A man I know passed away last week after bravely battling a terrible illness. I met Tom in 2020 when I joined the local Educational Service Center board and we became colleagues.
He was always quick with a joke, eager to put a newcomer at ease, and a smart man who was respectful of others. He liked to travel and learn. His wife Fannie also attends our meetings and is a kind soul. The two seemed perfectly matched.
But that’s the end of what I knew about Tom till I read his obituary and learned things that made me wish I had asked more questions while he was living.
Tom was a fan of lifelong learning, a Scout leader and a Sunday school teacher. He was a longtime Civil War reenactor and lifelong history buff. He enjoyed the outdoors, gardening and yard sales. Tom was an inventor who made an ice cream machine that operated by pedaling a bicycle. He even built a 1965 Plymouth from the frame up.
I always liked Tom but had no idea he was such a character. Old photos in a slideshow projected on the wall played while we waited in line. If I didn’t know it by then, it was clear that Tom packed as much living into his life as he possibly could.
I had a newfound appreciation for Tom’s zest for life.
It made me a little sad to think of all the great learning I missed out on because I knew none of this. Of course, when getting to know someone, you don’t know what you don’t know and have to rely on them to give you some clues. I suppose that’s why we often learn so much about people from their obituaries.
As I looked at Tom’s wife and son, their family and so many friends lined up to say farewell, I started thinking about how Tom left a mark on us all. Every person there knew Tom for a different reason and everyone had different stories to share. Every one of us is richer for knowing him.
Later in the evening I strolled through the holiday lights at the Gallipolis City Park and stopped to visit the war memorial. I’m typically so taken with the statue above me that I fail to notice much else.
But on this night I saw the face of the soldier reflected in the marble wall of names below. It made me pause.
It occurred to me that something of Tom is reflected in everyone fortunate to know him. It’s nice to think that humans can live on through the influences we have on others. I won’t soon forget Tom or the lessons learned during the brief time we knew each other.
One of those lessons is to do a better job listening and paying attention so I can learn something I never knew I wanted to know.
Earlier this year, a very large metal object destroyed one of my car tires. I was in need of tires anyway and found myself sitting in the waiting room of the only tire shop in the area with four of my required tires in stock.
What could have been a mundane two hour wait turned out to be one of the most interesting experiences of my life.
I had brought some work to do so I simply nodded and smiled toward the other person in the waiting room – an elderly man who was fiddling with his phone. I settled into my work until he struck up a conversation, something or other about patience, waiting and how his career had kept him busy.
Being me, I couldn’t resist asking what he did and was delighted at the stories that followed.
He was retired Air Force and had once overseen the mechanics who worked on all the planes that fly in and out of an Rickenbacker Airport here in Ohio. Before that, his career took him all over the world, including to a hot spot in the Middle East where he planned the air strip and all the necessary buildings and plane parking necessary for American aircraft to efficiently fly in and out.
He has been to all fifty states and all but six countries. He has lived in many. Rather than just visit, he preferred to stay for a few months, make friends and really learn the culture. His favorite place is the South of France.
His career took him all over but he had a true passion for travel so he leveraged his Air Force benefits to travel even more.
He shared with me two lessons.
1. Travel as much as you can when you’re young enough to enjoy it. He said “don’t wait till you’re old and have bad knees like me. You’ll regret it because you won’t be able to enjoy walking around and won’t have the stamina to see what’s around the block.”
2. When you get a pay increase or any kind of windfall, save as much as you can, but don’t deny yourself travel money. See lesson #1 above.
Before leaving, he looked me square in the eye and said “go see as much of the country or the rest of the world as you can. If you like to travel, and you clearly do, you’ll never regret a single dollar you spend.”
I was delighted by this exchange and was a little sad to see him go but I went back to my work and reveled in the chat with my new friend and enabler.
A few minutes passed before a Hispanic man joined me in the waiting room. We smiled and nodded and sat in silence until an elderly woman named Victoria joined us. She was watching the news on television and asked if I knew anything about the story that was playing. She had missed the beginning.
It was about issues refugees are facing at a border crossing somewhere. I knew nothing about it but the man looked up and made eye contact. So I asked him and he shared a few things that he knew about it.
This led to a conversation about how scary it would be to leave everything you know to journey far to a strange land with an uncertain future for yourself and your family. How bad is life where you live that this kind of drastic move would seem like a good idea?
I will stop here to say that he spoke great English but with an accent. He occasionally used the wrong word or tense but these mistakes were no worse than any of the botched English I’ve heard from Ohio natives.
He seemed kind and open to conversation. It’s a good thing too because Victoria and I had many questions.
