Remembering a Lesson in Humility

PeletonFor many years on July evenings after having completed another ordinary workday, I’ve been glued to my television watching the daily replays of that day’s leg of the Tour de France.

Momentarily putting aside all questions related to the use of performance enhancing chemicals, banned or otherwise, the Tour is a test of human endurance unlike any other.  I’ve always admired marathon runners, but imagine running a marathon, getting up the next day, going out running another one, and then repeating this regime for three consecutive weeks with only two or three days off to rest and recover.

Give me a second!  I’ve got to catch my breath.

Back in the 80’s, I used to be an avid recreational cyclist; black spandex and all.  Some friends of mine who happened to catch glimpses of me as I streaked through town, still haven’t recovered.  I got in to cycling after a chronic hip injury made it difficult for me to continue jogging for exercise.

At the time, we were living in the mountains of western North Carolina.  One of my favorite routes to ride was a 20 or so mile loop which took me on a winding road which snaked up a small mountain topped with a precipitous cliff known locally as Jump Off Rock.
Legend has it that Jump Off Rock was so named in remembrance of the young Cherokee Indian maiden who leapt to her demise over the cliff upon learning that her beloved had been killed in battle.

It’s interesting to note that in my travels to other states, I’ve come across several other so named Jump Off Rocks.  Apparently angst-ridden teenaged Indian maidens hurling themselves over the nearest available cliff reached epidemic proportions in pre-Colonial America.

One afternoon after riding to the top of Jump Off Rock, I sat in the shade resting with my bike laying in the grass at my feet.  I noticed that there was a very elderly gentleman taking in the view of the valley from the overlook above the cliff.  He turned slowly and noticing me, he began hobbling with the use of his cane over to where I sat in the grass.  He was 90 years old, if he was a day.  He looked like Methuselah.

After a few moments of closely examining my bike, he began poking at the derailleur on the rear hub with his cane.  With a deep German accent and in broken English the old man excitedly asked, “What’s this?  What’s this? 

Those are the bike’s gears.  Makes it easier to climb hills.”  I replied hoping that the explanation would cause him to stop pummeling my derailleur with his staff.

Huh!  When I was a young man, I rode my bicycle from Heidelberg to Barcelona!  Over the Alps and up the Pyrenees!  One gear!  ONE GEAR! ” he bellowed flailing the air wildly with his cane.

Hoping that my leaving might allow the elderly German to calm himself and thus avoid a coronary, I hopped on my bike and began the glide down the mountain troubled by having just been completely humbled by a 90+ year old Bavarian.
Leading up to this year’s Tour, NBC Sports aired a documentary on the history of the Tour de France.  As old black and white photographs from the inaugural 1903 race scrolled across the screen, the narrator intoned that the bikes used in that era had, you guessed it, only one gear!

Hah! I  thought  to myself.  I could still have taken that guy in a 50 yard dash!

Auf Wiedersehen!


Photo credit: hans905 / / CC BY-NC-SA
Photo credit: D.Clow – Maryland CC BY-NC-ND
Photo credit: bilobicles bag / / CC BY-NC



Dreams – the Royal Road to the Unconscious

“Some people see things that are and ask, Why? 
Some people dream of things that never were and ask, Why not? 
Some people have to go to work and don’t have time for all that.” 
― George Carlin

I’ve been thinking about dreams lately; specifically my dreams.  I’m not talking those irrational desires we all have for mankind to realize lasting world peace or that the Chicago Cubs will make it to the World Series in my lifetime.  No, I’ve been thinking of something much more mundane; those dreams which all of us experience while we’re asleep, or in some cases while we’re attempting to maximize our productivity at work.
I know from my days as a psychology major that we all dream frequently; most people probably dream to some extent during every routine sleep cycle.  But for some time, I haven’t really been aware of, or remembered, much in the way of detail regarding my dreams.

This is most likely due to the fact that dreams typically inhabit one’s short term memory and thus disappear in a wisp unless we awake and think about them quickly and long enough to move them into our long term memories.  It’s sort of like drafting a blog post, but forgetting to save it to the hard drive before the power unexpectedly goes out and you lose it completely.  Been there, done that.

Over the past few months, I’ve inexplicably begun to dream more frequently.  Either that or I’m simply remembering more detail about the dreams that I’m having.  I suspect that age may have an impact on how we dream and how well we remember those dreams that we have.

All of this has led me to recall and ponder over the one and only recurring dream that I’ve experienced during my life.

