Why I’m loved the most…the letter

Five years ago this weekend, in the early morning hours of Sunday, my father passed from his life of pain into Heaven.  It was expected.  He’d been under Hospice care for a week, at a nursing home.  He couldn’t communicate very well, if at all.  Struggling to be comfortable.  Struggling to breath.  Struggling to live.  The call came in around 2 in the morning.  “Your Dad is dying”.  I didn’t make it there in time to say good-bye.  At peace…finally.

By the time I came along in 1966 (I was an “oops baby”) he and Mom had two sons ahead of me.  The closest in age is Brian, seven years my senior while Dan’s at the top of the batting order being eleven years older than me.  By the summer of 1977 I was pretty much an only child.  Just me, Dad and Mom.  I got spoiled. (if you couldn’t tell that already…)  I didn’t wear my brothers hand-me-downs like my next closest brother did.  It was Dad who told me repeatedly “You should be a comedian!!”  He was always telling us boys how proud he was of us, our wives, our children and how much he loved us and Mom.

Dad was ahead of his time.  He communicated really well.  Part Archie Bunker, part Mister Rogers, Dad could let you know exactly how he felt.  Sometimes bluntly (that guy is as worthless as tits on a boar) or softly when I was old enough to drive myself to parties where prior to leaving for the night he’d square up with me, look me in the eyes and tell me “If you need a ride home tonight…call us.  WE LOVE YOU.”  I took that seriously.  I had a reputation as being a “mama’s boy” in high school.  When you’ve got parents as cool as mine…YOU’RE DAMN RIGHT. 

Sometime in the late 1980’s or early 1990’s all of us were at Mom and Dad’s for Christmas.  All three sons and their families at the same time.  Dad and Mom were loving this day.  In the tree there were three envelopes.  One for each son, a letter in each.  I started to read mine, but really didn’t READ it until a day or two later.  It was nice.  I filed it away in my dresser drawer.  I might want it someday.

As we approached the day leading up to Dad’s visitation and funeral I had a strong feeling that I should share the letter that he had given me many Christmas’ ago.   I put a copy of it in my pocket and went off to his visitation.  I ran into his Pastor, a lady who farmed with her husband in a nearby community.  “They’re good people” Dad used to say of them.  I gave her the letter and said something along the lines of “if you think this will apply to tomorrows sermon…feel free to use it.”  She took it without looking at it, or commenting.

At Dad’s funeral the next day things were progressing along as well as could be expected when the Pastor pulled out Dad’s letter and read it aloud.  While I’m glad that I shared it, it was extremely hard to hear it being read and not become emotional.  Here it is:

THOUGHTS AND MEMORYS OF THE THREE

GUYS THAT MEAN THE MOST TO ME

Dear Daniel…I’ve loved you the most because you were our first born.  You were the beginning of a marriage, a fulfillment of our Love for each other.  You held us together through our first years, the first apartment in Furth Germany, our first mode of transportation, FEET.  You were new, BOY, we were too.  You were the prototype model.  You are one of a kind, and you are OURS.

Dear Brian…I’ve loved you the most because you were the center of our family, a tough position.  I believe you’re stronger because of it.  Your clothes were someone else’s, as were most things.  You were the one we started to realize that you were not made of eggs and had a personality of your own.  You came at a time of life style change and marriage routine.  You were the love of our ambitious years.  Our Love for you is SPECIAL.

Dear Richard…I’ve loved you the most because while your Mother and I have grown more experienced we’ve found that things in the beginning thought to be important aren’t necessarily so.  Generally endings are sad, but we are not sad, you give us much happiness.  You are our link with the past; dates, girls, ballgames, cars, beer, and troubles, and our hope of the future.  You’ve quickened our step, lightened our heart and straightened our shoulders and given us a humor that maturity doesn’t provide.  You are our Love of Life.

We miss Dad dearly.  If there’s a lesson, a take-a-way, from his letter its that you should let your loved ones know how you feel about them. Whether in spoken word, a letter that gets stashed away in a dresser drawer or some other means.  Say it.  Write it down.  Whatever.  Do it.  They’ll want to hear it.  If not today…eventually.

Dad and Mom Ripley

Dad and Mom Ripley

God bless.

R

 

You’re not here….

I stopped in to see you today.  I was minding my own business when Gun’s & Roses “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” came on the radio.  I’ve heard that song three times since you chose to leave us.  On the drive to your visitation.  Once in September when I was a block away from you and I stopped in, and this morning when I was three blocks from you.  Its like you, or someone else, is nudging me towards you, again.

I honestly don’t know why I stop to see you.  You’re not there, just a marker with your name, date of birth and the day you left us.  A relatively fresh bouquet of red roses, and one withered arrangement of lavender roses.  Some autumn decorations and one heartfelt Ziploc baggie with hearts drawn on with a few cookies in it.  We still miss you bro.

As if the holidays weren’t hard enough, a cold cloud of melancholy sadness lies over many of our hearts.  “What if…?” still crosses my mind.  I’m not alone. 

December 2013 you and Dalton asked if you could stripe the mannicans of their holiday clothes and wear them that night.  I said "why the hell not..?"  You were always looking for a laugh.

December 2013 you and Dalton asked if you could stripe the mannequins of their holiday clothes and wear them that night. I said “why the hell not..?” You were always looking for a laugh.

I looked forward to you rolling your eyes at me as you flashed across the front end of our store, on your way to another supervisor call.  To you sarcastically telling me how amazed you are at me being able to navigate from one country to another.  To you telling me to “get to work”, to how much I looked forward to discussing my trip to Germany with you.  I miss your work ethic.  You left a huge professional void at our store.  I miss talking football with you…and movies.

