Saturday, May 30, 2015

Is Intelligent Conversation Dead?

I put a post up on my Facebook page the other day and I received several comments telling me they love to engage in intelligent conversation! One friend, Deborah Roberts posted, "I totally rock on a stimulating convo. I find it completely absorbing to find a conversationalist who keeps my interest piqued and my brain engaged. Talk with me about my favorite things and we could go for days. …"

Another person Shared my post and wrote, "But its so rare. We have gotten to the point that if we dont agree then we cant be friends. Its BS"

To which the person who Shared it, replied, "True Buck, plus it is harder all the time to find an intelligent conversationist."

I replied, "It's too bad you guys feel that way because I get into intelligent conversations all the time and they can last for hours! I met a friend on Facebook and one day we talked on FaceTime for six hours and the time flew by. The very next day we talked for four hours! We talk on FaceTime all the time. Whenever I talk to a friend from the past we can talk for hours and the time flies by! I'm convinced you get out of anything what you put into it. It's all about your attitude. I run into people all the time who want to talk to me and we can talk for 15, 20 minutes or longer before they have to go. I had this conversation with my acupuncturist last week, and he didn't want to leave. He had patients to go to, but he said, "It's you Mike, people are interested in what you have to say and they want to share what they have to say. You're willing to listen and its conversations like this that makes you fun to be around." It was spontaneous and I'll see him again on Monday and we won't want to end our conversation again. Just sayin'!"

The interesting thing about these two who were putting down my post was their grammar and spelling was terrible. I am sure they did not think of thing about what they were writing!

Here is my post:

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My contention is that anyone will get back what he or she puts in to something. I can tell you story after story after story about how I get into live, telephone, Facebook, FaceTime and Skype conversations that can last for hours.

My first FaceTime intelligent conversation was with a woman I had never met, Laurie Thiboutot and I chatted for six hours the first day and had another intelligent conversation for four hours the second day. Her husband, Peter came by several times and introduced himself and got so enticed by all the time Laurie was having fun on FaceTime and all of the other activities she was doing with Facebook, he decided to join himself. Now, they are both on Facebook and I FaceTime with him as well! I have never met either one of them and we carry on great, intelligent conversations!

If you read my last post when I talked about my Uncle Bob and how he liked to tell stories you know whenever he would tell stories, I got a few of mine in as well.

I believe I got my storytelling abilities from both sides of my family. The Smith side came from Bob, his uncles and father, and I would have loved to have heard my maternal great-grandfather, William Young tell stories. Unfortunately, he died three years after I was born. There are some incredible stories from him my uncles have told me about how he used to tell living through and after the Great Depression.

Here is a photograph of him in his liquor store that was adjacent to his barbershop which had a back room and high-stakes poker games took place after hours and the windows were covered with black sheets so no one could see the games that involved high stakes as deeds to farms. Grandpa Young took home several of those deeds and gave one to each of his children. That is how my maternal grandmother, Erma got the farm Uncle Bob owns now!
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My Patrick side of the family had great uncle Stanley. He used to tell me incredibly detailed stories about how he accumulated farms during the Great Depression and never admitted to it, but he was also a great beneficiary of the Great Depression because he knew how to play the system.

Here is a wonderful photograph of my paternal grandfather, Benjamin (far right) going from right to left in the lower row were my great-grandmother, Mabel, then my great-grandfather Thomas and lastly, Stanley. The back row from right to left are Hazel, Mabel, then Florence and Alice. The children are all in birth order.

This is a very large photograph. If you decide to enlarge it, be prepared to wait a while because of its size:

My grandfather, Ben was killed by lightning in 1942. He was only thirty-seven years old! My great Uncle Stanley used to tell me incredibly detailed stories. His goal was to live to be one hundred. He reached that goal and three weeks later passed away. He had reached his goal and it was if it was time for him to join the rest of his family.

I can only guess he got his storytelling abilities from his father, Charles! I wish I could have listened to stories my grandfather Ben would have had. I'm sure great-grandfather Tom would have been quite a storyteller in his day as well.

Like I said earlier, I get my storytelling abilities from both sides of my family. I have tried to carry on a tradition I love to tell. As many of you know, I tell stories that can last for quite some time; just like this blog post!

I look forward to your comments.



Monday, May 25, 2015

My Uncle Bob

By the time many of you will read this the Memorial Day parades will be over, the speeches will have been given, the memorials at the cemeteries will have been concluded including the twenty-one gun salutes, President Obama will have visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and all that will be left is the fireworks tonight.

However, I want to write my own special tribute which will be different than all the ones people are writing about their tributes to veterans and current military personnel and tell you about one special veteran to me.

My mom is the oldest of ten children. Her seven brothers all served in the military and deserve our thanks for their service. Between the seven of them, they have served a total of eighty-three years, which I think is extraordinary for one family!

