If You Can’t Be There, Then Write A Story

Covid-19, thé pandemic and all, sure has thrown a monkey wrench into family gatherings, hasn’t it?

As first time grandparents, we see the tots on ‘FaceTime’, but you can’t hug a phone and expect an emotional response.

What about letter writing to the kiddos? Give them something to hold that came from you. A sheet of paper?

Here’s an idea. Take the letter writing a step further and write a story about something that is going on in your daily life. They’ll read it over and over. Well, their parents will. Maybe you can read it yourself on a FaceTime.

I did just that, wrote a story, and it’s been fun. It had to be a real story, something that actually happened with a fair dose of ‘writer’s license’. That is, I could stretch the truth a bit just to make it more fun.

Here’s the story, The Troublesome Stone. if you have young grandchildren, or your own little ones,?this would be a fun story to read. You may have to enlarge the pictures to read each page.

Enjoy!

Steve

The Crossing Guard Chronicles: The Facts, Just the Facts… ‘Did You Know Abe Lincoln Had A Sense of Humor’?

‘We miss your facts’, a student at my school crossing post offered. ‘Well, here’s something, did you know that President Abraham Lincoln had a great sense of humor?’ No, she didn’t and neither did other students. I didn’t, either, until I recently read* more about Lincoln.

‘His pictures always show him looking sad or serious’, another commented. ‘Well, he was often sad and serious. He had much to be both sad and serious about in his life’.

One can get a potpourri of facts by reading.

This is the stuff we talk about at the Curbside Classroom. Facts. But there’s more. And the kids love the ‘more’.

He changed the world for the better. Dr. Jonas Salk did that. I was working on March 26th and reminded the kids about Dr. Salk and his successful research into developing a polio vaccine on this date in 1953. We discussed what we could in the very brief time before crossing.

Tying the polio epidemic and the successful vaccine then, when I was a kid, to the Covid-19 pandemic, I thought, was interesting for the kids, as well as a couple of teachers or adults who happened to benefit from crossing at the Curbside Classroom, that day. Understanding that events in history often repeat themselves was a good lesson. And to have an eye witness, me, who experienced the anxieties of both, tell them about it, was a plus.

Some of these kids are graduating this year and it’s exciting to see them planning their future. It’s been a challenging year because of the pandemic but kids are resilient and they seem to have handled it fine, for the most part.

I like to think that the Curbside Classroom helped them kick start their days. I hope it will be a fond memory, as they continue along a successful Life journey and maybe, just maybe, change the world for the better.

Congratulations, Class if 2021!

Steve

* Team of Rivals’ by historian Doris Kearns Goodwin

The Bar Night Chronicles: #30, ‘And The Survey Says…’

Five of the Bar Nighters ‘Zoomed in’, again, for an evening of general talk, laughs, useful tips, and, of course, beer. Yes, beer.

Our entire reason for gathering is ‘brotherhood’, but beer enhances it, and we can manage 1 for the night. The one among us who opted for Jack Daniels* Tennessee whiskey, America’s top selling whiskey, might believe he gets more enhancement with ‘JD’. No doubt, he does.

As usual, and most importantly, the night began with a toast: ‘Here’s to our group and…” (In Zoom, you need to raise your bottles high enough for the device’s camera to find it) “…to the good news that we’re all well and getting shots, Covid shots. Here’s to our friendship. Cheers!

And, the survey says, ‘what’s your favorite breakfast?’ Thought I’d open the ‘beer clutch’ with a probing question. And, since I asked, then it’s best to go first.

Oatmeal!

But not just plain oatmeal. ‘WOODSTOCK’ 5 Grain Cereal (it’s oatmeal) topped with raisins, crushed walnuts, sliced bananas and blueberries. WOW!

Flood it with milk and let it ‘stew’ in the refrigerator overnight for a morning concoction that makes your taste buds yell, ‘Hallelujah’ with the first spoonful. Who knew oatmeal tasted so good?

Apparently, just about everyone. Oatmeal was the favorite of three of us, cold or hot. Kashi cereal had a vote and one opted for tea and toast every morning. A nice, but dainty, ritual. Not surprisingly, it seems that we stick with our favorite on a daily basis. Creatures of habit or sensible eaters? Both, most likely.

Join the survey, what’s your favorite breakfast meal?

After my last ‘Chronicles’ posting, a few readers expressed a sentiment that the Bar Nights would be fun to join. We’d love to have you. And while our conversation isn’t titillating, at evenings end we’re emotionally satisfied. A social gathering is meant to be like that, isn’t it?

