Ed Briggs

Jun 102013
 

The 2013 Great Chesapeake Bay Swim was held for the 22nd consecutive time yesterday, despite threatening weather and weather-related complications. Because of recent storms and flood runoff, the county health department had issued a water quality advisory which apparently caused registered 34 swimmers to stay home.  616 of us were not deterred, and 572 completed the swim. Due mainly to the strong  currents, 44 of the starting swimmers were not able to finish the 4.4 miles. These get picked up by the attending power boats and transported to the finish. Despite the qualifications needed to get into the event, there are always a few swimmers who start out and then pull out, but 44 was an unusually large number. My finishing time of 3 hours and 4 minutes was disappointing, although it was enough to win my age group.  It was 24 minutes slower than my time last year, which I would not have guessed because the swim felt strong and fast to me.

I’ve thought a lot about the 44 swimmers who did not complete the swim. There are no casual entries in the bay swim. Each of these people made a decision to enter back in December. They were picked from a lottery with 1200 entries. In January they were notified that they were eligible for the swim and they paid a $250 entry fee which was non-refundable after April 15. We can assume that for the prior months they had trained hard to be ready for this event, putting in countless miles and pushing to increase their speed and endurance. And we can assume that no swimmer stands on the Sandy Point beach waiting for the starting gun but planning to just swim out for part of the distance and then signal to be picked up and have a boat ride to the far shore. No, every swimmer fiercely intends to complete the 4.4 miles, and on this day a large number were unable to make it.

bay bridge swim logoThe main challenge I personally encountered was the wind blowing from the south. I am one of those freestyle swimmers who breathe on the right side after every stroke. In the past I have tried to learn bilateral breathing, but have never succeeded. In yesterday’s swim there were waves coming toward my face every time I tried to get a breath. Often I got a mouthful of water instead of a breath. I began needing to roll further toward my left side and point my face more upward in order to breath reliably.  This took extra effort and modifying my stroke. I assume this and the currents accounted for my slower overall time.

In Tennessee where I was raised, we had an expression for something that produced a mixture of pleasure and pain. We said that it “hurt good.” Even after sleeping nearly 12 hours last night, every bone and muscle seemed to complain loudly this morning. I groaned every time I moved. And yet it was satisfying because it represented a good effort. It hurt good.

Chesapeake Bay BridgeThis was my 4th Chesapeake Bay Swim. Although familiar, it is still an extraordinary event. I would even say inspiring. Some 700 volunteers run the event to perfection. On the water there are 25 Coast Guard vessels, another 55 private power boats, and some 50 kayaks all keeping watch and standing by to help if needed. We swimmers get an awesome view of the majestic bay bridge overhead. The welcoming crowd on the far shore lifts you up. Everyone is so friendly and supportive.

After I was called up for my age group award, a young man congratulated me and told me he was much more impressed with the accomplishment of the older swimmers than with those his own age.

I am definitely an older swimmer, aged 76 the day of the swim.

Why would someone my age want to swim across the Chesapeake Bay?  Hey, some people my age are settled retirement centers, sitting around and taking life easy, watching daytime TV and playing cards. 

I had a dear professor friend named Clyde Francisco. Clyde loved to play golf. One day we were playing with friends on a course that was part of a gated retirement community. We were walking down the fairway when chimes started playing, of all things, “Nearer my God to Thee.” Clyde looked at me and I looked at him. There was a sarcastic twinkle in his eye and a little smile playing around his lips. And he said to me, seriously, “You know, Ed, this life may be good for some people, but not for me. I want to be out doing things in the real world and not cooped up with a bunch of old people just passing the time.”

There’s another Tennessee saying for this. “I’d rather burn out than rust out.”

My sentiments exactly. 

