The Saturday Morning Post© 2017

“Fear can make you stronger.”
Anonymous

The Corn Maze

When my twin girls were eleven, we went on a cold and blustery night to the corn maze at Pierce College, with their friend, Nicole. Tall and thick and waiving in the breeze, the maze covered a couple of acres, and we had a good time trying to find our way around and at last out the exit.

After loading up on popcorn and sugary drinks, they said, “We want to go in the Scary Maze.” On the car ride over, they talked mostly about the Scary Maze and how they would never set foot in there, too creepy.

“Are you sure?” I asked, and all three shook their sugar-charged heads yes, but on one condition, that I would go with them. My wife wouldn’t be going, she doesn’t like that sort of stuff. So off we four went to The Scary Maze.

Unlike the traditional maze, the line was long and filled with teenagers eagerly expecting the wits to be scared out of them.

At last, we entered the maze through a wall of dry ice smoke. All three of the girls hid behind me clinging to my T-shirt as though their lives depended on it. One hung on the left, one on the right, and one in the middle. My shirt was stretched out like a laundry sheet as I staggered through the maze.

For the first ten feet of utter darkness, nothing happened. Then, a flash of light! A deranged looking creature charged towards us and disappeared just as quickly. Others rushed across our path, fore and aft, screeching and whispering horrible things. And so it went, me lurching along with the three girls grappling behind, screaming all the way. Uh, they were screaming, not me. Occasionally, I nearly punched one or two of the crazed zombies coming at us from every direction, but I managed to resist the temptation.

Finally, we made it to the exit and back into the real world. The girls untangled their fingers from my stretched-out shirt and chattered excitedly among themselves about their experience.

“It wasn’t too scary?” I asked.

“No, it was hardly scary at all,” they replied. “We had our eyes shut the whole time!”

The Saturday Morning Post© 2017

“If you’re worried about what other people think of you,
just remember this, most people are more concerned with
their slightest headache than with news of your impending death.”
Norman Vincent Peale

Thinking of You

People generally don’t notice things. If you had a bird on your head, they probably wouldn’t notice it. Give it a try. Get a bird to land on your head and see what happens.

Kids, the more aware they become, are endlessly concerned that their parents will embarrass them, and the younger me used to worry about this too. But that concern gradually passed, as I observed that those around me didn’t seem to notice the occasional faux pas on my part either.

My sister had a boyfriend named Ruben, who had a beard. Ruben went away on a two-week trip and, while gone, shaved the beard but kept the mustache. When he returned, my sister picked him up at the airport and the first words out of her mouth were, “You grew a mustache!”

While we are on the subject of facial hair, my first beard appeared in my early twenties when I lived at home with my parents. On impulse, I shaved it off one morning and came out to breakfast. My parents were at the kitchen table, and we had a lively conversation though neither of them noticed that their only son was now beardless. I left the room momentarily, gathered the clippings in a plastic bag, returned and casually tossed the bag on the kitchen table. I thought my parents might want to put it in my baby book. They looked from the baggie to my face a couple of times and then said, “Oh, you shaved!”

A few years ago, while on a summer study group trip in Florida with my pals Matt and Kevin and Marc, we played golf in 180-degree weather, or maybe that was just the humidity. Matt and I grew tired of playing, while Kevin and Marc were still intent on the game. So, Matt and I teed off on the next hole and got back in our cart. Kevin and Marc kept on playing, while Matt and I headed unnoticed to the shade of the next palm tree. As we approached the green, Matt and I threw our golf balls onto the green and putted out. We did this for the rest of the round, and Kevin and Marc never noticed our altered form of play.

In his entertaining book, Rules for Aging, Roger Rosenblatt enumerates fifty-eight rules for aging well. Rule 2, Nobody is thinking about you, reads:

“Yes, I know, you are certain that your friends are becoming your enemies; that your grocer, garbageman, clergyman, sister-in-law, and your dog are all of the opinion that you have put on weight, that you have lost your touch, that you have lost your mind; furthermore, you are convinced that everyone spends two-thirds of every day commenting on your disintegration and denigrating your work. I promise you: Nobody is thinking about you. They are thinking about themselves–just like you.”

That pretty much says it all.

