December 31, 2016

Hey Dad

Hey Dad
By John R. Greenwood

Tell mom to take her time, we're okay.

There’s something special about a son’s tug on your pant leg or arm. It’s a variation of hug that makes a father feel good inside. It creates a bond that can’t be described or explained. Daughters use “that look” or “that voice” to soften a father’s heart. With sons it’s not that simple. Real deal father/son moments are fleeting and rare. Capturing the simple father/son moment above was a genuine grandfather/son/grandson moment for me. These occasions only come around a few times in our lives. They have a different feel than a posed photo at a family function or holiday. Those little tugs are unspoken snippets of love that son’s seldom share openly with their fathers. Admiration and adoration from son to father and from father to son is not something you frequently see. It’s most touching when it’s unscripted and spontaneous. Father’s today are much better about sharing intimacy with their sons. They aren't as afraid of saying, “I love you” to them as they used to be. I’m not sure my father ever said,”I love you,” to me. I knew he loved me by the food he put on the table and the fish he taught me to catch. Just because he felt he didn’t need to say it doesn't mean he shouldn't have said it. Sometimes you want to see that vulnerability in a man. To me it shows his strength. To not give your son the gift of those three words is unfair. They deserve to hear it not just understand it to be so. When I hear my sons say it to their sons it makes up for any I missed.

To you fathers and sons reading this, go tug on one another’s sleeve and say, "I love you." 

You’ll feel better.

I guarantee it. 

December 30, 2016

Self Portrait In Snow

Self Portrait In Snow
By John R. Greenwood

"Winter's after dinner gift"

"My four season maple friend opens his arms and welcomes the night" 

"Christmas lights linger on, their day has come and gone" 

"White knight with shining armor" 

"Basket of Cheer" 

"The Green Lantern" 

"Peace Treaty" 

A days worth of light snow provided me with an after dinner treat. 

There's something soothing about snowblowing at night with the garage lights illuminating the yard 
and the soul. 

December 28, 2016

Silent Night

Silent Night 
By John R. Greenwood

When men you are responsible for hit a health speed-bump you have to practice what you preach and help fill the void. When you’ve spent 40 years working in every aspect the milk business has to offer, you understand there will be missed holidays. When you’ve been married for 42 years your wife knows what you are about to tell her by the look on your face. Unfortunately the magic wand you use to fix everyone’s problems doesn’t always work when you need it most. That was the case this Christmas. 

My Christmas morning would begin at 1am and include a tractor and a trailer. I would spend the day picking up milk from dairy farms in two counties. Because my time driving the eighteen wheeler is rare, the hardest part for me is backing the trailer into the milk receiving bay. It’s tight and challenging. I’m much better preaching about safe following distances than I am backing up a tractor and trailer. Don’t judge me. 

The optimist in me knows there are advantages of working Christmas morning. There would be front row parking at the plant and no line at the coffee machine. Solitude would be plentiful and welcome.  

By 1:45am I had my equipment pre-tripped, my milk sample cooler filled with ice and I was headed out to my first farm. It was eerily quiet as I pulled out of the plant and on to the highway. I hadn’t passed one car on my way to work and there were none in sight now. As I rumbled through the streets of Saratoga Springs I was able to savor the smorgasbord of red, white, and green Christmas lights. Some were blinking, some glowed bright against the black of night. I had visions of children with their pillows tucked up under their heads, smiling in their sleep,  dreaming of remote-controlled drones, and electronic talking kittens. I imagined pockets of exhausted parents still wrapping and assembling toys, sipping something hot or cold, and sneaking one of Santa’s cookies. With empty streets and minus the distraction of any traffic it was like watching a Christmas movie without sound, screen-less and vivid. My pulse slowed and my heart filled. My breathing smoothed and all my aches and pains disappeared. I felt like I’d received a precious gift, a priceless gift. Suddenly having to work on Christmas turned from regret to gratitude. I felt grateful for my family, my job, and my life. The radio was off but the words to “Silent Night” were filling the cab of my truck. All was calm, all was bright. 

