Monday, December 15, 2008

Pearl 29: Celebrate Advent All Year Long

Dearest Gehrig and Eliana,

It has only been a few days since you left Possum Kingdom, but Granny and I miss you both something terrible already.  Didn’t we have a grand ten days together though, celebrating Thanksgiving on December 5th and Christmas on December 6th?  I know you two didn’t care those were not the traditional days for these events.  Judging by the smiles on your faces as you played with the dozens of new toys Santa brought, you could have cared less what day it was or even if we were in the Advent season at all.

In the Christian faith the season in which we celebrate Christmas is called Advent.  It means “the coming” and it is the period during the church year when we focus on the coming of our Lord both in the past and in the future.  It is not just a single day, December 25th, when we celebrate the birth of Jesus.  After all, even biblical scholars disagree on the actual day of our Lord’s birth.  So having the season of Advent allows us a longer period, from the fourth Sunday before Christmas to Christmas eve, for celebration, reflection and hope.

Oh, I know, for young people it is all about the presents and the Christmas decorations, Santa Claus and stories of elves and reindeer.  It is easy to get caught up in all the trappings of the season and not just for children.  Grown-ups and parents especially fall pray to the Christmas hype and hyperbole.  Our newspapers weigh at least an extra two pounds at this time of year because of all the advertisements and flyers stuffed inside. Our mailboxes are jammed with catalogues; their purveyors hoping to coax just one more purchase, yet another dollar from our already weary wallets. And the ringing in my ears doesn’t mean I am getting old, it is just the Salvation Army bell ringer at Wal-Mart. Then there are the Christmas gatherings; dinner parties, office functions, the school holiday plays or other festive celebrations that make December one of the busiest social months of the year.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with any of this (except maybe the weary wallet part), but it makes me wonder if we are missing the point, which brings me to my next Pearl.

Twenty-Ninth Pearl:   "Celebrate Advent All Year Long"

It would have been more appropriate if this was my twenty-sixth letter to you.  The 26th is the day after Christmas.  No one celebrates that day unless you are a dedicated bargain hunter and live for the opportunity to pick up next years decorations at half price.  No, the 26th is the forgotten day, the day for leftover Christmas ham sandwiches and, for some, the going back to work day.  It is the day for many when we start to forget what the previous day was all about.  And pretty soon after the 26th, when all the decorations have been taken down and stored away for another year, when the newspaper is lighter and the mailbox more spacious, when the store music goes from “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree” back to Barry Manilow, the joyous celebration of the coming of our Lord goes back in the box with the rest of the seasonal ornaments.

When you get older, my darlings, don’t let that happen to you.  Remember the celebration of Christmas and the birth of Jesus is just the beginning.  The Advent of our Lord is still ahead of us.  The salvation we claim through the suffering, death and resurrection of our Lord manifests itself when Jesus comes to us on a daily basis; residing in our hearts and minds and guiding our behavior and our actions.  The Christmas spirit delivered to us during the Advent season can bring joy and hope everyday of the year, not just on the 25th.  That is the true gift of Christmas and it is better than all the gold, frankincense and myrrh in the world.  It is even better than the big yellow Tonka dump truck with back up alarm, lights and motor sounds, Gehrig.  Trust me on this. 

Merry Christmas and, remember, I love you bunches and bunches,

Grandpa Jud

Friday, October 31, 2008

Pearl 24: Make Stewardship a Personal Commitment

Dearest Eliana and Gehrig,

Happy Halloween!  Your mom has told me about all of the parties and parades you will be attending to celebrate All-Hallows Eve (later Halloween).  The day was renamed by Pope Boniface IV to merge the ancient Celtic pagan celebration of Samhain with All Saint’s Day on November 1st.  The Celts believed that on Samhain, October 31st, the ghosts of the dead returned to earth and hence our current-day fascination with ghosts and goblins and all things spooky on Halloween.  I have no idea how millions of kids going door-to-door begging for candy got into it, but I suspect a conspiracy between the candy manufacturers and dentists.

My, it has been a long time since we have seen you two little people and Granny and I miss you terribly.  Fortunately, you will be with us for a whole week just after Thanksgiving and we are so looking forward to your visit.  It will be such fun! 

Well, as of this writing there are only 72 hours left before the Presidential election, which many people are saying will be the most important in our lifetime.  Whether that is true or not, there are substantial differences between our two parties about how to tackle and solve the problems facing our nation at the moment.  Healthcare is a huge issue as is education and energy independence.  Most Americans are still deeply concerned with our national security and how to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and defeat terrorist groups like Al Qaeda.  But the most pressing issue on the minds of most Americans today is our economy.  As of this moment, it isn’t doing well, children, and many of our neighbors are suffering like never before.  Just trying to stay employed or find employment, keep their homes, or even just pay their bills in this time of rising costs is a bigger challenge than ever.

On this issue, as well, the two candidates disagree on how to fix the problem.  One side says we need to not raise taxes on anyone during these tough times.  The other side says we need to raise taxes on the rich and redistribute that money to the poor and not so rich.  Some people are calling the latter socialism, a failed socio-economic and political system which is the antithesis of our capitalistic system, and should be avoided at all costs.  Others say the former gives tax breaks to the wealthiest people in America and corporations, some of which are making record profits as it is and, instead, the wealth should spread around.

