Saturday, August 24, 2013

Britain from A to Z: B


Although there have been people living in what is now the US for thousands of years, the number of technologically advanced occupants has been limited. For this reason, buildings that are over 400 years old are very rare. According to a site on Wikipedia, the oldest building in the US is a mound in St. Clair County, IL. The next oldest buildings are in the southwest, then Puerto Rico. However, there are many more extant buildings beginning with the 17th century. Many of these are from the colonial days and are located in the northeast.

Things are much different in Britain. During our travels, it was not unusual to see cathedrals, abbeys, and castles in even the smaller towns that were many hundreds of years old. Of course, some of these structures only remain as ruins while others have been renovated over the years to preserve them. Still this was quite different from what you see here in the US. In some cities, parts of the stone walls used for fortification still remain with the original gateways now having paved roads running through them. Modern day buildings blend together with made over older buildings.

In Chester, England, the old city walls were originally built by the Romans in the first century. They were extended in the twelfth century and still remain, being a big tourist attraction. Our tour guide told us that many of the cities and towns we visited were originally founded by the Romans around 2000 years ago. You just don’t hear this about cities in the US. If you do, please let me know because I want to visit.

Chester Cathedral


My Dad

As many of you know, my dad passed away in early January of this year. Had he lived, he would have been 90 years old tomorrow, August 25. Many times I would tell him that he needed to hang on until then because we were going to have a big party for him. And even though he seemed to be in pretty good health, his body decided it was time to go. His kidneys had been weakening for years, so when he developed a urinary tract infection that got into his blood, his body just couldn’t handle it and started falling apart. Even so, I am thankful that he was around as long as he was. My mom was seven years older than my dad, and her body decided to quit functioning back in September 2002.

Dad was one of eight siblings. He had four brothers and three sisters; some older and some younger. Yet Dad was the last one standing. He always said that due to several health problems like high blood pressure and diabetes, he didn’t think he would live very long. He was wrong. Unlike my mother, he was a big believer in doctors. Whenever he had a problem, he would see a doctor to find out what was wrong and try to fix it. He was also very diligent about taking his medications and eating right. On the other hand, my mom had to be nearly on her death bed to be willing to go see a doctor. Different strokes for different folks, I suppose.

Dad was an interesting man. He really didn’t like conflict, so he almost always had a smile on his face and kind things to say. Sure, like anyone, he occasionally had his “I can’t take this anymore” nerve pinched and he would fly off the handle. But growing up, I rarely saw this. I can only remember getting two spankings. There may have been more, but I just don’t remember them. Had he not been a non-confrontational person, I’m sure I would have gotten many more. When we would be at his house and had to get firm with Andrew, he would always try to interject some humor to defuse the situation.

Dad was born into a family of sharecroppers back in 1923. They didn’t own their own home. They would stay in the landowners’ extra home, farming his land, and getting a percentage of the crop they made. When he had extra time, he would also hire out to other landowners to make some extra money. They didn’t have much, but he never mentioned going hungry. In fact, he always told me that during the summer when he was working long days behind a mule in the fields, he couldn’t stomach eating much breakfast. However, when winter hit and the workload lightened, he could eat huge breakfasts. There must have been something about all that work that affected his appetite. But still that 140 pound kid could haul 100-pound bags on his shoulders. “Strong as an ox” is the phrase that comes to mind.

When Dad was 16 years old, their house caught on fire and his father was killed. Everyone else made it out alive. Dad was the oldest boy still at home, so he effectively became the man of the house. Dad told me that the fire may have been an accident related to the fireplace, but they also suspected two boys in a family that was competing with them for sharecropping the land. They never found out for sure what really happened.

Dad only had a fourth grade education, so mostly worked at factory jobs. He married in 1946 and I was born in 1955. Even with his sparse education, he was always fascinated with electronics. He began reading up on how they work and eventually started his own side business repairing TVs and radios. He would probably have made a great electrical engineer had he had the educational opportunities he provided for me.

After I was born, Dad got a job with GE in Louisville, KY, and worked there until he retired in the mid-1980’s. Shortly after retiring, he and my mom moved back to Alabama and bought a house. They lived there the rest of their lives. I just recently sold this house.

I always remember quirky things my dad liked to do. He could make a sound like a train, kind of like Johnny Cash would do when singing Folsom Prison Blues. Whenever we would be leaving his house, he would make a V symbol with each hand and shake his head like Nixon used to do. Whenever you would ask him how he was doing, he would answer, “I’m still kicking. But not too high.”

Dad liked to talk about the wonders of the Universe and the Bible. We had a number of late night talks about these topics. Many times we just said the same things we had already said before, but that was okay; we still enjoyed talking. Interestingly, Dad and I never really discussed politics too much. I don’t know why for sure. It just seemed that it didn’t come up too much.

My wife and I just saw “Lee Daniels' The Butler” at the theater last night. This was a disturbing, yet very intriguing movie. The acting was superb. Seeing how blacks were treated in this country always gets me on edge. I was thinking how my dad was raised during times of great discrimination. He even used some of the derogatory terms for blacks. But I never got the sense that he meant them in a derogatory way. They were just the terms he was familiar with. In his later years, during some of our conversations, I found that Dad had become quite the modern thinker. He didn’t think it was right to treat people badly over things they had no control over, such as their skin color or their sexuality. Given that I believed this way also, I was glad to hear he agreed with me. We were also both skeptics when it came to certain claims in the Bible.

It’s been over seven months since Dad died, and I am now getting used to the idea that he is gone. But I still sometimes wish he was around to visit and have one of those late night discussions, even if we said the same old things again.

I am skeptical about there being an afterlife and so was Dad. But if there is one, perhaps one day we can visit a few galaxies togethers and then sit down for a more informed discussion about the wonders of the Universe.

Goodbye Dad. I hope to see you again. But not too soon!

For more information about my dad, see this blog post: .


Friday, August 23, 2013

Britain from A to Z : A

During the latter half of July 2013, my wife, son, and I took a trip to Great Britain. Specifically, we visited Scotland, England, and Wales. This trip was primarily intended to be our son's college graduation gift. Andrew is a huge fan of Wales and has been studying its geography, history, and language. We debated whether to do the trip on our own or as part of a tour. Ultimately we decided on the latter and booked Icons of Britain from CIE Tours. It lasted 15 days, starting in Glasgow, Scotland, and ending in Windsor, England. Our days were jam packed with travelling and activities. While there we observed a number of interesting similarities and differences with the USA. I decided to write a series of posts discussing these, using topics that began with the letters A through Z. So, without further adieu...


In Britain, essentially everyone speaks English. Some Scottish people also speak Gaelic while some in Wales speak Welsh. For all the English speakers, there is a wide variety of accents. This is just like the USA where the people in various regions speak English with different accents. In reality you could say that the whole of the English speaking world speaks with different accents. The Scottish accent is different from the English accent which is different from the Welsh accent which is different from the American accent. There was a couple on our tour from Australia. They had yet another accent. And within these individual countries, there are regional accents. It is very interesting how different accents can be, yet still be understandable. However, there were those few cases where we met someone with such a thick accent, we could barely understand them. Our tour guide, Tom, liked to say to our tour group, which was mostly Americans, "You people are the ones with the accent." Yet I dare say that there are citizens right there in Britain whose accent would stump other lifelong citizens of the UK.