Monday, November 30, 2009

The healthcare game, how she is played

I was fortunate enough to have worked long enough for two large corporations to retire from both of them with full-service pensions, and in retirement, to be covered (at a price) by private healthcare insurance. That is, X dollars would be deducted from my pensions each month to cover the cost of health insurance premiums. Each company’s literature said it would pay 80% of my family’s healthcare costs, and I would be responsible for the remaining 20%. I also was fortunate enough to be able to retire several years before either one of us was eligible for Medicare. Had I retired prior to 1990, I would have received healthcare coverage in retirement from my employers without any monetary contribution whatsoever from me. To receive this wonderful perk all I needed was to have been born ten years earlier. Mrs. RWP, who was a registered nurse employed at a hospital before she retired, receives no healthcare coverage at all from her former employer, not because she is covered under my insurance as my spouse (she is) but because her former employer (did I mention it was a hospital?) offers no healthcare coverage whatever to its retired employees.

The company I worked for longest (let’s call it company A) was designated as my “primary” insurance, and the other company (let’s call it company B) was designated as my “secondary” insurance. So I thought (naively, as it turns out) that company A would pay 80% of our medical expenses and company B would pay the other 20% -- after all, 20% was far less than then 80% they said they would pay -- and any “out of pocket” payments from me (other than the monthly premiums, of course) would simply vanish.

Wrong, kemosabe.

We were informed by company B that since it covered the same 80% as company A it would pay nothing at all. I was still responsible for paying the remaining 20% of our medical costs.

When I/we became Medicare-eligible by virtue of turning 65, another layer of confusion came along. My “secondary” insurer (company B) became my “tertiary” insurer, my “primary” insurer (company A) became my “secondary” insurer, and Medicare (the U.S. government) became my new “primary” insurer through mandatory (translation: involuntary) deductions from my monthly Social Security payments. Medicare also became Mrs. RWP’s “primary” insurer through the same sort of mandatory (involuntary) deductions from her Social Security payments. The word “tertiary,” as far as I have been able to determine, is a word meaning “so far down the list in terms of payment responsibility that it has no value whatsoever and can be completely ignored from this day forward.”

I supposed that the portion of our medical expenses not covered by Medicare would be covered by my new-secondary, old-primary insurer. I am evidently a slow learner. Alas, it was not to be. It was “same song, second verse.” We were informed by company A that since it covered the same 80% as Medicare it would pay nothing at all. We were also informed by company B that since it covered the same 80% as Medicare it would pay nothing at all. I was still responsible for paying the remaining 20% of our medical costs.

In one eighteen-month period the two of us underwent one shoulder surgery for a torn rotator cuff, two knee surgeries to insert artificial knee joints, and two eye surgeries for removal of cataracts. Actually, all of that happened to just one of us.

In addition to being slow on the uptake in general, I was also slow to realize that the deductions for healthcare insurance from both of my corporate pensions were buying me exactly nothing. The bills from the hospitals, surgeons, ambulance companies, anesthesiologists, radiologists, laboratory work, and physical therapists for my 20% opened my eyes. A year ago I stopped authorizing insurance premium deductions completely from my two pensions and the money began going into my bank account instead.

At the beginning of 2009 we joined a Medicare Value Advantage HMO Zero-Premium something-or-other that became our “primary insurer” (it administers Medicare funds for the U.S. government) and things improved somewhat. The only healthcare insurance deductions we currently have are the Medicare premiums the government takes out of our Social Security payments, currently $96.00 per month apiece. That’s $1,152 per year from each of us, or $2,304 in all for two people.

Before this year, our five monthly prescriptions also took a chunk out of our income. Things have improved a bit under the new plan. This year, four prescriptions have been paid for in full, and a fifth one costs us $29.00 per month at the pharmacy. Beginning in January 2010, however, the four fully-paid ones will cost $3.00 each per month and the other one will increase to $39.00 per month. In addition, this year I was able to submit receipts for certain over-the-counter (OTC) non-prescription drugs like aspirin, acetaminophen, and a few other items and receive reimbursements of $12.00 each month. That stops in January 2010 as well. Everything considered, our personal outlay per month in 2009 was $17.00 ($29.00 for one prescription and a $12.00 reimbursement for OTC); in 2010 it will be $63.00 per month (four x $3.00 plus $39.00 plus $12.00 OTC non-reimbursed). My calculations say that is a net increase of $46.00 per month, or $552.00 per year. And this is before any of the increased taxes to pay for the proposed new healthcare legislation even enter the picture. Fortunately, Congress decided to cancel a planned annual increase in Medicare deductions for 2010. Unfortunately, Congress also decided to cancel an increase in Social Security payments. You win some, you lose some. We will have to come up with an extra $46.00 every month, beginning in January 2010, to pay for the very same prescription and non-prescription medicines we took in 2009.