Probably being naughty...but nice around Santa this year

Probably being naughty…but nice around Santa this year

I’ve wondered why I visit your grave?  Throat tight, eyes watery, chest heavy…I guess that I’m no good at grieving someone who shouldn’t be dead…someone whom I love.  Do me a favor, Jordan, the next time that you nudge me…nudge me somewhere happyThanks bro.  Until then…rest my brother, rest. 

Rip

PARENTHOOD…DAY 9,178. So far…so good

The time frame for this, the fourth of six chapters of my life as I enter the tender age of 50 (in less than two weeks if you’re mailing your gift to me…), begins around the beginning of 1989.  Connie and I had been married for almost a year when she brought it to my attention that we should start trying in earnest to get pregnant.  If I remember it correctly we didn’t discuss how much the baby would cost us in terms of money, time, patience, formula, medicine, insurance, sickness, loss of sleep, worry or anything else….we were 23 years old and it was time.  Connie, being a right-brained analytical type, purchased a Basal thermometer and started charting her ovulation cycle on graph paper which was compared to a calendar on her nightstand.  After a couple of months of this she informed me that “this next week I’ll need you on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights around nine PM” to which I wholeheartedly agreed that, this whole baby-making scheme of hers sounded “just grand” to me (HAR HAR).  What I came to quickly realize was that being called upon to sire a bloodline is TOTALLY  different from frisky and fun spontaneous sex.  My bride was all business…with no time for foolishness nor foreplay. She was all “GET ‘ER DONE” before the phrase was coined.  The following video closely illustrates our exchanges at that time. The movie She’s Having a Baby was the movie that we went to see on our first date.  Funny stuff…hits close to home.

We got pregnant quickly though it didn’t last…two times in a row.  We were heartbroken, with one even going into the second trimester.  Geez…did we really want this hurt to continue?  We cautiously approached this whole “parenthood” thing again and came through it with our first-born daughter Jordan.  She was perfect.  Eight pounds and a head full of hair.  As I laid down to sleep that night, with Connie and Jordan still at the hospital I thought to myself “I can finally relax…she’s born…she’s here…” before a stark realization pierced my conscience with “DEAR GOD…IT’S JUST BEGUN!!”

Connie and Jordan early on

Connie and Jordan early on

After Jordan was born Eastman Kodak probably posted record earnings.  We took photos of her endlessly.  Repeat…endlessly.  She was unique.  She was so smart. She was in the 100% percentile of her age group!!  She also pooped a great deal, spit up almost constantly, tried to eat our cat and was the apple of our eye.  Why our child was destined to be someone wonderful!!

Never mind that Jordan's gouging my eye out...she's happy and I can buy a glass eye for myself

Never mind that Jordan’s gouging my eye out…she’s happy and I can buy a glass eye for myself

First born children shoulder the burden of breaking in new parents.  Who would teach new parents that they should ALWAYS bring at least one set of clean clothes for the baby to even the most routine trip…?  The first-born.  Who would teach new parents that they shouldn’t leave the diaper bag (with diapers, wipes, Tylenol, pacifier and burp clothes in it) on top of their car then drive twenty miles before realizing that its now somewhere along a rural county blacktop…probably being ripped apart by cars driving over it?  The first-born. (true story…we realized it at eight o’clock at night…as we were getting ready to put Jordan down for the night).  Someone found it and turned it into the sheriffs office where we picked it up the next day.

Fast forward three years and BAM!!  Daughter number two shows up and she’s TOTALLY different from her sister in attitude, temperament and intestinal regularities (funny how when a kid doesn’t poop as often how your WHOLE being is centered on that until the issue is relieved…no pun intended).  We were in a new town, a nice apartment, new careers and adjusting to being a family of four.

Karalee was more of a Momma's girl in those first few years...

Karalee was more of a Momma’s girl in those first few years…

At a wedding reception that had a teeter-totter close by that caught a little girls eye

At a wedding reception that had a teeter-totter close by that caught a little girls eye

Not much money in those early years so we went camping. The flies were so bad that we ate inside the tent. I remember this trip real well because I woke up from a nap with chewing gum stuck to my bare back. Sunburned, sweaty and sticky...it was fun.

Not much money in those early years so we went camping. The flies were so bad that we ate inside the tent. I remember this trip real well because I woke up from a nap with chewing gum stuck to my bare back. Sunburned, sweaty and sticky…it was fun.

And fast forward again…

Have you ever seen a very pregnant woman give a "come hither you sexy stud" look? Me neither...

Have you ever seen a very pregnant woman give a “come hither you sexy stud” look? Me neither…

BAM!!  Mason Sue was born…all TEN POUNDS OF HER.  Our girls topped the charts in weight by coming into this world weighing at least eight pounds each.

Grandpa Kenny and Macy Sue

Grandpa Kenny and Macy Sue

Just because you just had a ten pound baby doesn't mean that you stop being a Momma to the others.

Just because you had a ten pound baby doesn’t mean that you stop being a Momma to the others.

By the time Macy arrived we were old hands at raising little girls. We had bought a little house and Connie was real adept at finding garage sale clothes that a growing family needed and bought our girls winter coats the previous spring during seasonal closeouts.  Our kids didn’t mind and frankly…our family of five’s budget was lean.  All through this time there were always plenty of books, a sandbox, a swing set, bunk beds and their imagination.

Fast forward…

Karalee, Jordan and Macy at a amusement park in 2001. Short trips and overnight stays were our vacations

Karalee, Jordan and Macy at a amusement park in 2001. Short trips and overnight stays were our vacations in 2001

DON'T LOSE THE BABY!! Connie with death-grip on Macy on a log ride 2001

DON’T LOSE THE BABY!! Connie with a death-grip on Macy on a log ride 2001

We continued to learn life lessons…like if our toddler ate half a bag of cheese popcorn at the babysitters said toddler of ours would throw up an orange mess onto our beige carpet that wouldn’t come out.  Or…if one child gets sick the parent who slept on the floor of their bedroom to comfort them would eventually catch what the kid had (it didn’t kill me….)