Gregory’s Cave

 Posted by at 5:44 am  No Responses »
Jun 082013
 

When I was a high school student in Maryville, Tennessee, I knew three things about the name "Gregory." I knew that my girlfriend/later wife's relatives were named Gregory and were buried in Cades Cove in the Primitive Baptist Church cemetery. I knew that Gregory's Bald was named for them. I had climbed it and camped there numerous times. And I knew that somewhere in Cades Cove there was a cave by the name of Gregory. So one weekend Charlie and David and I set out to find this cave.

I don't recall just how we learned about the area we searched, but I well recall our discovery of the cave entrance. It was inconspicuous and grown up, down underneath a ridge near a barn and an abandoned house. This was in the 1950's in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The cave was unmarked and unsecured. We found there was hay in the nearby barn, and that seemed an ideal place to unroll our sleeping bags and spend the night.

Over the weekend we explored every foot of Gregory's Cave. The cave was largely one long channel with a series of connected rooms and a few short offshoots. Despite our looking we found no weapons, skeletons, gold coins, or other items of interest.  The cave was mostly empty except for some wood lying around. 

On one of our trips into the cave, we decided to gather up wood and make a fire. The wood was dry, of course, and the fire was started easily. We settled down around the fire and were taking it easy. But after awhile, we began to notice something peculiar. The ceiling of the cave had disappeared. The ceiling was now like the sky on a cloudy day. Then we noticed that the ceiling was getting lower and lower. Our smoke had been rising up and the ceiling was lowering down. 

There was no water to put out the fire. We soon became alarmed and decided we must beat it. By the time we reached the entrance to the cave we were almost crawling to keep our heads beneath the smoke. But we did escape.

According to an article in smokies.com the cave was actually a commercial operation of the Gregory family in the 1920's with a charge of 50 cents for tours. And during the cold war it was stocked with food and equipped as a fallout shelter. Also, it is said that the Missionary Baptist Church once held services in the main room of the cave. 

The national park has never chosen to make an attraction of the cave, or to advertise its location. I believe it is now boarded up and inaccessible. 

Jun 032013
 

The Bay Swim is just a week away now. I am in the tapering stage of preparation.  Last week I swam 6 miles instead of the usual 8.  This week I will do several short swims just to stay in rhythm and keep the feel of the water and my wetsuit. The Bay Swim starts two hours earlier this year. We get away at 8am instead of 10. I like the earlier start, as the winds tend to be calmer then. My main hope for the day is calm winds and waves. If there has to be wind, let it be from the west and not in our faces from the east.

I have tried a different training routine this year.  I started intensive training just 4 months ago instead of 6, and I have been putting in 8 mile weeks instead of 10. But I have also been doing more hard sprints and longer distance swims.  Most weeks I only swam 3 times, but I did many 3-mile swims and lots of intervals.  A month ago I began doing 4-mile swims, usually 2 per week.  I have been working harder on speed and having some success. Hopefully I am ready.

Mental preparation is also important, I think. Since we mainly swim between the spans of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, I have continued to study the bridge and memorize it. I screen captured it from overhead using Google Earth, and marked the 4.4 miles in sections relative to the bridge. I think it helps to divide the swim into sections and to be able to follow my progress and anticipate the distances remaining. (click on the image to enlarge)

The first mile goes from the beach out and under the north span and down to the big curve where the bridges are straight for the rest of the way. The second mile goes across the main shipping channel to the second huge pillar that holds up the highest point of the roadways above. The third mile takes us to the second and lower shipping channel. There begins the fourth mile where we swim along the seemingly endless smaller pillars and watch the cars getting lower and lower overhead. Near the eastern shore we exit on the south side and swim the last tenths of a mile to the finish.

This is the swimmer's view from about mile 3 and looking back to where we came from. You can see the big curve where mile 2 begins in the far distance, and closer on the two huge masonry pillars on the right side. I doubt that I will stop and turn around to take this view, but the views you get all along the way are pretty awesome, as I hope the picture shows.