A ‘Zoom’ Bar Night is okay, but sitting alone in a sterile environment, our homes, isn’t the same as gathering together amid the sights, sounds and, yes, smells of a pub. I’ve alluded in earlier ‘Chronicles’.

However, upcoming Bar Nights may find us social distancing in a backyard, the next step up from Zooming. Under the stars would be great since we’re certain to discuss aliens/UFOs, one of our favorite topics, especially since we have an amateur ‘ufologist’ (yes, that’s a word) in our group. When he talks, the group is silent and attentive, like kids listening to a spooky story. It’s fun, now, as it was then.

Maybe, just maybe, a one in a million chance that we could have an alien join the circle of friendship. How would the ‘authorities’ report that in official government files?

Keep posted to the Bar Chronicles for upcoming information on UFO reports. And don’t forget the survey!

Steve (March 2021)

On WordPress at ‘srbottch.com’. On Instagram at ‘@srbottch’

Bar Night Chronicles: No. 27, ‘The Reunion’

A year! A whole damn year! Oh, the stuff we ‘coulda, woulda, shoulda’ gabbed about. I say ‘gabbed’ because that’s what we do, six of us sitting around a beer stained table, ensconced in a mishmash of creaky, sometimes wobbly chairs, gabbing.

It’s a foggy description but if you let your imagination wander, you can picture us. Six older gentlemen, beer in hand, leaning in to hear the conversation over the din of background noises from bar talkers, dart players, and big screen ‘whatever game is playing’ television watchers.

Stop the show! I got carried away, delirious with wishful imagining, we have none of that tonight. A year has passed since our last actual bar soirée but it’s still Covid-19 season, hence we’re still following protocol; social distancing, maybe even self imposed isolation.

Tonight’s gathering, the first in a year, is via Zoom. Each of us has dialed in to a Bar Night teleconference, managed by a Zoom expert. Imagine faces in rectangular boxes arranged across the top of a PC monitor, like panelists on a game show. Think ‘Hollywood Squares’, the old television game show.

Tonight, it was ‘B.Y.O.B’ to the ‘Zoom’ experience and we raised them in a toast, giving thanks that each of us has maintained our health through the Covid months. We grinned proudly when showing our bottles to the group: Buds, Guinness, a lemonade…a lemonade? Boyish grins, revealed a playful innocence in holding up our bottles, like teens and boasting their first ‘nip’ with the gang.

Some of us had our Covid vaccines while others wait, a bit frustrated by the slow rollout and computer competition to try and snag available time slots when enough vaccines do arrive. But they will and we’ll all get ‘stuck’ by late Spring.

Did you see the news? A pilot on a commercial flight reported seeing ‘something’ he couldn’t identify pass over the plane. Something he couldn’t identify? While ground control couldn’t, or wouldn’t, one of our group could, and did. It’s ‘them’ and it’s been ‘them’ for years. Whoa, now the conversation got interesting.

The conversation has always been interesting over the past few years. Adding in UFOs and aliens to the mix gets everyone’s attention. Throw in the fact that even the US government is telling us in drips and drabs that there have been numerous spottings, unexplainable spottings, by legitimate sources (military pilots) over years, and this topic goes from kookie to classified. You can feel the hair on the back of your neck stand up.

This will make you sit up pay attention: https://www.history.com/news/skinwalker-ranch-paranormal-ufos-mutilation

Have any of you, the readers, experienced UFO sightings, or paranormal action? This is great topic for Bar Night. Fortunately, since I was already indoor, I didn’t worry about being outside, y’know, in ‘their’ environment, tonight.

Steve

“Oh, honey, would you mind taking out the trash tonight?”

February 2021. Click the Follow button to catch a story whenever I get the energy to write. They’re fun and cover a plethora of topics…

Love in A Parking Lot *

* I wrote this several years ago and intended to post it on Valentine’s Day. Still, the message is clear. There is love all around, sometimes we need to look. Happy belated Valentine’s Day!

It was a moment in time, in the open for all to see.  I saw it, love in a parking lot.  Others may have missed it, not me. And there was no mistaking what it was, love, pure and simple.

In an act of old-fashioned chivalry, a tall, sophisticated looking man tenderly draped his arm around the shoulders of his attractive companion, gently moving her closer to him. His comforting smile exuded confidence.  Her upward glance signaled approval, as though she, herself, had encouraged him.

They walked deliberately, amid a swarm of busy shoppers rushing to buy supplies before the storm, too consumed with Mother Nature, perhaps, to see it. But I saw it, the wonderful and rare public display of affection, love in a parking lot.