Uncle Bob has served the most with twenty-six years of Naval experience. He retired as a Lieutenant Commander from the Civil Engineering Corporation (CEC) United States Navy, which if I understood him correctly is an E8 which is one step short of an E9 and that is as high as a noncommissioned officer can get in the Navy. After he reads this, he will probably call me and correct me on that point!

I spoke with his wife, Linda, who is in their home in Gulfport, Mississippi, and a good friend and fellow Navy veteran, Joe Ruffino and Bob yesterday for over three hours to get a few stories correct about his assignments. I enjoyed our conversations and learned a lot from different perspectives from all three individuals.

I want to start off by showing you this picture of Bob painting the barn he is restoring at the family farm. He promised his father, Joe Smith, he would restore the barn one day and for the last several years he is turning the barn into a hunting lodge for the annual pilgrimage of many family members to his own private game preserve. He has turned the one hundred sixty acre quarter section of land into his own private pheasant hunting paradise. It is also home to deer, wild turkeys, and who knows what other wildlife occupies his little corner of the world? This picture was taken in 2007.

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When I talked to him yesterday, he was in a store buying supplies for the project he is working on this summer. He has planted several apple trees and had taken the protective barrier fence from around the trees to keep them from the deer eating the apples and branches. He had trimmed around the bases of the trees, sprayed some Roundup to kill the thistles and was in the process of replacing the fencing with new, higher fencing.

He also told me about a wealthy, retired professor from Brookings who had been driving by his farm and was interested in buying it. He liked what Bob had done in making it a small, private game reserve. He wanted to know what Bob wanted to sell the farm.

Bob told him the farm was not for sale. The gentleman then pulled his checkbook out, laid it down on the hood of the truck and said, "Everything is for sale for the right price."

Bob said in so many words, "I told my father I would never sell this farm as long as I'm alive. So, you can put your checkbook back in your pocket and leave my property."

The farm is not for sale!

He has also rented the house, which he had my second cousin from my other side of the family do some renovations preparing for new tenants who will be moving in to the farmhouse July first. He told me Jeremy had the house looking better than it has in many years! It made me feel good to know Jeremy Patrick has learned well from his father, Dale who taught him how to do construction and remodeling work. Working with your hands to build or repair something is a skill I really miss. 

He gave me some details I only had sketchy memories of his involvement in the 6.2 earthquake in Managua, Nicaragua on December 23, 1972. At the time of the quake, he was stationed in Santa Domingo, Dominican Republic working with three other men and four bulldozers. Within 24 hours of the quake, they got a call to take the bulldozers to Managua to make mass graves and move earth around to help in the massive cleanup after the complete devastation.

They did not have visas to travel to Nicaragua. The State Department rushed their visas through and later that day they made their first mass grave with roughly six thousand Nicaraguan citizens as night fell. Bob told me to a the hardest things about making the graves were keeping the grieving people out of the graves who wanted to identify their loved ones before they were covered up and dodging his own people who were spreading fifty pound bags of lime over layers of bodies to help them decompose faster and keep the stench down.

I will never forget on Christmas 1973 as my dad and I were preparing to go to Berkeley in a few days, we had Christmas dinner for my grandpa and a couple of my mom's brothers. Bob and I were talking in the kitchen and he talked about what he was doing a year ago on Christmas day. I will never forget him telling about being in Managua and the tasks they were assigned to do when he started to cry just a little bit.

I remember thinking how horrible it must have been for my big, strong uncle Bob and how that must have affected him to the point where he shed a tear over what he was doing the year before. It could not have been easy to have spent the time they did in Nicaragua.

I asked him about when he was born and where. He told me Grandma and Grandpa moved to the farm in November 1943. He was born in the hospital in Hendricks, Minnesota, which was less than twenty miles away on January 24, 1944. Although, he likes to tell the story how he was born in the farmhouse and dropped on his head before he hit the ground! He had a nice chuckle after he told that story!

Bob served two tours of duty in Vietnam. The first tour he was in country for nine months. Home for three months, and back for six more when he got a call from the State Department that his mother had died and he was able to go home for the funeral.

There is one more a story I want tell you about his experience in Vietnam. They had reports of a tiger that had attacked and dragged off into the jungle a Marine. Without thinking about their own safety and well-being, they want to look for this tiger. They found him in a cave and shot him. Inside the cave where remains of several smaller people and two larger ones complete with fatigues and boots, as well as two sets of dog tags!

I can only assume the tiger had gone mad with the effects of napalm and Agent Orange  and losing his habitat to the constant shelling of his hunting area, which drove him to seek human prey. That tiger was not only going crazy, but hungry as well!

I want to end this very long post with a picture of why I love to go to the farm when Bob is there. This was taken several years ago one summer when he was up there planting trees. My mom and I were at the annual Pioneer Days celebration in White and we went out to the farm to spend some time with Bob and listen to a few stories.