To say I was at ease would be putting it mildly. It was much more than that. Throughout the night  memories of Christmas’ past began streaming through my head. Those earliest Christmas mornings when the excitement is so high you felt as though you might burst with joy. The feeling you got when you peeled back the wrapping paper covered with chubby snowmen and saw they had been hiding the slot car set you never thought Santa would bring. The warmness you felt later that night when you put on the new flannel pajamas your grandparents gave you. At the time you smiled politely and said thank you but quickly set them aside and began digging for something larger and heavier. Once you hit the jackpot. Santa brought a gift so big he had to lean it against the wall with a big ribbon, its steel runners impatiently waiting for a trip to the nearest snow crusted hill. I never remember a bad Christmas as a child. I thank all the Santa’s in my life for that. I was fortunate as a child. I’m fortunate as an adult. Six decades of Christmas memories swirled around and around my head as I went from farm to farm that day. I felt a flood of gratitude for everything life had placed in front of me. Having to work on Christmas Day was not a burden for me it was a gift. 

It was a long day. It was a good day. Traveling the backroads of rural New York on Christmas Day is something that sticks to your ribs. I felt like I was driving through one of those vintage Christmas cards. One with a scene of a farmhouse on a hillside covered with fresh snow. The big red barn off to the side with a yellow glow coming from the windows. Out back in the field cows are huddled together like a football team. A flock of procrastinating geese can be seen cresting the trees in search of a soft cornfield. The family dog standing firm, like a statue barking a friendly tune, letting you know there’s no need to be worried he’s just glad to have someone to talk to. The neighborhood kids gathered on Bacon Hill filling the toboggan one by one, arms wrapped tightly around one another, the way the world should be. It begins to snow in my Christmas card. Big cotton ball flakes begin floating down like fall leaves. My truck sees a snow coated road ahead and it surges with glee knowing it will be the first to make fresh tracks through an empty valley. Presents surround me this beautiful Christmas morning. My family is back at home but in my head visions of them warm me like the embers of a wood stove. 

I know there is much sadness and pain during the holiday season. Not everyone is blessed with bounty. I do not let that thought pass. I embrace my own good fortune while at the same time actively pray for the relief of others.  

When you finish this piece and speed off, remember to take a moment to appreciate everything around you. Whether its family, health, work, or a new pair of socks, if you're here to experience it, you owe it to yourself to stop and reflect on it. I did this Christmas. At each farm I visited I paused for a second, took in the scenery and silence, took in a deep breath, and thanked the person who’s birthday this was for and for all I’d been blessed with.  

Time to go home. 

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year…


December 18, 2016

My Uncle Billy Moment

My Uncle Billy Moment
By John R. Greenwood

Have you ever experienced the same panic Uncle Billy did when he realized he misplaced the $8,000, Bailey Bros. Building and Loan deposit in the movie, "It's A Wonderful Life?" 

I have. 