People are hurrying and scurrying, so focused on where they’re going or where they’ve been, that they often miss where they are.  Not me.  I’m always looking!  Life is full of wonderful moments, if we avail ourselves of the opportunity to see them.  Too often, in our haste, we miss the ‘theatre’ around us.

Not me. I enjoy watching people. My wife calls it ‘staring’, I call it ‘observing’.  I see the remarkable and unremarkable, the pleasant and unpleasant, the ordinary and not so ordinary.  I multitask with my eyes and ears, not passing the time so singularly focused that I miss life’s sometimes ‘bigger moments’, like love in a parking lot.

As for the ‘lovers’, I was not surprised to learn they were married 45 years. And this one moment of him protecting her from the icy wind by drawing her closer to his warmth, affirmed to me their mutual and enduring love.

I hope more people saw it, too, their love for each other, on display in a parking lot, because in a brief but poignant moment between two people, two lovers, I was uplifted.  It made me smile.

From time to time, if you’re looking, ‘observing’, you may be fortunate to witness true love, too, or some other special moment.  I’m always looking!

srbottch

Dedicated to those of us who are ‘always looking’ and for people in love, everywhere

The Shovel (and me)

Credit: Wonkee Donkee Tools

I grew up in New England, in a working class neighborhood of 3-decker houses, large multi layered structures with a family occupying each floor. My family had the first floor, and why not, it was ours. Renters took floors two and three. From my earliest recollections, the house was heated with coal. A coal shovel, or two, was always laying on the dirt floor of our cellar, between the furnace and the coal bin

The ‘coal man’ would drive his delivery truck along side a ground level window above the coal bin, and deliver the coal via a long chute from the truck, through the open window and into the bin.

It was my dad’s job to shovel the lumps of coal into the furnace, regularly, to keep a steady flow of heat into the house. The heavy steel shovel with upturned sides was the tool he used for the job. It was laborious.

I was still a youngster when dad converted our furnace from coal to oil, but the shovel still had a purpose. It became my tool of choice, my only choice actually, for shoveling snow. Never mind the weight of a big snow, the shovel, itself, was a man’s size tool, heavy, and using it to move snow was laborious.

Along came the light weight aluminum snow shovel, specifically designed for that job. What a blessing. Of course, aluminum isn’t as strong as steel and it strained under the weight of a blade full of snow, rivets loosened, the cutting edges bent* and the shovel became less stable. Snow removal, became frustrating, as well as laborious.

Ahhh, plastic. So many products once made of steel are now made with plastic because today’s resins used in plastic are super strong, resilient. The plastic shovel has proven to be very light weight and durable. I have two that I’ve used for years. They moved with me from house to house and do quite well at removing snow. Nevertheless, the very task of removing snow, itself, is still ever laborious.

As time passed and I could afford something more elaborate, my choice of snow removal tools and methods changed. I bought a snow blower, or thrower. It’s big, powerful and noisy. However, while it shortens the labor time, I’m still challenged with the physicality of operating this machine. It’s remains laborious.

This year, I splurged and hired a plow service. While he plows the driveway with his truck, often before the first light of day, I watch from my kitchen window, between the slats, coffee in hand, slippers on my feet, and dressed for indoors in flannel pajamas. I find it to be less laborious.

Oh, yes, I still use a shovel to even the edges. Easy!

Steve (srbottch.com). February 2021. *thank you, Liz!

For more fascinating shovel info, check out ‘wonkee donkee tools, an English website and it’s not laborious https://www.wonkeedonkeetools.co.uk/shovels/what-are-the-parts-of-a-shovel

Today, I Shoveled Snow

Here’s another story that I first wrote several years ago. I thought it was worth reposting in view of this winter’s weather. Enjoy!

Announced by all the trumpets of the sky, Arrives the snow…” RW Emerson

Today, I shoveled snow. Yesterday, I shoveled snow. And the day before that, I shoveled snow. It’s winter in western New York and we live with a steady diet of snow

Along the winter shores of Lake Ontario, steady snowfalls are the norm and removing it is more than a daily ritual. It’s a right of passage for youngsters and an absolute necessity for adults who get up, get out and get to work. Commerce doesn’t stop for weather, here.

Growing up in central Massachusetts, where measureable snowfalls also were a common occurrence, kids there learned to shovel at an early age, too. It was not an option in a blue collar neighborhood where dads had to be at work early and on-time.

All able bodied males in the house, young or old, manned shovels, clearing driveways and walks to help get workers on their way. Plow service and snow blowers were an unaffordable luxury for most families.

