Sunday, July 29, 2012

One Month Ago Today

One month ago today, my Mom passed away. In some ways, the time has flown by, but in other ways it seems like an eternity. The frantic atmosphere of the first few days has been replaced by a less emotional, more practical phase. We have made some adjustments, had time to process things. We are calmer now. Plans for Dad's care have progressed and seem less daunting. Still, there are hours in the day, days in the week, when the pain of the loss is still fresh. There are times when the thought enters your mind that you should call her to ask about some such thing, or to tell her about something that happened with the kids. Then, you catch yourself, the realization that she isn't here to take that call brings a brief wave of incredible sadness. But then you shake it off and get about your day, taking comfort in the hope of eternal life.

People have stopped bringing food, the cards have slowed to a trickle, and I am glad. Each card serves to freshen up my grief. I would rather not be constantly reminded. But oddly, the late arriving cards have been the most eloquent. Most have been hand-written and have benefited from the passage of time, and the power of reflection. Therein lies a lesson for the future. When a dear friend suffers a loss, I will wait a while before writing a note.

So, today, on the first month anniversary of her passing, I will be teaching in Rush Hour. My topic?...The Seven Deadly Sins...envy, gluttony, greed, lust, pride, sloth,  and wrath...none of which applied to my Mom. Well.. except maybe wrath.... that time she told me never to stick my tongue out at her again, and I went into the bathroom , found a long comb and defiantly stuck it in my mouth and angrily pointed it in her direction. As I recall, she put on a wrath clinic, with the aid of a fly-swatter, on my bare legs. I never have used a comb since, clearly scarred for life.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Olympic Games...Enemy Of The Future

There are just so many things wrong with this picture...if you're President Obama. Four years ago, Michael Phelps made Olympic history by winning, count 'em, EIGHT gold medals. For Progressives of all stripes, this has to be an abomination, and the prospect that he might add to this obscene total in the 2012 games set to begin tonight will only add insult to injury. I know what you're thinking.."Dunnevant, this time you've gone off your rocker. What in God's name are you talking about??" Bear with me.

This photograph is a perfect encapsulation of the unfairness of competition. Michael Phelps is the poster boy for the 1% of sport. Thousands of American boys with nothing but a Speedo and a dream trained day after grueling day, in pools great and small, for the chance to step up on that medal stand and hear the National Anthem. They all worked just as hard as Phelps, most of them were every bit as smart as Phelps. Hell, most of them had better teeth than Phelps. But in the end it didn't matter. Michael Phelps won every event and ended up posing for this insulting picture celebrating his individual accomplishments, rubbing it in the face of all the other competitors.

Micheal Phelps was born aquatically gifted. It wasn't hard work and dedication. Just look at that body, those gangly arms, the almost concave chest, the lithe, sloped shoulders, with not an ounce of body fat.Those are genetic gifts, not the product of training and desire. When I was in high school, I was always annoyed by the 6'5", 210 pound guys who ran the 40 in 4.7 seconds and a had a 30 inch vertical leap, who thought they were more athletic than me. The nerve of those guys! It's the same with Phelps. You put an inner city kid in THAT body and he would win a chest full of medals too.

Besides, is it really fair that he had to win EVERY event? Wouldn't so many more people have benefited had those medals been spread around more equitably? And speaking of medals, why is it that the guy ( or girl ) who finishes first is so exalted over the second and third place finishers? Even the medal stand reflects this winning-worship obsession. There is Phelps, head and shoulders above the poor silver medalist and towering over the pitiful bronze medalist, like some Greek God. Has anyone stopped to think of how this grotesque scene might impact the guy ( or girl ) who finished last? The dream of the progressives, and our only realistic future, is the equalization of outcomes for all, the subordination of the self for the betterment of the whole, the banishment of rugged individualism and it's replacement with collective cooperation. And yet...we still have not evolved beyond this outdated Olympian worship of excellence. Is it a coincidence that this orgy of conservatism occurs every four years, during our Presidential election? I think not.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Three Stooges Movie...Oscar Committee, listen up!

A few nights ago I found myself in dire need of a mindless diversion. Losing your Mother and dealing with the demands of caring for your 87 year old Father and all of the decisions associated with it has the effect of casting a debilitating shadow over your life. You find yourself thinking constantly about very serious things. Do that long enough and you become serious. Which is fine, I suppose. But the other night I needed an escape. I turned on the TV and saw it "on demand"...The Three Stooges movie was finally available!! Jon was here at the time and we both were wildly enthusiastic. Pam rolled her eyes, but even she was up for a little sophomoric humor.

I grew up with the Stooges. Every Saturday morning at 7 am in glorious black and white, Larry, Curly and Moe would stumble and fumble their way through an hour's worth of rediculous situations, all the while slapping, poking, and torturing each other amid cries of "Nnnuck, Nnnuck" and "woop,woop,woop!!" Ok..granted, it wasn't Shakespeare, but to a 7 year old boy it was great fun. I was very skeptical of how the Boys would be treated by Hollywood in 2012. I was doubtful that their brand of physical humor would work in today's car-seated, helmet-wearing, peanut allergy world, where we can't even bring ourselves to keep score in T-Ball since somebody's feelings might get hurt.