It was around this time that I taught the girls how to ride their bikes.  True story.  They were having trouble learning how to ride, so I loaded up their bikes, dressed them in jeans and drove them to a park with a steep grassy hill.  They put on their helmets, knee and elbow pads then I had them take their bikes to the top of the hill.  They weren’t too sure of this method and expressed their doubts constantly to me.  They got on their bikes and I pushed them off, yelling “PEDAL!!  DON’T STOP PEDALLING!!”  They’d make it a little ways, crash then really expressed their doubts about my methods with “DOES MOM KNOW ABOUT YOUR TRYING TO KILL US?!?!”  Within minutes they were riding their bikes down the hill and onto the blacktop playground at the base of that hill.  Happy and confident, but not without a bump or two.  The girls were little, and whenever Connie left town for a conference and I had to be Mister Mom for several days I ran our girls hard….and they loved it.  If it were summer I’d let them get up around 8 and mill around the house until ten or so.  I’d load up the van with bikes, a cooler of food and drinks then head off to a park where they’d play until lunch time.  We’d picnic, then change into our swimsuits and go to the pool.  After a couple of hours at the pool we’d head to Dairy Queen for ice cream.  After getting home I’d send them outside to play some more.  Supper.  Showers.  A little TV and reading then send them off to bed at 7:30 where they’d crash.  It was a great plan…sadly I was almost as wore out as they were.

Without Connie around I usually relaxed the house rules.  On one occasion I encouraged belching at the dinner table with a follow up exclamation “GOOD FOR YOU!!”  shouted by everyone and hitting the table with both hands (this was done by one adult, me, and three little girls under the age of 11 for approximately one week).  It went over BIG!!  The girls loved it and practiced it as often as they could…with silverware clattering with each pounding and a lot of laughing….then Connie got home.  I didn’t think to tell the girls to stop our little routine, why would I?  At our first meal with Connie back Macy let out an ear-splitting belch that would make a sailor proud then hit the table with both hands and yelled “GOOD FOR ME!!!!” with a big smile on her face.  Connie’s jaw hit the floor.  Jordan and Karalee looked on in astonishment like Macy was about to die.  I chuckled and told Connie what we had been doing.  It ended right….there.

Fast forward…we wanted a larger house and bought one.  Everyone was excited.  Each girl had their own bedroom and got to decorate it accordingly.  Friday afternoons I’d pick them up from school then race home to clean the house, shower, order pizza then crash on the couch and watch Nickelodeon’s Friday night line up of Dexter’s Laboratory, SpongeBob, Jimmy Neutron, Rugrats and Ed, Edd and Eddy.

Good times...

Good times…

They grew…

First day of school

First day of school

School days…roughly 7,000 of them…not to mention their time in college.  Our girls got good grades, a direct reflection of their mother’s influence.

Family reunion 2006

Family reunion 2006

Lots of Halloweens…

Thug life. Don't ask me why..

Thug life. Don’t ask me why..

Connie was/is always in charge of Christmas.  Since I work retail I’m usually not in any good mood to do anything other than drink and watch others enjoy the festivities.  We both grew up with generous, loving and thoughtful parents.  I’d like to think that we carried those traits onto our family.

Me, Brian, Dan and Dad. Christmas 2007.

Me, Brian, Dan and Dad. Christmas 2007

Lot’s of birthdays.  We’ve hosted many, many birthday parties for our daughters.  When they got older and had friends over…we got wiser and ended “sleep overs”.  I suddenly started feeling my age when I started telling kids “its 4 AM dammit…get into your sleeping bags and go to sleep!!”  One hundred and thirteen birthday cakes later…we’re still ready for more.

My bride didn't have a "9" for my 39th birthday so she improvised with "38" and "1".

My bride didn’t have a “9” for my 39th birthday so she improvised with “38” and “1”

My 40th birthday with my girl. We're both grayer now...go figure

My 40th birthday with my girl. We’re both grayer now…go figure

Our girls showing a little of their moxie while exploring some timber and railroad tracks close to Grandpas house. (it was muddy and Macy didn't bring her old shoes so we went old school with grocery bags and rubber bands over the her school shoes)

Our girls showing a little of their moxie while exploring some timber and railroad tracks close to Grandpas house. (it was muddy and Macy didn’t bring her old shoes so we went old school with grocery bags and rubber bands over her school shoes)

Vacations.  We finally started taking good vacations.  Destination spots.  Disney.  Washington DC.  Colorado.  It’d take a couple of years to save up for them.  I think that Connie and I were just as excited as our girls were.

Nebraska 2007. Here I am trying to stuff Macy into a trash can at a rest stop. She wouldn't fit. (I call this my "white socks with denim shorts phase)

Nebraska 2007. Here I am trying to stuff Macy into a trash can at a rest stop. She wouldn’t fit. (I call this my “white socks with denim shorts phase)

On top of Pike's Peak Colorado June 2007. At 28 degrees and windy we were Ripley-sickles in this photo

On top of Pike’s Peak Colorado June 2007. At 28 degrees and windy we were Ripley-sickles in this photo

Photos!!  We took a lot of photos!!  There’s around 15 large photo albums of the past 27 years, with roughly 20 smaller photo albums of our vacations.  Connie is to credit for all of these, that and we took photos of everyday life and special occasions.

High school and middle school days

High school and middle school days

 

Did I mention birthday parties…?

Macy and friends...

