Lessons learned on gravel roads

How I came to love pick up trucks so much probably lies in the way in which I learned to drive.  I grew up in eastern Iowa amongst some of the richest soil that God blessed Earth with.  Mile upon mile of mostly flat prairie that had been plowed under and replaced with hundreds of thousands (probably millions) of acres of corn and soybean fields interrupted by occasional rolling hills, all connected by gravel roads.  One afternoon while riding with my father on those gravel roads he stopped our truck, asked me to sit on his lap and while he controlled the accelerator pedal and brake, I steered.  It was a simpler time to be sure…in the late 1970’s and I was probably around eleven or twelve at the time.  At first I was terrified, not wanting this responsibility nor wanting to crash.  I learned how to counter-steer when the truck started to fishtail.  How to keep the tires in the “path” and not in the loose gravel along the sides of the road…and how to get over when you met a big old John Deere hauling a disk towards you.  While all of these lessons were unnerving I grew to love driving trucks.

“Truck One” was my Dad’s truck.  Fairly basic.  It had an AM/FM radio and shifter on the floor.  I drove this truck on my very first romantic encounter with a young lady from a neighboring town named Becky (the girl…not the town).  I won the girls affection and attention for a few short-lived months.  Truck 1.  Car 0.

Dad’s truck. I treated it like it was my own.

“Truck Two”.  I had turned sixteen years old and the first car of my own to drive was a pick up truck.  If I’m remembering it correctly it was a 1972 Chevy LUV.  Basic transportation.  Rusty.  Needed new brakes.  Manual stick shift and no power steering.  AM radio.  Would hold exactly three high school sophomores.  Dad and I bought it for $800 as a “project” for him and I to work on, grinding out the rust, filling the holes with Bondo putty or cutting sheet metal and riveting it to the body then spraying with gray primer.  After a $99 Earl Scheib paint job it was sold.  It was a safe and reliable means of transportation.  Truck Two was tough to drive and ride in and a pleasure to get rid of.

I found out quickly that I didn’t like sanding and grinding rust off of metal. I must have had a grayish pall during my sophomore year since I was constantly applying primer to this heap.

Here’s that same 1972 Chevy LUV after A LOT of sanding, Bondo and a $99 Earl Scheib paint job. Firecracker Red.

 

“Truck Three” came in 1987.  I had my first full-time job. I was making $300 a week and was rolling in money.  Literally…rolling in dough.  Single and wanting a new, more reliable vehicle (one that would start when I wanted it to start) I traded in my 1975 Ford Maverick and bought a brand-spanking new Madza B2000 pick-up.  Small four cylinder engine, stick shift, heat, bench seat and no radio (though I added one in the months to come).  A short time later I took out the future honorable Constance Sue Ripley in this truck.  After the vows were spoken (and not to be taken back) the Mrs. admitted that she wasn’t exactly beholden to me at first glance. “You showed up wearing cowboy boots and driving a truck…”.  Its a good thing that I still had a full head of brown wavy hair back then or else I still might be single.  Dead serious.  Anyway…romance won out.  Truck 2.  Car 0.  I also took Connie to the hospital in this truck when Jordan was born.  Cold, dark and windy in the predawn hours of a December morn…bucking snowdrifts along the way.  Sturdy and reliable we eventually traded in Truck Three on a minivan for a growing family once Kid Two came along.

Truck Three was my first new “car”. No radio or AC. Bench seat. But it was all MINE

 

Truck Four was my Dad’s truck…again.  This time around it was for a drastically different reason.  My folks were moving off of the farm and didn’t need their truck.  A 1999 Ford F250 three-quarter ton with a V10 engine.  I bought it because we needed a another vehicle at our household.  Dad had kept it in awesome condition and it gave me considerable consolation after his death.  At times, while driving it, I could hear him speak.  I know that sounds stupid, but that truck helped me some days when I missed him a great deal.  I eventually sold that truck to my brother who still drives it to this day.

Truck Five was my nicest truck.  Purchased brand new in 2007.  It had many nice things that I didn’t have in most of my early trucks.  Air conditioning.  AM/FM radio with CD player.  Crew cab so that we could fit the whole family and go on vacations.  ABS brakes, power windows and door locks….all pretty standard stuff but for a guy who remembers using the hand crank to roll down his windows on a hot summer day it’s almost an extravagance to have something like power windows.  We moved all three daughters out of our house and to college in these last two trucks.  I started officiating basketball and baseball games in these two trucks.  I’ll tell you something….a truck makes a great umpire vehicle.  Just park it, drop down the tailgate, sit down and get your equipment on for the game.  I really loved Truck Five and didn’t see an end to its service to our family but things change.  We’re empty-nesters now.  No kids to ferry about (and no grand-kids on the foreseeable horizon…).  Warranties expire and things are going to need fixed or replaced eventually.  We usually keep our cars and trucks until they die or cost us too much to keep up.  I debated for several months on what I should do, if anything.  It seems to me that you’re either making a monthly payment on a new vehicle or paying to have the older one fixed.  This is why I reluctantly traded in Truck Five on a new car.

Ed…my 80+ year old neighbor said that my Silverado looked like a fire engine. What a great compliment!

Our new car has so many features in it that I may have to hire an eight year old to show me how to use them all correctly.  A six speaker music system that’s pared through Bluetooth with the ITunes on my phone (good-bye multiple CD’s in my armrest!!).  It has Sirius radio for several months!  Instead of a gear shifter it has a dial near my arm rest that I turn to select a gear.  It has a back up camera.  I can call folks while driving. It doesn’t have keys and I push a button to start it.  While the engine is half the size that I’m used too its turbo-charged and very responsive.  I actually have to “think” to use this car because its so simple to drive.  I’m not saying that its idiot-proof…but its a big step in that direction.  It’s also a really sharp looking blue.  Electric Blue….to be sure.

