply told Mom, “I’ll tell you later,” and got  her out of there. They had been turned down for adoption at the very end because the doctor doing the physical on Mom’s diabetic condition told the agency she would be dead within five years.

The fam, early in my life. I inherited
that gap in Mom's teeth.
Well, the joke was on that doctor. Jane lived for *10* more years and gave birth to me. I was born on a Friday morning – just in time for Captain Kangaroo – and taken directly to church on Sunday to be dedicated. Because Mom and Dad were Baptists; had been all their lives. And Baptists – despite the name – don’t baptize babies. We could only be dedicated to the Lord until we were old enough to make our own decision about baptism.

Soon after, Mom and Dad became more serious about their faith. And Dad found a steady job as a “Storekeeper” with the State of Michigan. He worked with office supplies, inventory, and requisitions for every government office in the State. He created new inventory and reorder systems … that other people took credit for. But eventually he became the Head Storekeeper and the job offered enough benefits and pay that we were able to move to a better home, even while Jane’s health failed. We moved to the house that Dad would spend the rest of his life in, and Jane passed away in September of 1969.

Dad and I did everything together over the next year. He took me to my first baseball game (the Tigers lost to the Royals), and we would “rough it” in a camper that fit on the bed of a pickup truck. As we’d drive, a bug would splat on the windshield and Dad would call out in a challenging voice, “I bet you won’t have the guts to do *that* again!” I’m pretty sure that’s where I picked up my love of puns. 

One day we had stopped at a roadside park overlooking Lake Michigan, and there was a sign posted that said, “Danger: Overhanging Cliff.” Dad couldn’t resist. Somehow he managed to climb up to the top of that sign, leaned over it, and mugged a menacing look while I snapped the photo. It was a fantastic picture and a beautiful, spontaneous moment.

And then we left that camera on the bumper of the pickup as we drove away. Never saw it again. But I still have that picture (in my mind).

Dad loved cooking on the grill. One night I brought a friend from school home unexpectedly and asked if he could stay for dinner. Dad said, “Sure!” and threw another steak on the grill. He definitely enjoyed using his gift of hospitality. Later his “chicken on the grill” became something of a legend among us family members. Colonel Sanders had nothing on Pop’s finger lickin’ chicken.

Finally, feeling so alone I would find him crying late at night, Dad began to date again and before too long remarried a widow, Hazel Dast, in February of 1971. Widow women were to become an important part of his life, later.

Mom Hazel and Dad, circa 2008.
Hazel became the great love of his life. Dad doted on her. Mom gave Dad a sense of stability, a profoundly delicious set of meals each night, and a circle of friends he never had and he gave her everything he could. Dad loved Hazel’s cooking. Her banana bread recipe was so good she had to make extra and freeze them for friends, and no one in the family has yet been able to duplicate that taste. 

When Mom had made a particularly good meal, Pop would sit back and utter a phrase that I’m sure many of you have heard. He was “sufficiently suffoncified,” but I’ll bet many of you don’t know the whole phrase, which Dad would pronounce to signify such a good meal he’d have to go sleep it off: “I am sufficiently suffoncified so that any further intake would be offensive to my most fastidious tastes.”

Cliff and Hazel loved to travel. They went to Hawaii with their best friends, and went camping a lot, almost everywhere across the U.S., really – turning that tiny pickup bed camper into a 24-foot fifth-wheeler, one upgrade at a time. They loved camping, fishing, deer hunting, and nature in general.

When Dad retired from his job with the State of Michigan, Hazel and Cliff rented a campsite in Texas and began to winter there, eventually selling that fifth wheel camper and buying an actual retirement home in the Country Palms RV Park in McAllen, Texas. They loved the people of the park. They loved crossing into Mexico - just an hour away - for cheap vanilla and would always bring home several bottles for friends. They loved the park “jam sessions” and Dad would often play his harmonica and sing. He became known for his outspoken faith, and eventually the park asked him if he would become the “Park Pastor,” which he gladly accepted. He and Mom would visit shut-ins, make the rounds of the park so they knew everyone, and Dad would get to preach on Sundays.