Macy and friends…Diet Dew and cake

Jordan...with Karalee photobombing

Jordan…with Karalee photobombing

Birthday cake has been usurped by gourmet cupcakes

Birthday cake has been usurped by gourmet cupcakes

Long a tradition in our home...birthday dinners out. We had to make a rule early on that their restaurant of choice couldn't include a place with Happy Meals.

Long a tradition in our home…birthday dinners out. We had to make a rule early on that their restaurant of choice couldn’t include a place with Happy Meals.

Prom 2014 Connie and Macy

Prom 2014 Connie and Macy

Graduations…four of them.  Three high school.  One college.

Macy's high school graduation. 2014

Macy’s high school graduation 2014

As a tradition that our girls started…whenever we have a holiday or event that one of them can’t attend, the absent ones face is printed out and taped to the face of a stuffed snowman…so she can be there in spirit.  What started out as a joke is now kind of a deal for them.

With Karalee in Japan, Macy and Jordan "bring" Karalee to Macy's graduation party

With Karalee in Japan, Macy and Jordan “bring” Karalee to Macy’s graduation party

Empty-nesters.  Nuff said.

Macy moving into her dorm room August 2014. What will we do now...?

Macy moving into her dorm room August 2014. What will we do now…?

Flying the nest…literally…

Jordan graduating from Flight Attendant Training fall 2014 and moving far away.

Jordan graduating from Flight Attendant Training fall 2014 and moving far away.

Traditions.  We have them.  Won’t go too far into them.  One is cookie baking for the holidays.  Here Karalee photobombs with the batter.  I think she’s practicing to take my spot as the family ham…but I’m still firmly on my throne.

COOKIE TIME!!

COOKIE TIME!!

More Christmas…

Who doesn't like a good head-hug from their kid?

Who doesn’t like a good head-hug from their kid?

Uhhh...what happened to my little girls...? Has anyone seen them lately? Furry Barney slippers? Beauty and the Beast pajamas? Wiggling into a spot on the couch with me...? Anyone...?

Uhhh…what happened to my little girls…? Has anyone seen them lately? Furry Barney slippers? Beauty and the Beast pajamas? Wiggling into a spot on the couch with me…? Anyone…?

As I looked back through our family photos I became a little melancholy.  Where did the time go?  I always knew that we were very blessed, but to see it again and again….and again…all of the love, the fun and good times…it makes me feel overly blessed.  Connie’s done a WONDERFUL job as a wife, and mother of our daughters…I couldn’t ask God for a better person to spend my life with.  I couldn’t ask for better parents or in-laws.  They’re the kind of folks that taught us about love, affection, laughter, honor, God, home, a work ethic, family, solidarity, responsibility, honesty and how to be a good parent, spouse and brother/sister.  They taught us without saying anything most days….we just didn’t know it.

Whenever I overhear a young couple say that they don’t have enough money saved up to have a child I tell them “don’t wait, you’ll never have enough money and you’re missing out on the ride of a lifetime.”  Parenthood isn’t for everyone….but it was for me.

Once in a great while…we get all three of our daughters home.  It doesn’t happen very often.  When we do…this is how they act…

Goofy women in my truck

Goofy women in my truck

…but this is how I still see them…

Good times

Good times

Parenthood has made me a better person.  Nuff said.

God bless and thanks for coming along…

R

 

 

 

Dear Baby Alff….

Dear Baby Alff…your story begins long before your arrival next month, it began almost fifteen years ago when I met a family at church, the Alff family.  It was the usual “church-type” family.  One father.  One mother.  Three kids, spaced out a couple of years apart.  The oldest kid, a boy, was about five feet ten inches tall…and only eight years old (I tease…he was closer to six feet tall).  He had two sisters….Jenna and Jessie…both nice girls but sassy as all get out (is it any wonder that the boy was so quiet?).  When the young man turned sixteen years old I hired him at our store where he would work with us for five or six years, becoming an assistant manager and also fixing a lot of stuff in our store.  This nice young man has a gift of fixing broken things.  This young mans name is Jacob (he’s your father).

Meanwhile, down in historic Osceola Iowa, a young lady was working at the same company that Jacob and I worked for….feeding the good folks of Clark county fried chicken, potato salad and baked beans.  This same young lady called me one day telling me that she was going to attend a local college in our area and wanted to transfer to our store.  I told her that we didn’t HAVE a kitchen area in our store and while I would love to have her transfer in I wanted to be upfront with her.  She stated that she wished to work in a small store, get her education in becoming a bakery chef then open her own bakery.  That was in July of 2013, she transferred in the next month.  This young ladies name is Lacey (she’s your mother).

Well….long story short, your mother did an outstanding job for us.  Whatever we gave her to do she absolutely knocked the ball out of the park.  She was very quiet at first, but soon her sassy attitude started bubbling up to the surface and letting us know that she wasn’t so shy after all.  Lacey did so well that we decided to make her an assistant manager as well, and who better to train her than Jacob?  Somewhere, somehow, sometime a romance sprang forth from that “training”….which is kind of weird since I never ever told either one of them “go fall in love with Jacob…he’s a terrific guy with a respectable bowling average” or “do yourself a favor and wear some Old Spice tonight then give Lacey the ol’ ‘come hither’ look when showing her the Dairy cooler”.  It just happened.  Before long I heard whispers of “Jacob and Lacey are dating…” to which I replied “who cares?  Get back to the Dairy cooler, no one filled the 2% last night!”  It just happened and continued on.

Sadly Jacob left our store for another company where he’s moved up the ladder and become a big-shot (I credit his quick ascension to the remarkable training that he received from yours truly).  Nonetheless the romance continued between your father and mother….so much in fact that last spring your mother announced your impending arrival this fall (how exciting!!).

