Stories My Daughter Tells

My daughter, Catherine, loves to tell her friends stories about how criminally insane her father is.  Apparently it makes for good dinner conversation.  Some are actually true.  Here are three of them:

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Enter the Dragon

When I was about 10 or 11, my friend and I loved the story of Robin Hood.  So we bought long bows and target arrows and went about becoming proficient at archery.

One day we were watching a kung fu movie in which the protagonist caught an arrow shot right at him.  If you know me, you know what comes next.

We went outside with our bows and got about 30 paces apart.  My friend said, “Shoot at me first and I’ll try to catch it.”  “Try” was the operative word.  I shot a very weak shot and he missed and it stuck in his thigh.  We started laughing so hard while he walked around with the arrow sticking out of his leg.  Anyway, I pulled the arrow out and we wrapped his leg up and he was good to go.

Most normal kids would have cut their losses and stopped at this point.  Not us.  I said, “Now it’s my turn.”  So he shot the same weak shot at me to catch and what-do-you-know?  I caught it.  Sort of.  I did indeed have it in my hand but it had gone through the webbing part between my thumb and index finger.  Once again we pulled it out and wrapped it up.

I thought there were no hard feelings for me shooting my friend in the leg, but I was wrong.  I was in the johnny house doing what you do in a johnny house when I heard a THWANG and thump.  I looked up to see an arrow 6 inches from my face.  My friend had almost shot it clean through the outhouse door.  We quit shooting at each other after that.


Aunt Molly’s Ashes

My beloved Aunt Molly was into ceramics at one point and gave us a small urn for a wedding gift.  We placed it lovingly on our mantle piece where it stayed for years.

Catherine and her brother, Jack, asked where it came from and I told them, but then I guess I added that Aunt Molly’s ashes were in there.

Fast forward a couple of years later when they were about 8 or 9 years old.  They were horsing around in the den and knocked the urn off the mantle.  In an effort to catch it, it bounced off their hands and into the fireplace.  The fireplace that still had ashes in it.  They were mortified because they thought that Aunt Molly’s ashes were in the fireplace.  I let them squirm for about a hot minute and told them.  I don’t think they ever forgave me.

Will’s Dark Secret of 30 Years

My mom used to make these gorgeous coconut cakes for Christmas every year.  Somehow I had gotten it my head that I didn’t like coconut.  You know how when you are a kid and you get a notion you don’t like a certain food?

Shortly after Lynn and I were married, she surprised me with….you guessed it…a coconut cake.  Now this is why I’m not right in the head.  Rather then tell her I just didn’t like coconut, I told her I was allergic to it.  I know it was stupid and more of a lateral move then anything else.

Thirty years later, I’m hoovering a sleeve of Girl Scout Cookies call “Samoas” when Catherine and Lynn walk in on me.  Catherine screams, “Dad..they have coconut in them and you’re allergic.”  She looks like she’s getting ready to slap them out of my hands like they were weapons-grade plutonium.  I sheepishly admitted then and there that I was not indeed allergic to coconut.  Lynn looks at me with a grin, laughs and says, “What else have you been lying about?”

I promise I’ve matured over the years…..or have I?





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After two weeks, all the boxes have been unpacked and the memories restored.  We are settled in to our new place and I have to admit it’s taking some time to acclimate.  I finally quit going into the walk-in closet to go to the bathroom.

The place on Camrose was built in 1958, while our new place was built in 2012.  It’s almost weird having enough outlets, a garage and in general things that do not need repairing time after time.

I thought where we lived in Farmington was super close to everything but where we are in Midlothian may have that beat. It’s funny how you get use to all the ways to get around in an area and now you’re here constantly looking at google maps – trying to find the easiest way to get to places.

The neighbors are friendly and the grounds are kept immaculate.  I had a warm feeling inside the first time I saw someone else cutting my grass. It’s very quiet here and we are really enjoying cooking out on our little patio and rocking on our front porch.

