A Word From Jake

Thank you for your patience in my getting the morning blog posted. My grandson asked if he could write the blog. I am always appreciative for his assistance. For starters, I am thrilled that he has an interest in writing.  Secondly, he likes to think that this is a competition between us. He is fairly confident that his blogs always get more likes.

Before I turn you over to Jake, I will also apologize for now proofreading the meatloaf recipe I posted earlier today.  It provided a great opportunity for my Oklahoma friends to take a poke at Texas.  I guess you could say, what goes around, comes around.

We’ve spent the better part of the last three days attempting to bring closure to the General’s mother’s home.  Interestingly my daughter wanted the pan she used to prepare enchiladas.  The upside is that Andrea and Kevin invited everyone to their home last night for enchiladas using Grandma’s recipe.  The time shared was memorable and the meal was out of this world.

From the words crafted by my Grandson Jake, it is easy to see he takes delight in writing.  He, too, obviously has a great sense of humor.  In addition, he has a competitive sprit.  I think most of that is from the other side of his family tree.  I’m okay for living in a world where there doesn’t have to be winners and losers.  It’s not that I mind winning, but it is always at the expense of someone’s having to lose.  Of course, if striving to win makes one more skilled and determined, it has its value.  The following was crafted by Jake:

           THE SPRING VISIT 

The reason you got your glasses to read this is because I wrote this pretty small okay that’s not important right now that’s just a joke. So I haven’t written a blog or what ever you call it in a long longtime so I decided to write a blog. So I wanted it to be happy and snappy!  It will because I’ve had a pretty good time here. Ok so now what you’ve all been waiting for is the story so that’s what I’m going to write now!

It all started off when it was Friday and everyone was happy because it was spring break and they got pizza for the school lunch. So but I was even happier if that’s a word because I didn’t get that disgusting school lunch got Whataburger. Ok just forget about that. So I’m going to tell you what happened.


Friday night I went to my Grandparents house but I didn’t spend the night. I went to Aunt Dre and Uncle Kevin’s house. The next day I went to my great grandma’s house that sadly passed away. So then I got to get a lot of stuff that was either hers or Gramps’s. So here’s all the stuff that I got: a boat with a clock on it. A funny hat. Another clock. A pocket knife. Three pictures and I think that’s all


So I’m at Aunt Dre and Uncle Kevin’s house and I got to eat enchiladas. So the next day I decided to build a fort so I did and I layed down in it and listened to music and no it wasn’t Elvis Presley! So then I went to bed and the next day before church I was playing catch with Samson and Charlotte. So Charlotte was biting Samson’s leg. Samson was running and he step’s on my leg then he comes around in a circle and steps on my head then goes around the island and steps on my back twice.


Sincerely your blog writer Jake.


P.S. I do get more likes so I want you to like this so I beat granddad!

All our Best

Jake and Don

Apple Computer, Inc.




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Comedy Club

Craig and his family arrived late evening last night. I was on the phone when they arrived, so I didn’t see them when they came in. Earlier in the evening, my daughter and son-in-law brought dinner over for the family. I’m not Catholic, but I couldn’t agree more whole-heartedly that a catfish dinner was just what the doctor ordered. In addition, Andrea and Kevin (along with Samson and Charlotte – our 4 year and 4 month old labs – quasi-grand-dogs) spent the evening with us. The same is true for the General’s sister and brother-in-law.


The kids company was a welcomed relief. It had been a difficult day. I can’t imagine what it was like for Opal’s daughters. Actually, I can. Been there/done that is all I can say. The sad business of closing out a home is like a bombshell or emotional rollercoaster. Everything, I mean everything in the house becomes doubly precious. Like Craig said of the sledgehammer, “If it was important to Grandma, it is important to me. I’d like to have it.”


Hello Houston, we’ve got a problem. We ordered an industrial size dumpster for the non-essential kinds of stuff that all of us have. My definition of a “white elephant gift is something too good to throw away and not good enough to keep”. Probably all of us have things that fall into that category. Things in that category were destined for Good Will if no family member expressed an interest.


Most of us fill our homes with our stuff and the thought of filling them with someone else’s stuff is challenging. Under the auspices of true confession, I sense that our already full home is going to become significantly fuller. So why did we need the dumpster?


For starters you can’t give a mattress and box springs away even it is only six months old and cost twice as much as your first new car. Consequently, two bedrooms of mattresses and box springs had to be tossed. Trust me, from my perspective and that of my brother-in-law, a lot of the stuff we targeted for the dumpster didn’t make even the “white elephant gift” category. Seriously, who wants the first coloring book the oldest grandson colored as a one year old? Okay, so I’m just joking, but keepsakes going back farther than that were in abundance. I’m not being critical. All of us have that same tendency.


By the way, I referenced Craig in one of my blogs the other day and stated his age at 47. He was quick to refresh my memory that he isn’t that old. Consequently, this is my written correction for failing to recognize that he his only 46.


Last night in the presence of my son and his family, my daughter shared with me that speaking at her grandmother’s funeral proved more difficult than she had imagined. She had rehearsed the script enough times that she was reasonable comfortable that she could get through it without tears, but emotions that came out of nowhere resurfaced. She covered it well. I thought the 2-second pause was simply an effective way to underscore the importance of the point she had just made. I was so proud of her.