The Saturday Morning Post© 2017

“Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Public Speaking

I began in the insurance business when I was twenty-seven. As I look back on my path, I felt as though I knew nothing and nobody. But thanks to many mentors, and learning from great speakers at industry events, I succeeded. When a friend suggested that I take the Dale Carnegie Public Speaking Course, memories flooded in of the talk I gave in church as a twelve-year-old and the surprising realization that knees really can shake in fear.

Frankly, the Dale Carnegie course sounded antiquated and unlikely to benefit me. I looked around for other classes or resources that might help me improve my public speaking skills and didn’t find much.

So, I enrolled somewhat hesitantly in the fourteen-week Dale Carnegie course, which was at least close to my house, in a conference room at the local Holiday Inn. There were about twenty students, mostly young, from all walks of life, including a young woman who worked at a local gas station.

The course, taught by Jay Houseman, was terrific, even if a bit frightening. Jay was an enthusiastic teacher and as good as any college professor. He shared much about himself and the skills needed to speak in public.

We were given all of the Dale Carnegie books and were required to read each over the fourteen weeks. Dale had begun teaching his course in 1912, at the YMCA in New York City, where he was living, broke at the time. He created the course in trade for his food and lodging at the Y. Dale’s greatest book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, has been in continuous print for over eighty years, a masterpiece about relating to others. It is still extraordinarily relevant.

Each night of the course, we were required to give a two- to five-minute speech in front of the class on a subject assigned the week before. Our speeches were then evaluated by the instructor and the class, and the best speech was awarded a nice-looking two-dollar pen.

Each week came and went with fearful young speakers, including me, rambling their way through brief talks on random subjects. And each week, I came home without a prize, though, as the weeks went by, we all became better speakers.

One evening, Jay announced that the next week’s speaking topic was thinking on your feet and that we would have no advance notice on what we were to speak about. When it came time to speak, there was a hat filled with index cards. We drew a card two minutes before our own two-minute talk, and mine simply stated, Appliances. I felt my spirits sink, but then had an idea. And this is what I said, more or less, in my speech.

“I got tired of opening my garage door when I came home from work and decided to buy and automatic garage door opener at Home Depot and install it myself. I mean, I’m pretty handy, and how hard could it be, right? It was hard, and took me all day to do it. When the grand moment came to open my garage door electronically, I was excited. An of image of life of comparative ease lay before me as I pushed the button. The door stayed where it was, though there was a lot of noise coming from above. I looked up just in time to see the garage door opener itself raise slowly to the ceiling. I pushed the button again, and it went back to its original position. The garage door didn’t move at all and seemed to be mocking me. I tried it again with the same effect.

I went inside and called Frank Dettenmaier, my lifelong friend and handyman. Frank came over the next day and did what handymen do, and in about an hour everything was working properly. The mockery was over. Now the garage door and opener knew who was boss, and it was Frank, but I got to enjoy the benefits.”

I got a nice round of applause…and the two-dollar pen!

That class has served me well over the years. I have spoken in public hundreds of times since then, and the skills I learned in that humble class have greatly expanded my opportunities. I overcame my fear of public speaking and gained confidence when I sorely needed it.

By the way, the young woman from the gas station was easily the most frightened speaker in our group. She went on to become very successful in her own right.

The Saturday Morning Post© 2017

“One cannot plan for the unexpected.”
Aaron Klug

Jim and the Lion

Way up in the forest, and miles from nearly anything else, stood The Christmas Tree Restaurant on a long slow curve of Highway 27. When we were up at Aunt Janice and Uncle Gordon’s cabin, our parents would take all us kids to The Christmas Tree for dinner as a treat. I loved the food, the crackling fire and picturesque views, the rustic atmosphere and the wild animals outside.

Gloria Michael owned The Christmas Tree, and she lived with her family in a house set back from the restaurant. She was a wonderful hostess, great cook and friend to small children and exotic cats. Gloria had an African lion and a jaguar in enclosures next to the restaurant. The lion could be seen from the window of the restaurant, pacing in his cage while waiting for his dinner.

In those days, the grown-ups would dress up for dinner, moms in dresses and dads in sport coats and ties. I remember one evening when Uncle Jim and Aunt Patsy were there. After dinner, Jim went outside to have a closer look at the lion, or perhaps to have a smoke. We could see Jim from our table, while he and the lion looked at each other.

Jim was facing away from the window and suddenly jumped back and danced all around like he was being attacked by a swarm of bees. But there were no bees, nor anything else but Jim and the lion looking back at him.