Everything is going pretty great but I learned yesterday that the furniture we ordered will not only NOT be here next week but will not be until the end of the month.  I got pretty worked up and made several calls and expressed my opinion.

Today, on the 4th of July,  Lynn and I decided to go see a movie.  As we were waiting for the movie to start, a young man in a wheelchair was rolled in by a lady who was his aide and they sat in front of us.  He appeared to have cerebral palsy.  His aide lifted him up and put him in the handicapped chair they have.  She was so gentle and sweet with him.  She went to get him a beverage.  I saw them exchange their own unique fist bumps.  It was like something they did a million times. I breathed in their love and whispered to Lynn, “And we were all worked up about the furniture.”

I immediately became ashamed of how I reacted to the furniture issue.  I don’t know if I was that regretful about how I spoke to the various furniture supplier people (I wasn’t really all that bad).  I do regret how upset I got about it.

I believe that the young man in the wheelchair AND his aide were a message from God. I would also wager that he was a message to those sitting around us as well.

We’ve got a bed to sleep in and a table to eat at so we have nothing about which to complain.  There are many friends we would love to have over and when we have a place for you to sit and eat,  I promise we will.

However for now, I will enjoy what I have and be grateful that every once and awhile God will speak to you in just the right way,




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The inside of the house on Camrose Road seems sterile and soul-less.  It smells of new carpet, silicone caulk and emptiness.  Most of the furniture is gone, the pictures taken down and all signs of occupation have been diminished. We’ve scrubbed and sanitized our life out of its essence.

We have lived on Camrose for 31 years.  That’s 31 years of memories, most of which have been bubble wrapped and stored in a locker for the past month. We decided to downsize and move into a town home about ten weeks ago. I didn’t think it would be this emotional.  Tomorrow ( if the lawyers dot the i’s and cross the t’s), I will lock the door, jump into the moving van and drive away for the last time.

Lynn and I had been thinking about moving a year from now. We knew we had to fix some things to make it look more appealing, but didn’t know where to draw the line in terms of whether we would get that money back.  I contacted a biking buddy, Dave, who is a realtor and asked if he could come over and offer us some advice.

We asked him about replacing the windows, replacing the ceiling in the den, and all the flooring.  He agreed that all of it should be done and said it would definitely make the house more appealing.  He then suggested we sell as quick as we can.  The market was hot and there was a shortage of affordable houses that have that number of beds/bathrooms in this part of town.  We did the research and called Dave. That was 10 weeks ago.


Since that decision, we have had the flooring and windows replaced, had the den ceiling re-sheet rocked and had some electrical work done.  We’ve painted, fixed, mulched, caulked and cleaned, as well as rented a locker to store most of our stuff.  In the middle of it all we even went on an 8 day trip to Hawaii to see my son !!!  We’ve been to the dump six times and had a yard sale. We’ve donated and sold stuff non-stop.  All within the last 10 weeks.  We’re exhausted!!

The house is a far cry from the house we bought in 1986.  It’s seen upgrades, renovations and two new roofs.  It’s been painted inside and out multiple times, so much so that we look back at some of our choices and cringe.

The house on Camrose Road is steeped with the souls of its five occupants and their friends.  It was here we raised three beautiful, smart, kind kids. It was on Camrose we endured cancer and the aftermath of an accident.  Camrose has seen poker games, cookouts, birthdays, hurricanes, sleepovers, derechos and vegetable gardens. We’ve loved, cried, laughed and grown old on Camrose Road.

When you look back through our photos, you’ll see the little, white house bearing witness to our lives; first days of school (parents and kids), a new dog, anniversaries, snowfalls, prom dates, graduations, and Christmas’.

Most of all, Camrose has seen love.  Lots and lots of love along with a dusting of life’s allotted sorrows.

How many times have I cut the grass, laid my head down to sleep, eaten dinner or kissed my wife in that house?  How many times have I backed out that concrete driveway to go to work at my job as a machinist, millwright, estimator and finally teacher. It seems that the total of the stars would not equal it.