The hurrier I go, the behinder I get. Still, we have it better than a lot of people.

We were also notified by the Medicare Value Advantage HMO Zero-Premium folks that as of January 2010 the dental portion of the insurance will cover only “routine” items such as periodic X-rays and cleaning. Coverage for fillings, root canals, and extractions will cease. So the pendulum, it seems, has begun a long swing in the other direction.

Only God knows where it will stop. I’m sure things will get a lot worse before it does.

This has been intended to enlighten any of you who suppose that everything will be hunky-dory, healthcare-wise, once you become eligible for Medicare.

I hate to burst your bubble, but somebody had to do it.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

From the archives: Thanksgiving Day

Norman Rockwell said it much better with with paint than I can with words, but the familiar words of an old song are my prayer for America today:


Bless this house, O Lord, we pray,
Make it safe by night and day.
Bless these walls so firm and stout,
Keeping want and trouble out.

Bless the roof and chimneys tall,
Let Thy peace lie over all.
Bless this door that it may prove
Ever open to joy and love.

Bless these windows shining bright,
Letting in God’s heavenly light.
Bless the hearth ablazing there,
With smoke ascending like a prayer.

Bless the folk who dwell within,
Keep us pure and free from sin.
Bless us all that we may be
Fit, O Lord, to dwell with Thee,
Bless us all that one day we
May dwell, O Lord, with Thee.

(copyright 1927 by May H. Brahe & Helen Taylor)

[This post was first published in November 2008. --RWP]

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

On starting Christmas advertising before Thanksgiving, er, Halloween, er, the autumnal equinox

It seems to get earlier and earlier every year, doesn’t it?

I always usually go through a pretty severe “Bah, humbug!” phase before getting into the Christmas spirit. I don’t like what “they” (the merchandisers) have done to Christmas, especially the part where we are supposed to feel pressured into buying ever more expensive gifts in order to keep up with those darned Joneses. Then I remember that God gave us the gift of Himself through the voluntary sacrifice His son made, and that Christmas is all about the Incarnation (God with us, Emanuel). So I usually get my head on straight by about December 23rd.

Before then, I don’t even want to think about Christmas shopping.

Update, 11/25/2009: P.S. - Silly songs about red-nosed reindeer and dashing through the snow and you better watch out, you better not cry, and winter wonderlands and such ought to be outlawed. (I'm really getting into my “Bah, humbug!” phase now.)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Guest blogger Billy Ray Barnwell shares financial secret

[Because I am very tired today from the long drive back to Georgia from Alabama (even though in certain places -- along the border, for instance -- the trip takes but a single step), I have relinquished control of the blog for one day only to my good friend, Billy Ray Barnwell, who promises me that all he plans to do is set you on the path to financial security by sharing some much-needed financial advice (and perhaps a few other thoughts as well) that will help you live prosperously in President Obama’s America, or as it used to be known, the land of the free and the home of the brave. --RWP]

