Category: Memories

Miss Morgan

A teacher affects eternity. You can never tell where their influence ends.

~~ Epictetus ~~

I’ve reflected here on a few occasions my school days as a self-appointed class clown. A couple of other companions were as equally gifted in our quest for attention. Their stories have been shared here as well. It wasn’t until many years later I came to realize, the attention I sought was a misguided attempt to make up for other things lacking in my life.

I’m not proud to admit, in my pursuit to be noticed, I was especially brutal to my Jr. high school music teacher, “Miss Morgan.” In hindsight I deeply regret how I mistreated and disrespected her … all to get a cheap laugh from classmates, who did provide a few. The woman was a Saint and despite all I dished out she showed me uncompromised patience and encouragement. I didn’t realize it at the time… she really cared, but few kids notice those things.

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Who Are You? Where Are You Going?

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Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.
~~ Billy Graham ~~

For as long as I can remember Billy Graham has been someone I’ve always looked up to. A towering personality throughout my life. I vividly remember as a 5 or 6 year old boy lying on the floor in front of an old black and white television watching him. I was mesmerized by his speech and his style. There was just something about him that, even as a very young boy, grabbed and held my attention. His message touched me. It’s always been that way and I’ve spent untold hours watching his crusades on television and his many interviews. If Billy Graham was on, I wanted to watch, I wanted to hear him.

As an adult I came to recognize his greater qualities, which is probably something I sensed as a boy. He was genuine, he was sincere and, he was humble. Beyond his words, his life-long example made an impact around the world. He never wavered. A few years ago I found myself once again captivated by his words when reading his book Nearing Home in which he shared his personal experience of growing older. I could relate.

It was not, with any great surprise, I heard of his passing yesterday at the age of 99. And especially no great surprise the huge influence he’s been credited with in the lives of millions over his long life. I was just one among them and am grateful to have had the experience.

I share the following story with the hope you appreciate it’s timely significance.

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On the Road to Somewhere Else


It was early morning 59 years ago today when a small airplane crashed in a lonely, snow covered farmers field near Clear Lake, Iowa. Its story is rich in lore, consequence and unnerving circumstance.

A future country music legend, then just a bass player, gave up his seat to one of those who perished. Another band member would lose a coin toss for his seat. Both would be shaken by those events for the rest of their lives.

Today, travelers on the road to somewhere else, stop at the cornfield to pay homage to the first stars of a new genre of music, and to the memory of the youthful dreams of an entire generation. Nothing much has changed there except for a stainless steel memorial placed in tribute. It marks the spot, where Buddy Holly, J.P. Richardson and Richie Valens were killed, on the day the music died.

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Misfits: Rudderless and Restless


If you’ve heard this story before, don’t stop me,
because I’d like to hear it again.
~~ Groucho Marx ~~

My old friend Al Bello was, to say the least, one-of-a-kind and among my oldest friends. We met in 7th grade dishing out our own brand of trouble to our teachers and others. Al was among my small circle of class clowns, birds of a feather.

Aloysius
“Al” – School Days

In our quest for attention, we were especially brutal to our music teacher, Miss Morgan. I’ve come to realize, the attention we sought was our misguided attempt to make up for other things lacking in our lives. No excuses though. In hindsight I regret how we treated her and by the time I wanted to apologize she was gone. She was a fine, gifted woman and her story deserves a place of its own here in this blog.*

Over a period of 45-years Al and I lived our lives separated by time and distance. He stayed in Maryland while I moved west. We managed from time to time to reconnect, only very occasionally, via phone calls. I had spoken to Al several years ago when I learned he was suffering with COPD. He was the same guy, the same sarcasm and still the jokester I remembered from our times together so long ago. Despite all those years of separation and little contact I remember thinking: losing him would be a bitter pill to swallow.

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The Year in Review

2017

Once a year go some place you’ve never been before. ~~ Dalai Lama XIV

My life has seen some major changes in the last 2 1/2 years. Not only did I retire early but I moved here to Las Vegas in September of 2015. Strange in a way, as I had no family here and only a few acquaintances. But I wasn’t deterred, as I was assured of sunny, warm weather and I knew there’d be new friends and experiences just ahead.

Seven months after my move I left for an extended road trip in the spring of 2016. I expected to travel around 7,000 miles and to be away for 40-45 days. A long time certainly to be on the road, but I had plans, lots of them.

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Ode to Ken Griffey, Jr.

Tomorrow is the birthday of Baseball Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. Like Mickey Mantle from my youth, Griffey turned me back to baseball as an adult. It came long after I had abandoned the game 20 years earlier.

It began once again with the excitement of my ten-year old daughter Jaime in the summer of 1989. We were at a neighborhood  7-11 when she talked me into buying a few packs of Upper Deck baseball cards. I hadn’t bought a baseball card in years! The last were used to motorize the sound of my bicycle. They were pretty effective, but the clothes pins couldn’t keeping them from flying off! Among those new cards we found “The Kid”s highly sought after rookie card.  Jaime couldn’t believe it! It was the most valuable card in the 800-card set!

