THE LONG AND THE SHORT OF IT

“You are the hero of your own journey.”

Joesph Campbell, author

The year was 1961, I was ten years old. And Jerry Lucas was my hero. He played center on The Ohio State University Basketball Team. I practiced basketball sunup till sundown. I wanted to be a super sports star like Mr. Lucas. He was 6 feet 8 inches tall. I wanted to be that tall too, so I ask my mother to pull on my legs as I held on to the staircase banister in the hope that it would stretch my legs and make me taller.

Many years later I had the honor of meeting Jerry Lucas and telling him about my quest to be a sports legend like him. When I explained what I had ask my Mother to do, I looked up at his 6 foot eight inch height as he looked down at my 5 foot ten inch height.

“I see it It didn’t work,” he said.

We both laughed. I shook his hand and thanked him for his inspiration and a head full of happy memories.

Author and speaker Steve Chandler has this advice, “Don’t look at your heroes, look inside your heroes.”

Even more important than talent is the quality of passion. As gifted as he was at the game, if Jerry Lucas didn’t like playing basketball no one would have ever heard of him. And if you don’t have that same kind of passion for what you’re doing then it’s time for some soul searching. What you want to be doing is what you ought to be doing. And you should be doing it with all your heart and soul fueling that passion with determination.

That brings me to another hero from my childhood. Before there was Jerry Lucas in the 60s, there was Chief Don Eagle in the 50s. He a wrestler, an Indian with a genuine Mohawk Haircut. One of his arch rivals was the infamous Gorgeous George. The chief was very clever and fun to watch. But sometimes the villain he was wrestling would appear to be getting the best of him. Now came the part of the match I had been waiting for since the start.

Chief Don Eagle would get mad. And I do mean mad. With the fans cheering him on, including me with a ringside seat in front of the television, he would perform a war dance. At this time, If his opponent had any sense at all, he would jump out of the ring. When the chief caught up with him, it was game over for the villain.

Whether it’s running a marathon race, baking a prize winning cake, or playing the violin, you have to have what the pundits call, “A Fire In The Belly.” And with that fire you give your chosen endeavor your best and leave nothing in the locker room – you’re still a winner no matter what the scoreboard or the judges say.

 

 

 

A TALE OF TWO TILLIES

“It was a dark and stormy night.”

Snoopy, famous beagle and would be author

“Everybody loves a clown.”

Gary Lewis and the Playboys, rock and roll band

 

At Pickerington High School my senior year, Mrs. Tillie Brooks taught two subjects. The first subject, business and accounting, she taught to all students. The second subject, compassion, as far as I know she taught only me.

The dictionary definition of compassion is, “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.”

To set the stage let me tell you that I had a troubled youth. I struggled in school and with life. My solution, I thought at the time, was to enlist in the Marines. This was 1970 and the Vietnam War was still front page news. My future did not look all that rosy.

I needed to pass Mrs. Brooks class in order to receive my diploma. And from all indications, it wasn’t going to happen. But Tillie Brooks, the teacher famous for you get what you earn and you earn what you get, stepped in with a new plan of action. Allowing me to do some extra work and fudging my grade a bit, my grade card showed a C for compassion in accounting.

 

*            *            *

My name is Jerry Lee Snider. People ask me if I was named after the rock and roll legend, Jerry Lee Lewis. The answer is no. I was born before Mr. Lewis became famous. My grandmother named me Jerry Lee in honor of two of her favorite entertainers. They were Jerry Byrd and Ernie Lee. Mr Byrd played steel guitar on several recordings by Hank Williams Senior including the hits, I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry and Lovesick Blues. He also worked with Dolly Parton and Pasty Cline. Ernie Lee was the singing host of several radio shows in the 40s and 50s.

And that brings us to Tillie number two.

She called me Joey.

I was very young and she was very scary.  And no matter how many times or who in the family corrected her and told her my name was Jerry, to Aunt Tillie I was still Joey.

Turns out Aunt Tillie was a prophet.

A clown is a comical, silly, playful person.

And in circus lingo clowns are called Joeys in honor of Joseph Grimaldi a famous actor, comedian, and clown from England.

I consider my life mission to create hope and laughter.  And every morning I stand in front of a mirror with a red clown nose on and say, “Today I’m going to make someone glad they met me.”

After this ritual, the nose goes back in my bathrobe pocket. But the spirit of the gesture stays with ms. So be on the look out for me.

I guess Aunt Tillie did okay. She knew something all those years ago that the rest of the world would wait to discover.

 

“A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.”

Proverbs 17:22

 

 

STARTING WITH HENRY

“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact.

Everything we see is perspective, not the truth.”

Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor

We live in Ohio. Our daughter, son-in-law, and grandson live in California. In order to feel connected, I watch the KTLA  newscast live streaming on the internet from Los Angeles. So part of my day begins with the friendly hijinks of Henry Di Carlo, the early morning weatherman. Earthquakes, fires, and mudslides. With a little help from the rest of the news anchors, Henry handles the bad news with compassion and concern. If the forecast is bright, Henry is a lot of fun to be around. However, it seems to me that, when choosing to have a good day or a bay day, a whole lot of people give their power to decide away to folks like Henry.

