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…


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.


the 80’s



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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.


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.


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!



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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.”


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.


the 80’s

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Awesome Keller and a Strong Two-Song Halloween Playlist

“He wears the same hat and sweater every single day.  And even if it’s hot, outside he wears it anyway!”

Image result for nightmare on my street dj jazzy jeff

My sister and brother-in-law have two amazing kids.  Their three-year old boy is a future crime-fighting vigilante or possibly a lightsaber-wielding Jedi named Keller, and the girl is an adorable future princess just over one year old named Sylvie.  They live about 11 hours away in Wisconsin so I don’t see them as often as I would like to.  Thanks to social media though, my sister and brother in law provide much needed pictures, videos, and updates throughout the year.


Photo creds to my sis

My sister messaged me the other day to tell me that Keller is a big fan of DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince’s “Nightmare on My Street.”  The song is a rap ode to Freddy Krueger and the “Nightmare on Elm Street” horror movie series.  It came out in 1988 just before the fourth (and most successful) installment: “Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master.”  There are a lot of people that didn’t like the song then, and don’t like the song now (my sister included I suppose), but I love it, and apparently so does my awesome nephew Keller.

Unfortunately, because of a legal battle between New Line Studios and DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince, the video for the song was only played a handful of times on MTV before it was pulled from rotation.  The video appears to have vanished forever though I still hold out hope that it may still be out there somewhere and maybe we’ll all get to enjoy it one day.

“He’s gone when I’m awake but he shows up when I’m asleep.  I can’t believe that there’s a nightmare – on my street!”

If you’ve never heard it before, then please take a listen/look at this video shot by some students in 2005.  It’s probably very similar to what you would have seen back in 1988 only without the actual stars.  Off of their “He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper” album which featured the smash hit “Parents Just Don’t Understand,” here is the DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince song interpreted by some students for the classic “Nightmare on My Street”…



“I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand walking through the streets of SoHo in the rain.

Image result for warren zevon werewolves of london

Shortly after that message about the “Nightmare on My Street” song came another one telling me that Keller was now howling to Warren Zevon’s classic “Werewolves of London.”  I have to tell you this kid nailed a second one of my favorite Halloween songs.  I was also already familiar with Keller’s affection for the 80’s Ray Parker Jr. classic “Ghostbusters,” but this particular song actually transcends more than just Halloween playlists.

This is a classic no matter the date or season.  I don’t know what Keller is going to grow up to be, but I know if he continues to single out songs like this, he will be awesome whatever it is.  The song has some of the best lyrics ever and was apparently written in about 15 minutes in 1975.  It wasn’t released until 1978 after friend Jackson Browne (a big proponent of the song through the years) had started performing it live at some of his concerts.

My impression from reading about the song is that Zevon wasn’t particularly fond of the song that began as a joke between he and Phil Everly of “The Everly Brothers” who wanted Zevon to write a song about werewolves that would also develop into a dance craze.  Zevon was once quoted as saying that “Werewolves” was “a dumb song for smart people.”

“You better stay away from him.  He’ll rip your lungs out, Jim.  I’d like to meet his tailor.”

Dumb or not, the song was an immediate hit reaching #21 on the Billboard Hot 100.  Unfortunately, it’s also the only song many people know of Zevon’s though he was a brilliant songwriter in his own right.  Zevon passed away in 2003, but “Werewolves” continues to live on especially as All Hallows’ Eve approaches every year.  Here is Zevon performing the classic “Werewolves of London…”


So, if all you ever did on Halloween was to put these two songs in a playlist and put it on repeat (ok, mix in “Thriller” and “Ghostbusters” too), it would be a strange two-song playlist I grant you.  But, it would be an awesome playlist, and I would hang with you, and so would my awesome nephew Keller.

(One is the author circa 1970-something with a cheap imitation “The Bat” costume while the other is my awesome nephew Keller wearing a legit Batman mask and cape)

Thanks for reading, and happy Halloween!



the 80’s

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“Put Put Put Puttin’ on the Hits”

Image result for allen fawcett puttin on the hits

For most of us, myself included, we have no discernible talent when it comes to music.  I have envy for those that can sing (like my wife) or play guitar or drums (like numerous friends I have) at a high level.  My wife likes to tell me that I would have made a great lead guitar or even bass player because of my tall, slender build.  Truth be told, I’ve been an air guitar legend in my own mind for decades.  I’ll even slide over to the air drums whenever Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” or Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again” comes on over the speakers.

