Closed for the Holidaze: Good Feelings Monday, Dec 29 2014 

Delightfully closed for the holidays!

Delightfully closed for the holidays!

If a tree falls in the forest with no one in earshot, does it make any noise?
If the phone on the desk in my abandoned-for-the-holidays office rings in my absence, does it make any noise?

Who knows?

And in this carefree season of ease, who cares? The rude season of work will resume its demands soon enough. I’ll worry about that next week.

Better yet, this close to the liberation of retirement, I won’t worry about it next week. I’ll show up and do what I’m supposed to do, but the proverbial light at the end of this career phase’s tunnel gleams so near that it outshines any gloom that may arise in the closing months.

That’s a real dose of holiday cheer!

Farewell to Nonc Earl Tuesday, Dec 23 2014 

Earlier this fall we bid a sad and unexpected farewell to my wife’s 88 year old Nonc Earl Young. The loss was sad because he left suddenly. In spite of his advanced age, his vigor and vitality to the end appeared so strong that we assumed he would be kicking for years to come. Or at least kicking down here. Given his sturdy faith and secure hope in the Almighty, we well imagine that he’s kicking pretty high in some fragrant field or pasture across the River of Life!

Nonc Earl Young, lovingly remembered as a man of character with a magnificent sense of humor.

Nonc Earl Young, lovingly remembered as a man of character with a magnificent sense of humor.

I met him when I came into the family as an in-law almost 40 years ago, but like all of my wife’s aunts and uncles on the Young side, in-law was as good as blood as far as acceptance. And so he was ever-so friendly, warm, and affable all the years I knew him. In fact, he is easily one of the best-natured, easy-going, pleasant men I’ve known. And he displayed that good nature masterfully with an engaging, shrewd sense of humor that was both wry and dry.   Enriching the effect of his humor, an enduring image that I’ll guard in my memory is that canaille gleam that sparkled in his eye when he would pronounce those prickly witticisms and dry, incisive observations.

Though well-educated and distinguished in a long career as an educator and school administrator, he was folksy, plain-spoken, and homespun. Nothing flashy. When he found out I was learning to speak his native Cajun French, he would converse with me in that musical tongue. He seemed sincerely proud of my effort as an americain to learn his family’s language.

In fact, I recall one memorable linguistic lesson from Nonc Earl sometime around 1976 or 77 when he was the principal at Chataignier High School and I was a student recruiter at Louisiana College. I made a recruiting call at the school, and while it was officially a business call, it was mainly social because I was getting to know my wife’s family–his niece and I were either engaged or just married. Anyway, we made small talk and he showed me around the school. Eventually, we made it to the cafeteria where the lunch room workers were cooking lunch: butter beans on rice. The butter beans were those particularly large beans–I can’t remember what we call them in English, but I can tell you what we call them in Cajun French, for as Nonc Earl explained, Ca c’est des fevres plattes. Yep, in translation, “those are flat beans.” The words rolled off his tongue like lyrics. To this day, I don’t see a dish of fevres plattes without thinking of Nonc Earl.

A World War II Veteran and hero who survived the D-Day Invasion.

A World War II Veteran and hero who survived the D-Day Invasion.

But there are truly better things to remember Nonc Earl for than a pot of butter beans and a wry sense of humor that made folks happy. On a solid base of character and unpretentious manhood, he stood for right things, beginning with God and including family, church, hard work, fields and woods, teaching and learning, and country (Oh, I should mention that he was a World War II D-Day veteran).

In this season of Christmas, the first season his family will miss his presence, no doubt tears will be shed. Tears should be shed, because grief is part of life, a natural response that the Creator instilled within us. But amid the tears, or after the tears, let’s also find joy and hope. Nonc Earl lived long and well. In the manner of his passing, consider all the dubious rites of elderly passage that he trumped: no need to turn over the key to his pickup truck because he could no longer drive, no dimentia, no crippling disability, no bones or organs laced with painful cancer, no need for skilled care or the nursing home. And how many more of old age’s debilitating effects could we add to that list? Yes, Nonc Earl was blessed in life, and now he’s blessed in eternity.

May we all be so blessed, and may his memory blaze warmth in our hearts as we cry a little this season but mostly laugh a lot. Why laugh? Because as believers like Nonc Earl, we invest our faith in the same assurance that captured his heart as a believer. May our own lives be as worthy, as well-lived, and as well-remembered as his when we reach the end of our journeys. Then we’ll meet him again for an eternal reunion in that fabled land of cloudless day.

Et puis en paradis, on va se rejoind’ Nonc Earl et mange un gros bowl des fevres plattes!” (And then in heaven, we’re going to meet Nonc Earl and eat a great big bowl of butterbeans!”)

2014 Nominee for Flower Girl-of-the-Year (and a premonition for the future?) Thursday, Dec 18 2014 

Miss Payton Elizabeth, 2014 Flower Girl of the Year!

Miss Payton Elizabeth, 2014 Flower Girl of the Year!

As this site serves as the repository of memorable times in the life and history of those whose lives and happiness its author values most, and since the photo posted here is irresistible, notwithstanding any bias arising from the fact that the child is a granddaughter, may this post ensure that we remember 2014 as a momentous year for family weddings.  This little princess served in three of those weddings from May to November.

Her at-the-altar performances were dazzling, too.  The six-year old played a stunning little-miss-grownup-priss adorably each time with charm and big-girl poise.

Fast forward 15 or 20 years from now when the ex-flower girl plays the lead role in her own wedding: If my crystal ball tells true (and my own experience as a Father-of-the-Bride clarifies such a vision), her Daddy better start saving some jack . . . soon and often.

