At the funeral of a good friend recently, I was honored to share this beautiful reading that so applied to the life-time romance of more than 70 years that has inspired my own and so many other relationships. Please enjoy the scene described in this sharing, edited with this couple’s names from the original piece written by another inspiring author, Bob Perks

“Are you still holding hands?” I know that Archie is, even after Russ’ passing

Recently I received a Facebook question from a long time ago co-worker at Stewart’s Root Beer stand, JoAnn, daughter of the owner, a really great man, Joe Palko. She asked, “Jim, do you remember . . .”

To which I replied:

Do I remember? Absolutely, like it was just yesterday. Some of my happiest teen and young adult memories were over the many years of working there with you and your wonderful family, especially Joe who was like a father to us tray hops (and counter men). You roped off the front parking slots on my 1965 wedding day for the bridal party to make a grand entrance and stop for root beers that day! He even offered to give me some money if I needed it for my prom night (thanks to the tips working there, I thanked him for that fatherly offer but turned him down – never to forget that moment). So much of my career success came from the working there those many years, learning the lessons of customer service, how to speak with strangers like friends, service = generous tips a valuable lesson in life, hard work = success, and so much more.

“Oh those ice cold frosty mugs!”

I loved working for Joe (Palko, father to JoAnn & Kenny, wife to Ann). He treated all his workers with respect and strong customer service minded discipline. I loved wearing the required black bow tie, both behind the counter and as a tray-hop, most used every excuse to take that tie off, at least until Joe caught them and insisted it be put back on as part of ‘the uniform’. Joe was very, very precise and careful with his product and service. In the back area there was a huge stainless steel tank that was used to take the very concentrated root beer syrup (true Stewart’s). As he carefully added just the right amounts of sugar and syrup to that tank, each stainless steel pail of water was filled to a fine pencil mark, never over that mark (which would have multiplied the resultant root beer base and increased his profit), never under that mark, but precisely to his trained eye, before being poured gently into the huge vat of brown root beer syrup, perfect to keep the flavor of the foamy final root beer drink consistent and flavorful. His hamburger meet patties were never frozen, but delivered fresh and refrigerated until put onto the grill for each order (nothing made ahead in this business). One day Joe was taking a delivery of that meat and business was slow mid-afternoon. He so proudly showed off that burger to me, a tray-hop. He cooked that patty without any salt or pepper or anything else, just pure red beef, offered it to me on a fresh bun (another ‘most important’ part of the final product) to taste and savor under his very proud and watchful eye. I can hear his words even today, 60 years later, as he said, “Now that’s what a burger is meant to taste like! ” He was so right – it was plain and delicious, and served with family pride in each and every one that went out that window to be tray-ed out to the driver’s window of the waiting car’s load of customers, regulars who came back all the time driven by that attention to detail. And I remember . . .

Stewart’s as it looked back in Fords, NJ in early 1960’s

continued . . . those hot dog and hamburger buns, they were always ‘today fresh’, the real secret to their taste and success. Joe kept a paper notebook (remember that, JoAnn?) where he recorded at the end of every day how much roll was used and the weather of the day. Then he would look at tomorrow’s weather forecast, refer back to that date range the year before as recorded 365 days ago) and use his judgement to call in that night’s bread order for the following morning’s delivery. Talk about attention to detail! Oh, such great memories and what a wonderful place for teens (and into young adults with families to support) to work. Tony, the local thesbian who practiced his upcoming play lines each night between waiting on cars. Rich, the local policeman who worked there so many years as a side job. How I remember Kenny and I competing for cars when we agreed to side-line the assigned spaces to ‘take as much as you can service’ in a free for all style, trying to time our running trips to distant cars with orders that would be coming out to on the counter trays with foamy beer mugs to be delivered. And beware taking on too much such that pending trays would be sitting too long which got Joe’s attention and wrath to the assigned tray-hop. That running around during a busy lunch hour on a hot Summer day was challenging and so much fun back then when we had the legs for it and energy to engage in fun competition. And in bad weather or lull hours, there was the checker board game in progress that two of us would attend to in between taking and delivering orders! Work was hard, fun and very fulfilling money wise, with instant tip rewards IF we gave the best service. Oh, and be sure to count those glasses when you went to pick up the finished tray to be sure somebody hadn’t ‘forgotten’ some glass in the back seat, especially the colorful ‘baby mugs’ that were in demand. At night’s end, the many glasses were counted and any missing inventory had to be paid for out of our own pockets, something I don’t every recall having to pay up, either because the desired attention to detail was done with each paid order, or Joe didn’t enforce it, can’t recall which. It was a challenge to address the ‘missing mug’ issue with a customer without causing insult or conflict (and loosing a good tip). Of special attraction was the mug with that colorful Stewart’s logo on it.