I’ve written on here before about my love of MTV music videos (obviously), and even my pretend top 10 music video show.  Like a lot of us, I’m also a singing star… in the shower, in the car, in the house, it doesn’t matter.  Television programming these days is full of reality based talent shows involving singing and dancing and cooking and athletic feats, and I enjoy a lot of these shows.

If you’ve seen Spike TV’s successful show “Lip Sync Battle” hosted by LL Cool J, and are old enough to remember, then you know lip syncing shows on television was truly born in the 80’s thanks to Dick Clark Productions.

In 1984, “Puttin’ On the Hits” debuted, and I loved it.  Average “Joe’s” showing up every week and lip-syncing to a variety of songs while under the watchful eye of three “expert” judges.  Each judge scored each act in three categories on a scale of 1-10:  originality, appearance, and performance.  The act with the highest total at the end of each episode won a thousand dollars.

The show lasted four seasons and ended with the season four winner taking on the previous three season winners in a $25,000 winner-take-all contest.  Host Allen Fawcett came into our living rooms every week like a pre-Ian Ziering Beverly Hills 90210 reject rocking some sweet 80’s hair and dominating the interviews with the performers with hard-hitting, in-depth questions like:  “what are your ages?” and “what are your names?” and “what station are all of your friends back home watching on?”  James Lipton he was not.

Image result for ian ziering 90210                                      Image result for james lipton

(Ian Ziering, not Allen Fawcett)            (James Lipton, also not Allen Fawcett)

The show inspired numerous rudimentary lip-syncing videos of my own production through the years starting in high school when I talked my younger sister into doing a rendition of The Fat Boys’ “Wipeout” song (actual video to come someday).


(A very grainy photo of my little sis in 1988 on the “turntable” as one of “The Fat Kids” in our “Wipeout” video.  She wasn’t that big.  It’s just a pillow you know, just in case you weren’t sure.  Also, shoutout to Pitt basketball – “Send it in Jerome!”)

The trend continued on into college in the late 80’s and early 90’s where my buddies and I made numerous lip syncing videos to the likes of Duran Duran, New Kids on the Block, and we even spun ourselves into a very white Public Enemy one year.  Until I find the PE video, you’ll just have to settle for this one the five of us shot around 3:30am on a Sunday morning (seriously) just before finals back in December of 1989. I’m sure Sam Cooke would be so proud of this rendition of his 1960 hit “Wonderful World.”  Here’s just a small sampling of the creative genius when you have a VHS video camera, tripod, and five 18-19 year olds up at 3:30 on a Sunday morning.

Back to “Puttin’ on the Hits” – looking through some old youtube footage (youtube is the best), I came across this Oklahoma act that re-enacted a song from a little known rap group that lasted only three years called the “Boogie Boys.”  The Harlem rap group had one top 10 R&B hit called “A Fly Girl.”

These four 17 year olds cleverly became the “Bootie Boys” for their lip-syncing performance of a lesser known Boogie Boys’ song from 1986 called “Girl Talk.”  With some nice 80’s dance moves and a big score, check out a clip from one of my favorite 80’s shows – here are “The Bootie Boys,” the awesome Allen Fawcett, and “Girl Talk”…

Thanks for reading.  Now, go out and lip-sync to your favorite song!


the 80’s


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“Traveling in a Fried-Out Combie”

“On a hippie trail, head full of zombie.” – Men At Work

Image result for down under men at work

I recently heard someone say that you should never start your blog out with “sorry I haven’t posted in a while,” because no one cares.  No one reads blogs!  I think that’s hilarious… and partially true.  I barely have time to write this one much less peruse the blogs of the world reading what else is out there, so I won’t ever apologize for the length of time in between posts.  Plus, I have to spend valuable research time on much more important tasks like looking up “fried-out combie,” and “head full of zombie.”

To inform you – my unbelievably, intelligent, beautiful reader – it’s actually spelled “kombi” and the phrase means that it is an over-heated VW Kombivan.  So, a broken-down van, basically.  And “head full of zombie?”  Well, that is apparently the use of a type of marijuana.

The more you know.

“Can’t you hear, can’t you hear the thunder?  You better run, you better take cover, yeah.”