It happened to me one summer day back in 1982. I was the proprietor of Price's Dairy in Saratoga Springs. Price's Dairy consisted of a couple of milk trucks and an employee (RIP David Mabb) or two. I delivered dairy products to places like Peppers Market, Lillian's, Mr. Ed's, Lou's Luncheonette/Compton's, Skidmore College, Saratoga Racecourse, Bruegger's Bagels, Saratoga Raceway, Pennell's, The Hall of Springs, Richie's Deli, Art Bullet's and Mo's Coffee Trucks, Professor Moriarty's, The Adelphi, Saratoga Sweets, Spring St. Market, Eartha's Kitchen, Shirley's, Scallions, Gaffney's, Spa City Diner, Hattie's, Saratoga Golf and Polo, Madame Jumel's, The Parting Glass, Mr. Mangini's Backstretch Kitchens, Anchor Inn, The Little Store, Anthony's Country Kitchen, The Country Corner Cafe, The Dining Car, The Kettle, Holiday Inn, Home of the Good Shepard, Joe Collins, Triangle Diner, The Old Firehouse, Sperry's, Tin & Lint, Humpty Dumpty, KFC, Long John Silvers, Caffe Lena, Interlaken, Moon's Lakehouse, Saratoga Pizza House, Pizza Hut, The Starting Gate, The Country Store, St. Clement's Infirmary, Ash Grove Inn, Siro's, The Reading Room, Lantern Lodge, Mrs. London's, Friendly Corner Grocery, Mr. Cherry at  Espey's Manufacturing, Lakeside Market, Saratoga Schools, DeGearo's, Scudder's, Waring's, Roma Imports, Tradewinds, Yaddo, Mother Goldsmiths, The Country Gentlemen, The Packhorse, S&M Market, and even a dozen or so home deliveries for while. 

The majority of my dairy products were produced at the Saratoga Dairy (Now a vacant lot on Excelsior Ave). Saratoga Dairy was the milk production side of Stewart's Ice Cream until 1995 when milk production was moved to the ice cream distribution plant in Greenfield and the two entities became Stewart's Shops Corp. Price's Dairy had cooler space and it's own access door at the Saratoga Dairy. We called the space "The Cage," because in the 60's and 70's there were a few milk dealers still around. Hyde's and Pitney's were at least two others who shared cooler space there. We called them cages because each dealer's space was separated by chicken wire surrounds. This allowed plenty of air flow and kept the orders from being mixed with each other. 

On a Friday in August I would make some 40 plus stops all within the city limits. I would have to return to the plant two or three times a day to take back empty milk crates and replenish our small trucks. It was hectic and hard work but I loved it and I am forever grateful to Victor Price for giving me the opportunity to run a business at such a young age. 

Running your own business is demanding, especially when you are in your early 20's and you are already supporting a wife and two young boys. My wife handled all the billing and calls from home and I spent 6-7 days a week keeping Saratoga supplied with dairy products. Much of my business was cash. In August it was lots of cash. More cash than I'd ever handled in my life. One day I had a small Adirondack Trust deposit bag stuffed full of cash and checks. The deposit was over $4,000 dollars. It was good portion of the weeks receivables and my wife handed it to me as I left the house. "Can you please stop at the bank and deposit this for me today? I have things I need to get done around the house. DON'T LOSE IT!" 

Sounds easy enough. 

Stopping at the bank wasn't the problem, ninety percent of my day was running up and down Broadway. With the Adirondack Trust smack dab in the middle it would take less than two minutes to run in and make the deposit. The problem lies in the "Uncle Billy" in me. I tend to struggle with more than two vegetables on my plate. The phrase, "He must have seen something shiny," was created with me in mind. I had several deliveries to make before I got close to the bank so I did the safest and most responsible thing I could think of. The milk trucks of the day had a hand controlled door between the cab and the back compartment. All you had to do was pull the lever toward you and the split door would part in the middle giving you access to the refrigerated compartment behind you. I threw the deposit bag in an empty milk crate in the back, put one or two on top to double up security, closed the door and continued my deliveries. Around four o'clock in the afternoon I was across town delivering to the Hall of Springs. I'd already logged a 12 hour day and was running out of steam. There was a big concert at SPAC that night and traffic was already choking the Avenue of Pines in both directions. 

That's when I had my Uncle Billy moment. 

I'd forgotten to make the deposit and the bank would be closing soon. 


What did I do with the bag??? 

Never in my life have I been so scared! 

My mind raced in a dozen directions. I couldn't focus or relax. What did I do with it? Did someone steal it? My heart was pounding. 

The feeling was almost worse than the, "I've misplaced my toddler panic." 

What did I do? 

What did I do? 

Calm down, think, breathe. 

My wife is going to kill me! But, not until I find the bag. She'll tell me to retrace my steps.