This car is too nice for me. Sporty and fast…it’ll take some time to get used to it. Maybe listening to some Johnny Cash while driving it will help

I’m going to be honest…I got a little misty when I turned my truck in.  While most folks view their cars and trucks as purely utilitarian objects I’ve come to love each and every one of my trucks.  Each time that I’ve driven them they take me back to a time in my life.  A first date.  Going to basketball practice.  A time in our garage working with Dad on a repair.  My last date as a charming single guy.  A trip to the hospital with a very pregnant and uncomfortable spouse.  Moving our kids around.  Road trips and vacations.   A time when I could still sit on my Father’s lap and steer his truck around those winding gravel roads of my childhood.  I miss many things in my life that shiny new buttons and whistles will never, ever replace.  I guess I’m still just that farm kid at heart.

The Ripley boys after a day of painting.  From left to right.  Brian, Dan, Me and Dad

 

 

Billy Idol sneer…CHECK!!

I honestly thought that these photographs were lost forever.  I hadn’t seen them in years…but that’s not where the story begins.

It was April 1984 and we were just a few short weeks away from graduating high school. My best friend, Scott Carlson, had hatched an idea to take some “cool pictures” at an abandoned farm house just a few minutes from where we lived.  Since I was one of the photographers for our high school newspaper and had access to a 35mm camera, black and white film plus could develop said photos at school without supervision, he asked me to come along.  Scott was a bit of a free-spirit back then.  He occasionally smoked pot, was extremely talented in art and track and was kind of on the outside edge of the cool crowd.  I was all of those things except that I didn’t smoke pot, wasn’t talented in either art nor track and the cool crowd was indifferent towards my existence….so it worked out well.  All we needed for the photo shoot was:

  • tinted safety glasses (borrowed from welding class)
  • a black tux jacket (borrowed from choir)
  • Billy Idol sneer.
  • a total lack of regard for trespassing (we didn’t know who owned it and it wouldn’t have mattered anyway)
  • two cameras.  One with color film and one with black and white.
  • a little imagination.

We arrived at the farm after school and started taking some pictures.  As you will see, the house was a beautiful home at one time.  Scott was adventurous enough to go inside the house while I hedged my bets that he’d fall through the floor and into the basement.  Years removed from this afternoon I wish that I would’ve taken more photos, gone inside and perhaps invited some of our classmates to join us.  How much more fun would it be to look at these now as I share them?

Once we had been there for a little while we heard a truck pull up into the lane, it was old man Spickermann.  I didn’t know much about Old Man Spickermann except that he yelled really loud at basketball games and had an ever-present scowl residing upon his beet red face.  Scott and I walked up to his truck in the lane like two kids walking to the principles office.  I think that I did most of the talking while he scowled at us, on his property without his permission.  Mind you one of us was wearing a black tux jacket and tinted safety glasses while the other carried two cameras…not exactly looking like two juvenile delinquents vandalizing an old and abandoned farm.  Mister Spickermann listened, never giving us an indication of his feelings one way or the other…just sizing us and the moment up.  Once I had finished with my apology for not getting his permission and telling him what we were doing (which was harmless) he turned away without saying a word, opened his truck door, got something off of the floor of his cab (it was shiny) and moved back towards us.  At this point I thought that he may have had a gun to scare us with, instead it was a chrome Thermos.  He chuckled as he poured himself a cup of coffee, using the hood of his truck as a table, and talked to us about the farm and local matters.  I learned that his scowl was just him being him and that once turned upside down was really a very pleasant face to go with the man.  His beet-red complexion a consequence of years of farming and being in the sun.  Mister Spickermann departed shortly thereafter and so did we…not knowing if any of these photos would turn out.  Here they are:

Scott and I thought that it'd be cool if he went inside.  I didn't have the courage to do it.  I wish now that I had.

Scott and I thought that it’d be cool if he went inside. I didn’t have the courage to do it. I wish now that I had.

Never mind that cool old abandoned house, look at that beautiful hair profile.  I'd give a weeks pay to have that hair again for seven days.

Never mind that cool old abandoned house, look at that beautiful hair profile. I’d give a weeks pay to have that hair again for seven days.

The whole Billy Idol sneer thing was going on with Scott at the time.  He's a front window on the second story.

The whole Billy Idol sneer thing was going on with Scott at the time. He’s a front window on the second story.

I have no idea why we took these photos in April of 84, but I'm glad that we did.  It would've been a blast had we gotten a few more of our classmates out there with us.

I have no idea why we took these photos in April of 84, but I’m glad that we did. It would’ve been a blast had we gotten a few more of our classmates out there with us.

This photo was taken at the back of the house.  Scott was in the second story window when he said that he heard something weird behind him.  He disappeared for a bit before coming back and telling me that the back wall was covered with bees and honeycombs.

This photo was taken at the back of the house. Scott was in the second story window when he said that he heard something weird behind him. He disappeared for a bit before coming back and telling me that the back wall was covered with bees and honeycombs.

View from the front door.  Scott coming down the stairway from the second story.

View from the front door. Scott coming down the stairway from the second story.  Ooo…so creepy.

If you ever wondered what I'd look like sitting in the ceiling inside a corn crib...well wonder no more.

If you ever wondered what I’d look like sitting in the ceiling inside a corn crib…well wonder no more.

Again...inside a corn crib.  I was working with corn cribs before working with corn cribs was cool.  Just sayin'

Again…inside a corn crib. I was working with corn cribs before working with corn cribs was cool. Just sayin’

We were smart enough to bring a camera with color film in it...but not smart enough for the photographer to get his stupid shadow out of the photo.  (that's my stupid shadow, by the way)

We were smart enough to bring a camera with color film in it…but not smart enough for the photographer to get his stupid shadow out of the photo. (that’s my stupid shadow, by the way)

A summer ago I returned to those gravel roads that I grew up on, looking for that beautiful old farm house and its outbuildings.  What I found shouldn’t have surprised me…it was completely overgrown with trees and brush with old cars and trailers parked in its overgrown lane.  I couldn’t tell if the house was even standing. Its probably better that I don’t know.

I last spoke to Scott at a class reunion.  We’re quite different and the consequence of that is we don’t keep in touch.  I wish that I could share these with him, or at least his kids….they’d probably all get a kick out of seeing them.

April 1984. Old school selfie.  Focus the camera.  Set the timer and run to your spot.  Nailed it the first time.

April 1984. Old school selfie. Focus the camera. Set the timer and run to your spot. Nailed it the first time.