She said: “I thought I was going to have to ask: ‘Why’s the carpet wet Todd?” Jake who was in earshot answered immediately, “I don’t know Margo!” We all broke into laughter.


Obviously, the expression is a memorable line from a movie. Andrea and Craig have tossed the expression out between themselves for the past year or two. It is a good way to break the ice on the unexplainable or highlight things that puzzle us. Frankly, for myself, I may opt to borrow the expression, but I have no interest (let me modify that – “absolutely no interest” in watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation ever again. The same is true for “Home Alone.”


However, I clearly recognize the importance of laughter. When I worked in Child Welfare – we experienced what we called Child Welfare Hysteria – The ability to find things to laugh about. The same was true when I worked in the emergency room of a major hospital back when I was in college. Have you laughed today?


Depending on which third world country you live in, you may or may not think the following is funny:

You know you’re from ____________ if:


  • The blue Book value of your truck goes up and down depending on how much gas it has in it.
  • You’ve been married three times and you still have the same in-laws.
  • You think a woman who is “out of your league” bowls on a different night.
  • You wonder how service stations keep their restrooms so clean.
  • Someone in your family died right after saying, “Hey, y’all watch this.
  • Your junior prom offered day care.
  • You think the last words of the “Star-Spangled Banner” are “Gentlemen start your engines.
  • You think loading the dishwasher means getting your wife drunk.


Okay – Enough about life in third world countries.


Proverbs 17:22: A merry heart doeth good like a medicine, but a broken spirit drieth the bones.”


Laughter stimulates the brain, the nervous system, the respiratory system, the hormonal system, and the muscular system. Numbers of studies show:


  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Lightens depression
  • Increases muscle flexion
  • Can reduce allergy symptoms
  • Strengthens the immune system
  • And reduces stress


Laugher no only provides stress release and exercise, but reduces pain as well. Laughing triggers the release of endorphins, which are the body’s natural painkillers, and provides a temporary distraction from pain. The endorphins released during laughter have proven to help reduce the pain and symptoms of arthritis and enhance treatments of many illness and diseases


Don’t forget to laugh.


All My Best!


Quasi-Normal Evening

Last night was the first quasi-normal evening at home that we’ve had in a very long time. For starters, it included a homemade meal. I had not stopped to think about it before, but for the better part of a month or truthfully the past two months, our lives and routines have been way outside the norm. Add to that the two weeks the General had the flu, and 2018 has been anything other than routine.


During that time, we assisted in getting the General’s mother moved to Henly and then settled into helping manage her intermittent hospitalizations and health care issues. I figuratively used the term “we”, but the heroine in the story is the General. I simply rode shotgun and marginally met expectations by doing whatever the General needed me to do.


I recently watched the CBS sitcom entitled “Living Biblically”. The sitcom is based on A.J. Jacob’s book: “A Year of Living Biblically”. If you recall, Jacobs is the guy who read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica. He then wrote “The Know It All” and overnight it became a best seller. The same is true of his book entitled “A Year Of Living Biblically”.


The sitcom includes a scene where the star of the sitcom announces to his wife: “For the next nine months, I plan to live according to the Bible”. She responded something closely akin to: “Not so fast. Your choosing to make that lifestyle change is going to impact me and I’m not sure I’m open to that.”


The first three days of this week have been absorbed in bidding farewell. A family visitation at the funeral home in Johnson City on Monday evening was followed by a funeral on Tuesday. That was followed by a funeral in Odessa on Wednesday. Without talking time to catch our breath, we moved into the “bringing closure” to her mother’s home in Henly.


As a side note, a dear friend in Odessa recently called to my attention that the obituary including the funeral arrangements for the General’s mother didn’t make the local newspaper until Thursday. I guess you could say: “Old news is the order of the day in Odessa”. I shared with my friend that the obituary was emailed to the newspaper on Monday morning. Truthfully, it make have been emailed on Sunday evening. Worst possible case scenario, we anticipated it might not make the press until Tuesday. Never in a million years did we anticipate it wouldn’t be included until Thursday. Like they say: “ There’s nothing like shutting the gate after letting the cows out”.


So yesterday we moved into the “bringing closure” to the General’s mother’s home in Henly. Once again, I figuratively use “we” to describe the process. Her siblings and the in-laws/out-laws were also included. I threw in the “out-law” descriptor because someone has to play the role of the black sheep in the family. Guess what, yours truly generally paints myself in the corner as the impatient guy who simply wants to get it done.


The General systematically is calling most of the shots. If the siblings know what’s good for them, they’ll simply say “Yes Ma’am” and follow her strategy. Truthfully, she’s probably doing it the right way. She wants everyone in the extended family to have an opportunity to select things that they want. Consequently, no one is being invited to come in and “clean house” so to speak.


When folks came for the funeral in Johnson City, she encouraged them to walk through the house and write in her “yellow note book” what they wanted. She’d look for duplications, figure out a process to impartially manage the selections and she’d move forward.


