Thursday, July 25, 2013

Just Say No

Either I didn’t work as many hours as I thought or I was doing more personal business during work than I realized but I don’t have as much time on my hands in retirement as I imagined I would. I did get my first (make that my second) call today from someone who assumed (correctly apparently) that I wasn’t doing anything and could surely drop whatever I was otherwise engaged in to help “since you’re retired.” There was a problem with an air conditioning unit at church which needed the attention of someone from the trustees. Right away. She thought of me ‘because you’re not doing anything.’ So I did. In doing so I accepted her assessment of my current life.

“Are you busy?” she asked.

“Not at all,” I replied. I said so almost without thinking.

Just like when my son called during my first few days of retirement to say he and his friend Na had ridden their bikes on the Illinois and Michigan Canal towpath from Joliet to Morris on a hot Tuesday afternoon and “could you come get us in your car? How soon can you get here?” He would never have made that request if I were I working. They had planned to pedal all the way to Ottawa but it proved longer and harder than they had imagined so Dean thought ‘let’s call my Dad. He’s retired and not doing anything. He can come get us and we can put the bikes in the trunk of his Buick.’ Which is exactly what happened. So people assume I have nothing better to do and will help them at a moment’s notice. And I confirm their assumption by doing just that.

But if this immediate response request thing happens more frequently I’m going to have to find a way to turn up the ‘Just Say No’* meter and tell them I can’t because…what? Why can’t I bring myself to say I’m busy? Why can’t I just say no because I’m busy writing, reading, about to go to the YMCA, or otherwise engaged in something else? Aren’t those valid activities? Instead I find myself saying “I wasn’t doing anything really.” How often do you truly do absolutely nothing? Never. Rather we regard whatever activity in which we’re engaged as not valid in the mind of the person who inquires. We assume they don’t accept that writing or reading or napping fall into the category of ‘busy’ and perhaps deep down neither do we. So we don’t offer those perfectly valid activities as reasons for not meeting whatever request they throw our way. The trick is not falling into their frame of mind. Bill my friend from Chicago called around lunchtime and asked it another way.

“What are you doing right now?”

Because I’m an honest guy I replied “I’m sitting in my yard at the picnic table doing a crossword puzzle.” Fortunately he didn’t ask me to drop what I was doing and do something else. He only wanted to talk, and for a very short time. The issue of being busy or not didn't come up.

It was 72 degrees and the sky was a perfect blue. Birds flew past me to the feeder. My dog was lying beside me. I was under an oak tree. It was idyllic. I was fully aware that it was mid day Thursday and I was in bib overalls in my back yard. Was I doing nothing? Not at all. Compared to most people in town the activity I was engaged in would be categorized as nothing. But one’s activity and the perception or validity of that activity by others are different things. I was pretty absorbed in that puzzle, and the weather, and the beauty of my yard. Being occupied in that way may not qualify to most as busy. But it does to me.

I’ve received a lot of mostly unsolicited retirement advice during this my first full month of not working. One little pearl of wisdom was this

Do not gloat.

So in order not to gloat I’ll stop. I won’t go into the golf, the naps, the 'sometimes one, sometimes none' scheduled items on my calendar most days. The point I’m trying to make here is that we each have the right, I believe, to determine our own level of activity and describe it as we wish. So don’t hesitate to call. But don’t be surprised in the future if I tell you I’m busy.

*Just Say No was the national anti drug campaign started by Nancy Reagan during the 1980’s. It was the most simplistic and inane approach to drug prevention yet to be foisted on the American public. The message was that we didn’t need more drug treatment, increased resources, and new approaches, only more will power on the part of those tempted by drug use. If only it were that easy. If only we could wear a button that says JUST SAY NO and stop the violence and pain that stems from addiction to drugs. We can’t. It didn’t and doesn’t work. But it was great for a while, thirty some years ago, to think it might.

Friday, July 19, 2013

What Can I Say?

Last Friday I saw Bob Dylan perform in Bridgeview’s Toyota Park. He was the headliner of the Americanarama tour, which is playing this summer in medium size venues like the soccer stadium in Chicago’s near southwest suburbs. The night before they had played Peoria. Appearing with Dylan were two great bands My Morning Jacket and Wilco.