That dream stayed with me from the time that I was eight years old until I turned fourteen or fifteen.  I must have had that particular dream ten or fifteen times during those years and I remember it in great detail to this day because it was so vivid.
Imagine that you’re watching a scene from a black and white movie.  It’s dusk and before you is an empty two-lane highway running through a flat, largely treeless plain.  Slowly you become aware of the growing sound of a very powerful and perfectly tuned automobile engine.  In the distance, the car enters the scene from the right.  It’s traveling at a very high speed.

The car is a large, brand-new sedan of no particular make.  It’s in mint condition, almost as if it has just been driven off of the showroom floor.  Its windows are opaque, giving no view of the car’s passenger(s).   When the car draws even with the point from which you’re observing, the scene begins to pan along with the car as it continues speeding down the highway.

Almost imperceptibly, the monotony of the scene is broken as the car’s appearance slowly begins to change.  The sound of the engine is not quite as smooth as it had been.  The surface of the car begins to show evidence of accumulating dirt, scratches, and even a few dents.  This degradation continues until the car has morphed from its original shiny, showroom new condition into that of a battered and worn car which appears ready for the junk yard.  The throaty roar of the powerful, well-tuned engine has devolved until it sounds more like an ancient tractor, complete with sputters and backfires.

Just as it appears that the car will be able to go no farther, the scene changes in an instant.  The car, now on its last legs (or is that tires) is well off of the highway, parked in front of a small, equally decrepit house which is surrounded by overhanging trees.  There are no sounds, no evidence that anyone is either in the car or in the house.  After a few moments, as dusk dissolves into night, the scene fades and the dream is over.

I don’t believe that dreams are anything more than images created by the random and spontaneous activity of neurons in our otherwise sleeping brains.  I see no evidence that dreams are harbingers of events to come or have any specific meanings, but I’ve always been fascinated by the consistency of this particular dream.  As I recall it, the events and details in the dream never varied.  It was like watching a recording each time that I dreamt it.

I’m hoping that I may get the chance to experience the dream one more time.  I’d really like to find out who’s driving the car and at whose house it’s parked.

One last thing, special thanks to Sigmund Freud for this post’s title.


Photo credit: wbr_deluz CC BY-ND
Photo credit: muskva / / CC BY-NC-SA




Here’s to the Noble Tomato

We’ve been experiencing a relatively cool Spring here in the southeastern U. S., so I really haven’t yet transitioned completely into my traditional summertime state of mind.  However, it appears as if this situation may be about to change as the weatherman is predicting daily high temperatures in the mid-90s by the middle of the coming week.

Those lazy, hazy, crazy, hot, and sticky days of summer can’t be far off now!
That also means that it won’t be very long before I’m once again enjoying that ubiquitous southern culinary classic, the Tomato Sandwich.  NOTE: To avoid confusing my readers, I chose to use the common spelling which Miss Bradshaw, my 4th grade teacher, would have approved.  But as any connoisseur of this delicacy will tell you, it’s more commonly known as the “Mater Sam’ich.”

Did you know that prior to the 1500’s, the tomato was unknown in Europe?   Makes me wonder what the Italians were eating up until then.  Spanish Conquistadors discovered the tomato when they conquered the Aztecs.  They apparently understood how it could be used to enhance and improve pizza, so they brought some plants back with them when they returned to the Old World.

For some reason however, English settlers in North America believed that tomatoes were poisonous and continued to do so well into the 1700’s.  This historical tidbit, combined with the fact that the tomato is actually a fruit – not a vegetable as most folks believe, makes the tomato among the most misunderstood of items found in the produce section at your local  grocery store.

I don’t know if the Aztecs enjoyed mater sam’ichs or not, but I sure do.  And over the years, through much pseudo-scientific trial and error, I’ve developed the recipe for making the absolutely perfect sam’ich.

I grew up making them using white bread, but my health conscious wife has convinced (or was it coerced) me to switch to wheat bread.  You know – that brown stuff, what I used to call sawdust bread.  I’m pleased to report that the use of sawdust bread seems to have no detrimental effects on the quality of the final product.
The first step in achieving mater sam’ich heaven is the spreading of a liberal portion of Duke’s mayonnaise on both pieces of bread.  As far as I’m concerned there is only one true mayonnaise.  That would be Duke’s.  All other brands pale in comparison.  Created by Greenville, South Carolina’s Miss Eugenia Duke in 1917, Duke’s contains no sugar which enhances it’s flavor to a level far beyond that which is found among its competitors.

Step two is to generously salt the mayonaise on both pieces of bread, then repeat the process with black pepper.  Next, I place at least two slices of tomato on the bread.  Depending on the diameter of the tomato slices, I sometimes cut a third slice in half, placing one half on the sam’ich.  My objective is simply to cover the bread/mayonnaise surface as completely as possible with tomato.