"Think John, think," she'll say in that, I-know-I-should-have-done-it-myself tone. 

She's right, again

Wait, that's it!

I unloaded milk crates at the Plant. It's got to be there somewhere! 

That's where it's easy to put myself in Uncle Billy's shaking boots. Now I'm hoping beyond hope that out of hundreds and hundreds of red milk crates piled high on the loading dock that one little deposit bag smaller than my lunch will turn up. The problem is I'm across town. Traffic is gridlocked. All the "real" trucks with hundreds of empties on them will be returning to the plant and unloading their empties on top of mine. It will be like finding a $4,000 needle in a milk crate haystack. 

I return to Saratoga Dairy without suffering a heart attack, getting a ticket, or running over anybody.

Where do I start? 

I jump out of the truck and start walking the stainless steel chain that circles the plant. The chain is like a set of train tracks carrying stacks of milk and empty milk crates from production, to the cooler, out to the dock and back in again. It hadn't been that long since I was here last so I was hoping my empties would be close at hand. There were lots of variables on what might happen to that deposit bag. The scariest one of course was it being covered by half gallons of milk and going back out into the world. The crates could get buried and not be used for weeks. At first I was too embarrassed to share my Uncle Billy moment but having worked side by side with every guy in the building I knew they would do anything to help. It's funny, the last thing I even considered was someone finding the bag and not saying anything. I've been blessed with being surrounded by George Bailey's throughout my life. 

My saving grace came in the form of a mechanical malfunction. There was a piece of equipment similar to a railroad track switch that funneled the stacks of empty crates into what was called the de-stacker. The crates would hang up there and at some point they would come tumbling down like dominoes. On any other day that would result in a swearing barrage, today was different. As I rounded the corner there was a pile of milk crates strewn across the floor. Buried in the middle of the pile was a blue bag and my future. My guardian angel will be a first year inductee to the Guardian Angel Hall of Fame. I don't recall who if anyone was there at the time. It was over thirty years ago. I do remember such an overwhelming sense of relief that I probably wanted to cry like a baby, but first I needed to get that money in the bank.

I watch Frank Capra's gem once a year with mixed emotion. On one side I enjoy the narrative and the acting. On the other I am always reminded of my Uncle Billy moment and how devastating it would have been if I hadn't recovered that deposit bag full of money. I decided to document this story after my friend Chris Barlow commented on how much a photograph I posted on Facebook looked like Bedford Falls. It was a George Bolster photograph of Broadway in Saratoga Springs taken in the winter around the1940's. 

When I was in the middle of writing this my wife asked what I was writing about. 

"Remember the time I lost the $4,000 bank deposit?" 

She looked at me with curious eyes. 

"You never told me about that!" 

My Uncle Billy moment was about to double in value. 

Some stories are better left alone. 

Thanks a lot Chris.  

Note: There are several links throughout this piece, each one bringing you to another one of my Saratoga Springs memories. Please take your time and look around. hopefully one will trigger a smile or two. 

Happy Holidays! 

December 13, 2016

Hold On A Second

Hold On A Second
By John R. Greenwood

Hold on a second, where do you think you're going? I was just getting into June when August arrived and blew through the front door. I haven't enjoyed anything but work this summer. Once again May showed up unexpectedly and the next thing you know it's Labor Day and the kids are buying up all the three-ring binders. It doesn't seem fair. I don't think  I've enjoyed a summer since I was a teenager chasing around my life guard (Mrs. G.) girlfriend. SPAC concerts and long walks home after the movies were plentiful. 

Back to my present day missed summer fun. 

I worked hard this summer. I mean I really worked . Injuries and a lack of testosterone in today's males left us as understaffed as a McDonalds at noon. I'm really sick of listening to people in their 20's and 30's complain about sore anything. Since I peaked at 40 I've been told I have arthritis, degenerative disc disease, scoliosis, among other things. I'm now 61 and every morning I get up and creak down the hall gaining momentum and equilibrium as I go. In his new book Roughneck Grace, author Michael Perry compares his morning ritual to a: "wincing stick insect disentangling itself from a flannel cocoon and shuffling off puffy-eyed to the bathroom." 