The movie was AWESOME!!! The actors who played Larry, Curly, and Moe were spitting images of the originals and they had every pratfall down perfectly. The plot was ridiculous, something about an orphanage, being put out of business by high insurance claims brought on by the young stooges who had been dumped on the doorstep in a army duffel bag by a drive-by Ford Fairlane. One of the nuns looked suspiciously like a man and went by the ominous name of Sister Mary Mengele, and took an instant dislike to the three infants when she was greeted by a swift poke in the eye upon opening the duffel bag! It was all downhill from there. At first, Pam was watching the movie with that wide-eyed look that women get when watching something that they just don't get, shifting her eyes from the screen to me and back to the screen as if to say.."Who ARE you???" But before long, even she couldn't resist. In one particularly hilarious..and painful.. scene, Pam was doubled over laughing along with the rest of us. I mean, a person can resist only up to a point. How can you NOT laugh when the boys find themselves in the laundry room of a hospital trying to resuscitate a police officer who they themselves had knocked out somehow. When Moe tells Curly, "Give me the pads!!", of course, Curly gives him two hot steam irons ??

Anyway, for the first time in a month, I felt normal. I was laughing like a school boy at the antics of three of my childhood heroes. When the inevitable fart scene finally appeared near the end of the movie, I proclaimed it a complete victory, and instant classic. Then something very strange happened. Right after "The End" appeared on the screen but before the credits rolled, the two guys who co-wrote, produced, and directed the movie appeared alongside a table with many of the props from the movie. There was the sledge hammer that Moe had used to hit several people over the head. There was the huge church bell that had slid off the church roof directly into the face of Sister Mary Mengele, knocking "her" out cold. There was the needle-nose pliers used to remove Larry's
nose hairs. But there were Bobby and Peter Farrelly telling us all that , in fact, these were not REAL. Shockingly, they were all made of rubber. Nobody was actually hurt in the filming of this movie. Oh, and you kids at home shouldn't try to recreate the stunts of the movie because if you used a real chainsaw on your friend's head, it wouldn't wear out the blade like it did on Curly's head, it would actually slice his skull in two. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. In 2012 we have to run a disclaimer after a Three Stooges movie reminding the audience about the laws of physics. Whoa.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Time To Set New Goals?

What do you do when you lose the ability to dream? No, not the ones at night that feature you standing naked in front of a stadium full of homeless people trying to remember the words to The Star Spangled Banner. No, I’m talking about those life goals that you set for yourself when you were young that represented the vision and hope of your life. They provided the fuel that drove the engine, they gave you a target at which to aim, a guiding star on which to focus. Some of them fell by the wayside. You didn’t have the chops to become a Major League baseball player. It turned out that you hated politics too much to become President of the United States. But what happens when you realize that practically every other big dream you had…has come true?

In no particular order, here is a list of dreams I used to carry around with me when I was in college. It was folded up in my wallet and I never showed it to another human being.

# Marry a beautiful blond. 
# Start my own business, be my own boss
# Buy a nice house.
# Travel the world.

# Have at least two kids, a boy and a girl.
# Break 80 at golf
# Attend a game at Fenway Park.
# Write a novel.
# Earn $100,000 in one year.

Ok, that list was compiled roughly 35 years ago, so the 100K is dated. But everything on that list has been checked off. Although I don’t suppose I can say that I have “Traveled the world”, the world being a huge place and all, but I have seen an awful lot of it.  Do I break 80 every time out? Hardly. But I have 6 times so that qualifies.  And yes, I have written a novel, but it is unpublished and unread, and hand written on two spiral notebooks, but it does qualify as a novel in every other sense. In addition I have accomplished other things that I never put on the list, but are remarkable to me like, educating my children at two private, out of state universities.

All the smart guys I talk to about this say that the solution is simple…I need to set new goals. Ah, yes, new goals. That’s not as easy as it sounds. The problem lies in the fact that many of my goals are at cross purposes with each other. For instance, I would like to learn how to fly an airplane and eventually buy or lease one of my own. I would like to purchase a vacation home on a lake in Maine where I can live during the summer and then bequeath to my children as a legacy. I would like to spend a month in Florida every winter playing golf and attending spring training baseball games every day. All of these worthy goals require lots and lots of money. My business produces (most of the time) lots of money, so what’s the problem? Well, what do you do when you’re good at your job but that job has worn you out? It’s all you’ve done for 30 years and it has been very good to you, but you would really rather be a freelance writer. The stress associated with the financial world has had a cumulative effect on me that has taken a toll. But would the stress associated with being a working writer be any easier? Probably not.

Having stopped to read through this, it really sounds whiny. I have so much to be thankful for in the life I have. I suppose it’s time to suck it up. As my Dad used to say, “Even though the grass may look greener on the other side of the fence…it still has to be mowed!”

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Lawlessness Epidemic In My Neighborhood!!

Woke up this morning, sat down at my usual perch looking down on the neighborhood through my upstairs paladin window, and witnessed the most lawless outbreak of greed and economic exploitation I've ever witnessed year around this time. Yes, today is YARD SALE day in Wythe Trace. Below my window, a teaming mass of unequally yoked buyers and sellers were engaged in wild and unregulated commerce, and I dare say that more than a dozen of our nation's laws will be broken before it's all over.

My next door neighbor is fully engaged in this colossal class exploitation. I look down and see her driveway lined with all kinds of items...a car seat, changing table, crib,( guess they're done having kids). There are  several chairs, a table piled with lamps, bed linens and a treasure trove of primary coloured Fisher Price toys. (Kids sure do create junk). The cul de sac is choked with cars. A steady stream of bargain hunters are picking through the piles. Not a lot of BMW's parked in the street, mostly pick-up trucks and late model Nissans. What in the name of high finance is going on here? I'll tell you what's going on...unbridled consumer exploitation.