From my narrow view of things, she was throwing in a lot of unnecessary steps. I figured the more quickly the house could be emptied of contents the better. I was “odd man out” in that respect. Everyone agreed with the General! Consequently, my vote didn’t matter. “So what’s new you ask?” “Not much” is my response.


Yesterday, the siblings started identifying and moving out the things they wanted. Okay, so I’ve got wonderful memories, I couldn’t think of much beyond that I wanted to hang onto. If fact, when we were moving the General’s mother from Odessa to Henly, I had a difficult time understanding the General’s mother’s insistence that a sledge hammer be moved. For starters, she didn’t have the strength to lift it. I’m not even sure I do. (That was a joke) In addition, I’m coming up on 71 years and I’ve never owned or needed a sledge hammer. Did I mention, that my thoughts fell in the category of irrelevant? We moved the sledgehammer.


Surprisingly, my son has asked that his name be put on the list for the sledgehammer. His rationale is simple: “If the sledge-hammer was important to Grandma, it is important to me.” The last time I checked with the General, he is the only one who has targeted the sledgehammer for their list.


Truthfully, I didn’t initially want anything from the house. I can promise you that the General and I will not be on the same page. I’m holding my breath. We don’t have room for another thing in our home. That being said, “It is magical thinking on my part to make the assumption that “sentimental value” won’t rule the day.”


Okay, so I tossed my very short list in the ringer. No one, I mean no one wanted what I chose to request. In fact, the General and her siblings were surprised that I asked for them. No self-respecting man would ever display deer horns on a wall unless he was the sportsman who shot the deer. Okay, so I don’t hunt anything and for the most part, I don’t like the look of dead things on display. In addition, I also may not fall into the category of a “self-respecting” man.  However, I could make a place in my office. Next to some G Harvey prints, the deer horns might look good? I’d need to move some things to make room, but it was worth the shot (pardon the pun) or so it seemed.


Like I said earlier: “Last night was the first quasi-normal evening at home that we’ve had in a very long time. For starters, it included a homemade meal”. I made a very large meatloaf using an old family recipe. The recipe was handed down to me from my mother. She got it from Quaker Oats. Not only was the meatloaf good, but it tasted just like the meatloaf my mother used to make.


Okay, so the term “quasi-normal” is not intended to reference the fact that the General’s siblings and their spouses joined us for dinner. It was a very pleasant evening.


All My Best!



The Sweetest Lady I Know


I learned some things about the General’s brother this week that I didn’t know. Since I’ve known him for well over half a century, the new revelations came as a surprise. For starters, he can drive faster than 55 mph. I didn’t know that. Secondly, he has the capacity to be really funny. I wasn’t sure it was in him to color outside the lines, but he proved me wrong. At his mother’s request, he and I were to tag-team officiating at her funeral service.


The General’s mother historically has been fairly utilitarian and frugal in most aspects of her life. If she needed a new sofa, she’d simply opt to re-upholster the old one. If you process that statement to mean she outsourced the work to someone else, you’d be mistaken. Surprisingly, she could do upholstery work and was pretty good at it. Where she developed the skill, I don’t know.


So a few years ago when the General’s mother asked her brother to conduct her funeral service when the time came, she reportedly also had me in mind as a back up plan. If for some reason he could not or did not want to, it was permissible for me to be asked. She did suggest in writing (even though it was never shared with me personally), that I could handle the welcome and obituary and the first portion of the service. She would leave the more substantiate matters to her son. That is the same way it rolled out in her husband’s funeral seventeen years ago, so I wasn’t totally surprised when the General told me that her mother had requested my participation.


What that really means is that the General’s mother was okay with “homemade”. Like I said, she was utilitarian and practical when it came to most matters. She didn’t need to outsource a funeral service. She could appropriate it in-house. It might not be top shelf, but it was home grown and the price was right. I’d call that a sweet deal. Okay, so it was also an honor to be asked. I get that and I’m grateful.


The General’s brother of course was the “A-Team” and I’m the guy that got in just under the wire. Though the brother is light years younger than me, I doubted that I could convince him to vary from tradition and add a few more folks to the roster of those invited to speak. Why not give the grandchildren the option to share a reflection or two? That had not been included in the template his mother had hand written four and a half years ago, so I was doubtful he’d go for it. To my surprise, he was open to that and thought it was a good idea. I also suggested that the last thing we needed was a thirty-minute typical funeral message with three points and a poem at the end. He nodded his head indicating some kind of agreement, but he never got to the place that he actually verbalized he and I were on the same page.  In the final analysis, he got the last word.


Okay, so was I was treading on dangerous waters? First of all, I wasn’t asked to do the funeral message. He was asked by his mother to conduct the service. What was I thinking?   I’m telling him to color outside the lines even without knowing his capacity or comfort level in doing so. In addition, it also may have been the last thing his mother wanted. However, she did mention “happy and sometimes snappy”. What I envisioned clearly fell in that category.


Frankly, when Ernest announced at the funeral service on Tuesday that I had asked him to dispense with a regular message, but that he was going ahead with a message anyway, I thought to myself: “I figured as much!” He comes from a DNA string that innately negates being told by Don to do anything. He announced that he had even entitled the message: “She’s the Sweetest Lady I Know”.


