Tag Archives: Ocala


Diminutive.  Loving, patient, kind, tough are other words that describe Johnny but diminutive is the word that comes to me.


A small woman, no more than 5 feet tall and weighing less than one-hundred pounds, Johnny packed a wallop.  When I would talk back to her, she would grab me by the collar, spin me around and whack my rear end to remind me sassing wasn’t allowed.

From before my first birthday until I left for college, Johnny Davis worked for my parents.  Six days a week, my mother would deliver her to our house; 8 hours later—4 on saturdays—she would take her home.  I don’t know how much pay she received—I’m sure less than $10 a day plus meals—but it wasn’t enough, not for a housekeeper, cook and stand-in mother.

My mom stayed involved in the community.  Bridge Club, Garden Club, Women’s Club, the Ladies Golf Association, every afternoon was occupied.  Her activities involved more than being a social butterfly, in a small community where relationships “mattered” her connections helped to build my father’s business.  In the afternoons Johnny cared for me: snacks served, cuts bandaged and  discipline applied—she could twist an ear until it almost fell off.  She loved me as the child she never had.

Playing with Byron McClellan, who lived close by, I fell hand first on a broken bottle.  Clutching my hand to my stomach I ran home.  Johnny hearing my cries, opened the back door and found me with what appeared to be a pierced stomach.  Dr. Hartley Davis–who delivered me, set bones and sewed me up until I was a young adult—closed the cut with stitches; I was fine.  Johnny wasn’t.  Years later, my father related how the shock of my seeming to be severely injured affected her for months.

I was sixteen, when my parents attended a weekend long meeting and left me  home alone.  Saturday night I hosted an unauthorized and ill-advised party: girls, music, dancing and alcohol—lots of alcohol.  I awoke Sunday morning to a wrecked home and an inability to do anything about it.  I felt as if someone was hammering a nail into my brain and my stomach heaved when I moved.

Staring out the window, contemplating running away, I saw Johnny climbing the back stairs.  I remember her words as she opened the door, “Look at you; you’re a mess.  Your momma and daddy are going to send you to military school, and you deserve to go—you hear me!  I knew you were going to get in trouble.” Then lifting me by my ear she growled,  “Get up and get going, we have a mess to clean up.”  To keep her “baby” out of trouble she sacrificed her day off.

When I left for college, my parents purchased a smaller home and let Johnny go.  After college, I would visit Johnny only infrequently: sometimes by choice but more often because she would need something.  The woman who loved me enough to bandage my wounds, smack my butt and clean up my mess, to my sorrow, became an object of my charity.

I cannot think about Johnny without reflecting on the culture in which I was raised.  The business and professional communities my father belonged to participated in a racism that in ways proved to be more harmful than the hate-filled dark side of the South.   Their’s reflected a patronizing duty to care for what they believed to be inferior people.  They couldn’t abide the race haters—but they treated as children, the people who tilled their fields, labored on their jobs, cooked their food and cared for their infants.

Aspects of the old south are reflected in the attitudes of some of today’s leaders.  The patronizing conviction that “we know what is good for you” leads  the condescending Mayor Bloombergs of this world to try and dictate people’s lives. Elitist thought—whether based on race, education or wealth—is bigoted, anti democratic and limits freedom and opportunity.

Free people are allowed to make their own decisions—even bad ones; they are rewarded for taking risks and allowed to fail.  Free people create prosperity that lifts all and provides the means to help others.

Shave and a Haircut

Perkins Barbershop was located in narrow room, with barber chairs on one side and seats for waiting on the other. I have early memories of my dad—not my mother since she would never enter a pool hall, bar or barbershop—taking me for a haircut. Percy Perkins would seat me on a board placed across the arms of the chair; then wrap my neck with tissue, cover me with a sheet and commence to clipping. I still remember the smell of Clubman Pinaud Talc he would brush on my neck.

I was 16, a high school junior and I had a date with an 18 year old senior and I wanted everything to be perfect. Saturday morning after cleaning, washing and waxing my car, I headed to the barbershop.

To impress upon the him how important it was for me to look good, I told the barber about my big date. He stopped cutting and said, “If you want to impress a girl you need a professional shave. She’s not going to rub her smooth cheek against your rough beard.”

Beard. I had a beard? He was right: why wash the car, get a haircut and dress up only to find the girl didn’t want to mar her gentle skin with my manly beard. “Yeah, you’re right. Go ahead with the shave.”

