“We Are Family”

“I got all my sisters with me.” – Sister Sledge

Image result for sister sledge 1979

“Family” is just one of those words.  It’s a word with a multitude of definitions.  It’s a fluid word for most people.  The dynamics and the definition of family are ever-changing.  Family can be described in so many ways that it’s useless to even try.  I don’t think there is any such thing as a dysfunctional family.  I don’t think there’s any such thing as a normal family.  Family is just family.  There are no clear cut labels or convenient definitions to accurately describe yours or mine.

“Everyone can see we’re together as we walk on by.  (And) and we fly just like birds of a feather.  I won’t tell no lie.”

June, of course, is the month of reunions and weddings and today my sister-in-law got married.  Robin has been a single mom as long as I’ve known my wife Rebekah (we’ve been married 20 years and dated for a couple of years before that).  Robin has one daughter named Lacy, who’s married and who now has three children of her own.  This week was the first time I’ve met those three children, and the first time I’ve seen Lacy in person in years.

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My wonderful niece Lacy

Just so you get the picture, my wife is one of six sisters so you can only imagine the dynamics that exist and have existed within her family.  I’ve watched them all at one time or another through different seasons of life – through children and grandchildren, through loss and sorrow, through financial difficulty and job loss and job promotion and just everyday life stresses.  Each sister is unique in their own way, and I love each of them for different reasons.

“Here’s what we call our golden rule.  Have faith in you and the things you do
You won’t go wrong, oh no.  This is our family jewel.”

My wife and her sister Robin have had, let’s just say, an interesting relationship.  Separated by only 22 months, I’ve seen these two in a full-out shouting match at one another.  About what, I have no recollection of today.  I’ve also seen times where they’ve leaned and loved and supported each other like only sisters can do.  I’ve seen days and weeks and months go by without so much as a text between the two, while at other times they’ve spoken every day like best friends forever.  I imagine their relationship is not unlike a lot of family relationships.  Once again, it’s neither normal nor disfunctional.  They are just two different people with different ideas and thoughts and experiences who love each other, and will always be joined together forever by the same mother and father.

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My awesome wife and my cool sister-in-law Robin

Forever.  That’s the beauty and also the inherent sadness of family sometimes.  It’s not always perfect.  It’s not always pretty.  It’s difficult… and it should be.  How will you ever fully appreciate family if you don’t chase the highs and battle the lows.  Feelings get in the way all the time forming the baddest roller coaster of all-time.  And it’s not one that you really ever get off of.  Family will take you through peaks, valleys, and everywhere in between, and you’re not getting off.  Those seat belts lock you down for a reason.

In the end, however you choose to define it, you can’t change who your family is or what’s happened in the past as much as you can control anything that happens in the future.  All you can do is make the best of the present, and try to remember that this family, your family, is the only one you have while you’re inhaling and exhaling and your feet are on this big rock of ours.

“Just let me state for the record.  We’re giving love in a family dose.”

Today’s featured song takes us just slightly out of the 80’s with this late disco era hit by the sister group known as Sister Sledge.  The four siblings formed Sister Sledge in Philly in 1971, and the song reminds me of a simpler time when Rebekah and I were just married.

At our wedding reception in Norman, OK, she had all of her sisters out on the dance floor with her (I think) that evening as this song blared from the speakers.  For a time, there was no division or animosity or hurt feelings or words left unspoken.  It was just a group of sisters, differences set aside, enjoying themselves thanks to the power of music and the pull of family.

Here is Sister Sledge and their #3 US Billboard Hot 100 single (#1 R&B hit) from 1979, “We Are Family…”

Thanks for reading.

sincerely,

the pre-80’s

 

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“I Woke Up to the Sound of Pouring Rain”

“Washed away a dream of you.” – Skid Row

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It has been raining a lot lately, and maybe that’s why this song has been coming to the forefront of my mind more often lately.  But more likely it’s because this song is now 30 years old, and it’s been 30 years since I graduated high school.  Almost to the day.

I’m not sure where 30 years has gone.  I mean I know I’ve been through college, worked numerous jobs, taken a wife, moved a few times, and had a daughter.  My daughter is now graduating high school.

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We had a karaoke party for her the night before graduation, and one of the older people there mentioned how fast time has gone.  One of Caroline’s friends replied with something to the effect that time goes so slow.  Perspective, right?

So for now, I’ll try to enjoy the present.  I’ll remember the school days of my daughter.  They weren’t always easy.  There were teachers and principals and friends we loved along the way.  There were others we loved a little less.  There were times that we all struggled with feelings of inadequacies and frustration as parents, and times where we all lost our cool at one another.  Even though those tough times will exist somewhere in the recesses of our minds, I’m going to choose to mostly remember the good times.

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I’ll remember the Miss Frankie pre-school days where they sang “I Am a Promise” at their pre-school graduation.  They all had “potentiality.”  I’ll remember the first day every year of elementary when we would walk our daughter down the street to T.G. Smith Elementary.  I’ll remember the Watch D.O.G.S. dad days at T.G. Smith where I was able to patrol the hallways, interact with the kids, and hang out in classrooms throughout the day while spending lunch and recess with my daughter.  There were “Donuts with dads,”  a guitar concert, school dress-up days, snow days, and our dance to Stephen Curtis Chapman’s “Cinderella” at the talent show.  I’ll remember her time at Hellstern Middle School and picking her up and taking her for lunches at local Chinese buffets.  Sometimes a friend or two would tag along.  I’ll remember the band concerts at Central Junior High.  I’ll remember the choir concerts at Har-Ber High School and the Friday night high school football and basketball games we would go to.  I’ll remember the car rides to and from school that would sometimes end with a word of encouragement or a simple “I love you.”

The memories touch my very core.  My eyes well up with emotions when I think about the past 13 years of school for her.  I wonder if my mom and dad felt the same way 30 years ago.  I see my elderly parents now struggling physically and mentally and I wonder if any of that awaits me in another 30 years.  And I now realize that 30 years doesn’t take near as long as it used to.