All that was heard on eerily quiet, ‘three decker’ lined streets the morning after a nor’easter, was the scraping of metal shovels over frozen pavement, and dry, fluffy snow squeaking underfoot with each twist of our black buckled boots. The task of finishing a job fell to the young school boys with nothing but time on their hands. Time and energy.

Snow shoveling is a low skill task, even the tools are simple and aptly named, ‘shovels’.  Bend, scoop, lift, toss, use your legs not your back. But those weren’t instructions my dad gave. He was more direct, knowing that I could figure out the mechanics, myself.

“I expect this driveway and sidewalk shoveled by the time I come home from work”, he announced, without mentioning my name or even looking at me. It was understood whom he was addressing, the skinny kid and the only one left home after he and big brothers went to work.

My dad’s directives were always clear and concise. The fewer the words, the stronger the message. Besides, mother always made sure the work got done, as prescribed.

And when the jobs were done, the neighborhood became a bevy of street hustlers, as I and other like-minded junior entrepreneurs with shovels slung over our shoulders, eagerly slipped and slid through heavy snowdrifts, knocking on doors with wet mittens, competing for whatever snow removal opportunities were left at neighboring houses.

We had no business plan or even understood the value of our labor. Regardless, we would shovel walks clean to the pavement, keeping tempo to imaginary cash registers ringing in our collective heads, totally dependent on the client’s generosity. Sometimes it was good and other times, not so good. But the greater lesson of work and reward was invaluable.

Now, I still find myself taking on the task of snow removal. It rekindles frigid memories of finger and face freezing days under the watchful eyes of my father and the lessons he ‘taught’ me.

One thing is certain…I can’t wait for the return of summer in western New York!

srbottch

Today, I Built a Snow Fort

* (I wrote this story several years ago and thought it was worthy of a repost, considering the nasty weather we’ve been experiencing this winter. Enjoy!)

Living in western New York requires a hearty soul when it comes to weathering the weather. Every winter, Mother Nature throws her best punch at us. After lying mostly dormant this winter, she reminded us of her mood swings with a pummeling of snow that stopped drivers, closed roads and shut down businesses.  And some of us thought Spring was on the way.  Ha!

How do people along the Niagara Frontier handle Mother Nature with her long, dark winter nights, and mornings crisp enough to snap the nose off your face if you wiggled it? Only one way, we take what She’s blown at us and make it our playground.

We tug on long johns, wrap ourselves in downy coats, then race out-of-door to play, just as we did when some of us still could race.

Against cheek numbing winds, we schuss down snow-packed mountains on narrow flat boards. We clamp on snowshoes and break new trails in deep silent stands of nearby woods.

Dull skates and old sleds are rescued from dusty web covered garage lofts or backyard sheds. Blades and runners are honed and waxed to make perfect for gliding over new ice or flying down slick hills on our bellies.

The brilliant sunshine on a wintry day makes a frigid five degrees feel like a tepid ten. We are survivors!

Me, I call on a time when kids were always outside, playing games that strengthened our bodies and stretched our imaginations. Today, I built a fort in my backyard blanket of cold, cotton-like snow, a dugout snow fort.

My fort today was not unlike one I built back then, simple but strong. A mini fortress, big enough for a cadre of ruffians and a cache of snowballs, just in case real ruffians showed up, as they often did. And amid the screams and yells, and maybe a curse, was the splatting thud of snowballs finding arms and legs and an occasional noggin’.

Those snow castles gave us a place to escape, a place so cold that only the energy of our youthful exhuberance kept us warm, as a pint size ‘band of brothers’ huddled together, making plans for our next adventure.

And what better place to have that adventure than on a corner snow ‘mountain’, the high, hard packed hill of shoveled or plowed snow, perfect for a game of ‘King of the Hill’.

Winter is a great time to test our endurance, to demonstrate our vim, vigor and vitality. Come Spring, we will scratch a notch in our snowpant suspenders as a symbol of success against the elements. We shall prevail!

Today, I built a snow fort. And tonight, under the cold, star lit sky, I’ll climb a corner snow ‘mountain’ and declare myself, King of the Hill!

srbottch.com

Dedicated to the kid in every adult, builders of snow forts, and those who challenge themselves in the great outdoors

To Adie, With Love…

A young lady will ‘meet’ her great grandfather for the first time, thanks to a small tin box of flies and a good story teller. She has the story teller, her grandmother, my sister, and soon will have the flies, a small metal box of fishing flies, tied by the skilled hands of her great grandfather, four generations earlier.

