Friday, February 15, 2019

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There's something you may not realize about my past. I spent some time in Alcatraz - about half a day. By the time I got inside that infamous prison in San Francisco Bay, there was nobody home. It was a museum! And it's a fascinating place to tour. I actually took a group of teenagers to Alcatraz one day to record a radio program there. We spent some time in the area that was used for solitary confinement...they even locked up the teenagers in the main cell block. Frankly, though, I'll tell you, it is a dismal, depressing environment, even when it's just a museum. As our tour ended, we were led through a gate and into a scenic area just outside the wall. It was a gorgeous day, and we had a fantastic view of the bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the San Francisco skyline. One of the teenagers looked back and mumbled three words, "Only a wall." When I asked what he meant, he said, "Just think, only a wall separated them from all of this!"

Thursday, February 14, 2019

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It was Valentine's Day and it turned out to be a milestone day in my relationship with the girl I considered to be the best catch in our class. I knew she had been seriously dating someone else for quite a while, and I had to plan my moves very shrewdly or I'd scare her off. So, we had what we both called this "brother/sister" relationship. Oh, sure I wanted it to be more, but at least I could spend some time with her this way without scaring her off. Well, one day I'd had enough of this platonic relationship stuff. She was actually bringing a Valentine's cake up to some radio staff at our college and I happened to be there. We got into a pretty intense discussion there, standing by the water fountain. And finally I blurted out what I'd been feeling for a long time, "I'm sick and tired of just being your 'brother.' I want it to be much more!" There it was, man, all or nothing. And what happened? I married the girl! (OK, this is the part where the audience cheers.)

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

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"Good morning, Mr. Phelps." If you were a fan of the old school classic TV series, "Mission: Impossible," you would know those words always began a riveting adventure. Jim Phelps was the head of all the Mission Impossible Force before all the big movies, you know. He would listen to this tape, outlining this assignment that seemed, well, impossible. Key word-seemed. And even in more modern times when it's not a tape anymore, and when it's Tom Cruise who's doing Mission: Impossible, it's still sort of the same idea. You begin building a team of specialists, you concoct this elaborate, perfectly-timed plan to do what couldn't be done, and every time they got it done.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

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Every class has its clown, and Johnny was one of them. He was one of the first teenagers I met when we moved to New Jersey years ago, and he was always so much fun to be around. There was always a joke. He was always a clown - always the life of the party. That's why his call late one night came as such a shock to me. I was still a little blurry from being awakened by the phone, and I heard him say, "This is Johnny. I called to say goodbye. You're the only one I thought it was worth saying goodbye to." I didn't like the sound of that goodbye, so I asked him to tell me where he was, and he had actually broken into my office to call me. I asked him to wait there until I could get there. We talked most of the night. No clown, no jokes, no life of the party that night. The life of the party was about to check out of the party for good. Johnny poured out the pain that he was feeling from a messed up family and some disappointing relationships. He'd been on his way to kill himself. Thank God, by dawn, he had decided to live. And I knew there was a darkness now that had been hiding all along behind a mask that said, "Hey, no problems."

Monday, February 11, 2019

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One day our little grandson was running around the living room, enjoying his own miniature toy store. He had his Veggie Tales toys out, his ball, his stuffed animals, and that little plastic ball you put the different geometric shapes in. He even had his grandfather! Well, okay, he was 14-month old then; it should have kept him occupied. Right? Yes, until he saw a certain person moving back and forth past the window on the front porch.

It was his father! As soon as this little guy saw his Dad outside, forget all the toys, man, including this toy right here. He dropped the one in his hand, and he ran to the window squealing and shouting, "Dah-y! Dah-y!" No toy got a reaction like that! No, seeing his Dad was better than anything else he had!

Friday, February 8, 2019

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A few years ago they resurrected an old TV format and it came back big time! It was the old quiz "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" The program that first captured the attention of millions of viewers was about winning a million dollars! So, some Joe or Joan Ordinaryperson was asked a series of multiple-choice questions that got increasingly harder and, of course, were worth increasingly more. Now, if you needed help on a couple, you could call some person you've designated as your "lifeline." You could even listen to the opinions of the studio audience. But eventually, the spotlight was all on you, man. You're the contestant, and the host was pressing the question. When you finally gave your answer, the host asked this tension-building, unnerving question, "Is that your final answer?"

Thursday, February 7, 2019

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It's one of those hidden natural treasures that not a lot of people know about. They call it Buttermilk Falls. People had told us what a picturesque spot it would be. They just didn't tell us about the road you have to drive to see this picturesque spot. So, we turned off the paved road where our directions said to and suddenly we found ourselves on a dirt road that was one crater after another. There was no way to miss these massive potholes. In fact, one guy in a Volkswagen in front of us just totally disappeared. (Well no, not really.) I mean, I had to drive about two miles an hour with the kids reminding me that they were not having much fun. Well, neither was I. It was really tempting to turn back, but we persevered. And I'm glad we did. We finally reached this magnificent waterfall, cascading down the rock walls of a cliff. There was even a trail where we climbed to the top and got this great view from the top of the waterfall. We loved it! And in spite of the miserable road to it, we went back several times. And it was worth it!

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

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There's a stretch of the Outer Banks of North Carolina that's known as the "Graveyard of the Atlantic" because hundreds of ships have been lost there over the centuries. So it was there that something called the United States Life-Saving Service was born. They established these white frame buildings called life-saving stations like seven miles apart along the very treacherous parts of the coast. The Life-Saving Service was actually a spawning ground for heroes. In one case, for example, this ship was in distress with four men staying alive by just hanging onto this mast for dear life. Six of the seven men from the closest station went out into a storm that could very well consume them - after they left a verbal will with the man who was left running the station. Twenty-two hours without food or sleep. Well, they finally brought back those four stranded men, and then they collapsed on the beach in exhaustion. It was incredible heroism. I mean, that was the norm for the men of the life-saving stations.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

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Once upon a time, there was a heifer named Muffet. She lived on a little dairy farm in the Ozarks. So did my wife - who wasn't my wife then. She was the farmer's young daughter then, and she told me that Muffet had a harder life than some of the other heifers, but it was her own fault. See, Muffet was a stubborn heifer. Would she stay inside the fence that was there for her protection? Oh no! She found ways to crawl through that fence. Which meant Muffet got a yoke attached to her head - basically a sturdy Y-shaped branch that made it impossible for her to get her head outside that fence. It was for her own protection. Now, it was a nuisance, but it was made necessary by Muffet's stubbornness. Other times, they would try to get Muffet to move, and without serious coercion, she would just plant her feet. Then there was the time she refused to stand still to be milked, and she started to charge toward the door. My wife's Mom - whose job it was to keep the cows inside that little shed - quickly slammed the shovel across the door to keep her in. Well, Muffet ran into the shovel and lost part of the cap on one of her horns. This is a difficult little girl here. They tell me from that day on, though, she went right in and stood there quietly for milking.

Monday, February 4, 2019

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My wife and I had gone to a friend's house by the New Jersey Shore to start writing a book. For breaks, I wanted to go for walks on the beach, but Karen said she was feeling so fatigued she couldn't find the energy. As we returned home, that fatigue got worse. Then came the severe stomach upset and finally the fever that climbed to 105 degrees. We had no idea that one of mankind's most virulent diseases was taking over in Karen's body. It turned out she had hepatitis. We knew she had some terrible symptoms. We sure didn't know what was causing them, and what ultimately almost cost Karen her life.

            

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Harrison, AR 72602-0400

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