But most of all right now, I’m just proud of my daughter.  Proud of her perseverance.  I don’t think she’ll look back with a lot of fond memories of her school days.  Quite honestly there were a lot of struggles along the way, and times where we all wondered if we were going to make it to this finish line.  She struggled with feelings of inadequacies and self-doubt and self-loathing.  I think most parents traverse these issues raising children.  The struggles are real.  They are serious.  But they can be overcome.  It seems like forever sometimes, but when you watch them walk across the stage to get their diploma, forever is just the blink of an eye.

“I paint a picture of the days gone by.  When love went blind and you would make me see”

I think of 1989 as a transitional year in music and also a transitional year for me personally with my graduation from Norman High School.  Our large graduation ceremony (exceeded by my daughter’s class of 650) was held inside of the Lloyd Noble Center on the campus of the University of Oklahoma.  I’ve written about it before on this site, but I still still vividly remember walking out of the arena and up the ramp in my black cap and gown, and turning around and just staring for a minute at all of my fellow students walking behind me.  There was a sense of excitement and accomplishment and a sense of anticipation and even relief among us all.  We were walking up the ramp out of the arena, into the parking lot to our cars, and essentially driving off into our futures.

It never really hit me until right then that I wouldn’t see many of these people ever again.  Lest you forget, this was long before we knew what the internet even was, and what is was going to be and do for us in the future.  It was long before Facebook and Instagram practically made you best friends again.  Heck, I’d even argue that I’ve spoken more electronically to some of my former classmates than I ever did in my four or five years in school with some of them.

My daughter just made her walk up onto a makeshift stage at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville, AR last weekend in her Har-Ber High blue graduation gown and cap.  What her future holds only God knows.  I would guess it’s exciting and a little scary at the same time.

She’s going to start working full-time immediately.  School just hasn’t been her jam, and that’s ok.  College is not for every 18 year old.  Some need to figure things out and follow different paths.  She has a good head on her shoulders.  She will figure it out, and she doesn’t have to figure it out tomorrow or next week or next month or next year.  She’ll get there in her own time.  Like any path, there will be forks in the road.  There will be dead ends.  There will be narrow roads and wide roads and roads that seemingly go on forever into the future.  

“Remember yesterday.  Walking hand in hand.”

Image result for skid row i remember you

A group that was really just coming onto the national scene and finding their way in 1989 was today’s group – Skid Row.  They broke onto the national scene with their self-title debut album in ’89.  I think about bands like this sometimes when I think about life after high school.  Most likely these guys were playing in various bands during their teenage years and though I don’t have any statistical data, I’d say a great majority of these guys didn’t go to college.  Music was their path, and some of them made it big if only for a short time.

If this wasn’t my favorite song from 1989, then it was top five easily.  The song wasn’t released until November as a single, but I had this cassette sometime shortly after its release in late January so I was well aware of this song by the time of its’ official release as a single.

It reached #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 in early 1990, but it was already number one in my ears by the summer of 1989.  This cassette made my rotation a lot especially outside in the Oklahoma heat while mowing the yard that summer.  Maybe it’s the video that adds to the melancholy of the song, but there’s just something inherently sad in the melody and lyrics.  There’s also something very nostalgic about it as well which reminds me of graduation in the spring of ’89.

I wonder now if the guys from Skid Row look back at pictures like the one at the beginning of this post and shake their collective heads at that particular moment captured in time.  A time where they were young and strong and confident, and ready to conquer the world.  A time when they were indestructible and ready to ride the wave of success forever with hard rocking metal jams and beautiful ballads like this one.

I’d often listen to this song and wish that I had a girlfriend at that time.  Ahh, the ecstasy of yearning for young love!  Even though there were no beaches in Oklahoma, I’m sure we could have written love letters in the mud or something along a river or a lake somewhere.  Nonetheless, turn up the volume a little bit, be still, soak in your own nostalgia whether 1989 was a particularly memorable year or not, and just enjoy the piercing vocals of 1989 Sebastian Bach as you remember a time gone by.  Here is “I Remember You…”

 

Remember yesterday.

Image may contain: one or more people, people standing and indoor (photo creds to my wife for capturing this beautiful moment)

And congratulations you seniors.

capthrowing

sincerely,

the 80’s

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“Woke up to Reality”

“And found the future not so bright.” – Johnny Hates Jazz

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Ah, that’s a downer, man.  Why would someone write such a depressing lyric?  Sounds like someone who is hating life right now.  You know what else he hates?  He is Johnny, and Johnny Hates Jazz. I like the song, but I think I like the group name more.  It’s not that I hate jazz, it’s just that I like the creative originality.  It’s too bad the group didn’t do much else, but at least they left us with a classic 80’s song.

I’ve actually been trying to write this post for years.  It’s been sitting as a draft since 2017, but a few months ago I literally woke up to reality and realized that my 30 year high school reunion was this summer.  Thirty years.  I quickly did the math in my head just to make sure… 30 + 18 = 48.  Yep, that’s right.  Former classmates are hard at work right now putting together itineraries and events and invitations.  The Norman High School Class of 1989 Facebook page is littered with recent activity!  It’s getting crazy!  It’s happening people!  And I, for one, am not the least bit excited (sorry if you’re one of my excited classmates reading this right now).

“So much for your promises.  They died the day you let me go.”

KKgraduationsunglasses

One cool graduate in May of 1989

In a way, we were all let go in May of 1989.  We were let go of relationships and school necessities and rules and parents and a daily systematic way of life that had molded us through 12 years of schooling.  Each went his own way and forged his own path.  Long before Facebook and Instagram and Twitter reconnected us all, we didn’t know where others went and what their roads looked like.  We didn’t know if they had married, divorced, had children, travelled the world, stayed in one place, or were even alive at times.

Social media and technology changed everything, and I feel like I know many of my classmates better now than I did during the four or five years I spent with many of them on a daily basis.  And, ironically, that’s why I’m not excited about attending a reunion.  I like my life better now than I did in high school.  I see a lot of my classmates every summer at our fantasy football draft in Norman, and that’s enough for me.  I don’t really want to go back to that time, which may sound crazy considering this blog is an ode to a decade I love.  Alas, the cold irony that writing will expose you to at times!

“I dreamt the impossible, that maybe things could work out right.”

I’ve had a lot of dreams in those 30 years since my high school graduation.  We all have.  Dreams about marriage and children and vocations and travel.  Crazy dreams.  Sane dreams.  Lustful dreams.  Ridiculous dreams.  Dreams that have been realized.  Dreams that never materialized.  And maybe even shattered dreams.