I don’t know the young feller that bought our house.  I hope he experiences all the joy AND sorrow that life provides; both have made us better people and grateful humans.  The house on Camrose Road can attest to it.   There are some things scrubbing and painting cannot erase.



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Lenny: A Very Good Guy

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“I guess I’ll have to eat ALL my fries now,” I blurted/cried out.  We were sitting in the small emergency veterinarian’s examine room waiting for the nice vet to come back with the syringes that would ease our pup’s transition to the next realm.  Lynn and I sat there, both crying, and waiting for the inevitable to happen.

“Our” terrier, Lenny, had aged out of his mortal coil on Sunday and we had to take him to the clinic.  I say “our” because Lenny was, in no uncertain terms, Lynn’s dog.  For eight years the sun rose and set ONLY on Lynn, as far as Lenny was concerned.

We got Lenny from a rescue organization called BARK.  His original owner, in Culpeper, had fallen on hard times and could no longer afford him.  We were told he was about 6-8 years old at the time.  His foster mom doted on him hand and foot.  She cooked him meals of chicken and vegetables; that’s right I said cooked.  When we got him, he seemed indignant that we would would pour dry food into the bowl and expect him to eat it….well….like a dog.  He got used to it.

We had him in a crate for about a minute because that was how long Lynn could stand it.  Eventually, he took over several spots in the house, his favorite of which was the large club chair in the living room.  It was there he could spy Lynn pulling up in the driveway and start yowling in puppy-like anticipation.

I lied.  His actual favorite spot was next to Lynn in her oversized leather recliner.  He would stuff himself next to her, take one “harumph” and go to sleep.


He tolerated me only when I would share what I had at dinner.  When fast food and french fries were available, he was outright pesky, so I always gave into him.

In the morning when I was reading and having coffee, he would stand next to me so I could pat him and scratch his always-itchy ears.  It was like our daily check-in to make sure we were cool.

He never bit anyone and hardly barked at all.  He was a pacifist to the core and a lover of all things “Lynn.”  In the morning I could hear Lynn chatting non-stop with him.  He was a pretty good listener.

For the past few weeks he seemed listless and sad.  Gone were the excited yowls when Lynn returned home from somewhere.  His back legs seemed weak and draggy.  We had the talk about how old he was and this might be something; trying to realistic about where he was.  Around Friday or so we decided to take him to his normal vet on Monday to get some idea where he was and whether or not this was the end.

Sunday morning I was on my fifth day of having a fever, but I felt like it was getting better.  I dragged myself to the kitchen table and had coffee and the newspaper.  As usual Lenny came by to check-in, but he wouldn’t leave.  He just stood there next me and wanted me to pat him non-stop.  At one point he laid down and put his head on my foot.  “Something’s up with your dog,” I told Lynn.

Around noontime we settled in to watch the football playoffs with Lenny, who needed to be picked up and put on the recliner with Lynn.

At half-time, I went to get an orange and had just peeled it when Lynn yelled for help.  I went into the den to see Lynn clutching onto to Lenny who was having seizure and foaming at the mouth.  This went on for a minute or two, stopped, and went on for another minute.

After an hour at the emergency vet, we were escorted to the aforementioned small room and awaited the diagnosis.  The vet was very nice and also very empathetic.  He had much going on internally and a lot of unknowns at his age as to whether he would survive each step necessary to uncover the next. It was a lot to ask of a small dog for what we considered to be a selfish reason at this point.  So we talked with the vet about all of this and she fully supported our decision,

Lenny was brought back to us for some alone time.  Lynn tried to hold him in her lap but gave up.  He just wanted to sit on the padded bench between us and put his head on my leg.  We stroked him and told him we loved him and thanked him for being our dog.  The vet came in with syringes and we watched Lenny leave us.

We sure did love that dog; everybody loved Lenny.  Other dogs even loved him.  When we would take him out, even if other dogs were aggressive with him, he would just turn and ignore them.  He was that chill.