Obviously, this is a complex issue.  When I face complex issues, sometimes I try to think about what Jesus would want us to do.  So, many times I call Pastor Kirk, a very dear and long-time family friend whom I hope you get to know someday.  He has always provided spiritual insight into even the thorniest secular issues.  My question had to do with stewardship and whether it was our responsibility as good stewards of the gifts God has given us to provide the help and assistance to our neighbors which they need in these hard times or if it was the governments responsibility to do that for us.

Pastor Kirk responded that many times in the Bible Jesus says we need to feed His people, minister to them, heel them and take care of the poor.  Further, he pointed out how statistics show the average giving of most Americans to churches and other charitable organizations is less than 2 % of their annual income; something quite short of the tithe, or 10 %, that God asked of us as a minimum.  He went on to ask, consequently, why would it be so bad if government stepped in and did for us what we cannot seem to do for ourselves and take care of those in need.  Which brings me to my next Pearl.

Twenty-fourth Pearl:  Make Stewardship a Personal Commitment

After careful consideration, I respectfully disagreed with Pastor this time.  Based on my understanding of scripture, I took issue with the connection between Jesus’ admonitions to feed the poor and government mandated redistribution of wealth.  It seems to me Jesus wanted us all to search our hearts and respond appropriately to those less privileged than ourselves.  He didn’t petition Rome or appeal to the elders of the church to get them to mandate feeding the poor, he appealed to every individual to take it upon themselves to help and to serve.  Individual stewardship was what Jesus preached; i.e. voluntary and willing sharing of the wealth, not forced, mandated sharing.    

Then I asked Pastor a hypothetical question.  If the government raises our taxes so that an additional 10 % of our income disappears to be redistributed to those who pay no taxes and those who will get their taxes lowered, would it be alright with God if we stopped tithing because the government is taking over our personal stewardship responsibilities and activities?  Same amount of money being redistributed, right?  Of course not.  It would be our responsibility as good stewards to do both.

Oh, but wait.  Our tithe goes to churches, homeless shelters, battered spouse shelters, national and international disaster relief, national and international food distribution programs, national and international medical research, healthcare and well care programs, and a host of other well researched, well documented charities who put our money to work where it is needed most.

A government redistribution program would work a little differently, wouldn’t it?  I am sure some of it will find its way to those who are really in need (the sick, the homeless, the jobless, the helpless, the hopeless) but MOST of it will go to middle class families who may be struggling more than usual with the high price of gas and rising cost of food, but still have jobs, still have a roof over their heads, still have two cars in their garage, maybe a lake house, even a boat. No, this isn’t taking from the rich and giving to the poor.  This isn’t even good socialism (from each according to their ability to pay, to each according to their NEED).  This is from each according to their ability to pay (but only if your family makes more than $ 200k a year) to each regardless of their need.  I see nothing scriptural in that.

So what do we do, little ones?  My advice is to make certain each of you understands your obligation and make a heart-felt response to honor God by sharing the gifts of time, talent and possessions with your fellow man, who is not as fortunate as you, and do so willingly and with love.  If you do that, and encourage others to do it as well, maybe someday we won’t need our government to become involved in our personal stewardship.

We love you bunches and bunches,

Grandpa Jud

Friday, September 12, 2008

Pearl 23: I Was Half, Now I'm Whole

Good Afternoon Gehrig and Eliana,

It is Friday and we should be in Austin setting up our tailgate for the Texas vs. Arkansas game, but it has been postponed.  Seems the Texas coast is about to get slammed by Hurricane Ike.  The powers-that-be set the game off, not only because of the threat of really severe weather, but to free up hotel rooms as possibly hundreds of thousands of coastal evacuees flee north to avoid the storm.  Sometimes good decisions are made and as much as I wanted to see my Longhorns trounce the Razorbacks, this was the right call.  We will pray for the safety of those in harms way.

As you know, Granny and I just returned from Costa Rica where we celebrated our 40th Wedding Anniversary.  I know, how she put up with me for all those years is a mystery bordering on the miraculous but as I have often said, your Granny is the best thing that ever happened to me.

Costa Rica is a lush, beautiful country with long beaches on both its Pacific and Caribbean shores, two volcanic mountain ranges stretching the length of the country and a huge central valley covered with dense sub-tropical foliage, flower and exotic plant farms, coffee plantations and extensive groves which supply 25 % of the world’s bananas.  Natives claim the title for their country as “The Last To Rise”, meaning it was the last land mass in the world to rise from the ocean.  On September 7th, our actual anniversary day, we took a 12-hour long tour out of San Jose, to one of the world’s most active volcanoes.  Called Volcan Arenal, it rises above a high plain some 9,800 feet and is very impressive. 

We spent the afternoon in a spa that features a naturally-heated fresh water spring which winds its way through the forest at the foot of the volcano; cascading down many waterfalls to multiple pools.  The temperature of the water was a hot tub-like 105° F.  After a sumptuous traditional Costa Rican dinner, we traversed to the west face of the volcano after dark and witnessed a first for us both; a lava flow spilling out of the top of the volcano and racing down the mountain at over 100 mph.  It was an incredible sight.