Unlike the weather we’re experiencing at this week’s end, last Friday was a beautiful night, clear blue sky and a breeze, just on the edge of needing a jacket. The concert opened at 5:30 with Richard Thompson and the Electric Trio. My wife Colleen and I were there with friends Ken and Sharon and my daughter Moe and her boyfriend Don. We did a little tailgating in the parking lot before we climbed up into the stadium. It turned out to be a great place to hear music. Our seats found us close to the stage in the bleachers with a clear view of the performers. Strangely there were empty seats.

I’d last seen Dylan live at the Illinois State Fair in August 2001, twelve years ago. I was there with my family. It was August and Moe was about to move away from home to attend U of I in Champaign. We were in the grandstand bleachers that night, across the racetrack from the stage. Dylan was center stage in cowboy boots, changing from electric to acoustic instruments, wearing a harmonica holder, moving quickly back and forth across the stage engaging the other musicians, leading the vocals of course and playing a ringing guitar. On that summer night when Dylan really got into his guitar riffs he dug the toe of his boot into the stage and swung his leg back and forth in time with the music. That night was beautiful too. Just about a month before September 11 came and changed everything. On that night Bob Dylan was sixty. I was fifty one.

Dylan was very smart in choosing My Morning Jacket and Wilco as his tour mates. My Morning Jacket is an eclectic band out of Louisville Kentucky led by lead vocalist Jim James that seems new but has been performing since 1998. Several of the band members have long hair and throw it forward and back in the tradition of the sixties. Something about that makes me feel good. I tend to like any band that keeps a pedal steel guitar on stage but I especially like My Morning Jacket. Carl Broemel plays that pedal steel by the way. I had never seen them perform but they’re good to watch. The members of My Morning Jacket are all out entertainers. If you want to get acquainted with their music try a studio album they recorded in 2004 simply called Z.

Wilco was perfect for the crowd in Bridgeview because they’re a Chicago band that has been together since 1994. I saw them perform last year at the Hideout. Wilco is like a stealth bomber, hardly noticed but packing a big punch. Are there really famous bands now? You could argue not. There’s so many bands that there may no longer be room for the giant famous bands we remember like the Stones and the Beatles. Wilco has a terrific front man in lead vocalist Jeff Tweedy. They work themselves up to a complicated and loud arrangement of wailing guitars and drums only to drop back into the a simple melody line with Jeff Tweedy’s voice coming through sweet and clear, all in the same song. Wilco brims with talent. They’re high energy. Their most widely heard album, many say their best, is Yankee Hotel Foxtrot recorded in 2002. For a special treat the two bands, My Morning Jacket and Wilco, joined together on stage to perform Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl” recorded in 1969 with the band Crazy Horse. The crowd roared their approval. It never ceases to amaze me how good old music continues to live. I guess that would come to no surprise to Beethoven fans.

And then there is Dylan. What can you say? I think we should all watch out when people use that line “What can you say?” It means nothing in itself. We assume, wrongly I think, that when someone says “what can you say?” the speaker is implying that words alone cannot express how good, how bad, how extreme the experience truly was. But I think the question is often used instead to say nothing, to not declare one’s opinion. It’s a safe cliché. Like this.

“What did you think of Dylan last Friday night?”

“Wow, Dylan. What can you say?”

Instead of falling back on that cliché, as I would really like, I have to say he wasn’t very good. On the other hand my friend Ken, who saw him last year in New York, said he was a lot better Friday than when he saw him a year ago.

He opened with the song “Things Have Changed” a title apropos to my experience. He was center stage behind the mike without an instrument. Evidently he no longer plays guitar in his public performances. Maybe it’s arthritis. Bob Dylan is now 72. His voice is gone. That’s a relative statement you know as we’ve been saying his voice is gone for twenty years. I have to say now it’s getting serious. Very serious.

He plays the piano on some numbers. His harmonica playing is good and you don’t hear good harmonica much these days. Ken’s opinion on his performance had a lot to do with his harmonica playing. In New York he reported that he did little if any harmonica, instead staying seated behind a piano and a microphone. Ken liked the fact that he was back in the middle of the band, a short man in a dark suit with stripes down the sides of his trousers. He was surrounded by wonderful musicians. He had all the elements of a great show, famous songs, an attentive crowd, a beautiful setting. I just couldn’t get around the painful growling voice.

Dylan was best on his newest songs. He sang “Duquesne Whistle” and “Early Roman Kings“ from his 2012 album Tempest. I think those were songs written and arranged for the limitations of his current vocal range. It would only be smart to do so. Why write a song that was impossible to sing? Even “Love Sick” from the 1997 album Time Out of Mind worked because it did not require the kind of high and low notes now outside his ability to hit. But it’s painful to hear the new arrangements of his wonderful older songs.