So was I surprised? You can bet your life that I was surprised! The surprise wasn’t in the title, but in the content. For my books, he hit a home run and I’ve never been more surprised. The way I see it, you’d have to be blood-kin to get by with sharing the stories he shared. Some of that stuff probably falls under the category of “family secrets”. He literally let the cat out of the bag.


Consequently, he’s moved up a rung or two on the ladder in my books. If the General reads this blog, I’ll probably plummet a few rungs on hers. You’re probably wondering how close to the top the General’s brother is getting, but I’m not saying. Actually, to his credit he did move up a couple of steps.


Though he is younger than me, I perceived that he is probably more traditional and set-in-his-ways than I am. That, too, could be traced to his DNA. Some might even describe him as “old school”. I did and I have to concede that I had him figured wrong.


Before his message was over, it garnered a lot of laughter and clearly fell in the category of happy and snappy. His mother would have been pleased. He began by saying he was the favorite son though that was strictly coincidental. It could have had something to do with only having two sisters.


He mentioned that he titled the funeral message, “She’s the Sweetest Lady I Know”. He did so because invariably that is what everyone always said when they asked him how she was doing. He’d answer their question and they’d respond, “She’s the sweetest lady I know.”


I didn’t see the punch line coming, but he didn’t even flinch when he candidly announced: “Sometimes I saw her differently. Sometimes I found her to be difficult”. He purposefully elongated his enunciation of difffficccultt to garner a laugh. I don’t know what his sister’s thought about his true confession, but I immediately recognized that he and I have more in common than I thought.


Consequently, he told those in attendance, “I’ll share a few stories and then you decide.” He expressed gratitude to his two sisters for mostly tag-teaming together to make themselves available to help with their mother. He mentioned that Janetta, the sister from Florida, had spent a couple of weeks in Odessa with their mom because she needed the support. Subsequently, the General showed up for a change in shift and she spent a couple of weeks with her mother. He could see the handwriting on the wall. He was next in line to fill that void. Guilt is a great motivator. It was his turn.


Arriving in Odessa, he stopped by the hospital to visit his mother before he went to her home and they reportedly had the best visit. His mom was feeling well and was very conversational. She shared things about her childhood with him that he had never heard before. In fact he even had the thought: “She is the sweetest lady”.


She then shared with him that she had been mean to his two sisters. He didn’t mention any reference to “meaner than a junk yard dog”, but at the end of the day, mean is mean. Reportedly, she was mean with the General because the General had attempted for two consecutive weeks to tell her what to do and she didn’t like anyone to telling her what to do. I don’t know about you, but none of that surprised me in the least little bit. The General can have her moments.


She expressed to her son that she was mean to the other sister but that it really wasn’t her fault. She didn’t recognize that she was her daughter. She thought she was a home health care worker who had been moved inside her home to take care of her. Consequently, being mean to her didn’t really count.


The following day after the brother arrived, the General headed for home leaving her brother responsible for managing their mom. It didn’t prove to be a “heaven on earth” experience for either of them. His mother was released from the hospital the day he found himself with full responsibility. He was literally on his own and flying uncharted territory without radar.


It turned out not to be a pretty picture. He suggested to his mother that she come back to the hill country with him for a couple of weeks just to recuperate. In an instant, the General’s mother connected the dots in her head. She intuitively figured it all out. The explanation was simple: “His sisters had turned him against her”.


He breathed a sigh of relief. At least it was his sisters that were the object of his mother’s anger. But “Oh how quickly the tide can turn”. The next day, with the furry of Hurricane Opal, she let him have it for all it was worth. Apparently, even though he may have been tainted by his sister’s influence, she was now holding him fully responsible for his behavior. Not only did she not plan to go home with him, she clearly articulated that it was her preference that he go home period. She neither needed nor wanted him to be there.


Wow! He acknowledged in the funeral service that he knew either of his sisters would stick it out for a couple of weeks despite their mother’s behavior, but after two days he was done! That adds a whole new dimension to “rode hard and put up wet”. Consequently, he went home.


When he got back home several folks knowing it had been his intent to bring his mother back with him, asked if his mother had come home with him? In the course of the conversation they added: “She is the sweetest lady I know.”


Trust me, the brother-in-law was on a roll. Normally, I would have referred to him as the General’s brother, but I loved the guy’s transparency. Consequently, I figured he was going to need a friend after either of his two sisters finished with him. Of course there is an off chance that based on the laughter, they might give him a walk.


Time won’t permit me to share all the stories he shared, but with each story he referenced: “She’s the sweetest lady I know”. Each reference drew the sound of laughter. One of my favorites referenced the family rule that you eat everything on your plate. He didn’t remember how old he was at the time, but he clearly remembers the experience.


It was a church potluck. Someone had prepared what he thought were new potatoes. He covered his plate with them. Actually, new potatoes were the only food item he put on his plate. As he shared the story, I could even sense his anticipation of the taste. Nothing tastes better than fresh new potatoes.


Put yourself in his shoes. What would it feel like to subsequently make the sad discovery that the new potatoes were not new potatoes? I’m not sure I can write this without laughing out loud: “They weren’t new potatoes, they were turnips.” The way I see it, everyone is entitled to a mistake or two. The General’s mother was a strict constructionist. She saw it differently. She made her son eat everyone of those turnips. He did mention that to this day, he detests the taste of turnips. But you know what they say: “She is the sweetest lady.”