And this is what a tray order and that famous mug looked like . . . and when I worked behind the counter (on day’s I wasn’t tray-hopping), we would be able to handle with one hand eight of those mugs filled with foam headed root beer

A heavy tray with those mugs, to hang on the driver’s car window which had to be just so high to catch the hanger part of the tray

and that mug which too often was not on the final paid for tray to be taken off the driver’s car window . . . especially if the mug was one with the orange logo decal on it – a prized possession if you could get away with it! The challenge included how to inquire “Is there another mug in there?” after the tip had been collected so as not to offend but to still get that mug back.

That prized collector’s item, a decal-ed genuine Stewart’s mug, a ‘steal’!

Ah yes, I enjoyed those great hard but very profitable days, working there with your wonderful family for many of my formative years, sometimes taking fun from my students who came in from my ‘day job’ of teaching high school math, itself an interesting challenge. Even then, I felt proud to be giving them a lesson ‘out of the classroom’ in the meaning of hard work and customer courtesy.

JoAnn, I remember fondly those teen years, especially running the lot with your brother, Kenny, on those hot Fords, NJ Summer days!

– Jim Gleason
February 2019

PS: Shortly after responding to JoAnn’s question, I learned that her brother and my friend, Kenny, had passed away just last year. My condolences to his wife, Trudy and family. He was a dear friend and will remain in my happy early days of memories even this half century later.

The Unwinding of the Miracle
A Memoir of Life, Death, and Everything That Comes After
by Julie Yip-Williams (due out Jan 2019)

“I loved it!” What an amazing real-life story, both sad and inspiring. The author writes from her soul, sharing in details only someone who has lived the early life tragedy, followed by accomplished life from nothing to cancer tragedy at a much too young life. As a reader you will be on a roller coaster reading from one chapter to the next, knowing too early on what the final chapter will be like while still holding out that your anticipation is wrong and a miracle – as in the title – will change that ending as a surprise. But no, the opening reveal prevails and we feel deep feelings as we travel along on this life journey which, as the author reminds us, will eventually lead to death, a natural part of life as we know it all too well.

The sadness isn’t in the guaranteed death we all must face, but rather what we deal with in advancing to that human fate. And there is where the depth of this insightful life story touches us as it unfolds with anticipated impact on the family that will be left behind, two young daughters and a loving soul-mate spouse. The author raises some important questions as she faces the medical trials with their disabling side effects that change the quality of life and impact family relationships. Do we make decisions based on our own needs, even if that means a shortened life span, or conversely, take into account those who are affected by our passing that will leave them without motherly support in their important growing years and life events? How do we feel about the loved husband also left behind, wishing out of love for their best, but conflicted by natural human emotions about his finding another to fill out that left behind family life. The author shares her honest innermost thoughts and feelings in a very insightful reading of those conflictual moments compounded by the unavoidable physical body pain and drug induced mental challenges, especially as they relate to the high hopes and disappointments that come with that ‘giving it our all’ to preserve life for as long as we can.

I’m not giving anything away in sharing her eventual death, but in one final chapter written by her husband AFTER that death, we gain still more connection and insight into her and their amazing journey of life, however too short, but lived to its fullest despite early obstacles. And in that telling lies the inspiration of lives we all must face, lives of challenge and opportunity.