Reading on the subject of "tapering" in preparation for endurance events is interesting. There is general agreement that tapering is beneficial, but the specific formulas vary greatly. I am being more aggressive about tapering this year. Aggressive meaning I am taking fewer days off during the final week and pushing harder when I do swim.  I am swimming quarter miles (only, despite the temptation to do more) but pushing for speed.  Also I am swimming in my wetsuit in an outdoor 50 meter pool. I expect to do these swims Monday through Friday. After this I will focus on resting and hydrating and trust the process.

Expect a full report on the 2013 swim in about a week.

May 262013
 

I've been watching cormorants lately. They are fascinating birds. They gather in great numbers below the Conowingo Hydroelectric Dam on the Susquehana River in Maryland near the northern end of the Chesapeake Bay.

Did I say "in great numbers?" Just survey a portion of the gathering (click to enlarge). The cormorants are the black birds and the most numerous. Harder to see are the ones fishing in the rushing water. Unlike ducks, the feathers or cormorants are not buoyant, so they sink down in the water instead of riding up on top of it. The reason their feathers don't float is so they can dive down for food, which most ducks can't do. Cormorants can dive down very deep after food, although fishing is so good below Conowingo that they likely get plenty to eat not far beneath the surface.

Since the feathers of cormorants get wet and heavy, the birds have a struggle to get airborne during a water takeoff. Their wings have to work really hard and also their webbed feet need to help out as well. It takes a good distance and creates a lot of fuss. A feeding cormorant may have to perform these takeoffs numerous times before catching a fish. They fly up close to the dam and land, then float downsteam watching for their next meal. If they don't find it by a certain point downstream, they takeoff and land upstream again. 

There are 40 some varieties of cormorants. These are the most common in our area — the double-crested cormorant, so named because the male sports a second crest during the mating season. As shown here, the birds have a fearsome weapon for snagging fish. Not only are their beaks long and needle sharp, the top part has a wicked hook in the shape of, well, a fish hook. Imagine being a fish and having that thing come toward you at lightening speed. And this only moments after you got churned through the massive turbines of Conowingo dam.

When a cormorant dives down and gets a small fish, it will swallow it under water. But when it catches a large fish, it must bring it to the surface and perform an amazing maneuver. It has to release the fish from its beak, flip it so the head is pointing down and the tail pointing up, and catch it just right for swallowing. As my picture shows, they can swallow very large fish, and all without the aid of any hands, fingers, claws, or feet. Because this flipping and swallowing operation has to be so precise, it is also an opportunity for a fish not inclined to be swallowed to wiggle and get away.

A further aspect of cormorant activity at Conowingo is the turbulence and speed of the river. The best fishing is when the turbines are running and the river swolen and rushing. In the short video that follows, you will see them seeking and catching their food in water no human swimmer would attempt. You will see many of them sunning and watching from dry rocks while others churn past them. We assume that most of the watchers have already had success and are settled to dry off and digest their meals. This video represents a 55-second slice to time on the river. I have counted in it 17 bald eagles, 7 great blue herons, and at least 4 of the comorants visibly catching fish.

May 182013
 

It is not entirely clear that human beings were intended to swim in water. Compared to fish and birds and other swimming animals, we are slow and very limited. Still we, and I, keep trying. Doctors tell us it's great exercise. As a former runner, I know it beats pounding the pavement with my feet, ankles, knees, and hips. 

The earth is covered with a lot of unfrozen water where swimming can take place. There are oceans, bays, rivers, and lakes abundant. But for most of us, swimming takes place in artificial man-made pools filled with clean, filtered water and with life guards watching. There are well marked swim lanes of measured distances and timing clocks to consult. There is a uniformity, a sameness, about swimming in these places, whether indoors or outdoors. I know that in a pool with 25 meter lanes, I need to do 64 lengths, 32 laps, to make a mile. There is no risk of getting lost or off course. Just follow the black line on the bottom of the pool. 

But swimming in the lakes and rivers and oceans is a different matter. And swimming in a tidal river like the Nanticoke on the Eastern Shore of Maryland is especially so. If this account of the 2013 swim is of interest, do read my account of the same Nanticoke swim event from 2012.