Billy Ray Barnwell here, I would be the last person in the world to tell you how to run your finances, there are plenty of financial planners in the world willing to do just that for a fee if you are dumb enough to let them, but I do want to pass along the best piece of financial advice I ever heard or rather ever saw, we had stopped to eat at a Stuckey’s just off the interstate years ago on the way to somewhere, I forget where, we were prolly in south Georgia or deep in L.A. which in my part of the world means Lower Alabama and I was checking out the souvenirs on the way back from the restroom, you know the ones, the baseball caps with the Confederate flags that say “Forget, hell” and the sets of shot glasses with somebody else’s favorite college football team logo on them and the beach towels that say Harley-Davidson and the salt and pepper sets that look like little outhouses, stuff you cannot possibly live without, and suddenly I saw this plaque that you could buy to hang on your wall that said If your outgo exceeds your income your upkeep will be your downfall, the plaque said it I mean, not your wall, and I was dumbfounded, I had this epiphany just like O. E. Parker did when he was in the tattoo parlor in Flannery O’Connor’s short story “Parker’s Back” and saw this Byzantine Christ tattoo whose eyes said to him GO BACK, boy I wish I could write like Flannery O’Connor, either her or Pat Conroy, his prose flows and hers shocks, I guess if I had to pick just one it would be Flannery, but unfortunately the only way I know how to write is like me, anyways I knew I had to have that plaque, I wanted to buy it so bad I could taste it but I also knew we couldn’t afford it even though it was only $9.95 because we had saved for months just to make that trip to wherever it was we were going and we needed every penny we had for food and for gasoline to get back home on, so I did the next best thing, I committed that saying to memory instead, who needs a plaque on the wall when it is emblazoned in your heart is what I say, so for years that saying has been my watchword, well more of a goal I would have to say, as there have been many times when my outgo did in fact exceed my income and I was very much afraid that my upkeep was indeed going to be my downfall but somehow we always managed to make it through to the next paycheck, thank you Jesus, it’s always darkest just before the dawn is what my stepmother used to say, not the thank you Jesus part, that was me, and she would still be saying it too only she passed away last November in Texas at the age of eighty-nine years, seven months, and twenty-eight days, not that anybody was counting, and she was right, about the darkness and the dawn I mean, because dawn always came and that black cloud would somehow have a silver lining and life would go on, except of course for her it didn’t as of last November, but you get what I’m saying. It’s funny how at the most unexpected times I get a flashback to a story I’ve read or a movie I’ve seen, the movie Field of Dreams has that effect on me because my Dad moved from LaCrosse Wisconsin to Cedar Rapids Iowa when he was in junior high school, he joined the Navy from Iowa, he and I were such different people, we never threw a baseball to each other on more than a couple of occasions, he was always working at the factory and I was always reading a book or practicing the piano, I was never very good at sports but I did love baseball and except for the minor detail that I couldn’t hit, couldn’t catch, couldn’t pitch, couldn’t throw, and couldn’t run, I could have played baseball, I always rooted for the Brooklyn Dodgers whenever they ended up playing the New York Yankees in the World Series, so I was drawn to a movie like Field of Dreams, I become a blubbering idiot every time I see it, Udella Mabry’s cousin Darlene Abernathy says well why do you watch it then and I really have no answer except that something grabs me in the pit of my stomach every time Kevin Costner which is pronounced Kevin Costner finally has that encounter with his father, the person he could never communicate with, and his father, who has been dead for many years but looks as young as or maybe even younger than Kevin, thanks Kevin for building the baseball field and says “It’s like a dream come true” and then asks “Is this Heaven?” and Kevin looks around at the baseball diamond and the cornfield and says “It’s Iowa” and his father says “I could have sworn it was Heaven” and Kevin says “Is there a Heaven?” and his father says “Oh yeah,” and after a short pause in which you can tell Kevin is thinking “What’s it like?” his father says “It’s the place where dreams come true” and Kevin looks around at his house and his wife and his daughter and says “Maybe this is Heaven” and he and his father finally have that game of catch and up on the front porch of the house Kevin’s wife throws the switch and the baseball diamond is lit up in the growing darkness and the camera pans back and up and you see all these hundreds of cars with their headlights on making their way in the twilight to the baseball field all because Kevin heard the voice saying “If you build it he will come” and “Ease his pain” and “Go the distance” and went to see James Earl Jones as Terence Mann and then the both of them went to see Burt Lancaster as Archie “Moonlight” Graham who gave up his heavenly baseball career to save Kevin’s daughter from choking to death on a hot dog and by this point I have been reduced to a puddle on the floor thinking about what never was and what might have been and what part of the fault was mine, Virgil Abernathy says he can tell from all the time he spent in rehab that I am way too involved with that movie, I’ve never been in rehab but he is prolly right, some other movies I especially like include Dances With Wolves which also has Kevin Costner in it, some parts are almost like looking at a painting in a museum, parts of the movie I mean, not parts of Kevin Costner, oh and there’s To Kill A Mockingbird and Some Like It Hot and They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? and Prince Of Tides and Out Of Africa and of course the incomparable Casablanca, and if you ask me, which I know you didn’t but I’m just saying, the motion picture industry is in a great decline nowadays with the notable exception of the three Lord Of The Rings movies, and I guess I got a little off-topic, but if you have any questions for me, I will try to answer them, and this is Billy Ray Barnwell signing off.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Almost as ubiquitous as the phrase "Oh, My God"...

(which we discussed at length in this post) is a single word that continues to emanate from the mouths of Generation X, Y, and Z'ers everywhere, even though most of them should have long since left behind the ranks of the terminally impressionable and entered adulthood, taking their rightful places in the world of consumerism, materialism, and participation on such television programs as Color Splash and My First Place and Extreme Home Makeover: Home Edition and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? and Are You Smarter Than A Fifth-Grader? that distribute goodies, monetary and otherwise, to which they feel entitled.

What was I saying before I so rudely interrupted myself?

Oh, yes. A word. That word is: "Awesome!"