We asked him how long he has been in this country, how he found Chillicothe, if people are nice, does he like it here? He answered all of our prying questions both thoughtfully and patiently. He came to America legally when he was a young man. I suspect he was a migrant farm worker for some time because he said he traveled for work at first. He is a contractor by trade and is proud of his children. His youngest was to graduate high school soon and he mentioned a son who has a good job with a prosperous local employee.
He loves Chillicothe because people treat him well. It’s safe to walk down the street and people are friendly. They wave. He has a successful business and his family is very happy.
The conversation eventually turned to Victoria, a retiree who enjoys traveling and who has found the pandemic trying. She worked for a big employer in the area until it changed hands several years ago. She was in her early sixties with one eye on retirement a little later down the road. New management forced her into early retirement because she didn’t have a college degree. Never mind she had been doing her job for over forty years and could work circles around whatever young college graduate they got to replace her for a fraction of her salary.
At first, she wasn’t happy to be retired. In fact, she was kind of bitter. But then she realized she had time to travel and to do as she pleases.
She shared that she is single and childless. “I almost married a guy once but I dodged a bullet there. He was a jerk,” she exclaimed.
She talked about her wonderful life, friends, and saving money. She also talked about traveling and doing the things that make your life full and worth living.
Life lessons from Victoria:
1.”Never let anyone make you feel bad for being single or for not having kids,” she said. “Their choices don’t have to be your choices.”
2. Travel all you can, take up hobbies, fill your time with things that will make you smarter and happier. “Say YES as much as you can. By saying yes, you’re taking action.”
And just as suddenly as she arrived and sparked an amazing conversation, she was gone. Her headlight was repaired and Victoria was off, presumably on another adventure.
The gentleman and I continued our conversation with him showing me pictures and videos of recently completed jobs. He does remodeling work like kitchens and bathrooms. He also builds porches and decks and shared a video of a simply beautiful series of decks he built at a local home.
Here’s what I learned from him.
1. Love the work you do. He loves his job because he makes people smile when they get their dream kitchen or when he helps them select just the right shower tile. There’s meaning to each project, a deadline and sense of completion. You spend a lot of time at work so it’s best to be good at your job and to find it fulfilling.
2. Don’t listen to the pundits on television who tell you what to think about immigrants. Instead, sit down and talk to someone. Learn their history and why they chose to live where they do. Are their neighbors nice to them? Is there really such a great divide in this country? This guy loves his town more than most American born people and I found that inspiring.
My two hour new set of tires gave me much food for thought and made me think about people and the lessons we learn from them. Sometimes the people we cross paths with out in the world can teach us great lessons. Sometimes the lesson is in how not to treat people. Sometimes the lessons are substantial and life changing.
The lessons I learned that day were not new to me. Save, travel, engage with people who are different than you, and never let judgement of others wreck your life – these are things I already knew.
All the same, it’s nice when life hands you a refresher course when you least expect and maybe most need to hear it.
Yesterday was epic. I didn’t travel far or do anything expensive. Instead, I spent the day being a tourist in my own backyard in nearby Chillicothe, Ohio.
The truth is, I didn’t actually do anything I had planned. The original plan was to go for a walk, hit a car show and eat Donato’s plant based pizza at the park.
None of this actually happened.
The lovely thing about solo adventures is there’s no one to complain when you go off script. What’s even better is that off script is often where the magic happens.
I started my day at Adena Mansion and Gardens, the historic home of Thomas Worthington. He was Ohio’s sixth governor, a founding father of Ohio who did so many things in his lifetime that he and his home will require their own story this week.
Ten dollars buys you a guided tour of the home, admission to a museum and access to explore the grounds. Here you’ll learn about life in Ohio when the state was young, about the life and career of this important figure in our history, and about others like Tecumseh and Henry Clay who visited here.
After that I hit up downtown Chillicothe which has experienced a rebirth in recent years. There are several nice specialty shops and restaurants here and the business community has done a great job of advocating for themselves. They have made improvements in the historic downtown and worked hard to draw in visitors who have money.
Downtown was busy as there were a couple of events in town and some stores were taking advantage of the extra foot traffic with sales. I don’t enjoy crowds so I didn’t dwell here but having live music was pretty cool
I had lunch at Carl’s Townhouse which is a 1939 era dinner that began life at the New York World’s Fair. A quick grilled cheese and fries were just the ticket to provide sustenance for the rest of my day.
Then it was a stroll down the street to Apollo Records where I chatted with the owner about the Flying Burrito Brothers and an amazing up and coming artist named Charlie Crockett. I found a great vintage Aretha Franklin album and a Roseanne Cash that I didn’t know but literally purchased for the cool cover art.
