Feb 01 2015

Do You Remember?

Category: Boy Scouts,friendshipamuzikman @ 10:34 am

I went to visit an old friend today. As I made the long drive to his house I started counting up the years and realized I have known him for almost 50 years. To my sadness and regret I have allowed too much time to pass between visits. I think it has been somewhere around 10 years. Time has taken its toll. His thick beard is entirely gray now. He has trouble getting up from his chair. He must use a walker to get around. Sometimes he does not make it to the bathroom in time.

He has Alzheimer’s disease…

He did not recognize me when I came in. He had to ask me for my name again. He really did not know who I was. He was always a man of few words but as I sat with him there were several long silences, during which he simply looked at me. It soon became apparent he was working internally, piecing together enough memory fragments to recall that he did know me and to collect some notion of how.

Friendship can be born from many things, such as shared work space, recreation, mutual friends, mutual interests. But friendships are nourished and grow through shared experience. Our best friends are the ones with whom we share the most experiences and we relish the camaraderie that comes from remembering times spent together, both good and bad.

Like so many things in life, memory is not fully appreciated until it is gone. This man was instrumental in helping me navigate the journey from boyhood to manhood. I’d like nothing more than to sit with him and reminisce. I’d like to honor him by telling him how much those memories mean to me and how profoundly those experiences were in helping to shape me. I’d like to recall some great times and in doing so let him know that I still think of them as great times.  But the lid to that treasure chest is almost completely closed forever thanks to this disease called Alzheimers.

Imagine sitting down with one of your best friends and having a conversation in which you cannot reference anything from the past.  I found out just how difficult that is. We build upon memories while creating new ones, and when that remembered context is gone there is very little on which to build.

By the end of the day my friend had put enough pieces together to recall it had been a long time since our last visit.  I will always regret that because it wasn’t just the years in between that we missed, it turns out we lost all the preceding years as well. That was my fault….not taking the time to keep in touch as I should.  I will try to do better with the time we have left before the disease takes him completely away.

Do you have a friend with whom you have not spoken in a while?  Call them up and reconnect.  Ask them, “Hey do you remember the time we…?” And be thankful when the answer is “yes”.

Sep 17 2012

Remembering Jennifer

Category: Beauty,family,friendship,God,love,UncategorizedMrs. Miner @ 10:54 pm

This was first posted in September of 2009, shortly after the passing of Jennifer Tinker, my student.  On this anniversary of her passing, this seems a good time to remember her beautiful life.  Here’s the original post:


When I walked into Jennifer’s hospital room, I was initially surprised at the number of people present.  The pediatric intensive care unit doesn’t usually allow more than a few visitors at a time. The hospital staff was letting us say goodbye.

Peggy and I hugged.  There are no words for a mother at a time like this.  Then we both turned to Jennifer.  She was unconscious, breathing like my father had breathed during his last twenty four hours.  I noted the display of her vitals, grim confirmation of the obvious.  Family members were present that I had not yet met.  Introductions were made, and I sat down with silent prayers of support for a family in indescribable pain.

Conversations would start and stop.  Grandma softly sang hymns while stroking Jenny’s face.  Big sister Sarah leaned from her chair and partly lay across Jennifer.  (Maybe, if she could just hold tightly enough…)  Jennifer would occasionally open her eyes, look around briefly, then go back to sleep.  I was told that she had roused earlier in the day, alert enough to demand the remote control for the TV.  Hey, Tom and Jerry rocks.

Jennifer was born with a rare genetic disorder which resulted in a host of problems, including legal blindness, skeletal anomalies, learning difficulties and pulmonary hypertension, a fatal disorder of the heart and lungs.   She attended public school for a time, but became too frail to continue.  Our school district contacted me and asked if I would be interested in teaching Jennifer in her home.  After meeting with Jennifer and her mother, I gladly accepted the position.

Jennifer’s house was modest.  She had three sisters still living at home, and they all shared one bedroom.  There was no father.  Peggy, fiercely devoted to her children, seemed undaunted by her many challenges, drawing strength from extended family, church, and her Lord.  Jennifer was surrounded in love by a family that had truly learned to treasure what’s important in this life.