He placed a hot towel on my face; strapped his razor; brushed on shaving cream and began scraping the whiskers. With my eyes closed, I was thinking about being grownup and dreaming about the coming evening when the comments began.

“Turn the razor over, you don’t need the sharp side for that beard.”

“Heck you don’t need a razor: a good rub with a wet towel and that peach fuzz will come right off.”

The men waiting for their haircuts had found a target and I was it. Too late to leave, all I could do was to silently take the razzing.

Years later my bookkeeper convinced me to go to a styling salon rather than a barbershop.

Embarrassed about going to a “beauty shop,” I made an appointment to coincide with the salon’s opening. A beautiful woman greeted me and inquired as to how I wanted my hair cut. I didn’t know how to answer: this wasn’t a question Percy Perkins asked. I thought, “If this good looking woman likes the result, it will have to be the best haircut ever;” so I responded,“The way you think best.”

After every few clips with her scissors, the stylist would put her face next to mine and as we both stared into the mirror, inquire if everything was all right. With her cheek close and intoxicated by sweet perfume, I realized Percy Perkins had lost my business.

Bedazzled, not paying attention to what she was saying, I readily agreed to her suggestion to make me even more handsome.

She tilted the chair back, placed my neck on the edge of a sink and gently washed my hair: her hands massaging my head as she leaned over me. I drifted away, dreamily happy, until I open my eyes, gazed into the mirror and realized I had a “roller” in my hair. Panic ensued: what if someone who knew me walked in—I would be the laughing stock of Ocala. Fortunately, no one who mattered saw me and I escaped with my reputation intact.

My father taught me that grooming matters in building relationships and success. Well groomed and neatly dressed, you convey a message that you care enough about others to want to make a good impression. In turn, you boost your self-esteem and raise your confidence.

Looking Good

If you look good, you feel good. If you feel good, you play good. If you play good the pay’s good.” – “Neon” Deion Sanders

Change Will Happen

My childhood was easy: I walked to school without fear; our house remained unlocked during the day and my mother relied upon our maid, Johnny, to take care of the house, cook and watch over me. Although far from being wealthy, we would be considered so today.

For 18 years Johnny was my second mother. She fixed meals; placed band aids on my wounds and when needed, twisted my ear and spanked my behind.  she lived in West and we lived in East Ocala; between the two existed the unseen fence of segregation.  On the west side stark poverty prevailed: unpaved streets, run-down “shotgun” homes and outdoor privies.  On the east side was a contrasting world of relative wealth.  We didn’t question the right or wrong of segregation, it was part of the world we lived in.

When I went to work for my father we were always busy.  There were plenty of jobs, a demand for our services and numerous projects being bid.  At times I wished business would slow just enough for me to catch my breath.  I learned to be careful what I wished for.

In October of 1973 OPEC declared an embargo on oil shipments to the United States and almost immediately the country was thrown into a recession.  Suddenly, we had no work.  My assumption that we would always be busy were turned upside down.

Not long ago, I had a conversation with a young man who related how his income increased every year for the 12 years after he graduated from college.  He planned his lifestyle accordingly but the downward corkscrewing economy left him with debt he could not repay.

Wrongs occasioned by segregation; the time when there was too much work; the economic boom, were situations that didn’t last.  In hindsight, I realize if I had examined these circumstances, I would have recognized the evil of segregation and that business booms are unsustainable.

I have learned that incorrect assumptions about the future result from the failure to examine existing circumstances.


Questions focus our thinking. Ask empowering questions like: What’s good about this? What’s not perfect about it yet? What am I going to do next time? How can I do this and have fun doing it?” – Charles Connolly

The Frozen Chosen

A brick building topped by a tall, slender steeple, the First Presbyterian Church was a bastion of mainstream Ocala.  In the mid-twentieth century, on Sundays the sanctuary would be crowded with people dressed in their  best: the men in gray suits, white shirts with muted ties, their fedora hat resting on the pew next to them; and veil-hatted, gloved-handed women draped in subdued dresses.

On hot days, a large and noisy, attic fan would draw a warm breeze through open windows.  Supplementing the artificial breeze, people would wave hand-held fans emblazoned with the name of a local funeral home.  The preacher’s sermon, the warm air and the rhythmic noise of the fan induced a weariness insuring late-morning naps for children and more than a few parents.