On the three hour van ride home we were both exhausted but I kept looking up out our window and there, suspended above us in the clear black sky, was a perfect half moon.  It illuminated the valley and bathed the forest trees around us in its silvery light creating a canvas of grays and black shadows.  That half moon reminded me of a line from an old Barbara Streisand song which I will use for my next pearl.

Twenty-Third Pearl:  “I Was Half, Now I’m Whole”

As I gazed up at that moon it made me think about what life was like before I met your Granny.  I was in college.  It was 1966.  I was young, footloose and fancy free and life was grand.  Then I met Vicki and my life changed forever. 

That half moon shone bright but it was only half the brilliance, half the illumination, half the light.  After I met your Granny I realized, like the moon, I was only half there.  It was then I knew I was only half the person I could become if only I could have her at my side and in my life.

And for the past 40 years I have thanked God every time I pray for the blessing of this woman.  She has been my constant companion, selfless helpmate, fervent champion, faithful lover and best friend.  Together we reared two wonderful daughters and neither they nor I could have asked for a better mother for my children.  Or a better grandmother for you two precious little ones. 

Together we are twice the brilliance, twice the illumination, twice the light and because of her, while I was half, now I am and forever will be…whole.

I love you bunches and bunches,

Grandpa Jud

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Pearl 22: Passion is the Silver Bullet

Like 100 million other people on the planet, Vicki and I watched the pomp and circumstance of the closing ceremonies of the XXX Olympic Games held in London, England for the past 15 days.  My goodness do those Brits know how to throw a party.  From everything I saw after what seemed like a thousand hours of coverage on NBC, Great Britain was an ideal host and the games had some very special moments.  Who could not be thrilled at the shear speed of Jamaican Usain Bolt or American Allyson Felix?  Who wasn't awed by the beauty, grace and athleticism of the U.S. female gymnastics team and Gabby Douglas?  And, seriously, three gold metals in a row over three Olympics for the undefeated in match play woman's beach volleyball team of Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh-Jennings.  WOW!  The list of accomplishments was staggering.

All who compete in the Olympics are talented athletes.  From every nation, every ethnic background, every religious affiliation these heroes of sport come to compete every four years and give us a glimpse of what hard work and dedication can accomplish.  One man's performance stood out this year above most....Michael Phelps.  Breaking a decades old record, this swimmer, this freak of physical nature, Phelps became the most decorated Olympian of all time with 22 overall medals and 18 (EIGHTEEN!) Gold Medals for his career.  It is a feat which will not soon, if ever, be broken.

Four years ago in Beijing, Michael Phelps won 8 Gold Medals, the most of any Olympian in a single game.  I was so impressed by this feat I wrote a "Pearl" about it for my grandchildren, making the point about passion.  When all other things are equal, passion makes the did in 2008 and again in 2012.  I have included it below and I hope you enjoy it. 

Dearest Eliana and Gehrig,                                                                            8/16/08

Good morning, my sweethearts.  Oh, I know, I just wrote you a few days ago but the events of the past few days have me inspired to write again.  In just your second year of life, the 2008 Beijing Olympics have captured the imagination of the world once again as it does every four years.  The drama and excitement of the games is always high but this year there is the opportunity for one participant to do something no one in the history of the games has ever accomplished.  Namely, to win eight Gold Medals in one Olympics.

 Michael Phelps is an impressive physical specimen in his own right but as a swimmer he is darn near perfect.  Michael is 6’4” tall.  Normally, a person’s “wing-span” or distance between the tips of his fingers measured across outstretched arms is roughly equivalent to his height.  Michael’s wing-span is 6’7”, three inches longer.  Combine those long arms with huge hands that measure 11” across from his pinkie to his thumb and you have an exceptional swimming stroke.  Then consider that Michael has the legs, measured from his hips to his toes, of a man only six feet tall, but a torso or ‘trunk” of a man that is 6’ 7”.  This gives him an incredible kick off the wall on his turns with those compact, powerful legs, but also the long-muscled upper body every swimmer needs to excel.  Michael is double-jointed in both his shoulders and knees and, finally, consider Michael’s size 14 feet, wide at the toes and narrow at the heel, all of which gives him almost Dolphin-like swimming power. 

Built for power and speed in the water, Michael Phelps has few, if any, equals in the sport.  But last night, when he won his seventh Gold Medal in a final 15 meter, come-from-behind charge that saw him touch the wall just 1/100th of a second ahead of Serbia’s Milorad Cavic, there was more than just physical prowess involved.  This brings me to my next Pearl.

 Twenty-Second Pearl:  Passion is the Silver Bullet

In any competition between two or more equally matched opponents, passion is the difference.  You can see it on the faces of the winners. In these games, you could see it on the face of Nastia Liukin, the 18 year-old from Parker, Texas, who took the individual all-around gymnastics Gold Medal with a flawless floor exercise.  You see it on the faces of Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh as they methodically and passionately dispatch team after team in beach volleyball.  Passion is an unmistakable intensity, a driving force and consuming love for what they are doing.  Add passion to the mix of talent, preparation and opportunity and you have an unbeatable mixture. 

Passion makes the difference not only between winning and losing in sport but in life as well.  The people who are the most successful in business, in their careers, whatever they may be, in entertainment, in politics, in the practice of their faith and even in love are passionate in their quests.  So whatever you do in your lives, little ones, do it with passion.  You may not always win, but I promise you will be happier for it.  I am confident we will see passion, once again, on the face of Michael Phelps as he strives for his 8th medal tonight in the 4X100 meter relay.  I am also confident his passion will be the silver bullet that gets him the GOLD!