Will my neighbor provide the lady who just bought that old car seat with the original packaging it came in that will properly warn her about the potential choking hazards associated with that product?  No. Does there exist any limits on what Lilli can charge this poor helpless woman for this worn out death trap? No. The seller has all the power in this unregulated exchange. Lilli drives a hard bargain. Money changes hands. There is no paper trail, no bill of sale, and no taxation of any kind on this transaction. No sales tax, and no income tax on the capital gains of these exchanges. I am literally witnessing what looks to be a thriving black market operating in broad daylight, with reckless disregard for government regulations. What, that a Henrico County patrol car pulling up to the curb? Finally!! Somebody, representing the law is here to shut down this enterprise. No, what the heck is he..? He's going to buy the bassinet? Great, not only is there tax avoidance, and consumer exploitation, now there's official corruption, the police turning a blind eye to this naked pursuit of profit. I've got half a mind to call the President myself.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Happy Birthday To My Wife

My wife turns 50 today. Whenever we go out with friends, she has proudly declared that she is the only one at the table who is .."still in her forties". Well, now she can no longer make that claim. She will have to endure a bunch of stupid "old" jokes today, but not nearly as many as I heard 4 years, 3 months, and 16 days ago when I turned 50. See, age jokes work much better on someone like me, someone who is a loud, trash-talking smart-ass. With someone like Pam you almost feel embarrassed to even bring up the subject. The hardest job in the history of comedy would be coming up with material for a roast of my wife. She is just so incredibly adorable, sweet, and just can't bring yourself to make fun of her. What would you do, tease her about her cooking? is so talented in the kitchen she makes peanut butter and jelly taste like fine dining. I guess you could come up with a couple of wrinkle jokes...something like, " In today's news, reports are coming in that President Obama actually had something coherent to say about the economy, and Pam Dunnevant actually found a wrinkle today, proving that there is indeed a first time for everything." That way, the joke is actually about Obama so you don't feel bad about criticizing Pam. See what I go through?

50 or not, this woman is the best decision I ever made. Here are just a few reasons why.

1. Where I am often negative and cynical, she tries to see the best in situations and people.

2. Where for me, "flying by the seat of my pants" is a way of life, she brings order to my life by actually planning ahead a bit more than my routine 15 minute horizon. Her least favorite of my expressions is.."It'll be fine!" Because of her other-worldly organization skills and unmatched powers of risk-analysis, most everything HAS been fine for me and my family for the last 28 years.

3. The woman is a beast with any electronic, technological gadget ever made. I have no doubt that if she had security clearance, she could probably figure out how to command one of the government's drone spy squadrons from her i-pad.

4. Whenever there's a crisis, Pam steps up in an enormous way. Some are paralyzed, others fearful. But Pam swallows her fears and just gets it done. Whatever needs to get done is her target, and she doesn't rest until a solution is found. In the circus world there are show horses and work horses. Pam is a work horse.

5. Now, ok...I just referred to a woman who turns 50 today, as a horse. Even worse, I compared her to a circus animal, proving once again how clumsy I can be with words. My "fly by the seat of my pants" writing style is in desperate need of an editor. See, the thing is, my wife is gorgeous. Every time we walk into a room, she turns heads, especially mine. Tonight at Brio's will be no different. People, will glance up at her and think, "Wow, isn't she beautiful?" Then the men will look at me and think.."What's HE got that I ain't got??" The answer...I've got Pamela Jean Dunnevant, and you can't have her. Bruuhhhhahhhhh!!!!!!

Happy Birthday Sweetheart.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

I Have A New Partner!

“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”
                                                                                              President Barack Obama

  I read the transcript of this speech. Then I searched for a video, figuring that perhaps the words above were taken out of context. But there he was telling a cheering crowd that essentially, it takes a village to start a business. As one of those business owners he was talking about, I feel compelled to respond, even though my opinions on this subject are about as important to the President as his views are to me.

When I chose to enter this business many years ago, I made an intentional choice. By choosing the path of the entrepreneur, I gave up any hope of security. I would never have company paid health insurance, an employer funded pension plan, paid sick leave, paid vacation, company provided office space, furniture or secretarial help. I would never have the security of knowing that even if I had a couple of unproductive weeks, my full paycheck would be waiting for me on pay day. The reason I gave all of that up?...I was crazy. I was crazy and arrogant enough to bet on myself. Besides, there were advantages to working for myself, first among them being, I liked the boss. I would never have to ask him for a raise, I would never have to ask him for time off. I would be free to make as much money as I was humanly capable of making. If I chose to work 70 hours a week, my income would invariably rise. If I chose to play golf every day, I would immediately see a dramatic decline in my fortunes. But it was all my choice. In the early days the hours were brutal, the level of rejection high, and my income was terrible. I would often lay awake at night wondering if I had made a huge mistake. At every turn there were obstacles to success. I almost quit a hundred times. But I didn't. Now, after 29 years, the gamble has paid off. I have built something of value and it has given me the one thing I always wanted most of all in the first place...freedom.

I didn't need the President to tell me how important it is to "give something back". I learned that lesson as a child first from the Old Testament concept of "gleaning" set forth in the Book of Ruth, then in the New Testament parable of the Good Samaritan. But mostly I learned it simply from watching my parents live their lives. Although they never made much money, they were always giving to others. My Mother's "give-away fund" became famous where I grew up. The command in the Bible to give wasn't a function of one's wealth or ability to give, rather, it was a universal command meant for all of us. So, the President's assertion that those of us who have been successful must pay more to the government so THEY can help others sounded strange to me. Isn't that what my
top 5% income has already allowed me to do? Because of my income and the freedom it has earned me, I have been able to devote untold hours to working with the young people of my church. I have been able to chaperon trips, donate scholarship money to send many kids to camp, make countless contributions for others to go on mission trips. All of this has been the direct result of the blessings of successes I have had in a business that I started from scratch, and whose income has resulted in me being among a group of Americans ( top 5% ) who already currently pay 58.66% of all income taxes paid in this country.