He slept like 20 hours a day on his club chair and was more like a cat in that sense.  When I texted my son, Jack, about Lenny’s passing he texted back – “He was a good dog and a great cat.”

The worst was telling our daughter, Catherine, about itwhen she came home.  She was distraught but understood.  She adored Lenny and if I’m being honest; if Lynn was number one then it was Catherine who was number two, not me.

However, even old number three will miss him.  I think if (I know I shouldn’t) have french fries from now on, I’ll always leave a few for Lenny.






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When Words Fail

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This Saturday morning I’ll wake up and do the hardest thing I’ve had to do in my life.  I’ll quietly get up and creep downstairs, turn on the Christmas tree and let the dog out.  I’ll put a coffee pod in the Keurig and check to see if the newspaper has been delivered.  I’ll let the dog back in and sit down with my coffee and a greeting card with pen in hand.  I’ll then attempt to write via the the greeting card something that lets the woman I have been married to for forty years know just how much she means to me on our anniversary.

I’m pretty adept at communicating via the English language.  I’m a passable writer and my verbal skills are fair to middling.  I just don’t know how in the world I’m going to tell this amazing woman how much she means to me.

When I was growing up and coming into the age of reason, my greatest hope was that some day at some point and for some length of time, someone might possibly love me.  I guess I didn’t have the best self-esteem back then.

What do you say to someone who has loved you unconditionally for those years?  Do you thank her for being there when you were sick, sad, confused and beaten down by life?  Do you let her know that she’s beautiful and so very kind?  Do you tell her that after 40 years there is no one in the world you’d rather have as your friend and wife?

I’ve said all these things and more over the years, so to say them now seems weak and unimaginative. I’ve written and erased what I was going to write a dozen or so times already because the words weren’t up to the task.

I love words.  I love using the perfect word in the perfect situation to convey the exact intent.  I acquired jobs with my words, passed exams with words (when I didn’t know what the real answer was), made friends with words and changed kids’ lives with words.  When it comes to how I feel about Lynn, my ability to communicate becomes mute.

So all of you who may read these please wish me luck and pray that this Saturday, December the 23rd, I find the right words to let this angel on Earth know just how much she means to me.

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“What’s happening to us?  Why are we so mean and hateful to each other?  Why are we so selfish and have so much hate in our heart?” she said.  The “she” in this case was “Linda” the nurse who was in the exam room at my doctor’s office with me.  She and I have become close over the years. I was the next to the last appointment for the day and the last patient had cancelled.  The nurse practitioner was running a bit late, so we took some time to catch up.

It’s been a crazy year to say the least.  Politics, sexual harassment, mass murders, terrorism, misogyny and racism flood the news daily.  It’s so bad, that I hate to watch the news or even open my Facebook page.

I had thought, as a a species, we would be better by now, but it doesn’t seem so.  We were supposed be kinder, smarter and more unified than we are, but it just hasn’t happened.  As the days pass by, we seem to be on the downhill side of our zenith as a civilization;  at least that’s what I had thought.

I looked into Linda’s warm, brown eyes and told her very gently she was wrong.  I told her that what we read and hear is not who we really are.  I told her that there are just as many, if not more more, compassionate humans in the world that there have ever been.  People who feed the hungry, provide aid to the oppressed, medicine to the sick, say “thank you” and “please” or just hold the door for an old, bald man.

Her eyes started to water and she looked at me somewhat ashamed and begin to tell the story of the family who supported her when she came here from Ghana.  It was an amazing story of unconditional love.  We sat there and I listened to it and the world with it’s fading sunlight stopped around us.  It was the best medicine I got that day.

In my part time job, I’ve had to speak with thousands of customers who may not be having the best day or just need some questions answered.   However, I can count on one hand the ones I remember who were rude or angry.  The people I speak with are kind, polite and grateful.

We want our world to be a duality.  It’s easier that way. Hot and cold, dry and wet, good and evil, Republican and Democrat, them and us, etc..  This duality may be playing out to the nth degree to our detriment, but it is not truly who we are.

