Posted by: Norm | April 3, 2014

A Hero to the Few That Matter

Last week we placed the remains of a man who was a true hero; in life, in war, to his friends and family.  As the service proceeded I took time to look at the collage of photos provided by the family.  Funny thing was: I’d never heard of him.  Outside his sphere of influence, he was an unknown.  But his story was one of heroic proportions, especially his record of service in the military.

I sometimes muse on what my family might put together in a collage or eulogies to tell my story.  It’s usually a very short self-discussion.  I don’t find myself remarkable in any way.

For most of us there is no big fire engines or parade of police cars or a long progression of dignitaries in limousines to the cemetery.  Most of us have lived quiet lives to the rest of the world, even to the neighbors down the street.

But let me tell you what lifts my spirits most as I have attended well over a thousand funerals over the last 20 years in the employ of Bobbitt Memorial Chapel.  What encourages me is the words I hear and overhear from spouse, a child or a grandkid.  They’ll mention a man who worked hard, quietly sacrificed and made sure his family was cared for.  A daughter will mention how mom as an example of goodness, kindness, gentleness and self-control.  A grandchild tells the assembled mourners how “Grammy” always had Vienna Sausages, Spam, Bon-Bon’s or Strawberry Lemonade, just for them.

Camping in the backyard with grandparents is a big deal for kids.  Popcorn, movie night and staying up late are etched in sons’ and daughters’ memories.  Cousins mention “card night” or “taco Tuesday” at Uncle Joe’s and Aunt Mary’s.

The body we place in the ground is the one that never missed a Little League game, a ballet recital, a choir performance or a homecoming parade.  Countless “pick-ups” and “drop-offs” were made at the movies, library and sleep-overs.

It’s all pretty normal stuff for responsible spouses, parents and grandparents.  These things are the fabric of a life well-lived and as we look back, those of us who grieve, know we have been in the presence of a significant man or woman in our lives.

Posted by: Norm | January 20, 2014

The Mountain Has Lost An Extraordinary Man

I had the privilege today to speak at the graveside service of a good, good man.  He was well-known and loved in the community of Lake Arrowhead, California.  His benevolent work among many of the charities there was remarkable.  The entire community mourns for the family.  The local Mountain News ran this article about John in last week’s issue:

John Franklin Wood

Graveside Service ~ Riverside National Cemetery

January 20, 2014

We gather, because he would have wanted us to.  John would have wanted friends and loved ones to find support in one another.  I have no doubt he is as much a part of our gathering as we are.  His spirit is among us as we say his name.  His very nature is among us as we tell his stories.  John will not be gone from us for a long time to come.  No one is ever gone until we stop saying their name and stop telling their stories.

With that thought in mind, I’d like to invite Thomas Wood to come and remark on his Dad.

(There will be a Celebration in John’s honor tomorrow in Lake Arrowhead where friends and family can share their own stories of John)



. . . and so began the tribute to John Franklin Wood in last week’s edition of the Mountain News.

People are not born exceptional.  To become the uncommon person one must view himself as remarkable in a certain way.  John was that kind of man.  The talents, the world-view, the demanding rhythm of John’s life, began early and built one upon the other throughout his life. From snagging a job with AT&T out of high school, to relocating to Florida alone to await the Draft, to excelling in Boot Camp and being chosen for OCS, to leading the small arms instruction of countless infantrymen during the Korean Conflict, to hitching his future to the vagabond art of the auctioneer, John was no ordinary man.

He is one of the heroes of our society.  The kind of man who is counted on to do the right thing.  These are the people who have a vision for family and society.  They remind us of the mores and relational customs on which a culture is built.  He was a person who tirelessly loved and cared for others and the vision of others.  He was always happy to jump on someone else’s dream and help them along.

John will not only be missed, but there will be a hole left behind.  That’s why I challenge each of you to take his place; in your own way and in your own time.  There is a bit of John in each of you.  He loved you and lived among you for decades.  Find the best of John in you and offer it to others.  That is the best gift you can give to him . . . and to so many others who loved him and weep for his passing today.

An untitled poem by Della Doane Mockridge

‘Twas a cold afternoon as the neighbors were gathered
At a farm in the country to hear
As he stood with his cane atop an old wagon,
The chant of an old auctioneer.