Saturday Morning Dogwatch: Marley and the Wolves Saturday, Dec 13 2014 

This morning, a TV wild west nature show ran a segment on wolves, and Marley the Dog was all over it. He studied the wolves in rapt attention. I wonder if he recognized his ancestral kin? When they howled, he was drawn in even more.

But I don’t think it was just the wolves that caught his attention,

Marley's favorite TV shows are animal shows.

Marley’s favorite TV shows are animal shows.

because when the next segment featured wild buffalo, he was just as attentive.

He’s the only dog we’ve owned who watches TV. But his programming taste is not very broad: He only watches animal shows.

Humble Rewards of the Profession: FFA Judging Day Wednesday, Dec 10 2014 

The local district Future Farmers of America chapters came to campus today for their forensic public speaking and parliamentary law competition to determine who will go on to the State competition. I have judged for this December event every year except one for the past 18 years.

IMG_1703The young lady in the picture with me is a darling story. In the very first of those FFA competitions we hosted 18 or 19 years ago, she was a high school sophomore and a competitor in the events. I’m pretty sure I judged her at least once in those years. She competed again her junior and senior years and then attended LSU Eunice after she graduated from high school. For the two years she was a student, she served as a student worker in my office, one of my staff’s absolutely favorite and most beloved student workers of all time. She finished her associate degree and continued at LSU where she earned her bachelor’s degree in Vocational Agriculture Education and became a high school agriculture teacher in a local school. She began bringing

    her

FFA students to the competition every December. She also continued in graduate school, earning her Masters degree several years ago, and she’s continuing yet as in a Ph.D. program at LSU. We’re proud of this young lady!

I made the photo in my office this afternoon, careful to frame my FFA State Award plaque on the wall in the background. One of the local Ag sponsors nominated me for that prestigious honor in 2010. Personally, that’s the highest recognition I’ve received in nearly 28 years in public education, since the FFA meant much to me in my high school days.

In fact, today I showed off to the high school students the national blue and corn gold FFA jacket that I wore to the national FFA Convention in 1969. They seemed impressed that a 60+ year old dude still had his FFA jacket, and it looked in as good a condition as theirs.

And, how coincidental that one of the speech contestants I judged referenced in her speech the historic 1969 national convention (I was there!) when the contentious vote to make FFA coeducational passed and opened membership in the formerly all-male organization to girls. I had forgotten that such an historic issue was resolved in the assembly I attended. I can’t remember if I voted or not, but I’m glad it passed. My assistant and I would have missed out on Tiffany.

Last Day of Class: Happy endings? Not quite. Friday, Dec 5 2014 

Today is the umpteenth last day of class in the umpteenth semester I’ve taught English composition. So today is the umpteenth time I teased a charming roomful of students gathering for the last time with the farewell address that opens like this: “Of all the classes I’ve taught over the years, I want y’all to know that (pause for dramatic effect) . . . you’re one of them.”

The electronic age has not diminished the need to grade papers, but its technology does let you know where you stand as you grade paper by paper.  Consolation?  No.

The electronic age has not diminished the need to grade papers, but its technology does let you know where you stand as you grade paper by paper. Consolation? No.

Of course, I go on to assure them that I’m making a good-natured joke and that they really DO have a special place in my heart for no other reason than that they were students whose lives and careers and minds (and hopefully hearts) I reached in some way.

This last-day-of-class every semester always yields a post-partum effect. It’s a bittersweet moment after the stretching and reaching and striving that I exert in teaching and which most of them exert in learning: bitter insofar as this commingled set of relationships, tempered by the fire and trial of group endeavor, is ending; sweet insofar as I’ll be free next week and thereafter at this hour on this class’s meeting days.

Of course, the day is also bitter because now multiple sections have just turned in multiple sets of long, complex papers that require critical reading for grading. That’s no fun at all.

No, true happiness (from release from classwork) won’t arrive until the following week when the last paper is graded and the last final grade is submitted. Then we’ll celebrate a happy ending.

At least until next semester starts next month in the rolling cycle of the academy.

Turn out the lights, the party’s over: Empty nest’s holiday hangover Monday, Dec 1 2014 

A holiday with a wedding with a full-scale family gathering this past week-end overwhelmed us  as we daily scurried up and down Highway 13 Thursday through Sunday, starting with a happy Thanksgiving afternoon chill-out with the bride’s family down on the bayou, picking oranges to pass the hours until time for the rehearsal and rehearsal supper Friday, regaling amid wondrous enchantment at the ceremony and reception Saturday, meeting the newlyweds for brunch the morning after as they prepared for honeymoon departure. . . Those were full, gratifying days that we’ll never relive: days to be coveted, memories to be savored.

The fellowship of family and friends blesses richly. How melancholy when the company's gone!

The fellowship of family and friends blesses richly. How melancholy when the company’s gone!

But none of our rushed, four-day agenda seemed quite so overwhelming as coming home for lunch today to a strange, quiet, empty house.  We were accustomed to the friendly din of reunion in those frantic days: running the bedrooms and baths at full-occupancy with kids and spouses, a delightfully-noisy grand kid, and the two nastily-spoiled dogs who spent  hours inside underfoot  as the center of the house-guests’  attention.

But the last couple left early this morning, so the nest is void . . .  again.

Notably, this weekend’s partings are unique in our experience as parents because this was the first time the whole gang reassembled under their home roof since they both moved out of state, farther away than ever.  So the parting was more somber, lonelier.  The only ones that didn’t leave were the blasted dogs–we’re stuck with them.

As a result, today in the still aftermath, we are hung over.  Not from intoxicating drink, but from intoxicating company, the love of family, and the fellowship of friends.

We’ll get the hang of this empty nest back in time, I’m sure, but it may take a few more daze.