The President minimizes my own responsibility for that success by pointing out that somewhere down the line I had a teacher that inspired me. I did. Actually I had more than one inspiring teacher. The best one of all was probably from the 5th grade...Mrs. Winston, a black lady who rode me mercilessly and constantly harangued me for not doing my best. To this day I remember and am thankful for the life lessons she taught and the inspiring way she taught them. As I recall, two of my fellow students in that class went on to become convicted felons, Mrs. Winston's powers of inspiration not withstanding. The President also points out that every day I drive to work on roads provided by government. He's right. As a matter of fact, just the other day I was driving to work and pulled up to a government provided stop light where I saw a gentleman take a swig out of a Pabst Blue Ribbon can in between intense nose-picking sessions at 7:30 in the morning. No doubt, he was headed to his highly successful business enterprise just like me, since we both were using government provided roads. I wonder which one of us paid more taxes to the government so they could provide that road and that stop light?

Still, the President said something that struck a chord with me. He kept talking about we're better when we are "all in this together". It caused me to start thinking. If he's right and I really didn't build my business myself, that there were lots of others equally responsible for my success, and in fact, we are all in this together, then that must mean that I have lots of silent partners out there, first among them, the government. Well, since my government "partner" takes 31% of my profits, isn't it only fair that I send them a bill for 31% of my expenses? Below is a partial list:

$4875 for office furniture, the purchase of which help create or save jobs in the cheap, wood veneer office furniture industry.

$56,000 for Errors and Omissions insurance coverage to protect me from lawsuits brought on by angry customers and their pernicious ambulance-chasing lawyers. Although I've never filed a claim, this is the tribute that I have been required to pay to stay in business.

$19,200 in yearly operating expenses to keep the doors open here at my office.

I know times are tough right now at the U.S. Treasury, but if nothing else this President has taught me the importance of making "investments" even when the National checking account is overdrawn. So I'm sure that my new "partner" won't have any problem coming up with his fair share of my company expenses. After all, I pay him MY fair share each and every month, even if I have to hit my home equity line to do it.

So, Mr. President, as soon as I get your check, you can count me as a new convert. You'll get my vote this long as that check clears.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

My Brother, and Two Sisters

Grief is a mysterious condition. I am in the process of reading two books on the subject, neither of which are particularly helpful, since neither author knew my mother, the loss of whom can't possibly be plugged in to a ready formula for recovery. For me it has been part sadness, part regret, but mostly bouts of paralyzing melancholy. Generally speaking, sitting around for hours pondering deep questions about life and death leads to no good, turning you into an inert mass of bone and tissue incapable of summoning enough energy to make a ham sandwich, let alone go to work. So, you try to fight through the reflection impulse, and get on with life. Some days have been easier than others.

But not all bouts of reflection are created equal. For example, if you're laying around in your pajamas for days contemplating why the sun rises in the east and sets in the west instead of the other way around, well, therein lies madness. However, if you find yourself reexamining just how wonderful your brother and two sisters are, it can be time well spent. The four of us are different in so many ways. But the similarities are remarkable and flow mostly from the fact that we all had the same mother. Now that she has gone I have found myself paying closer attention to my siblings, hoping to catch a glimpse of Mom in the process.

My brother, Donnie and I are roughly ten years apart, he the oldest and I the youngest. He is taller, heavier, and slightly louder than me. He taught me how to play baseball, introduced me to the Beatles, and gave me one 30 minute guitar lesson when I was 11 and then left me to my own devices with a piece of junk 5 string acoustic that he had outgrown. He has two masters degrees, and an amazing ability to store and recall the lyrics to practically every song recorded since 1950. He has been a prolific song-writer, and the most natural musician I've ever heard. At mom's funeral, he calmly sat down at the piano and performed a medley of two of her favorite songs that he had put together in his head, and with no music in front of him, sang them in as clear and beautiful a voice as I had ever heard from him. Under the circumstances, a virtuoso performance, graceful and dignified. I marveled at his composure.

My sister Paula is closest to me in age, two years older. I followed behind her at school. My teachers would always stare at me for an awkward moment and then ask," Wait, you're not Paula's brother, are you?" Upon answering in the affirmative, their faces would always stiffen, then they would smile, as if to say.."Then, why are you making C's and throwing paper airplanes in my class??" Years later, working with the youth group at our church, whenever I would tell the kids that Mrs. Roop was my sister, instantly, their behavior would improve, and I would earn instant credibility as a teacher. Paula is the sort of person who brings solutions with her when she walks into a room. She is a clear, decisive thinker, with no patience for incompetence. She has strong and well stated opinions about everything. I see so much of what was great about my mother in her.

Whenever I told the kids in the youth group that I was "Mz. Linda's" brother, my awesomeness score on their Cool-O-Meter went off the charts. When I told adults this, they would laugh and say something like.."Of course you are!!!" I never really knew what that meant, but I was sure it was good. Linda is the leader, the alpha male of our family. It has always been so. The cruise director makes the plan and sees to it that it is executed. If you added up all of the self-sacrificing things that the rest of us have ever done for Mom and Dad, it would probably be less than what Linda does in an average month. As a nurse, much of the burden of their care has fallen on her. Linda loved Mom with not only her heart but her hands and feet as well. She has taken her loss perhaps the hardest of any of us. But there's no self pity with Linda, just a renewed devotion to Dad's care, and a determination to keep the family focused and together. Amazing.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

How Cool Would My Life Be With A Beethoven Soundtrack?