I love you, bunches and bunches.              
Grandpa Jud

Monday, August 11, 2008

Pearl 21: Nationalism is a Double-Edged Sword

The positive vibes of the XXX Olympic Games trailed over a few days as the accomplishments of the American atheletes and teams sunk in.  A world record number of Gold Medals, 46, were collected by the Americans and a total medal count of 104 was 16 more than the second place athletes from China.  It gives me a feeling of pride for our country and for our culture and values.  I had the same feeling four years ago after the Beijing Olympics, even though we did not fare as well in those games as we did in London.  It happens every four years and it is a good thing.  I wrote a "Pearl" about those feelings of national pride for my grandchildren four years ago and I thought I would share it with you.  Please feel free to comment.  Enjoy!
Dear Gehrig and Eliana,

 Good evening my sweethearts.  Granny and I sure enjoyed our time with you in New Jersey while your mom and dad were in Paris.  They had a fabulous time but we enjoyed our time with you even more.  You are growing so big and are so accomplished for being only 18 months old.  I think both of you will be very athletic given what I saw on the playground equipment at Maggie’s Park. 

 Granny and I watched some of the 2008 Beijing Olympics last night.  It was fabulous.  The highlight of the competition was the men’s 4X100 meter freestyle swimming event which featured a French team who were the odds-on favorites to take the Gold Medal.  They were so confident before the event one of the French swimmers did a little “trash talking” and boasted his team would “crush the American team”.  There is an old saying, “Pride cometh before the fall” and it held true last night.

The American team was good, figured to at least take the Bronze medal in this event.  Of the four young men on the American team, its biggest star is Michael Phelps, a world-class swimmer who is heavily favored to break the 36-year old record of seven gold medals in one Olympic Game set in 1972 in Munich, Germany by Mark Spitz.  He needed his teammate’s help in this event to keep him on that pace.  The other swimmers on the relay team were all very good.  Garrett Weber-Gale was to swim the second leg behind Phelps followed by the first African-American to ever swim in this event, Cullen Jones.  Swimming the final leg was the oldest member of the team, a 41 year old journeyman swimmer with a good track record, but with some marginal races under his belt, Jason Lezak.

 Phelps’ first lap kept it close, but the French swimmer had the lead.  When Jones hit the water he didn’t lose any time and Weber-Gale gained a fraction.  Then in the final 100 meters, Lezak did the impossible.  He not only caught the boastful Frenchman, Alein Bernard, but beat him to the touch by .24 of a second in a thrilling surge at the finish.  The stadium erupted as the winning team flashed on the scoreboard and Team America leaped for joy, screaming and bellowing, their testosterone levels in overdrive.  In America, I am certain that every viewer screamed along with them as did Granny and I.  It was an emotional moment to see the American underdogs not only win the Gold Medal, but set a new World Record of 3 minutes, 8.24 seconds, which, by the way, beat the old record by over 4 seconds!

Today I drove into Dallas to take my drag car to be painted.  I made several stops and everywhere I went I heard people talking about the spectacular swimming event and the even more impressive American win.  There was animation and enthusiasm in everyone’s voice and an unmistakable pride.  I have heard and seen this before when other events and circumstances have drawn this country together and united us. When all that energy is channeled correctly, it is a hugely positive force, but when channeled incorrectly, the opposite is true, which brings me to my next Pearl.

Twenty-first Pearl:   Nationalism is a Double-Edged Sword

 Pride in one’s country is what the Olympic Games are all about.  Athletes from around the world prepare and train for years to represent their country in this once-every-four-year event.  National pride, as well as billions of dollars, is on the line and the strongest and best physical specimens of humankind sacrifice everything to compete and win.  Some countries with small populations might only be able to send a few athletes while huge developed countries can afford to send hundreds to the Games and at great expense.

Why do we do that?  Why do we spend the money and resources it takes to excel at a game?  Because when our athletes win and the Stars and Stripes, the symbol of our nation and our people, rise above the heads of our valiant warriors on the medal stand, a feeling of nationalistic pride sweeps over us.  At that moment, as our national anthem plays in the background, we feel at one with our fellow Americans and it seems like there is nothing we cannot accomplish if we only pull together.  The fervor of victory is intoxicating and we will pay any price to experience it.

 On that same day, in another corner of the world, nationalistic fervor went awry.  The Russians, still smarting over losing a valuable piece of the old Union of Soviet Socialist Republics to a now independent and democratic Georgia, went to war to regain that territory.  I won’t pretend to understand the politics or the military stratagems surrounding this conflict.  I can only hope and pray it is over quickly and that cooler heads prevail.  To paraphrase President Bush in an interview he gave yesterday, isn’t it ironic that at a time when the world comes together in the friendly and spirited competition of the Olympics to promote peace and harmony among nations, this act of war and disharmony erupts to ruin it.  This is the negative side of nationalism.

 As Americans we can channel our nationalism into positive ventures which serve all mankind, or we can turn that mighty force to serve selfish ambitions.  It is my prayer for you, my darlings that you will grow up in a world with the vision to put aside the negative aspects of nationalism which embraces war and conflict as a means to achieve an end, and substitute it with a positive nationalism which embodies the spirit of the Olympic Games, a spirit of cooperation and oneness as a means to that same end. 

