Dedicated to Duncan, Collin, and Morgan
It takes dust and imperfections in the air to make a beautiful sunset. It takes dust and imperfections in a person's soul to make a person who is beautiful in spirit. - Alan Simpson
Lessons from My Life
The Road of Discovery
While you were growing up, it was essential for me to discuss learning situations you had experienced or might encounter. As you approached adulthood, it became clear that there were not going to be enough opportunities to have those conversations. With that in mind, I decided to give the best gift I could, which is to write for you my life observations to use as a reference.
Becoming the best of friends is the key to having a long and fruitful life together.
Do not fuss and fight with one another, respect each other, and trust each other.
True love is an action and not funny feelings of puppy love. The puppy love needs to give way to love through your actions as in respect, trust, listening, and doing the simple things.
So many relationships fail because as puppy love starts to fade, the couple cannot transition into showing love by selfless action.
Love is an action word meaning doing for others.
Loving others means do the right thing when the opportunity presents itself. Smile, be a pleasant person to be around, offer assistance where it is needed, be respectful.
Childhood is such a critical time for developing the ability to learn love and to show love through action. As parents do, so does the child.
Your siblings are all going to have different life experiences from you, respect one another.
Listen to your siblings, and not at your sibling's, conversations are not, know it best contests.
Willingly come to your sibling's aid when they need help.
It is not possible to know how much a parent loves you until you become a parent.
The number one thing to keep in mind about your parents is that they are human beings with all of the feelings and emotions you have. When you treat them with anger and indifference, it hurts them.
Your parents were raised during a different time in society from you. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, the twenty to thirty-year difference in age between teenage years for parents and children represents ever-increasing societal change. The time in which your parents grew up is not better or worse, just different.
Look back two years and recognize how much knowledge you have gained in those years. Take that knowledge times ten, and you will see just how far ahead of you in learned knowledge your parents are. Respect that knowledge.
Learning the things you can change and the things you cannot change is an important step in developing maturity.
Maturity is not an act; it is a way of living. The office clown can be the most mature person in the room.
We all know people who behave as if maturity is a specific type of behavior. In the end, behavior as maturity exposes that person's lack of maturity gained through experience. Maturity comes with experience, be yourself.
End of Life
If you have never had an end-of-life conversation with a parent, you have not experienced one of the most profound bonds between parent and child.
When a parent wants to discuss their feelings about the approaching end of life, sit and listen. They need the conversation to help them put it into perspective. You will be the wiser for it.
Suddenly losing a family member or a friend can leave a person searching for a reason why. Sometimes you have to accept the fact that there is no understandable reason why.
After losing a friend or family member, people are so tied up in the busy of laying them to rest that remembering who said what and who was visiting is often lost. Once being busy is over, the person is left dealing with their feelings and memories while life returns to normal for everyone else. The time to send a card or visit is when they are feeling alone and left behind.
You do not get to say what your legacy is going to be, but you can have an effect on your legacy by the life you lead.
All too often, as life is nearing its end, people spend time and money trying to ensure their legacy. It is too late as the body of their life's work is behind them.
Money and things are nice to have but a weak foundation on which to build a life. Take note of the people around you for whom the accumulation of money and things is a priority. Notice how once a monetary goal is met, it is never enough. Life for them is a rush from goal to goal, never reaching a point of happiness and satisfaction.
Start a retirement account early, so you at least have a choice of working or retirement in your golden years.
Money is quick to spend but takes time to earn.
Pay fair market value for goods and services. A lifetime of undercutting others is in poor taste at best and harmful to people needing a fair market value for their products and services at worst.
For most people being a positive influence every day will have the most significant impact on more people than trying to do big things. Do the small things.
Too busy doing good to be good. In other words, doing good to be seen is less effective and rewarding than being good when no one is watching.
To take care of others, you must first take care of yourself both physically and mentally. Taking care of yourself does not mean be selfish; it means to give your best; you must be at your best.
People will first remember how you made them feel.
Be empathetic, listen to people, not at people.
Most people want to get things off of their chest, not have you solve their problems. Listen with understanding.
If someone asks how you're doing and you are having a bad day, say you're having a bad day. Why misstate the truth. If people cannot handle honesty, then that is their problem. Life is not perfect, kind of a waste to pretend it is.
Honesty is critical in your relationships with others.
There are times when it is necessary to withhold pieces of information for various reasons, and sometimes silence is golden, but not being deceptive is critical.
Do not pretend to be a person you are not. People will know.
Once you lose the position of being an honest person, it is tough to get back.
It is a mistake to assume you would not be in the other person's position; you have the benefit of their hindsight.
At times it is best to turn the other cheek, and at times it is best to stand your ground. Learning which action is best can take a lifetime.
Treat others as you want to be treated. We all fail at this from time to time, and when we do, it does not make us bad people. The important thing is to recognize when we fail and to use the failure for improvement.
Being humble in conversation allows us to learn from others.
It can be challenging to balance being humble with bragging during those times where we need to express our accomplishments.
Leave ego at the door. There is no room for personal growth if a person cannot learn from the people around them.
A mistake is only a waste of time if you did not learn from the experience.
We all make mistakes. If you ever wondered where older people get their wisdom, it is from a lifetime of making mistakes and learning from those mistakes.