Funny how dreams change over the years.  Dreams can somehow become less ambitious.  Less relevant.  When I was in high school, I dreamt about girls and sports and girls and school and girls and dreamt dreams I have long since forgotten about.  Mid-life is settling in for those of us that were “feelin’ fine, because we were the class of ’89.”  Many of us have slowly realized where life has led us and where it seems like it’s leading us.  That dream job in a big city never happened.  That perfect mate never showed up.  The band broke up.  The business failed.  That nice house with the sweet classic car in the garage?  Just a distant ridiculous memory.  Dreams have disappointed.  Dreams do disappoint.

But maybe.  Just maybe… as Steven Furtick said recently in a sermon I listened to, what if your dreams right now aren’t big enough?  I loved that question.  It made me think.  It made me re-evaluate, and I love things that make me re-evaluate.  Do we stop dreaming?  No.  Not until we stop breathing.  What if what you’re dreaming or I’m dreaming now or have dreamt is not even close to what the rest of life holds?  What if you haven’t even imagined what dreams lay ahead?  Scary?  Yes.  Still full of potential?  Sure.  Exciting?  Absolutely.  Dreams hold power and dreams can continue to fuel us no matter where we find ourselves even 30 years after high school.

“And now you’ve given me, given me, nothing but shattered dreams”

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Led by frontman Clark Datchler, Johnny Hates Jazz was apparently originated by the fact that Clark’s sister loved jazz music, but her husband Johnny, a British farmer at that time, hated jazz.  I love to imagine a scene where Clark’s sister is swaying around the house grooving to some smooth Miles Davis or John Coltrane when her husband walks in from a long day of tending to the livestock and the crops.  He kicks his boots off and in his thick British accent says “Not this bloody jazz music again?!  I hate jazz!  Play some Skynard!”  No, wait this is Britain… “put the bloody Beatles on the phonograph!”

The song was released in the U.S. in March of 1988 and made it all the way up to #2 on the U.S. Billboard charts.  They charted one other time on the U.S. Billboard Hot 40, but for the most part they are your quintessential “one-hit wonder,” which I’m sure is not a dream the band had as this single was climbing the charts 31 years ago.

Maybe Johnny Hates Jazz will still realize dreams of long ago or maybe they already have.  I don’t know.  Maybe my dreams will change.  Maybe I will dream about going to my 30 yr. class reunion.  Maybe the urge to continue to improve my writing skills will spur new dreams and desires.  And maybe, just maybe I’ll realize one of those dreams that’s so big I won’t even see it coming until it happens.  I like that thought.

In the meantime, stay strong, and let’s all think about, and enjoy a dream that came to fruition for a British band in the spring of 1988 when Johnny Hates Jazz smashed the airwaves in America with their hit “Shattered Dreams…”

Thanks for reading.

sincerely,

the 80’s

P.S.  I wrote some version of the word “dream” 34 times in that post.  I was just curious.  You weren’t?

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“The Real Battle Just Begun”

“(Sunday, bloody, Sunday) to claim the victory Jesus won.” – U2

Image result for u2 1983 sunday bloody sunday

A happy Easter to you all!  And a happy Easter to my beloved sincerelythe80s.com site that I haven’t posted in much the past few months.  The yearly celebration in the Christian faith of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead seemed like a good time to come in with a post.  There aren’t many 80’s song with Jesus in the lyrics.  Let me re-phrase that – there aren’t many secular Billboard charting singles from the 80’s that mention Jesus in the lyrics, but this one from my Irish brethren fits the bill briefly near the end of this classic 1983 track.

“Wipe the tears from your eyes.  Wipe your tears away.”

Easter features less pageantry than its big brother Christmas, but it makes a more powerful statement than its’ December counterpart.  Yes, it’s one thing to celebrate a virgin birth but quite another to honor a day representing the resurrection of a man whose feet walked this earth some 2000 years ago and who laid down his life for you and me.  But this man, who was more than a man, didn’t stay in the grave or on the cross, and as I watch the sun rise on this beautiful morning I’m reminded of that fact, and I’m thankful.

“And the battle’s just begun.  There’s many lost, but tell me who has won.”

Easter has long been a favorite holiday of mine.  We all know that Christmas and Easter are the Super Bowl of Sundays for the Christian church, and it was always a big deal in our household growing up.  We colored eggs.  We hid eggs.  We found eggs.  We occasionally peeled and ate said eggs.  Easter Sunday morning resulted in Easter cards to my sister and I as well as baskets filled with chocolate bunnies, and jelly beans, and peeps and occasionally a gift or even money.  It usually meant new clothes for church as well (see the fancy duds just below).

Easter with the cousins                              (Easter probably 1984 with my sis, and cousins Kim and Kasey)

Our family spent many Easter’s at my grandma’s house, and I loved being there over Easter especially if my cousins were around.  Many times we would color our eggs at grandma’s house.  Sometimes we’d color them at our own house and bring them with us.  There’s no forgetting the vinegar-y smell that came along with the Paas coloring kits of dying those hard boiled eggs.

Image result for egg coloring kits 1980s                 (Paas – invented in the late 1800’s by a drug-store owner in Newark, NJ)

As the oldest cousin I would take all of our hard boiled colored eggs and all of our plastic ones as well and hide them for my sister and cousins.  There would always be one golden plastic egg that I would fill with money and hide really well.  Sometimes I would hide it so well that no one could find it without some hints or a round of “hot or cold.”  It was a major competition to find this golden egg while also finding more eggs than the rest of the cousins.  After the big hunt then the rest of the cousins would have their turn at hiding the eggs as well, because hiding them and watching everyone try to find them is half of the fun.  Those Easter afternoons would be spent hiding and finding eggs and eating lots of chocolate while all of the grown-ups sat around and watched tv, told stories, laughed, and took naps.

How long?  How long must we sing this song?  How long, how long?