As always, click on the image to make it larger:

I know I have made this a long post. However, I believe my uncle Bob at 71 deserves for me to tell some of his story. After my conversations yesterday, I could have written a lot more. However, I will stop now and let you enjoy the rest of your Memorial Day!

God bless America and all the people who have fought and died for our rights to live in the greatest democracy the world is never known. Remember people, our country and the principles it was built on has never been tried and worked before. The United States of America is an experiment and we the people are making it work! That is exciting to think about!

I look forward to your comments.



Friday, May 15, 2015

On Monday I Chatted With Tuesday

I had an interesting experience on Monday with my Facebook friend, Di Niven who lives in Invercargill, New Zealand. Invercargill is a small city of about fifty thousand people and is one of the southernmost communities in the world.

We chatted back and forth over a period of a couple hours and at one point I asked her if she was getting tired because it was 6:50 PM here and it must be getting late there.

She replied, it was not late at night there, but rather 10:50 AM Tuesday morning. That struck me as rather peculiar that I was indeed chatting with someone halfway around the world and at the same time we were communicating it was two different days!

I understand how the world turns and time zones are different everywhere. However, I had never had the actual experience of communicating with someone on a different day. It seemed odd for me and has taken me all week to figure out exactly what I was going to write about my experience with my friend Di who I will never meet, probably never hear because there is a large fee to use Skype for her and International phone calls of any length get to be expensive even with free minutes.

I gave her my website so she could listen to my accent on the videos I have plus the television interview from several years ago; however, even though we communicated for several hours off and on, I will probably never know what her accent is like.

Here is a picture from her Facebook page and after our conversation she went around and Liked several entries on my Facebook page. It was if our conversation gave her permission to browse my site.

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I thought that was a stunning image of someone with a very beautiful heart and well-nourished soul.

We had carried on a brief friendship with short chats here and there and comments over posts and pictures we liked over the last year and a half; however, I believe our long distance conversation took our friendship to a new level.

She asked questions about my accident and wondered how I dealt with all of the issues I need to deal with on a daily basis. Our conversation took us to many different subjects and spiritual levels. When she commented one time about my spiritual strength in dealing with the issues I have to deal with, I replied, "It takes one to know one."

As a grandmother living in an incredibly remote part of the world with grandchildren literally everywhere, she deals with issues of the heart and spirit I could never imagine. She occasionally comes to the United States and visits Virginia where her son-in-law is in the military. She told me her daughter gave birth to her grandson not long ago and soon she plans to travel to Virginia.

Maybe we will get an opportunity to Skype then and I can hear her accent, which is very curious to me.

Here is another photograph of grandma Di:

 Again, click on the image to enlarge it:

Technology is always changing and allowing people to communicate instantly from around the world as evidenced by my conversation with my friend, Di. The change that goes with that constantly amazes me.

I am never short of meeting new people. In fact, for those of you that know me, you know I am a fairly outgoing person. (That is the understatement of the year!) The interesting thing about meeting new people is learning about them and their stories. As a professional speaker, I meet new people all the time. I am often the last person to leave a conference, office or school at the end of my day.

I find it happening all the time when people will delay going someplace even when they are in a hurry because they are comfortable talking to me. I had that happen yesterday with my acupuncturist, Bob Decker. I made that comment to him, as he was getting ready to leave to see other patients in another clinic. Bob said, "It's you Mike. You draw that out in people. You make people want to talk to you because you have something to say, and people enjoy listening to you as much as you enjoy listening to them."

Bob and I have great conversations before he needles me up because after I get an acupuncture treatment, I am pretty useless and can barely carry on a conversation! However, I did yesterday! By the time I got home yesterday, I was pretty calm and relaxed so I leaned back in my chair and took another twenty-minute nap after he had just given me one during my acupuncture treatment. I swear sometimes he never leaves the room when I get my treatments because I fall asleep so quickly after he leaves the room and have conditioned myself to wake up about two minutes before he walks in the room and twenty minutes just flew by.

I am convinced we all get back what we give out. Maybe that is why my conversation with my new friend was so meaningful to me? I am sure I will find out someday soon.

I look forward to your comments.



Saturday, May 9, 2015

How I Learned Racism

I learned about racism at an early age in a Red and White World living on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in north-central South Dakota when I was five, six, seven and shortly after my eighth birthday, we moved to Edgerton, Minnesota.

I have been a gym rat since I was old enough to dribble a basketball because my father coached high school basketball until I was ten years old living in Edgerton.

Here is a photograph when I was five with my Dad's A Squad and I was the mascot for the McLaughlin Mighty Midgets:

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When Dad found out he was not going to be returning to coach and teach in his hometown of White, South Dakota, he took the job as a high school teacher and assistant football coach, track and cross country and A Squad basketball coach. We were moving to town number five and I was five years old! We packed up the trailer house and moved three hundred miles to the reservation.