That desire to care for people continued when they decided to stop going to Texas and returned to Michigan for good – of course even before this part of their life Cliff and Hazel had become great Sunday School teachers here at Judson and would often hold card parties at their home. And they continued to visit shut-ins. Eventually a young pastor named Zachary Bartels was hired to serve here and he brought Cliff alongside him in many of the church ministries, the two becoming good friends. Soon Dad was offered a “license to preach” as a Lay Minister in the American Baptist denomination.  How Dad enjoyed that honor! He occasionally filled the pulpit here, and would preach periodically at a homeless shelter, and he loved loved loved every minute of it.

Then, in late Spring of 2006, something happened that would change the lives of Cliff and Hazel forever. A convertible full of teenagers pulled out directly in front of Mom and Dad like they weren’t even there. Dad T-Boned the car at 50 miles per hour. Guardian angels must have been heavily in abundance that day as no one was killed, though bones were broken and lives were imperiled. 

Neither Cliff nor Hazel were ever the same again. Hazel eventually became housebound, and Dad became her 24-hour caregiver. For five years they led a sheltered, slowly declining life, until Hazel received her promotion to Heaven in midsummer of 2011.

Dad had come to the Internet late in life. He didn’t even own a computer until he was in his 60s, and took the leap onto the Internet at age 70. Well, it was dialup so maybe it was just a small hop. After Mom passed, Dad discovered “chat rooms.” He fell in with a bunch of beautiful people online who loved gardening, God, and gabbing about what was going on in their lives. Every day Dad would send this group of “e-friends” a Scripture verse and a joke, then he’d post a photo he’d taken of something pretty. He loved the comments he got, and I think those people saved my Dad’s life, giving him something to look forward to doing every day.

Dad with his "harem."
About this time he also began to hang out with his other “widow women” whom he and others laughingly referred to as his “harem.” You know who you are – Jean, Jerre, Jeanie, and Donna – and I need to tell you that not only did Dad depend upon you for comfort and company, but he always looked forward to helping take you places, clearing up your “honey-do” lists, and the card parties. He loved the food you'd make for him, and loved that you gave him the comfort and space to lay down and take naps in the middle of your get-togethers.

Dad was never a social person, never a joiner; but he fiercely loved spending time with his family and friends.

Dad told me that Mom wanted him to travel after she passed. She said he should go see the places the two of them would never get to. The year that Mom passed Dad and I took a cruise to Alaska, and soon after I took an early retirement from the Postal Service, Dad and I began to travel in earnest. We went back to Alaska … we drove down to Florida, all the way
Our road trip to Key West.
to the Keys, and back home. We drove all the way across the northeast U.S., into Canada’s New Brunswick and on to Nova Scotia, including Prince Edward Island where we shopped at the “Anne of Green Gables” store. Eventually we went to Ireland together in the Spring of 2014.

Ironically, we were in Ireland.
That was his favorite trip, and he took SO MANY pictures. We had rented a car and I was driving – from the right hand side of the vehicle, on the left hand side of the road -- which made him extremely nervous -- and I kept hearing Dad gasp at how beautiful the countryside was, followed quickly by him saying, “Don’t look! Keep your eyes on the road!” We always talked about that trip, and about maybe going back one day.

I always told Dad that we had a symbiotic relationship. He couldn’t travel without my help, and I couldn’t travel without his money.

Dad, of course, was not perfect. He had his flaws.  The word “saw” was a tool in his workshop, and not the past tense of “to see.” If he wanted to tell you about something he saw, it was always, “Oh yeah, I seen that the other day.” But that wasn’t his only crime against grammar. The man never met an apostrophe he couldn’t use inappropriately.  Plurals became possessives, and possessives became plurals.

And he bore the cultural prejudices of growing up in the 30s and 40s … always barely disguising a mistrust of those with a different skin color, especially if you owned a motel and were charging more than he thought you should. But he was also trying to get past that with help from others. He knew better. And he knew that he needed to do better.

Dad at my son's wedding last August.
And Dad loved attention. Oh, let us not deny that. If you were a stranger and met Cliff, you’d know his entire health history, where he’d traveled, and what he’d seen for the last two years within five minutes. He and I had several arguments about the proper way to meet new people. “It’s really not all about you, Dad. Not yet.”

Dad should have sold insurance, because in most everything he did, there was a “backup plan.” He carried TWO wallets. He wore a belt *and* suspenders. He would put Downy fabric softener in the washing machine, and a Bounce dryer sheet in the dryer. He had a digital clock on his DVR and an old analog clock with a battery sitting right next to it in case the power went out.  

