Celebrating a half century of true love

As appearing in the Niagara Gazette and the Lockport Union Sun and Journal

8/11/2019

Last Friday, my wife Donna and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary.

A half-century ago, we were a pair of young, clueless kids. We went out into the world with everything we owned in the back of a Volkswagon “beetle” and drove 500 miles from home to establish a life of our own in Newport, Rhode Island. If it weren’t for wedding presents, we wouldn’t have had enough money for gas to get to Newport, which was my ship’s home port while I was in the Navy.

We first moved into a fleabag motel. Living there depleted our funds quickly so we scoured want ads in the local papers, looking for a cheap apartment. We didn’t have much money but we had our love to keep us going.

Then a shipboard buddy told us about some inexpensive apartments in Fall River, Massachusetts, just across the state line. We moved into this welfare development where your rent was based on your income. I was earning $64 a month back then. Our rent was $32 a month. Fortunately our rent included the heat and electricity. After I paid the rent, I had $8 a week left over for our phone bill, food, gasoline and auto insurance. Heaven forbid my car would break down. All the money we had left from our wedding went into cheap, pressed wood furniture. We still have some of that furniture today.

We were living without the benefit of family nearby so we had no safety net and we had to do whatever it took on our own to survive. We learned more about self-dependence than we had ever known. It made us reliant on each other.

I was proud of Donna the first time I went to sea. She didn’t go home to her parents. The apartment we shared was now home to her, and with the help of a few friends who were close to us, she was able to stay in our place. I am thankful to our next door neighbors, Millie and her family, for helping Donna out. Tony, Millie’s youngest, would spend more time at our house than his own keeping Donna company.

One of my friends, Cole, a bosun’s mate and mountain of a man, would check in on her to see if she was OK during my absences and if she needed anything.

The neighbors would share their food with us and showed us how to apply for a monthly allotment of surplus food that the state gave to low income people. Every month we would have a food exchange in the common area of the complex. We would meet up with whatever free food we didn’t want and swap it for food we did.

It was during this time we had two of our children. How crazy were we to do this? I don’t know. We figured, “How expensive would it be to have children?” Of course, this was in the days of cloth diapers, rubber pants and diaper pails.

As I look back on those times, I have to wonder just how we made it. Foolish as we were, we managed to survive. We were from the generation that believed when you made a promise, you kept it.

I think often about how much in love we were. How our marriage was made stronger by having to make it on our own in the early years. How we couldn’t run home to our parents when we had differences of opinion. How I learned the four phrases that helped keep us together: “Yes dear,” “You are right,” “I understand,” and most importantly, “I love you.”

Now, 50 years later, I think about all the problems we overcame together, standing back to back with our guns drawn, ready to take on whatever came at us.

I now send my wife a cheesy text every morning, professing my love for her to make her smile and to let her know that I am thinking about her. I also try to keep fresh flowers in the house just because. She is the best thing that ever happened to me and I love her with all my soul.

The first time I saw her, my heart whispered “That’s the one.” Imagining my life without her is impossible and I am so lucky to be able to spend my life with her.

Norb Rug is a writer from Lockport. His email is nrug@juno.com where he welcomes comments

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Old Age

I thought I would feel completely different about growing older. I thought I’d worry more about getting gray hair and the spare tire that would collect around my stomach after I had retired than I have. As I begin my 70’s, I can’t muster more than a shrug about any of those things. MEH. Last I remember I was in my 20’s so I don’t know where the last 50 years went. Instead, what I find terrifying about getting older is that I’ve totally lost the capability to comprehend what people do and why they do it.

Up until recently, more recently than I really want to confess, I didn’t know what a meme was. I had to look memes up on the internet to find out what they were and I am not really sure I understand what they are yet. It was around last week Monday, when I decided to dig deep down into my own oblivion to write this piece, that I discovered that Drake is not just a male duck.

I need a good strong drink and a  to reduce my stress every time I need to remember a password. I have trouble using the 4 remotes that control my TV that my 7 year old grandsons can use in their sleep. Remotes are bad enough. I see you can now turn your lights on and off, luck and unlock your doors and adjust your thermostat with your smart phone. I just want to make a phone call!