As before, the Nanticoke swim begins at a small beach near the marina and starts out along a sea wall to the river. The course is triangular and you swim counter clockwise, staying to the outside of each marker buoy at the corners. We came expecting a three mile swim, which requires swimming around the triangle twice. But when the Coast Guard arrived, they announced that small craft warnings had been posted because of rough conditions which would make swimming difficult if not dangerous. A settlement was negotiated with race officials to allow the swim to go on, but shortened to two miles. Two miles meant swimming out and around the triangle once, and then back to the finish. It also defined a course with five legs which I have numbered on the graphic. 

Nanticoke River Swim 2013 diagramThe first leg was in water mostly protected from the winds and river current. The challenges included starting out with the mass of swimmers in a small space and trying to get use to the unusually cold water, about 61 degrees. The cold water made it hard to breath, and I kept running into other swimmers or having them run into me. I arrived at the first buoy to begin the second leg still struggling.

The second leg was by far the hardest. There was some tidal current in our favor but a terrific wind and breaking waves in our face. Normally in open water you want to swim with your head down as you would in the pool, raising up to check your position about every 6-8 strokes. When I tried to swim like this there were two problems: I was still not getting enough breath, and often times when I tried to breath I got hit in the face by a wave and swallowed salt water instead of breathing air. This put me even further in breathing deficit.  I ended up swimming most of the second leg doing a survival breast stroke and holding my head up to try and anticipate the large waves coming toward me. I knew I was moving slowly but it was the best I could do. I looked forward to the turn into leg three where we would at least be swimming cross-wind and somewhat down wind as well.

I have experienced the effects of wind as both a runner, a swimmer, and a bicyclist. The effects are significant in each of these sports.  One might assume that the wind is more of a factor in biking or running, since you are upright and more exposed to it. One might assume that a swimmer, whose body is mainly beneath the water, would be largely unaffected. This is not the case, and the game changer is the force of moving water. In open water swimming, the wind moves the water and you must deal with that force. If the waves are coming directly toward you and breaking in white caps, water hits you head on and tries to drive you backward. On the other hand, if you are lucky enough to have the wind at your back, and you time your strokes just right, you can actually get a "ride" off of the breaking waves, somewhat like body surfing. If waves are coming from the right and you breath on that side as most of us do, you are facing the waves as you search for a quick breath.  There is much to consider and adjust to in terms of the wind.

I finally made the turn and sighted toward the next buoy far out in the river. Indeed, I was now able to swim normally. But the river had another surprise in store. When I got my next sighting of the buoy it was far to my right.  I was heading straight down the river, parallel to the shore. I corrected and swam more. The next time I sighted the same thing had happened.  I corrected even more and swam harder. What I and other swimmers did not know was that the tidal current was flowing downstream and not upstream in this area. Some later called it a whirlpool. I know I was carried far off a straight course on this leg, but finally I rounded the marker, wondering what lay in store as we headed cross-river toward the finish.

It was not as bad as I feared. I feared that this unpredictable tide would be pushing me off course. But I was able to take a bearing that helped greatly. I sighted a line from an anchored sailboat to some distant houses beyond it.  The sailboat was very close to where I needed to go.  I knew if I stayed on the course of this alignment, I would be heading straight.  This worked out well, and I was able to finish the course rather strongly, probably at about a 30 minute per mile pace. However, my total time for the two miles was an hour and 21 minutes.

I would have hoped to complete this course in an hour or less. Even under these conditions, some younger and stronger swimmers completed in 45 minutes. I was grudgingly happy to have completed it at all. The next day I found myself replaying the course and the conditions and wishing I could do it over and do it better.

May 122013
 

What do you do when it's Mother's Day and your mother is only a memory? I guess you take some time to remember.

My mother was a kind and loving person with a simple Christian faith and a multitude of friends. She had three sons, but lost the oldest of them in World War II. As a Christian and loyal American she accepted that loss, but she felt the pain of it all the rest of her life. I was her youngest son. Although mother has been gone for many years now, I still feel her love and influence. 