Now let me say this…your mother is rather ornery, not in a bad way….just a little stubborn.  I’ve gone out on the limb and have predicted to her that you (Baby Alff #1) will probably be the same way (some call it Karma….but I think that God’s got a wonderful sense of humor so that’s what I’m going with).  You’re coming into a wonderful, loving, Christian family.  Your Grandma Alff (Jackie) is a wonderful person and I cannot say enough good things about her.  Your Aunts, Jenna and Jessie, both work with me at the store (I hired them both….the Alff family has supplied three employees to me which sets the record for MOST EMPLOYEES SUPPLIED BY ONE COUPLE).  Between Jenna and Jessie you’ve already got two boy cousins to torture you, so I’m sorry about that.  I feel a little responsible for your Aunt Jessie and Uncle Luke meeting and procreating a cousin for you but they went to high school together and worked at the same time at my store and since I hired them both….I’ll take partial credit.  Maybe Jessie was watching Luke fill the cottage cheese one night and the cooler lights hit him just right and she thought to herself “hubba hubba!!  I’d like to get to know that kid a little better if you know what I mean!!” and since they’re an old married couple now I can say that….just know that your cousin Stephen isn’t fond of me yet so don’t believe him if he starts talking trash about me.  Jaxson, though, Jenna’s boy…that kid loves me.  I’m not lying.  Jaxson adores the Ripman.

So….Baby Alff #1 (and any Baby Alff’s that follow, which chances are will be…) welcome to planet Earth. I’ll keep my distance until you’re cool with me.  Also….you’ll turn 16 in November 2031.  Have your drivers license and social security card ready.  Apply for a job on-line, I’ll give you a cursory interview before hiring you.  Oh…and by the way…you’ve got big shoes to fill plus I expect fresh baked and frosted bakery goods from your mothers bakery on the first and third Mondays of the month. Welcome aboard.

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

It’s Wednesday….have some cake

In the past couple of weeks I’ve worked plenty of baseball games. I’ve moved up to working more games involving teenagers and fewer games with the lesser skilled, but often entertaining “ages 10 or less” teams. The bigger kids know how to play the game well and, honestly, their games are much easier to officiate. Here are a few notables from the past two weeks;

During a tournament where the blue team was being thrashed, I was situated as the field umpire just behind the pitcher’s mound and shading a little towards third base when a looping line drive was hit in the direction of the shortstop. The shortstop ran in and plucked the ball out of the air just inches from it hitting the ground. I signaled the out with my right arm cocked at the elbow, fist clenched when the shortstop still galloping in from his good catch trotted over and fist bumped my fist and returned to his position. He thought that I was giving him a fist bump for his good play and didn’t even really acknowledge the out. Freckle-faced farm boy from Benton county, made me laugh during an otherwise uneventful game.

At the same tournament I was at the same position (formally known as the “C” position in umpiring) when there was a close play at second. When the play is close and climatic the umpire can “sell” the call more convincingly if he/she barks out the call and uses the mechanics of their call in a demonstrative way. It was a close play and I barked out “SAFE!!!” and the second baseman popped up with the ball and WHIPPED IT AT ME (I was about ten feet away). I, as best as I could, swatted the thrown ball away from myself (looking like someone wildly flailing at a bee or wasp I’m sure). I had no more knocked the ball down when the second baseman realized what he had done and apologize profusely explaining “I thought that you were yelling for the ball!!” Kids….they can hurt you with their reckless abandon!!

I had a game cancelled due to rain but was asked to umpire an 8U game (I try not to work this level…its like herding cats). The nice things about 8U ball is the pure enjoyment that is on the kids faces and that everyone gets to play…its still a game and everything is awesomely fun. One little guy got into the batters box, his batting helmet sat on his head cockeyed. His eyes sparkled. His grin was so big that you just knew that he was thrilled to finally get to play ball “just like the big kids”. He looked back at the catcher, smiled some more, nodded “hi” then took his turn at bat. Good God Almightly…that played on my heart, his pure joy of being an innocent child playing a game. Maybe that’s why I enjoy officiating so much…simple moments like that. (for the record he struck out once, and walked once)

Last week I worked a 10U game. 10U games are an hour and a half long or six innings, whichever comes first. As with most things in sports there’s always an unhappy camper/loser. At the end of the fifth inning time had expired with the teams tied. I would’ve loved to officiate one more inning so that a possible winner would have been decided but the sun was setting and we had run out of light. I told the coaches that we had “timed out” and that there wasn’t enough light to safely complete the game, so the game was over with a tie. While neither coach complained to me that night one of them called my officiating boss and told him that I had to “leave and get home to my wife.” The reason that I ended the game was for player safety, so “little Jimmy” wouldn’t take a line-drive to his face since it was too dark for him to see it coming OR “little Bobby” in the batters box who didn’t see the errant fast ball until it was too late to duck and he took it in the teeth. I take “player safety” over “coaches complaining” every single time, that’s my first priority, that’s my job. It bothers me that the coach would think differently than that. Sooo….when my umpire boss told me about the coaches phone call complaining about me (on a coaches conference call no less) a coach from a nearby town asked who the umpire was. When he found out it was me he told the complaining coach “I know Rich Ripley, he’s worked my games. He’s got the best interest of the kids in mind and if he said that it was too dark to play…it was too dark to play.” I felt like hugging that coach when I heard that. I still might.

Its Wednesday. I’m of the opinion that I may not “be here” tomorrow so I’d better make the most of the present. That’s why I take my wife flowers for no reason. That’s why I’ll buy tee-shirts with humorous sayings on them (some appropriate, some not so much) for my friends and family, or take a buddy a Dairy Queen Blizzard at work when I know that he’s struggling, to lighten their loads. My point is, you should do something outside of yourself routinely, for others and occasionally…for yourself. I think that we’re called to do that. So with that in mind I give you permission to have some cake, or pie or permission to head to the movies on a weeknight. Go ahead…you deserve a treat.