I also have no idea how to use Snapchat, WhatsAPP, Tumbler or Venmo, whatever those are. I have a Facebook account, mainly because I want to let people how things are going, to see how they are doing, find recipes and to promote my writing. I have a Twitter account that I only use to stay in touch with a granddaughter who is now going to school out of state.

I’m hearing that cutting back on social media is starting to be trendy, so I might just find out that I am, for one brief second accidentally on-point. We will see how long that lasts. What should I do now? Try to close up the void between the generations, or should I embrace it?

A few years ago, when I first started to sense a technological gap opening up between me and the youth, I tended to enjoy it, much like an old person who’s reached that spot in life where it’s perfectly acceptable for me to dismiss all new music as racket or trip a passerby with my cane just because.

People in a few generations behind me are now becoming parents and CEOs, and I am becoming exactly what I’ve spent the last 40 years accusing my elders of being, angrily befuddled by every new skill needed to get by in life. Give me a smart phone and strand me in a desert and I’ll most likely die there.

When I was in school, “pop culture” just seemed like a course you took for the easy credits not something that was fun, but I did pay attention because it was fun. Part of the charm of becoming an adult was that I could stop working on the oppressively boring task of having to remember trigonometry, history and the periodic table.

Now, though, it turns out that there’s even more for me to try and jam into my brain. The problem is I’ve been in an elective, educational coma for few decades, having reached my interest in modern culture. I don’t know how many Kardashians there are, nor do I care. Just the thought of trying to catch up on everything I’ve missed now is exhausting.

I’m a member of a generation that can remember a time before texting and email and chat rooms. I learned these things in slowly during my 40s, and it wasn’t a problem. I scoffed at, and even felt bad for, anyone who was older and said that they weren’t prepared to try new stuff.

We have a very negative stereotype of people in thier 70s and that stereotype is usually incorrect. Elderly people are very likely to describe the last five or ten years of their lives as the happiest years of their lives.

It may come as a surprise to some, but studies have shown that seniors are among the happiest segments of the population and they are frequently more contented than people in who are in their middle ages. Older people frequently have a very healthy sense of satisfaction that comes from their achievements. These accomplishments don’t need be great feats.

In John Lennon’s lyric, “A working class hero is something to be,” Lennon explains it succinctly. Achievements like being happily married, raising healthy and happy children, serving in the military or retiring from a company in after years of dedicated service, may see ordinary but they can be the basis of contentment in old age.

Rejection:

person using macbook
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I am getting up for a glass of Pepsi when I get an email. Any writer, author, or journalist knows this email moment. The notice pops up in my inbox and my heart takes a wild, insane, roller coaster ride. First, my heart goes up, way, way up, as my expectations climb. Then, it plunges because I remember just how the deck is stacked against me. I open up my email and my eyes quickly scan, looking for the words, “pleased” or “unfortunately” or “we regret”.

It gets much easier though. I have gotten quite a few rejections. In fact less than half of what I have written has been published. I take pride in the fact I have learned how to isolate someone rejecting my work from someone rejecting me as a person. There are many, many reasons why an article might not be suitable for a newspaper, magazine or blog and not one of these has anything to do with me personally.

If I get a rejection email but it is encouraging and positive, it is even worse. Maybe, just maybe if I had just been just a little better at writing or if I had changed one word in my 900 word article, it would have been acceptable.

I would like to say who the hell cares, but I do. It’s about the constant fight to advance in my craft. If the newspaper had accepted my work, that would have been it. But, seeing as they didn’t, I’m back right where I was, without any hope that I am headed towards my goal of being a respected writer.

Well, this is the part of being an aspiring writer that is much worse than the movies show. This portion really hurts. But rejection is as much an element of being a writer as writing the words onto the page. It’s as much a component of being a writer as the late night editing and the early mornings doing Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest marketing. This is as much a part of becoming a writer as is every submission or every query letter.

These are the writer’s baptisms by fire, and the hot coals we have to walk across in order to make this our vocations. I have to constantly sell myself and my writing. If it were simple, everyone would be a writer. Every person that took a creative writing class would be a writer for the Associated Press. Every kid who worked on his High School newspaper would now be writing for The Washington Post. But it’s not that easy. There isn’t any clear path to my goal, no directions.