He went to bed about 7:30 at night. He’d be back up at midnight checking his email and Facebook. That’s right, Dad joined Facebook and proceeded to violate nearly every social convention you could think of. He posted terribly intimate personal details … on status updates of people he didn’t even know because he saw you had left a comment and he wanted you to know about his thing. Dad hijacked more status updates than an air marshal could stop. For him, Facebook was just a different version of eMail. And he never understood that the entire world could see what he was writing. If he did understand, he just didn’t care.

He’d get up at 5:00 in the morning, and if you weren’t ready to eat by 6am, he began setting the table for breakfast – LOUDLY. He’d bang the pots and pans while he heated the water for coffee. He's not using pots and pans to heat water for coffee, but he'd bang them. Then he’d apologize and ask if he woke you when you came out of the bedroom.

Dad was always a creative type. He went to Ferris State University to study art but dropped
Dad and I in 2013.
out because he couldn’t afford it. I have a lovely charcoal drawing of a still life with fruit in my home. Throughout his life, he would create stuff. He took some surplus telephone wire he’d found and made tiny animal sculptures with it. He took horseshoe nails and turned them into cross necklaces. Some of you may have one. The bolo tie you saw him wearing today was one of his own creations. He made his own greeting cards on a computer program; some of you received those. 

He was well known for giving new life to old mechanical items, salvaging them for another few years of use. His fixes tended to be ugly and look cheap, but the stuff worked and kept on working and he hardly ever charged for the repairs.

Dad once wrote a novel. I bet most of you didn’t know that. It was a Cowboys and Indians story. He only showed it to me once, and he never tried to have it published.

Both Dad and Mom loved to read. Mom would read romance novels, Dad would read westerns and historical fiction. He has pretty much the entire library of Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey at home. In fact, he pretty much has an entire library. There are bookshelves overstuffed in almost every room and if the house ever caught fire, it would burn for days.

Dad, in one of the last pictures
ever taken of him, with newest
great-granddaughter, Bailey.
I cannot wrap this up without mentioning his love of a bargain. Getting quality merchandise for cheap “pleases me old Scottish ancestors,” he would say. This led to his love of yard sales. He and Mom held some doozies in their day. He got to be so good at setting up and organizing yard sales that he told me lately he could have made a second career out of being a consultant for that. And it didn’t matter where you were going or what time you had to be there, if he saw a sign advertising a yard sale, you betcha he was going to stop.

I think he and Mom furnished at least two rooms of their home with yard sale merchandise; if not furnished, at least heavily decorated. “Yard Sale-ing” was one of his favorite hobbies and one which age and time could not diminish. If there’s a yard sale on the way to the cemetery, be ready to stop for a few minutes.

Toward the end of his life, he became more impetuous in his decision-making. Perhaps he knew he didn’t have many years left. Three years ago, he calls me up on a Tuesday late in September and says, “I’m tired of winter in Michigan. I’m ready to be a snowbird again; this time in Florida. Could you see if you can find a place for me?”

On Thursday I get a call: “I think I found a place. Could you look it over and see what you think?”

On Saturday, the call comes in: “So I made an offer on the place.” Monday we make travel reservations, fly to Florida on Thursday, buy a mobile home in Zephyrhills on Friday.

A year later, I get an email: “If I buy a second trailer here, would you move in?” Before I can even talk seriously to my wife about this, I get a second email the next day: “So I bought the place.” (insert gesture of frustration)

But my Dad was perhaps most famous for being early. If you asked him to arrive at 10 a.m., he’d be there by 9:15. If he said he would pick you up at 7 o’clock, you had better be ready by 6:30. The man was notorious for this. Even in death. His doctor told him his health was good enough he wouldn’t die for another 8-10 years. We should have known; Dad arrived early.


Let me close by saying that if Cliff were standing here, looking back on his life, he would say he was “sufficiently suffoncified.”
In Waterford, Ireland.
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Dad's obituary can be read here.

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Mark's Musings is published on an occasional basis but that may change without notice. This blog is considered to be a digital periodical publication and is filed as such with the U.S. Library of Congress; ISSN 2154-9761. There are never any endings, only beginnings in disguise.