The preacher’s hobby was translating scripture from the original Greek and his sermons reflected this scholarly nature.  His monotone voice would drone on, until a loud snort from the church’s leading contributor signaled it was time to end.  Immediately completing his remarks, the preacher would send the somnolent congregation on their way.

The long, intellectual sermons and the uninspiring music didn’t faze the comfortable, well-dressed congregants.  Around town, they became known as the “Frozen Chosen.”

One Easter Sunday, my mother and I arrived at the church long before the beginning of the service.  She was excited that the choir would be performing Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus so, foregoing her usual pew, she found us seats at the front of the church.  Seated next to us was a mentally challenged young man who had been “adopted” by the congregation.

With soaring music and the voices of angels, the choir’s rendition of Handel’s work was incredible.  As the last note ended, the congregation was stunned and frozen; you could hear a pin drop.  Suddenly, the childlike young man sitting next to us loudly exclaimed, “That was beautiful.”

Ignited by the impulsive sincerity of his statement, the congregation jumped to its feet, applauding, some crying out “hallelujah” and others “amen.”  It was a special moment, when ignited by a special person, the “Chosen” became no longer “Frozen.”

Like the gray-suited congregation I grew up in, often we are the “Frozen Chosen.”  Chosen because we enjoy so many blessings but frozen in our reluctance to express joy in them.  Relationships are enhanced and atmospheres altered when with a childlike innocence we show joy and appreciation.  Commenting on a blog I posted, Joyce Stover wrote, “Upon observation it can be proven that happiness increases exponentially when divided. Kind of like emotional fission.”  I couldn’t say it any better.


Where one is wise two are happy.” – Proverb

Let’s Have Another Cup Of Coffee

Prior to my teen years, my mother would fix “coffee milk” for me. Sweet with milk, sugar and a small amount of coffee, I would sip the cup dry and then scoop the leftover sugar from the bottom of the cup. I never had “real” coffee until my senior year in high school.

Early one Saturday morning, I invited myself to breakfast at the house of a friend. As his mother assembled the meal, she asked if I would like a cup of coffee. When I answered yes, she placed a can of Maxwell House on the counter and told me to make the coffee. She watched as I stared helplessly at the can and then taught me the recipe for coffee that I still use today: one rounded tablespoon of coffee for each cup and one for the pot.

Coffee became a big deal during my freshman year of college when “coffee dates” were de rigueur. In the mid 1960’s, the administration at Florida State University confined freshman girls to their dorm rooms between seven and nine in the evenings on weekdays. At the end of the “quiet hours” was when the dates would occur and we would share time over coffee. Afterwards, fueled by coffee, I would stay up for hours and then struggle to make morning classes.

“C Rations,” a soldier’s “meal in the field,” included instant coffee that was best used in making canned sweet rolls edible. Tightly packed in a two-inch round, green can, the army sweet roll resembled and was as hard as a hockey puck. We would pour hot coffee over the dried confection and after a few minutes of soaking time it would be good to eat. In the “field” we didn’t worry about spilling coffee; it was a different story when working for my father.

Because of some disastrous spills, my dad had a rule that employees were not allowed to drink coffee at their desks. If someone wanted to drink a cup of coffee, they had to find a place away from their work to do so. A benefit of the rule was that it provided him with a reason to drink coffee at locations away from the office: with the president of a local bank; at a local diner with customers; or with me, in a restaurant.

Away from distractions, business questions were easier to deal with. In the mid-morning, in a quiet restaurant, there was time for stories; to talk about sports and fishing and to share concerns—conversations in a relaxed atmosphere lending to inventive problem solving.

Caught up in the hubbub of life, often we neglect spending casual time with our colleagues.  A cup of coffee is a good excuse to do so


It is inhumane, in my opinion, to force people who have a genuine medical need for coffee to wait in line behind people who apparently view it as some kind of recreational activity.” -Dave Barry

The Best Teachers Were Also The Toughest

Growing up, I was blessed with teachers who cared not only with my learning the three “R’s” but also about developing me as a whole person. Three of them stand out in my memory.

Ms. Sexton was short, gray-haired and possessed a blue-eyed stare that could stop an eight-year-old boy in his tracks.  It has been 55 years since I sat in her third grade class; still I remember how her no nonsense demeanor was combined with a gentle smile and a twinkle in her eye.

Central Elementary School

In those days, it was unusual to have a new classmate, especially a displaced Yankee boy: a rarity that made him a target for the rest of us.  At recess, we picked on him until he scampered to the classroom with tears streaming down his cheeks.  Boasting of how we had vanquished the young northerner, we followed him inside where we were greeted by an angry teacher.