Many people try to hide their mistakes and therefore never learn from them. They do not realize that their lack of personal growth does show. It is important that you allow others to make mistakes. They need the opportunity to learn and grow for themselves.
There is a time when receiving is equal to giving. Many people want to return a favor or give back after you have done something beneficial for them. It is ok to decline their offer politely one maybe two times, but then you must accept their offer. Their return offer means as much to them as your initial act did to you.
We live in a time where "giving" must be termed "giving back". Giving back means you are returning a gift given to you. Giving means you are using your resources to help others. Do not be shamed into calling your gift, giving back. The two actions have two different meanings.
To be a true friend, you need to be willing to offer your help on the days you would rather be doing something else. The helping role needs to go both ways to be a true friendship.
Sometimes you need to leave behind friends who only take from you, leaving you drained from the constant effort of propping them up.
As an adult, most friendships are made in college or the adult world.
It is rare for pre-college friends to remain in contact. Childhood and teenage ideals between friends have a hard time surviving the transition to adulthood.
I was reading the comments of a Stand By Me movie video clip. The ending of the movie has a significant impact on the adults that watch it. Many are melancholy over the fact that friends have come and gone. Some would have loved to have remained friends, but the friends drifted away. Others are no longer trusting enough to kindle new friendships. The following is a quote from the comments, "Adults don't do friendship well. Do they?".
Remember it is only a waste of time if you did not learn from the experience.
Never in history has so much knowledge been available to you for decision making.
Teach children how to learn, how to read, and how to problem-solve, and you have set them up for life.
Listen and read with understanding. You must understand the information and the context in which it was given before you respond. Take just a bit of time to process. Haste causes misunderstandings, thoughtfulness results in clarity.
Learning is an additive process. You do not replace what you know with something new; you add to what you know with something new.
It is important to know what you do not know.
Spend more time asking questions and listening than talking, learning something new from everyone you meet.
We all have our way of learning, pay attention to how you learn best, and apply that when you need to learn new things.
Not a defect
• A difference in personality is not a personal defect.
• A difference in income level is not a personal defect.
• A difference in education level is not a personal defect.
• A difference in job position is not a personal defect.
• A difference in upbringing is not a personal defect.
• A difference in a person's race is not a personal defect.
These differences are the most extraordinary of things, being human.
Another of the most human of things is to use those and other differences to elevate oneself to a level of self-importance over others. Perhaps, just perhaps the real defect lies in self-importance.
Being a member of a group or organization has its benefits.
It is essential to maintain independent thinking and avoid joining group-think.
Being a participant in group-think narrows a person's view of the world. Members of the group begin to feel that their group is special in some way. They begin to interact differently with people outside of the group, usually in a negative manner. Groups exist in many different forms socioeconomic, workplace, religious, charity, etc. and they all can form the belief that they are special to the rest of society and begin to behave that way.
Being a Leader
You may find yourself becoming the unintentional leader.
A leader is a person who lifts the people around themselves; leadership does not require being in charge.
Many times people who are authentic and caring become unofficial leaders at work or in their peer group.
A leader is not there to tell people what to do. A leader is there to give direction to the people in their department. To provide the tools necessary for the people in their department to accomplish the task at hand.
While the principles of leadership can be taught in a classroom, effective leadership can only be exercised by truly believing in and living those principles.
Think back to a favorite supportive teacher or a favorite supportive boss. You most likely cannot name anything specific that person did to make them a favorite. When done properly results of true servant leadership are essentially hidden. A servant leader is not imposing themselves on others but is teaching others how to grow and develop themselves. This style of leadership does not leave behind a trail of bread crumbs leading back to the servant leader. Rather than looking for accolades, the servant leader takes satisfaction in observing the growth of the people around them.
Do your best work, not for your employer, not for your customer but for yourself.
Many people look at a job as if they work for the company and the company is in control, but you don't work for the company, you are working for yourself. What you have done is make a contract with the company to trade your skills and your knowledge for their pay and compensation package. That puts you back in control or at least a level playing field and not the company. If you look at it as a two-way contract, then any future company that you may contract with, the control will always belong to you and not the company.
People will value their own work over the work of others.
At the time of this writing, Americans define success by the acquisition of wealth and material goods. Being wealthy is not a defect on its own; it is the life lived on the way to becoming wealthy that is important. Too many Americans tend to pay no attention to what they are doing to others in their quest for "success."
It appears from observation when the goal is wealth as each level of becoming wealthy becomes achieved, it is never enough. Wealth achievers being less satisfied with life than people who put more effort into living a life doing their best and of sharing with others.
Respect your children.
It doesn't matter what else is going on; you always have time to be a parent. The most important job you will ever have once you have children.
If you do not have children being a good role model for others children is the most important job you will ever have.
Listen to your children when they want to talk; it is critical to understanding who they are.
Your children cannot make the same decisions as yourself. They lack the benefit of your years of hindsight. The best you can do is share your years of learning and explain the reason why you think a decision should be made a certain way.
When your children are young, get down on their level when you talk to them.
As your children reach into their teenage years your role changes to being a life coach. You are calling plays from the sideline, while they are playing the game of life.
Hug your children, they need it.
Be supportive of your children, not critical of them.
You are not responsible for the actions of your ancestors. They lived in a time and place different than your own.
History is filtered by time. Every generation between you and the events of history adds its filter to the interpretation of events.