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Well, to answer the question, U2 has now been singing this song some 35+ years in concerts and it’s still more relevant than ever.  This classic from their 1983 album “War” was the third single released off of the album and peaked at #7 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100.  The song generated plenty of discussion and controversy initially because of its overtly militaristic lyrics that mainly alluded to the Sunday in 1972 in Deery, Northern Ireland where British troops shot and killed many unarmed civil rights’ protestors.  Bono would ultimately introduce the song by uttering the phrase “It’s not a rebel song” because the song is really so much more than that.  It’s anti-violence and revenge.  It’s pro-peace and pro-love.  Two things Jesus himself would approve of.

I love that the video for the song was shot just outside of Denver at the famous Red Rocks Amphitheatre.  I wrote about my first visit to Red Rocks last summer when I caught Jackson Browne so it’s still a special memory and those sights and sounds come flooding back watching a young U2 perform.

In the summer of 1983 U2 was transitioning from college crowd favorites into bonafide superstardom, so that’s how they could play a smaller venue like Red Rocks back before they became one of the biggest bands on the planet.  Here is U2 on a rainy June 5th night waving the white flag of surrender and peace, but also the white flag of goodness, of light, and of holiness.  Listen carefully to the final words of the song and take some time to reflect.

Thanks for reading and once again a happy Easter to you!

sincerely,

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some creepy Easter Bunny

No, just kidding… it’s me!

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Sincerely,

the 80’s (circa early 70’s)

 

 

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“May the Good Lord Be With You…”

“Down every road you roam” – Rod Stewart

This is my new buddy Alex.

Image may contain: 1 person, standing, shoes, child and outdoor

I wish I had thought to take a better picture, but I was too caught up in our conversation the other day to think about that.  He’s my cousin’s third grade son, so I think that makes him my nephew or first cousin removed or something along those lines.

Anyway, I woke up at 4 am this morning thinking about our conversation, and I got up just so I could record what was rolling through my mind, so feel free to skip this post if you don’t like to read. Alex likes to read among many other things, and we covered quite a few topics in our time together yesterday.

“For all the wisdom of a lifetime, no one can ever tell.”

Here’s a summary of my intriguing conversation with Mr. Alex:

The fact that he’s probably the smartest 3rd grader I’ve ever been around. He will tell you the same.

He has a girlfriend. Just one. She calls a lot. She doesn’t have her own phone, but he does. He sheepishly admits that he doesn’t know his phone number, but he knows his dad’s and so he has her call that phone.

We talked about permafrost tunnels. Don’t worry, it’s a real thing. I had to Google it later.

We talked about baseball, and basketball, and his favorite sport wrestling. I told him he had to have a cool nickname if he was going to be a pro wrestler. He’s leaning towards going by “John Cena Jr.” Not sure how that’s going to work, but he’s got a few years to figure it out.

We talked about dirt bikes and four-wheelers and trucks and the difficulties of shifting gears.

We talked about showing pigs, and how hard that is, and about his pig, who’s apparently getting really big by the way. We talked about pork chops. Big pork chops.

We talked about decaf Caramel Macchiatos and how they put him to sleep. He told me it takes him two hours every night to go to sleep, and that sometimes he falls asleep in class. I told him he might need to hit the regular instead of the decaf, but that since he’s the smartest kid in class he can probably afford a few weekly siestas during class and still keep up.

We talked about sitting on fences and the difficulties of climbing fences in boots.

We talked about Youtube channels (he watches Youtube a lot). Apparently, there’s a 10 year old girl who’s a power-lifter and she’s fascinating to watch.
We talked about his desire for a Nintendo Switch and also a Nintendo Labo (I had to Google that one later as well).

We talked about books and his birthday and about money and about his large bank account. I guessed he had a million dollars, but he told me it was closer to $500. I told him you’re probably the richest third grader in town as well as the smartest. That’s a good combination. I understand why that girlfriend is calling so much.

Thanks for the time Alex and keep being you my friend. It’s now 5:45 and I could really go for a decaf Caramel Macchiato right about now… nah, better give me the caffeine.

“And may you grow to be proud.  Dignified and true.”

Image result for rod stewart 1988

This Rod Stewart song only hit #12 in the U.S. and only made it to #57 in his native UK.  I’m surprised because I’ve always loved this 1988 hit of his.  It’s just heartfelt and sincere and maybe just seeing him love on some random child in the video made it a little more special.  Actually, knowing that the video is a random child makes it a little more strange for me to watch.  Ironically though, the name of the child featured in the video is actually Alex.

One more note about the video – for God’s sake Rod, you don’t stand up in the back of a moving truck holding a child (3:06 mark).  C’mon man!  That’s the kind of things you could do in the 70’s.  By 1988, you should have known better.

Nonetheless, it’s a bright and cheery song that will make you want to go hug your child and encourage them, because they will be grown and out that front door in no time.  And one other thing, I’ve written a lot of posts on this site, and didn’t realize I’d actually featured this video once before about two years ago in a post about graduation.

Anyway, here is Rod Stewart again in sincerely the 80’s with “Forever Young”

Whatever road you choose, Alex.  I’ll be right behind you.  Win or lose.

sincerely,

the80’s

 

 

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My Grandma Ruby

In a break from my traditional type post, my grandma Ruby passed away last week at the age of 102, and I was afforded the honor and privilege of speaking at her funeral yesterday in Pawhuska, Oklahoma.  Below is my speech…

grandmaandmeNorman2015

Good afternoon and on behalf of the family, thank you so much for being here.

I’m Ruby’s grandson, Kyle Duke Kerwin, aka Kyle-a-roo, aka #1 grandson

She gave me the nickname Kyle-a-roo.  I gave myself the #1 grandson nickname for two reasons.  One reason was just a little dig at my less handsome but slightly younger cousin Kasey so he would always have to be #2 grandson.  But mainly I started signing cards,  and making phone calls to her by calling myself #1 grandson to make her smile or laugh.  And I loved to make grandma laugh because she had this wonderful, pure, big laugh that just made you feel good.

And that’s one of the difficult things about saying goodbye.  I will miss that laugh.

You know, there’s this beautiful poignancy at the end of life that brings about sadness and sorrow, but at the same time, in the right conditions, can bring about a strange sense of relief and even joy if allowed.

I found myself in that situation last week with my beautiful grandma Ruby.  It was just hours before she passed.  My wife and daughter had just left the nursing home, and I wanted to sit there with her by myself for a few more moments.  I didn’t know if I would see her again the next day or day after, but I just needed that moment with her.  It was the Holy Spirit nudging me to stay there.  I know it.