Like everyone else, mother thought about the meaning of life and what it meant to live it well. I was given the strong impression that my life was important and that I had a responsibilty to make the most of it. I was given the strong impression that the success of my life depended not only on what I did for myself but what I would do for others. In other words, I had a moral and social responsibility. And this coincided with my responsibility to God, my maker. In mother's view, we all had responsibilities to be taken seriously. Many of these were reflected in her repeated sayings.

Study hard.

Always do your best.

Do unto others and you would have them do unto you.

Be polite.

Turn the other cheek.

Mind your own business.

Take our time.

Wait your turn.

Make yourself useful.

As I remember those sayings and get reminded of them in daily living, I realize there was other advice my mother never gave. She never advised about getting even if others did you wrong. She wanted me to succeed but not at the expense of others. The idea of advancing yourself by putting others down would never have occurred to her. Nor did the excuse that the end justifies the means, and you should do whatever you need to do to get ahead. Mother believed in right and wrong, and that no personal gain was worth the cost of doing wrong to get it.

I have not always followed these teachings, but I have never forgotten them, or failed to remember them when I contemplate moral choices.

A Honda Story

 Posted by at 4:34 pm  No Responses »
Apr 282013
 

In the early '60's I was a seminary student in Louisville, Kentucky and pastor of a rural church about 70 miles away. Most of the church members were farmers, although some worked at Fort Knox and a few drove in to Louisville to work. I had come from neighboring Tennessee and was well accepted in the community. Like most of the men and young men, I was a hunter and fisherman. Like my father before me, I read "Field and Stream" magazine, and that is how my Honda story begins.

I noticed a classified ad in the back of Field and Stream. It showed a small two-wheeled vehicle with a luggage rack. A hunter was riding it down a trail in the woods and carrying a deer on the back. It looked like, and was, a small motorcycle, but it was described as a "trail machine." I was immediately curious and intrigued, for this was unlike anything I had ever seen. Motorcycles, at that time, were large and loud and ridden by disreputable characters, or so said the popular stereotype.

The trail machine was made by a company I had never heard of — Honda. It was also a company America had never heard of. Turned out it was a Japanese company. At that time Japanese companies were stereotyped as flooding American markets with "cheaply made foreign goods." But this did not deter my interest in the Honda Trail Machine.

I  learned there was a store in Louisville, just one, where you could buy the Honda Trail Machine. It was Tinsley's Tire and Marine on Shelbyville Road, somewhat out of town. It sold boats and motors and tires, along with rifles and shotguns. My kind of place. And in the back of the store on the right side as you come in the front door, there were several of these new things. I found they had a trail out back and would actually let you ride one, which I did. And came back and did again. Then came back and bought one.

going up jump GaryAt the time I bought my Trail Machine it was the only thing Honda sold in the U.S.  People were puzzled about Honda because they never heard of it. But despite the lack of brand recognition, it was an immediate hit in the small community where I lived. Crowds gathered in our yard to see it and be taken for a ride. Lucky kids got to try riding it themselves. The owner of the store almost immediately drove to Louisville and brought back two of them, one for each of his boys. A migration of other buyers followed. To say these were a sensation is not to overstate.

Those of us who had them began riding in groups together and people watched from their porches as we zoomed by. Peer pressure built up on others. And at Tinsley's Tire and Marine, the Hondas began driving out the Evenrude and the Johnson motors, the Remingtons and Winchesters and Browning automatics, the Goodyear and Firestone tires, and the boats. Honda soon added newer and larger models. The marine store became a Honda place.

In 1966 Honda launched a national ad campaign that changed the way people thought of motorcycles. Its slogan was "you meet the nicest people on a Honda." It showed regular middle-class citizens, even women, riding these small two-wheelers. It created a market where none existed. The following is the best example:

As sales boomed and more and larger Honda motorcycles began to appear, other ads were remarkably effective. My favorite it the following one, showing how the Honda revolution took hold on the local minister.