Remember, you are a witness to the history of your time. Your interpretation of what you have witnessed is how you will pass history to future generations. Other people are going to have a different understanding of events than you. When you see the differences, then you begin to understand why history is not set in stone.
Understanding how the government interacts with citizens is concerning to many people, explaining why arguments get so heated.
Family bonds are far more important than arguments over politics.
Politics does not bring families closer together, but arguments over politics can tear families apart.
It is said that discretion is the better part of valor; in the same vein, discretion is the better part of politics. Knowing when and where to discuss politics is critical to happy families, strong friendships, and peaceful work environments.
Recognize that life experience will change your view of politics.
Our family has had the unfortunate experience of losing a family member, Helen, to a drunk driver. The "killer" of Helen did not set out to kill her that day, but the effects of him drinking too much were that they met in a head-on car crash on a lonely West Texas highway.
I cannot stress enough that the downsides of drinking too much alcohol can be the death of one or more people.
Watch a video of a drunk driver being arrested and ask yourself if that is something you would want to experience.
You have a choice; choose wisely.
There I sigh. Did I put everything I wanted to say into this labor of love, or did I leave something important out? My goal has not been to tell you how to live life. Life is to be lived by the individual, each having their own experiences. My goal is to give a foundation for you to reference and on which to build. In the end, people do not remember how much money you had; they remember how you lived your life and how you made them feel. Your legacy is not built in a day. It is built in a lifetime. Learn from my journey as you create your own.
The best way to learn the art of conversation is to sit down and talk to an elderly man or woman who is well past having anything to prove in life.
This country has a disease. The inability to have a conversation without one-upmanship. The insane desire to prove you know more about everything than the other person.
The wise person knows what they do not know, admits it, and tries to find answers. The wise person admits to making mistakes and uses the mistakes for learning. The weak-minded person pretends to know they have all the answers and stops learning. The weak-minded person does not admit to making mistakes and, therefore, does not use mistakes to increase their knowledge. Be a wise person.
When people talk past each other, they miss the opportunity to learn that they may have shared experiences. Unnecessary barriers can be removed if people try to get to know the people around them. For that to take place, the inane desire to project the perfect life has to be overcome.
I think the only way to save the country is to get these young generations hooked on classic rock.
Some days when raising your children, you ask yourself if you are doing enough are you doing the right things? Can you do better in a world competing with you for your children? Some days you are worn out from the worry of it all.
If people do not wish to share in the privilege of your struggles, then why on God's green earth would you give them the honor of sharing in your triumphs.
Typically when I am in conversation with someone going through hard times, I tell them it is ok to cry. I am learning a lesson I need to remember. My own family consists of members who do not easily cry, and they do not voluntarily talk about their experiences. So I need to change my approach to the issue of releasing steam or pent-up emotions.
My new offering of comfort is this. It is ok to cry, and it is ok not to cry. It is ok to talk, and it is ok not to talk. Find your way of releasing pent-up emotions before they get out of control. The most important thing is not letting emotions build as it has a debilitating effect on your mental health and physical health.
The Christmas we get we deserve. It is a season of peace, secular and religious. Do not let worldly wants take that away.
People have a strange way of placing value. A person will spend $80 for a meal that soon will be gone but will be unwilling to pay fair market value for a $30 tool they will use for many years.
It's so much easier to help someone else reason things out than to reason things out for yourself. When you help someone else, it is easier to see the big picture and, therefore, easier to help them chart a course towards whatever destination they are looking to find.
Thankful that my children have managed to stay on an even keel growing up in a world where quite frankly, they should just bury their heads in the sand and do nothing. They are bombarded every day with reasons why if they believe one way, the left says they are haters. On the right, if they decide not to join the military, law enforcement, or firefighting, then they are not honorable. To these ends, I am telling the world just to shut up. Leave my children alone. I don't do it to your children; you don't do it to mine.
Teenagers need workplace mentors
If your companies business model includes the hiring of teenagers, your managers have the responsibility of being mentors. For many teenagers, this is their first job. They do not know what is expected of them in the workplace. Unfortunately, for many teenagers, their first work experience is working for managers that are poorly trained and do not care about the personal growth of their teenage employees.
36 years of success
I sit at the computer writing my feelings and reflections on what close to thirty-six years of a labor of love means to me. I get overwhelmed by the sheer variety of products manufactured by our shop and myself.
The shop succeeded in every way in its mission of meeting or exceeding the expectations of our customers with exceeding customer expectations the rule, not the exception. I can count on one finger in the last 10 to 15 years that a project left the shop that was not up to customer expectations and, on the one hand, in the entirety of the shop, the number of times we did not meet expectations. How is that possible. The answer is our pride in our work. Customer satisfaction was a personal challenge. Total embarrassment in not sending out our best was a powerful motivator.
Equal to the pride in workmanship was the commitment to honesty and integrity and our willingness to help other companies when they were in a bind. There was a day when those attributes were recognized and rewarded by the customers we served. I am proud to say that as the business world has changed to focus on the bottom line, we remained loyal to those people and companies that gave us great service. We valued customer service from our suppliers as a critical part of the supply chain
In the late 1980's Precision Pattern an aircraft interiors company dad had worked for six to seven years earlier, called us to see if we could help build small assemblies. After dad had a meeting with them and agreed to help, the owner asked him if he was setting another competitor. Dad replied he was not, and on a handshake, we began a long term relationship with Precision Pattern that embodies the best in supplier – customer relationships. A relationship built on trust and cooperation. There were not many customer relationships after Precision Pattern built on those ideals as hard as we tried from our side of the relationship to do so. Our stated goal, "Our greatest pride is in the quality we put into every project we start and the interest we take in the success of our customers," could not dent the barriers put up by other companies. Barriers, I believe, were put in place by people who were/are ignorant of the importance of cooperation and trust in the success of a project.