Big cats rule, and they also spray to mark their territory, and that lion decided to mark Jim. So, dinner ended a bit abruptly, with no time for desert. Our car ride back up the mountain to the cabin was cold, with all the windows down, but filled with laughter, including Jim’s.

The Saturday Morning Post© 2017

“The most important thing you or I will ever do,
is within the walls of our own homes.”
Harold B. Lee

Mary McMurrin Frazee

My mom was an awesome mom. She had been a fashion model as a teenager and through her twenties. They wanted her to be a movie star, but it wasn’t what she wanted.

She and my Aunt Mary were great pals who met in junior high. Mom and Aunt Mary went to USC together. As my mom told it, they always got to school late and had to repark the other cars to make room for their own. That was easy to do in those days, because everyone left the keys in their cars.

Aunt Mary had two brothers, John and Harry. When Harry came back from the war, he noticed his kid sister’s best friend had grown up a lot, and they began dating, fell in love and were married, for sixty-eight years. They spent most of those years buying and selling antiques, their great passion. Everyone in our family and most of our friends have a house full of antiques that came through my parent’s garage, affectionately named, “The Store.”

She loved to decorate her home and prune in her yard, which was easily the best-looking on the street. She had more than a green thumb and would spend many hours every week attending to her beloved yard. I bought her a t shirt with an image of her leaning way into the junipers with the clippers. The caption under the picture read, “I’d rather be pruning.”

She survived breast cancer at forty-nine. Having lived to eighty-seven, she always encouraged other women facing similar challenges, assuring them that they could survive it as she had.

Mom always taught me the importance of knowing how to behave, as she put it. For her, good manners made a big difference. She tutored me daily, until I left home. And she was right, good manners do count. But it was really her example that had the biggest influence on me. She was charming and elegant and knew more about both sides of our family than most everyone else put together. It was her love of family and family stories that most inspired me to be a writer and share those stories with my kids.

She had vision and loved to talk about her plans for the future. She believed in me and thought I would make a great doctor, lawyer, psychologist, college professor, all of which I aspired to at one time or another. Her confidence in me gave me confidence in myself. But she did worry about me as I went off on my latest outdoor adventure and would say, “Be safe and don’t do anything dangerous.”

My mom was the single most important person in the development of my faith, which has seen me through my life. She was my best audience and laughed at my first attempts to be funny, telling homemade jokes and stories. And she forgave me quickly when I misbehaved. I knew that I was loved, and that has made all the difference.

Growing up, I wondered whom I would marry, where she was and what she was doing right then. One thing I knew for sure, she would have deep faith, be compassionate and well-mannered, with a love of family and friends. That describes my wife, and I am so thankful for her.

Thank you, Mom, for showing me the way. I will always be grateful.

The Saturday Morning Post© 2017

“Life is an exciting business.”
Helen Keller

Snake Hunting

Warning: Don’t read this post if you don’t like snakes. You won’t like them any better after you read this.

Snake Hunting is an interesting hobby. As a kid I used to catch snakes for fun. Usually they were garter, gopher or king snakes. And I caught them up with my friends and cousins at Lake Tahoe or near our home in Tarzana which was somewhat rural at the time. We kept them a couple of hours or days at most and then let them go as none of them would eat in captivity.

Once my cousin Stephen and I were riding our bikes at his house and we thought we saw a garden hose moving across the width of the driveway. We realized it was a gopher snake and was at least eight feet long. We raced up and grabbed it with all four hands but it outsmarted us. The snake wrapped itself up tightly in the very dense bushes next to the driveway and was loudly hissing at us. That scared us as we kept looking back at its tail to make sure there were no rattles. Gopher snakes and rattlers can look a lot alike. As a matter of fact sometimes a gopher snake will hit its tail against leaves to imitate the sound of a rattle snake in hopes of scaring away predators. The hissing worked pretty well on us. Every time we gave an inch it would get further into the bushes and we realized we would never get it out without hacking up the bushes so we let him go. That was the longest snake I’ve ever seen outside a zoo.

As a Boy Scout I was running down a trail in the Angeles Forest and noticed that my next step was going to land on a rattlesnake sunning itself in the middle of the trail. Mid-stride I kept my front foot stretched out as far as I could and somehow my momentum flew me over the snake. I just kept running and never looked back.