Rejections just flat out suck. It might slow me down a bit and make me question whether writing is what I really want to do but rejections won’t kill me. It’s great to be a writer the days when the words just seem to flow. It’s awesome to be recognized also, whether it is on the street in a store or in a restaurant. It’s a rush when people ask me questions about my mysterious job, when they say they enjoy my writing.

It isn’t these trouble-free days that separate the weak from the strong, the successful from wannabes. It’s not about the stress-free days. It’s about the hard days where my work is rejected or the days when I get writer’s block. No one told me the life of a writer was going to be painless. But, if I’m still standing at the end of the day, it might just be worth it.

I can’t allow my emotions to get the best of me when I receive those inevitable rejections. So I pick myself up and try again. I question, I edit and I resubmit. It’s just not about me. Those who are rejecting me are making decisions based on my commercial marketability. My personality and personal life play a very, very small part in getting published.

I don’t waste any energy anymore being angry or holding a pity party for myself. I have been to this rodeo before. I still go through rejection, but it’s healthier for my well-being and self-esteem to concentrate my energy on taking the feedback positively and utilizing the information someone gives me to grow and enhance my writing style. To focus on being a better writer.

I work on trying to hone my skills every day, writing and rewriting and rewriting again, reading the periodicals I want to work for to learn their focus and slant on the issues.

In all honesty, being published is an adrenaline high for me, an ego boost. I set my sights high and have my goals. I have to show my passion for writing and be courageous enough to bare my soul. I have to have confidence in my talent but also be willing to learn if I want a successful writer.

So I know the skyrocketing heart rate is normal when opening an email. It’s a very challenging journey that I am on. I can tell you from experience, it is well worth it. But hey, I’m 71 and have nothing to lose, so I continue learning the writing craft. And the best thing is, I will have something concrete to leave my children and grandchildren, yay!

I am a freelance journalist from Lockport.

I tend to write much more than I need to

person typing on typewriter
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I tend to write much more than I need to, but when I can’t write or get published it’s a very distressing feeling. A good day is when I get articles published in multiple places. My mind tends to become dependent on writing and seems to build up a tolerance to being published.

I find myself writing all day, late into the night and sometimes get up at five in the morning so I can write again. But I do catch myself nodding off in my recliner with my laptop in my well…. lap in the afternoon and early evening. Go figure.

I was nominated for the “Survivor of the Year” for the “Relay for Life” one year and accepted. One of my duties was to give a speech. I started out by writing a speech about my personal involvement with cancer and it was exciting. I felt I needed a hook to engage the audience so I started with humor.

I read my speech out loud for a week so I could get the cadence, mannerisms and inflection down and the day of Relay I was ready.

I went onstage with a thick pile of paper and thought I could feel the unarticulated groan from the people there. At this point I felt I was my plan was working. I dropped the papers on the floor and with great flourish and picked them all up clumsily.

At this point I heard a few muffled giggles. Nobody really knew at this point if I was doing stichk or not. After I composed myself I looked down at the papers and said “I wish to thank the academy, the Hollywood foreign press……” by now there was more quiet laughter but everybody was trying to be polite at this point, still not knowing if this was a comedy routine or a bumbling idiot.

I knew I had had set the hook and I was now ready to reel them in. I then looked up and scanned the crowd and said “Oops wrong speech” and everybody laughed. At that point I had their attention and I read the piece I had written for the occasion. A few people came up to me later and told me that it was the best speech they had ever heard. The heart pounding feeling this gave me made me want more and I thought to myself “I can do this”.

Up until then, I hated writing. Ninety percent of the things I had to write for a school assignment were written on the school bus on the day they were due. No sense in wasting time if we were going to have a snow day and school was going to be closed that day.

I started writing shortly after Relay I would write about about personal experiences, marriage and my thoughts on driving safety, volunteering and mandatory retirement. I would then submit them to local newspapers, hoping to get published.