Then it was up the street to Grandpa Joe’s Candy Store for a cold drink and dessert before heading to WheatberryBooks for a new title and a chat with the clerk. She was excited about the Wendell Berry book I had chosen. Wheatberry is a small independent bookstore but their shelves are lined with all the books I either own or want to own. They even have a robust section for kids. Here’s something I once wrote on Wheatberry.
After that, it was a stroll through Yoctangee Park to see the swans, geese and ducks. I followed the sound of music to the ice cream truck because it was hot and humid and everyone’s a kid when the ice cream truck is nearby!
Afterward, it was a quick browse through Chillicothe Antique Emporium where I located a bargain and chatted with the owner about the old time soda fountain he assembled and added to his store. He collected the various pieces over time and from places as far away as Georgia. It is well done and you can sit for a cold drink, some ice cream or fresh popcorn! Click here for something I once wrote about that place.
Chillicothe has a lot of history and there’s much more than you can accomplish in a day. Hopewell Culture National Historical Park is an interesting stop to learn about the mound builders of this region. It has become internationally renowned and we are lucky to have it. In the summer, the outdoor drama Tecumseh tells the story of the Shawnee Chief who promoted intertribal unity to push back against the US Expansion into tribal lands.
Chillicothe has carved out a place for itself for specialty interests. The bookstore and record shop are practically unicorns in this day and age but there are other specialties. There’s an old school bike shop, a music store, a stained glass shop, a dojo and a place that specializes in aromatherapy. Plus antiques, clothing boutiques and a place where you can buy specialty toy soldiers designed for the serious collector. There is literally something for everyone in a tidy space along downtown streets lined with some very cool architecture. There’s even a great bike path and tons more to see and do than you can fit into a day.
Along the way yesterday, I had meaningful conversations with people who I never imagined I needed to meet. My Adena docent was fantastic and I met two retirees on my tour who I could have chatted with for hours. They didn’t bat an eyelash when I struck up a conversation and, as it turns out, they were open to talk about topics that I’ve never quite been comfortable discussing with my own friends.
It was an enriching and rewarding day, not necessarily for what I did so much as who I met along the way. More on that soon. For now, know this: the price of admission will get you into a place. The act of learning comes from talking to people about things that are new to you, talking to people about things that are important to them, talking to people about things that enlighten you.
Always, always, always be open to hearing someone else’s perspective.
Check back this week for stories about yesterday including more on Thomas Worthington and his Adena.
The local library here hosted a Pysanky workshop this weekend. This is a Ukrainian egg decorating technique that uses dye and wax. They tend to use traditional folk designs that are intricate and colorful.
Our instructor has 39 years of experience with this mind boggling art form because her Ukrainian grandmothers taught her beginning at a young age. Her skills and patience are admirable.
We were first given egg shapes on paper to sketch our designs in pencil. Crayons were used to experiment with the palette and inspiration came from books and an assortment of eggs she had on display. Once we had our ideas together, we chose an egg and were armed with a lit candle, block of wax and a little tool used to draw on the egg with the wax.
Given my obsession with sunflowers last summer, it was logical to do something with a sunflower pattern. Not only is the sunflower the national flower of Ukraine, it’s a captivating example of how imperfections can be beautiful. I strolled through three sunflower fields last summer and my favorite flowers were the ones that were flawed.
Here’s my egg.
It is incredibly flawed and the sunflower imperfect but I’m still quite proud of how it turned out. I love the palette I chose and the design too. The execution leaves a lot to be desired as working with wax on a real egg shell is one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done.
All the same, I managed to get it done and had fun in the process. It now is in a place of honor on my bookshelf, a pretty reminder that enjoying the creative process can be as rewarding as the outcome. Also a reminder that perfection is overrated and that imperfections can be beautiful.
I suspect and hope that this was not my last attempt. I will count on trying it again someday.
Several days ago, I wrote about the National Comedy Center and how I didn’t especially enjoy it. I’ve noticed a recent trend in conversations both on and offline that are reminiscent of the philosophy behind this museum.
The Comedy Center uses artificial intelligence to show visitors comedy they will find appealing based on their individual tastes. This is accomplished through a kiosk where visitors create a comedy ID by selecting the comics, actors, tv shows, movies, comic strips, etc. that the visitor enjoys.
Some of the choices seemed rather obscure to me. Some looked like things I might enjoy or want to learn about. Some of the older choices made me wonder how familiar the average guest is with their work. Would a young person enjoy Charlie Chaplin if they were exposed to his brand of entertainment? What trendy podcast might I enjoy if I ever heard it?
The point is that our tastes are developed based on what we believe is the best of what we already know. Unfortunately, we don’t know what we don’t know and, at a museum kiosk, may discount something we would enjoy because we aren’t familiar with it. This skews the formula used to entertain us.