Over the years I would see a rattlesnake, sometimes on horseback and would quickly move away from it. When Liz and I were engaged to be married, we participated in Engaged Encounter through our church at a retreat center way up in the hills of Santa Barbara. On a break we walked down the long and remote driveway. On the way back up Liz was a few steps in front of me. I suddenly yelled, “Stop, back up!” Thankfully she did and the five-foot-long rattle snake directly in her path and just the color of asphalt made the rest of his way across the road.

When we move to our current home seventeen years ago our relationship with snakes changed quite a lot. Our property backs up to what is known around here as the Ahmanson Ranch 15,000 acres of open space which is now a state park.

We get lots of unusual visitors, racoons, skunks, possums, deer and even a mountain lion, though that was long ago. Yesterday our twenty-two year old son was up early and saw six coyotes standing together on the hillside behind our house. He hopped the fence and they dispersed. But not so with rattlesnakes, they tend to work their way into our yard and hide under piles of rocks are in the bushes because there are lots of little critters that get their attention.

A couple weeks ago our gardener Jared came in to my office which is in our guesthouse and said he’d caught a pretty big rattlesnake. We have a snake grabber that we bought online for just such a purpose. You might think we just kill the rattlesnakes but I don’t want to do that.

Jared had already put him into the large trashcan. Jared used the snake grabber to lift him up so we could take a good look at him and determine if he was the same one we caught two weeks ago. After close examination, we decided he wasn’t as the pattern and the rattles were slightly different.

My assistants Eileen and Caleb came out to have a closer look and I snapped the photo. I’d like to say that Eileen was standing as close as it looks she’s really about three or four feet back from the snake. Eileen is quite an adventurer herself having just come back from vacation in the Dominican Republic, the day after the hurricane came by.

So what do we do with all these snakes? If you figure three a year, and it’s more than that, we’ve caught over fifty rattle snakes over the last seventeen years.

We put them in a small metal trashcan with a tight lid. That’s can be a bit tricky as sometimes they don’t want to stay in. But once we get the lid on they quiet down. I then seatbelt the trashcan into the backseat of my SUV. Safety first you know!

And we relocate them to what we call Rattle Snake Alley, which is really one of several open spaces miles away. Once there I tip the can on its side and kick off the lid and away they go. I’m pretty sure the snakes like that and so do we. They can’t get back to our house and they’re free to live out their life doing whatever snakes do somewhere else.

So, just another day in our backyard. For a video of a previous relocation click below.

 

 

The Saturday Morning Post© 2017

“I am not what happens to me, I am what I choose to become.”
Carl Jung

Scouting

If you have the gift of reading someone’s feelings from the expression on his face, you might decipher mine in the photo above. Standing on our driveway, about to depart to Scout Camp for a week, this was my first trip away, at age twelve, away from family.

Notice the virtual emptiness of my backpack, compared with the full duffle bag. I packed my backpack, and my mom packed the duffle bag. I did not want to take the duffle bag, packed with spare shirts, socks, underwear and even pre-addressed and stamped postcards. My parents meant well, but I thought it was embarrassing to take so much stuff along for a week of sleeping on the ground with the guys. Thus, the forlorn look on my face. As much as I protested, my mom made me take the duffle bag along.

As I recall, I wore some of the clothes in my backpack and never even opened the duffle bag. But I accomplished something at Lake Ida that I was proud of for years, the one-mile swim, following behind a rowboat. My son, John, did the same thing at Emerald Bay, in the ocean, years later when he was a Scout.

At Emerald Bay, on Catalina Island, John’s troop camped across the dirt road from the showers, and I don’t think any kid on the trip ever saw the inside of that building.
Boys of a certain age like to get and to stay dirty, especially if there are no girls around to impress, quickly descending to the lowest common denominator, dirt.

I talked John into joining the Scouts, because I wanted him to have the same wonderful experiences in the outdoors that I remembered. He wanted to quit when all it seemed to be was a troop meeting on Monday nights in the rec room of a local church. But then came his first campout with his pals, and he was hooked. Eventually, I became Scoutmaster, but it was John who went all the way to Eagle, as did many of his closest friends.

Our big adventure in scouting was our trip to Philmont Ranch, 250,000 acres of wilderness in New Mexico. We spent fourteen days on the trail, carrying all our food and supplies in fifty-pound backpacks. Our highest camp was at 11,000 feet, and our longest day was nineteen miles, an unforgettable time together.