Over the succeeding years and many thousands of miles, I rode a variety of Hondas including the 150, the 305 Super Hawk, the 450, the 750, and eventually an early Honda Gold Wing. Gold Wings are still made and sold by Honda today.

I was back in Tinsley's on one of those early days, maybe looking over the new 150 or something like that, and I heard a strange thing. They said that Honda was coming out with car.

A car??  We have all the cars we need — American cars. A Japanese car will never sell in this country. What on earth are they thinking?

New Feature

 Posted by at 10:13 am  No Responses »
Feb 082013
 

New featureI have added a new feature which may or may not be of interest. I’ve had some scanning done and have posted text from my books, sermons, and music from years gone by when I was a minister and pastor of Baptist churches. I may later add a section for poetry.

This is all under the new “Publications” tab which you see above. Each of the sections and sub-sections has a brief introduction. The “Sermons” section is just a start for now. I have posted the first of what will eventually be around ten volumes.

I am not attempting to revisit or revise any of these writing, but the task of formatting for the web can be time consuming.

When they see the term “Baptist” most people read “conservative.” This was not always the case. I was a liberal Baptist. One of the last.

Repetition

 Posted by at 6:33 pm  No Responses »
Feb 022013
 

The man would wake up early trying to remember the night before. There was always a nagging fear that he had messed up. But he must get dressed now and get to work. The man was well thought of there, a nice man, everyone said. And he did his work well, so  things were good apparently. But as the office morning turned to afternoon, the man’s thoughts were drawn to leaving work and to the evening ahead. The day was about the evening.

repetition-champane-glassesHe had quit keeping liquor in the house because he drank too much if a supply was present. Getting some at the store and drinking in the evening became a day-to-day decision. He had more control that way. Often he would start the day determined to drink nothing. But by afternoon the urge would take hold and reasons appear as to why he deserved it today. Something bad had happened, or something good to celebrate, it didn’t matter. Any reason was a good reason. Always it seemed justified.

His present routine was to get two large bottles of fortified beer for the drive home, and a jug of wine for the evening. White chablis was his current choice. As he drank the beers in the car, bottle between his legs, he timed it so other drivers would not see, especially policeman drivers. And as the familiar feelings appeared, he reminded himself often to drive carefully. He considered himself a skilled drinking driver.

The man was always eager to get home and get started on the wine. Anything that might delay this could wait. If a neighbor waved and seemed to want something he would fail to notice. Once inside the door, all seemed right with the world. There was plenty to drink and an evening ahead.

The evenings were predictable. They began with drinking along with other activity such as eating, music, reading, writing, and thinking. They ended with unconsciousness and sleep. Drinking was a way to get to sleep. They were also predictable in that things generally moved from pleasure to misery. The welcome effects of the alcohol were pleasant at first. A time for writing poems and singing songs. But as the hours wore on and the supply diminished, a gloom settled in. The gloom had many faces that came and went like slides changing: guilt, shame, self-pity, rage. In a world now filled with enemies, the glass was his only friend.

Each evening proved again the unfairness of life. Only the list of hurts varied, some replacing others, others returning. Old hurts were revisited like favorite tunes. Except for these variations, the days were always the same. Even days when the man decided he should quit drinking and did so for a short while were the same, because they had happened again and again. The man reflected on the curious fact that in his daytime work he did many things successfully, but in the evenings he was unable to keep himself from drinking heavily.

He never talked with others about his drinking, and he thought of it as a secret life. But friends who had called him in the evenings soon learned to call early instead of late.

The man liked to write and would often do so while he drank. He had taken notice of the great writers whose drinking seemed to enhance their gifts. He imagined it did the same for him, and indeed there was some evidence to that effect. After a night of drinking, he sometimes read what he had written as if it came from a different source. And sometimes he was greatly impressed.