I probably shouldn't go to the grocery store alone...but I don't want my dying words to be "I wish that I had eaten more cake!!"

I probably shouldn’t go to the grocery store alone…but I don’t want my dying words to be “I wish that I had eaten more cake!!”

Have a good week, thanks for reading!
Peace,
R

They’re out there…and I ain’t talking about zombies

The year was 1986. I had moved to Mason City for a promotion directly out of college and was working as an assistant manager of a drug store. The week before Christmas I came down with some sort of intestinal infection that was, to put it politely, awful. I couldn’t work so I missed being around my coworkers. Long story short, I couldn’t go home for Christmas either. “Home” for me then was a five-hour drive. Family. Friends. Five hours away. I was sick. I was lonely. I wasn’t going home. Christmas had always been a several day celebration of family, love, food, laughter and most importantly…the birth of Jesus Christ (who happens to be my Savior…shameless plug). But Christmas ’86 was going to be different…I was going it alone. My parents managed a quick trip up to see me prior to Christmas, but it was quite quick as they did the whole trip in one day. It was good to see them.

I distinctly remember Christmas Eve that night. I watched the dinner time news (all the talk was of Christmas events…go figure). The TV shows were (surprise) Christmas shows. I turned the TV off, and took a look outside my apartment window and saw….multicolored Christmas lights glistening off of a blanket of new fallen snow (no lying…north-central Iowa gets snow early and often). I heard church bells ringing as Christmas Eve services started and ended. It was awful. I was so alone. I went to bed early…I couldn’t take the depressing heaviness on my heart any longer. Dear God…so alone and sad. Thankfully…I fell asleep quickly.

Christmas Day broke bright and clear. My boss at the time, Bill, had invited me over to his home for Christmas dinner with his family. Seeing as how I was desperate to get out of the apartment and I was at the tail end of my ailment (no pun intended) I gladly accepted his invitation. Bill was no angel. Bill swore like a sailor and had an excellent catalog of R & X rated jokes. He had a laugh that was infectious and taught me more about how to be a good boss than any college course could have. Bill was compassionate….to a fault and he took this stray in for the day on Christmas Day in ’86. It “saved” me from another horriably depressing day of loneliness. I’ve thanked him several times for this act of kindness.

Fast forward to the Christmas season of 2004. I was working with a bunch of young guys (in their late twenties, me in my thirties) when the loudmouth of the bunch, Chris told us that his wife wanted a divorce and that she already had a boyfriend. Chris literally worshipped his wife and their little girl. The result was Chris going off of the deep end. He shaved his head. He sowed his wild oats every weekend and regaled us with his exploits on Mondays. He drank heavily and would call anyone of his coworkers and talk nonstop in his drunken stupor. It was horrible, and Christmas was coming.

I approached my wife Connie with the idea of inviting Chris over for Christmas Day dinner. She didn’t balk, she understood. Christmas isn’t meant to be spent alone, its about Love. When I invited Chris, he stopped dead in his tracks and replied in a quiet tone “…did you run this past your wife?” When he was sure that I had he jumped on the invitation. It was like we might have just invited Andrew Dice Clay to our Ripley Christmas.

Christmas Day Chris showed up at precisely eleven o’clock, one hour prior to dinner. He gave Connie a quick peck on the cheek and handed her a bottle of wine that she could enjoy later. I introduced him to my parents, my brothers and their families and let the “chips fall where they may.” Chris was charming. Chris was polite. Chris was engaging and a great conversationalist. Chris went out of his way to be the perfect guest. Dinner came and went and more conversation ensued. Then dessert and Chris left, he wanted to call his family in Ohio and see how things were going out there. It. Went. Perfect. I don’t think anyone at work ever knew of Chris coming over to our home for Christmas…I didn’t speak of it and neither did he except for a quick “thank you for yesterday” the next day at work.

I don’t write of this to boast of our families generosity, we’ve been abundantly blessed. Over and over and over. I write of this to encourage you to open your eyes and hearts to those among us that might be hurting this holiday season. With so much hurt in this world…do something that will make God smile and lessen the loneliness of those in our midst.

May our good and gracious Lord bless and keep you and yours this holiday season.

R

Day 2 Pearl Harbor and the sharks take a pass on me

The only reason we started our anniversary trip in Oahu was to visit Pearl Harbor. I dig military history. Since the budget cutbacks of our government the National Parks service has shortened the number of tours that they do at Pearl Harbor, limiting the amount of people that can visit in one day, so we arrived at the harbor at 7:30 (or half an hour before they opened) and found a line almost two blocks long to get in to visit the Arizona Memorial.

long line to get tickets to visit the Arizona on a drizzly day in Pearl Harbor

long line to get tickets to visit the Arizona on a drizzly day in Pearl Harbor

The last tour started at 1 PM, ours was at 12:45, so we lucked out. If you’re planning on visiting the Arizona Memorial please try to get your tickets reserved online prior to your visit. We tried two months in advance and couldn’t get any, but lucked out and arrived early enough to get some of the few remaining “open tickets” of the day. With five hours to kill we bought tickets to visit the battleship Missouri (the tickets to visit the Arizona Memorial are free). Pearl Harbor is exactly that, a harbor that holds many, many ships. They provide a free shuttle service that takes you from exhibit to exhibit. We could have also purchased tickets to visit the Bowfin (a WWII submarine) and Air Museum but opted to pass.

The Mighty Mo's big guns

The Mighty Mo’s big guns

They let you walk around the ship or you can have a guided tour, we’d recommend that you do both. If you decide to do the tour, get an old guy as a guide as they’ll give you a little more colorful and first hand account of what it was like on board. We had a young man give us our tour and he did okay but it was more like he was reciting out of a history book rather than telling it from the heart.