Absolutely everything nowadays, it seems, is awesome.

An iPhone is awesome.
The dollar menu at McDonald's is awesome.
Your new recliner is awesome.
The color of your neighbor's new car is awesome.
Twitter is awesome.
Your parents being old enough to qualify for Medicare is awesome.
Those new shoes you bought today are awesome.
Being able to get away to the beach this weekend is awesome.
The fact that hot dogs were on sale at the supermarket is awesome.
Your favorite carbonated beverage is awesome.

Are you kidding me?

Let's start a campaign to reserve the word "awesome" for things that truly deserve it. Here are a few candidates for your consideration:

A sunset.
A brand new baby.
The ________ Mountains. (fill in range of your choice)
The Grand Canyon.
The night sky filled with stars.
Thunder and lightning.
Niagara Falls.
The Great Barrier Reef.
The Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica.
A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou beside me sitting in the wilderness.

Someone is saying, "Well, maybe not that last one."

Hold on there. Not so fast. The author of the Biblical book called Proverbs had some definite thoughts on the subject:

"There be three things which are too wonderful for me, yea, four things which I know not: the way of an eagle in the air; the way of a serpent upon a rock; the way of a ship in the midst of the sea; and the way of a man with a maid." (Proverbs 4:18-19)

Now, those are awesome.

My English blogger friend, Mr. Yorkshire Pudding, recently traveled from his home in Sheffield, Leeds, halfway 'round the world to visit Chile, Argentina, and Rapa Nui (Easter Island to you) and fulfilled a lifelong dream of his. Undoubtedly he has added a few new items to his list of things that are truly awesome, like moai and Aconcagua. And, unlike most of those Generation X, Y, and Z'ers I mentioned earlier, he is right. [A correction: I should have said "Sheffield, Yorkshire" and not "Sheffield, Leeds" -- thanks to YP himself for pointing this out in a comment. --Yours for accuracy in media, RWP, 17 Nov 2009]

But I want to suggest to you, my faithful readers, that the most awesome thing of all is the love of God. I know some of you don't believe this, but I must say it anyway; it is part of the contract. Probably the most well-known verse in the Bible is John 3:16; the evangelist Billy Graham used to quote it all the time: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

Trust me, that is awesome. Why should God love us? Some of us are real stinkers. Some of us do far more harm than good. Some of us kill one other and boast about it. But God loves us enough that His Son died to save us, voluntarily. The best human analogies I can come up with are organ and tissue donors, who give part of their own bodies to save others, and firemen, who go into burning buildings to rescue the human beings inside. They are awesome, and ought to inspire eternal gratitude in the rescued. But Jesus Christ gave Himself to be crucified to save us, and Father God brought about his Resurrection as a stamp of approval.

It isn't even Sunday, and here I am preaching. Some would say I've quit preaching and gone to meddling. Please forgive me. Here's a group singing a song that says what I'm trying to convey better than I possibly could.

The Gaither Vocal Band

What do you know! Here they are again!

And some of you may be asking, "Why should I love God? What has He ever done for me?"

Keep thinking. It will come to you.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

I am in shock

Thanks to the Los Angeles Times, which does not, the last time I looked, have a conservative editorial policy, I am in shock as a result of reading the following story and seeing the photographs that accompany it:

Brace yourself before clicking here.

Maybe that doesn't bother you, but it bothers the heck out of me.

I'm all for showing respect, but that goes just a bit too far.

Oh, and thank God for a free press.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Banjo Search Continues

Once again Mrs. RWP and I are in Alabama (one state closer to Utah) visiting our daughter and son-in-law and two of our grandchildren. We will be here for about a week before returning to the land of peaches, pecans, and poultry, and very heavy rain of late (6.7 inches of the wet stuff at our house on Tuesday).

Last night I discovered that darkest Alabamistan is full of light. We attended Wednesday Worship at our daughter and son-in-law's church (Gardendale's First Baptist Church) for an absolutely stunning Veterans Day observance. I have seen many a patriotic program in my sixty-mmmphh years, and I know stunning when I encounter it. I can't even begin to capture it for you.

Afterward, the orchestra and choir had to stay for a final rehearsal for a special program this weekend (my daughter plays flute and piccolo; my son-in-law plays French horn), so we stayed too. The choir was smaller than usual, though; only about 125 this time. I have attended Christmas and Easter programs at GFBC when double that number were singing.