I don’t think musical artists should be trapped into singing the same arrangement of a song simply because it was made famous in a recording that is now stuck in their fan’s minds like a fly in an ice cube. That would require them to sing the very same song the very same way for, in Dylan’s case, fifty plus years. But as I listened to the nearly unrecognizable version of “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” written in 1962 and recorded on The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, a song that has so much meaning for me and my relationship with my son, I realize he not only changed the music to fit the limitations of his voice he eliminated part of the rapid lyrics so that his tired 72 year old voice could deliver the lines.

Same with “Tangled Up in Blue” from Blood on the Tracks, my daughter Moe’s favorite song. She has a framed Blood on the Tracks album cover. I think the line “wonderin if she’s changed at all, if her hair is still red” reminds her of her mother. But I’m just guessing there. I know it does me. In the middle of that song, her favorite, she turned to me and said

“Is this ‘Tangled up in Blue’?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“You can hardly tell. And the words are different.”

“Yeah.” Moe had a puzzled look on her face. I knew what she was thinking.

Probably the most poignant was the song “She Belongs to Me.” I love that song. It was recorded in 1965 on Dylan’s sixth album Bringing it All Back Home. You don’t know it by its title, but rather its opening stanza.

She's got everything she needs
She's an artist, she don't look back
She's got everything she needs
She's an artist, she don't look back
She can take the dark out of the night time
And paint the daytime black

If you were me you could hear Dylan’s 1965 voice in your head straining and sustaining those notes, lengthening and shortening particular words, the phrasing giving them special meaning. I love Bob Dylan and his work because of the genius and poetry of his lyrics. When I hear that song I imagine the woman who is its subject and the relationship she must have had with the song writer. The lyrics themselves tell a story of a complicated and deep aspect of life among people. But the lyrics are made stronger, the song is made complete, by the beauty of the music. That song is no longer beautiful as performed by Dylan in Bridgeview. It’s a wonderful lyric and the complete package in 1965 was and is great art. But the song we heard last Friday night no longer measures up. I’d rather I had not heard that version. He’d do well to take it off the playlist.

Dylan can do whatever he wants. He’s earned that. He has great talent still and I expect he always will. Why not now use that talent to write wonderful songs to be performed by others with the ability to sing? If you can’t sing yourself you can still be a song writer. And you can record in a studio. The music industry can and does wonderful things with mediocre voices. But on stage, between the giant speakers, competing with the instruments around you? That’s a different thing. Dylan and his voice in concert jut do not measure up to Jim James and Jeff Tweedy. I will buy and listen to every song Dylan ever records. I may have listened to them all so far. But I’m not sure I’ll go see him perform again. Maybe I’m wrong. I’d love to be wrong. But I’d like to be known not by what I did in the past but what I did last. I can’t imagine Dylan feels differently. You’re as good as your last effort. Dylan last effort just wasn’t that good. I wish I didn’t have to say that. I almost feel disloyal. But it’s true.

Two things make me saddest. Dylan began to perform as night fell on Bridgeview. Towards the middle of his set those at the concert began heading for the exits. Maybe they were trying to beat the traffic back into the city. Maybe they had to relieve the baby sitter. I don’t know. But they were walking out as he was still playing. I can’t imagine.
Last, I had the opportunity to talk a lot to a bright young woman, a friend of my son’s, during the week about a lot of things. She talks a lot. As a result, I got to hear a lot of young thought and ideas from both her and my son. I think that’s good for me by the way. I mentioned the Dylan concert.

“Are you a fan?” she asked.

“Yes,” I replied.

“I’m not. I saw him just a few years ago. I know he’s revered. I know he’s contributed so much. But I don’t understand the appeal.”

“Have you heard his old stuff?”

“No.” She’s between 25 and 30. “I just know him for how he sounds now. And I have to say, I just don’t get it.”

Maybe I went to see Dylan out of a sense of respect. At some point his performances will end. I don’t know if I want to be there when they do. He’s given me so much. Is it greedy to want more? Will I go to see him again? I don’t know. What can you say?