I strongly recommend this reading to anyone facing life’s daily journey (especially – but not only – if yours involves cancer, either yours or a loved one’s), and that’s each and every one of us. I eventually found myself sitting up reading late into the early morning hours for the final chapters, unable to put this awesome book down as those inevitable final days unfold.

Just came across this short piece and wanted to both affirm it from my personal life experience and share it by way of inspiration to you:

Growing Older, Getting Happier

Older people tend to be happier than younger people, and their happiness increases with age, a study in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry reports.

Researchers contacted 1,546 people ages 21 to 99 via random telephone calls and found that older age was, not surprisingly, tied to declines in physical and cognitive function. But it was also associated with higher levels of overall satisfaction, happiness and well-being, and lower levels of anxiety, depression and stress. The older the person, the study found, the better his or her mental health tended to be.

The researchers used well-validated scales to assess mental health, although the study relied on self-reports and was a snapshot in time that did not follow an individual through a lifetime. Other studies have found similar results linking advancing age and higher levels of happiness.

The reasons for the effect remain unclear, but the senior author, Dr. Dilip V. Jeste, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, had some suggestions.

“Brain studies show that the amygdala in older people responds less to stressful or negative images than in a younger person,” he said. “We become wise. Peer pressure loses its sting. Better decision-making, more control of emotions, doing things that are not just for yourself, knowing oneself better, being more studious and yet more decisive.

“This is good news for young people, too,” he added. “You have something to look forward to.”
life in shadows

So, what sayest YOU?

A version of this article appears in print on 08/30/2016, on page D4 of the NewYork edition with the headline: Growing Older, and Happier.

When I look back on my personal values, one that has remained constant over these past 7 decades has been always learning something new. Much of that comes in the form of reading or listening to audio books, with two or three books in progress at any given time. Even in looking back over a career that I can honestly say I loved every day of it, whether it was short order cook (teen years at Danford’s in Metuchen, NJ), selling jewelry at Metuchen Jeweler’s, giving customer service at the local tropical pet store or car hopping at Stewart’book librarys Root Beer stand in nearby Ford’s NJ (great lessons when you work on tips – good service means rewards with each car you waited on; work hard and you make more – lessons every young person needs to learn to succeed in later years), or teaching high school mathematics (at St. Peter’s high school in New Brunswick NJ where I attended and later taught at as a peer with my former teachers – loved those kids and working days!).  I even was the high school tennis coach, an assignment that drove me to the library to learn how to play and score tennis since I had no background in the sport until then.

Geometry teacher (1968) JFK High School, Iselin, NJ

Geometry teacher (1968) JFK High School, Iselin, NJ

Later in corporate America working at Sperry, Univac, Unisys – the names changed over my forty years, as did the company – but always moving into a different challenging role every 3 years – constantly learning new things, usually by sitting down with individual team members and watching them do a job, then asking if I can try my had at it – great bonding and fun way to learn. Whether it was teaching (yes, never strayed far from that stand up in front of a classroom even in this environment) or presenting product to a customer/prospect, I was learning and growing.

It was during those years that I came to recognize how important a value that was to giving me satisfaction in my life. It was never hard work even when it required working beyond 24 hours in a day, and sometimes it did!

Now in retirement that still plays a major role in living a fulfilled life each day. Whether its hosting a support group meeting for organ transplant patients learning from a kidney recipient turned kidney transplant surgeon last Thursday evening, Saturday attending a day long leadership summit listening to a presenter from the UK sharing what organ donation is like in their world, attending a bible study on Sunday followed by a learning workshop on how to lead a church council, each expands my world of interest just as it has for these many years.

And so it goes, bones may ache, health conditions may challenge, but the mind remains alive and hungry. That’s why, after reading a Washington Post editorial about the political climate just before now, I found myself distracted in watching a YouTube video on how they make bubble gum! (which I then posted on Twitter, another social media resource I’m trying to learn how to use effectively – learning, learning, learning!) – and then was moved to share here in my long neglected blog, this story of today and learnings.