That’s us….two kids, now in their fifties, having a little fun thirty-two years ago.

Thanks for coming down Memory Lane with me.  Take care and God bless.

R

RICH RIPLEY…TWO DECADES WORTH OF PUBERTY 1967-1987

We begin todays blog in 1966 where I was added to the bottom of the batting line-up as Richard Matthew Ripley, the third and youngest son of Charlie and Marcie Ripley….Davenport Iowa.

An early record of me and my brothers. Brian's looking at Mom like "...do we have to keep him...?"

An early record of me and my brothers. Brian’s looking at Mom like “…do we have to keep him…?”

I moved from the city to the country at the tender age of two (not for political, religious nor financial reasons) to just outside historic New Liberty Iowa…a town that had exactly one bank, one library, one volunteer fire station and two bars with a handful of faithful Christians sprinkled in for good measure. I brought my parents and brothers with me at the time as I felt it’d be unfair to leave them to fend for themselves in the city.  Nothing of consequence happened until first grade when I set our barn on fire.  You read that correctly…I set a barn on fire.  I blame the school system for not teaching us practical, if not life-altering, stuff such as “don’t play with matches in a barn full of straw since straw burns almost as fast as rocket fuel” or “you shouldn’t pee on an electric fence, it’ll emotionally and mentally scar you for life” or “how to shoot a BB gun without hitting window glass.”  THAT kind of information would have been INVALUABLE to a kid like yours truly who had LOADS of time on his hands.  I found out about this time that humor could potentially save me from a good old fashioned spanking.  I was across my Mother’s lap, butt up, clinching for the punishment that I deserved to get as her hand was descending upon me when I started shouting “THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT!!” My brothers fell off their chairs laughing as I continued with my defense and Mom started laughing too…so much in fact that she couldn’t finish whipping me.  We all had a good laugh and I made a mental note to have a one-liner handy for most occasions AND that I doubt that I’d get that same leniency twice in one lifetime from a deserved spanking.

Dan, Brian and I. Look at the size of that forehead. (note to self...wear bow-ties more often)

Dan, Brian and I. Look at the size of that forehead. (note to self…wear bow-ties more often)

I included the photo below if for no other reason that its the only photograph of me without a bald spot.  Just look at it!  Soft brown hair.  Straight and smooth….just like the man writing this crap.

1975 was a good year for hair for yours truly. Dead serious...it got wavy and curly just weeks after this photo was taken at Peace Church Bennett Iowa

1975 was a good year for hair for yours truly. Dead serious…it got wavy and curly just weeks after this photo was taken at Peace Church Bennett Iowa

My circles of influence ran like this:

  1. Family & dog
  2. Friends at school
  3. (repeat)

Here’s the Ripley clan in 1975.  I’m arm in arm with my cousin Doug (before he became known as Dirty Doug of Mercer County Illinois).  Doug got me into a lot of trouble, but nothing that killed either one of us…but there’s still time.

1975-1976 Ripley's Galore!!

1975-1976 Ripley’s Galore!!

Here’s why I don’t ride motorcycles.  I rode Craig “Coonie” Conrad’s Honda minibike directly into the side of school lunch lady (Gladys Lynch’s)  grass green Pontiac LeMans in the spring of 1977.  Fourteen stitches later I didn’t have the same “need for speed” as just an hour before.  Go figure.

Fun. Fast. Not entirely idiot-proof

Fun. Fast. Not entirely idiot-proof

Here’s a fun fact for all of you Ripley Minions out there.  How many kids did I graduate with in the class of 1984 from Bennett Community High School?  Twenty-four.  Just twenty-four kids.  Twelve boys.  Twelve girls.  Most of us had been together since Kindergarten, while others had been added to the mix along the way…and by the fall of 1983 we were pretty much sick of seeing each other.  I was an average student and average athlete. The girls in our class either dated guys from other schools or guys that had already graduated (looking back our guys didn’t really give the girls a deep gene pool to draw from…honestly) while the guys in my class casually dated the lower grades or out of town as well.  I remember wanting to get the hell out of Bennett so badly that I didn’t really say goodbye to anyone.  I got my diploma and left.  I wasn’t mad…just ready for a new scene with different people.  I can’t speak for my classmates…but I think that the feeling was mutual.

Graduation May 1984 Bennett Community High.

Graduation May 1984 Bennett Community High.

It wasn’t all bad.  I worked detasseling corn for three summers as well as baling hay and straw.  I got a job working at a truck stop restaurant my senior year where I found out quickly that I didn’t care for working over a steam table nor fryers. I moved to Cedar Rapids, about an hour away from New Liberty, for college.  I’d make it back to Bennett and New Liberty through the years, but only to visit my parents, occasionally running into former classmates with polite conversations.

It really didn’t happen that way…or did it?  Regardless I’ve made it back to Bennett for several class reunions and had a blast.  Flat out…my former classmates are just good people.  I wish that I could be around them more.  They entertain me.  They remind me of what was, stories either not heard or forgotten.  They’re doing well and I’m happy to see them when I do. Truth be told…its kinda hard for a group of balding, heavy-set middle-aged men who grew up in our school to be pompous and our female counterparts are looking good with solid careers and good kids.

College was just like high school but with more beer and a lot more idle time.  I met a guy in the fall of ’84 who would become my best friend…hell…he’s like a brother to me.  We’ve been drunk together, gotten in trouble together (those two most often go hand in hand) gone to rock concerts,  been in each others weddings, watched as each has raised their families, worked with each other (I hired Dave one time, and he got me to sell used cars with him for five months…so we’re even) shared concerns over our parents, drank more beer and conversed about plans for possible world domination, etc, etc.  As I scanned through the photos from this period of my life I chuckled at how many photos included Dave.  A quick but not complete summary.

Me and Dave in Des Moines 1986

Me and Dave in Des Moines 1986

Dave and me in class at Kirkwood. Look at my hair. I'd give a weeks pay to have that hair again for a few days.

Dave and me in class at Kirkwood. Look at my hair. I’d give a weeks pay to have that hair again for a few days.

Jeff Hopkins, Dave and I on Jeff's birthday at Dori's apartment. May 1986.

Jeff Hopkins, Dave and I on Jeff’s birthday at Dori’s apartment. May 1986.