The thunder that came rolling into NW Arkansas like a fully caffeinated “Crocodile Dundee” wielding a cross and a Bible was Australian Pastor Michael Murphy (@michaelleaderscape on Facebook).   And, by the way, if you’re already lost when I said “Crocodile Dundee,” then you apparently don’t know who the greatest U.S.-Australian movie star of all time is (or at least of the 80’s)!  So check out this clip first…

Ahh, Paul Hogan.  We loved you back in 1986, you crazy Aussie.  I just found out (if you believe wikipedia) he’s 78 now!

Ok, now back to Pastor Murphy.  He helped Brian and Bobbie Houston lead and start a little church in Australia you may have heard of called Hillsong Church.  Yeah mate, he knows of what he speaks.  And what he speaks is really on leadership within the church and how to cultivate that leadership and help a church organization grow.


“I met a strange lady, she made me nervous.  She took me in and gave me breakfast”

He estimates that he spends 300+ nights away from his home, so he is meeting many strangers the majority of the year.  Those strangers quickly become friends, and then Pastor Murphy makes the most of his time speaking with church volunteers and leaders.  He was in NW Arkansas last Thursday through Sunday, and spoke numerous times including at multiple Sunday services.  I took some notes and this is just a random collection of some of the things that were impressed upon me during his brief time here.

  • We should frame our world/future.  Have a vision and drive towards that vision.  Be persistent and patient, but see it, and believe it can be done, because how we frame things in our lives will determine how we think about them.
  • Line up your prophetic word under a daily declaration with God’s redemptive power.  Along the lines of believing, affirmation is so important and you should start with yourself.  Give yourself grace and be an affirming person to others.
  • Keep a “River Mentality” / a no step-child; no victim mentality.  Don’t allow negativity to creep into your thought patterns; find the positive in a situation and soak in those words.  Let it flow in you and through you.  Choose to be the victor and not the victim.
  • Sometimes the Love Boat is a battleship  Our current series at our church is on marriage and is called “The Love Boat.”  Pastor Murphy kept this theme when he spoke at our Sunday morning services.  The irony of this is that Pastor Murphy’s wife, Valery, had a very brief cameo in one episode of the classic late 70’s/early 80’s show.  He even showed the black and white photograph of her, “Captain Stubing,” and “Doc” on screen at the Sunday services as proof.  Once again, those of you too young to remember, here’s what “The Love Boat” looked like…

Anyway, the love boat can be many different types of boats through the ups and downs and different stages of marriage.  It’s important to remember that, and to work to keep your marriage boat on course and to make the necessary corrections when needed.  And it takes work!

It was a wonderful and informative few days, and the only thing I regret in my small window of interaction with Pastor Murphy is not thinking to ask him…

“Do you come from a land down under?  Where women glow and men plunder?”

Image result for men at work 1983

When you think about famous rock groups or artists from Australia, there’s really quite a few that have made it big in the U.S. – The Bee Gees, AC/DC, Air Supply, Olivia Newton-John, INXS, Keith Urban, and heck even Dr. Noah Drake, Rick Springfield, hails from down under.

But when I think of Australia and the 80’s, the first group that always comes to my mind is Men At Work.  The “Business As Usual” cassette was one of the first ones I remember owning and it was also right around the time of my first walkman.  It was 1982 when this song was released in the U.S., and I was about 11 or 12 when I was blasting this cassette from my walkman.

This worldwide smash from Men at Work celebrated their homeland and introduced the rest of the world to the question of “what the heck is a vegemite sandwich?”  (Apparently the actual vegemite spread is dark, and thick like peanut butter, but with a very salty taste).  The song reached #1 in Australia (1981), New Zealand (1982), Canada (1982), and then in 1983 hit #1 in Denmark, Ireland, Switzerland, Italy, the UK, and the U.S.

Here’s the silly little video from Colin Hay and company.  It’s “Down Under” by Men At Work…

As always, thanks for reading/watching, and go out and be a leader today.  Be a better leader today… and maybe hum a bar or two of this tune as you do.


the 80’s

P.S.  If you want to get a taste of Pastor Murphy’s messages and style, here is a 35 minute video from Jan. of this year…

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“What Do You Want to Do With Your Life!?”

Image result for twisted sister we're not gonna take it 1984

Back in 1984, a M-16 carrying father with anger issues could yell at his son for being “worthless and weak,” and then five questionably dressed grown men with heavy eye makeup could proceed to beat the hell out of that same abusive father, and it was considered comedy gold… borderline Oscar-worthy I would have argued back then.