But, oh, the music! Here are some of the pieces we heard, not necesarily in the order we heard them:

"My God Is Real" (Jim Clark, tenor, soloist)
"Oh, What A Savior!" (Jody Dial, tenor, soloist)
"For Every Mountain" (Charlotte Guffin, soprano, soloist)
"Lord, You're Holy" (Faith Harper, alto, soloist)
"I Bowed On My Knees And Cried 'Holy'" (George Weeks, tenor, soloist)
"I Then Shall Live" (double male quartet)
"I Will Lift Up My Eyes To The Hills"
"Thou, O Lord (Are A Shield For Me)"

and several more besides. Every single number inspired worship. It was not entertainment. It was not dry and stuffy either, but warm and heartfelt and genuine. The choir director at GFBC is Mrs. Leslie Everhart, and the orchestra director is Mr. Howard Everhart. Whatever they pay those people, it isn't enough.

The choir I have been a part of for the past 30 years sings those same songs, and very well, too, but not with so many voices or a live orchestra. If you aren't familiar with the titles, you might find performances of some of these songs by searching on YouTube for "Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir" (of New York City) or "Prestonwood Baptist Choir" (of Dallas, Texas) or "Christ Church Choir" (of Nashville, Tennessee).

It was a double-whammy evening, and it almost made me forget about banjos.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Poem On Veterans Day (but not necessarily a Veterans Day poem)

Good morning, afternoon, or evening, readers of this blog. I suppose I could lie and say I don’t like to foist my poems on you, but the truth is I do like certain things very much, and among these are writing poems, having my own blog where I can foist them on show them to you, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Part of what brings the happiness is having you as my all-volunteer but temporarily captive audience.

In the United States we honor the dead of all wars on Memorial Day in May. On Veterans Day in November we honor the living who have served in our country’s armed forces. Sometimes people get these two observances confused, but that’s okay, they can. It’s a free country.

And that is precisely the point. To keep our country free, some have made the ultimate sacrifice with their own blood, and some who willingly would have made the ultimate sacrifice emerged from the experience alive and still breathing, but often profoundly changed. It is fitting that we honor both.

It has been several years since I wrote the poem in today’s post. It was not inspired by Veterans Day or written specifically for it. However, I think Veterans Day is a good time to show it to you.

If the title of the poem (“Thy Brother’s Blood”) sounds familiar, it may be because it is taken from the story of Cain and Abel in the book of Genesis:

And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.

And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?

And [the LORD] said, What hast thou done? The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.

Here’s the poem:

Thy Brother’s Blood
by Robert Henry Brague

A poet (I forget his name) spoke
at the second inauguration
of little Billy Blythe of Hope, Arkansas,
whom the world knows as William Jefferson Clinton,
and let me just state here for the record
in this year of our Lord two thousand four
that many people would like to forget
the name William Jefferson Clinton,
many people wish his smiling face
would disappear from our national consciousness
or, to be more accurate,
that it had never appeared there in the first place,
but thanks to the wonders of modern technology
and the incessant, arrogant media,
the relentless, pontificating media,
who know with perfect knowledge
what products we should buy
and what entertainments we should enjoy
and whom we should admire
and what thoughts we should think
and do not hesitate to tell us at every opportunity,
we cannot, we are stuck with him
and his power-hungry wife,
but I digress.

I remember the poet’s name: Miller Williams.
He mentioned “the anonymous dead”
and I did not get a warm fuzzy feeling,
I did not get all cheery and hopeful,
I did not feel the way I felt when Maya Angelou,
the unforgettable Maya Angelou, urged us all
four years earlier to say, with hope,
“Good morning,”
I did not feel that way at all.

I have seen the skulls and skeletons
beneath the subways of Paris,
there in the catacombs, piles and piles
of anonymous dead
(though they are not anonymous),
photographed in living color
and published in Smithsonian magazine;

I have read of the mass graves
in Iraq and in the former Yugoslavia;
I have read of Sudan and Rwanda,
where they didn’t even bother to dig graves;
I have read of the Mekong Delta and the Hanoi Hilton;
I have read of Chosin Reservoir and Pork Chop Hill;
I have seen old newsreel footage,
black and white and grainy,
of soldiers standing before the opened oven doors
at Auschwitz, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, and Treblinka;
I have seen the charred and broken remains
of what once were human bodies
(and they are not anonymous);
I have read of the Bulge and the beaches of Normandy,
Utah and Omaha and Pointe-du-Hoc,
I have read of Okinawa and Guadalcanal;
I have read of Iwo Jima and the death march on Bataan;
I have read of the Marne and the Argonne Forest;
I have read of Gettysburg and Antietam,
of Shiloh and Chickamauga;
I have read of Valley Forge;
I have walked through rows and rows of graves
at Arlington National Cemetery;
and one sunny September morning
in the year of our Lord two thousand one
I watched with my own eyes
on live television
as the second plane
hit the second tower;
I watched both buildings fall.