The one thing he tried not to write was emails. Many of those he wrote late at night he had lived to regret. He finally set himself a rule that he must save them in draft to be reviewed when sober. But like all the rules he established for his evenings, it only worked now and then. He wondered that he could not even keep such a simple rule.

repEvery morning the man wondered about many of these things. He accused himself of being weak and stupid and lacking in character. He made lists of  steps that needed to be taken. But then every afternoon he began planning for the evening. And every evening he drank.

Weeks became months, and months became years, and years repeated themselves. The days did not vary.

Actually, looking back on it now, there was only one day for this man.

His life was this single day, repeated over and over.

The Cardboard Box

 Posted by at 6:01 pm  No Responses »
Jan 252013
 

My father grew up poor in the mountains of western North Carolina. He was one of eleven children and the only one to finish high school, much less earn a Ph.D. Although he became a college professor, he never forgot his early struggles. Also he lived through the Great Depression, which those who did so always remembered. They seemed to carry in the back of their minds that this could happen again. They must not waste things. They must “save for a rainy day.”  Because of this I never heard my parents complain about the rationing during World War II. I did hear them complain about families in our town who were alleged to cheat on the rationing and get more than their fair share of rationed items.

My father would have listened with sympathy to all the complaints about wasteful government spending today. But he would not have failed to notice that many of the complainers are wasteful spenders themselves. The idea of people owning mansions all over the country and some with elevators not only for themselves but for their expensive cars, that would not have been well received. My dad never bought a car that was not a Chevrolet, and it was always the simplest and lowest priced model available. If it had a radio and windshield wipers and room enough in the trunk, it would do.

He made a large garden every year. We had fresh corn, peas, onions, tomatoes, squash, okra, beans of all kinds including soy, cabbage, carrots, beets, broccoli, turnips and their greens, collards and kale, garlic, lettuce, and always something new and experimental. The arrival of the Burpee seed catalog each year was welcomed with much interest. Before there was a grocery store called “whole foods” my parents made much use of them. Mother canned and froze food from the garden and dad helped. It was economical, and it was healthier.

Dad disapproved of cigarettes and soft drinks, which he considered wasteful. He also disapproved of the local bowling alley. If kids needed something to do, they could throw the football in the yard, which cost nothing. When his church voted to move and build an elaborate new building, he joined a group that split off and met in a large old house.

When Dad died at the age of 93, I was the only surviving member of his immediate family.  His oldest son had been killed in The War, and his second son had died in his late 40’s.  His wife had been gone for 20 years. As the remaing child I was left with the arrangements.

He had begun telling me some years previous that he wanted to be cremated. He reminded me again and again. He said an expensive funeral was a waste of money and made no sense. He did suggest that we could bury his ashes in the grave with mother and put his name on her headstone.

I was at a meeting in South Carolina when the call came. Dad had been in the nursing home for several years. His doctor said that his kidneys were failing and time was short. When I arrived he was still living but seemingly unconscious. I talked with him because seemingly unconscious patients often hear and understand even though there’s no sign of it. But his breathing slowed and slowed and after several hours of sitting by his bed he finally took his last breath.

As instructed, I arranged for the cremation. I also arranged with the cemetery to hold a short burial service at the grave and have the inscription done on the tombstone. Then I went to the funeral home to pick up the ashes.

They took me to a room that had shelves with all sorts of containers for such ashes. They were brass, pewter, silver, gold, ivory, marble, and other things. Some were plainer and some were fancier. They were nicely lit. The man said that I could take my time and pick out the one I wanted.

I thought of my dad whose earthly body was now a few handfuls of ashes. I thought of his life and asked myself what he would want me to do in this situation. It wasn’t hard to decide. I said to the man, “Now, if I don’t buy one of these containers, how do I get the ashes?”

And he said that they just come in a plain cardboard box.  And I said, “Then I’ll take the cardboard box.”

So we met at Mother’s grave there in the cemetery, and there was a hole dug in the ground, and a small platform beside it covered with artificial grass. And on the artificial grass was a small, almost square cardboard box.

I laughed and I cried. My father would have liked this.