I quickly grew accustomed to her oxygen tank and was even able to avoid stepping on the tubing that accompanied Jennifer everywhere she went.  After a little more time, I nearly stopped seeing them altogether.  Jennifer was just … Jennifer.  Fourteen years old when I met her, she only weighed about sixty pounds, but she had a big attitude.  She was assertive, even stubborn, and her family and I would have it no other way.

Sweet Pea, one of two tiny canine family members, merely tolerated my presence, but she and Jennifer adored one another.  When Jennifer was feeling worse than usual, Sweet Pea would hop into her lap, seeming to comfort both of them.  In turn, Jennifer took excellent care of her dogs, leaping to their defense when I threatened one or both of the creatures with barbecue sauce.

Jennifer and I worked out of a small room Peggy had set up for that purpose.  This room was Jennifer’s domain, and she took great pride in her school work and in keeping her materials organized.  It never ceased to amaze and sometimes shame me that Jennifer accepted her many limitations without complaint. She was determined to find the good in all situations and never missed an opportunity to laugh.  Once, we read through The Three Billy Goats Gruff.  When I asked what the troll had in mind for the goats, Jennifer gleefully replied, “He wants to eat them!”  She licked her lips. Then she giggled.  Oh, that giggle…  It filled the room and made you laugh right along.

Jennifer was generous.  Sometimes I arrived at her home to find a brownie or some other example of her growing culinary skills waiting for me.  When my son had surgery, she sent him a homemade get-well card.  This required Jennifer to hold her face about three inches from the paper while she worked on the greeting.  She certainly wasn’t going to let a small annoyance like legal blindness stop her from encouraging another.

Jennifer’s life was worth living, and she lived it well.  I’ve heard some say she is “resting in peace,” but I see her running for the first time.  Running, running, running… into her Father’s arms.

Jennifer Monique Tinker

January 10, 1994-September 17, 2009


After Jennifer’s passing, Harmonicminer of these parts composed a choral composition in memory of her.  Here’s a link and a description.   With some luck, we’ll be able to post a recording soon.


Jul 18 2010

A Wonderful Story

Category: friendship,God,Intelligent Designamuzikman @ 8:55 am

This is a truly remarkable story.  It has found its way into print in Guideposts magazine, in a lovely little book called “When God Winks” by SQuire Rushnell, and now on this gentleman’s blog.  It’s also a very personal story to me.

The Day Weary Willie Smiled

By Phil Bolsta

emmett-kellyEmmett Kelly as Weary Willie

I loved Emmett Kelly as a kid. He was Weary Willie, the quintessential tramp clown, an integral part of my childhood. This touching and amazing story by his daughter, Stasia Kelly, of Atlanta, Georgia, appeared in the October 2006 issue of Guideposts. What are the odds of this story ending as it did?  Probably one in a trillion. And yet . . .

I sat on the plane, my purse in my lap, waiting to take off from Hartsfield International Airport in Atlanta for Florida to attend my father’s funeral. I had just spoken to Dad the day before. He’d sounded a little down, but I never guessed it would be the last time I heard his voice. “I’m tired, Stasia,” he said. I could hear that tiredness through the phone, could feel it the way so many people had felt the world-weariness in the most beloved character my father ever portrayed.

emmett-kelly-smilingEmmett Kelly learns he’s a dad

I shifted in my seat—first-class because it was the only available spot on this leg of my trip home. The airline-reservations operator had promised to get me there in time for Dad’s funeral, so she honored my bereavement ticket and gave me an upgrade. I pulled the faded newspaper photo from my purse and glanced at it. The famous picture of my dad, Emmett Kelly. Or should I say of Weary Willie, the sad clown that he had immortalized. Dad was disciplined about Willie’s public persona. Once Dad put his makeup on, Weary Willie never broke character and never smiled, except once, back in 1955. That one time he smiled—beamed, really—a young photographer snapped his photo, and around the globe it went. The only time Willie smiled in public, the world smiled with him.