But as I reflected back on that moment in the days after she passed, the one thing I realized though is that it wasn’t just me that was there all alone sitting with her.  At that moment it was also my wife and daughter, it was my mom and dad there with me.  It was my sister Kari–Dairy, and my cousins Tina, Jennifer, and Kimberlee lee lee and #2 grandson Kasey-Doodlebug.  It was uncles, aunts, friends and relatives and lives she’s touched through the years.  It was all of you that were with me in that moment last week.

As I sat there I thought to read her the article from 2011 that many of you may have seen or read at one time.  Some of you may have actually been at her speaking engagement here in Pawhuska at the Heeko Club where they honored her.  The article is a nice recap of her life, and some of her stories that’s condensed into about a 7 or 8 minute read.  You can’t really fit 102 years into a 2000-word article or even into a brief 10 minute speech up here.  But grandma loved to tell stories, so I read her her story.

Grandma always told me she felt like she had lived 3 separate lives.  One life growing up in western Oklahoma with stories about her parents and her sisters and brothers and friends.  She had a good childhood.  They were poor, but they didn’t know they were poor.

Her second life was after she met and married that “misplaced Texas cowboy” who loved to dance named Kay Duke.

And then a third life since his passing in 1975.  She lived a widow’s life for over 40 years.  I barely remember my grandpa Kay as I was only 4 years old when he passed here in Pawhuska at their house on 7thstreet, but man it’s like he was around much longer because of grandma’s stories.

And she could tell some good stories all the way up until even a few weeks ago.

She lived in Bentonville, Arkansas for the past year close to my parents and close to my wife Rebekah and myself and our daughter Caroline.  And by the way, my wife and daughter were unbelievable this past year.  They would go visit her.  They would paint her fingernails and toenails and she was so, so appreciative of the visits and the attention from them, and from those of you that visited.  It wasn’t an easy transition or final year for her.

Honestly, many of her days were filled with feelings of sickness and helplessness, but she still managed to tell those stories.  She also managed to half-jokingly tell me it was my fault she was in Arkansas!  But I would kiddingly remind her – I would say ‘Grandma, you were the first of the immediate family to own property in Arkansas.’  She and grandpa Kay actually owned a lot in Bella Vista, AR for a short time, and I have the picture to prove it.  So I told her it was her fault that we all ended up in Arkansas and she would just laugh that big ol’ Ruby laugh.

My daughter was able to interview her last year for a school project about The Great Depression.  What’s ironic is I interviewed her for an English assignment in 8th grade back in 1985 about the Great Depression, and I still have that article (an “A” by the way).  But some 33 years later at the age of 101, the stories were still very similar from what she remembered to tell me and what she remembered to tell Caroline.

She could tell you stories about the Great Depression, about the Dust Bowl days, about sitting on her daddy’s lap and helping to drive a Model T car, and the invention of the television.  It’s amazing.  She was 53 when man first walked on the moon.  53!  Many of us in here were not even born yet.

She was just a great story teller, and not because she had these long elaborate stories, but because she had the ability to communicate them succinctly and hit the punch line at the right time.  I loved them.  We all loved them.  She had her favorites for sure.  She may tell you those favorites numerous times, but it didn’t matter because they just were classic Ruby Duke stories.

She could remember back to days of playing house in the basement with her sister Pearl.  They referred to themselves as Miss Chievous and Miss Stout, and they would take food down there and occasionally sneak a pint of strawberry preserves that their mother had jarred and stored in the basement, and grandma would eat some and put them back behind all the rest of the full jars, and she told me – “And I never got caught!”  And I believe her.

Of course, there were the stories of meeting grandpa Kay who was a well-known bachelor at the time.  Grandma told me that they were being followed one night and it was Kay and his cousin Jake Leemaster and they asked grandma and her friend out on a double date.  Well to hear grandma tell it – she thought she was going out with Jake because “he was a handsome fella and Kay was not good looking at all.”  Well she and grandpa grew on each other especially when they realized how much they loved to dance.  It was dancing that really brought them together.

And grandma could dance.  She won a dance contest one time doing the Charleston.  I showed her a black and white video on my phone just a few months ago of a woman doing the Charleston and asked her is this how you used to do it?  This made her smile, but in true grandma Ruby fashion she said – “yes that’s how I danced, but I kicked way higher than that girl does!”

Of course the great story about moving from Shattuck to Pawhuska after grandma had marveled at the beautiful scenery from their back porch in Shattuck at which grandpa responded – “Ruby, cattle can’t eat scenery.”

So they moved to Pawhuska and began ranching here with their mischievous first two sons Govan and Kelly and my perfect angel mom Gayle.  And she loved to tell about Govan’s and Kelly’s shenanigans like them sitting in the front row of church, and as my grandma would be singing this beautiful solo in the choir, because grandma could also sing, well, Govan and Kelly would be plugging their ears on the front row.  Or how those two tied my mom up to a rocking chair and put her in the front lawn in the freezing cold and held the other end of the rope from inside the house and would rock her as cars drove by.  You can’t make this stuff up.

Of course baby Ricky came along while they lived in Pawhuska and rounded out the family, and he also apparently got all the special treatment according to the others.

She loved the memories of all the grandchildren getting together and performing Christmas plays every year.  She would talk about those memories.

I don’t how many of you knew this, but Grandma and I were roommates one summer in Norman.  My parents had moved to Manhattan, Kansas for a job, but still owned their house in Norman, and I was on summer break from St Gregory’s College in Shawnee, so grandma moved out of her duplex a few blocks away and into my parents’ house.  We spent many an evening that summer eating some good home cooked food, because grandma could cook too!  We spent those evenings watching “Wheel of Fortune” and “Murder She Wrote,” and just laughing.

She loved to laugh.  She also loved fiercely.  She loved her family obviously.  But she also loves Jesus.  How many 95 year olds do you know that are, or were in a Bible study?  Well she was.  I found her Bible Study group sheet from 2009-2010 when she lived in Norman.  She loved to study the Bible.  She loved to talk to Jesus.