I’d never heard of him, but Jaime had! Not even yet a major league player, Upper Deck somehow knew, he soon would be. Ken Griffey, Jr. was going places.img_3625 These baseball cards were like nothing I’d seen before, they were a work of art, pristine, glossy… darn near perfect! His card was beautiful. He was just an 18-year old kid and I was hooked!

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Music Monday – A Fine Sight to See

It was a year ago this past week while on the first leg of my long anticipated Around the USA road trip. I was cruising along Interstate 40, eastbound at 80 miles an hour approaching Winslow, Arizona.

It was nearly 11:00 at night. I’d left Las Vegas 5 hours earlier and had a long trip ahead. Other than a few stops for naps I was determined to make it to Huntsville, Alabama, still 21 hours away, for my first layover to visit family.

Weeks earlier I’d researched the routing, and possible sightseeing stops. Now, nearing the first possibility at a spot in Winslow’s downtown corridor, I was having second thoughts. After all it was late and I found myself unsure I wanted to delay my momentum so early in the trip. Would it be worth the bother?

A check of my GPS indicated it was just a mile or so off the Interstate. Had it been five miles I probably wouldn’t have stopped. Turned out it was just too close to pass by.

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50 Shades of Rick

Things you may or may not know. Revelations and a few more confessions.

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1) I was born on December 6, 1952 in a small Pennsylvania town. Despite the realization I find myself on the downhill side of life, I’m hopeful there’s more miles and milestones ahead! Craig Newmark, the computer programmer, businessman and founder of Craigslist was born on the same exact day.

2) My parents were never married and my father died when I was 2. He was 31-years old.

3) I was adopted by my father’s sister. She would soon divorce her husband whose last name I bear today. I was raised by a single mother.

4) I’m a seventh generation American. One of my 4th great grandfathers came from Germany while another migrated from Sligo, Ireland. My heritage includes heroes and scoundrels. Some of them helped shape the future of the country serving in all ranks in both the War of Independence and the Civil War. Dig deep enough and you probably have them too.

5) I am very much a proud American and a patriot. As long as I can remember that’s always been true. I believe in American Exceptionalism.

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 Decisions

I watched a movie a few nights ago about the writer Ernest Hemingway, probably the most influential writer of his time. Many of his works are considered classics of American literature. In 1964 he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. But despite all his success and fame he was a troubled man. He made some awful decisions. His final one was to end his life with a shotgun.

In poker, decisions really matter. A big part of the game is inducing your opponents to make mistakes. Good and bad decisions can make the difference between sudden death or sitting behind a commanding stack of chips. It’s said, poker is a microcosim of life itself. It’s true and part of the reason I love the game so much. Still to be determined though, is whether my investment in it has been a good… or a bad decision.

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Thoughts on Veterans Day, 2016

A few years ago while working on the campus of the Veteran’s Hospital at American Lake near Tacoma, WA one of the regular staff there, despite my urgings to call me by my first name, refused. It was always “Mr. Gleason.”

When I brought it up at a staff meeting one afternoon, she explained she did it out of a deep-rooted respect for me and my service as a veteran. Her sincere remarks touched me in such a way that it brought tears to my eyes and another in the room later said they could tell I was deeply moved by what had been said. I understood her point of view, but I couldn’t help to think, what’s so special about what I did?

You see, I’ve never looked at my service in the Air Force as a sacrifice, nor was it, by any means, a selfless act. It was among the best years of my life and a tremendous opportunity.

It was a privilege to wear the uniform. I came away from those days and experiences so much more the benefactor. It was not a sacrifice to have served. To the contrary, the sacrifice would have been in not serving.

I was well-paid for those few years with a college education, job and mortgage assistance and even health care. More importantly, I was blessed beyond measure to have been born in this country. It’s the least I could do for it.

If I am a prideful person it’s for two reasons: I’m proud to have served in the military and I am a proud American.

I’m grateful in knowing that I served my country in a righteous cause. As a result I have a profound sense of patriotism and a love for country that touches me to the core. I rarely hear our National Anthem without choking with emotion. My thoughts turn to our flag and all that it represents, and especially to those who gave their lives to preserve freedom around the world providing us, and those less fortunate, with the freedom to choose.

So on this Veterans Day, while I salute all those who took the pledge and wore the uniform I remember those, from a personal perspective, who never returned to their homes and family.

The 6-member crew of a B-52 who frequented our fire station for the “good food,” the F-105 pilot whose ejection seat malfuntioned killing him and another Air Force firefighter on my crew. And then there was a high school classmate killed in the Quang Nam Province of South Vietnam at the age of 18. There were a few others I knew and served with who paid the ultimate price but whose names I don’t now recall. Of course there are tens of thousands more from that era and from various wars and conflicts before and after. It is them I think of today. Any other “sacrifice” pales in comparison.