Make no mistake,
these common, ordinary people,
these so-called anonymous dead
(though they are not anonymous)
who have come to include
office workers in lower Manhattan
and commuters on trains in Madrid
and schoolchildren in Chechnya,
and millions upon millions
of aborted American babies,
they are not anonymous,
and they are not silent.

(End of poem)

If you prefer poems that rhyme, you may not have liked my poem. If you prefer happy, bright poems that make you skip down the sidewalk and sing in the sunlight, you may not have liked my poem either. But if you don’t mind something a little darker, a little more serious, even a little jarring, something that might cause you to think for a while after you read it, maybe you like my poem. I hope you did, but I can’t force you to. It is still, after all, a free country.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Aunt Faye

In March 1967, Mrs. RWP and I were living in Poughkeepsie, New York, with our two young sons. I had been out of the Air Force for about eighteen months. I was 25 years old, about to turn 26. My mother had died of cancer almost ten years earlier. My dad, who had remarried, lived in Texas and was slowly dying of pancreatic cancer. Mrs. RWP and I had obtained an Eastern Air Lines credit card in November 1966, and we had flown to Texas with our little boys to be with the family at the time of my Dad’s operation. I had not been able to speak with my Dad since January because he had grown gradually weaker and was confined to his bed and no longer able to get to the telephone. Cell phones had not yet been invented; everything was land line in those days. I called every week and spoke with my stepmother, though, and I could hear the weariness in her voice.

At work on a Friday morning I received a call around 8:30 a.m. from my stepbrother Eddie in Texas.

“Bob,” he said, “your Dad is going downhill rapidly. You should probably think about planning to come to Texas soon.”

I thanked him for calling and alerted my supervisor that I might be taking some time off in the near future. At the supper table that night I said to Mrs. RWP, “I wonder how Dad is doing?” and she said, “Why don’t you give them a call?” It was a big deal in 1967 to call long distance, not nearly as common as today, and definitely not inexpensive. I dialed the number and heard my other stepbrother’s voice at the other end of the line. After making small talk for a couple of minutes, I said, “Bobby Gerald, how is Dad doing?”

“Well, Bob,” he said, sounding a little surprised, “he died at nine o’clock this morning. I thought you knew. We thought you were on your way here.”

To say I was in shock is putting it mildly. It really had not registered with me from talking to Eddie earlier that things were that bad. I could say I was busy with my new career and my family, but in reality I was young and stupid. I told Bobby Gerald I would be there the next day. Because our funds were low and the children were small, Mrs. RWP decided not to make the trip.

It was early Friday evening and the banks were closed until Monday. There were no automatic teller machines in 1967, so I drove to four different supermarkets in Poughkeepsie and wrote a check at each one for $25.00, the maximum. I called Eastern Air Lines and made a reservation for a flight out of Newark, New Jersey, ninety miles away, on Saturday morning.

After a two-hour drive to the airport, I handed the Eastern agent my credit card to pay for the round-trip ticket I had reserved. The charge was denied. A mixup in credit card processing had occurred, which eventually was straightened out a couple of weeks later, but at that moment, standing at the ticket desk at Newark airport, the only thing I could do was pay $88.00 cash for a one-way ticket to Dallas, Texas. I got on the plane with $12.00 in my pocket, not knowing how I was going to get back to New York after my Dad’s funeral.

My stepbrother met me at the Dallas airport in mid-afternoon and took me to my stepmother’s house. There seemed to be a party in progress. Everyone was laughing and talking, eating and drinking. It seemed out of place to me at the time, inappropriate, but in retrospect it was understandable; the tension of the previous couple of months had been broken and people were just relieved that the ordeal was over. It was a natural response to what had been a very stressful situation. I just couldn’t see it at the time.

After supper I asked when we were going to the funeral home. The laughter and talking stopped and everyone looked at me. “We went last night,” someone finally said. “We weren’t planning to go back tonight.” My oldest stepbrother said “I’ll take you” and he did.

Since I was the only one coming from a distance, the funeral had been planned for 3:00 p.m. on Sunday afternoon at Coppell Methodist Church. I was very glad I had made that phone call on Friday night; otherwise, I would not have been there for my Dad’s funeral.

No one went to church on Sunday morning, and family members began to arrive at the house before noon. My stepmother had five brothers and four sisters and most of them lived in Dallas County. She was putting food on the table when she turned to me and said, “Bob, I think your Dad would like it if you sang ‘The Old Rugged Cross’ at the service.”