"Hello?  McArthur...? Can I get a coffee and donut with sprinkles to the bridge ASAP?"

“Hello? McArthur…? Can I get a coffee and donut with sprinkles to the bridge ASAP?”

The Arizona Memorial from the battleship Missouri

The Arizona Memorial from the battleship Missouri

After we finished with the Missouri we grabbed some lunch at a place called Schooner’s. Like most of the other places that we ended up eating at, we dined with a view of the ocean, or in this case Pearl Harbor. I had the best fish sandwich ever, and we both ate fish for most of our meals…except breakfast cuz breakfast is BACON-TIME.

The best fish sandwich that I've ever had until the following night when I had the next best fish sandwich that I've ever had.

The best fish sandwich that I’ve ever had until the following night when I had the next best fish sandwich that I’ve ever had.


They take you out to the Arizona Memorial on a shuttle boat after you’ve watched a short film about the lead up to WWII. There’s several exhibits for you to look through on the grounds of Pearl Harbor that are very well done and real interesting. If going and a history nut, allow a couplea hours for that alone. I’m not attaching any photos of the Arizona Memorial as they don’t do justice. It’s a great place to visit, and if you go…take it in, in a hurry as you’re only allowed about ten minutes in the Memorial itself. They really push a bunch of folks through there in a short time.

We returned to our hotel in the afternoon and changed into our swimming suits. Now for those of you reading this that don’t know me or where Iowa is…we don’t have ocean access. We’re unfamiliar with tides, undertows, currents and especially surf (also known as crashing surf). Connie and I ventured into the water until we were essentially waist-deep, then something weird happened…the water left quickly. We went from waist deep water to ankle depth in just a few seconds. What the heck? As we turned around to look out to the ocean to see what was happening we were hit with a wave a little taller than us that lifted and engulfed us, sending us rolling along the bottom beach-ward and lodging sand where sand should never ever be lodged in the human body. We repeatedly attempted to find the “sweet spot” of where to be in the water where we wouldn’t be gathered up and tossed to the shoreline, it took awhile. As you can tell by the following photos we had a good time with it as we played in the water like a couplea kids (I’m sure that the locals and folks familiar with beaches and such were rolling their eyes at us, but we were having a ball, minus the sand in areas of our bodies that typically don’t see the light of day, just sayin’)

Connie "hugging" the surf

Connie “hugging” the surf

...and Connie coming out of the surf.  I had the same experience.  (all that brown stuff in the water is sand that's been churned up by larger than average waves during our stay in Hawaii)

…and Connie coming out of the surf. I had the same experience. (all that brown stuff in the water is sand that’s been churned up by larger than average waves during our stay in Hawaii)

We ended up at the pool, warming ourselves in the late day sun, tired of being rolled in the surf. Folks from all over the world were doing the same all around us. In the evening we ventured out in the downtown area of Oahu, where high end stores line the streets. We found a nice place to eat called “The Yard House” where I had the best fish sandwich ever, again. Connie tried it and thought that they had added beef to the burger, but no…the fish is that good over there. Still feeling the affects of jet lag and the time difference (and the fact that the hotels fire alarm went off every twenty minutes for an hour and a half the night before starting at midnight) we turned in early, or around 2 AM Iowa time.

Tomorrow we fly to Maui for the majority of our stay in the islands. We sleep deeply, our room is like a palace to us.
Until then, peace.
R

Good God Almighty…I HATE TAKING OFF!!!

Few things make me as spiritual as funerals or the moments just after lifting off from the runway in a plane. Its been said that there are no atheists in foxholes, I think that the same could hold true for take-offs. Many a fuselage have emanated the earnest prayers of its passengers, rivaling Sunday morning sanctuaries. GOOD GOD ALMIGHTY…I HATE TAKING OFF!!!

My bride isn’t much better which is quite ironic since she’s the one who planned our whole twenty-fifth wedding anniversary trip to Hawaii. Since there’s no known roads or interstates to Hawaii we pretty much had to take the airborne route, driving west on Interstate 80 won’t cut it. I don’t fly much. I could count the number of times that I’ve flown on ONE HAND. We arrived at the airport weary from a night of strong thunderstorms and not much sleep. At the TSA checkpoint I tried to keep up with everything that was going on and what needed to go where. Normally I’m a joke-machine and run off at the mouth, but today I’m quiet and compliant. I asked the nicely dressed business lady behind me if she’d like to go ahead of me since I hadn’t done this kind of thing very often (as in eight years ago), but she politely declined. I thought that I was finished with doing stuff when she whispered “take off your shoes.” Which I did very quickly. Then she whispered again “take off your belt.” Again I obliged very quickly, (you’d have thought that Connie would have gotten interested that a nice looking gal was literally telling me to undress, but “no”. The lady could’ve continued “and now your pants and socks” and there’s a fifty-fifty chance that I would’ve done it until I got tackled by the TSA guys…or Connie for that matter.

After the checkpoint we settled into our waiting area where there was a church group in matching tee-shirts having a prayer service. I’m all good with scripture, they were heading to Haiti on a mission trip, and am real relieved that they didn’t proceed into the 23rd Psalm “and though I walk through the valley of Death” thing or I might’ve gone a little weird. Nice people, though.