From a young child and all along the way to the 66 years I am now, I have come to expect the weather to be a conversation starter with just about anyone I’m chatting with. For some people; It’s too hot or too cold, there is too much rain or not enough rain. The frost is too early or the frost is too late – Either way we’re screwed. And so it goes.

But my favorite kind of people to chum with are the folks who know where to find an umbrella, a raincoat, rowboat, surf board, sun glasses, or a pair of snowshoes. Maybe they can’t do anything about the weather but they can make some attitude adjustments.

Once upon a time there was a flood. And as floods go, it was pretty bad. The rain kept coming down and the water was rising fast. People started gathering on the roof of one house and waited to be rescued. They soon became fascinated with a hat going back and forth in the water. Finally a little old lady stood up and said, “Don’t worry about that hat. It’s my husband. He said that today, come hell or high water, he was going to mow the grass.”

“Each of us makes his own weather, determines the color of the skies in the emotional universe which he inhabits.”

Bishop Fulton Sheen, theologian

We need Henry Di Carlo and all the other weather watchers. We need their help in planning what to wear and figuring how long it will take us to get to work. We don’t need their help in deciding what to think. In fact, the weather can come along and take everything material thing you own – your house, your car, your swing set and your George Foreman grill. Guess what, you’re still the proud owner of your attitude. And we still have each other.

“Happy trails to you, until we meet again.

Happy trails to you, keep smiling until then.

Who cares about the clouds when we’re together?

Just sing a song and bring the sunny weather.

Happy trails to you, until we meet again.”

Dale Evans and Roy Rogers

 

A REALLY BIG SHOW

“Patience is bitter, but it’s fruit is sweet.”

Aristotle, philosopher

 

Twenty-two years after graduation, at age 40, I was just about ready to give up on the idea of being in a high school play, but as the great Winston Churchill said, “Never, never, never, never give up!”

The dream lived on.

When my daughter was cast in her school’s production of Bye Bye Birdie, I remarked to some of her friends that I’d like to play the part of Ed Sullivan. After all, I’d been preparing for the role most of my life.

I grew up watching Ed Sullivan. If you were looking for me on Sunday night, chances are pretty good you would find me in front of the television watching his show. Dancers, puppets, bears, dogs, jugglers, comics, actors, singers, and sports heroes; Ed Sullivan had them all. Any performer knew they had made it if they landed a guest appearance on his show.

What was the secret of his appeal?

Most folks say he made it look like anyone could do his job.

He often made mistakes, fumbled names and tripped over announcements. He was a happy man, but had a stiff cardboard appearance that made him look like he was wearing his jacket with the coat hanger still inside. He was an entertainer everyone could enjoy and his show was safe for the whole family. A lot of people made an attempt at imitating him. Some professionals even made a living at it, I got pretty good at being Ed Sullivan.

“Now right here on our stage…a really big shoe! (show always sounded like shoe when Ed said it.)

The Upper Arlington high school production of Bye Bye Birdie went into rehearsal without me. I went back to minding my own business and occasionally acted like Ed for my own amusement.

As a wise man said long ago, “Be careful what you ask for. You might get it.”

I wouldn’t say they were desperate, but opening night was only a week away and they still hadn’t cast the role of Ed Sullivan. The kids didn’t forget me. They told the director about my aspiration. A short time later, opportunity dialed my phone number and I was on my way. The play called for Ed to deliver a few short lines of introduction. This would take place off stage, while some scenery was moved. In other words, the audience would never see Ed, only hear him.

The director recited over the phone what lines were required and I copied them down. Next, I moved into the recording studio. To the average pair of eyes, it may have looked like a cheap recorder in a bathroom, but to me, it was Broadway. After a couple of rehearsals, I cued the record button. A couple of nights later, by way of tape recorder, I was performing in the play.

Now let me borrow a line from Robert Schuller: “God’s delays are not God’s denials.”

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NEW NEIGHBORS

“All I can say about life is, Oh God, enjoy it.”

Bob Newhart, comedian and actor

 

It’s Summer 1962 – I’m eleven years old.

A young couple, about to be married, were buying a house directly across the street from where my family lived. The groom politely asked if he could use our telephone. I remember he was very tall like Jerry Lucas the basketball player for Ohio State who was my hero at the time. My brother John also noticed the resemblance. We were introduced to the man. He looked happy. I don’t remember his name.

What I do remember, as if it just happened yesterday, was my mother calling me to the kitchen. She had a newspaper spread out on the table. Pointing to a picture of a mangled semi-truck and car –  she asked, “Do you remember that nice man that used the phone a few days ago?”

I nodded my head indicating I did.

“He was killed in this crash.

She was crying now.

I sat quietly with her for a short time then returned my attention to the television in another room.

*            *            *

I have a long list of things to thank my Mother for. At the top of the list are the gift of life, marrying my Father and sharing that newspaper story about the terrible accident that took away happily ever after from our new neighbors. With 65 years in the rear view mirror of my life I’m ever mindful of how blessed the road has been for me. With the passing of time, even the most difficult and devastating events have turned out to be preparation for bigger and better things.