Since we knew we were moving and McLaughlin did not have kindergarten, I went to kindergarten in White when I was four. Since I was too young to go to first grade, I had to wait a year before I started school. Living on the reservation taught me many lessons about how the Sioux Indians were being systematically discriminated against.

Dad was building an athletic program and many Indians were excellent athletes and thrived under his tutelage. Art Taken Alive (number 30 in this picture) was probably the best of the group that came along in the next two years following this year.

I learned tolerance, acceptance, understanding and bigotry from the white population in McLaughlin.

Our family was growing and halfway through our second year in McLaughlin we bought a new trailer house that had an extension to double the space of our living room and faced the street where we watched in fear one night as a drunken Indian murder his wife with a bottle! I will never forget the fear we experienced that night.

My dad had to be hospitalized in the middle of a basketball season for several days with pneumonia. One of his players, Willard Male Bear ran home several miles after school one day, got a quarter and ran back. He went to the local pharmacy, bought a get-well card for his coach, brought it up to the hospital and the nurse in charge would not let him into the hospital to give Dad the card.

However, she did come to the high school basketball game that night, cheer on the Midgets and Willard had a great game! That was simply the way it was done on the Res'!

The last year we lived in McLaughlin, one Saturday morning after a basketball game the night before, he held my hand and we walked up to the corner, took a right and walked to the Post Office on the other end of the block. Partway down the street was the City Hall, and Police Station. As we neared the building several of the "Good Old Boys" were standing outside with an effigy of my father hanging in front of them! Dad told me not to look at it and we walked right on by. Needless to say, we took a different route home!

The Chief of Police was one of them, and he had a racket going! Our trailers were on the back half of the main highway and Main Street along with a small hotel, large warehouse and large brick church at the other end of the block. He owned everything but the church land.

He would make wine in the basement of his warehouse, sell it to the Indians on Friday to get them drunk and disorderly, throw them in jail on a Friday night and have them sweep Main Street on Saturday morning and then release them. It was probably the only night of the week many of the Indians had a dry bed to sleep on and a roof over their head. 

My dad's contract was not renewed for the fourth year because he asked for a $500 raise to make his salary commensurate with his contemporaries in the area, to bring it to $6,000. Remember, he was building a program and beginning to see some success as his mile relay team won the state championship for the first time a state championship had been won by a McLaughlin team in any sport!

Here is a picture of his cross-country team. Notice the number of Indian kids on his squad:

Again, click on the image to make it larger:

I think you get my point about how my understanding started to develop about racism and the exploitation I saw at an early age. 

As we grew as a family, and Dad continued to get better jobs, in Edgerton, Minnesota, Sibley, Iowa and eventually Worthington I continued to learn about the benefits of diversity within our own household and school.

When we moved to Worthington, we had an apartment in the front half of our basement with full egress windows, large bedroom, and a large kitchen and living room area. Dad always had his athletes living in that apartment with the mistaken assumption he could keep an eye on them! He was only thirty-four when he took that job and should have remembered you cannot keep an eye on teenagers and their testosterone!

We had Willard Male Bear's younger brother, Duane Thundershield staying with us. We also had four young men from the Bahamas one year. One of them competed in the 100-yard dash and a relay for the Bahamas in the 1976 Olympics.

We had a young, black boxer from Iowa, Johnny Boutchee who took care of my little sisters after my accident. In 2002, I ran into him in a school in Mankato, Minnesota where he was a janitor. Of course he remembered Tammy and Mom sent him a copy of my "Lead Now" which I wrote a chapter in and Tammy's, "The White Album" which he enjoyed immensely after helping raise her for a good part of first three months after my accident!

We also had a Vietnam vet and two of my uncles, Ed Smith stayed with us for one year and his younger brother, Terry stayed with us for two years while he attended the junior college. Shortly after finishing his AA degree and my accident, Terry enlisted in the Air Force.

Now, for the real capper on my experience of living with diversity, I moved to Berkeley and learned all kinds of things I never would have learned had I stayed in Worthington or gone to Marshall for their program that specialized in helping students with disabilities transition into college life. I visited the school one day, talked to a counselor and asked her for "fair weather schools" and she gave me four schools in Arizona and three schools in California. That was how I got to Berkeley.

I tell people the second best experience in my life was moving to Berkeley. They ultimately ask, "What was the first?"

My reply is always, "Coming home!" I needed Berkeley at the time. However, I needed to go home more so I could watch my little brother, Chad grow up! I could not do that from that distance.

I am a strong believer in lifetime learning and try to practice it every day. With the diverse group of personal care attendants (PCA's) constantly coming through my apartment and helping me, I see a very wide variety of people. The diversity is incredible, and it is not always in a good way!

As always, I look forward to your comments.