On the plane I sat across the aisle from a high school girl who was busy texting, as we were puttering around the lead up to the runway. Now the flight attendant had already told everyone to turn off their electronic devices several minutes earlier, so I was debating whether or not to say something to this youngster who was starting to make an already edgy and paranoid Rich Ripley go totally ape-shit crazy as I hadn’t planned in dying in a fiery plane crash that morning with her texting somehow interrupting our precarious existence in flight. So, to my credit, I reached across the aisle, touched her on the arm and pointed to her phone and asked her to turn it off, which she did. Now I say that I said it politely but I’m sure she looked at me and saw a middle-aged man sweating profusely with a look of sheer determination upon my furrowed face. Whew! Now that I had the passenger compartment under control our pilot (who was wearing black shiny cowboy boots, or shit-kickers as my bride calls them) could fly us to Dallas/Fort Worth. Maybe its my father-in-law that calls ’em shit-kickers…the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree is all I’m sayin’.

I prayed as the engines on our plane started revving up to take off:

Angel…”Lord. Rich Ripley has an urgent prayer that he’s really concerned about.”
Lord…”I’m not letting him win the lotto…”
Angel…”It’s not that prayer this time…he’s flying.”
Lord…”Flying?! What’d he jump off of this time?”
Angel…”No Lord…he’s flying commercial.”
Lord…”Who’s the pilot?”
Angel…”Randy Johnson.”
Lord…”It’s not Randy’s or Rich’s time yet. Direct Rich’s attention to some pretty clouds or better yet, he’s always blabbering about umping baseball games so let him see some from eight thousand feet, or the clouds.”
Angel…”Yes Lord.”

As we leveled out after the climb Heavenward I looked out the window and thought “Dear God…it’s beautiful up here.” To our east a flat horizon of pure sky blue while to our west the horizon was interrupted occasionally by clouds that shot straight up like Dairy Queen jumbo twist cones (I owe the Angel a big one).

Our flight and landing went off without a hitch into Dallas/Fort Worth, except for the fact that I chose to finally use the bathroom on the plane just seconds after the pilot announced our descent into Dallas. CURSE YOU COFFEE!!! It’s like peeing in a Porta-John during a windstorm with someone tipping it partially sideways. Anyway…mission accomplished. For some reason I’m totally cool with landing. It’s a natural progression of being so high and honestly I’m relieved that the flight will be over soon. Our second flight was from Dallas to Oahu, Hawaii…which in my opinion they should’ve stopped somewhere along the West coast and topped off the gas tanks, maybe grabbed a burger and stretched their legs…but no…they fly straight through. I mentioned my concern to my brother Brian, an all around nice guy and world traveler, and he assured me that there’d be enough fuel to get us that far without stopping to refuel. Mind you, I remember the time when I was around five years old and I climbed on top of my bed, his was right next to mine, and I whipped it out and whizzed all over his bed. I can’t remember why I did that, but I remember that he was real, real mad about it. Since I was so much younger he couldn’t extract a pounding on me like I deserved so I figured that he’d eventually give me some bullshit story that I’d believe in desperation like “sure there’s enough fuel to get you to Hawaii” as we plunge into the ocean, well short of the island. Well played, Brian, well played…forty years later and you finally got your revenge for that pee-prank your baby brother pulled on you in nineteen seventy-one. At that point during take-off from Dallas I was relatively sure that Brian wouldn’t do that, but only because he’s fond of my wife Connie. Relatively sure….

We loaded onto the American Airlines 737, through the livestock chute…er gangplank, whatever they call it. I resist the urge to squeal like a hog being led to slaughter, if only to keep my bride from back-handing me. I internally rationalize that if my aunts, who are in their 60’s and 70’s, can fly all over God’s creation and not make a scene then maybe I can too.

Again we sit on the runway, this time in a big silver tube with wings. The engines throttle up, the big girl lurches forward then launches down the pavement. It just doesn’t seem possible that this big multi-ton piece of metal, plastic and wire can get into the air much less stay in the air. Faster we roll, faster my heart beats. Palms sweaty, face mighty stern, stomach in knots…and she lifts…first the nose then the rest. We’re climbing and gaining altitude. Seconds pass and we continue the ascent. My thoughts during those moments aren’t fit for print. Let’s just say that they’re profanity laced religion to a certain extent. Nothing sacrilege…just very plain and direct…then a pretty cloud catches my attention.

We arrive to Oahu safely and on time. Relief washes over Connie and I, I’m as serious as a heart-attack…we don’t do well with flying…actually I like flying its just the whole take-off thing that has my undies in a bunch. As we stand at the luggage carousal an elderly man approaches us, using a cane. He’s in his 70’s or 80’s and was a couplea rows behind us on our Oahu flight. He stops and with a smile on his face asks us “May I ask you a question?” We reply “sure”. He continues “Do you fly much?” Both Connie and I laugh and answer “No. Not very much at all.” He smiles, shakes his head in agreement and continues on his way. We laugh at our obvious trepidation and fear, so apparent to others. “I bet that he saw us pressing our faces against the window, looking at everything under us” I tell Connie. Later on, after we’re in our room for the night I revisit our exchange and the day. Perhaps he’s an experienced traveler and the whole “flying thing” is old hat, or maybe, just maybe he didn’t see the pretty Dairy Queen jumbo twist cone clouds that I saw. It’s probably a little of both…but God-willing, I hope that I’ll ever get tired of looking at those delicious clouds.

On the ground for the next couplea days…we rest that first night having been awake for almost twenty-four hours.

Next stop, Pearl Harbor. Until then…peace friends.
R

Gone

A Hawaiian vacation, a regular paradise on earth…

too many wonderful meals have widened my girth.

Seven carefree days spent carousing the isles…

with hundreds of photos, mostly with big smiles.

Driving with the top down with the wind in our faces

not enough time to reach all of those wonderful places.

Tomorrow is a workday, I’ve shaven my vacation beard…

I’ve got to get back to work now, its sure to seem weird.

Our vacation is over, our grass has grown long…

but its time to get back to reality now…vacation is gone.