Music Monday – My Father the Singer, Songwriter

Next Saturday June 17th would be my father’s birthday. I don’t remember him. I was two years old when he died, but I think of him often, a lot more so as I’ve grown older. It seems he’s never far from my thoughts. Over the years I heard a lot about him. Of course he was loved by his family and he exemplified love as a devoted son, brother and uncle. People said he was kind-hearted with a great sense of humor.

Richard Delmont Lines (1924-1955)

Described as tall, good-looking, broad-shouldered and physically strong he was also blessed with musical talent. It was said he was a gifted singer, well versed at playing guitar and a songwriter.

My dad, like his nine other siblings who lived into adulthood, had a rough life growing up. Coming from a broken home, they struggled through the years of the depression. At a very young age they often had to fend for themselves… just to eat. And on occasion some found themselves at odds with the law.

In talking about those days and their tough, undisciplined childhood an uncle described one of his brothers as “one rough character, eleven years old and packing a thirty-eight revolver.” That young boy, through his own determination, overcame those beginnings, and even before the war, was well on the road to turning his life around. He would go on to honorably serve his country as a combat soldier. He was one of the most respected, admired and finest men I’ve ever known.
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Music Monday – Flanders Fields

It was the early days of World War I in the Second Battle near the town of Ypres. A 22-year old Canadian artillery officer, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, was killed, from the explosion of a German artillery shell. He died 102 years ago tomorrow, May 2, 1915.

Ypres a small, ancient Belgian town saw some of the most intense and sustained battles during the war. Helmer was serving in the same Canadian artillery unit as his friend, doctor and artillery commander Major John McCrae.

John McCrea

The son of Scottish immigrants, for McCrea, medicine, the Army and poetry were family traditions.

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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.

Died on the Fourth of July

On this day as we gather our families together with picnics and fireworks to celebrate our country’s independence I can’t help but think of my 2nd great-grandfather Edward Byron Patton. He was 34 years old on this date in 1860. Less than a year later Abraham Lincoln would become president. The father of 4 small children ages 1-6, the youngest, my great grandmother Mary Jane.

Edward Byron Patton

Edward Byron Patton

There was no celebration for Edward or his family on that Fourth of July and I would imagine it was tainted every year after. For on that morning his 27-year old wife Esther passed away. A newspaper account read that so greatly admired was she, and through respect to her memory in their small town, “all patriotic demonstrations were suspended and not an unnecessary sound was heard throughout the day.”

Edward never remarried and over all those years ahead, as a single father, he raised his children. Along the way he became a successful builder and contractor. I can imagine he was a beloved father, grandfather and patriarch.

I often think of what it must have been like for my great grandfather on that solemn day, traditionally set aside for happy celebration. I wonder what it would have been like to have watched him on that day conduct his affairs with the loss of his young wife. He was once a breathing living person, as real as you and I. Not just a name with dates and places among a long list of thousands who came before us. How I would like to set across the table from him and get to know him.

That’s a little of what I think about, every 4th of July.

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