Dad and I talked about all of the different kinds of products we were involved in over a thirty-six-year span. The journey includes but is not limited to the following custom office furnishings, composite aircraft cabinetry, high gloss finishing on aircraft cabinetry, work on presidential aircraft, plastic vacuum forming, cnc machining, laser engraving, solid modeling, 3D printing. No other business in the area has the depth of experience as our shop had. Experience gained out of necessity and curiosity.
I contend that Design Manufacturers Inc.'s roots reach into the mid-1960's when Dad started working at Baldwin Piano Company first as an instructor and subsequently as a plant supervisor. Baldwin is where he began learning manufacturing processes. It amused me when people would come into the shop assuming that the little business had limited knowledge outside of a small shop.
I begin the process of selling the shop's equipment and asked myself what does that mean? It means a chapter of my life is closing. A chapter that makes me proud. A chapter full of laughter, tears, good times, and bad times is coming to a close. A father and son story which should be the envy of every son who left home and never fully got to know their dad.
What is the future? The answer is I do not know. Is there a place for a middle-aged man who has the shops 36 years' worth of experience has also taken the time to study people, business, companies, leadership, marketing, sales, HR, continuous improvement, etc.?
Dad said it best in a conversation that there is no one more experienced and well rounded who understands the overall picture of how the pieces of a business need to fit together. Essentially a person who does not need to be the top dog as it were but is comfortable behind the scenes playing a supporting role. Perhaps just perhaps.
Tribute to my dad and what he accomplished so many years ago.
If you will recall in 1964, the national civil rights legislation had been passed. The integration of schools and the workplace had just begun. Mississippi and its delta country were playing a significant roll in the racial tensions of the time. Extremists in the delta on both sides of the racial divide were trying to stir up trouble between the white and black populations in the delta town of Greenwood.
It is with that as a backdrop that in 1965 a man from Oklahoma packed up his family and moved to the Mississippi Delta to begin a new job training employees at a piano manufacturing plant. Within months of starting his new job setting up the training classroom, the manager of the mill room had health-related issues and was unable to work. The company reassigned the man to manage the mill room, beginning a seven-year odyssey of successfully supervising in a majority of the plants manufacturing operations.
We must look to the man's upbringing to understand how he was able to supervise a mixed-race workforce in an environment of racial tension. Growing up in Northeastern Oklahoma, he was a part of the melting pot of white and the native tribes such as the Quapaw, Wyandot, Miami. The hardscrabble country life of the 1930s and '40s brought the people together. His father was a good friend to the native Americans and would often attend their celebrations. This melting pot environment formed the ideal that we are all in this together, and that ideal carried forward into his adulthood.
Two main forces were working to upset the workers at the Baldwin factory. Extreme members of the civil rights movement were attempting to stir up discontent within the factory, and extremist white groups, including the KKK were using intimidation tactics against the factory managers because they were integrating the factory's workforce. Including blowing up the mailbox of the man and his family as a form of intimidation.
What kind of magic allowed the man to succeed despite the turmoil of the Mississippi Delta in the 1960s? In a way, it is a fundamental concept. He did not see the workforce as interracial but as a team that had a job to be done. Everyone needed to perform the task assigned to them. As such, he treated the workers as individuals and with respect. He worked with everyone to solve problems.
In retrospect, three items come to the forefront that allowed him to work in such a manner, his upbringing, he was an outsider to the racial issues of the delta, and a natural ability to work with people. He was rewarded with respect inside the factory and outside the factory by the people he managed. He often would be greeted by his black workers while out shopping or running errands. No small feat considering the time and the place.
The Long Lasting Benefits of Providing Assistance
Dad just called to tell me about something that happened at the lumberyard. He said a guy walked up to him and asked him if he was Dallas Simpson. Dad responded, yes. The guy proceeded to tell him, you don’t know me, but years ago, I came to your shop and asked if I could sand a tabletop. He said he was surprised when dad let him use our equipment to sand his top. He told dad, I thought that was awfully nice of you and wanted you to know.
Dad asked me if I remembered him, but I really did not. Being helpful to people was just par for the course for us. It is how we lived and worked then and now.
The moral of the story is sometimes doing the right thing can leave an impression on someone. You never know when and how long the impact will last
My Journey of Family Discovery
Prologue: I moved to Kansas at the age of nine years from Greenwood, Mississippi. Not knowing anything about Kansas, my learning about the state and its history was from a distinctly Kansas point of view. That history included the early struggles of Kansas territory and eventual statehood. The struggle between the factions of free state and pro-slavery. While learning of the "Bleeding Kansas" period up through the civil war and the violence committed on both sides of the divide, the education tilted towards the Kansas free state as the good and the Missouri pro-slavery as bad and, therefore, the listing of atrocities was one-sided.
