Favorite Old Things

More than a few years ago I first heard Julie Andrews sing “My Favorite Things” in the movie, The Sound of Music. You may remember it begins:

“Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens…”

I identified back then with her list of the many good things in life. I understand she later sang a parody of the song about how her list had changed over the years.

I thought, “I should update my list too.” Here is my revised compilation of favorite things. My wife Sharon and I often sing this when we do shows for people who are old enough to appreciate this perspective. It goes to the original melody.

If this list doesn’t strike home to you yet, just keep singing it for a few decades and it will.

Age spots on noses and face full of stubble
Too weak and feeble to get into trouble
Hours of checkers to get crowned a king
These are a few of my favorite things

Afghan on shoulder just sittin’ and knittin’
Long handled underwear, Can’t find my mittens
South in the winter and north in the spring
These are a few of my favorite things

When the bones creak
When the hair streaks
When the knees go bad I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don’t feel so glad

Cracks in the sidewalk and stairs where I stumble
Fuzzy small printing and people who mumble
Can’t hear the telephone now when it rings
These are a few of my favorite things

Stacking up traffic whenever I drive now
Beating the averages I’m still alive now
Poking along while my signal light blinks
These are a few of my favorite things

When the Doc writes
When the shot stings
When he makes me mad
I think of him dealing with Medicare forms
And then I don’t feel so bad

Bifocals, hearing aids, walkers and crutches
Wrinkle creams, hair tints and youth seeking touches
Unsteady voices that crack when we sing
These are a few of my favorite things

Some things in life now are better by far though
I can’t remember right now what they are though
Misplaced the note I was going to bring
That had a list of my favorite things

As I rock there in my old chair
With my heating pad
I may be a has been, but oh where I’ve been
And oh what a life I’ve had

Duane E Hiatt

Poetry and Paper Routes

“Ah but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a Heaven for?” said the English poet Robert Browning one hot afternoon as he was doing his newspaper route. At least I assume that’s what he was doing. At least those were my thoughts though not so poetically phrased. Peddling a heavy bag on your handlebars uphill can inspire visions of easier ways to introduce the paper to the porch. A motorbike was always my first aspiration. There were no sporty small motorcycles in those days. Big Harley Hogs, Indian Cycles, and for the gentleman, BMW touring cruisers pretty well had the two wheel field to themselves.

Cushman motor scooters, and the Whizzer, a motorized contraption you bolted on to your bicycle were the smaller alternatives. The Whizzer was also available on a heavy duty bike frame of its own. The big bikes were too husky to justify for carrying a paper bag. The Cushman and even the Whizzer would beat peddle power but you would have to deliver an astronomical number of newspapers to pay for them.

The only alternative was to design and build your own motor bike. So that’s what I did. Every afternoon in my mind. Sometimes I shared my dream project with my father. He encouraged me with words like “ridiculous, impossible”, and the all purpose word when dealing with genius, “can’t.”

I soldiered on. Now and then I would stumble upon a startling boost to my inspiration. Like the time I found an unusual object on the road. I picked it up, examined it and caught a flash of vision as I turned it in my fingers. “What if this is the secret component to building a motorbike? The lynchpin that makes everything else fall into place easily and inexpensively? Later I happened to see an identical part on the winding mechanism of somebody’s fly fishing rod, but hey who knows, it might be adaptable.

My project got a rocket boost like the Millennium Falcon blasting into warp speed (four decades later in the “Star Wars” movies.) A classified ad in the old “Mechanics Illustrated” magazine (since gone out of business, maybe for running too many such ads.) offered a jet engine you could bolt on to your bicycle, or plans with which you could build it yourself. I ordered the plans. They were cheaper. A hundred and thirty seven trips to the mailbox later I was tearing off the wrappings and feeling the wind in my hair as I cruised on my jet bike. Not so fast. The wind in my hair and the roar in my imagination slowed to a whisper and a flutter, then died. “This engine is no longer being manufactured, and there is no expectation it will ever be offered again.” Said the printed paper stuffed into the package.