I graduated from college in May of 1986 at age 19. During this time I had joined a company that hired me and would transfer me to Mason City Iowa, roughly four hours from my family, my friends and all the fun that I had grown used to.  I was to be alone, working 70-80 hours week in a place that I didn’t like, with people who were ANCIENT (they were in their late 30’s and early forties).  It was terrible and probably the best thing for me at that stage of my life…getting me out of my comfort zone and making a career.  I was miserable. I was lonely.  That was 1986-1987.  In the fall of 1987 things started to get better.  Mason City had become my home.  I was 21 and things weren’t as bad as they were.  I was coming into my own.  1988 started like ’87 ended…quietly and without anything going on…then “she” came into my life wearing baggy sweatpants and puffy winter parka and life as I knew it would be forever changed.

I’ve been blessed to be born into the family that I’m in.  I’ve been blessed with good health, stunning good looks, a quick wit and a humbleness unrivaled.  She…wouldn’t buy any of it.  Tune in next week.

God bless…

R

 

 

 

Its the year of “50 Eve”

I turned 49 earlier today in case you weren’t awoken to the sound of the huge display of fireworks over the city at midnight, nor the huge marching band parading up my street serenading the three block area surrounding the Palatial Estates and you probably didn’t hear the polka band that had set up shop in our kitchen (unless you were one of the many well-wishers lined up on the sidewalk and driveway…awaiting your chance to say something catchy and memorable on this…Friday February 6th….the day of my 49th birthday and the beginning of the year now known as “50 Eve” for yours truly.  If you didn’t make it by now….don’t sweat it….you’ve got 364 days left to surprise me with something.

My 48th year went pretty darn well, honestly.  Here are a few highlights:

  • Oldest daughter got a career job that she loves.
  • Another year of marriage to my smokin’ hot wife Connie Sue.  I continue to delight her so much that her brain sometimes confuses “joy” with “utter distain” at the sounds,  scents and sights that a middle-aged man like yours truly “puts out there” for her enjoyment.  Silly girl.
  • I umpired varsity baseball…a goal of mine that was met.
  • I received a post-season basketball tournament game assignment just a few days ago.  That was a huge goal of mine and, Thank God, with the help of my mentor and officiating partners…got that recognition! (in only my third year for gosh sakes!)
  • We continue to celebrate my Mom’s good health. She’s still full of piss and vinegar in her 80′s…the stubborn ol’ German that she is.  We love her to death.
  • Connie and I are now “empty-nesters” and are planning vacations for just the two of us.
  • Seeing my classmates from high school at our reunion.  Thirty years later…they’re just terrific people.

No “birthday blog” would be complete without a goofy photo of the celebrant in their early years.  Here’s your dose of laughter America.  You’re welcome.

130 pounds just teeming with testosterone.  In 1983 the thing to wear at Bennett High was bib overalls, a flannel shirt and mirrored sunglasses....in your parents kitchen.  Practically irresistible to upper (and lower) classman of the opposite sex...I somehow maintained my virginity well into my twenties.  (my basketball warm ups and uniform are hanging on the door knob in the right of the photo.  Coolest uni's EVER!)

130 pounds just teeming with testosterone. In 1983 the thing to wear at Bennett High was bib overalls, a flannel shirt and mirrored sunglasses….in your parents kitchen. Practically irresistible to upper (and lower) classman of the opposite sex…I somehow maintained my virginity well into my twenties. (my basketball warm ups and uniform are hanging on the door knob in the right of the photo. Coolest uni’s EVER!)

Here’s a throwback photo….me chasing a kid from Oxford Junction at a Junior Varsity game in ’83.

Avert your eyes if you don't like seeing A LOT of upper thigh.  (notice the crowd...we really didn't pack them in the old gym for the JV games)  Look at the mad hops Kory Stuhr has along the baseline (I'm pretty certain he cannot attain the same height these days without the assistance of a step ladder)

Avert your eyes if you don’t like seeing A LOT of upper thigh. (notice the crowd…we really didn’t pack them in the old gym for the JV games) Look at the mad hops Kory Stuhr has along the baseline (I’m pretty certain he cannot attain the same height these days without the assistance of a step ladder)

My Junior year student ID….because…you know…EVERYBODY was trying to attend Bennett High illegally since it was such a cool-ass place to go to and learn about wielding (both arc and gas), no-till farming, crop rotation and Consumer Math (after I dropped Algebra).  My graduating class in ’84 was 24 kids.  Twelve boys.  Twelve girls.  We could have probably done without the photo ID’s.  In that community….if we did something wrong…our parents probably knew about it before we got home from doing it….or shortly thereafter.

I was voted "Junior class male" MOST LIKELY TO BECOME THE UNI-BOMBER"  Jeez...how about those eyebrows?

I was voted “Junior class male” MOST LIKELY TO BECOME THE UNI-BOMBER” Jeez…how about those eyebrows?

How many blessings do I have in my life…..?

...more than these two arms could ever hold.  (you could also title this photo "twirling!!  I'm twirling!!  Look at me TWIRL!!")

…more than these two arms could ever hold. (you could also title this photo “twirling!! I’m twirling!! Look at me TWIRL!!”)

And lastly….I actually enjoy the music of the early 80’s (and this is from the generation that brought you Dee Snyder’s Twisted Sister to the for front).  Simple, fun and bouncy songs that make you happy.  One of my favorites is Diesel’s Sausalito Summernight.  An obscure song from a foreign group that got into the Top 40 enough to be heard but quickly forgotten.  Thank God for YouTube.  Here they are, getting together for a tribute concert…rockin’ it better now…than back then.  See if you remember it.

 

Thanks for reading.  God bless.

R

The longest day

The longest day that I’m referring to isn’t the 1962 movie about the WWII Normandy landings nor the first day of the summer solstice, I’m referring to….Christmas Eve day.  It’s when, as a kid in the 1970’s and early 80’s, I’d get up with no school to attend and try in vain to make the daylight hours of December 24th pass as quickly as possible.  In 1970’s rural Iowa there just weren’t a lot of “entertainment options”, and it usually didn’t snow until the week after Christmas (usually a blizzard) so there wasn’t any snow to play in.  Four TV channels, a few miscellaneous chores and, God-willing, a couplea board games with my brother, would pass a few hours from the clock into the past….but time crawled soooo slowly.  The Christmas tree, a real one that we had to water, lit up with multi-colored hot-to-the-touch lights zigzagging back and forth across the tree….stood in the corner of our living room….mocking me with a few presents under it.