Friday, July 12, 2013

Farm Kids

I had my first schedule conflict as a retired person today. While working I had schedule conflicts all the time, so many that I’d make one appointment, miss another, and not realize till later I’d blown something else off. I expected few if any conflicts after I stopped working. In Saturday’s mail I received a thank you for agreeing to be a judge at the LaSalle County 4-H fair, and a reminder to be there at 10 a.m. on Thursday July 11. During my last week of work I responded by e mail to the John Howard Association confirming that I would be part of the team that visited IYC Kewanee on July 11, showing up at the gate at 10:00 a.m. IYC Kewanee is a juvenile prison downstate on past Ottawa on Route 80 and South. I had visited IYC Kewanee years ago and wanted to return in order to see if it had improved over time. But obviously I couldn’t do both. I decided to keep my commitment as a food judge for the 4-H kids. Heck, I was a 4-H kid once. John Howard would have other folks on the team visiting Kewanee but I wasn’t sure the people at University of Illinois Extension could find another food judge on short notice.

After reading the 4-H letter I remember Margaret Anderson’s phone call long, long ago. It’s so easy to say yes to things three months in advance. Who knows what they’re doing that far ahead? I’ve always thought that people that plan ahead take special advantage of people like me who don’t. Why Margaret thought me qualified to be a food judge I don’t know, except that people know I like to cook and enjoy eating. My kids would laugh knowing I was judging food. I once imagined out loud at the family dinner table that I might become a food critic. My son Dean immediately sounded off by saying

“Dad, you would make a terrible food critic.”

“What are you talking about Dean? Why do you say that?”

“Because you like everything. I can see it now. Everything you taste would get five stars. When is the last time you had a bad meal?”

I pondered that, maybe a bit too long.

“See? Exactly what I’m talking about. Dave McClure, food critic who thinks everything edible is wonderful.” We got a good laugh out of that one.

So I go to the fairgrounds on the South Side of Ottawa at the appointed time and become part of a bevy of activity in one of the exhibition barns. I find Margaret seated at a table amid lots of forms and clipboards and she puts me to work, pairing me up with Carol Elmore, retired home economics teacher from Mendota. I know Carol from another organization to which we both belong. Carol and I are assigned the microwave fudge entries, the microwave crumb coffee cake, microwave carrot cake, and a number of other categories. You get the idea. It was required that we taste each offering and then rate them using a checklist of criteria individualized for every type of food. Pretty elaborate if you ask me. We did all desserts. The kids had to plan a menu around the dish they presented that contained all the food groups. Some of them did so in great detail. So not only did Carol and I eat little bites of a whole lot of desserts, we imagined them as part of bigger more sumptuous meals. The whole experience made me hungry. It took about an hour to complete our task. I have to say Carol and I were pretty easy on the 4-Hers whose projects we judged. A lot of them were twelve year old kids. For all we knew it was their first try at competitive cooking. So we gave them the benefit of the doubt, except for example the kid whose carrot cake was absolutely uncooked in the center and the girl who left the apples out of her microwave apple brownies. Pretty hard to recommend blue ribbons for those.

I left the exhibition barn and made my way to the lemon shake up stand, where a homemade lemonade drink was only a buck. Lemonade in hand I moseyed down to the livestock barns. Some of the cattle were just coming in so I wasn’t able to see everything. I used to take my kids to this fair when they were little. They always liked seeing the small animals, rabbits and chickens and such while I gravitated towards the animals we had on our farm, the jersey dairy cows and the sheep. There is much less livestock on area farms these days, especially cattle and hogs, with so many farmers specializing in grain only. I didn’t expect to see Jersey cows. If there are dairy cows around they are nearly always Holstein. But as I walked into the diary barn there standing before me were three Jersey heifers, the only dairy cows at the fair that morning, chewing their cuds. Springing heifers I believe. It took me back. They’re such pretty cows. So much of my first eighteen years was spent caring for and being with these animals that I somehow felt at home in their presence.

I was a twelve year old kid at the McLean county Fair with a heifer like this one fifty years ago. I’d tell you what I named her but her name was the same as the receptionist at YSB today and I don’t want to Janet to feel bad. I’d taught my heifer to lead with a halter, taken special care of her, clipped her carefully before the fair and given her a good bath the day before the show. It was my first time in the show ring. I didn’t get a blue ribbon but it was OK. I just loved being off the farm and at the fair.
I started looking more closely at the kids at the fair yesterday. Farm kids. 4-H officials always talk about recruiting more city kids into 4-H, and they probably have, but the fair still belongs to farm families. The Pearse family was there. Tom and Carol farm and raise Hereford cattle out in Deer Park. Their kids are married now. Whenever I see Carol she reminds me that her daughter Mary became a special education teacher because she worked as a teacher’s assistant for my wife Colleen, a special Ed teacher at Ottawa High. Mary lives in Galva now and has a family of her own.