Fortunately the plans to build it were easy to understand… if you were a PhD in aeronautical aviation from M.I.T. Even I could see there were no secret fly fishing rod parts in the blueprints.

I never say never with my projects. I just file them away until some future time when I can get back to them As Browning would say, “What’s a heaven for?”

And speaking of heaven, I still occasionally look up and catch the white contrail of a jet liner soaring above me. I think, “That bird is doing about six hundred miles an hour. Even if I got my jet bike up to just half that speed I could have done my paper route in 39 seconds.”

Helping Freedom Ring

America’s Freedom Festival at Provo has been described as the nation’s greatest celebration of Independence Day. Word’s like “greatest” have been ground down by overuse in our language and lost their edge. But for a city it’s size, I don’t know any town that makes more hoopla over the Fourth of July, and the days and sometimes weeks preceding it. I consider myself a minor authority on the subject. Years ago I served as president and then chairman of the festival. My first year we decided that Provo had the facilities and potential to make a bolder statement for American independence.

I was doing some work with Osmond family entertainment productions, and approached them to get involved. They did, and pulled out all the stops to make the stadium show a world class event. Military men and women paraded. Balloons filled the skies, The Osmond brothers sang, danced, played instruments, and whipped through karate moves. Marie belted out country favorites. Donny made his entrance swooping down from the skies strapped to the side of a helicopter. (His insurance agent went into cardiac arrest I suppose.) And the fireworks—they lit up the stadium, the town, the mountains the prairies, and Utah lake white with foam, or so it seemed. The Osmond’s had so much fun, and made a tidy profit, that they have been involved ever since in what has become the annual “Stadium of Fire.”

Like every bold experiment, not everything we tried that year worked. To represent our Native American culture, we brought in a dancer and his entourage. They were very good, but we were very ignorant of their art form. The handful of people who came to watch was more puzzled than entertained. The ratio of Caucasians to Native Americans was something close to Custer’s band at the Little Bighorn. I found later that a week following our little gathering, the group packed a stadium in New Mexico.

“People love the air show. They will flock to it,” the more experienced committee members told me. I hoped so. Flying in aerobatic acts, historical aircraft, and the famous Air Force Thunderbirds precision flying team cost a little less than the invasion of Normandy. The show management folks were reasonable though for an advance against ticket sales I signed over our family car. They overlooked the fact that our ancient Volkswagen bus was worth a five gallon gas can of jet fuel. (Bring your own bucket.)

The people who counseled me were right. Local folks flocked in droves to the air show. But they didn’t flock to buy a ticket and come inside. Why should they when they could park by the roadside and in the fields surrounding the airport and watch for free? We crashed and burned financially. The city picked up the tab. They even let me keep the Volks bus, but they were not smiling.

I couldn’t worry about their feelings or finances at the time. Our little committee was busier than a one armed paper hanger with the hives, as the saying goes. These days the festival production committees direct about 4,000 volunteers. We had a skeleton crew of about 30 people. My capable and willing neighbor Joanne Pitts (may her name be enshrined with the great patriots of history) was the Jim Thorpe of civic duty. Thorpe was one of the greatest athletes to ever compete, Hall of Fame football player, and all everything in track., Jim would arrive at a track meet representing his college. The other schools would introduce their sprinters, distance runners, shot put and javelin throwers, long and high jumpers. Jim would introduce himself. He was the whole team. Frequently he won. That was Joanne. She could do, and did it all.

Our parade chairman was willing and enthusiastic. Ironically, he himself didn’t parade much, having only one leg.

Speaking of irony, I canvassed the local service clubs for volunteers. I got one. He was a British citizen. He served well. But I’m not sure he ever caught the spirit of the occasion. He kept referring to the American Revolutionary War as, “That unfortunate incident in the colonies.”

Great memories; one of my most indelible is lying on a grassy knoll alone looking up into the dark sky, and down onto the football stadium. The flash and thunder of the last fireworks had died away. Cars were creeping bumper to bumper down every exit street. But that was somebody else’s problem. We had done what we set out to do. The emptying stadium brought back a quote from football coach Vince Lombardi, “I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour… is the moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle – victorious”