inspirations


I love to read! Variety is the way I would describe my reading preferences, usually enjoying 5 books at a time, some hard copy, others on a Kindle device, still others as audible books mainly for listening in the car on long and short trips. Last year my Goodreads goal was 24 books and by 2019 year’s end, I had read and reviewed 54 books despite a very busy life outside of reading time. This year my goal for 34 is already ahead of schedule with two completed in the first two weeks of 2020.

My current read is so good, I wanted to share it here and hope it inspires you to both enjoy your own reading list, but to add this awesome but disturbing real-life story to your list:

WOW! This amazing book came by way of several strong recommendations and once begun reading (despite having 5 other books in the current process of reading), I couldn’t put it down. Now that is what happens when I receive a novel by my favorite author, Charles Martin, always finishing his new releases the day they get delivered, but that’s never happened with a non-fiction book like this one. Opened and read to its end, some 350 pages later, finished in just 2 days, my sign of an exceptional read!

As the title suggests, JUST MERCY: A Story of Justice and Redemption, is the author’s personal account of a career, no make that ‘his vocation’ or calling, as a lawyer offering probono legal service to first, prisoners on death row, and later expanding that to juveniles who have been sent to prison for life, that is ‘to die in prison’ with no chance for parole. The tragedies of our legal system come out in story after story of injustice focused on the poor and minorities that too often find themselves the victims of prejudice and even illegal treatment/trials when they are obviously innocent. The book reads like a murder mystery novel except these are real-life stories of people with no hope, some imprisoned for fifty and more years, when Bryan Stevenson and his team arrive, very overworked, offering hope and a listening ear. The legal system and police, lawyers and judges too often ignore new evidence and testimony with legal maneuvers protect the original sentencing despite obvious mishandling at the original sentencing.

This is a hard book to read in some respects, given the human injustice and long-time suffering of the victims in his stories, adults and underage prisoners in jail for life. But at the same time, there are stories of success, told in such heart wrenching human emotional narrative involving family and communities still supporting prisoners they know were not the murders they were judged to be. Its also a hard read because you, the reader, feel so helpless in seeing the background and inhumaine treatment endured by the innocent or incapacitated so helpless in the system before Bryan and his team take on case after case, many winning releases, but too often unable to turn the tide of the executions despite obvious evidence of their innocence.

Supported by 20 pages of notes and a complete index, this is a frustrating but very educational read that should be part of everyone’s eye-opening exposure to the injustices he shares. One is left with an empty feeling of wanting to do something, but not knowing how to help. In his final pages, the author does link us to the legal support organization and right now I am going to go there to, at the very least, along with promoting their work with this book review, see if I can make at some financial donation to help them give hope to the hopeless.

My good friend, Mary Wu, shares via her blog beautiful inspiring stories from her life that always end with an engaging question/invitation to her reader.
Today she wrote about family and friends special times involving food and asked in conclusion:
“When has something so simple been so incredible in bringing you closer together to share and care for each other? Have you ever been in a place of sharing so comfortably and easily with people outside your inner circle? What childhood memory do you have of food or some other commonality that brought your loved ones together?”

I would like to share my response to her (Her invites are so well done that I always respond to her!)

Mary:
I’m always too busy with other priorities to read and respond to your Blog Updates, BUT since they are so well written and end with an engaging thoughtful question/invitation to share the reader’s feedback to your topic, I drop those other priorities and treat myself to your next read and then find memories or life experiences to share back to your invite.

So it is with today – “Sorry no time to read and write…” but I did just stop other tasks to read this one and now must respond as usual.

Recalling my childhood adventures in the early 1950’s:
As to my childhood cooking memories, your prose brought back beautiful memories of going out to the local woods and picking blackberries with my wonderful father (we share that love and special blessing of the dad’s you and I had/have in our lives, learning over time in conversations with friends how very rare that ‘special dad’ is, given how few have that like we do/did).

Then we would come home and start cooking up the blackberry jam that was so very special (Ah, those peanut butter – Skippy of course – and jelly/jam sandwiches with this homemade treat from our picking labors which added to its taste). Mary, thanks for getting me to take time out today to revisit those memories.