She loved to teach about the Bible and Jesus too.  She had one particular story from her Pawhuska days that she loved more than any other story in her final months here I’m convinced.  I don’t remember the boys’ name, but grandma would tell the tale of teaching the high school Sunday School class and asking the class if anyone knew what the Golden Rule was.  One of the boys in his class raised his hand and said “Do unto others before they do unto you!”  This made her laugh.  I still laugh and I’ve heard that story no less than 50 times through the years.

Oh the stories we’ll take with us and pass on to the next generations!  And I can’t wait to hear some of the other stories out here from you all when I end this two hour speech and we get out of here.

But going back to that moment with her last week, the thing I wished more than anything was not for a miraculous recovery that would just prolong the misery that she had been enduring the past year or so, but the thing I selfishly wished the most, and I think most of us have probably wished it at one time or another is – to be able to just get a glimpse.  Just 10 or 15 seconds.  I would have loved to see grandma Ruby from a distance cross to the other side.  I wanted to see who was waiting on her and the celebration that getting ready to happen.  I just wanted to see the welcoming party you know.

There’s a beautiful song from 2001 called “I Can Only Imagine” by the band MercyMe and there’s a line in there that goes “Surrounded by Your glory.  What will my heart feel?  Will I dance for you Jesus or in awe of you be still?”  Well, I think, no, I know grandma Ruby was tired of being still on this earth because her 102 year old body wasn’t meant to move like it once had.

So I like to imagine grandpa Kay was at the head of that welcoming party and I like to think that if I had got that glimpse, that 10 seconds or so, that grandma would have turned to me and given me one of those “Look at me.  I’m good.  You can go now and tell everyone how good I am now.”  She would have waived and blown me kiss as she Charlestoned off with grandpa and embraced her parents and her son Kelly and her brothers and sisters.

So even though we may never get a wish like my wish with grandma Ruby we can definitely rest easy and assured in knowing that – as my cousin Kim so accurately said in a recent Facebook post – it’s not goodbye, grandma.  It’s only see-you-later.

 

 

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“And Now, I’m Glad I Didn’t Know…”

“The way it all would end.  The way it all would go.” – Garth Brooks

Image result for garth brooks 1989

In the fall of 1989 I started my freshman year of college at St. Gregory’s College in Shawnee, Oklahoma.  It was a private two-year school with an enrollment of less than 200.  One of the guys that lived on the same floor as I did was a guy named Ty.

Ty was a good guy, but we used to make fun of him and mimic him for some reason with a phrase I guess he used to say a lot:  “You ready to go to lunch?”  You had to say it almost like it was one word in a soft monotone kind of way – youreadytogotolunch?  For some reason, in our 18 and 19 year old humor, we thought this was funny and it just became one of those catch-phrases we would repeat over and over for days and weeks and months on end.  I’m not sure what Ty thought about it.  He probably hated it.  Youreadytogotolunch?

I remember Ty for that one specific phrase and also because he was the first one I knew with a cd of this brand new country singer from Oklahoma named Garth Brooks.  I’d never heard of Garth, but I listened as Ty explained how Garth went to Oklahoma State University (just about 60 miles away in Stillwater), and how he used to sing in the local clubs around town most notably Willie’s Saloon and The Tumbleweed Ballroom where Garth also worked as a bouncer in the early 80’s.

My mom and dad listened to some country music while I was growing up so I had already been exposed to the likes of Kenny Rogers, Willie Nelson, Ronnie Milsap, and Alabama by the time Garth came along.  But in late 1989 I wasn’t listening to country at all.  My cassette collection purchases in 1989 was made up of the likes of Bad English, Tone Loc, Milli Vanilli (100% transparency I liked “Blame It On the Rain”), and Skid Row  among others.

Like a lot of people though, when I took a listen to Garth’s first album I was hooked.  I loved “If Tomorrow Never Comes,” “Much Too Young (to Feel This Damn Old), and in particular I loved the final track on the album – a little song called “The Dance.”  It was as beautiful of a ballad as I’d ever heard in any genre.

“Our lives are better left to chance I could have missed the pain”

Are our lives really left to chance or is it all part of a well-executed design by the master creator?  That’s for each of us to consider and decide.  I was reading day six of a seven day devotional this morning and the title of the reading was appropriately entitled “The Dance.”  That’s really what made me think of Garth and this song, and started this post.

The writer in the devotional compared our relationship with God to a dance.  She said that sometimes you are perfectly in sync with the creator and His plan as He leads you across the dance floor and through the routine of life, and then there are times when he dips you and you wonder if you’ll ever be pulled back up.  Were you dropped or was it just a dip?  Does He still have you?

Going a little further, I think there are times when you feel like you’ve been left to dance alone.  Your dance may be feel off-center.  It may feel uncoordinated and awkward.  It may feel like a struggle, but just know you’ll be better for it and things will improve.  It may be in those struggles that leads you into those brilliant solos in life.  The ones that fill you with joy and happiness, and a great sense of fulfillment.  That’s just the Creator leaving you in the spotlight while you bust a move and soak in all the adulation.  A good partner will do that.  A good partner lets his partner shine in a dance… in life.

“But I’d of had to miss the dance.”

This song was a world-wide hit for Garth and spent three weeks at #1 in the U.S.  It was the fourth and final single off of his debut album and wasn’t actually released until April of 1990, but by then anyone who owned the album (released in April of 1989) was well aware of the beautiful ballad.

My wife and I went to see Garth arguably at the pinnacle of his career when he was on tour and playing sold out stadiums and arenas everywhere with incredible passion and showmanship in the late 90’s.  We sat near the top of the Myriad Convention Center (now Cox Convention Center) in OKC as Garth ran around the stage, swung on ropes, and splashed water from water bottles onto fans.  He made you feel like it was the last show he would ever perform.  Like it might be the last concert you ever see period.  That’s easily one of the most lovable things about Garth and a major part of his success – the genuineness with which he performs.  It’s heartfelt.  It’s real.  And the fans absolutely love it.

Below is a live performance from 1989, but just below it is a touching live performance from 2014 that will make tears well up.  It’s Garth’s self-proclaimed favorite song of his, and I believe it, because it’s mine too.  Here is “The Dance.”