 God Bless you and God Bless America and every other peace loving nation in the world.

 Grandpa Jud

Monday, July 14, 2008

Pearl 20: Thou Shalt Not Steal...EVER!

Dear Gehrig and Eliana,

Well, here it is 3:30 PM on a Monday and I am sitting here at the office writing when I should be home at “Camp PK” with you.  However, I wanted to get this letter off  before you left since it relates to something that happened to your family while you were here.

Wasn’t Aunt Brittany and Uncle Sae’s wedding the most fabulous event down in Austin two weeks ago.  It sure seemed like you enjoyed yourselves, especially at the reception where you both danced and charmed your way into everyone’s heart.  It sure looked like you were having fun.

Of course there was a black spot on the event which was really unfortunate.  It seems thieves took the opportunity to break into four vehicles in the Onion Creek Country Club parking lot, mine and one other of our wedding guests, and two out of town golfers.  Aside from my brand new GPS and my cell phone, all I lost was a relatively inexpensive cell phone charger.  Unfortunately, your mom did not fair so well.  She had left her travel bag in the car with her wallet and all her jewelry.  Not to mention the inconvenience of having to cancel and reinstate all her credit cards and get a new driver’s license, she lost over $ 8,000.00 worth of cash and valuables, some of which can never be replaced.  This included the diamond stud earrings your Granny and I gave her when she graduated from The University of Texas.  This made us all very sad.

When I was 12 years old I had a paper route.  It took me all over Pomona, the Southern California city I grew up in, to deliver about 110 papers each day.  I earned pretty good money to supplement my dollar per week allowance and it kept me in candy and Bubble-Up.  Every afternoon, after school, I rode my bike to the paper station, picked up and folded my papers, put them in a double sided bag over my shoulders and peddled the 7 miles of my route.  It took about two hours.

About half way through my route was a little neighborhood grocery store that I used to stop into for a soft drink and, maybe, a bag of peanuts.  One day I was checking out and put my money up on counter for the grocer.  He was there alone and I think he did everything from stock the shelves to run the register.  As he turned around to deposit my coins in the register, I spied a package of wintergreen LifeSavers ® in a little display at eye level.  I wanted the mints and I had the nickel in my pocket to pay for them but I didn’t want to part with that nickel.  So I reached up and took a roll, palmed them in my hand and put it back down at my side just as the grocer turned around.

He looked at me and I immediately felt his penetrating stare.  “Is there anything else you want?, he asked.  As my face turned beet red I lied and said, “No”.  He paused for a long moment and then said, “Not even those LifeSavers in your hand?”  “Oh, these”, I said, “Yes, I want these as well…uh, how much are they?”  He told me and I fished the nickel, hands trembling, out of my pocket and offered it to him.  He took it and looked at me with those eyes and I turned to go.  “Son”, the man said sternly, and I turned back to face him, my knees trembling, “those LifeSavers belong to me.  They don’t belong to you until you pay me for them.  Don’t you ever try to steal from me again or I will have you arrested…do you understand me?”  I stammered that I did and nearly wet my pants as I turned and bolted out of his store.  I got on my bike and rode like the wind to my next throw and made it home in record time.  Which kind of brings me to my next pearl which I will “borrow” from the Ten Commandments.

Twentieth Pearl:   Thou Shalt Not Steal….EVER!

I was mortified and humiliated.  I felt awful that I tried to steal something and still to this day cannot figure out why I even tried.  But instead of wasting time trying to figure out how in the world that man saw me take those mints, I vowed then and there never to steal anything from anybody ever again.  And that experience made me insensitive to anyone who steals anything from another person. 

People who have never learned this lesson take things that don’t belong to them everyday.  Billions of dollars of merchandise, cars, cash and even identities are stolen each year and whether it is done physically or over the Internet, those thefts are a violation of another person’s rights and liberties as well as their possessions.  And that is a crime as heinous as any other and more than most.

If you want something that you don’t have, you buy it.  If you cannot afford it, you work hard to earn enough money so you can buy it.  If it is out of your reach, then you will have to live with the disappointment of not owning it.  I hope you will never have the circumstance arise where you feel tempted to take something that does not belong to you, but if you do, listen to your Grandpa who learned a long time ago, don’t do it.  Not only will I be disappointed if you do, but so will you.

Well, Camp PK is over on Friday and we will be flying back home with you to New Jersey for 10 more days until we have to return to Texas.  But Granny and I will always remember your time here in 2008 and look forward to your month with us next year.

I love you bunches and bunches,

Grandpa Jud

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Pearl 19: Segregation Isn't About Geography...It is a State of Mind

Dearest Gehrig and Eliana,                                                               6/10/08

Greetings, my sweethearts!  It is just 13 more days until the start of “Camp PK” and you will be down visiting us in Texas for a whole month!  We are so excited. Granny and I are so busy getting ready for Aunt Bits and Sae’s wedding on the 21st of June and for your visit we hardly have any time to breathe.  You haven’t met your future Uncle Sae but he is really looking forward to seeing you guys.  He loves children and I don’t think it will be too awfully long before they may present you with your first cousin.  Won’t that be fun?