Dick Fricke was there, also from a farm in Deer Park Township, judging something or just helping out. I ran in to Delbert and Michelle Rich who reported their kids had lots of projects at the fair. They live on a farm up by Mendota. Michelle used to work at YSB. They were unloading a crate of chickens. Their kids were “somewhere” according to Michelle. I didn’t get to meet them. We talked a while, then I made my way to the food hall operated by one of the local 4-H clubs and had a hot roast beef plate complete with homemade rhubarb pie and milk for only six bucks. While I was in the lunch line I ran into someone that I didn’t know, but she knew me. I hate it when that happens. I think at any moment I’ll remember her name but I don’t.

After lunch I killed time on a bench under a shade tree close to the food hall. Kids were walking by in groups of two or three, goofing around, looking at each other, being kids. I remember at the fair wanting to know where other kids were from. I went to a small school and we were around each other so much, the Danvers kids, that it was a big deal to see new kids. Gridley kids, El Paso kids, Minier kids, Lexington. I knew a few boys from playing sports against other schools but there were so many new kids at the fair. And girls. Farm kids, at least farm kids like me, weren’t around other kids much. All summer we were out there in the country, working, taking care of animals, wishing we were at the fair. When we got to the fair we were gawky. It looked to me yesterday as if little has changed. Sure they have ear buds now, stare at their smart phones and text, but they’re still kids hungry to experience the world outside their own.

That’s about all I did yesterday. It was a great day, for a Thursday.

Friday, July 5, 2013

It's Friday Already?

I think it is good to surprise yourself, if even in a negative way. This is my fifth day of retirement. I’m still not used to the fact that I get so few e mails, and I find myself thinking about what may be happening in my office. So I certainly haven’t settled into retirement. I figure after five days I’m just flirting with the concept at this point. But I was caught off guard by my reaction to a friend’s e mail yesterday. Let me set this up a little.

It may be natural for working people to envy the retired, but I don’t think I envied them in a big way. Retired people, mostly board members, would drop into my office from time to time and ask what was going on; at YSB, in the community, or with state politics. They would ask in a fairly detached way, as if it was impossible for them to know because they were out of the loop. Often they did this after being gone for long periods of time in the winter. They looked tan and relaxed. Anything I told them was met with, it seemed to me, only idle interest. They would shake their heads and laugh at the State of Illinois’ budget, whereas I was sweating blood at the prospect of making cuts caused by the legislature’s countless proposals to slash human services. But I understood. I really did.

Most of the retired people I encountered were, when engaged in gainful employment, very involved and equally concerned as I about the sorry state of government, our priorities as a society, and how it affected community life, families, and thus kids. But as retired people those worries were not a part of their everyday thinking. It didn’t mean they weren’t concerned, or actively trying to change what we value and how we behave as people. It was just that their life, and their actions, were to a large extent no longer dependent on such things. When your income is fixed it sounds bad, because it implies it will never go up. We forget that those on fixed incomes are also in situations where their income cannot go down either. Unlike employed people who can be brought into someone’s office on any day, at any hour, and suddenly lose their jobs and thus their incomes America’s retirees, those lucky enough to be able to afford not working, are by and large safe from economic catastrophe. At least the tan relaxed people I remember making their way back to my office in April or so. I begrudged them nothing.

What really made me mad about retired people though, every time, was this. I would be talking to some older person not in the workforce, at church, in the office, or in the store and the topic of some event in the future would arise. It might go like this.

“Hey, are you coming to the Lasagna dinner?”

Yeah I thought I would. When is that?”


“Saturday. Yeah…what is today?”

What is today? Who the hell doesn’t know what day it is? I dread Monday, think about an almost certainly unpleasant Thursday meeting all through Tuesday and Wednesday, have a deadline to meet on Friday, can’t wait to make it to Saturday when I finally have a little time to myself and then start feeling anxious about Monday again like clockwork starting about 7:00 p.m. Sunday, and you don’t know what day it is? This week I’ve been to four offices in four towns, worked two nights, had three long conference calls and a board meeting and you don’t know what day it is? You smug booger you. I’m dying here just to make it to Friday night and you smile and ask me what day it is? Are you kidding me? Are you saying that just to make me mad?

But would I react to the dumb question and the smiling vacant face across from me? No I wouldn’t. I’d respond in a friendly way.

“Today is Wednesday.”