Somehow at the end of the day I'm still functioning and earning a living without any prescription medications. I know things could sour in an instant and I take nothing for granted. I feel it's important to keep attached to the world. Working for the same company for decades creates a long list of familiar people. People who know who you are and where you live. You've watched their children go from a nursery school to a college. Yesterday you were handing them a coloring book when their father came in to pick up his check. Now they bring them along to take my Defensive Driving Course. You don't walk away from that day to day closeness easily. I like my personal quiet time, but I also embrace the fact that my life has been blessed with hundreds of hard working, generous, and caring people. Why would I want to give that up just so I didn't have to set my alarm anymore? 

What I've discovered about myself these last few months is that I have enjoyed a really good life. I think more of us than we like to admit have, but judging by the whining and complaining I hear, there is a large majority that feel our happiness is the responsibility of others. I could understand if it was the people who are struggling the most that were complaining but it's not. It's the ones who have jobs, and homes, and two cars in the driveway that's seem to feel they deserve more. Happiness and contentment are up to the individual. I feel fortunate to have what I have but I've also worked very hard for it. The mistakes and miscalculations I made were my fault not yours. 

Now it's almost four months after I began writing this and I've muscled through another couple physical setbacks. I'm feeling better today and hoping this is the beginning of another hike up the mountain. Life does that to you. One minute you're having a nightmare, the next minute you're doing a happy dance. It's learning to enjoy the entire package that's the trick. Being here to enjoy it at all should be enough for us, but as you can see by clicking on the remote any time night or day we usually aren't. More, more, more is the world I see. 

Rather than wallow in self pity for having neglected my blog for months I guess it's time to get back up on that sway-back and get busy. I've learned that life won't wait for me, it's leaving with or without me. 

I want to thank Michael Perry and his new book "Roughneck Grace" for winding me up once again. His writing style and stories have been a go-to place for me since I discovered them many years ago. This latest book is a collection of brief essays from his Sunday Wisconsin State Journal column, "Roughneck Grace." I have been using the book as a pre-work relaxation exercise. I do my 5am body workout in the cellar. Forty-five minutes later I emerge with the vigor of a young man.  Then I make a cup of hot coffee, grab my book, turn my reading light on next to the couch and enjoy the best part of my day. Reading Mike's essays is like sitting down with a fresh package of Oreos. You open them knowing the first ones out will be the freshest. You bite off half an Oreo and then stuff the rest right in behind it. Seconds later there's already a few missing. I have to treat this book like I do the Oreos. It's a challenge to pace myself. I sip my coffee read an essay, pause, enjoy, sip, read, enjoy, repeat. You want to stretch out the next 30 minutes to make it feel like an hour. You know the day will be filled with two truck problems, an injured driver, and three delivery mistakes so this relaxation fix needs to hold up for awhile. You could could sit there and eat all the Oreos in one sitting but how will you cope with next week's staff meeting if you finish the book in on Wednesday this week. Six decades gives you lots of practice perfecting this relaxation routine. Ration the Oreos and the essays with care and enjoy them fully. For all you forty-year old kids out there I'm trying to save you some time with a little helpful advice: read, pause, enjoy, sip, read, enjoy, repeat.

"Honey, do we have any more Oreos?" 

December 04, 2016

I Feel Like A Ford

I Feel Like A Ford
By John R Greenwood

I only owned her for a of couple years. I let her go to a good home.
Maybe we'll meet again someday? 