It was during genealogy research being carried out by my sister that the first hints of my ancestors being swept into the Kansas – Missouri troubles. The first hints were that my third great grandfather Benjamin Franklin Simpson had been bushwhacked. Slowly the details as much as we could find were unveiled. Benjamin was a farmer and a horse trader by profession. As the story has developed, he was intercepted in Bates county, Missouri, on January 1, 1862, not far from his home with a number of his horses by what is known as Jayhawkers from Kansas. Although there is no eyewitness account of what took place during that confrontation, the consensus has been he refused to hand over his horses and was subsequently taken captive. He was not listed as a member of any pro-slavery groups, or militia's in the area, which goes along with the reputation of this group of Jayhawkers as being nothing more than a roving gang of ruffians who plundered and murdered. On January 2, 1862, he and a Mr. Grosshart, along with a possible third gentleman, were led into an open field approximately one mile north of the town of Dayton and executed by firing squad. This details the brutal ending for Benjamin and the beginning of great hardship for my third great grandmother Mildred (Millie) Simpson and children.
Two years later, Millie and family were forced from their home due to a pro-Union decree known as General Order Number 11. This decree forced the residents of Bates and surrounding counties to leave their homes. As part of the decree, the residents of the area were made to declare where their allegiance lies, with the Union or the Confederacy. I can imagine after the murder of her husband two years earlier by pro-Union forces, she replied to hell with you. Millie and family packed their wagon and returned to the old homestead in Kentucky. In 1871 Millie and a portion of her children returned to the homestead in Bates County. They returned to a farmhouse and buildings completely destroyed by the Union soldiers. Millie proceeded to have the farm rebuilt and even expanded. She was a much-respected member of the community and was mourned by many upon her death in 1901.
Events as they Happened:
My journey of family discovery begins 200 miles away from the location of the events of 1862 in central Kansas. Haunted by the direction my family history was heading, my desire to see the sites where my family had experienced so much pain had taken place was ever-growing. I began to read all of the documents I had at hand, looking for every available detail. These documents, along with online maps, helped me pinpoint the field in which Benjamin's life so brutally ended. The location of Benjamin's grave was already known to me as my sister had visited his grave and Millie's grave a year before. I still did not know the location of the family homestead, but I was confident looking through the records located at the museum in Bates County. I would be able to find its location.
My wife and I left for my journey of family discovery on a sunny Friday morning as fate would have it my wife's extended family live in and around Harrisonville a simple twenty-minute drive from Dayton and as it turned out the family homestead. The journey to my wife's aunt's house in Harrisonville was uneventful, but a feeling was creeping over me. A feeling best described as a sense of foreboding. I did my best to shake the feeling, but it followed me for the rest of the day even as we arrived at our weekend destination.
Saturday morning, getting ready for the day, the sense of foreboding had dissipated. After breakfast, we climbed into the car for the short drive to the Bates County Museum. The countryside and miles to the museum passed quickly through the windshield. A sense of sadness fell over me like a blanket. Arriving at the museum, we made a donation and were greeted by a museum volunteer. The volunteer assisted us in viewing the various Bates County books and documents dating from the period that Millie had returned from Kentucky and rebuilt the homestead. We compared the layout from the old maps with modern maps of the area and were able to determine the exact location of the old family farm. This realization brought another wave of sadness coursing through me.
As we drove the last mile down the gravel road towards our goal of the old family homestead, anticipation was building at what we might find. Would the old rebuilt house still be standing, maybe an original barn? We came to a stop on the road in front of what I had so long wanted to see, the old Simpson homestead. I stared across the plowed field, and much to my disappointment in the one hundred and forty-five year history of the rebuilt farm, the original house and farm buildings had been replaced. As I stared in disappointment, a fog began to appear across the landscape. Through the fog, I could just see a two-story plain white farmhouse. Outside of the farmhouse, I could start to make out the shapes of people moving about. A woman holding a toddler was standing just outside the front door. Several children appeared to be carrying clothing and furnishings from the house to a farm wagon. To the left of the family, activity appeared to be mounted soldiers dressed in blue watching and not offering to assist the family as they struggled to load the household furnishings. I strained my eyes to see faces, but the fog obscured the detail I so dearly wanted to see. I could feel the anger, the fear, the frustration of having yet one more indignity forced upon a family who only two short years before had lost a loving father to the bullets of a rogue firing squad. The image of the family forced to load their worldly possessions slowly faded away and was replaced by the smoldering ruins of the house and outbuildings. I could smell the unmistakable odor of burning wood and grass. My wife must have touched my arm as I became aware of the shining sun and a farm consisting of a modern house and buildings. After a few moments, we started towards the next destination in my family history quest, my mind trying to process the images that had appeared before me.
The gates of Crescent Hill Cemetery, our third stop on my journey of family discovery, appeared on our right. We pulled inside the gates and stopped for a moment, not realizing just how large the cemetery was going to be. We had an idea of where the grave we were in search of would be located. My sister had explained that the grave was located to the left of the entrance in an older part of the cemetery. Her information helped put us in the general location of the grave. It had taken ten or fifteen minutes of searching before my wife called to me, letting me know she had found it. I hurried over to the headstone she was pointing at and was barely able to make out the name as it was covered with lichen, and a hundred and twenty years of weather had softened its features. Standing there was as close to Mildred (Millie) Covington Simpson as I had ever been. I knelt to photograph the headstone when I began to feel a warm glow surrounding me. The glow turned into a feeling that yes, this was the woman who had endured so much—yet returned to her Missouri homestead, becoming a much respected and admired member of the community. I settled in to focus on getting my picture of the headstone when behind the tombstone, a figure began to appear. It was a woman in Victorian dress forming before my eyes. I struggled to see a face once again, but the image dissipated before her features were distinguishable. Shaking my head as I refocused on the headstone, I muttered to myself, boy. You are going crazy.