I was receiving shocks on a daily basis, it seemed. I had played the organ at funerals before and I had sung at funerals before, but never for someone in my immediate family. I walked out into the back yard to get some fresh air and to clear my head. Aunt Faye, who was thirteen years younger than my stepmother, was there. She took one look at me and asked me what was wrong.

“She wants me to sing at Dad’s funeral,” I said.

“Oh, my. Can you do it?” asked Aunt Faye.

“I don’t know,” I said, "but if I’m going to sing I need to go over to the church and familiarize myself with the organ and rehearse.”

Faye said, “I’ll take you.” We arrived at the church a few minutes after the morning service had ended. A Hammond organ sat at the right front corner of the sanctuary, facing the pulpit and perpendicular to the pews. I broke down twice while rehearsing.

On the drive back to the house, Faye said, “When will you be going back to New York?”

“Well, that’s an interesting question,” I said. “I have no idea.” I told her what had happened at the Newark Airport and said I was taking one thing at a time and right now I was just trying to get through the day of the funeral.

As we got out of the car Faye said, “I want to lend you the money,” and handed me one hundred dollars.

I thanked her and said, “I will have to pay it back to you a little each month.”

“That will be fine,” she said.

After the funeral, one more shock remained. One of my stepmother’s brothers came up to me and said, “That was great! It was just like in a Hollywood movie!”

He meant it as a compliment, I suppose, but it wasn’t really what I needed to hear at that moment.

I flew back to New York on Tuesday and began mailing a check to Aunt Faye each month for ten dollars. I mentioned that we were expecting another child. After the third month, I received a letter from her. In it were my three checks, uncashed, and a note saying she wanted me to consider the entire one hundred dollars as a gift from her for the new baby.

Aunt Faye died this week in California, where she lived with her son Danny. Her children Libby, Danny, and Larry, and her niece Janice accompanied her body back to Texas for burial there. She was in her eighties.

Shakespeare said, “The evil men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones.” It may have been so with Caesar, but I have written this post to honor Aunt Faye and to make sure the good in her is not going to be interred with her bones. The good in her became a part of my story and helped me when I needed it most. I will never forget her kindness.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

We are all just prisoners here of our own device

Having way too much free time, I have devised a new game with which to while away the hours and stump my friends. I am absolutely certain, in my egotistical but completely endearing way, that no one has ever thought of this game before. Please do not disabuse me of my conceit.

Here’s the object of the game: We (by which I mean you) are going to identify well-known songs by using only the initial letters of the words in the first couple of lines. (Exception: If the song has a verse and a chorus, we’ll (you’ll) use the chorus.) The only question that remains might be what, exactly, constitutes “a well-known song”? I have decided, unilaterally and arbitrarily, that songs written after 1950 are ineligible. Therefore, no matter how much I would like to include the wonderful “Hotel California” by the Eagles (or WTTHC, SALP, SALF) -- it has such great lines as, “We are all just prisoners here of our own device” and “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave” -- the rules of my own game, unfortunately, prevent me from doing so.

Ready? Let us begin. And if, after a decent interval, you absolutely cannot figure it out, a click on the song’s composer and year of composition will reveal the answer.

1. JBJBJATW, OWFIITRIAOHOS! (James Pierpont, 1857)

2. MDADDALLD, AKDT,WY? (Milton Drake, Al Hoffman, and Jerry Livingston, 1943)

3. YDWTTROAP, SAFIHHACIM! (Anonymous, circa 1755)

4, WDUTSRFFA, TWMHIYE, TWTOFS (Stephen Foster, 1851)


6. SIWWISTLNDOAS, TMHMR AIAOAWY (Hoagy Carmichael composed the music in 1927, Mitchell Parish wrote the lyrics in 1929, and here’s Nat “King” Cole singing it around 1957)

See how this can go on and on and on? See how addictive it is?

You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Perhaps Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is sharing with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi some ways to convince recalcitrant members of the U.S. House of Representatives to cast their votes in favor of the healthcare bill.

Or perhaps he is telling her the names of people who might be willing to donate money to her re-election campaign.

But in my heart of hearts what I really think he is saying is:

“Jesus is coming. Look busy.”

Monday, November 2, 2009

Padre nuestro, que estás en los cielos, santificado sea tu nombre

If I don’t die before then, Lord willing, and the creeks (or Creeks) don’t rise, this afternoon will make the third Monday in a row I will have volunteered with a local children’s ministry organization called Square Pegs to help some children (most of them Hispanic) at a local apartment complex after school with their homework assignments. The first week was exciting, as I was able to help Rosa, José, and, to a lesser extent, Daniela (because she spoke no English at all). Last week, Rosa was there again and I worked with Carlos as well. I was assigned to work with first-graders. Other volunteers helped other groups of children who sat together by grade level at tables in various rooms.