As adults, my wife, Pam, and I shared a simple unique visit with a good friend down in Georgia peach country when after his very special birthday party for his very special dad (which we had been invited to and driven down to Birmingham Alabama from NJ to attend – what a vacation trip that was!!!), and all the guests had left, we were staying at their home for the night and thus remained behind for quieter family time together. Mark’s father had brought over a basket of freshly picked peaches from his home in GA. We ended up in the kitchen, sitting on stools across the cutting table from Mark’s lovely and so friendly wife, Alison, offering to join her in peeling those peaches.

What a special time of just chatting and working on the food preparation of fresh Georgia peaches with beautiful family friends!!

Back in time to 1956:
Wow, and that just brought back another unique childhood memory. After 8th grade I attended a special high school near my home where you lived at the school and they ran a farm that supplied the school with fresh food for the meals there. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, we attended classes half-days and worked on the farm the other half day. On the day in this memory we were off the full day, trucked off to a distant peach orchard to pick baskets of peaches for the orchard owner, with some of that picking to come back with us to the school farm to be blanched, peeled (oh the bees and yellow jacket wasps were all over the sweet smelling outdoor processing area as we did our labors) and canned for later use. Two very special parts of that experience are still vivid in my mind these 6 decades later. First, we were not allowed to eat any of the beautiful peaches we were picking for that farmer that morning. The grove filled with bushel baskets of overflowing luscious fruit. At noon we were treated to farm fresh milk and meat and cheese sandwiches, and THEN, it was announced that we could go among those baskets and pick any peach we wanted to eat fresh from the tree for dessert!!! After a morning of ladder climbing and picking them, I can’t put words to how we wished we could have eaten them, and now to be allowed to choose the biggest and best of them – “WOW!!”

But that wasn’t the end. As I said we returned to the school farm (no, this wasn’t as you may be thinking some youth detention facility, I was studying to become a future religious brother in their community at their high school novitiate!), we prepared the fruit as described in the hot summer sunshine above. That night at the evening meal we were treated to fresh peach ice cream made with the product of our labors that morning! “Double WOW!!” (laughing out loud at this telling and enjoyment of that unique life experience).

Well, like I said, I don’t have time to read nor respond to your blog invitation (if you want to share this with your readers in any way, I have no issue with that by way of showing how your writing touches lives like mine and theirs) with so much to do here.

Mary, you are such an inspiration with your sharings that touch our hearts ‘out here’ in your world of readers. Thank you!!!

Jim Gleason
reflecting on wonderful life memories from so many years ago

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.

So each Summer we take a ‘seashore vacation’ to the Jersey shore, usually that means a trip to Seaside Heights, a throwback to my childhood week-long stays at grandma Ella Mae Crouse’s shore home on M-Street there.  These days, that vacation is very short, like an hour’s late afternoon drive of 60 miles from home to the shore where we walk the boardwalk, stop for dinner on the boards and turn around for that drive back arriving home by 9pm.

Recent years with my knees getting worse and worse with age, that walk on the boards would be limited to about two blocks, then sitting down to dinner, followed by one block back, sitting on a bench and a request for Pam to go get the car rather than my walking that final distance.  Monday this week was a perfect day for our annual ‘vacation’ trip and so we left home about 3, arriving at the boardwalk in Seaside about 4, very curious to see how they had recovered from Sandy and the later boardwalk fire.  This time we parked at the southern end of the amusement area and found that handicapped parking was free, a nice surprise.  (prior years we parked on the street midway along the long boardwalk ride/games areas, minimizing the walking)

Seaside banner

Must admit we hardly recognized the area that I had been so familiar with these past 50+ years.  Gone were the pier and log flume rides, etc.  Instead there were brand new wooden walkways, sandy picnic table eating area with a dozen or so palm trees followed by a beach buggy ride attraction ($10 for one seat, four laps around the hilly sculptured beach area, a 5 minute ride – very tempting, but no, we didn’t do it…).  We walked without pain the long boardwalk chatting about how things were so different and what a great job they had done in rebuilding what had been showing its decades long age before the storm & fire refresh these last couple of years.

 

One of Pam’s aunts actually owned the famous carousel ride and she recalled riding it free for too many rotations while mom talked with that aunt, she and her sister getting dizzy  from that too long repeated (free) riding.