On the highway, we were fast approaching stop number four on my journey. Stop four being the field where Benjamin's last minutes on earth were spent. After such an intense discovery journey to that point, I was a bit apprehensive visiting the field. We turned left onto a small lane that marked the southern boundary of shall I say killing field. As we approached the end of the lane, we discovered at its end was a farmhouse and buildings. Feeling a bit sheepish, I turned the car around so as not to alarm the current owners of the farm. Pulling even with the farmhouse, the familiar fog from earlier in the day began to settle. This time I was startled to see I was not viewing the field from inside the car but appeared to be viewing the field from behind the house. It occurred to me that I was standing in the spot where young Henry Ferrell is described to have witnessed the murder of three men. I began to be aware of the movement of soldiers or perhaps vigilantes in blue uniforms, moving around myself and in the field. A shiver ran up my spine. I watched as three men my third great grandfather included were led onto the field. Desperately I strained to see his face but once again was denied. A group in blue uniforms formed a line and raised their rifles. Just as I heard the roar of the guns, I was back in the car, my heart pounding. Deciding it was time to remove myself from such an unpleasant situation, I drove us to the entrance of the lane.
It was only a mile from the killing field to the last stop on my family journey
of discovery. It felt a little strange pulling into the Dayton Cemetery entrance as it is directly beside someone's residence. Fortunately, it had a rather long lane to the cemetery proper, giving some separation from the back of the house. Once again, my sister had given us the approximate location of the grave. I parked the car and began the search for the final resting place of my third great grandfather Benjamin Simpson. Not knowing what the headstone looked like, the search lasted a few minutes. We found his headstone next Mr. Grosshart, who had perished with him that fateful day. Fresh from my experience at the killing field, things felt relatively normal. We had a hard time reading the inscription at the bottom of the headstone, so we made a tracing. It was when I stepped back to photograph the tombstone that the now-familiar sensation of things are not normal began. I focused on the headstone, and once again, an apparition began to form behind the headstone. This time it was in the form of what appeared to be a middle-aged man. His clothing was distinctly mid eighteen hundred. I looked at his face, but it was being kept from me as if on purpose. I almost screamed aloud. Let me see your face. The apparition raised his arm and pointed a finger at me. I heard a soft voice, practically a whisper in my head. The voice said, grandson, you must tell the story of what happened here. The family needs to know their history. I blinked, and he was gone. Shaken, I completed photographing the headstone. Being thoroughly exhausted from the day's journey, I headed for the car.
Legend of the Horse Thief
Horse Thief Canyon a timeless place of wonder, a place of mystery. A phenomenon experienced by my wife and me on a late fall afternoon. We were out on one of our photography expeditions looking to capture the rugged beauty of the canyon. It was walking the trail into the canyon that we first experienced the sound of the slow shuffling of a weary horse and the creaking of leather as if a grim faced rider a horse thief perhaps had turned and was looking back over his shoulder. We paused and looked around. There was not a horse and rider to be seen. We shrugged our shoulders and continued down the well beaten path.
As the mouth of the canyon narrowed, and the steep walls climbed high above us, we began to have the sensation of being watched by the eyes of beings filled with distrust. Where were they watching us from, that dark cave, from behind large boulders in the distance, no, perhaps from the high on the ledges of the canyon? The more we moved forward, the more intense the feeling became. We decided to ignore our feelings, and I concentrated on my photography.
We approached the back of the canyon, there was no way forward but to climb the steep trail to the top. Standing at the foot of the trail, we once again heard the shuffling of a weary horse. The sound stopped as it approached the canyon wall. Then we hear the creak of saddle leather and the clomp of a boot hitting the dusty ground. Suddenly wind rushes down the canyon floor, and within the sound of the wind is the sound of many hooves clattering straight towards us. Just as quickly as the wind had arrived, it dissipated, and all was quiet once again. Suddenly it dawns on me. We are hearing the echoes of a distant past, of a time when a lonely tired horse thief was cornered in the back of the canyon to met his demise.
Not wanting to hear any more, we climbed the steep trail up the canyon wall and made our escape. We walked the trail along the rim of the canyon, slowly losing the creepy feeling that just moments ago had invaded our very being. The sun was lowering in the skies, and the shadows were growing deep. Ahead was a small trail we followed to a rocky overlook. As I was getting ready to photograph the rough and tumble walls across the canyon, We began to feel we were not alone. A small sensation at first, but then the feeling started to grow stronger. A vision of proud warriors guarding the canyon on the ledges high above the canyon floor began to cloud our thoughts. At once, we understood these ghostly warriors of old were still standing sentry, guarding their families against the dangers that existed many generations ago. A time when the canyon was pristine and devoid of the generations of names and dates carved into the sandstone walls by many modern visitors.
We continued the climb up through the tall prairie grass that grew along the sandy trail. The late afternoon sun brings a welcoming, peaceful relief. Up ahead, just cresting the high point of the trail, I photograph a grandmother and grandson out on a late afternoon nature walk. We wondered aloud did they experience mysterious haunting sounds and feelings or was that left for people like us who wonder about the old west and the old ways.