I’m still here.

Forward march!

*            *            *

Imagine there is a bank account each morning with $86,400.

It carries over no balance from day-to-day.

Every evening the bank deletes whatever part of the balance you failed to use during the day.

What would you do?

Draw out every cent, of course?

Each of us has such a bank.

It’s name is time.

Every morning, it credits you with 86,000 seconds.

Every night it writes off as lost, whatever of this you have failed to invest to a good purpose.

It carries over no balance.

It allows no over draft.

Each day it opens a new account for you.

Each night it burns the remains of the day.

If you fail to use the day’s deposits, the loss is yours.

There is no drawing against “tomorrow.”

You must live in the present on today’s deposits.

Invest it so as to get from it the utmost in health, happiness and success.

The clock is running.

Make the most of today.”

Anonymous

*            *            *

And about those days when it’s not going so great. I believe that even in our darkest moments we are not here to be punished. We are here to serve. Someone needs your smile and encouragement today. Make it your business to find them.

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+THE SECOND ACT

I can appreciate awful people.

Without them I wouldn’t know how thankful I am for wonderful people

Anonymous

This story is about a butt-head, a dinner plate, and a night at the theatre.

A butt-head is someone who isn’t very nice.

When I add up my blessings, I always add the butt-heads of the world to my list. They are great teachers for how I don’t want to be and act.

A dinner plate is most often 10 inches in diameter and used for the main course of a meal.

I enjoy eating and especially eating off a plate.

A theatre is a building or outdoor area where plays are performed.

Watching a good play has always been fun.

And so two of my favorite pastimes, (eating and watching a play) came together long ago at a place called, The Country Dinner Playhouse.

The third part of the equation, watching the butt-head perform, was an unexpected bonus I call The Second Act.

This drama took place over forty years ago but the lesson it taught me remains steadfast in my memory – especially at dinner time when I have a plate in front of me.

Let the show begin.

My Mother won four tickets to a play. My Father, a truck driver, was on his way to Chicago. I was conscripted for the job of chauffeur. My Mother, my wife, my Aunt Lucy and myself were set for a night on the town. We were going to see Sheila MacRae starring in The Owl and the Pussycat.

But first, dinner.

And here comes the butt-head.

Before the play begins there is a large dinner buffet set up in the center of the room surrounded by tables. When the meal is over the buffet is wheeled away and that space is used for the show. A waitress moves from table to table letting people know when it’s their turn to visit the buffet.

About a dozen tables from where we sat the butt-head in our story decided he and his friends were not being served fast enough. I couldn’t hear what was being said but after a short visit with the manager, the butt-head and his guests headed to the buffet. Butt-head stacked his plate with food three times higher than a normal serving. His guests slowly followed. It didn’t take an Einstein to read their embarrassment.

And it didn’t get any better. Butt-head made two more trips to the buffet, using his fork like a bayonet. His friends made only that first trip and slowly ate their meal with heads down and no conversation. During the show, while the rest of the audience was laughing, they didn’t respond. With gloom, they made a slow exit at the end of the evening.

What happened next?

We’ll never know.

My prayer is that butt-head apologized to his friends, changed his attitude, and found some joy in his next trip to the theatre.

And I apologize for calling him a butt-head.

 

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WHERE’S THE REAL ONE?

“We know what we are, but no not what we may be.”

 William Shakespeare, playwright

 

“Let me hear you say, Ho Ho Ho.”

I went along with the request from my friend, Gary. Then on my own added, “Merry Christmas.”

I had with me a church bulletin which carried an appeal for someone to be Santa Claus in the Christmas program. The interesting thing about the ad was that they wanted as many Santas as they could recruit.

“Go for it!” Gary said.

In the middle of bumping into shoppers and stringing decorations, my friend and I were sharing holiday memories.

“You won’t believe the feeling. It’s magic when you put on a Santa suit,” Gary said.

His eyes were twinkling. I could see the transformation in him as he relived the role of Santa Claus.

He spared no detail in describing the process of getting into costume, that first look in the mirror and the excitement that filled the faces of the children he met. By the time he finished talking, he had completely sold me on the idea that my next acting role had to be Jolly Ole Santa.

Finding the costume was no problem and the magic began to work as soon as I took it out of the bag. For the church program, we ended up with a total of three Santas. The children were assembled on stage. They had a few lines of dialogue between the songs they were singing. The kids were talking about where they had spotted Santa that day.

“How could he be here and how could he be there at the same time?” they wondered.

While they were bouncing this question back and forth, we three Santas were passing out candy in the audience. Our backs were turned to each other until we collided in the middle of the room. At that point, we turned and jumped in surprise as the children began singing, “Where’s the real one?”

It was fun – a lot of fun. Gary was right.

I highly recommend that everyone put on a Santa suit at least once in their lifetime. If there are any psychiatrists or other mental health workers reading this who are currently treating someone for depression, take note. To your list of treatments, add dressing up like Santa Claus. You can’t but feel good. If you do nothing more than look at yourself in the mirror and Ho Ho Ho around the house all day, it’s worth your time and energy.

Merry Christmas!

 

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