Now…as a child still believing in Santa the day would be spent surveying our rooftop for an adequate amount of snow for Santa to land upon and if I decided that, like most years, there wasn’t any snow to land on Santa would just deploy his specially equipped landing gear on his sled that he would typically use in southern states and tropical islands (I had a pretty good imagination back then too).  The real gifts didn’t come out until I was long in bed, fitfully sleeping until Christmas morn….but until then….it was Christmas Eve day. 

I recently helped out with my wife’s second grade class.  I had a few moments with them where I didn’t have anything planned so I casually asked them “who’s ready for Christmas?”  Each kid had at least one arm instantly into the air (like it was a contest of if you were the last kid with their arm up you wouldn’t get any presents).  So with a captive audience I followed up with “…okay…who’s still on the naughty list?” and every arm went down just as fast as it had gone up.  One kid chimed “you gotta be careful cause Santa has elves out with facial recognition computers that can tell who’s naughty so you just gotta be good all of the time…”  I’m not making this up…the kid said that….priceless!! (I didn’t deny it either cause maybe Santa’s upped his game since 1973 is all I’m sayin’…)  There are NO ATHEISTS when it comes to second graders and Santa Claus.  Your feet are either firmly entrenched in the “I BELIEVE IN SANTA” camp or you’re a third grade thug.

Dad would be off of work from his city job and he and I would drive over to a little grocery store in Big Rock.  The store was so small that they still candled eggs in their stock room.  I’d get the choice assignment of picking out the “flavored” pop for the Christmas holiday.  Normally we’d only get to drink Pepsi or Teem soda, and maybe one bottle of that a week…but on Christmas Eve we got the flavors!!  Glass bottles of orange, grape, root beer and cream soda…WHO KNEW THESE FLAVORS EVEN EXISTED AFTER DECEMBER 24TH?!   Why…we even got our old beagle George canned dog food for Christmas Eve!!

Christmas was thee day in our house.  Mom cooked and baked, dear Lord the house smelled good….but those treats couldn’t be had until Christmas Eve when my brothers arrived back onto the farm from college or the city that they lived in.  Sometimes they wouldn’t make it home until after dark…then their headlights would run across the garage and hog house and Dad would announce “Brian’s here!!  or “Dan just pulled in!!”  I’ll tell you something…that meant that the fun was just beginning. Mom would put out a buffet spread like no other….a feast fit for kings.  It only happened on Christmas Eve night and New Year’s Eve night.  When we got up on Christmas morn we’d open gifts then get into the family car and drive to Illinois to celebrate Christmas with our aunts, uncles, grandparents and most of all….those fun-loving cousins of ours.  After spending the morning with one side of the family we’d drive to the other side of the family to repeat the process.  It was Christmas X 3 that all happened in approximately fourteen hours on Christmas Day.  While Christmas Day was wall to wall fun and excitement….Christmas Eve Day was….the longest day of the year with not much going on….except that you knew that TOMORROW WAS GONNA BE AWESOME!!!

Laughter.  Love.  Light.  Warmth.  It was a wonder-filled and wonderful childhood…that I remember lovingly and longingly.  The angel atop our tree symbolizing the angels announcing the birth of mankind’s Savior to the shepherds in the field.  The manger scene positioned on top of our buffet cabinet and even the Burl Ives and Ray Coniff Christmas albums all reminding us of the reason that we assembled on the 24th of December, was for the remembrance of Christ coming to this world as God’s gift to us….to save us. 

May your Christmas Eve be the right amount of time for you to enjoy, and remember the Love that came into this world for you.

Merry Christmas to you and yours,

love,

Rich

That DREADED first day of school…and the 2,327 that followed

To say that I wasn’t much of a student while attending Bennett Community School is like comparing a birthday cake to Brussels sprouts…it wasn’t even close.

As a kid I had a great life on the farm.  My dog.  My cats.  My bike.  The creek.  Batman TV show in the afternoon.  Drinking cool water from a garden hose. Feeding the hogs grass through the fence, why my day was already filled with cool stuff to do…why would I need school?  Who would watch the barn, the hog house and garage while I was gone?!  Who would keep an eye on Mom and her whereabouts?   I had an already full agenda, now you just want me to drop everything and wear pants and get onto that yellow school bus?  Yeah…sure…sounds like a blast.  How about I just stay home and help Mom out around the house.

As an adult (of age, not of mental maturity…I have a fart app on my smart phoneso suck it) I’ve always felt a bit of relief when, at this time of year, I don’t have to go back to school.  My thirteen year school prison sentence served, I’ve been on parole for thirty plus years.  It would only serve as poetic justice that I would fall in love with and marry a school teacher.  She enjoys her summers off (technically…she’s unemployed but whenever I suggest that she gain part-time employment during her summers she shoots me the stink-eye that lets me know that I will be lonely for several nights until I worm my way back into her good graces).  While she loves teaching (she’s darned good at it…if I had, had a teacher like her I might have amounted to something…like an astronaut or something neat-o) she kind of dreads going back to school too (like I dread Monday’s I suppose).

Fall 1971.  A young Dick Ripley starts his 13 year school prison sentence.  I think that my facial expression tells it all.

Fall 1971. A young Dick Ripley starts his 13 year school prison sentence. I think that my facial expression says it all.  So with that…I’m off the hook for yet another school year.  Thank God!

 

 

Have a great week and may God bless you and yours,

R

 

The year was 1984…

The year was 1984…
…on an abandoned farm not far from where I grew up, New Liberty Iowa. My good buddy and I, Scott Carlson, got it in our heads to “take some really cool photos of ourselves” using one of the schools 35mm cameras (I was one of the school photographers and the only one who knew how to develop black and white film in the schools darkroom), a “borrowed” suit coat from the high school choir inventory and a pair of dark safety glasses. MTV had taken a foothold with America’s youth (even in our little high school), the movies Purple Rain and Footloose had been released in January and February respectively in 1984…so the old creative juices were flowing and with graduation just a few weeks away we took some pictures. These are just a few of what I have left, the remainder of them I gave to Scott some time ago.