Let me start off by saying I've owned many of Henry Ford's finest automobiles since I began driving in 1971. The first car registered in my name was a 1968 Ford Galaxy and it was a beauty. It was a brilliant white with a deep-red leather interior and was trimmed with more chrome than any car I've owned since. If I had that car in that same condition today it would be a highly prized investment. I acquired the car from my mother. She worked in the business office of Trice Juron Ford in Saratoga at the time and had never learned to drive. The Galaxy was a trade-in with low miles. Mom bought the car under the premise of learning how to drive. That plan never materialized and when I got married in 1974 the Galaxy came along. 

Throughout the 70's, 80's, my wife and I owned the 1968 Galaxy, a 1974 Ford Pinto wagon, a 1980 Mercury (fancied up Ford) Monarch, a 1984 Mercury Comet, and a couple of Ford pickup trucks along the way.

 As you can see I kept coming back for more so I must have liked Henry's work. The problem with the Fords of that period came in the latter years of their lives. The acronym "Fix Or Repair Daily" is as accurate an acronym as you'll ever run across. In Henry's defense I never owned a brand new Ford. Every Ford I ever owned may have been purchased with low miles, but when they were born someone else got to peel the price sticker off the side window. Again in their defense my Fords were never pampered with a garage to sleep in. Not until after some thirty years of marriage did I finally get a two car garage clear enough to get one car in it. "Ford Tough" had to earn the right to bear that logo by enduring the Northeast's elements night after night, year after year. But, if you've ever owned a Ford from that era you know that after the last payment, garage or no garage, they begin to show their age. Each week would reveal a new creak or groan. Muffler leaks, broken knobs, and dripping water pumps begin to creep into your life like crab grass. Each tax return or hefty overtime check would get sucked up by another mechanic. Dropping off and picking up cars at the garage becomes part of your daily ritual and you develop a twitch every time the service manager calls you to the counter. 

This is where I begin to compare myself to a old Ford. Every day reveals a new problem. The engine still runs but the parts surrounding it begin to show signs of aging. Hair loss becomes that broken air vent on the dash. The arthritis in your back becomes the reoccurring pulley squeal coming from under the hood. Cataracts are the oil leak that you pretend not to see and the cute little melanoma on the tip of your nose becomes the wheel wobble that threatens to force you off the road. All these things are repairable but aggravating. They're expensive and time consuming. Appointments and phone messages overwhelm you. You know you should have done a better job keeping up with preventative maintenance. Better diet and tire rotation are like twins. Putting off that dentist appointment for a achy tooth you know needs attention is identical to ignoring that metal sound coming from the passenger side front brake. Pretending that tightness in your chest is just indigestion is a mirror image of pretending you don't see the antifreeze puddle in the driveway every morning. At some point we have to take responsibility for our own health and well being. Was it the pickup's fault that she never got the same wash and waxing that the Mercury did? No, it was my fault for treating it like the dump-run, leaf collecting, topsoil hauling workhorse it was hired for. I had no right to complain about the rusty tailgate and seized latch. I should have appreciated what a gift an 8' truck bed is to a homeowner the same way I should have appreciated what a gift a strong back and 6' frame was to this author. Eating better and exercising my brain and body more may have lessened some of the aches, pains, and stress that has been nipping at my heels for the last decade or so. When I say I feel like a Ford, I say it with fondness and reflection. My Fords and my body have served me well. Any shortcomings or breakdowns in both cases are more than likely the result of the owners failure to follow the directions carefully. It's easier to point and complain than it is to stop and think. That disease is crippling our country. I'm becoming more and more aware that I can't fix others. I must start in my own driveway by changing the oil and exercising regularly. I promise to do a better job of reading the owners manual and following the doctor's orders. There's a reason they went to the trouble of writing that thing and putting it in the glove compartment. Just like there's a reason it takes years of expensive education for a doctor to diagnose a rare disease. 

I may have to fix or repair myself daily but when the odometer passed 60 years I began to realize that whether your a Ford or a Mercedes if you don't maintain the equipment you can't complain when there's a knock in the engine. 

Drive smart. Be happy.