Ms Sexton marched us outside, placed us where she could look each of us in the eye and asked, “How would you feel if you were new, had no friends and everyone picked on you?”  As we guiltily lowered our eyes, she sternly exclaimed, “Didn’t you learn the Golden Rule in Sunday school?  In my class, and I hope anywhere else, you don’t tease people because of how they look, what they wear or where they came from.  Understand!?  This afternoon you will stay after school and clean the erasers and tomorrow you will make a new friend.”  Over five decades later, words I still recall.

Two years later, my teacher was a remarkable lady, with a pitching arm that could have gotten her a tryout with the Boston Red Sox.  The first day of class, standing in front of the room, Ms Barge instructed a student in the rear row of desks to hold up a ruler. When he did so, she grabbed a blackboard eraser and hurled it 20 feet, cleanly knocking the measuring stick out of his hand.  We got the message: if she could knock a ruler out of someone’s hand from across the room, hitting one of us up the side of the head was no big deal.

Our classroom was on the second floor of Eighth Street Elementary.  The room had large windows—which remained open on warm days—with potted plants resting on the windowsills.  One afternoon, as she was explaining a math problem, Ms Barge’s lesson was interrupted by boys laughing and shouting below the windows.  In the middle of a sentence, she stopped talking, marched to the window, leaned out and told them to be quiet and return to their class.

Satisfied that they would obey, she had taken two steps when again loud voices arose.  She returned to the window and said, “I’m not going to tell you again, return to your class.”  She started to the front of the class when laughter once more arose from the courtyard.  This time, with both hands she lifted a flower pot, dropped it out of the window and, as it crashed to the ground, shouted, “Next time I won’t miss. Now go to your room.”

Forty years later, during our high school reunion, my classmates were still talking about the day Ms Barge dropped the flowerpot.

Never a student of math, I knew I was in trouble when I was assigned to Ms Cromartie’s algebra class.  An exacting teacher, Ms Cromartie didn’t put up with nonsense and didn’t tolerate excuses.  She expected you to be prepared. When you were, she would work with you; however, when you weren’t, she ignored your questions.  Students who were adept at math loved her, while those, like me, who struggled with the subject, were terrified of her.  On the last day of class, as I walked out of her room, I was relieved that, “I was through with Ms Cromartie.”

Forty years later, as I walked into her room in the nursing home, my mother greeted me by saying, “I have a new roommate, who is so sweet, we are becoming close friends and I think you might know her.”  Then, looking to the bed next to her, she said, “Virginia, wake up, I want you to meet my son Bill.”  The slightly built roommate turned, smiled and said, “I know Billy. I taught him math in high school.”  Ms Cromartie was my mother’s roommate!

It’s ironic: the teachers I remember—the ones I learned the most from—were also the most demanding and the toughest disciplinarians.  They were passionate about teaching and that didn’t require being friends with their students.  Along with the traditional subjects, they delivered lessons to live by: to care for your neighbors, that actions have consequences and to take responsibility.  They were tough, consistent and fair; they set and expected their students to meet high standards.  How they handled their students is a lesson for parents, teachers, supervisors, politicians: all types of leaders.

The Dream

The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called truth.” – Dan Rather

Every Season Has Its Blessings

Do you remember the Charles Russell painting, “Waiting for a Chinook?” For those who don’t, it is a painting of an emaciated steer, standing in snow, waiting for a warm wind, with a nearby wolf staring hungrily at him.

At the end of a long hot summer, I have often thought of myself as the antithesis of Russell’s steer. I picture myself in a bathing suit, with sweat dripping off of my face, a drink in hand, gazing to the north waiting for a cold front.

I have always had a thing about winter. I love the cool, crisp days, the smell of the dry air, forest green pine needles against a deep blue sky and a glass of wine in front of a blazing fire. When I first met my sweet Ohio wife, I would tell her how much I cared for winter and as I grumbled about the cold Dayton, Ohio weather, she would remind me that I loved not winter but Florida winters.

During the eight months that Terri and I dated long distance, she in Ohio and I in Florida, I would tell her about the perfect Florida winters: when the days were cool, nights made for sleeping and weather not being a factor in planning your activities. She believed me and when she moved to Florida, she left her warmest clothes behind. Her first Christmas she learned that sometimes Florida weather can be brutal.