The plane was almost full and the seat next to me was still vacant. Good, I’d have the row to myself and my tears. I didn’t feel like explaining to some high-powered business type why I was so sad. I folded the picture and slipped it back inside my purse just as a well-dressed, middle-aged man strode down the aisle and took his seat next to me.

“Almost missed this flight,” he said with a sigh, as we taxied from the gate.

Odd as it might sound, in the clowning business Dad was a revolutionary. Clowns were happy figures …zany, wacky, unpredictable and relentlessly upbeat. But that’s not the kind of clown Dad was. He’d created Willie on his drawing board—a rumpled, sad-sack figure, beaten down by the world, Everyman on a lifelong losing streak. In those days, circus bosses were skeptical. Did people want a depressed clown? But they let him try it.

By the 1940s, the sad clown had become a hit and Dad had made it to the big time—Ringling Bros. circus. People cared about Willie and his struggles. They saw that no matter how hard he took it on the chin, Willie never gave up. He became the world’s most famous clown, probably the most recognizable clown ever. Maybe the reason Willie was so easy for people to love was that Dad brought a bit of himself to the character. Not that Dad was a sad sack, but he understood struggle. His early life on the road was tough and often lonely. Then in middle age he fell head over heels in love with a beautiful trapeze artist who eventually became his wife and my mom. They bought a little place in sunny Sarasota, Florida, for when the circus wasn’t traveling. It had a big backyard, a porch and a vegetable garden. For the first time, Weary Willie was a happy man—and happiest of all, I’m told, that day I was born. He and Mom named me Stasia.

Now, staring out the plane window, I tried to be grateful for that happiness Dad had found, and for the life he had led making others happy. How much more blessed could a daughter be than to have Emmett Kelly as her father? Even the airline-reservations operator who managed to get me this last-minute seat said some thing. “I remember Willie! Your dad made so many people smile.” Yet yearning and grief crushed out all my other feelings. I rested my head against the seat. Dear Lord, comfort me. Show me a sign Dad is content with you the way he was with Mom and our home and the backyard where he watched us kids play.

They say the food in first class is better. I wouldn’t know. I didn’t feel much like eating. I kept my tray up and stared into my lap. I just wanted to get home to Florida. I felt the plane slow and then one wing dipped as we started to descend. I couldn’t resist pulling that old newspaper clipping out of my purse and looking again at Dad beaming that incredible smile as he held a phone and heard the news that I’d been born. Immediately, I had to wipe away a tear.

I barely heard the man next to me say, “Excuse me.” He tapped my arm gently.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “Yes?”

“”That photo…”

“My dad, Emmett Kelly. He died today. But this is from the day I was born….”

“I know, Stasia. I know. I was there. I’ve never seen a man so happy. I just had to snap that picture.”

My father, Frank Beatty, was the photographer who took that now-famous picture – the only one ever taken of Weary Willie smiling.  And what an amazing moment for him to meet Kelly’s daughter that day on the plane.  My dad went on to become very good friends with Stasia Kelly, he was even the photographer at her wedding.  God does indeed often work in mysterious ways.

May 31 2010

Memorial Day

Category: freedom,friendship,God,liberty,love,military,society,virtueharmonicminer @ 8:30 am
I ran across this at Michelle Malkin’s site.
It is a tribute to a single soldier, but I think it stands for them all.

Dec 02 2009

Unlikely friends

Category: friendshipharmonicminer @ 9:53 am

You can keep the orangutan, but I’ll take the hound.

h/t: SD

Nov 29 2009

Happy Birthday to me: UPDATE

Category: family,friendship,humorsardonicwhiner @ 12:45 pm

So, today is my birthday.  I went and played keyboard for the first service at church, then got out before someone caught on and tried to sing to me.

Since my age for the entire last year was a prime number, I guess that means that I am now, uh, past my prime.


To make me feel better about it, some friends, colleagues and students sent me nice birthday greetings on facebook.  Some were of the normal “Happy Birthday, Shack!” variety.  A couple of them got insulting and called me Dr. Phil.