Over the past several years there have been lots of conversations related to her independence and reluctance to recognize that she wasn’t capable of doing everything related to maintaining her home. My brother-in-law mentioned the conversation less than a decade ago when his mother telephoned to ask about her need to repair her air conditioner.


She reported that it was really hot and that the air conditioner was not working. Reportedly, she knew what needed to be done, but she wasn’t sure how to get the part off to replace it. Ernest explained that she needed to recall a repairman. He went through a detailed description of the steps involved and none of them could be done without being on the roof. Any eighty-year-old (regardless of gender), has no business being on the roof.


Consequently, she opted to ask the question differently. She had already followed most of the steps he had explained. She was on the roof looking at the part.   I don’t know which of them raised their voices first, but their conversation was less than amicable.


“So what are you going to do if you fall off the house?” Her son asked that question more than a little exasperated with his mother. She answered, “I brought my cell phone with me. If I fall, I can call someone for help”. I can’t remember who hung up on whom, but the conversation ended abruptly. The next day she called to report that she had repaired the air conditioner.


He shared a similar story of her changing out an electrical switch in her home. How she managed not to electrocute herself, he didn’t know. He told her not to do it. Reportedly, in the midst of differing opinions on her skill set, voices got raised and the conversation ended with an abrupt dial-tone. The next day, she telephoned him to report that she’d done it and it worked. You can guess the line: “She’s the sweetest lady I know.”


Two weeks following getting a pacemaker with instructions not to lift anything or exert herself, his mother telephoned her son to ask about cleaning out the dryer hose to ensure efficiency of the dryer’s operation. He was emphatic (I think he started the yelling match this time) that she could not and should not move the clothes dryer.


She reported that she had already done that. The conversation abruptly ended with the sound of another dial tone. She called the next day to report that she had resolved the problem without difficulty.


The brother talked about how his mother had the propensity to be the sweetest lady with grandchildren, but that sometimes found it a lot more challenging to initiate that approach with him.


His message ended on a very upbeat note. It was hilarious.


All My Best!






Final Farewell


Sometimes necessity is the mother of invention. It had not been the family’s intent originally to hold two funeral services for the General’s mother. However, the logistics were complicated. One of the commitments that Opal garnered from her children prior to making a commitment to move to the hill country is that they would take her back to Odessa for burial when the time of her departure arrived.


Initially, the family envisioned that the entire service would be held in Odessa. A couple of things complicated that plan. For starters, for Opal’s grandchildren with children in school, that would necessitate their children minimally missing at least three days of school in order to get to West Texas and back home. That wasn’t a workable plan.


Secondly, the lack of availability of hotel rooms was a major dilemma. There simply isn’t space available. In the unlikely event you can find it, the cost falls into the category of $350 to $500 a night for a room. By the way, I’m not talking about a luxury hotel. I’m talking about the kind that you could find elsewhere for less than a fourth of that cost. Under the category of “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not”, the Super 8 Hotel had one room available for last night. At a price of $500 a night, one would have to be dog-tired and totally out-of-their-mind to that as an option.


So the makeshift “plan b” was to hold a funeral service in Johnson City on Tuesday and one in Odessa today. The service yesterday unfolded beautifully. It was extremely well attended and the extra element that the General’s mother hadn’t thought to request in her two pages of written expectations was one that involved the participation of grandchildren.


At the service yesterday, three of Opal’s grandchildren opted to share their personal reflections related to their grandmother. Without talking or sharing notes among themselves, there were similar themes that seemed to resonate throughout their messaging. I was so proud of all three of them. In addition, the words they shared were also the heartfelt feelings of those who opted not to speak.


For the past two weeks of my attempting to find a life lesson or adventure in the midst of the  ordinary, my blog has dealt with the General’s mother’s illness and subsequent death. Consequently, why not follow that theme through the final goodbyes?


I sat mesmerized by the sincerity and heartfelt compassion woven into the words of the three grandchildren who shared from their heart. What beautiful and loving tributes they paid their grandmother. Their words tugged at my heart strings. Consequently, I asked permission to include their presentations into today’s blog:


[Andrea Forrester Stearns – Age 37]

“Grandma. Grammal. Granma. Plain Grandma. We all had our own unique names for this incredibly special lady. She wore each one like a badge of honor. We often joked privately about who was her favorite. The truth is, she favored us all.


“As kids, summers were spent at Granma’s. She encouraged our imaginations. We turned her house into countless forts, military fields, drive-thru diners, grocery stores and business offices. We raced bicycles through mud puddles in the front driveway, crafted mazes in the cane, rode and cared for horses, strolled down to the corner store, picked corn and beans from the garden and took midnight swims with Gramps.


“Granma taught us to cook, to clean up, the importance of hard work, how to get along with others. Most importantly, she taught us to love the Lord.