My head is not in the sand and the glass is not always half full for me.  I just know there is something that is bigger than us and is us.  I know It unites us and cannot be diminished.  I know It’s light cannot be hidden and that It shines through the darkness.  I know It is not terrorism, murder, sexual harassment or the hate we think is prevalent.  I know It will overcome all of those things and make all right again in due time.

I know it’s a woman from Ghana and a man from Bumpass who know we’re better than we’re being portrayed and revel in that knowledge.

Peace in Christ





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The Shoes of a Fisherman

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He would sit there every Sunday – frozen.  Two socks on, one shoe on and the right shoe in his right hand.  Just staring – frozen and looking out in space for five to ten minutes.  Eventually he would snap out of it and put his right shoe on and finish getting dressed for Sunday school and church service.

This was my father’s routine every Sunday.  He would take out his J.C. Penney suit and his Florsheim wing-tip shoes.  He would then get partially dressed and retrieve this rickety wooden shoe shine box packed with its assortment of Kiwi polishes and rags.  The task of polishing his shoes was automatic; years in the Army during World War II had taught him the importance of well-cared for footwear.  His application of the polish was meted and purposeful as were his brush stroke and the finishing snaps of the rag as he applied the spit shine on his beloved wing tips.

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He then re-packed all the polishes, brushes and rags into the old wooden kit and placed it back in the closet.  A seat was taken on the sofa in the living room where this all took place and the left shoe was put on then the right shoe was picked up and the trance began.

I was nine when I noticed the routine.  I would watch him around the corner of the door; not daring to interrupt.  Even at the age of nine, I had some sense that what he was doing was sacred, needed and important.  I didn’t know the “why” but I DID know it was necessary.

He did the same thing when he went fishing.  I never could comprehend why he would go fishing after a long day of work and make cast after cast while staring out into the pond.  You could see it, though, with every cast.  The fishing had become automatic and his mind was performing a very important task that could not be interrupted by the loud splashes of a boy throwing rock after rock into the water.

Fifty years later, on a recent Sunday, I believe I found the answer to the question – “why.”  I, too, was putting on my shoes to go for a walk and found myself frozen in time with my right shoe in my hand. I have written about my dad’s routine before but something was different and revealing on this particular Sunday.  When I finally snapped out of it after five minutes or so I had a sense of what my dad, at around age 59 was experiencing and what I, also at age 59 was experiencing.  It was the examination and filing of those life events into some sort of order within your brain.  It felt like my mind was putting everything back in the right file folders and placing them in the correct position in my “file cabinet” so I could move forward.

My dad’s files were World War II, the tobacco fields, the Great Depression, working as a logger and raising two sons and they all had to be unpacked, examined and re-filed so he could move forward that week.  My “files” seem to pale in comparison to my dad’s but they were mine and needed to be sorted. I have more or less placed this sorting on hold for the last three years. That needs to change and my dad once again showed me the way that recent Sunday morning.

At the age of nine,  I never understood why my dad went into a trance while putting on his shoes or fishing.    It seemed insanely boring.  Now I understand.  Now I need to move forward sharing his legacy of kindness and compassion; one right shoe, one long walk and one long bike ride at a time.

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Thoughts in the Still of the Morning


This story from the surgeon and writer Richard Seltzer in his book, Mortal Lessons: Notes on the Art of Surgery, about a young woman with a tumor in her cheek.

Dr. Seltzer writes of his visit to her hospital room after the surgery.

I stand by the bed where a young woman lies, her face postoperative, her mouth twisted in palsy, clownish. A tiny twig of her facial nerve, the one to the muscles in her mouth, has been severed. She will be thus from now on. As a surgeon, I had followed with religious fervor the curve of her flesh, I promise you that. Nevertheless, to remove the tumor in her cheek, I had to cut the little nerve.

 Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed, and together they seem to dwell in the evening lamplight, isolated from me, private. “Who are they,” I ask myself, “he with this wry mouth who gaze and touch each other so generously?”

 The woman speaks:

 “Will my mouth always be like this?” she asks.