Fast forward almost 35 years and I don’t think this video gets very far before activist groups supporting gender neutral persons weigh in on these five men known as Twisted Sister (TS).  Bullying groups would be questioning the intended comedic undertones of a clearly abusive father, while anti-violence groups would be outraged at the physical actions against the father throughout the video.  That “father” in the video was poor Douglas C. Niedermeyer.  He was clearly just a victim of his own oblivious timing.

“We’ll fight the powers that be, just don’t pick our destiny, ’cause you don’t know us, you don’t belong.”

“We’re Not Gonna Take It” was an anthem for many teens in the early 80’s.  The video was a staple on MTV in 1984, and it introduced my 13 year old self to the band Twisted Sister and also to what a truly ugly cross-dresser looks like.  I commend lead singer Dee Snider for his boldness, but those men were not pretty.  I was not a big TS fan, but the timing of the message was on point for many in 1984… “you don’t know us, you don’t belong!”

When people ask me what my favorite year of music was from the 80’s, I answer 1984.  To be honest though, no one has ever asked me that question, but that is my honest-to-goodness, swear-on-Lionel-Richie’s-sweet-1984-jheri-curl answer!  Nineteen eighty-four had it all – the beginnings of hair metal emergence with bands like Ratt and TS.  Hip-hop groups were popping up and a certain trio from Queens called Run-DMC was starting to catch my attention.  All the big stars were hitting hard in 1984 too – Prince, Madonna, MJ, “The Boss,” Huey,  and Rick Springfield, and you had 70’s rock staples like Van Halen and ZZ Top enjoying arguably their best year as well.

A music lover could have gone broke at Sam Goody buying cassette tapes in 1984 with all of the good music.  I challenge you to look at the hits from that year, and find me a better year.

“Your life is trite and jaded.  Boring and confiscated.  If that’s your best, your best won’t do.”

Well, 1984 would be the best Twisted Sister would do on the charts.  “We’re Not Gonna Take It” peaked at #21 on the Billboard Hot 100.  It would be their only top 40 single.  The follow up single was another similar type song and video called “I Wanna Rock.”  The song featured a new protagonist and that didn’t fare quite as well.

And finally, it took Twisted Sister to tell us that sometimes your best won’t do.  Thank you for not handing out a participation ribbon fellas, because sometimes no matter how hard you try, it’s just not enough.

“Oh we’re not gonna take it.  No, we ain’t gonna take it.  Oh we’re not gonna take it anymore!”

Dee Snider joined Twisted Sister in 1976, and were kind of an underground sensation for many years, but it wasn’t until today’s song and video in 1984 that they broke through into mainstream success.

I actually watched a two hour documentary on Netflix about the band a few years ago called “We Are Twisted F****** Sister!”  The documentary was a little too long for me personally, but it gives a good account of the band’s origins and rise in popularity.

The ensuing video from “We’re Not Gonna Take It” was a call to arms for America’s misunderstood, metal-lovin’ youth.  It was our 80’s version of what our parents went through with The Beatles in the 60’s or Elvis in the 50’s.  It wasn’t necessarily about Twisted Sister.  It was about a movement in music.  It was about outcasts with strange hair and makeup playing loud rock music somehow becoming cool.   It gave hope to a new generation of musically talented misfits and misunderstoods in schools around the country.

It was also about those that made it. It was about Motley Crue, and Ratt, Hanoi Rocks, and Cinderella.  And this video also revived the legend of one Douglas C. Niedermeyer.  Check it out.

Image result for twisted sister we're not gonna take it 1984  “Stand up straight!  Tuck in that shirt!  Tie those shoes!  Adjust that belt buckle!”

If you didn’t make it to the end of this post, then you’re worthless and weak!  Now drop and give me 20!

Thanks for reading.


the 80’s

P.S.  If you’re a little too young to understand who Douglas C. Niedermeyer is from the TS videos, then let this next clip from the classic movie “Animal House” catch you up to speed.

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“Looking Out At the Road Rushing Under My Wheels”

“I don’t know how to tell you all just how crazy this life feels” – Jackson Browne


For me (and countless others), Jackson Browne is a brilliant songwriter.  I realize this is a 70’s song, but that’s what I do sometimes on – I step out of the 80’s when it feels right.  And it just feels right today.  This life is crazy at times.