Now comes the step which both my wife and the American Heart Association can not countenance.  I generously salt the tomatoes, but only the exposed top surface.  Why?  Because I’ve found that just a bit more salt is needed to provide the perfect balance of flavors.

Finally, the pièce de résistance, slap the remaining slice of bread on top and “Voilà! ” – you have the perfect mater sam’ich!  These go great with some chips and a tall glass of sweet iced tea.

Now that I’m thinking about it, I’m going to run downstairs and make me one, or maybe two, right now!

Enjoy and have a great  summer!


Remembering June 6, 1944

Every year on this particular day, I find myself thinking about my father.  For you see, it was on this day sixty-nine years ago that he, along with thousands of other young men just like himself, ran across a gravel strewn beach on the northern coast of France.  The man who would become my father was only nineteen years old at the time.
I want you
Less than a year earlier, he’d graduated from high school in North Carolina.  Without giving it a second thought, he immediately enlisted in the Army.  After completing basic training, he was assigned to a unit headed overseas to prepare for the invasion and ultimate liberation of Europe.

As a kid, I was vaguely aware that my dad had been in the Army and had fought in World War II, but since he hardly ever spoke of it, it would take years for me to learn any details concerning his wartime experiences.  It was simply not a topic that he talked about.  Not so much due to the horrors of war, which he most certainly was witness to, but more so because to this day he really doesn’t believe that what he did was in any way special or out of the ordinary.

Just within the past few years have details started to emerge during casual conversations that I’ve had with him.

After arriving in England to begin training, his unit was taken out into the countryside to bivouac.  He told me that when the truck stopped to let his group out, they found themselves in an open field, nondescript except for a number of large standing stones.  His unit chose to camp among the stones in the belief that they would provide some protection from the wind.  In addition, a couple of the stones, which apparently had fallen over, offered a convenient place to sit or to store gear off the ground.  It was not until after the war that he came to realize that his camp ground actually had a name.  It was known as Stonehenge.

During the months leading up to the invasion, the men in my father’s unit grew very close.  To use the phrase recently coined, they truly became a band of brothers.  One of them acquired the nickname “Pappy”  because he was the oldest man in the unit.  My father told me that Pappy was from Idaho, as were a number of the others.  He also told me that during the months of training, he and Pappy had become close friends.

Several days before the invasion, an officer came to speak with Pappy.  The officer told him that due to his age, he could choose not to participate in the invasion, in which case he would be reassigned to a non-combatant position.  Pappy immediately rejected the idea, telling the officer that it wouldn’t be right for him to pull out after going through all of the training and preparation for the invasion.
Omaha Beaach
In the early morning hours of June 6, 1944 my father, along with the rest of his unit, landed in Normandy at a place designated as Omaha Beach.  It’s only within the past couple of years that he’s spoken with me about the landing.  When the doors of the landing craft dropped, he jumped into chest deep water and began to struggle toward the beach. He remembers having only a single thought, which was to get across that beach as quickly as possible.

Once out of the water, he found himself running beside Pappy.  Suddenly there was a flash of light and a tremendous explosion which knocked both of them off of their feet and on to the beach.  A motar shell had fallen just on the other side of Pappy.  In an instant, my father realized that Pappy would go no further.  His war had ended.

When the movie “Saving Private Ryan” was released, my dad couldn’t decide whether or not he wanted to see the film.  Frankly, he wasn’t sure how he would react to it emotionally.  Finally, after it had been at the local theater for several weeks, he went to see it, but only on a day and at a time when he knew there wouldn’t be many others in attendance.

The film opens with a very graphic depiction of the fighting which occurred during the landing on Omaha Beach.  I asked him if he thought that the film had accurately portrayed what it had been like for him on that day.  He told me that the events and conditions on Omaha Beach had been significantly more chaotic than was shown in the movie.  His over-riding recollection is that the German machine gun fire and mortar rounds were blanketing the beach to such an extent that as he was running across it, he felt as if he were swimming in a thick soup made up of sand and pebbles.

My father went on to fight across France and into Belgium.  He was awarded the Bronze Star for heroism under fire.  During the Battle of the Bulge he was severely wounded and spent the rest of the war in a hospital in England before coming back home.

So yes, every year on this particular day, I find myself thinking about my father.  But I also remember the others who I never knew, like the man from Idaho who I know only as Pappy.  I think about the sacrifices that they so readily made for the rest of us and I remind myself to never forget them.

They are without question the Greatest Generation.  God bless them all.


Photo credit: D’oh Boy (Mark Holloway) / / CC BY
Photo credit: Conseil Régional de Basse-Normandie / National Archives USA / / Public domain