Thanks for reading and enjoy your dance today.

sincerely,

the 80’s

kkandcktalentshow

 

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“Is It Any Wonder…”

“I’ve got too much time on my hands?” – Styx

Image result for styx 1981 band pictures

My grandma is 102 years old.  I’ve written about her before a few years ago in a post featuring John Mellencamp.  I’m still astounded in the life that she has led and the things she has seen – growing up in small Oklahoma panhandle town, marrying into a ranching family, moving to Osage County in Oklahoma, and then living a widow’s life now for the better part of 40+ years.  When you consider that there are normally 365 days in a year and 8,760 hours in a year, it’s hard to comprehend that she’s lived over 37,000 days and 880,000 hours.

“Well, I’m so tired of losing- I got nothing to do and all day to do it.” 

I’ve been having some uncomfortable conversations with God recently.  We had to move my grandma about six or seven months ago into a nursing home.  It’s one of those places that you hope you don’t ever end up in because it basically means you’ve exhausted your resources and must go to a living facility that accepts medicaid as payment to provide roof and shelter and food.  And that’s where my grandma has ended up.  In all fairness, not many people plan on living this long so even though she planned and saved well here we are.

Still, I often wonder what kind of purpose or plan God has for my grandma at this point in her life.  She’s forgetting more and more things and repeating stories and requests more often.  She doesn’t feel well all the time.  She complains of nausea and constipation constantly and it’s an unwavering battle to determine what is causing this.  Sometimes she’ll leave me four or five voicemail messages within a 30 minute window (she still knows how to dial that phone!).  She once left me 17 messages in one day.

The messages all usually pertain to the need she has has for some nausea tablets and ex-lax.  Occasionally there may be a request for juice or hearing aid batteries, but she doesn’t feel well and is searching her memory for anything that may help her.  She spells ex-lax out for me every time including saying the word “dash” in between the “x” and the “l” – she says e, x,  dash, l, a, x.”  Both are non prescription so I don’t need a doctor’s order she tells me.  No matter that the nurses at the facility provide her with these types of medications as needed,  she thinks the nausea pills and ex-lax are the only cure and they are way better then what the nurses can provide.  It doesn’t do me much good to try and tell her that’s why the nurses are there.  She doesn’t think they care and that’s sad.

“And it’s ticking away, ticking away from me”

I love my grandma.  I hate seeing her in misery.  I hate seeing her slowly lose her mind, and I continue to wonder – what’s the purpose?  What’s the plan?  Is God teaching me something through this?  Surely, but at a cost of a beloved family member?  It’s difficult to accept and it makes me angry.  Grandma still has funny stories to repeat and share and I try to make her smile and laugh, but it’s not always easy.  It’s depressing there, but my grandma has a beautiful smile and laugh.  It’s fleeting and short-lived these days as she tells me things like she doesn’t like to wake up early because it just makes the day that much longer.  Like I said, sad.

grandmakylekaridad

My grandma Ruby and I circa early 90’s

I often think about Paul and his letter to Timothy where he talks about fighting the good fight, keeping the faith, and finishing the race.  I realize Paul was in prison and was eventually beheaded, but he was proclaiming that he had done all he could do and was ready to cross the finish line into Heaven.  What’s left of the race for my grandma?  Not much and I know this, but why must she suffer?  I will continue to ask and I will continue to suffer along with her, but I will also continue to try and make her smile.

“It’s ticking away with my sanity.  I’ve got too much time on my hands.”

Image result for styx paradise theater

Besides the obvious correlation with time for this post, this group/song/album is not void of another meaning.  My grandma bought me Styx’ Paradise Theatre album as a birthday present when I was 10.  I think it may have been the only music she ever bought me.

I remember it because of that and also because 1) she made mention that it was apparently a very popular album (it peaked at #1 for three weeks on the album charts in April and May of 1981) and 2) even when I was 10 I somehow knew that Styx was also the name of a river in Hell and I thought how funny that my Jesus-loving, Sunday-School-teaching grandma would buy me album with a band that claims the name of a river in Hell (even though I’ve learned that Dennis DeYoung is a devout Catholic).

To be honest, today’s featured song wasn’t necessarily a favorite of mine.  I much preferred Dennis DeYoung’s vocals on tracks like “The Best of Times” and “Rockin’ the Paradise.”  This was Tommy Shaw’s only top 10 track as lead vocalist for Styx and his lyrics were loosely based off of a bar he frequented in a small town in Michigan where he lived.

The video is the classic definition of an early MTV cheesy video.  It’s hilariously bad as the band members try hard to make funny faces, gestures, and do their best to ham it up in the bar scenes of the video by trying to impress the ladies and lighting cigarettes with 100 dollar bills.

Please enjoy Styx and their #9 single from 1981 – “Too Much Time on My Hands”

As an added bonus I stumbled across this bit done a few years ago by Jimmy Fallon and Paul Rudd as they re-enacted the video to hilarious precision.

As always, thanks for reading, and a thank you to my grandma for introducing me to Styx through this album, and may you the reader enjoy the time that you have on your hands.

sincerely,

the 80’s

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“It’s Christmastime”

“There’s no need to be afraid.” – Band Aid

Image result for band aid 1984

My wife, daughter, and I attended Christmas eve mass with my parents for the first time in years.  It was a 4pm “family service” which felt like every single family in Bentonville, Arkansas was piled into the St. Stephen Roman Catholic Church.  Even the overflow room where the service was displayed onto a large screen was standing room only.

In front of me sat what appeared to be a large traditional Catholic family.  There was the mother, father, three boys and one girl.  The youngest boy who was definitely somewhere around two was struggling to sit still and be quiet and had to be taken out several times while we were there.  The other three children were all probably under 10 or 11 years of age and well-behaved.

It made me think about my Christmases at that age.  Of getting dressed and attending Christmas eve mass wherever we were, and of the nervous anticipation of opening presents later that night, and of course the arrival of Santa and what Christmas morning would hold.  It reminded me of the “Christmas plays” I helped to produce with my cousins all playing important parts, and of course it reminded me of the birth of Jesus and the story as told in Luke that we would read every Christmas eve.

Christmastime is magical and I do realize it’s a struggle for many others, but if nothing else it should produce a hope deep down in your heart whether you know it’s happening or not.  The lights, the smells, the sounds, and the songs should all provide that feeling of hope for a better today and a better tomorrow.

“There won’t be snow in Africa this Christmastime.”