“With Granma, no question was answered with a simple few words. She had the unique ability to take you around the world and back with her response. She always knew where she was going, even when you didn’t. It’s one of the things I will miss about her. Fortunately, Craig inherited that same ability. So when you are missing Granma in this way…call Craig. Just make sure you have a good 45 minutes clear in your schedule…you’re gonna need it.


“During one of my many cherished conversations with Granma, she finishing answering my question with this piece of advice: ‘Honey, never look back unless it’s to pluck a blessing’. Praise be to God, she left us all with a lifetime of blessings to pluck”.


[Emily Austin – Age 41]

The woman we’re honoring today goes by many names. Mother, Grandma, Plain Grandma, Opal, Mrs. E.L. Topper, and Opal Pearl, are a few. To me, she was Grammal. When my hearing loss was developing as a kid, I heard an “L” on the end of the word Grandma, thus she has always been Grammal to me. It was a special thing between the two of us. And she had as many special relationships as she did names. Everyone of her grandchildren, great grandchildren, friends, family…we all have an Opal Topper story that makes us feel like our time with her, whether for a few minutes or for a lifetime, was special. She made everyone feel warm, loved, and like she sincerely cared about everything you said. Of course, she was also a stubborn as a mule. I don’t think anyone here would dispute that she was stubborn and not perfect. But perfect is different than good. And that she was. She was good, and true, and she loved us so much.


I wrote a poem once based on a conversation I was having with Grammal about life and aging. She loved it, said she wanted it read at her funeral, and sure enough, years later I am here because she asked me read that poem. Unfortunately, she had Grandmother Eye’s, which to me means she loved it just because I wrote, not because it was any good. Like I said, she could make you feel special.


The poem is called Life’s Page


By time and memories,

Age is often measured.


We count the days

And tell of what we’ve weathered.


Children prove our purpose,

Houses hold our past.


We talk of what we’ve lived,

And how it all goes by so fast.


What we forget as we mourn,

Life’s quickly racing pace-


Is that age is a thing of beauty,

A gift of lovely grace.


So as you grow, and as you age-

Love all that is written

On your Life’s Page”


[Craig Forrester – Age 47]

It seems fitting to me that as the favorite grandchild I would have the last word from the cousins.  Of course, as you’ve already heard, there seems to be some debate regarding who the favorite actually is.  That’s just the way that Grandma was, she treated us each in such a way that we’re all convinced that we were her favorite.  I can imagine that the same debate is taking place among her great-grandchildren.


The grandmothers on my wife’s side of the family all took on their husbands first name and have henceforth been known as Grandma Jake and Grandma Junior.  Grandma didn’t do that and for a while it caused a bit of confusion for our kids whenever we’d talk about Grandma. For clarification sake the kids began calling her Plain Grandma.  Though she joyfully embraced the moniker, she even began signing her cards and letters to them as Plain Grandma, she was anything but plain.


Grandma lived a life that was full of love and adventure.  And oh the stories she could tell. And tell them she did.


“In 2001 Becky and I were in the process of moving from Quantico, Virginia back to Camp Pendleton, California.  I don’t recall the exact circumstances that lead up to it but Grandma agreed to travel with me from Johnson City to California.  I honestly did not know that it was possible to talk for 20 hours straight but Grandma made it look effortless.


“From that point on, any time I found myself on a road trip or stuck in traffic, I just picked up my phone and Grandma became my traveling companion.


“From a pretty early age Jenna took to bunking with Plain Grandma every chance she could.  Beck and I would instruct them both not to stay up all night talking. We’d typically give them about 30 minutes or so and then Beck would give me the look.  I’d then go into their room and remind them that they really needed to get some sleep.


“In addition to telling stories, Grandma also loved to cook and nothing pleased her more than for you to enjoy a meal that she’d prepared.  The only downside was that at one point she’d worked in a school cafeteria. From that point on she was never able to manage portion sizes for just a family-sized group.


“From high school on I typically spent my summers in west Texas working with Gramps in the sheet metal shop.  Most days we would go back to the house and have lunch with Grandma. Of course Grandma always prepared a full course meal.  At some point I asked if we could have a lighter lunch; something like soup and sandwiches. The next day we came home to find a cauldron of cheese soup and a platter full of grilled cheese sandwiches.  Three bowls of soup and half a dozen sandwiches later, Gramps and I headed back to the shop feeling pretty satisfied with our “light lunch”.


“Until recently, Grandma seemed ageless to me.  In early 2009, shortly after Jake was born Becky required surgery and was going to be out of commission for a couple of weeks.  So what do you do when you have three kids under the age of five, including a newborn, and you’re half a country away from family?  If you’re Opal Topper’s grandson you call Grandma. How does an all expenses paid trip to the mountains in the middle of winter sound?  Oh, Beck and I are leaving you with three kids for a few days. My 80 year old Grandma came riding to the rescue. She and her great-grandchildren had a wonderful time.  We have pictures of her giving “horseback” rides to prove it.


“Now before y’all start thinking that Grandma isn’t the only one who can talk endlessly, let me close by saying that Grandma is much-loved.  And I’m grateful to her for her love and influence.


“Isaiah 40:31 tell us, “but they who wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not grow weary; they shall walk and not faint”.

I’d say it was a fitting tribute and final farewell for a much loved grandma.

All My Best!