“Oh, yeah. I lose track. When you’re retired every day is like Saturday you know?”

Sometimes I would manage a smile and sometimes I wouldn’t. But I always got mad and I never got used to the unfairness, the inequity, the downright wrongness of having so much time you didn’t know what day you were living. I remembered it from my days travelling. Sometimes in a foreign country I would go out into a town trying to buy one thing or another, or to find a Laundromat, and find everything was closed because it was Sunday. But I had absolutely forgotten how that felt. And I wanted it back. I wanted so much to have the luxury of time, to gain that relaxed state of being in which there exists no urgency in anything, that everything can be done and when it is done matters little or not at all.

Flash to yesterday. I’d watered my garden (mostly tomatoes and hot peppers), put up some tomato stakes my friend had left for me earlier in the week, read some, and taken a giant nap. We were having a friend over for a drink around 4:00 and leaving at 7:30 for a party on the river where we would watch Ottawa’s terrific fireworks display. Sometime in there I had to take a shower. But first I checked my e mail in the shack. There was a message from Ann in Chicago about various things, horseradish, going out East, other stuff. Nice newsy e mail. She ended it with this.

“Make sure I’m on your e mail list. I can’t wait for tomorrow to read your first post YSB Friday update.”

Tomorrow? Tomorrow is Friday? I looked at the calendar. It still showed June so I flipped it to July. There it was. July 4th. Thursday. What happened? I ran through the week.

Sunday I was still technically employed. If the manure had hit the rotating blades of the YSB fan, so to speak, I could have been called Sunday night to weigh in on some situation. Monday I was down at the church and got that call that took me away. Tuesday I had a good day revising the partial draft of the novel, I listened to the Cubs game, fell asleep when they were ahead 7-5 and found out in the morning they’d lost 8-7. Wednesday. What happened Wednesday? A lot of reading and another big nap. It might have rained. Wednesday was sort of lost. And now it’s Thursday? Really? I’ll have to write my update in the morning.

So forgive me. In five short days I’ve become that retired person I loathed when I worked. It doesn’t take long. No deadline looms. Not one meeting to dread. Not an issue to agonize over or a decision to put off anywhere on the horizon. Forgive me or congratulate me. It’s all in how you look at it. I hope to be, and fully expect to be, lost in time quite often. It’s OK. I like it that way. I’ll try hard not to ask you what day it is.

I could have closed there but let me share this. Sunday in church it was announced that the daily summer lunch program for kids being operated by the YMCA in our church's first floor could use volunteers. It’s a great partnership. They have a big program and we have a big kitchen and dining area. The church is literally across the street from the Y. So I went down about 10:45 Monday. It was my first day of retirement. They were going to serve at 11:30. The menu was meatball subs (pre made meatballs in marinara, nice provolone cheese, good buns needing slicing) salad, and fruit.

“What can I do for you?”

“You want to prepare the fruit?”

“OK. What do you want me to serve?”

“How about the cantaloupe?”

And so I prepared a dozen cantaloupe for 70 or so hungry day campers, from maybe age four through ten. Cut them in two, scoop out the centers, cut them into eight wedges, cut off the rind, chunk the wedges, and throw them in a big plastic bowl. I love doing stuff like that. Another woman was making a salad from scratch and very healthy. It looked like a great lunch. I talked with the other staff as I worked. Then they insisted I stay and eat. Insisted. I was taught, you know, that it’s rude to turn down such offers so I stayed and found myself sitting with six little day campers and a camp counselor at one of those big church folding tables. The kid on my left talked non-stop, mostly about eyeballs and what you could do with them. Fascinating. The rest were hungrier and kept their mouths full. As we were finishing the little guy on my right tapped my arm, looked up at me, and said

“Mister, can I have more of those wet orange chunks?”

“You mean these?” I asked, holding a piece of cantaloupe up on my fork.

“Yeah, those.”

“Do you know what they are?”


“They’re cantaloupe. Some people call them muskmelon. You had them before?”

“No. But I like them.”

“Can he have seconds on the fruit?” I asked the counselor at the table.

“As long as he eats everything else.” I looked down. This kid’s plate was shiny clean, obviously a member of the clean plate club like me.

So I got him more wet orange chunks. Feeding kids good food-it’s not a sophisticated or complicated approach to helping young people, but I think it works well and is important. I’ll go back.

Thanks for reading this first edition of Update from the Shack all the way to the end. Talk to you again next Friday, or a day close to it.