Unfortunately, I know very little Spanish. Mrs. Sue Nichols, my fifth-grade teacher back in the Dark Ages, taught us to say “Este es el gato” (“This is the cat”), but so far I have not had occasion to use that phrase at Square Pegs. Even though most of the children do speak English, I think that if I am to be of very much use there when more Danielas come along, I need to try to learn some Spanish on my own. (Life lesson: You can teach an old dog new tricks, even if -- or maybe especially when -- you are the old dog and you have to do it yourself.) I know a smattering of words, but a smattering is definitely not enough. Here’s a part of what my trusty computer has helped me learn so far:

¡Buenos días!
bway-nohs dee-ahs
Good morning!

¡Buenas tardes!
bway-nahs tard-ays
Good afternoon!

¡Buenas noches!
bway-nahs noh-chays
Good evening! / Good night!

Hi! Hello!


Por favor.
por fah-bor

Hasta la vista / Hasta luego.
ah-stah lah vees-tah / ah-stah loo-ay-go
See you / See you later.

Hasta pronto.
ah-stah prohn-toh
See you soon.

Hasta mañana.
ah-stah mahn-yahn-ah
See you tomorrow.

(Muchas) Gracias.
(moo-chahs) grah-see-ahs
Thank you (very much).

De nada.
day nah-dah
You’re welcome.

Lo siento.
loh see-ehn-toh
I’m sorry.

Con permiso / Perdón
kohn pehr-mee-soh / pehr-dohn
Excuse me.

¿Cómo está usted?
koh-moh ay-stah oo-sted
How are you? (formal)

¿Cómo estás?
koh-moh ay-stahs
How are you? (informal)

¿Qué tal?
kay tahl
How’s it going?

Bien / Muy bien
bee-ehn / moy bee-ehn [I think it’s supposed to be “moo-ey.” --RWP]
Well / Very well.

Mal / Muy mal / Más o menos
mahl / moy mahl / mahs oh may-nohs
Bad / Very bad / OK [Really? It looks like “more or less” to me. --RWP]

Sí / No
see / noh
Yes / No

¿Cómo se llama usted?
koh-moh say yah-mah oo-sted
What is your name? (formal)

¿Cómo te llamas?
koh-moh tay yah-mahs
What is your name? (informal)

Me llamo _____
may yah-moh
My name is _____

Mucho gusto. / Encantado.
moo-choh goo-stoh / en-cahn-tah-doh
Nice to meet you.

Same here.

¿Hablas ingles?
ah-blahs een-glehs
Do you speak English? (informal)

(No) Hablo _____
noh ah-bloh
I (don’t) speak _____

¿Entiende usted? / ¿Entiendes?
ehn-tyen-deh oo-sted / ehn-tyen-dehs
Do you understand? (formal / informal)

(No) Entiendo.
noh ehn-tyen-doh
I (don’t) understand.

Yo (no lo) se.
yoh noh loh seh
I (don’t) know.

¿Necesita ayuda?
neh-seh-see-tah ah-yoo-dah
Do you need some help?

¿Cómo se dice _____ en español?
koh-moh seh dee-ceh _____ on eh-spahn-yol
How do you say _____ in Spanish?

¿Qué es esto?
keh ehs ehs-toh
What is that?

Estoy cansado / enfermo.
eh-stoy kahn-sah-doh / ehn-fehr-moh
I’m tired / sick.

Tengo hambre / sed.
tehn-goh ahm-breh / sed
I’m hungry / thirsty.

Tengo calor / frío.
tehn-goh kah-lohr / free-oh
I’m hot / cold.

Bless you!


Oh, and I can also say “What time is it?” (¿Que hora es?) and I know all of my numbers (you don’t really want me to start) and I can sing an entire little song in Spanish:

“Hoy más que nunca, Señor, yo te amo;
Hoy más que nunca, Señor, te necesito;
Hoy más que nunca, Señor, quiero dicerte:
Te amo hoy, más que nunca, Señor.”

Loosely translated into English, with minor word changes to fit the tune, that becomes:

“More than ever before, Lord, I love you.
More than ever before, Lord, I need you.
More than ever before, I want to tell you,
I love you now more than ever before.”

And you want to know something? It’s true.

He ain't heavy, Father, he's my chicken

(Editor's note: The following meme is not original with me. It appeared for the umpteenth time today on Facebook so I decided to capt...