Driving away, We agreed that yes, the legend of Horse Thief canyon was, in fact, real.
Recently, I felt the need to add more images of Horse Thief Canyon to my portfolio. It was early fall, and the weatherman had forecast a sun filled Sunday all the previous week. From the moment we left town to head for the canyon, we knew that sunshine was not going to be had that morning. In order to give the morning sun a chance to lighten the surrounding gloom, we slowed the pace of our trip. It was still dark and gloomy as we arrived at the canyon parking area. I knew to get good images on such a day was going to be a challenge, but we pressed ahead.
After the climb up the first hill leading to the canyon, we discovered an uncomfortable truth. Spiders had stretched their webs across the trail from the bushes and tall grass on either side, hoping to catch one last meal before the insects disappeared until spring. Adding to the gloom of the morning, the presence of the spiders and their webs gave an increasing sense of foreboding. Finding a long stick, we did our best to move forward, clearing some webs and ducking under others. The spiders and their webs became further and further apart as we approached the mouth of the canyon. This was a good thing for our peace of mind, but on the other hand, it meant they were harder to spot and much easier to walk into, which did happen on occasion.
Walking the trail into the canyon, we listened intently for the sounds of a shuffling horse and rider. To our relief, we heard none. Perhaps a person only hears the lonesome weary horse thief in the late afternoon as the shadows in the canyon grow deep. The time of day, he was entering the last desperate phase of his wild ride for life.
I began to concentrate on finding photographs to take in the gloom of the morning. On one such opportunity, as I lifted the camera to take a picture, I heard a giggle in the breeze. I knew we were the only ones on the trail, so I just shrugged it off. Then I heard a rustling in the grass and another giggle. Something rushed past me and tugged at my pant leg. I looked around but saw nothing. It was just a rabbit, I thought.
Karla asked me if I was hearing giggling in the breeze. I said yes but could not find an answer to it. As we moved deeper into the canyon, the giggling continued with occasional tugging on the pants leg and tapping on the shoulder. Standing among the large boulders bordering the trail I began capturing images of graffiti from generations past carved into the canyons walls. I felt a tap on my head. I looked up as quickly as I could and glimpsed a shape moving past with great speed. The form looked familiar, but I could not place it.
We continued along the trail that morning. I looked for picture taking opportunities and enduring the occasional giggle, pull, and tap. We finally reached the trail head after a long hike into and out of the canyon. I glanced at the familiar shape of the two creatures cut from sheet metal and affixed to the two large rocks at either side of the trail's entrance. At once realizing that these are not just sculptures but living images of tricksters who play tricks on travelers hiking through the canyon. Smiling, I knew this trickster had met his match.
It was the third of June
I leaned back in my uncomfortable office chair, the furnace of summer beginning to crank out its first hot, muggy days of the season. I glanced out the window to the blue skies dotted with white puffy clouds. For reasons I cannot explain, the skies of early summer bring a flood of nostalgia for the carefree days of my youth. Tawny, our tan border collie curled up beside me and closed her eyes. Such a peaceful scene, I muttered to myself, knowing full well that I was sorting through the pieces of a stomach-churning puzzle life had placed before me. I took a sip of coffee, reached for the volume, and turned up the music. It was then I leaned back, closed my eyes, and began to contemplate the challenge presented to me by friends and family.
You should be a writer, they said. I ran that thought through my head, what on gods green earth do I know about writing? Do I have anything of interest to write about?
My mind began to drift to summers spent reading my favorite books, The Hardy Boys, The Three Investigators, amongst others that had me dreaming of solving mysteries. Louis L'amour westerns kindled my dreams of roaming the old west. On one occasion, my sister had checked out The Amityville Horror. A book that caused me several sleepless nights. Dad had a knack for finding good spy novels, and I would raid his book pile from time to time. I checked out numerous books on how to make this and that. Looking back, I did not miss anything by growing up without a television.
Opening my eyes, I returned to the challenge at hand. I keep a personal online blog, the blog is open for individuals to read, but the thoughts are my mine recorded for my reference. For some time, I have considered turning my thoughts into a series of short stories. With that thought in mind, I decided a change in music was needed. Turning on The Carpenters Greatest Hits, memories of being a teenager in the late seventies and early eighties tried to form but soon disappear, leaving a feeling of emptiness.
Sighing, I get up from the computer, real-life such as the stress of ongoing life-changing events and hoping the air conditioner will continue to run until the repairman returns with the new part weighs heavy on this hot and muggy third of June.
Leaning back in my chair my fingers intertwined, I glance in the mirror above my desk and see the spinning of the ceiling fan sighing, I searched my brain for the words I so long to write. The soft music of the 1970s playing in my headphones causes my mind to drift backward in time to a life journey five decades in the making. How do I take that journey and put the lessons learned into a useful reference? I grimace as I take a sip of my now cold coffee. Perhaps brewing a fresh cup will jog some words loose, so I head for the kitchen.
Returning to my desk with my now steaming cup of coffee, I place the headphones on my head just as Same Old Lang Syne by Dan Fogelberg begins to play. The song is a favorite and always fills me with melancholy. The story of two old friends having a chance meeting on a snowy Christmas Eve in a grocery store and they're reminiscing about the years gone by since their last meeting always pulls me into a place of what-ifs. The different paths they had taken since they had lost touch with one another a perfect reminder that life is a one time experience, and there are no do-overs. I wonder at times if a long-ago friend or acquaintance will pop into my life. Should old acquaintance be forgotten, and never thought upon, same auld lang syne.