One even thanked me for teaching her music theory and music technology, which she now uses in her life more than she expected.  That was nice, one of the best birthday gifts a person could give me.

One former student from way back seemed to find great joy in astronomical allusion.  We eventually decided that as long as I live, the galaxy will keep spinning ’round, with all black holes kept tidily in their places.  Or maybe that’s an astronomical illusion.

My 94 yr old mother sent me email asking how long the university will allow me to continue to teach.   Nice, mom.  Real nice.

Then my cousin told me about all the family members she’s seen lately that I haven’t.

It’s always your family that knifes you in the back.

And then there were the nerds.  Lots of nerds.  For example, a fellow faculty member sent me this birthday greeting:

sol-sol-la-sol-do’-ti, sol-sol-la-sol-re’-do’, sol-sol-sol’-mi’-do’-ti-la, fa’-fa’-mi’-do’-re’-do!

I think that last do should be do’…  but I suppose I’m quibbling.

A music major from three decades back, who then worked as a DJ or something at a radio station in Alaska for a time, sent me this:


It took some time to decode that one, since it has a couple of errors in it (the 9–7 sequence should be 12 — 9, and the 2–7–5 sequence should read 2–0–7–5), and it assumes that “0” is the fifth scale degree…  but what can you expect from someone who moved to Alaska?  Hey….  I wonder if he ever met Sarah Palin?

But I digress.

Then there was the current student, a jazzer, who couldn’t resist sticking in a suspended, altered dominant voiced as a Neapolitan major 9, +11, 13 chord over the dominant root, where it would conflict with the penultimate note rather seriously, so he changed the melody down a half-step, the only remaining problem being that the root of the Neapolitan isn’t the ideal melody note against all that extended color.  He seems also to want my birthday to be over very, very quickly, though at least he wished me many happy returns.

Happy Birthday wierd

I am often accused of employing inappropriate logical tools to issues of values, theology, philosophy, etc.  That may be what was behind the next birthday greeting, which I think may be a subtle insult suggesting that I think only in black and white, with no room for shades of gray, nuance, etc.

01000111 01000111 01000001 01000111 01000011 01000010 01000111 01000111 01000001 01000111 01000100 01000011 01000111 01000111 01000111 00100111 01000101 01000011 01000010 01000001 01000110 01000110 01000101 01000011 01000100 01000011

I’m not sure what to say about that, other than that the apostrophe confused me for a moment…  I actually had to consult this table.  In retrospect, it was obvious, of course….  the apostrophe was to indicate the upper octave of “G”.

I’m reminded of a sign on my office door, graciously donated to me by a faculty friend.  It says:

There are only 10 kinds of people.  Those who understand binary, and those who don’t.

As for accusing me of binary thinking, all I can say is this:  either today is my birthday, or it isn’t.

Based on the available facts and logical conclusions to be inferred from them…

I choose to believe that it is.


UPDATE:  It has been pointed out to me by a friend on facebook that, while I can do binary arithmetic, I can’t do third grade decimal arithmetic.  To wit: last year, my age was NOT a prime number.  And neither is this year.  Next year IS…  I think.  I no longer trust myself.

Perhaps the logical question is, will I be completely overwhelmed by senior moments (or senior hours) even BEFORE I have passed my prime?

I suppose time will tell.

Apr 27 2009

My Uncle Fred

Category: friendshipharmonicminer @ 7:55 pm

My Uncle Fred

My Uncle Fred passed away about 12 days ago, moving on to be reunited with his brothers, and best of all, with the Lord.  I wanted to tell you a bit about him, not in the way of a complete recounting of his life, but more along the lines of a personal appreciation.

He was an absolutely amazing classical tenor.  He could probably have had a career at the Met, or something similar, if he’d wanted that.  (He might have needed cosmetic surgery to make him look Italian.)  On the other hand, with all his amazing talent, and great success as a teacher of singing, he never quite managed to turn ME into a tenor…. or even a singer.  Nobody bats a thousand.