Seaside carousel

 

 

 

 

 

We stopped 3/4’s of the way to enjoy a nice seaside dinner, then continued the walk to the northern end before turning around to start back.  seaside boardwalk scene 2015

Ok, I confess that we stopped on a bench to watch the surfers as the bright sun began to set, resting both the pain-free replaced left knee and the as yet undone right knee (which was showing some signs of complaint, but nothing like prior years).  What a difference from last few years of feeling like an invalid!  This was a very pleasant new adventure again, pain-free walking together, enjoying the beach and crowded boardwalk scenes of such an entertaining variety of people.  Can those girls wear any less, showing off both pretty and odd body scenes without shame or concern, constantly pulling what little they had on to cover back up what they were showing off?

Walking back to the (free) parked car, we drove down Ella Mae’s M-Street home as part of the annual tradition, honestly not being sure with all the renovations which house was hers, but we took pictures anyway (smile).  Ah, such wonderful memories of childhood days that each of us grandchildren got to spend with her!

An hour or so later we were back home, ready for a good night’s sleep in our own bed after enjoying that fresh sea breeze of the Jersey shore.

Seaside amusement machines

 

Total spent on 2015 Summer vacation: $25 (which includes $2 on the impossible to win
crane amusement machines and a turn of the wheel of chance or two,
also impossible to win) and not counting gas for that 120 mile round trip.

No sunburn and not a bad way to celebrate life and that new knee!

It’s another busy beautiful Summer day here in Lake Wobegon, as my favorite radio showman, Garrison Keillor, would say. Up early and out to a men’s bible study, coming home to enjoy a quiet breakfast (fresh peaches on old fashioned Corn Flakes cereal with Vanilla Almond milk, an interesting blend of the old – those corn flakes were our childhood staple – and the new – that almond milk being better for you than the fat free dairy milk that was the last ‘better for you’ change of habits). Reading as I often do at meals, enjoying one of Garrison’s books (on my Kindle that constantly offers a time count down to the end based on current reading speed and a % finished by page count), my memories flash back on mom’s final day. She and I so enjoyed his recorded stories of life in Lake Wobegon. On that day, she had been sent to the local hospital to get a blood transfusion to offset some recently diagnosed anemia. My sister, Betsy, described the day as mom enjoying her Walkman recorded Keillor stories, laughing as the transfusion takes place over several hours. Once completed, they walked out the doors and mom appeared to be not doing well (76 years young?) but eager to “just get me home” at which point she collapsed and died. Sad for the family given how young she still was and engaged with so many grandchildren and family, but we all have a numbered days on this earth and I felt she was accepting and didn’t want to come back, despite the hospital’s efforts to help her.

We couldn’t have wished her a nicer passing, hours of enjoyable laughing at her favorite stories, quickly and painlessly moving on, in the arms of her daughter, Betsy. God’s blessing for a lifetime of caring for others over 55 years of a nursing career.

As my breakfast reading continued, I phased right into lunch (fresh locally grown Jersey tomatoes and American cheese sandwich on fresh soft bread – an annual Summer treat for me), reading and relating to Garrison’s childhood memories as my own were recalled. Inspired by his writings and finally finishing this book that I’ve been slowly savoring over many months of small readings, often feeling guilty at the seemingly meaningless pleasure of such light reading (vs. my deeper but not fully understood books about black holes, the origins of the universe, multi-universes, self-improvement – with too little turning into action – readings, etc). But we are meant to treat ourselves with such enjoyment, so I was moved to come back into my office and write this blog update that is neglected for too many weeks between entries due to a busy life of higher daily priorities – or so I tell myself.

I’m still deeply committed to finishing ‘our’ book that is way back on the back burner of daily life, with ambitions to add a few more new chapters (and add updates to many other now outdated chapters) in my ‘transplant tome’ of a book (over 100+ chapters already). Reading Garrison’s books inspires me, so today I add this blog, tomorrow I will begin that next new chapter of my “A Gift from the Heart” – raising its priority in that daily TO-DO list of other important tasks. ??????????????

Yes, life is good and fulfilling. I hope and pray that your own life is equally so, filled with meaning, fulfillment, fun and inspiration to do whatever it is that gives meaning to your own life each day.

Now off to begin that ‘new chapter’ updating life after heart transplant since the last entry of too many years ago… stay tuned – I will post a notice when its ready for your reading.

– Jim ‘the heart guy’ celebrating 20 years post transplant this Oct 19th

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