Food For Thought


When it comes to music genres I stay pretty close to home. I either listen to easy listening music or I gravitate toward songs that tell another’s story. I like people’s stories and when they can be shared in the lyrics of a song, I’m all in so to speak.


Okay, so what I’m I talking about? Let me share an example: The sound of Neil Diamond singing “I Am…Said I” has got to be autobiographical. He crafted the song himself. I sense it came from somewhere deep inside. You remember the lyric’s don’t you? “L.A.’s fine, the sun shines most the time   And the feeling is ‘lay back’   Palm trees grow and rents are low   But you know I keep thinkin’ about   Making my way back   Well I’m New York City born and raised   But nowadays   I’m lost between two shores   L.A.’s fine, but it ain’t home   New York’s home   But it ain’t mine no more   ‘I am”… I said’   To no one there   And no one heard at all     Not even the chair   ‘I am’… I cried   ‘I am’… said I   And I am lost and I can’t   Even say why   Leavin’ me lonely still…”


Of course, I like a story even if it isn’t autobiographical. Patsy Cline’s “I Fall To Pieces” is obviously realistic enough that many listen to it while crying in their beer. I also like Adele’s “Hello”. It, too, shares the story of heartache and disappointment.


Recently a dear friend knowing that our family is in the midst of dealing with the loss the General’s mother, sent me a private note: “Don, when time allows, check out this song: Avett Brothers – No Hard Feelings. I like the lyrics”. Out of respect for my friend and my inquisitive nature, I didn’t let the day end before I listened to the song.


All I could think was: Wow! Wow! Wow! Her reference to the song “No Hard Feelings” by the Avett Brothers was a gift. I didn’t even know I needed it, but I am indebted to her for steering me in that direction. The tune continues to roll around in my head, but more importantly so does a multiple of variations related to the lyrics.


I’ll simply share the first verse to give you a frame of reference.

When my body won’t hold me anymore

And it finally lets me free

Will I be ready?


When my feet won’t walk another mile

And my lips give their last kiss goodbye

Will my hands be steady?


When I lay down my fears

My hopes and my doubts

The rings on my fingers

And the keys to my house

With no hard feelings


The message immediately became crystal clear – sometimes we loose the joy associated to a gift because we have a tendency to hang on too tightly. Our obsession to keep what we’ve been given makes us defensive other than trusting of the giver of all gifts to continue pour meaning and purpose into our lives.


I’m not just talking about the loss of a loved one. What about the line: “When I lay down my fears   My hopes and my doubts   The rings on my fingers   And the keys to my house   With no hard feelings?”


We mistakenly attempt to create a heaven on earth experience in our homes and in the things that surround our lives. We hang on to it for all it is worth and seldom is there a time we freely feel comfortable to let go. We cling to stuff and we cling to life and we cling to others as though our world would end if anything changed.


Weren’t those the same kind of things that Job from the Old Testament struggled with following the loss of everything important in his life? Even his own health was left in shambles.


John Claypool beautifully encapsulates the story by saying:

The first thing God did was to call into question the whole justice / injustice approach to the mystery of life. God began by asking Job where he had been when the whole drama of creation had begun. What had he done to create his own life? Or to call the universe into being? Or to make possible the existence of his possessions, or his children or his health?


In other words, God was reminding Job that what he had become so indignant about losing were actually things which were not earned by him in the first place. They were gifts- graciously given him by another beyond his deserving and thus not to be possessed or held on to as if they were his. To be angry because a gift is taken away is to miss the whole point of life.


That we ever have the things we cherish is more than we deserve. Gratitude and humility, rather than resentment should characterize our handling of the objects of life.


And this was the new perspective on the past, this realization that nothing really belongs to us in the sense that we have a right to it, that gave Job a sense of perspective about his losses and started him on the upswing of healing.


The other insight that came to Job was a fresh vision of the future. God made it clear that he had not been totally defeated by the events of the past but was still capable of giving meaning to life. In other words, apart from all appearances, Job still had a future in God. What Job discovered in his encounter with God was that goodness and mercy can be counted on the follow us all the days of our life, just as the psalmist said. He who has given us the good gifts of the past can be depended on to continue to give meaning to our lives. Our challenge then is to become flexible enough and trusting enough to let this happen”.


So what does it mean to have the kind of trust in God that in the midst of loss, we give thanks for what we were given and trust the giver of all gifts to continue pouring meaning and purpose in our lives?


I can’t think of a better answer to that question than the true story my friend shared concerning her own family. She writes:

“My grandchildren were 8, 10, and 12 when their mother, April, died suddenly. At the graveside service, the minister said a few words and then asked if anyone would like to speak. My 12 year old grandson’s hand shot up. The minister called him to come up and Thomas Allen stood in front of his mother’s casket and spoke for a good ten minutes. He spoke clearly and loudly, with good eye contact. Not once did he falter. He didn’t shed a tear as he spoke about his mother. The fifty or so of us who were seated under the canopy were motionless, tears streaming down our faces. My grandson has always been interested in military history so his words had a military slant. “My mother fought many battles in her short life. She only lost this one.” He went on to say that “I was fortunate to spend 12 years with my mother, my only regret is that I can’t give those 12 years to my sister and brother.” At the end, he placed his hand over his heart and said, ‘I know in my heart that I will not ever see my mother on this earth again, but she will forever be in my heart.’ With that he sat down. There was total silence. The minister stood and said, ‘I don’t believe there is anything left to say but ‘Amen.’” I believe that Thomas Allen was guided by the hand of God that afternoon. We could not have planned any service any better.