Imagine, a family heirloom, of sorts, being passed down, not to a daughter, nor a granddaughter, but to a great granddaughter. Not a fancy piece of furniture, nor a sparkling broach, but flies. From one long-passed outdoorsman to a young vibrant outdoors woman, three generations removed.

My dad was an avid fisherman who enjoyed making his own lures. He turned wood dowels into ‘plugs’* on a lathe, and strung eels for surf fishing in the rough waters off the duned beaches of Cape Cod. He tied flies, lures that mimicked real flies, to attract trout in the placid ponds populating the rural countryside of central Massachusetts. He was proficient, passionate and a perfectionist about both skills, making the lures and catching the fish.

I kept his tin of flies, and other lures, upon his passing, some 40 years ago, as a reminder of the man. But these feathered and fuzzy creations go back even further in time, at least twenty years prior to his death. Hunched over a folding metal table, squinting through bifocals balanced on the end of his nose, and surrounded with the tools of his ‘art’, he meticulously hand crafted faux bugs to the smallest detail.

Supplied with an array of brightly covered feathers, buck tails, various size hooks, a vise to hold them and thread to join all the components tightly together, he would produce stunning replicas of the local insects that he hoped would help him land the next ‘big one’. A reference book of flies always lay open next to him as he meticulously tied them to the exact specifications, as outlined.

This story isn’t about catching fish, though. It’s not about about tying flies, it’s about a man, his passion and preserving his love of the outdoors by gifting an ‘heirloom’. It’s about connecting with following generations to keep his story alive. And, it’s about love.

It’s very likely that if my dad was here today, then he, Adie and her dad would be at the closest fishing hole, enjoying the outdoors and each other’s company, maybe spinning yarns of ‘the one that got away’.

“Adie, I want you to have these flies. Use them to catch the big one!”

Love,

Great Grandpa Bottcher

Steve (srbottch.com)

February 2021

To Adie and avid young outdoors lovers, everywhere. ‘Keep a tight line’ and keep making memories.

And, to June, my big sister, Adie’s grandma


*Plug (Swimming Plug) – A hard plastic or wood artificial lure that is usually cast and retrieved or sometimes trolled.

The Crossing Guard Chronicles: Extra Credit & Life’s Little Rewards

“Extra credit! I got extra credit!”

The red-tail hawk perched on the overhead traffic signal at my school crossing post had my rapt(or) attention, so I didn’t hear the initial shouts. And the glare of a low afternoon sun made it difficult to see her, at first. But when I did, it was plain to hear and see a very happy high schooler, eager to deliver some good news.

During the morning crossing, at the Curbside Classroom, in the minute the kids and I have together, I announced that today was Pearl Harbor Day. Now, for most middle schoolers, that drew blank stares. Some high schoolers had heard about it. So, how much ‘ancient history’ can you discuss in 60 seconds? Honestly, I’ve learned that it doesn’t have to be much.

Franklin Roosevelt, infamy, war…a minute, to get access to their memory bank and make a small deposit. Apparently, it worked with this student, hence, the happy announcement at the end of the day, this Pearl Harbor Day.

When called upon in class to offer today’s date, my Curbside Classroom ‘pupil’ gave more than just the date, December 7th. She confidently reminded her teacher and class the historical significance of this date.

I wasn’t in the class but learned that her teacher was ‘blown away’ and awarded her extra credit.

As a school crossing guard, or just as an adult tossing out bits of Life’s good ‘stuff’ to young folks, knowing that you’ve made a positive experience for them is a big personal reward. I couldn’t be happier for this student and it made me think a bit more about the importance of passing tidbits along to kids.

Sarah Caldwell was an American Opera conductor, who said, “Learn everything you can, anytime you can. There will always come a time when you will be grateful you did”.

And, William James, an American philosopher and psychologist, encouraged others to “act as if what you do makes a difference, it does”.

In my blog, “S’amusing”, I write about a myriad of Life stories. And within the blog, I have a series titled, ‘The Crossing Guard Chronicles’, which describes my experiences as a school crossing guard and my interaction with kids. We talk and talk and talk as I engage them with a potpourri of topics in our minute, or so, together. Questions, facts, brain teasers, poetry, music (yes, I’ll sing a tune), it’s a veritable salad bowl of topics to kickstart their day (and mine), generate some smiles and help create a positive frame of mind before they enter their ‘brick ‘n mortar’ buildings. And it works.

What a great way to start the day.

One more thing, that same week we talked about trees. I stumped them on ‘shoe trees’. I have to win, occasionally…

Steve Bottcher January 2021

Blog: srbottch.com. Instagram: @srbottch