Sae’s last name is Cho and he and his family are from South Korea.  As you will soon see he is a very handsome man and he is really intelligent too, kind of like your Daddy and Mommy.  He has a great sense of humor, a lot of common sense and plays the guitar and sings, something I always wished I could do.  He is an architect by education and experience and even though he is an Aggie (yes, he went to that “other” state university), we are anxious to welcome him into our family.

Thinking about these two educationally different  as well as ethnically diverse families coming together kind of reminds me about my middle teenage years which I spent in three different schools in two different states and two very different cultures.  Unlike your Granny who is a native Texan, I spent most of my adolescence in Southern California.  In 1961 I attended Genesha High School in Pomona, CA.  It was a racially mixed city as far back as I can remember.  Blacks, Mexicans and Orientals (preferably referred to today as African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians although at that time I do not recall anyone getting upset by the former nomenclature) shared the schools, the neighborhoods and their lives with us white kids.  It sure seemed normal at the time. 

The president of the senior class the year I was a sophomore was a handsome man named Les Shy.  He was the star running back on our football team, popular with all the ladies and a really great guy.  He cracked my tailbone once when he literally ran over my right defensive tackle position. He went on to play college ball at Long Beach State and was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys, playing for them for four years and one with the NY Giants before he retired.  His younger brother Don Shy, who was only one year ahead of me, was also a running back and played for San Diego State before being drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers and playing for them and the New Orleans Saints, the Chicago Bears and the St. Louis Cardinals. They were really terrific young men and very popular.  Oh, did I mention they are black?  Doesn’t matter really, no one saw or gave one minute of thought to the color of their skin.

One of my best friends my sophomore year was Jay.  We hung out together, dated the same girl once, played golf together (he was the better player and I was just as bad then as now) and shared a love of music.  I lost track of Jay after we moved to Texas in 1963, but every time I see the Trejo name, I wonder if it is Jay or a relative of his.  Oh, did I mention he is Hispanic?  Doesn’t matter really, no one saw or gave one minute of thought to the color of his skin.

When our family moved to Texas I enrolled for my senior year at Richfield High School in Waco.  On campus for only a couple of days I noticed something very strange so I told one of the girls in my homeroom who sat behind me what I had observed.  Namely, there wasn’t any blacks or Mexicans in the school and I asked her why.  I was told, “Oh, because those people don’t live in our school district.”  “Ah”, I said, thinking that was a logical reason.  Then I thought about it and it raised another question, so the next day I asked, “Why don’t blacks and Mexicans live in this school district?”  The pretty girl looked at me as if I must be from another planet and said, matter-of-factly, “Because no self-respecting real estate agent would sell a black or Mexican family a home in our school district”.  She went on to point out that the blacks and Mexicans all went to Waco High School because it was in “their part of town”.  Now can you imagine how these kids from this rural central Texas town would have reacted to one of their own marrying “an Oriental”?  That kind of brings me to my next pearl.

Nineteenth Pearl:  “Segregation Isn’t About Geography….It is a State of Mind

My whole life’s experience, everything I was ever taught told me this was wrong. It was my first experience with segregation.  And over the next year, I learned my first lessons about bigotry, prejudice and racism and how some people do see and give a lot of thought to the color of one’s skin. Now not everyone at Richfield was like that, but many, unfortunately, were.  That year was a real eye opener for me in more ways than one.  I was raised to judge a person, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had so eloquently put it just that past summer, not “by the color of their skin but by the content of their character”.  And here I was among so many people; good people, honest people, intelligent people, who truly believed that a man’s character had something to do with skin color.

I had to make a decision.  I liked these good southern kids and I wanted them to like me.  I wanted to be a part of their lives but I couldn’t accept their thinking on this issue.  I vowed to myself that I would stay true to my upbringing and my own feelings about race.  I tried to encourage others to think as I did, sometimes to my detriment.  I thought if I ever had my own children, I would raise them as I had been taught.  The next year, of course, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed.  It was a landmark piece of legislation that not only championed the rights of blacks but women and all minorities.  Over the last forty plus years that law and others which followed have helped to level the public playing field and significant change has occurred. After all, we now have our first African American presidential candidate (not counting Les Shy). 

Unfortunately, prejudice still exists.  Segregation between ethnic groups still exists.  It continues to exist because legislation only changes the law, it doesn’t change people’s feelings. The only way we have a prayer of eliminating prejudice is to change people’s minds and hearts.  We can start by not teaching prejudice to our children and our children’s children.  We can start by becoming color blind ourselves so our legacy is color blind.  We can encourage others toward acceptance and inclusion and away from segregation and exclusion.  And, we can start by welcoming Sae Cho and his family into our family with open arms and loving hearts.

I will see you in Toledo next week and then Granny and I will be at Aunt Brittany’s wedding before we go to “Camp PK”.  Until then, may God Bless you and keep you in His care.

Love you, bunches and bunches,

Grandpa Jud    xoxoxo

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Pearl 18: Death May Separate But Love Always Unites

Dearest Gehrig and Eliana,                                                                                  

Greetings, my sweethearts, from the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.  Granny and I are on the last segment of the World Cruise 2008 aboard the SS Voyager from Athens, Greece to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.  We are having a marvelous time and meeting some wonderful new people and renewing friendships with folks we saw on our full World Cruise 2006.