Today, the April K. Gunter Foundation awards college scholarships in the Round Rock School District. April was responsible for getting over 600 businesses and individuals to contribute money and equipment to the school district every year. My grandchildren participate in the scholarship selection process”.


Perhaps now you know why the sound of “No Hard Feelings” keeps rolling around in my head. Isn’t there a message in that for all of us?


All My Best!




Happy and Snappy


Yesterday was a day of surprises. The General knew that her mother had written down some notes regarding her wishes concerning her funeral, but for whatever reason we didn’t think to look at what she had written until we went to the funeral home to make arrangements on Sunday afternoon. The General’s sister-in-law quickly scanned the document to ascertain what songs if any the General’s mother had requested.


She periodically read out loud some of the script and the funeral home director with a smile on his face said: “This stuff is really good.” I had to concur that it was really funny. Why it surprised me, I don’t know. Even the obituary says it all: “Opal had an inner strength and grace about her that manifest itself in independence”. She left nothing to chance.


Her note was addressed “To The Family” and opened with the line: “I am not going to presume to arrange the service”. The next two pages looked a lot like a contradiction to her opening statement. Some of what she suggested fell in the category of “You’ve got to be kidding”. Fortunately, there was an escape hatch included in almost everything she suggested because she added: “If you want to”.


I had forgotten that at the General’s dad’s funeral seventeen years ago, there were no details that didn’t first need approval from the matriarch of the family. Independence coupled with leaving nothing to chance is a character trait that traces itself back as far as I can remember. Of course, consistent predictably has merit. At least you know what to expect.


Sometimes that is true. Sometimes it isn’t. I’d say that both the General and her sister were surprised on this one. Their mother made a special notation to both Treva and Janetta: “In your Dad’s service, I have not forgotten that I didn’t ask you to participate in any way and I have been remorseful from this oversight for years”. She invited them to do anything they wanted to do and even suggested that they might want to sing.


If you could have seen the expression on the General’s face and that of her sister, you would have laughed out loud. Whether purposeful or otherwise, this was the height of comedy. It probably goes without saying that one of the innate characteristics passed on to both of the daughters through their DNA and environmental conditioning was the concept of independence and leaving nothing to chance. That didn’t carry with it any musical abilities. No – They were not going to sing at their mother’s funeral.


I found it of interest that her mother had written her two-page thesis on 15 October 2013. In her note to me inviting my participation in the service, she added the notation: “Don, I know that I have not talked to you about this – I should have and I apologize.” That put a smile on my face. My left-brain function is fairly limited, but I playfully did the math in my head and didn’t even have to use my fingers. If she really thought it was important to personally invite my participation, she still had four plus years to initiate that conversation. Trust me, I thought it was funny. I have been in the family three months short of fifty years. Color that anyway you want, but I’m pretty good at impromptu. I didn’t need an invitation or advance warning. Of course, it is an honor for me to participate. Of course, if she had suggested a singing role, I’d have been in the “respectfully declining” category with her two daughters.


Actually I find it a strength that she chose to write out her wishes regarding her funeral service four and a half years ago. Who else would take the time or even choose to give it some thought? Billy Graham once said: “We live in a ‘death-denying’ society. We avoid dealing with the certainty of death anyway we can.”


I wish I could tell you I’ve done a better job of openly embracing the concept that my days are numbered and that I can’t be that far from crossing the finish line. Cognitively, I get it, but that doesn’t mean I’ve been proactive enough to sign my DNA directive.


Despite the fact that death is unavoidable for everyone, most of us come to the end of our days with surprise that we’ve exhausted our time this side of eternity. Opal at least, was carefully planning for her last goodbye.


Getting back to the selections of songs, Opal provided some mixed messages. She wrote in one place: “As for the choice of songs – whatever the family would like. I chose the songs in 2000 (service for her husband) and wished later that I had made other choices. “It Is Well With My Soul” and “Amazing Grace” were most likely his favorite songs and if I were doing it over, I would have used both of them.”


Later she states: “When asked what my favorite song or scripture is, I am not much help. Perhaps ‘What A Friend We Have In Jesus’ would be the song, but not for this occasion – too slow”. She also ruled out “Amazing Grace”. It too was too slow.


She thoughtfully added: “Just remember, this service is for family and friends. I’d like happy and sometimes snappy”. I fully suspect that we will honor her by celebrating her life focusing on the many ways she has enriched our lives. Something of her shall live with us as long as we draw breath and we shall be better; more full of life for it”.


Most often you only have one opportunity to get it right. We’ve decided as a family to make two runs at it. There will be a service in Johnson City tomorrow at 11:00 a.m. and a service in Odessa on Wednesday at 11:00 a.m. Did I mention that “happy and snappy” is the only way we roll? We will honor Opal keeping those marching orders in mind.


All My Best!