When I was 15 years old and terribly naive, I joined the Columbia House Record Club. The add in Sports Illustrated told me that merely by joining I could pick out 15 albums FREE. After that I would have the "opportunity" to receive an album every month thereafter for only $7.99 plus shipping and handling. If I didn't want any more albums I could just say so and that would be that. What an awesome deal!! Of course, over the next three years I spent a fortune in postage, shipping back unordered and unwanted was a nightmare, actually. However, the experience did have one side benefit. It introduced me to Ludwig Von Beethoven. Lest you think that I was a 15 year old geek, let me explain.

Ordering my 15 free albums was a blast, but harder than one might think. In 1973, I was in the tank for the Beatles, Crosby Stills & Nash, The Eagles, Linda Ronstadt etc.. But when I had picked 14 albums, I saw that I could get a giant collection of the complete works of Beethoven on vinyl and although it filled 9 LP's, it would only count as one. Well, I was no classical music devotee, but I had heard of him and thought he looked like a world class bad-ass. On a lark I ordered the collection.

I was instantly mesmerized. What was the deal with this guy? All of the paintings I could find showed this brooding maniac with wild hair and dark, raging eyes. Everything I read spoke of his chaotic mood swings, most accounts hinting at mental illness, and after listening to his music for a couple of weeks, I believed it. The same guy who could write something as stirringly beautiful as the second movement of Pathetique "" could turn around and write the profoundly disturbing second movement to his 7th Symphony. I'm telling you, if a movie is ever made that features a wedding between Darth Vadar and Cruella DeVille, this is the music that will be playing when she walks down the aisle! At the 1:57 mark I can practically hear whining Dalmatian puppies ""!! The fact that he was deaf by the time he wrote this piece only adds to the beguiling cocktail that is exotic mixture of madness and genius.

I have been reintroduced to Beethoven recently with my discovery of Spotify, Pandora and the like. When I heard the 7th for the first time in probably 10 years the other day it occurred to me how much more interesting and dramatic my life would be if I had Beethoven blasting away as my soundtrack. I drive to DMV to renew my drivers license, pull into the parking lot, get out of the car and see the line of dreary, resigned citizens curling around the building, and instantly the second movement of Symphony number 7 pounds into my ears! Driving down interstate 64, I crest a hill at 80 and realize that I have just raced through a speed trap?..""! Or, its Christmas Eve and suddenly I realize I have forgotten to buy anything for Pam. In a panic, I race over to the mall, darting from one store to the next trying desperately to find what I need before all the stores close. What's blaring through every speaker at the mall? Why, THIS, of course.

Don't get me wrong, I'm no classical music authority. Much of it I like, but some of it I find tedious and repetitive. But for me Beethoven transcends classical music. He's just a tortured guy who gifted the world for all eternity with some of the most incredible music ever written. Somebody asked me once if I could have dinner with any three people in all of human history, who would they be? My answer then, as now...The Apostle Paul, Thomas Jefferson, and Ludwig Von Beethoven.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Natural Born Squirrel Killer

I hate squirrels. They are a menace to life, and the scourge of my back yard. They have spent the better part of 15 years trying to discover new and more contemptible ways to gain entry into my attic. I have been on a personal mission to wipe them off the face of the earth, or at least my little corner of it, ever since. I hired a company called "Bee Bat & Bird" who assured me that they were equally adept at eliminating squirrels from my property, that I should not be concerned that the word "squirrel" was not on their business card. The fact that squirrels didn't fit with the alliterative "B" theme in no way suggested that they did not view them with equal disdain. Well, 12 months, and $300 dollars later, the Bee Bat & Bird bunch had managed to kill exactly one FLB ( furry little bastard ). That's when I took matters into my own hands. I drove over to Target and bought myself a Daisy Powerline 35 and a box of ammo.

I'll never forget my first "kill". Pam and I heard diabolical scratching noises from the attic one night. I knew it it was at least one, possibly two FLB's up there, so I grabbed the Powerline 35 and slowly cracked open the door to the stairs that led to attic. I flipped on the light and there he was hanging stupidly from the side of a 2x6 rafter not 15 feet directly above my head. With a momentary rush of adrenaline and maniacal glee I squeezed off a shot, hit the FLB in the side of the head, and he fell dead as a doornail directly at my feet. For an instant, I felt like a hardy pioneer man protecting his family from marauding Indians. Then, with a glove-protected hand I placed the beast in a gallon-sized zip lock bag, threw it in a Ukrops bag and placed it in the trash can for curb-side pickup. Just like the pioneers used to do.

After that there have been two or three other victories, the best one coming when I nailed a FLB in a mid-air jump between branches of a pine tree out back...not me, the squirrel. But lately I have been in a slow burn over the latest FLB outrage. Back in early May I sat out my little garden of a couple of squash plants, a cucumber plant and my prized Early Girl tomatoes. All summer I have lovingly tended to them, watching them grow, waiting patiently to enjoy fresh sliced tomatoes in July. This one particular grouping of tomatoes had been a thing of beauty...a cluster of eight, all getting ripe together. It was going to be a feast. Then, one morning I went out on the deck to check on them, they were only 2 or 3 days away from harvest time. Then I saw it, the sickening evidence, the three ripest, most beautiful tomatoes on the vine had a hole the size of a quarter taken out of them by FLB teeth. Deviously, under cover of darkness to hide their foul deeds, they had crept up on my deck and ravaged my prized tomatoes. Tiny black ants now were cleaning up behind them, and my rage was rekindled anew. I have spent the past few days firing off shot after shot. My backyard is what is commonly referred to in squirrel-killing circles as a "target-rich environment". Despite this fact I have as of this writing been unable to send even one FLB to his eternal reward. I have winged several, only to see them scurry off to the safety of the neighbor's yards. I am undeterred. I will not rest until every FLB in Wythe Trace learns to associate 3308 Aprilbud Place as a place of pain and death, their killing field.
With my Daisy Powerline 35 at my side, I know I will prevail!!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Home Run Derby....Sucks

As you all know, I love baseball. I'm fully aware of the fact that most people don't share my enthusiasm. We are a football country now...I get it. We are presently at the halfway point in the season and I have just endured two things about baseball that even I loathe...the All-Star game, and the Home Run Derby.