After a few of them picked up my work, I started writing about more “hot ticket” issues. Issues that affect us as a city, a state and as a country. These included things that are driving us apart like education, the Vietnam War, the border wall and nuclear power. I got some fans and had some very passionate adversaries complaining about these columns. We all have opinions but I felt I had at least opened the lines of communication.

But writing isn’t successful unless someone is actually reading what you write. I know that it is important in America that we talk to one another about the walls that divide us as a country. That even if we disagree we must have civil discussions about that which comes between us. Any attempt to prevent this is censorship, pure and simple.

I am now being published regularly in three print newspapers, in three online magazines and have had my work published in at least 10 other places.

The First Amendment guarantees “Freedom of the Press” which is the right to circulate opinions in print without censorship by the government. Private entities however can censor the hell out of anything you write and you have, as a reader, the right to read and comment on a piece or just not read it at all. It’s no wonder I love this country.

In closing let me say,
Free Speech – Good.
Censorship – Bad.

We all have our own view points but please let us just discuss them respectfully.

Writer’s Block

man with hand on temple looking at laptop
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I can’t think of anything to write at this time. I know this is a serious problem for a writer like me and it is hard for me to admit but I seem to have what some people call “writer’s block”. It appears I have hit a wall when it comes to writing.

I have written over 500 articles about such diverse subject matter as patriotism, volunteering in your community and the art of bring up children. I have shared personal narratives about my fight with cancer, living with color blindness and my time serving on a destroyer in the Navy during the Vietnam War. I have even related my point of view on how to do away with cable or satellite television, how to avoid getting shot by the police and how to operate a motor vehicle safely.

I have written about my opinion on whether we should ever do drug testing on animals, if doctors or other health practitioners should help with assisted suicide, the need for community service by teens and if the Electoral College should be eliminated or not.

You may have read commentaries from me on the lack of common sense today, train wreck television like Jerry Springer, Steve Wilcos or any of the currently popular reality shows or court television programs. You may have also seen pieces I wrote on my family’s Thanksgiving or holiday traditions, watching what you post on line on your Facebook or Twitter accounts or recalling emails.

I have also written over fifty reviews of restaurants from Buffalo to Lockport, From North Tonawanda to Medina. I’ve critiqued seafood places, Mexican restaurants, American style restaurants and trendy pubs.

You may think it is easy for me to write but quite the contrary. Sometimes it is difficult for me to find something to write about, something I feel passionate about.

I have said many times that I wish I could just plug a jump drive into the side of my head and make a copy of all my memories, experiences and opinions so I could share them with my children and grandchildren. Writing for the newspapers has helped me share some of the “Pa Pa stories”, as they call them, and there is are notebooks full of my articles that have been published.

Like I said, I have writer’s block. I make an effort to find something, anything, anywhere to write about by reading newspapers, books, magazines and surfing the internet. I have watched television and movies but to no avail. I am finding it extremely difficult to find a subject that tickles my fancy enough for me to write about.

I could write some drivel just to kick out an article but that would not reflect who I am nor how I like to write. I suppose I could also google some obscure academic paper on some obscure subject by some obscure writer and change it around enough to slip under the radar of all the plagiarism checkers out there, but that would be doing a disservice to me, the writer of the article, my editor and my readers.

I guess I will just have to wait till my muse finds me again so I can write something worth your time and mine. Yes, it is hard to for me write when I am so uninspired but I will have to try as hard as I can and see what I can do.

I know I can write but I can’t make it any harder than it has to be by over thinking it. I just have to type a few words and that’s the problem. I can’t find the right words to type. They don’t have to be good words (all first drafts suck). I just have to type them.

It’s kind of like building a house. I need to build a foundation first. After I have that in place, it is easier for me to build the framework of what I want to say. Hopefully once I get started building the story, I will reach a time where I can’t stop. I have had a problem like this before and end up writing 12, 14, or even 1600 words.

I end up writing in run on sentences. But this is a good thing. All I have to do is pare this down to about 700 words removing the extraneous and irrelevant material and correcting the grammar and spelling until I have a good sound article. I can tell this by reading it out loud. That way I can check the way it sounds and change it around till it just flows.

Now that I think about it, perhaps I don’t have writers block after all. Just thinking about writer’s block gave me something to write about.