I read somewhere that over sixty percent of women leaders were Scouts, and nearly all the astronauts have been Eagle Scouts.

My fellow Scoutmaster, Jeff Gunn, who was Scoutmaster of two troops, said, “Ya gotta’ get ’em to Eagle before the fumes get ’em. I had no idea what he meant. He explained, “Yeah, perfumes and car fumes.”

Jeff had another saying I liked, which was, “If it ain’t fun, why do it?” I had a great time in scouting and learned a lot about life outdoors. So did John, pretty good stuff for a couple of city kids. But Jeff was right about the fumes, they got to me long before I got anywhere near Eagle.

The Saturday Morning Post© 2017

“Well, doggies!”
Jed Clampett

Parenthood

Our son John turned twenty-two last Sunday. And as we were driving to church with him and our girls, we were reminiscing about the day he was born. John is our firstborn, and we have twin fifteen-year old girls too.

As I thought back on that day and our expectancy of it, I remembered I used to sing to my wife’s tummy, nearly every night. I wanted him to get used to the sound of my voice, and it was such a joyful time and a way for me to connect with him before he was born.

For some reason, lost in the mists of time, I sang The Beverly Hillbillies theme song to him. Perhaps, I chose it because the song is basically a story, or because the Clampetts arrive in Beverly Hills in an old car, and I am an old-car guy. The song is funny and fits the range of my voice as well. Years before, Liz and I even went to a Halloween party, dressed as Uncle Jed and Elly May. Everyone knew who we were the moment they saw us.

The Beverly Hillbillies spawned Petticoat Junction and Green Acres after that, and I enjoyed watching those show too.

Back to the night John was born. After they placed him in the bassinet, in the nursery, the nurses let me in to be with him. And what an amazing experience, as many of you know, to stand there with your firstborn, and all the subsequent ones too.

John was crying, and I tried to comfort him as best I could, but he kept crying as a newborn baby will do. So out of the blue, I started singing The Beverly Hillbillies theme song, and he stopped crying. When I stopped singing, he started crying again. So, I sang it again, and he stopped crying.

Since he heard the song and my voice before, I can only think that it soothed him, and he fell asleep. So, if you feel like crying after reading this, just give me a call, and I will sing it to you too.

It worked for us and remains a wonderful memory of my first moments with my boy and turning the corner into parenthood.

The Saturday Morning Post© 2017

“I begin with an idea and then it becomes something else.”
Picasso

The Treehouse

When my cousin Stephen and I were about fifteen and sixteen, respectively, we decided to build a treehouse near my aunt and uncle’s cabin at Incline Lake above Lake Tahoe.

We asked if it was all right to do so, and they said no. Earlier in the summer, or perhaps it was the summer before, the fort that some of our tribe built mysteriously caught on fire. So we understood their concern, and built it where they couldn’t see it.

Searching for a site to build, we found the perfect spot about 200 yards west of the bend in the road that curved around Incline Lake. An unusual pine tree sprung forth four tall trunks that made an ideal framework for our masterpiece. Stephen and I had built many forts above and below ground over the years, but this one was the best with a floor that began fifteen feet above ground. We even had a secret entrance, which in hindsight wasn’t so secret, since our camouflaged two-by-four steps, once discovered, led right to it.

Building supplies came from behind the barn, inside the caretaker’s shed and from remnants of the fallen-down shack that we called Trevor’s cabin. We even came up with a couple windows, shingles and dark green paint. We painted only the side that faced the lake to hide it from anyone walking by on the road.

We began with an eight-by-eight square-floored treehouse, but found it a bit cramped. So, we added an extension another ten feet out to a neighboring tree. Then we figured, why not add a second story? We shingled the roof and painted the interior as well.

Eventually, word got out, and we were surprised that my aunt and uncle weren’t mad and even admired our handiwork. That freed us up to spend many nights “camped out” in the treehouse–for what teenage boy would choose a comfortable bed, when sleeping on a wood floor fifteen feet in the air was an option? Among cousins and friends we easily slept four or more.

Back then it wasn’t exactly a work of art, but it sure is now after forty years of Mother Nature massaging it into place. If you look closely, you can still see some of our dark green steps leading up the trunk of the tree to our homemade teenage hangout.

To see a picture of the treehouse in its original splendor, click here.