 “Yes,” I say. “It is because the nerve was cut.”

 She nods, is silent. But the young man smiles.

“I like it,” he says. “It’s kind of cute.

 All at once I know who he is. I understand, and I lower my gaze. One is not bold in an encounter with a god. Unmindful of my presence, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth, and I’m so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate hers, to show her that their kiss still works.

I remember that the gods appeared in ancient Greece as mortals, and I hold my breath and let the wonder in.

I’ve often looked for God yet could not find him.  I’ve searched in vain, down on my knees pleading for Him to reveal himself, yet I could not find Him.  If only I did enough good deeds or donated enough money; would He show Himself then?

Yet could it be that Heaven and God are hiding in plain sight?  Every once in awhile, if I’m very still and can quiet my mind, I catch a glimpse of Him.  I see Him within the courage of my wife as she deals patiently and so tenderly with her aging parents.  I see Him in many of the teachers I taught with who compassionately cared for their students.  I see Him in the faith of my brother, the beauty of a cardinal in the snow, the laugh of my daughter and the smile of the Pakistani clerk at the the convenience store.

If I really quiet my mind and let go of the past and stop worrying about tomorrow, then Heaven and God open up before me.  The glimpses expand and the words become sentences.

All my life I thought I was so smart.  I thought I could use my brain and my cleverness to find God.  In truth all I really needed to do was stop thinking and be still.



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First Aid for the Soul

The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away. Psalm 90:10

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Much has been written and discussed about out recent election.  So I’m not going to bore you with my political ideology because, frankly, who cares!!

Regardless of whether you were blue or red it has been a VERY stressful time for us all.  Now, without much of a break, we’re jumping right into the holiday season which carries  it’s own special brand of stress.  Yes, it’s the joyous time of year and all that jazz.  However, it also is the time of year when depression is at its highest.  During the holidays the  loss of love ones and old wounds that can be opened hit us particularly hard.

Might I suggest a few things you can do to combat this stress?

  1.  Take a walk.  Yes it’s getting cold and the days are shorter, but you need the sunlight AND the fresh air. It’s a documented fact that some sort of exercise done outside significantly helps with the blues.  Even if you can’t get out during the day, it’s an excellent time to get out and see the holiday lights in your neighborhood.
  2. Realize that there are no perfect families.  I used to lament that my family wasn’t the Hallmark family you see on TV.  However, the older I got and the more I talked to other people, I realized that there are no “Leave It to Beaver” families out there.  Heck… even “Leave It to Beaver” times weren’t the best time for women in our country.
  3. Watch a video from “On the Road with Steve Hartman.”  Often heartwarming and never disappointing.
  4. Watch this video on gratefulness with Brother David Steindl-Rast.
  5. Escape into a good book, sports or binge-watch something.
  6. Set aside time to pray and/or meditate.
  7. Text or call an old friend and reconnect.
  8. If you can’t be happy….fake it!!  Denis Prager, the Jewish theologian,  states; Happiness — or at least acting happy, or at the very least not inflicting one’s unhappiness on others — is no less important in making the world better than any other human trait.
  9. Take a technology day off.  Shut down the phone, computer and tv.  You might go into withdrawal for a bit, but you’ll get used to it.
  10. Simplify your life.  Clear out that closet, trunk or room.  Organize your paperwork.
  11. Put God first.  In fact, this should be first on the list.  Make an effort to start your day with God.  Realize that outside of the election and holiday, there is always God.

There is no disputing the fact that these are indeed tough times.  So I end this blog with a quote from someone who endured much sorrow and had every reason to be stressed.

I keep my ideals, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.
How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.
Whoever is happy will make others happy too. – Anne Frank
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“Is There Something You Would Like to Have?”

These were the words that were spoken, as I eavesdropped in on a conversation between  husband and wife.  How many times in the history of man have these words been uttered, I wondered? Such a simple request; yet so telling.  It’s really a very gracious statement when you examine it closely.  Is there some need I can fulfill for you?  What would make you happy now?  How can I serve you?  All of these questions can be inferred from “Is there something you would like to have?