The back story to this little tale is that we didn’t have permission to be on the property (it being 1984 and us feeling “bullet-proof”…we didn’t feel the need to track down who actually owned the abandoned farm). Lo and behold we started taking pictures, innocently enough…we weren’t doing any harm…it was just two 18 year old kids walking around barns, corncribs and an old house…wearing safety glasses and suit coats, taking photos…which was really kind of odd. Then, all of the sudden, we hear a truck door slam in the driveway. There stood old man Spickermann. Old man Spickermann was a large, barrel chested man with a beet-red, shiny puffy face. Most of the time he looked like he was going to either have a heart-attack or chew someone’s ass…or both, and there we were…caught on what we now understood was…HIS PROPERTY, WITHOUT HIS PERMISSION. He stood at the door of his truck as we walked up, glaring at us. I don’t know who spoke first, my heart was in my throat at the time so it probably wasn’t me. Basically what was said was “all we’re doing is taking a few photos on this cool farm, we didn’t know who to ask, sorry.” What I do remember is old man Spickermann continuing the glare, taking a step back and opening his trucks door, reaching inside the cab, grabbing something shiny from the floor of the truck and whipping it out and placing it…a Thermos of coffee…onto the hood of his truck. He smiled as he poured himself a cup and told us that “as long as you don’t get into any trouble here…” we were fine to continue on taking pictures.

I don't think "rebels" have feathered hair or wear safety glasses and black suit coats...or hang out of corn cribs...

I don’t think “rebels” have feathered hair or wear safety glasses and black suit coats…or hang out of corn cribs…

Me and Scott at the back of the abandoned house using the timer on the camera.  This photo hangs in our garage...has for years.  I like it.

Me and Scott at the back of the abandoned house using the timer on the camera. This photo hangs in our garage…has for years. I like it.

Odd.  Funny.  Scott was brave enough to walk up the rickety stairway to get to the second story.  He paused once he got up there since the entire wall was covered with bees.

Odd. Funny. Scott was brave enough to walk up the rickety stairway to get to the second story. He paused once he got up there since the entire wall was covered with bees.

Having given most of the original photos to Scott, I kept this "developers shot" of the negatives.  It gives you an idea of what else was taken that day.  Sadly...no photos of Old Man Spickermann were taken.

Having given most of the original photos to Scott, I kept this “developers shot” of the negatives. It gives you an idea of what else was taken that day. Sadly…no photos of Old Man Spickermann were taken.

That old farm…once a really nice place in the country, was overtaken by trees and such. I drove past it several years ago, along a curvy gravel road. Nothings “forever” I suppose, even Scott and I aren’t close….haven’t talked to him in years. I think that I’ll visit that old farm next week, its an hours drive. Old man Spickermann’s long gone, as is the choir jacket…but I still have the photos of that warm spring day in May of 1984, when feathered hair was still in for guys…when Kevin Bacon’s star was just beginning to rise and Prince was still Prince. Funny isn’t it…? What old photos make you feel and think about again…

Peace to you and God bless.
R

My feelings hurt, I’ll just take a nap until it quits raining…

A quick synopsis of the past few weeks is as follows:

• From my June 15th blog where I wrote of old matchbooks, ticket stubs and such that I kept in an old pickle jar from my high school days came a light-hearted moment from one of my old classmates. On Facebook she commented that the old ticket stub that I had pictured on my blog was from the night that she first met her husband back on August 29th 1981. She offered me a nickel for it. I, knowing that small town Postmasters like her only make like twenty cents a year, offered it to her for free since my chance at winning the GRAND PRIZE of a microwave oven had probably passed in the thirty-three years since. I handed it to her at our 30th class reunion a few weeks ago AND it was great seeing everyone who attended…all ten of us (we had a small class of twenty-four kids…so we got almost half of us…and had a great time). Honestly…I’d like to be around these people a little more often than just every five years….they’re great people and I like them more now than when we were in high school.

The Class of Bennett High School 1984.  I didn't smile.  I thought that I looked goofy enough already.

The Class of Bennett High School 1984. I didn’t smile. I thought that I looked goofy enough already.

• Rain rain go away!!! I’ve had rain out and postponement one after the other this late into the baseball season. It’s a letdown not to work these games but, quite honestly there are a lot of folks hurting with the flooding and storm damage that Eastern Iowa has endured these past few weeks. Bridges washing out on highways, kids getting swept into storm drains, basements flooded and ancient trees being felled by gale force winds of violent thunderstorms sweeping across the state of Iowa. My games in northeast Iowa are still on for tonight, fingers crossed.

• Over the weekend I attended a basketball camp at Drake University in Des Moines. In a nutshell these clinics are where I PAY money to officiate in front of evaluators that watch me officiate basketball games then tell me what they think I’m doing wrong or could do better. Conference assigners are there as well and, if they like what they see in you, you’ll get some games assigned to you in their conferences (the assigners and evaluators are sometimes the same person).

It was kind of a letdown, plain and simple. Firstly…I wasn’t my best. For whatever reason I didn’t work those games like I had during the season. I was quiet. Not as many officials signed up for the camp so instead of just working three games a day we worked as many as five (a guy gets tired and real hungry is all I’m saying). One evaluator told me that I looked “robotic” and asked me to be “more fluid…more human…you know…approachable.” My mentor told me long ago to just keep my mouth shut in these situations and to nod “yes” in agreement. I tried my best to be the good soldier but my mouth finally got the best of me and I asked “why is it wrong to do it the way that I’m currently doing it when last summer I was told it was “great” by someone you employ?” The evaluator smiled and replied “he’s a nice man, we appreciate what he does for us but if you want to do it correctly…do it this way.” Fair enough….I’ve changed to his way as he’s higher up on the food chain, and honestly…it’s easier to officiate his way. I did receive some real nice compliments from the evaluators, but obviously….there’s room for improvement in my game and that’s what I’ll focus on from here on out.
I also found out that there’s no way that I want to be a college basketball official. While it’s good for many folks I don’t think that I’d enjoy being under that much scrutiny. Guys were told everything from that they needed to lose weight, to run differently (as their running now looked awkward) to guys coming off a knee surgery and running up and down the court with kids as the assigners looked on to see how they were holding up. I probably should have mentioned that the clinic was for both college and high school officials, but not many high school officials signed up so I was put with the college officials. They, thank God, taught me the most. Honest, unassuming, helpful and with years of game management experience, they were the silver lining of that clinic.