The temperature in the upper 50’s, Terri wore a dress with a light jacket to the Christmas Eve service. When we exited the church, there was a howling northwest wind and the temperature had dropped 20 degrees. The following morning the thermometer registered 9 degrees and never climbed out of the 20’s. I swore to her it was an unusual—if not historic—freeze that would seldom be repeated. She believed me, until her sister Karen and her family came to visit the next Thanksgiving.

When Karen asked what clothes they should bring, confident of good weather, I told her we would spend time at our house on the river in Crystal River and on our boat and to bring warm weather clothes. Thanksgiving day was rainy and cold: in fact, 10 degrees colder than in Dayton. I was frantically looking for jackets and sweatshirts that would fit pre-teen children; Terri’s sister was dressed in a pair of Terri’s jeans and sweater and her husband Don was wearing a flannel shirt and jacket that belonged to me. Don pointedly told me that he couldn’t wait to get back to Ohio where it was warm. The next year I learned about real winter.

We arrived at Terri’s sister’s home with the sun setting and the thermometer hovering just above zero. Terri didn’t want to leave our dog at home, so Foxy, our Fox Terrier,  made the drive with us. As we opened the car door, intent on finding the nearest tree, Foxy jumped out onto the snow-covered driveway and immediately refused to move. When I tried to coax him to follow me he gave me that “I belong to the dumbest humans in the world” look and resolutely sat down in the snow. We solved the problem by carrying him into the dirt floor barn that would become his private privy for the duration of our stay.

That night Foxy, Terri and I slept in a cabin located about 100 yards from Terri’s family home. With heat only from a small electric heater, we fixed a “nest” on the floor for the dog and wearing sweat suits, socks and knit hats, Terri and I crawled into bed.

We were awakened from a sound sleep by a dog desperate to visit the dirt floor barn. I rolled out of the warm bed, put on my shoes and with Foxy in my arms trudged to the barn and then back to the cabin. It was an experience that deepened my antipathy for northern and increased my appreciation of Florida winters. That middle of the night journey also provided me with an insight into how smart a dog can be.

After a fitful, frigid night’s sleep, when I awoke the next morning I felt something cold and wet pressed against my neck. Anxious to find out what it could be, I turned and ended up with my and Foxy’s noses pressed tightly together. Obviously, he had concluded that it made no sense to sleep on the floor when you could jump into a warm bed and snuggle between your two people.

Every season has its blessings: the warmth of summer, the brilliant colors of fall, the crisp cold days of winter, the flowers of spring, the impetuosity of youth, the ambition of the middle years and the wisdom of age. Every time is different; every time is good and every time is bad; every time is what it is. Beyond our ability to change or forecast, the seasons roll by: frustrating in their harshness; sobering in their reality; delightful in their differences and fulfilling in their changes.

The Fifth Season                                                                                                          By C.A. Schlea

In the spring of life,
In the flower of youth,
Everything is bright and new.

In the summer of life,
Time of growth and change,
Each day brings new dreams to pursue.

In the autumn of life,
There’s a settling down —
Contentment and sureness in what we do.

In the winter of life,
Comes peace and wisdom,
Time to relax and reminisce, too.
” –

It’s Not My Fault

“Stand in the corner for this; stand in the corner for that.  That’s all the teacher says—but it’s not my fault.”  At five years old, that’s how I explained my discipline problems at Happy Hearts kindergarten.

It wasn’t my fault that I laughed when Tommy Peek pushed Rhoda Smith: it was funny.  Neither was it my fault when I jumped off of the seesaw causing Brooks Wade to crash to the ground: after all, he would have done it to me.  Nothing was ever my fault, including the big trouble I got into in junior high school.

Instead of attending the movie as we were supposed to, I and four of my friends convinced a guy to buy us a six-pack of beer and were looking for a place to hide and drink it.  We were walking down a dark street when suddenly a police cruiser turned the corner and headed towards us.  Reacting instinctively, one of my friends tried to hide behind his back the paper sack containing the beer; that caught the cop’s attention and he was on us like a gator on a poodle.

“What’s in the sack?” was the question.  “Nothing.”  “Then why did you try to hide it?”  At this point we knew we were had, so someone piped up, “A six-pack of beer we found on the side of the road.  We were trying to find someone to give it to.”  At that point he loaded all five of us in the back of the cruiser and announced that unless we told the truth about where we got the beer we were all going to jail.