So what are your values that make your own daily life worth living? Not sure? Take some quiet time to ask and answer that question, then focus more of your life in that direction to get more enjoyment out of life today and everyday.

So now I’m off to more reading and a to-do list that is too long for a life in retirement that is supposed to be one of quiet and resting. My lesson for you today: don’t believe it – life is to be lived and the more you learn the more interesting each day can be.

With my left knee replacement surgery now out two months+, I was looking forward to a recent air traveling to Atlanta for a UNOS board meeting as a final test of this new painus-airways-express-erj-195_4562_t-free functionality. In prior trips with both knees aging and no cartilage left, travel was painful with a typical assigned airport gate being as far from the main terminal as you can get – i.e. a distant Gate F79, meaning a very long walk with several stops to rest both arthritic knees along the way.
Of course now with that test underway, my assigned gate was B2, the very first gate past security! On the return flight, it was gate D21 in Atlanta, so I felt at least this would be a good test. Wouldn’t you know it? Gate D21 was the first gate of the spoke off the central hub, so again just like B2, the closest one! Where were they when I couldn’t walk?
Upon returning to Philadelphia after three long days of meetings and this late night return we arrived at the furthest B gate and even with the up hill ramp midway in that long walk I’m pleased to report a ‘no-pain’ experience with no need to stop and rest. I can’t tell you how much younger I felt with that, and yes, even the right knee that has had nothing done to it, was pain-free. Doctor upon my release confirmed that when one knee gets fixed, often the other previously pained knee improves and that has been my case, so very thankful for that.

He assures me that when its time to do the second knee, “You will know it!” and for now, despite my willingness to do it when needed, that right knee is doing just fine.

. . . plain pink and “Mystery Chicks” flavored marshmallow Peeps!

We were talking about the newly released special flavored Peeps this weekend and how we wouldn’t buy them at the current asking prices of $1.99 (and more), waiting until they go on sale.

Well, Pam found them at Walmart for $1 each and so we have tasted just one of each flavor (all too sweet) and guessing the mystery flavor challenge as being (according to Pam’s tasting): Kiwi flavored – imagine that.  My favorite as of now is “Party Cake” – smells like cake, tastes creamy like cake, perfect. But my other favorite just for its great smell is their “Bubble Gum Peeps” – smells exactly like my childhood Fleer’s pink bubble gum – they did a great job with it.  Of course these get so much better when aged and hardened, if we let them age instead of going back for ‘just one more.’

Try them out and let us know your personal favorite, or your own guess as to the Mystery Chicks flavor as you see it.  And, fact of the day: 5,500,000 peeps are ‘born’each day!  We have 60 of them here now (well 60 minus 6 we’ve tasted).

Life is just a bowl of . . . (not cherries but…) Peeps:


15M views and counting, and I just discovered it – hope it gets you thinking too:

The video tells the whole story:

So go on out there today and feel your own beauty, patch or no patch!  And let me say to you: “You are beautiful!”  (yes, even you men out there)

I’m currently reading yet another amazing heart transplant biography that shows the amazing strength and resilience of the human spirit.  Facing two heart transplants in one week, months of very challenging recovery in the hospital, to today where he lives a normal life with loving family again, with a kidney donated by his loving wife.  Check out that book, I Left My Heart at Stanford, on Amazon by clicking on that title.


Today, in yet another amazing true life story of overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds of being born without arms, now working full time and living what for him is a “normal” life, driving (can you imagine how he drives w/o hands and arms?), adapting to challenges any of us would not believe but can be inspired in seeing him in daily action, you can see this story in the video at

Enjoy, and then go on facing your own life challenges with renewed belief that if they can do what you read and view in these stories, you certainly can do your own, getting through your day too.  As for me, I am working in my office, looking out the window at Pam’s beautiful garden, watching an amazing display of aerodynamics as a humming bird does his daily visit on the flowers in hanging planters just outside that window.  Life is good and I pray that you too are living that same experience today and every day as we count our blessings.


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