Searching YouTube for music to set the writing mood, I run across a three-hour video titled "Listening to Classical Music Increases Your I.Q.". Being in my fifties, and skeptical that anything could increase my intelligence at this age, I decide to give it a try. As is usual with me and classical music, about 15 minutes of orchestral monotony is about all I can take. Not feeling the slightest bit more intelligent, yawning, and trying to keep my eyes open, I begin a new search for music. Remembering I have not listened to gypsy jazz in a long time, I do a quick search. Clicking on what I hope will fill my desire for the right mood music, the upbeat sounds of the gypsy violin fill my headphones. Immediately my yawning stops, and I feel ever so slightly more intelligent.
Feeling the cool early morning breeze blowing through the window, I almost fall for mother nature sending a cold front tricking everyone into thinking cool weather is just around the corner when it is still weeks and weeks away. Trying to shake myself out of my creative funk, I scan a list of leadership videos looking for new favorite speakers. Seeing a new video on servant leadership, I decide to click on it. I have a belief in servant leadership.
Moving on to a video interview with my long time favorite leadership guru, I click play. The last question is asked, what he would have done differently in his career, in trying to answer, he flips the inquiry into what it is all about. The wisdom that comes forth is very enlightening. The last words he speaks before the very end of the video sum it all up and could not have been expressed better by anyone, "caring about people, what's to lose and everything to gain."
Outside the brief respite from the dog days of summer, a gift from the rapidly departing cold front has gone, and the humid days of late summer have returned. Reluctantly I close the window until the next cold front blows through. A familiar tune begins to play in my headphones, "Those Were The Days," a haunting song about life with a Russian melody. My mind struggles to reach through the decades and experience the days of young adulthood when it seemed the good times would never end. I try my best to capture the anything is possible feeling, but the intervening decades of learning cannot be unlearned and have placed a barrier that cannot be crossed. My oh my those were the days.
Putting thoughts to paper is about five minutes of typing, followed by long stretches of wandering mindlessly through every topic my brain can conjure up. The hours are filled with hot then cold cups of coffee. Getting the munchies is not uncommon. With that backdrop, I open the refrigerator door hoping for that perfect writing snack. I don't see a whole lot that would constitute the appropriate snack. My eyes come to rest on the french fries from last night's supper. I grab a few french fries and pop them into my mouth. My immediate thought is not only no, but dang, no cold french fries are not an appropriate writing snack. Properly chastised, I return to my desk.
After several months of "writers block" I sit once again at the computer surrounded by the soft glow of the Christmas tree. The year has been such that the ghosts of Christmases past, present, and future are haunting me.
Christmases past had been a mix of good times and tough economic times. During the tough times, I discovered the holiday season is a season of peace at its core and not a quest for perfect gifts. I decided that the Christmas you get is the Christmas you deserve, meaning if you embrace the true Christmas spirit of peace on earth and goodwill towards men, the holiday season can be free of stress.
Christmas present is the first Christmas since closing our small shop after 30 plus years of business. This Christmas is also the last Christmas of having a child in the local school district. Mom and dad are very close to being empty nesters. I have had to lean on my "the Christmas you get is the Christmas you deserve" mantra more than ever this holiday season.
Christmas future is a mystery wrapped in a shroud of dense fog. After so many years of doing your own thing, it can take a long time to craft a new future. I have not yet decided what that future is going to be. Sighing, I click print on my unfinished reference to give printed copies to the kids on Christmas.
Pulling back the shades, I look out upon a world gray with the moody clouds of winter, covered in a day's old coating of snow. The near zero cold seeping through the window pane makes me shiver. This dismal setting reminds of the sad but beautiful song Eleanor Rigby written by Paul McCartney. I can imagine it set in the doldrums of winter. The lyrics are set to the haunting sounds of a stringed orchestra. In just a few short lines of the song, McCartney captures the lonely life of two individuals.
The main protagonist of the song is a lonely woman who is cleaning a church after a wedding. Wearing makeup, she waits lonely at the window. The song asks who the makeup is for. The second protagonist is the father of the church. He spends his time writing sermons for church meetings that no one attends. Why does he care the song asks.
The lonely woman dies, and her name is buried with her. No one attends the funeral officiated by the father. The result of no one attending the funeral is the father is unable to save any souls.
The song wants you to look at the lonely people and ask where they come from and where they belong. I am amazed when such young songwriters can craft a song that touches so many hearts. The older a person gets, the more meaning the song has. It is from such a melancholy mood that writing inspiration can spring forth.
As you research songs, you find a fair number that the meaning as written does not match how the listeners interpret the song. I recently discovered one of my favorite songs, Rainy Day People by Gordon Lightfoot is one such song.
Most people, including myself, interpret the song as rainy day people are the opposite of fair-weather friends. Friends who are there through thick and thin. From the liner note for the song, "It's about a person waiting for a relationship to end so that they can move in."
My suggestion when it comes to listening to music is to find your meaning in the song. Do not spend time trying to find out what the writer was trying to impart; ignorance is bliss, as they say.
Copyright Alan Simpson
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