Thirteen years old with the possibility of an arrest on our permanent record, we threw the guy who purchased the beer for us under the bus and in return we weren’t jailed.  Worse than jail, the police captain in charge took each of us home and told our parents what had taken place.

After the officer left, I explained to my father that it wasn’t my fault; that I had been an innocent bystander; caught up in a plot that was not my making.  Shaking his head, my father said, “Son, either you are stupid or you are not telling the truth.  I don’t believe you’re stupid, so, rather than two weeks if you had told the truth, you are grounded for the next six.”  A stiff punishment, but I still did not learn my lesson.

Several years after I went to work for my dad, a church was flooded when one of our employees failed to seal a roof opening.  When I met with the church pastor, the elderly deacon who served as building committee chair and the insurance adjustor, I explained that we weren’t responsible for the river that had flowed through the church; that the plumber should have sealed the opening and that it was a freak storm and occurrence: it wasn’t our fault.  When I was through with my explanation of what had taken place, the aging deacon spoke and I learned a valuable lesson.

Quietly he looked at me and said, “Mistakes are going to happen, what determines the worth of someone is how he or she handles those mistakes.  Your company messed up: you know it; I know it; all of us here know it.  However, it’s going to work out: the insurance will cover the loss and everything will eventually be put back together.”  He then continued with words I will never forget, “Your refusal to take responsibility speaks to your character and what we just heard will preclude us from ever again using your company.”  At first I was stunned and then anger set in and I turned and left.

My anger lessened as I drove back to my office and I began to reflect upon what the deacon had said.  Embarrassment and remorse flooded me as I realized he was right; the accident was the fault of our carelessness.  It registered upon me how often “It’s not my fault.” was my response when I made a mistake; I was conscious of my failure to uphold the values that I had been taught: honesty and responsibility.

Like a pimple on the end of your nose on prom night, the failure to take responsibility for your actions stands out for all to see.  As the deacon said, “It speaks to your character.”


Responsibility is not burden, fault, praise, blame, credit, shame or guilt. In responsibility, there is no evaluation of good or bad, right or wrong. There is simply what’s so, and your stand. Being responsible starts with the willingness to deal with a situation from the view of life that you are the generator of what you do, what you have and what you are. That is not the truth. It is a place to stand. No one can make you responsible, nor can you impose responsibility on another. It is a grace you give yourself – an empowering context that leaves you with a say in the matter of life.” – Werner Erhard

Saying Goodbye

Terri and I had been attending the First Presbyterian Church in Winter Park for several months. As churchgoers do, we found a pew where we were comfortable and every Sunday that is where we sat. Sitting in front of us was an attractive couple and their pre-teen son. When the time to greet each other would arrive, they would turn, smile, shake our hand and proceed to greet others around them. One Sunday, the lady in front of us smiled as she shook my hand and said, “I’m Barbara Felkel, and my husband Bill and I would like to get to know you.”

After the service we talked over coffee and they introduced us to several other couples; among them, Ray and Jeanne Cook. Over the years, the circle of friends widened and our friendships deepened. Saturday nights we would get together, either at a restaurant or someone’s home and once a month we would all help out at the church night suppers. We noticed that our time together centered around food and that led to the idea that became the Dinner Club.

Once a month the Dinner Club would meet at one of the member’s home. The host would determine the theme, provide the entrée and the members would bring the other courses. Over the years we sampled the cuisines of Brazil, France, Italy and numerous other countries; it was always an epicurean adventure—sometimes good, sometimes bad but always fun: evenings we will remember; some more unforgettable than others.

During a meeting of the club at our house, I was in our home office showing Barbara Felkel something on the computer when we heard a roar from the dining room. I rushed into the room to find Bill Felkel holding his stomach as he rolled on the floor with laughter, other club members laughing, unable to speak, with tears running down their face and my 88 year-old mother, quietly and angelically, smiling. It was some minutes later, when my friends could again speak, that I learned the ruckus was occasioned by my sweet, Presbyterian mom telling a joke that I wouldn’t repeat in a men’s locker room.

There were many memorable evenings: the night, after outpatient surgery I inadvertently blew my nose in the tablecloth; the “Costco” evening when everyone brought an already prepared appetizer from Costco; at Jeanne’s insistence eating chili “five ways”—prepared the way they do in Ohio; the dinner at my brother’s hotel in Ocala. All of the times together, dining, worshipping, sharing happiness and heartache, united us into a closely-knit group of friends. However, the Dinner Club could not survive the changes in the lives of its members and eventually faded away.