My wife remarked to me that she thought that today’s featured song was kind of “depressing,” and to be fair I guess it is in some respects.  There are starving people all over the world, but chances are if you’re reading this then you’re not one of them so “thank God it’s them instead of you.”

But I never really thought about it that way.  I always thought this song represented new possibilities.  Possibilities that a bunch of talented British and Irish musicians (and yes, that’s U.S. R&B stars Kool and the Gang in the video as well) could come together, sing their hearts out, raise millions and truly “feed the world.”

Ok, maybe I never thought that this 1984 hit would truly end world hunger, but the bell in the song and Phil Collins thrashing away on the skins always gave me an uplifting feeling and vibe even if the lyrics didn’t necessarily do the same.

Bob Geldof and Ultravox’s front man Midge Ure pulled this group together and cut the song in one day.  The single was released on December 3rd, 1984 and garnered much publicity as it entered the charts at #1 and staying there for five weeks as it became the fastest selling single in UK history selling one million records in the first week.  The record raised 8 million pounds within the first 12 months with the majority of the funds being directed towards the famine in Ethiopia.

“Do they know it’s Christmastime at all?”

I like this song and the message it intended to drive home when it was released.  Even if the lyrics are a bit lacking I don’t really care, because the heart behind it is what’s really important.  I have no way of knowing how many people were fed or saved because of this song, but I’m sure there was much good that came from it and still comes from it to this day.  Heck, it’s now 34 years old and I still think about starving people in Africa every time it plays.

Merry Christmas, and let them (or someone you care about) know it’s Christmastime…

Merry Christmas one and all!

sincerely,

the80’s

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“Close Your Eyes, Baby. Follow My Heart.”

“Call on the memories here in the dark” – Ronnie Milsap

Image result for ronnie milsap 80's pics

My parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary this year.  It’s strange to look at pictures from 50 years ago when they were young, in love, and a whole future awaited them.  My dad tells me all the time what a great life they’ve lived.  And they have.  They’ve travelled.  They’ve made great friends.  They’ve experienced the joys of raising children and having grandkids.  They’ve experienced a wonderful life together.

Sure there have been arguments and disagreements along the way.  There have been disappointments and loss.  There always is in any lengthy relationship.  There have been tough roads to navigate including the one they’re on right now.  It’s a road with potholes and sharp turns.  There are some smooth, flat stretches with sunny skies, but they are further and further in between these days.

“These precious hours we know can’t survive.  But love’s all that matters while the past is alive.”

My dad’s physical and mental abilities are slipping.  Once an all-American basketball player at Tulane with an athletic 6’2 frame, time has taken that away.  It has thrown him some sucker punches the last few years – falls that have led to a broken hip and a broken arm and collarbone and possible concussions to the head.  He’s had heart issues (two aorta valve replacements).  He’s gone through prostate cancer surgery.  He had a small stroke years ago as well.  He’s starting to forget things like days and dates and mixing up words and names.  His speech is slowing and his fine motor skills are deteriorating.  And it’s hard to watch.

My mom is the middle stages of battling the most cruel of diseases – dementia.  I try not to think too much about it because when I do it makes me agonizingly frustrated.  She’s still there.  Those “memories in the dark” that Ronnie Milsap sings about are still alive, but they’re slipping.  She still knows her family and friends and stories from the past, but she can’t retain anything new.  A three hour football game on television means nothing 30 minutes after it’s over.  She’s on medication to help slow the progress but I can’t imagine what her mind is doing to her on a daily basis.  She sleeps a lot more.  She’s less engaged in conversations.  She’s quieter.  I think she knows somewhere inside that something’s wrong.

They’re doing the best they can.  They laugh and joke with each other.  It’s sad and it’s heartwarming at the same time.  I spend my days wondering how they’re doing and managing their doctor appointments and medications and finances.  There are days and times it feels overwhelming.  There are times that I’m frustrated and angry.  Times when I think why both of them?  If one of them was better then it would be much different and probably easier.  But it’s not like that, even if it doesn’t stop me from wondering.

Then there are those days where it is a honor and privilege.  It’s hard to explain.  You don’t know you have the time to do something until it’s thrust upon you and you have to.  Is it stressful?  Sure.  Is it time-consuming?  Of course.  Is it putting someone else’s needs before your own.  Absolutely.  They’ve done all of that for my sister and I throughout our lives already.

Thankfully I have an incredibly understanding and supportive wife and a very willing daughter.  Thankfully I have a helpful sister and brother-in-law who do what they can.  Thankfully God gave me a somewhat calm and even demeanor even though it’s tested quite often these days.  He’s teaching me something.  Somehow, I’m growing through this process.  I really have no other choice.

“These precious hours we know can’t survive.  But love’s all that matters while the past is alive.”

momanddad1985

Ronnie Milsap has always been a favorite of my parents.  He won the Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance in 1985 and I still remember all of the old Ronnie Milsap 33’s that would spin on my parents’ record player.  In 1985 when this Milsap single was released I was a skinny freshman in high school battling everyday insecurities and trying to figure out my place in life.  My dad was 45, my mom was 39 that year, and music was a big part of their lives.  They would fix dinner and drinks, and sit and listen to songs like this while they discussed their careers and children and planned for the future.

Music still is a part of their lives today.  It’s just a different time for them as they now try to recall the old days.  It’s a tougher time.  The journey is a struggle now.  But they still find joy.  They still laugh at their silly jokes.  The sit in their sunroom and spin some cd’s instead of 33’s while watching the birds and squirrels and deer as the sun slowly sets beyond the tree line.

“We’ll let the magic take us away.  Back to the feelings we shared when they played”

This Milsap song was one of his 40 #1 country hits.  One of 40!  That’s amazing and something I didn’t realize.  What a testament to Ronnie’s longevity and perseverance and talent.  The song itself is a beautiful medley from a legendary voice that combined “Lost in the Fifties Tonight” written by Troy Seals and Mike Reid and the 1956 hit by The Five Satin’s “In the Still of the Night.”  It reminds me of my parents’ perseverance and of their love for music.

Here is a favorite of my parents and the video for “Lost in the Fifties Tonight (In The Still of the Night)”…

Thanks for reading.

sincerely,

the 80’s

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