It’s a beautiful song and a wonderful metaphor.  I’ve spent a lot of time on the road and in the air the past few weeks.  Much more than usual that’s for sure, and it’s felt crazy.  I recently made the 12 hour drive from NW Arkansas to Boulder, Colorado and watched the road rushing under my wheels for many miles.  My wife flew out to visit me for a few days in Denver and Boulder.  I saw baseball games, many interesting people, and most of all – the inside of a classroom.

I write this silly little 80’s blog as a hobby.  My day job is that of a community banker, and I recently finished my second year at the Graduate School of Banking Colorado (GSBC) in Boulder.  Students (ages anywhere from twenty-something to fifty-something) travel to Boulder from all over the country.  Both coasts are represented by community bankers along with a fair amount of federal and state regulators.

I spent two weeks living in the Bear Creek Apartments just off the campus of CU studying exciting topics like “Deposit Retention and Growth Strategies,” “Loan Portfolio Management,” and “Understanding Corporate Culture” just to name a few.  There were actually eight classes over the two-week span along with guest speakers sprinkled in.

For a community banker, it really is an impressive, informative, and at the same time over-whelming two weeks.  Each week is concluded with four short tests of 12 questions each on the four classes for the week.  It’s an expensive investment paid for by each bank, but it’s well worth the time and travel.  In between the summer sessions each year each student is required to write three research papers that are graded fairly tough by faculty so it doesn’t end when the two weeks ends.

GSBC Williams Center

The Williams Center where I ate breakfast most mornings.

GSBC wolf law

Wolf Law – where all of our classes were held

GSBC wolf law 2

The back entrance of Wolf Law

GSBC mountains

My view every morning on my walk to class

While in Boulder, Jackson Browne was performing about 45 minutes away at the famous Red Rocks Amphitheater.  The venue seats about 9,500 and opened in 1906.  Red Rocks has been played at by The Beatles, U2, and everyone in between.  It’s a beautiful setting in the mountains where you can see the skyline of Denver in the back ground, and an awesome place to witness just about any performer (when my wife got into town later in the week, she went with a friend to watch Sarah McLachlan).

“Running on, running into the sun, but I’m running behind”

As I sit here some two plus weeks later, I am writing part of this post from Long Branch, New Jersey, and also from the airport in Newark.  My uncle Hans passed away while I was finishing up school and I flew straight to New Jersey from Denver in order to make the viewing and the funeral.  It was very surreal to go from breakfast in the mountains to the La Quinta Inn and the ocean in West Long Branch over the course of 12 hours.

The ensuing emotional toll of a viewing and funeral for a dear family member only drained the tank even more.  Comparatively though, I’m surely running on more fuel than my fellow cousins and sweet aunt Peggy who just lost their father and husband.  The funeral was held in St. Thomas cathedral in Long Branch overlooking the ocean, and included a Taps salute by Navy Servicemen in honor of Hans who had served in the Navy in World War II.

“I don’t know when that road turned, into the road I’m on”

I don’t see many of my Kerwin relatives because they either live on the east coast or in Arizona, so it’s always nice to catch up.  Unfortunately, the last three reasons to get together have all been funerals, so we’re hoping for a wedding or something happy for the next get-together.

I’m now on my final leg.  Newark back to Denver, and then into NW Arkansas tonight where I will get to see my wife and daughter and sleep in my own bed again.  I can’t wait.  The road will end for a while, but the road of life continues to fly by at alarmingly increasing speeds.  I know there are more funerals ahead for uncles, aunts, fathers, mothers, and grandmothers.  It’s a sobering thought, but a real thought nonetheless.  I can only hope for more births, and weddings, and anniversary celebrations to balance out the funerals.

Let’s all hold on and hold together and we’ll make it… even when we feel like we’re running on empty.

“Running on, running on empty.  Running on, running blind”

Below are just a few pictures of the stage and setting at Red Rocks for the Jackson Browne show.  “Running on Empty” was released in 1977 and the song made it to #11 on U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and is considered Browne’s third biggest hit behind “Doctor My Eyes,” and “Somebody’s Baby.”


Here is a live version of Jackson performing the song back in 1979.  He still does it justice in 2018 by the way.

Thanks for reading.


the 80’s

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