My wife just returned from a trip to Japan where she stayed with our daughter who’s attending college in Tokyo. She had a blast, even tried eating horse at a fancy restaurant (she didn’t order it…the host family did as part of a six course meal). From what Connie’s said….I don’t think that it’ll catch on over here in the States anytime soon. I love pulled pork…if they don’t have pulled pork in Japan….I won’t be going. Nuf said.

As always…thanks for reading, stay safe and God bless.
R

Why on earth did I keep this…?

Recently I needed a match, not lighter, but a match. Talk about something that really hasn’t gotten a lot of attention lately is the old fashioned “book of matches”. Growing up in the 1970’s it was commonplace to have books of matches lying around, or in the case of our family, stick matches. There were the usual pilot lights needing to be relit on the stove and such, trash needing to get burned in the ditch (Greenpeace not yet having formed a chapter in New Liberty Iowa, population 89, in 1977) and Fourth of July fireworks (legal and illegal) needing to be ignited….you just had to have matches around the house. At that time in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s I, for whatever reason, collected matchbooks. Businesses would have them lying about their countertops for their customer to pick up and use later and hopefully remember to “come back” and patronize that particular business again. It was a different time, more people smoked and if a kid wanted a pack of matches….”hell kid…go for it.” I’d take the newly acquired matchbook and toss it into an old one gallon pickle jar with the rest of the matchbooks that I’d collected and move onto bigger and better things, which in that time in my life was probably reading comic books, playing with our dog and screwing around playing baseball.

Fast forward to the present I now have that “pickle jar of memories”. I went through it last night and wondered why on earth did I keep some of this stuff? I can only imagine that it was sitting on my dresser and as I emptied the contents of my pockets from the days activities various, “things” ended up in the jar. Some of my favorites are listed below in no particular order.

GUS & REGAS in Tipton is where I fell in love with pizza.  I remember it like yesterday.  Pepperoni. MMMMmm.   THE BARN Restauant and Motel in Baraboo was where I had my first potato pancake and it was AWESOME!! (it had blueberries and whipped cream on it).  VOTE REPUBLICAN...in this case for Hugo Schnekloth for State Representative (damned Democrats...these matches have convinced me to cut long-standing political ties and switch parties!!)

GUS & REGAS in Tipton is where I fell in love with pizza. I remember it like yesterday. Pepperoni. MMMMmm. THE BARN Restauant and Motel in Baraboo was where I had my first potato pancake and it was AWESOME!! (it had blueberries and whipped cream on it). VOTE REPUBLICAN…in this case for Hugo Schnekloth for State Representative (damned Democrats…these matches have convinced me to cut long-standing political ties and switch parties!!)

Some matchbooks gave you some visual aids to help you find their businesses like...The HIGHWAY 12 CAFE...next to the Deer Park Across From Riverview Park (clear as...what?!)  Venison Omelet anyone?   Or how about Jimmy Doolittle and Friends Pub...with a detailed map on the back of their matchbook (I don't think the map is to scale). Liberty Savings Bank is still around ladies and gentlemen and ITS STILL LOCATED IN Scott county Iowa.

Some matchbooks gave you some visual aids to help you find their businesses like…The HIGHWAY 12 CAFE…next to the Deer Park Across From Riverview Park (clear as…what?!) Venison Omelet anyone?
Or how about Jimmy Doolittle and Friends Pub…with a detailed map on the back of their matchbook (I don’t think the map is to scale).
Liberty Savings Bank is still around ladies and gentlemen and ITS STILL LOCATED IN Scott county Iowa.

I wonder how often this came up where someone needing "mortuary services" found this matchbook in their pocket? The Villa Motel in Estherville Iowa...is where I stayed the night before we were married.  As it clearly states "Estherville's finest Luxury Budget Motel.  Color TV. Waterbeds.  Direct Dial Phones."  (I think that its a parking lot now.  Go figure) "Get Lit Up on The Giebelstein" was given away at my brothers friends wedding reception.  I, being around 12 years old at that time, could only imagine what "getting lit up" was like.  (It's overrated)

I wonder how often this came up where someone needing “mortuary services” found this matchbook in their pocket?
The Villa Motel in Estherville Iowa…is where I stayed the night before we were married. As it clearly states “Estherville’s finest Luxury Budget Motel. Color TV. Waterbeds. Direct Dial Phones.” (I think that its a parking lot now. Go figure)
“Get Lit Up on The Giebelstein” was given away at my brothers friends wedding reception. I, being around 12 years old at that time, could only imagine what “getting lit up” was like. (It’s overrated)

Various business cards from my youth.  The proprietors at "V.J.M. UNLIMITED" claim "WE DO WHAT OTHERS CAN'T".  (Sounds kinda ominous...don't it?)  "Yeah...the boss says wez takin' ya for a ride...to the rivah.." RON BUYSSE DODGE not only sells Dodge trucks but De Lorean Motor Cars.  I'm going to call them tomorrow and ask them if they can "squeeze me in for an 8:15 oil change on my '85 De Lorean." I have absolutely NO IDEA how I came into possession of a Luis Suarez Salas Ford Motor Company business card from Mexico, but his number is on the front if you'd like to call him and ask...