One of the things which has struck me on this trip is all the stories these people have about their lives and what fills their time when they are not traveling or on cruise ships.  Many of them talk of their children and grandchildren and even great grandchildren (many are older than your Granny and I) and they also talk about their pets and how much they miss them and love them. 

When I was six years old, I lived in Darien, CT in a wooded little residential area on a street called Clock Avenue, between Dickinson and Noroton roads, about three blocks off the old Post Road.  The little New England salt box house we lived in was on a corner and had an extra lot next to it.  I thought at the time that it was a mansion with an exciting, vast expanse of wilderness to play in.  It was that year, 1951, my parents decided to buy me a dog for my birthday.  It was a puppy Saint Bernard and was the cutest thing.  He was not only cute but small enough for me to hold in my little arms. I named him Jigger, for reasons that now escape me, but I loved that dog from the first moment I saw him. 

The first night we had him home I made a little bed for him in the kitchen.  I put a pan of water by it and put him down for the night when I went to bed.  The kitchen had a swinging door preventing Jigger from getting out in the house. All was well until about 2:00 AM when I was awakened in my upstairs bedroom by Jigger, who was whining and yelping in the kitchen.  I got up, went down to the kitchen and turned on the light.  There he was, huddled in his bed, whimpering and frightened.  I picked him up and held him for a while, petting him and talking to him.  I told Jigger that everything was going to be alright, calming him and comforting him.  He settled down and I put him back in his bed, turning out the light and going back upstairs.

No sooner had I crawled back into bed when the whimpering and yelping started again.  I got back up and went back down to the kitchen.  There he was again, cowering in his corner, with long, high pitched whines.  Again, I comforted him and told him he must stop whining and yelping or he would wake up mom and dad and they wouldn’t be happy.  Again he calmed down and I left thinking to my self how well I handled the situation.  Not back in my warm bed five minutes and almost back to sleep when the racket from the kitchen began anew.  Now my patience was wearing thin.

I returned to the kitchen and picked up a newspaper my dad had left on the table.  I rolled it up and brandished it before Jigger, threatening him with a swat if he didn’t keep quiet.  I mean, that tactic used to work on me when my mom had had enough of us kids driving her nuts.  But it only made Jigger whine louder.  I walked over to his bed and raised the newspaper up over my head fully prepared to deliver the blow which I was confident would teach him not to misbehave.  Then I looked down into those big, moist brown eyes and saw the frightened look on his face.  I instantly remembered all the times I lay in the dark of my bedroom, fearful of the night’s shadows and noises and feeling like whining myself.  My heart melted.  I dropped the paper and knelt down, picking the trembling puppy up in my arms and hugging him, and telling him through tears I understood. 

The next morning, my mom found me curled up next to Jigger’s bed in the kitchen, my arms wrapped around him and both of us fast asleep.  After that he slept in my bedroom until he was about nine months old and was twice as big as I was.  We were inseparable and played all day long out in my private wilderness.  He used to watch me swinging for hours in the rope swing, tied between two huge oak trees in our side yard, his head cocked curiously to one side.

That first winter, he would go out with me to play in the snow and would come in with huge clumps of snow tangled into his thick black and white fur.  It would take mom and me nearly an hour to comb him up and then usually, we were back out again for another romp in our white wonderland.  Then in the late summer I was in the house for a drink of water and heard the sound of screeching tires. Jigger had apparently run out into the street for some unknown reason and a car ran over him. 

I remember standing over his lifeless body by the side of the road, tears streaming down my face, and begging my mom to fix him…to make him well.  It was the first time I remember seeing anything dead; especially someone or something I loved.  Mom took this moment to explain death to me. We prayed over Jigger and asked God to take him to “doggy heaven” and then the animal people came and took him away.  I will always remember not only the love I had for Jigger but the love I felt in return, which brings me to my next pearl.

Eighteenth Pearl:  Death May Separate but Love Always Unites

Two days ago was April 22, 2008.  It was the anniversary of a very sad occasion for me as it was the day, 39 years earlier, that my father, your great grandfather, Byrom Judson Smith, Jr., passed away at the very same age I am today, 62.  Now I am not trying to equate the loss of a pet dog to the loss of a father.  Of course they are vastly different.  But those two events were similar in many ways.  Both Jigger and my father died too early and the significance of that has always been in the back of my mind.  Both Jigger and my father left behind people that mourned their loss, missing them to this day and loving them dearly.  But even though death separated me from my beloved pet and my only father, the love I have for them still lives on in my heart and in my mind and in my spirit.  We are united by that love and are inseparable, even in death.

My prayer for both of you is that you never have to be separated from someone you love too soon but that you will always remember, even death cannot pull apart the bonds of love which eternally bind us together.

Granny and I are looking forward to your visit in June for Aunt Brittany’s wedding and then for your long stay at “Camp PK”.  Until we see you, may God Bless you and keep you in His care.