The conversation I was eavesdropping on was between Vice Admiral James Stockdale and his wife, Sybil.   Stockdale?  James Stockdale?  Where have you heard that name before?  You probably heard it in 1992, when Presidential Candidate Ross Perot named James Stockdale as his Vice Presidential running mate.  Needless to say, everyone was shocked and unaware of who this aging sailor was.

Stockdale was not informed that he would be participating in the October 13th   vice-presidential debate held in Atlanta, Georgia, until a week before the event. He had no formal preparation for the debate, unlike his opponents Al Gore and Dan Quayle, and did not discuss any political issues with Perot beforehand.  The 69 year old Stockdale opened the debate by saying, “Who am I? Why am I here?”, when responding to a request for an opening statement from debate moderator.  He was lampooned immediately by everyone from the New York Times to Saturday Night Live.

Yet that is not the James Stockdale I will remember.

From Wikipedia –

James Bond Stockdale (December 23, 1923 – July 5, 2005) was an American and United States Navy vice admiral. He was awarded the Medal of Honor in the Vietnam War where he was a prisoner of war for over seven years.  He had led aerial attacks from the carrier USS Ticonderoga (CVA-14) during the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Incident. On his next deployment, while Commander of Carrier Air Wing 16 aboard the carrier USS Oriskany (CV-34), he was shot down in North Vietnam on September 9, 1965.

He was held as a prisoner of war for seven and a half years in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton.”  He was routinely tortured and denied medical attention.  This left him with a damaged leg and a permanent limp.   When his torturers tried to use him as a propaganda tool by parading him out in public, he slit his scalp with a razor and beat himself in the face so that he was so disfigured that they couldn’t use him.

Stockdale and ten other prisoners were known as the Alcatraz Gang because of their tireless efforts in organizing resistance.  They were separated from the rest of the prisoners and each kept in a 3 x 9 foot cell; shackled in leg irons each night.

While James was held captive, Sybil organized The League of American Families of POWs and MIAs calling for more light to be shed on the treatment of POWs.  She was also used by the government to send coded messages to her husband in a twist right out of the movies.



He was released on February 12, 1973 during Operation Homecoming. His shoulders had been wrenched from their sockets, his leg shattered and his back broken during his torture.   The first thing he did, when he was safe at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines, was to call Sybil.   The conversation was recorded by their son, Stanford.  As you listen to recording, you can hear the frailty in his voice.  You can hear the years of torture and pain.  After professing their love for each other, James asks the question that I am not ashamed caused me to cry and started this story.  “Is there something you would like in the way of a gift?”

James Stockdale had endured seven and a half years of torture.  He was a skeleton of the man he was.  Yet he asked his beloved wife what HE could get her.  I’m pretty good with the English language but words fail me in trying to describe how this made me feel.

I heard this story told by his son, Jim, on the StoryCorps podcast as Lynn and I wove our way through the Louisa countryside in search of pie. On the podcast, Jim played the recording of the conversation between James and Sybil.  I felt the hot tears stream down my face as I heard him ask her if there was “something she would like.”  I tried to hide them from Lynn but I knew chances were she was crying, too.


What is it in us as humans that allows such magnanimity?   How can someone who was beaten and tortured routinely for seven years be so thoughtful as to ask his wife that question?  It’s at these moments that the face of God is revealed and I know that all is right and good if we only listen to his voice.  Listening to that intimate conversation from over forty years ago was sacred.

Vice Admiral James Stockdale may be remembered by most as the befuddled, fuzzy old, bent Vice Presidential candidate who was ridiculed by the questions he uttered in 1992.  I, however, will remember him by the question he asked in 1973 – “Is there something I can get for you?”


To listen to the StoryCorps Podcast AND the conversation between James and Sybil click here.


ps – It’s a bit ironic that his middle name is “Bond.”  He’s more of a hero than 007 could ever be in my book.




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