My Uncle Fred was a philosopher.  No, really.  Not somebody who sits around woolgathering, but someone who read what all the other woolgathers sat around thinking about, and then thought about that.  For a long time.  He was unusually adept at communicating to his philosophy students the fruit of the many generations of philosophers that he had studied.  Yet, he encouraged them to think for themselves, not to be intimidated by the weight of all those heavy thinkers, who certainly don’t seem to have been intimidated by each other.  He left his students believing there was always a chance that they might think a genuinely new thought, but that meant they’d have to learn what other people had already thought, so they’d know it when they saw it.

He was a theologian and pastor.  He was a skilled communicator from the pulpit, and a caring shepherd for his flock.  (I know, I’m writing too much about wool.)   Speaking from personal experience, he was an absolutely safe place to store confidences.  He genuinely loved people, all kinds of people, and saw them as opportunities to show his love for God, by loving them.

Uncle Fred was just enough of a politician to survive in the world of academia.  (Remember Henry Kissinger’s comment:  “University politics make me long for the simplicity of the Middle East.”)  When I was a young professor, and in some serious political hot water at my university, he was exactly the right combination of mentor, strategist, behind-the-scenes operative, therapist and (I suspect) rhetorical hitman, to help me keep my job.  But he loved teaching more than university politics, and when he had the chance, he moved out of higher education administration back to teaching, an exception to the Peter Principle if ever there was one.

He was quite the golfer, an avocation I never understood, and still don’t, though I hear he was very good.  I had a suspicion, for a time, that he imagined the faces of philosophers with whom he disagreed to be stenciled on the golf balls.  In retrospect, I now believe it more likely that he had in mind lazy students.  Or maybe he was just doing ballistic research.  Maybe he had fantasies of being a reincarnated Scottish king.  He seemed to know an awful lot of golf jokes. Thursday was golf day, and it didn’t really matter if the Big One finally shook southern California, or the Martians landed, or the president invited him for tea; golf is very important, you know.  And a man has to have some principles.

He was pretty interesting to watch in faculty meetings.  He’d sit and listen for a time, while the various perspectives on the trivial issues of the day were aired.  Then he’d clear his throat, an utterly characteristic gesture, a sort of announcement of pronouncements to come, and as the room fell silent (they knew what was coming), in a very few incisive sentences he’d explain what was wrong with all previous statements, all the while appearing to compliment the wisdom of those who’d made them.  Besides singing, this rhetorical tactic was the other thing he failed to teach me. Not for lack of trying.  But for me, it was like a person with a club foot watching a ballerina on a high wire.  If I was fast, sometimes I could knock him off the wire, but I could never do the dance.  I saw him literally end a few faculty meetings, working without a net, with no one having anything much left to say.

I’ve ended a few in my time too, but somehow it isn’t the same when the paramedics have come to save people who’ve slit their wrists.  Uncle Fred was definitely a man of words.  He used to say that I was too, but I suppose it’s possible that he may have meant something else.

For some reason, my Uncle Fred seemed to precede me in lots of places.  I recall being very proud, at the age of 18, of having started a jazz band in my undergraduate college, and then seeing a 25 year old photo, in an old college annual, of Fred Shackleton directing the Anderson College Band.  He played the trombone, too.  Nobody’s perfect.

Does it sound like my Uncle Fred was three or four people?  You don’t know the half of it.  I haven’t even mentioned much of his various accomplishments, speaking and conference invitations, publications (worship songs sung by hundreds of thousands or millions of people, scholarly work in theology/philosophy, popular and curricular work in ministry), honors he received, etc.  Actually, I used to wonder if he had a cape or something stowed away under his suit jacket.  But it is a fact that he was simply supremely gifted in a variety of ways, such that most people would be thrilled to have one of those gifts, let alone all of them.  And then he worked very hard in polishing those gifts, and using them in service.  In all of that, somehow he managed to encourage people to excel, to bring out the best in them, and tended to leave the lesser mortals in his life (that would be most folks) believing they had something unique to contribute, too.