Love you, bunches and bunches,

Grandpa Jud    xoxoxo

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Pearl 17: It is Easy to Talk About Change, But Often More Difficult to Deliver

Dear Eliana and Gehrig,

Good evening my sweethearts.  I am writing you from Cabo San Lucas at the tip of Baja California in Mexico.  We are here for five weeks and will be missing you the entire time.  Christmas at Camp PK was so wonderful and from our observation, your first Christmas was a complete success.
You are coming up on your one year birthdays and we celebrated a little early at PK.  Neither of you seemed to like the pumpkin cheese cake with whip cream birthday cakes we presented to you but your parents, grandparents and aunts loved it.
Your first year is almost in the history books but one of the things that are going on at this time in 2008 is another Presidential election.  So, I thought I might comment a little about it but first a story about when I ran for Vice-President.
It was the fall of 1960 and more for the popularity than anything else, I decided to run for Boy’s Vice-President on the John Marshall Junior High School student council.  Now, despite playing football, baseball and competing in track and field (1320 and shot-put), I was not part of the really popular "in crowd".  Interestingly, while the competition was hot and heavy for the President of the student council and the Girl’s Vice-President positions, I was running unopposed.  Still, you had to garner enough votes (over 50 %) to be awarded the position and I knew I was going to have to make a name for myself in some way.
The only campaigning allowed was at an assembly of the student body on the day of the election.  The candidates sat on a row of chairs on the stage and each got to make a two minute speech to the whole student body.  Two minutes!  I knew I was going to have to make an impact to stand out from the crowd. From running track the previous spring, I remembered a fascination I had with the starter’s pistol that Coach Moore used to start all the races.  It was a small, .22 caliber revolver with a solid barrel and it only fired blank rounds.  I thought it might get me the attention I needed, so I went to Coach Moore and explained my plan.  He was hesitant at first but I convinced him I would be careful and responsible with the gun. He gave me only one round of blank ammo and I was off to the assembly.  I had previously gotten with my friend, Darryl, and he agreed to play the role I had in mind.

Sitting up there on the stage I was nervous but confident I could pull this off.  Only the night before had I determined what I was going to say and, oddly enough, it came by chance from a campaign flyer for the local mayoral election being held in Pomona at that same time.  It was a perfect slogan, I thought, for my campaign so I "borrowed" it.  When it was my turn to speak, I approached the microphone and boomed my message across the auditorium.  It went something like this:
"It’s time for a change in our student government. It is time to change the representation you have been receiving and make it more consistent with student needs.  It is time to change to someone who knows the challenges you face as students at John Marshall."
Then I paused and looked out over the silent audience and asked, "Are there any questions?”  At that point, and on cue, Darryl stood up in the middle of the auditorium and shouted in a sarcastic tone as we had rehearsed, "Yeah!  I got a question".  Instantly I pulled the revolver from my pocket, pointed it at Darryl and fired.  BOOM!  The sound of the gun was deafening as it echoed through the auditorium.  All the girls screamed in fear as did some of the boys.  Darryl slumped in his seat but as the realization came that he was not really shot, a roar of laughter and cheers went up from the crowd.  As it subsided, I continued in a loud voice:
"That’s the kind of one-sided representation we have to change.  It is time for a change in leadership and I can provide that change.  When you vote for Boy’s Vice-President this afternoon, vote for change.  Vote for Jud Smith!"  
I walked back to my seat to thunderous applause and I knew I had made the impression I was looking for.  That afternoon, 75 % of those who voted, marked my name on the ballot.  I took that as a mandate, but it kind of brings me to my next pearl.
Seventeenth Pearl:  "It is easy to talk about change, but often more difficult to deliver"

Following the election, I was the talk of the school for a few days. Students would come up to me in the hallways and tell me how "cool" my speech was.  Even teachers would get me aside and comment how clever it was.  Of course, today you could never pull off such a stunt.  It would be considered very "uncool" and unthinkable in the light of school shooting disasters like Columbine High School and Virginia Tech University.  Then two days after the election, my math teacher, Mr. Brewster, who was also the student council faculty representative, asked me a question after class.  "What kind of changes are you going to recommend?”  I was stunned.  I hadn’t really thought about any changes.  In fact, I didn’t even know how student government functioned.  It was just a campaign promise. I never thought anyone really expected you to fulfill campaign promises.  And, in
fact, I didn’t institute any changes, substantive or otherwise.  Oh, I learned a little bit about student government and I became more involved in student politics and student teacher relations, but I never delivered the change about which I had spoken so eloquently and forcefully.
I see a strong parallel between my campaign in 1960 and the election campaign of today.  We have a bevy of intelligent, even bright individuals, mostly men and one woman, who are all promising change.  They are feeding on and fueling the dissatisfaction of a large segment of American’s who are merely looking for something different in the way of leadership than they have had for the
past eight years.  So "change" is the mantra of the day and every candidate is embracing it.  Each candidate tells us that they and they alone, are the agent of change.  Only they can bring about the change American’s seek. Only they have the answers.  BUT DO THEY?

In this election, as in every election I have witnessed in my time, it is best to separate the fervent rhetoric from the substance.  What does each candidate bring to the change table?  What specifically are they recommending to change and how will they deliver it....and at what cost?  What qualifies each candidate to make the claims they make and what qualifications and experience do they possess to effect change.  AND, is changing what we really need in the first place?  I hope we don’t make the same mistake the student body did in 1960 and elect someone who makes the most noise about change and has no clue on how to make good on those promises.  Change for change sake is rarely a good life or in politics.
We miss you, my darlings, and hope you get through your teething period so
your Mom can get some sleep...for a CHANGE!
I love you and God Bless,
Grandpa Jud