I've never been a huge fan of the All-Star game, essentially for the same reason that I detest pre-season football...because it's an exhibition. But ever since Bud Selig came up with the stupid idea of awarding home field advantage in the World Series to whichever league wins, I have grown to despise the thing. But nothing could possibly be worse than the Home Run Derby. Good Lord, would somebody take Chris Berman out behind the production truck and just put him and us out of our misery?? What could possibly be worse than watching a bunch of guys hitting home runs off of old farts throwing 45 mph fastballs? I'll tell you what...hearing Chris Berman yell.."back,back,back,back" for the millionth time. Here are my suggestions for ways to make this dreadful spectacle more interesting:

# Put the best pitchers in the batters box and let THEM try to hit home of the best home run hitters. That's right..let the hitters pitch and the pitchers hit!!

# Instead of letting little leaguers shag balls in the outfield, lets put the 15 or so drunkest, most obnoxious loud-mouth fans out there and see how they do.

# To add more suspense, how about we fine each participant $100,000 for every ground ball he hits during the competition.

Here's a trivia contest for all of you stats geeks out there..(Ryan Roop, I'm talking to you!). No Google searched answers please... What pitcher had a lifetime ERA of 2.28, led the American League in ERA one year at 1.75, still holds the American League record for most shutouts in a season by a left handed pitcher ( a hint),  and holds the record for the longest shutout in World Series history at 14 innings?

Sunday, July 8, 2012

"How's Your Dad Doing?"

Seems like I've been asked this question a hundred times since Mom passed away. It's a perfectly natural question. Dad is 87, in declining health, and alone for the first time in his life. We are very concerned about him and how he will adjust to life without a wife who did practically everything for him. However, so far, the short answer to the question is.."He's doing amazingly well!"

Last night Pam, Kaitlin and I took dinner over to him. We walked in the door around 5 o'clock. Dad was on the phone with someone, sitting in his favorite chair, a stack of yellow pads containing the hand-written life story he's been writing for fifteen years piled high all around. Dad smiled at us, eyes alive and bright. Tonight he was in the mood to talk. While Pam was preparing dinner Dad began to hold forth on a variety of subjects, telling stories I have heard at least 15 times. The early stages of Parkinson's has caused him to lose his words at times, and tonight he lost them more than usual, but it failed to stop him from talking. He would just stop mid-sentence, apologize for losing his train of thought, then quickly go on to the next topic.

When dinner was ready, Dad displayed his usual robust appetite. He joyfully devoured everything put before him. At one point Pam asked him that since she will be preparing quite a few meals for him in the future, was there anything he didn't like. Dad thought for a long time then said..."Not very fond of pasta salad..especially when it's cold" That's it...cold pasta salad is the only food on the planet that my 87 year old Dad doesn't care for!

I mentioned earlier how Dad tells stories over and over again and I have heard them all a million times. It's true. But since Mom passed, it doesn't seem to matter. I just like hearing him tell a story, any story. Parents aren't here forever, I've learned. Now, suddenly, I'm much more eager to listen.
And, sometimes just listening pays off. I learned some new details concerning an epic story from my Father's high school days. We had all heard the incredible tail about the day that Dad was asked to come out of the stands at a Buckingham baseball game and take the field to prevent a forfeit since Buckingham only had 8 players. Dad had been on the team before the war but had been in the Pacific for three years, and now was finishing up his high school studies as a veteran. This particular day he had decided to go see his old team play. So, there he sat in a suit and tie and wing-tipped dress shoes when the manager spotted him in the stands. Since Dad was, in fact, an active student of Buckingham High School, and since he had played for the team a few years ago, the manager for Appomattox agreed to let Dad play...a decision that would go down in Buckingham Central High School sports history. The part of the story I knew and that I had heard a million times was how in Dad's first at bat, with the bases loaded and on a 3-2 count, Dad had swung his left handed bat at a low inside fast ball and hit it over the right field wall, over the Agriculture building and into the parking lot where it had hit a school bus! What I didn't know until last night was that on his third at bat, he had hit another blast, this one over the center field fence with two men on base! Dad had gone 2 for 3 with two home runs and seven RBI's in a game that Buckingham won by 8 runs...all the while in wing-tipped dress shoes!

It's only been a little over a week, and Dad has many issues that need to be dealt with, but so far he has shown an amazing amount of poise, grace and dignity. He has surprised us with his ability to manage things on his own, we have marvelled at his toughness, and the sharpness of his mind. Above all, we have noticed the never failing sweetness and gentleness that Dad has demonstrated throughout it all. My Father has put on a clinic for all of us in how to handle loss like a Christian should, with bright hope and steadfast courage. Today is Sunday..and he wants to go to church. I will pick him up and drive him, then Pam and I will sit with him on his favorite pew. Mom will have an even better seat.

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Washington Nationals ?????

It's July the 6th. We have reached the half way point of the season and the Washington Nationals are in first place, 16 games over .500. Meanwhile, over in the NL Central, the Pittsburg Pirates are in first place. To quote Slim Pickens' Taggart.."What in the wide wide world of sports is a'goin' on here?"