Is this why I went to this museum? To see more of the same stuff I know I’ll like? I actually went hoping to expand my horizons and maybe find some new laughs rather than view a greatest hits of material already in my consciousness. The museum areas where I discovered new stuff were the ones where I didn’t scan my ID. Scanning that ID was a guarantee that I would be shown clips of things I already like.
Instead of expanding my horizons, it felt like this place limited mine.
It probably sounds like I’m picking on the Comedy Center and that’s not the intent. After all, it is a beautiful space with some great stuff and that embraces technology in a truly unique way. It would just be nice to see them help visitors embrace something new.
This isn’t the only place I’ve had these thoughts lately. I belong to a few book clubs on Facebook where I’m noticing a similar trend. Members will post requests for recommendations that are prefaced by a phrase like ” I only read historical fiction” or they only read a certain author or won’t read nonfiction at all. They read a book they liked and want to read another one just like it.
This always catches my eye because it’s so far removed from my own way of thinking. You bet I’ll obsess over the work of a single author if it’s good. However, I read a lot of other things too.
It’s wonderful to be passionate about something but life would be awfully dull if we just stuck with what we already know. Personally, I’m interested in most everything and don’t want to limit myself to just the comedians I already like or the books I’m sure will please.
Maybe I’m the weird one but it’s just such a big world out there – I can’t imagine not wanting to explore it.
What are your thoughts? I would love to hear them!
Do you know the name William H. Pitsenbarger? He’s the young guy pictured above, the good looking kid who looks like he’s barely old enough to vote. If you don’t know about him you should because his is an inspiring story of selflessness and heroism.
He was a US Air Force Pararescueman who flew on more than 250 missions during the Vietnam War, helping scores of downed soldiers and pilots.
On one of his best known missions, he hung from an HH-43 Huskie helicopter’s cable to rescue a wounded South Vietnamese soldier from a burning minefield. This action earned him the Airman’s Medal and the Republic of Vietnam’s Medal of Military Merit and Gallantry Cross with Bronze Palm.
On April 11, 1966, he was sent into a battle near Cam My to extract wounded Army members. He attended to wounded on the ground and helped six men be lifted into two helicopters by cable. Those choppers flew wounded men to a nearby aid station but took on small arms fire when they returned for a second load. One damaged chopper sent a basket down for Pitsenbarger but he waved them off, instead choosing to stay and help the wounded Charlie Company, gather ammunition from the dead, and improvise splints and stretchers from vines and trees to help the wounded.
And when necessary, he picked up a rifle, helping to hold off the Viet Cong. He died by sniper fire that night. When his body was recovered the following day, he was still clutching a medic kit and a rifle.
While the 21 year old did not live to see the sun rise over a new day, the military says that sixty others did because of his courageous actions.
One of the reasons places like the National Museum of the US Air Force means so much to me is that they help keep alive stories that would otherwise be lost to time.
The museum tells his story with photos, a short video, the written word and some of the young Airman’s possessions and they do it beautifully. It was meaningful enough to me that I wanted to tell you about him.
Anyone who would wave off a chopper to safety in favor of staying with a unit that was pinned down and in grave danger doesn’t do that sort of thing to have their picture in a museum. But having a display dedicated to his actions is a reminder of the brave sacrifices made by countless young men in Vietnam. It’s a poignant reminder that life isn’t fair and that young men, even the brave and strong, too often don’t come home from war.
It’s also a subtle reminder of those who did make it home but who brought with them emotional baggage far heavier than the weapons and ammo they carried through the jungles of that place so far away.
This story, if told in a school text book would have a picture of a guy in uniform next to a story that basically says “there was a battle and people got hurt and this guy went in to save them. He died. The end.”
There was so much more to Airman Pitsenbarger. He was an only child who wanted to be a Green Beret when he was a high school junior. His parents wouldn’t give permission for their underaged son to join the Army. His pals called him Pits. His birthday was July 8, 1944.
Airman First Class Pitsenbarger was from Piqua, Ohio and he volunteered for the very dangerous pararescue work. He volunteered to go to Vietnam. He volunteered to stay when he knew his odds of survival were slim.
Had he lived, Pits would be 76 years old today. He might’ve had grandkids sitting on his knee at this very moment. Instead, he was posthumously promoted to Staff Sargent and awarded the Air Force Cross even though his superiors put in for the Medal Of Honor. It took another 35 years before his family and other Airmen looked on as that original award was upgraded to the Medal of Honor.
A movie was made about him and released in January. Perhaps you’ve seen it? I have not. It’s called “The Last Full Measure.”
His story is still taught to Air Force trainees and I hope that never changes. If you go to the Air Force Museum, look him up and watch his video. Look at his things and say his name as you hope that someday young people can stop dying in wars.