Even without the club, we tried to remain close: when someone would visit from out of town or for a special occasion, we would again gather together. At the heart of striving to maintain the closeness of the group were Ray and Jeanne Cook.

Since I hadn’t spoken to him in a while, when Ray called, intuitively I knew something was wrong. He asked how I was doing and after inquiring about Terri and our children he said, “I have bad news, Jeanne has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.”

A month before she passed away, I visited Jeanne at her home. She was weak, so my visit was short: we spoke of days past, children and friends and when I kissed her goodbye, I knew I would not see her again.

As I left Ray and Jeanne’s home I thought about how casually I say goodbye to the people in my life: how I take it for granted that each goodbye will be followed by a future reunion.  I couldn’t help contrasting the confidence in being together again with the grief of a final farewell.

You never can be sure when you part from those you care for, that fate won’t intervene and that your goodbye might be your last; so take care to say farewell to friends, relatives and colleagues in a way that shows them that you are looking forward to the time when you again say hello.


Friendship improves happiness, and abates misery, by doubling our joys, and dividing our grief.” – Joseph Addison

Business Is Terrible But Life Is Good: Isn’t That Better Than The Other Way Around?

I was driving four of my friends to the Isle of Palms—a beach community located just north of Charleston, SC—to spend a long New Year’s weekend. We left Ocala at 7:00 in the morning and now, nearly noon, my buddies decided it was time for them to get into the bourbon—after all, we were celebrating the new year.

So there I was, the designated driver for four semi-inebriated, would be philosophers, political prognosticators and rock stars. After hours of discussing the meaning of life; arguing about the presidential election eleven months away—Bill Clinton was running and promising to do something about the cost of health care: sound familiar?—playing air guitars and singing along with the radio, I was relieved when we arrived at our destination.

We had rented a three story, six bedroom home directly on the beach. After unloading suitcases, groceries, and coolers I wandered down to the beach to take a long walk. Upon returning, I learned my buddies had made a tee-time for the following day; not yet having taken up golf, I made plans to spend the day with my friend Anne Dozier and David, another friend who also did not play golf.

The following morning Anne, David and I were watching television trying to decide what to do, when an ad came on for a nearby restaurant promising all the oysters you could eat. An oyster, lover, David insisted, we go there for lunch.

The restaurant steamed and served the oysters in galvanized buckets, with a spare bucket for the shells. We hadn’t finished the first bucket, when David ordered a second; during the third bucket, Anne informed him that we were leaving to do some shopping and would return later.

After spending an hour and a half shopping for groceries and other supplies, Anne and I returned to the restaurant to find it closed. I knew David must be nearby, so I knocked on the door to find out if someone knew his whereabouts. The waitress, who had served us, answered the door exclaiming, “Thank goodness you’re here. Your friend is still eating, the restaurant is closed and we want to go home. Can you get him to leave?”

I can only guess how many buckets of oysters he had consumed; yet, we still had to threaten to make him walk to get him to leave. When he did, he indignantly stomped out of the restaurant, leaving me to make apologies and pay the bill. After that experience and the drive up, I knew the next three days were going to be interesting; I didn’t know I was going to have a life-changing revelation.

Everyone was still asleep the next morning when I decided to go out to purchase a newspaper and a cup of coffee. A warm morning for January, I was sitting outside drinking my coffee, when I read in the paper that, after a long illness, the head of a major corporation had died.

As I read about the passing of the man who had built a large conglomerate and amassed great wealth, I realized that I had been freely given blessings—wealth that could not be purchased—that he would have forfeited his entire fortune for: good health and a wife, family and friends who love and looked after me. This past month, I was reminded of that revelation by a comment from a friend.

We were discussing the current economic nightmare, when my friend said, “Life is good; business is terrible.” No sooner were the words out of his mouth, thinking about the CEO who left behind the great fortune, I responded, “Isn’t that better than the other way around: life is terrible and business is good?”

It is important to put our difficulties into perspective. When I have worries, fret about opportunities missed and my stomach turns at the fear of an economic downturn lasting into the future; it’s then I remind myself that if I lost every penny I had, I would be wealthier than many of those  on the Forbes list of the world’s 400 richest people.


The real measure of your wealth is how much you’d be worth if you lost all your money.”  -Anon.