As far as the Pirates are concerned...I have no earthly idea. I haven't watched a single one of their games all year. All I know is they have a ton of young players nobody has ever heard of and some decent pitchers. But they are the Pirates for goodness sake. They are a franchise that has compiled 19 straight losing seasons, an all-time record for a professional team of any sport in North America. I can name one player on their roster ( Andrew McCutchen ), which is saying something since I can name practically every position player on the Kansas City Royals. I know, I know..that's actually pretty pathetic. There is life outside of baseball, I'm told!

But the Washington Nationals are another story all together. Ever since the team moved to Washington, all of their games have been pumped into my living room via MASN. I confess to having watched their ineptitude  for quite awhile now. About halfway through last season, the front office fired the manager Jim Riggleman, and replaced him with 110 year old Davey Johnson. That's right, a very old man with a child's name..Davey. LOVE IT!! Since then, the team has responded to the old man in ways difficult to imagine. After all, The Washington Nationals franchise is the only one in the entire league that has never even competed in a world series. It's tag-line used to be..Washington..first in our hearts, last in the National League. Well, that was before they called up a 19 year old kid named Bryce Harper, and signed the flame-thrower Stephen Strasburg. Now, they are fun to watch. Harper runs the bases like his hair is on fire, the middle infielders, Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa vacuum up everything hit their way, and their bullpen is lights out...even though their closer is the goofiest, skinniest freak you've ever seen, made freakier by the fact that he wears glasses. Just last night, the boys racked up their 19th walk-off victory over the past two seasons, leading all of baseball. They have done all of this as their best player, Ryan Zimmerman, has been in a season long hitting slump, and their 126 million dollar free agent has-been, Jayson Werth languishes on the 60 day DL.

At this point, I feel obliged to point out that in my prediction's blog of March 17, 2012, I boldly predicted that the Nationals would indeed make the playoffs.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Lessons From Death

I promise that I will not turn this space into an "all-bereavement, all the time" blog. First of all, you would tire of it quickly, second, if I don't snap out of it soon, my mother will visit me Jacob Marley-like and "tan my hide" as she used to warn me that she would. But a person doesn't go through this sort of death without learning a few things about life. The lessons have come fast and furiously.

1. The day after the funeral, I had to run by Mom and Dad's bank to deposit some money. I used the drive thru, since I don't bank at Suntrust myself. When the teller, a black girl in her twenties saw the checks she cheerfully inquired about how my parents were doing. When I told her that Mom had passed away, she instantly burst into tears. She then gathered two other tellers around and they all told me how sorry they all were for my loss and what a wonderful woman she was. As far as I know, Mom's only connection with these women was her once or twice a month trip to the bank. That they would be so moved at her passing floored me. Who WAS my mother?

2. The funeral home and cemetery business are about the creepiest industries imaginable. Although, they were both very helpful and performed with the highest degree of professionalism, I was floored by the cost, but even more by the level of soft salesmanship involved. The funeral home guy appealed to every vulnerable emotion raging in me with practised skill. I found myself questioning just how much I truly loved my mother if I was not willing to place her in their top of the line sealed 20 gauge steel casket, and titanium-lined crypt. At the cemetery I discovered that even in death we humans still hold on to our pride of place and status. There were different neighborhoods in the cemetery, the estate section featured lovely walking trails, and a fine gazebo. Other sections were essentially the bad parts of town...too close to the road, no lovely statues of middle eastern men or over sized open bibles to be seen. Of course, just like in life, to obtain an upscale address required a significant "investment". This bombardment, all in one bizarre, surreal day turned me into a puddle of weakness and guilt. What kind of son was I if I wasn't willing, regardless of cost, to provide my mother the very best? An ugly, brutal business, a monument to human pride and vanity.

3. As I watched the over 300 people stream through Bliley's the afternoon of the viewing, I realized that I have a lot to learn about being a friend. I like to think that I'm a good friend, but I saw people in that line who made me ask a difficult question of myself..."If their mother had passed, would you have gone to her viewing?". One thing that I noticed throughout the weekend was that the people who came through the most for us were invariably the ones who had themselves lost someone dear recently. They had spent lots of time on the road that we had just begun to walk, and it showed in their amazing sensitivity, and acts of kindness. Before, I always hesitated to go to viewings because I had no idea what to say. I now know that it doesn't matter what you say or if you say anything at all. Just seeing the face of a friend means so much, and warms your heart when all around seems so cold.

4. I have often made flippant and unflattering comments in this space about my church. I take NONE of them back. As a member for 25 years, and as a Dunnevant, I have earned the right to criticize. However, with criticism comes the responsibility of praise when  it is due. My church family was truly amazing. They showed up with hot meals, cards, phone calls. Mark Becton and Chuck Ward were everything that Godly men should be but often aren't...wise, tender-hearted, and professional. The reception put on for us after the service was a feast of mostly made from scratch dishes, by caring, hard-working people who went above and beyond the call of mere duty. The reason people shouldn't church-hop has never been made clearer than it was this past weekend...after 25 years, your church transforms itself into something more than a place of becomes a beautiful extension of your family.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Betty Dunnevant 1930-2012

I was ten years old when I discovered that my mother was crazy. We had just moved back to Virginia after three years in New Orleans. Dad had become the Pastor of Winns Baptist Church in Hanover County. It was a blazing hot Saturday around lunch time and someone was ringing the doorbell. I was half way down the steps when Mom opened the door. There stood the scariest, dirtiest man I had ever seen. Instead of slamming the door and calling 911, Mom imprudently invited the man inside. He smelled worse than he looked, a mixture of kerosene and cigarettes. As a ten year old boy I remember being afraid. Dad wasn’t home, Donnie wasn’t home, so by default I was the man of the house. I made my way down the stairs, looked out the front door and saw an old rusted-out station wagon, belching smoke out of the tailpipe with a woman and several equally dirty kids in the back seat. The man began telling his story. He and his family were on their way from New York to Florida. They were almost out of gas and totally out of money. He had seen the church next door and was hoping we could spare him some money for gas. That’s when my mother was transformed before my eyes into a cross between Billy Graham and Paula Deen.