Various business cards from my youth. The proprietors at “V.J.M. UNLIMITED” claim “WE DO WHAT OTHERS CAN’T”. (Sounds kinda ominous…don’t it?) “Yeah…the boss says wez takin’ ya for a ride…to the rivah..”
RON BUYSSE DODGE not only sells Dodge trucks but De Lorean Motor Cars. I’m going to call them tomorrow and ask them if they can “squeeze me in for an 8:15 oil change on my ’85 De Lorean.”
I have absolutely NO IDEA how I came into possession of a Luis Suarez Salas Ford Motor Company business card from Mexico, but his number is on the front if you’d like to call him and ask…

Hall passes from high school.  Back in the day a kid couldn't just go traipsing around the hallways without permission, so you had to have your teacher write you a hall pass.  As you can clearly see, October 12th 1981 was a particularly busy hall pass day for me.  A 1:41 trip to get a drink of water, then a 2:24 trip to the office (never a good thing).  Art teacher Mike Millington sent me on an URGENT MISSION to the RR (restroom) on November 7th.  Ahhh...relief AND humor.  I'm still waiting for a call that my 1979-80 high school year book is in.  I'm keepin' the receipt until I get it!!

Hall passes from high school. Back in the day a kid couldn’t just go traipsing around the hallways without permission, so you had to have your teacher write you a hall pass. As you can clearly see, October 12th 1981 was a particularly busy hall pass day for me. A 1:41 trip to get a drink of water, then a 2:24 trip to the office (never a good thing). Art teacher Mike Millington sent me on an URGENT MISSION to the RR (restroom) on November 7th. Ahhh…relief AND humor.
I’m still waiting for a call that my 1979-80 high school year book is in. I’m keepin’ the receipt until I get it!!

A Wally's Air Service ticket stub from my first plane ride, ever.  I was ten years old at the time and it sticks in my memory like a thunderbolt from a cloud.  Scared and excited at the same time.  My brother Dan took me on this. BENNETT'S FALL FESTIVAL in '81 was a big deal then....giving away a (wait for it....) MICROWAVE OVEN!!   My Future Farmers of America GREENHAND membership card from my freshman year, personally signed by Geraldine Weise and Faye Ohlert. A ticket stub from the Sears Tower in Chicago...church youth group trip in 1979.

A Wally’s Air Service ticket stub from my first plane ride, ever. I was ten years old at the time and it sticks in my memory like a thunderbolt from a cloud. Scared and excited at the same time. My brother Dan took me on this.
BENNETT’S FALL FESTIVAL in ’81 was a big deal then….giving away a (wait for it….) MICROWAVE OVEN!!
My Future Farmers of America GREENHAND membership card from my freshman year, personally signed by Geraldine Weise and Faye Ohlert.
A ticket stub from the Sears Tower in Chicago…church youth group trip in 1979.

I should recycle this stuff, or throw it out. Its not good for anything, the business’s mostly long-gone…as are the people. Only the simple and common memories of a farm kid from Iowa from nearly forty years ago. Why save them? Until I come up with a good reason I guess that they’ll just have to go back into the pickle jar and wait until I can come up with a good reason to save them. When that happens….they’ll be my adult kids problem to figure out.

Until next time….peace to you and yours.
R

Five Friday Notables

#1…Two weeks ago I inadvertently injured a muscle in my neck/shoulder area by working out a little too strenuously. Three trips to the chiro yielded no relief. At night I couldn’t get comfortable enough to sleep, soon enough every thing that I did caused me some sort of discomfort in that area of my body. I broke down and went to our family doctor who, seemingly in minutes, diagnosed my problem and wrote me a prescription for an anti-inflammatory drug called Sulindac. So far….so good. The pain subsides when I take the pill, and over the course of the next few weeks I should, God-willing, get back to normal. Now that I’m getting older I’m starting to read the informational pages that accompany the prescriptions that I take. Sulindac’s reads like a dry, dark joke (which I did get a chuckle over). Here are some of the notes that are listed on Sulindac: “This medicine is an NSAID. Exactly how it works is not known” (sounds like my career so far). “Sometimes causes stroke, heart attack and diarrhea” (please….go on…I’m likin’ what I’m hearing so far). “Other possible side effects include gas…” my lovely bride (the honorable Connie Sue) didn’t believe me when I read that to her, so she had to read it herself. Her comment was something along the line of “…as IF you needed a prescription for THAT…” So long story short…I’m on the road to recovery….and so far its been a gas.

#2…My old high school, Bennett Community, was a victim of declining enrollment through the years and around ten years ago was forced to shut its doors as a high school and the remaining kids enrolled into nearby communities that had high schools. While the building is still used as an elementary it was a shame to see it closed. I remember many a cold winter night when the town buzzed with excitement over the games that would be played that night against one of our conference rivals. The parking lot would be jammed packed and over-flowed into the side streets. The atmosphere was electric as you entered the gym, with the pep band belting out tunes, the teams warming up and the crowds lining up to get the good center court seats. Your best buddies would be there, you’d check out the other teams cheerleaders and it was THE ONLY SHOW IN TOWN. As a underclassman you’d bide your time until you got to take the floor in a couplea years…wearing the red and white of the Bennett Bombers. Recently they had a “Pack the Gym” night at our old high school with players from the 70’s and 80’s taking the court to play a few games of basketball (yes…there was an ambulance parked outside of the gym doors and NO it didn’t get used). I didn’t attend, but judging from the photos that I’ve seen on Facebook, just about everyone else did. The place was filled. It made me realize that fond memories of thee old high school aren’t exclusive to me alone. Old classmates were playing ball with smiles on their faces and some of them even wore their old uniforms. I hope that they have another one of those Pack the Gym nights, I’d like to go.

#3…Our oldest daughter, Jordan, was finally offered her dream job. I’m happy for her and yet, in getting that job, means that I’ll probably see her less and less. She will be traveling constantly as a flight attendant, probably overseas. What’s a father to do? Pray, I suppose.

#4…I was offered the chance to buy my old high basketball uniform for $5. After almost thirty years and forty pounds I’ll pass. Besides, I only scored one point in my varsity career. One point. Scoring prodigy I wasn’t. Bench warming extraordinaire I was.

From 1983...my old practice jersey.  I can still SQUEEZE into it...but the JAWS of LIFE are needed to extract me from it

From 1983…my old practice jersey. I can still SQUEEZE into it…but the JAWS of LIFE are needed to extract me from it

#5…I was offered the chance to officiate some basketball tonight, so I jumped at the opportunity. There will be times this summer when I’ll umpire a baseball game in the morning and referee a basketball game at night. I’m really looking forward to it.

Have a great weekend my friends!
Peace,
R