The last time I saw him, he asked me to rub his ankle, which still hurt from a recently cleared up skin infection, and which was hard for him to reach.  So while we chatted about the old days, and I thought about how much he looked like my dad (who I knew was waiting for him across the great divide), I rubbed his ankle.

It was an honor.

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Sep 12 2008

“Birds Of A Feather Flock Together” / “A Man Is Known By The Company He Keeps”

Category: corruption,election 2008,friendship,Obama,politicsamuzikman @ 8:00 am

When I was about 11 years old I remember my parents telling me they had some serious reservations about my hanging out with a couple of guys from school who didn’t meet with their approval. At the time I took great offense, telling my folks their concerns were misplaced, and secretly harboring no small resentment against them for trying to tell me who I should and shouldn’t have for friends.

Not too long after that our family moved and I didn’t see those guys as much. I do remember one of the last times we were together I noticed they seemed to have developed quite a taste for finding ways to skip school and get high.

In retrospect my parents were absolutely right!

A few years later they were at it again, this time about a girl I was dating. Again I became indignant over their “meddling” and again, I had to admit to myself later they were right.

As a parent, and now officially on the “other”side of the hill, I see the same issue playing out in the lives of my own kids. And the perspective that comes from adulthood adds a dimension to this subject I didn’t have as a child. For now I realize the problem wasn’t necessarily who my friends were, it was the judgment, or lack thereof, I exhibited in making choices about who I would invite to be a part of my life.

Every parent breaths a sigh of relief when their kids make good choices about the friends they run with. And the two wise old sayings that serve as title to this blog have entered the American lexicon precisely because we know them to be true.

So, do we suspend this truth with candidates for the highest office in the land? Do Presidential candidates get a free pass on the company they keep? Or is the truth still the truth? William Ayers, Bernadine Dohrn, Tony Rezko, Jeremiah Wright, Rashid Khaladi, Louis Farrakhan, and Kwame Kilpatrick are all friends of Barack Obama. If Obama was my child I’d be worried. If Obama becomes president I’ll be afraid.

Here is more detail on the company Obama keeps.

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Aug 28 2008

On Friendship

Category: friendshipamuzikman @ 11:26 pm

I suppose it is a sign of getting older when one starts counting time in decades rather than years. And though we remain a largely youth-oriented culture I am getting old enough to realize how foolish young people are in their frequent disregard of the perspective available to them by those who have taken a few more laps around the sun. I was guilty of it as a youth and I hear my kids making comments that reflect the same silliness. They truly believe the internet, cell phones, video games and iPods did something to fundamentally change human nature. The landscape has indeed changed but the wild adventure through adolescence remains fundamentally the same E ticket ride (kids – look it up), dealing with the same struggles common to all who would enter adulthood.

One thing I have learned (and I wish I had realized a lot sooner) is how rare and precious are true friends. In college (a few decades ago), I could count my friends by the fist-full. But tested by time very few remain. And those few who do remain are not store-bought, just-add-water-and-stir, we-once-took-a-class-together friendships. No, I’m talking about life-long, self-sacrificing, shirt-off-your-back, storied, battle-tested, in-the-trenches friendships that have survived everything life could throw at them. No one I know has a surplus of those!

There are most certainly plenty of good reasons for this. Marriage, career, raising a family, moving, etc. all contribute to a shift in priorities and a necessary move into new seasons of life. The time a college-age student can spend hanging out with buddies is just no longer available when adult life intrudes. But there are those exceptions who manage to do whatever it takes to remain close. There are those few who will continue to go the extra mile or two to maintain a close friendship. And as the clock keeps ticking and the years fall away like so many autumn leaves, those true and close and dear friends become more rare than a Cubs World Series ring and more valuable than words can express.

Young people take friendships for granted. I wish they wouldn’t. But you really can’t explain to a young person that with age comes a certain melancholy, almost a loneliness. How sad it must be for those who have neglected to nurture those few real friends. They only get harder to find as the years fly by.

So here’s to you and a heart-felt “hail fellow well met”, Cody, Ernie, and Tim. True friends all. The rarest kind.

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