“Why, bless your heart!” Mom smiled..”What good is money for gas going to do without something to eat? Bring your wife and kids in here right now and let me fix you some lunch!”

He protested, but Mom wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.


Soon there were five exhausted, scared and hungry people sitting around our dining room table where Mom had miraculously whipped up a serving plate full of sandwiches, a bowl of potato salad and a tray of water melon. There was iced tea and peach cobbler and they all ate like they hadn’t had a meal in days. All the while Mom was telling them about the good news of the Gospel. For my Mother, the words..”Do you know Jesus Christ as your lord and savior” were not words you had to take an evangelism class to learn how to say. For Mom they were conversation starters with total strangers. After the meal, Mom encouraged them all to wash up in the bathroom while she packed the rest of the sandwiches along with some apples and oranges into a grocery bag. Then she disappeared into her bedroom and soon emerged with a wad of money. I don’t know how much or even where it had come from but I was pretty sure it was all she had. Soon there were big hugs all around and Mom leading her new friends in a prayer. We stood there in the yard waving as their smoky car disappeared down the road.

That scene would be repeated over and over again for the rest of her life. Mom viewed her life as a series of divine appointments. She believed that she was placed on this earth , as she used to say, “for such a time as this”. My Mother’s life was filled with great irony. Although possessed with profound generosity, she never had much money. She created her famous “Give-Away Fund” one year at Christmas when right at the top of her Christmas list she wrote…”Money to give away”. Thus began her career as a small town Andrew Carnegie. She would patiently collect contributions, often from anonymous sources ,then sit back and wait for a glorious opportunity… to give it all away. You know…money laundering. When she passed away Friday morning, there was nothing left in the account.

Another major irony of Mom’s life was that despite the fact that she had only a high school education, there never existed a better Bible teacher than my mother. Every Sunday School class she was ever given to teach immediately became the biggest class in the church. Many of those classes may have started out as women’s classes, but before long they were couple’s classes, and bigger rooms were needed. For ten years I was lucky enough to teach a Sunday School class of my own…high school boys. Many times while preparing my lessons I would call Mom to ask a question…”Mom, I can’t find the verse about when King David wanted to pay for the threshing floor but the guy didn’t want to take his money… where IS that?” Without a moments hesitation, and with that special lilt she would get in her voice when quoting scripture, Mom would blurt out..” I will not take for the Lord what is yours, or sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing…1 Chronicles 21: 24. I would always marvel…how does she DO that?! Before the internet and before…my mother was my concordance.

The final irony of Mom’s life was that she never got to travel the world. When she was a little girl her favorite song was..”Those Faraway Places With Strange sounding names” Unfortunately, during her active years she lacked the money to travel, ( perhaps because she was always giving it away!!) and during her retirement years, she lacked the health. Instead she read mountains of books about the world. She poured over every book she could get her hands on about Africa, India, South America, and China. The reason we have asked that in lieu of flowers today, gifts be made to the International Mission Board, is because since she never got a chance to go, Mom was committed to doing whatever she could to make it possible for others to go. The quickest route to a robust Sunday dinner argument in my house growing up was to say anything negative about the Cooperative Program. Sometimes I would needle her just to get her going. “Mom, the Cooperative Program is over-rated!” Then I’d just sit back and watch the show!! Mom had zero tolerance for anything that diverted funding from missions, even , and especially television ministries. I mention this to honor my Mom’s conviction that every worship service should make us uncomfortable at least once. Once, when I was a kid, I asked her why Dad said such hard things from the pulpit. She answered that it was every Christian’s job to comfort the afflicted,…and afflict the comfortable.

My Mother was never shy about offering anyone who would listen her rather strong opinions on a variety of topics. Theology, politics, the proper type of church music…and the appropriate decimal level for it’s performance. In this and many other ways, Mom was a woman born before her time. With her cooking skills she could have been Paula Deen, with her preaching skills she could have been Billy Graham. Even though the stage upon which she performed was smaller…my Mother was Lottie Moon without China, she was Amelia Earhart without the wings. But today, she is with her savior. All her pain is gone, there are no more tears, and she finally has wings like eagles. To those of us who remain, her legacy lifts us and our memories of her great life are more than enough to sustain us until we meet again.

A Rough Three Days

My mother died in her sleep Friday morning. For the past 72 hours, life has been a fevered rush of emotions, a rapid series of quick decisions, and family togetherness. Today it culminates in a funeral service. There will be music, memories, tears, and a eulogy that I have written and rewritten a hundred times over the past few days. I worry that I won't be able to get through it. But even more, I worry about my Dad and how he will cope with the loss of someone who had been his best friend for nearly 65 years. I haven't dreaded anything as much as I have dreaded this day in a long time. What gives me comfort is the incredible outpouring of love and support my family has received from hundreds of friends. The phone calls, visits, facebook posts, and food that has been showered upon us has been like cool water to a man stranded in a desert. Once the dust has settled I will share some of the stories on this blog. For now, I hope you all know how much your love, care, and friendship have meant to us.