As he auctioned his wares, so slow and precisely,
He’d tell of their usefulness yet.
Through perhaps they had served more than one former owner,
Still he worked for the price he could get.

An old rocking chair, the rockers worn flat,
the leather all off from the seat;
Yet, to a mother and sleepy-eyed child,
It still was a precious retreat.

Old kettles and pans, so blackened and worn,
But someone could use them, no doubt,
For out in the crowd were a scattering few
Who before had been going without.

An old cultivator, a wobbly plow,
A hayrake grown rusty with age,
A couple old forks and a battered old hoe,
For “the book” they had written a page.

These various things, to the old auctioneer,
Were but items to auction away;
To get for the owner the best that he could,
Thus completing his task for the day.

But to those who were selling, there wasn’t a chance
That a payment received would compare
With the value of memories held in their hearts
Of the old auctioneer and his wares.

John was the kind of man who “valued the memories held in their hearts.”  No auction was ever ordinary to him, no person he ever met was common, and no service he ever provided was ever mundane.


Father, treat us openly and equally today as people who need you so very much as we grieve the death of both a husband,  father, grandfather and friend. 

We’re not praying through a church, a pastor or a priest.  Each one of us is coming to you right now on our own.  We want to believe you are listening and will answer our prayer.

        Be with Cheryl in the quiet of the night when her mind is filled with questions.  Wrap your arms around her and remind her she is not alone.

        Let the kids know that you are a Dad too; that your children are loved worldwide and specifically as well.  Remind them they can cast their grief on you and you will walk come to their aid.

        The grandkids need to be reminded often of granddad.  Lord, remind us he watches over them.

        The rest of us, Lord; remind us this family needs us today, tomorrow, next month and next year. 

        Thanks for listening Lord.  I believe you’re going to answer these prayers.  I also believe each of us feels a bit closer to you for having prayed.


Posted by: Norm | October 25, 2013

Pin-Up Girl

His gnarled hand he placed on the crown of the casket.  Immobile, it held a tension only his eyes and tears would reflect.  For a moment he almost touched, once again, the face of 65 years of faith and love.

Later, he showed me her photo.  She was ‘pin-up’ beautiful.  She should have been discovered at a drugstore at Hollywood and Vine.  Instead, she built this life with him; never wanting anything more, disdaining anything less. He will see her just as she was then when he nods off at night and when he wakes at morn.

The broken and painful body has been given away.  She’s again young and fine and dancing and as giggly as she ever could be.  Dating and Christmas’s and births and savory aromas of a kitchen fueled by love will be his confidants in days to come.

This new hero of mine, deeply into his eyes I see.  This man who loved her well for all those sixty years, the decades melt away.  His body is broken, just as his beloved’s was.  His is supported by sheer tenacity and a humble cane.  But those glistening eye, tell me and the world, once more, she’s healed now.

Posted by: Norm | October 25, 2013

Kindergarten Suffering

Some people say suffering is a relative thing.

I have friends who have died of malicious cancers, so ugly and cruel the memory of them still affects me. I’ve seen the results of homicide and stupid decisions in automobiles that have forever altered families. I’ve wept with moms and dads and brothers and sisters at graves dug deep to hold the child of suicide. There is no end to the occurrances of suffering.

And then some fella comes along and says something like, “God must been on vacation yesterday, I burned the oatmeal at breakfast, got off late to work and lost my favorite parking spot near the door, forgot my lunch and had to nibble on yesterday’s half-a-sandwich, I was told my bonus check won’t be here ’til next Wednesday, the cleaners was closed when I got there and my car didn’t start to get me home. So there I sat, in the dark waiting for AAA to come and help. Yeah, there are times God doesn’t care.”

It’s not suffering that’s relative. It’s our definition of it. Most of what we “suffer” over is a self-diagnosed case of inconvenience.

Posted by: Norm | October 12, 2013

Hood-Spencer and Hart, Shaffner & Marx

I had several suits growing up.  All were from J. C. Penney and were functional.  Suits were worn to church, funerals, weddings, junior high dances and an occasional visit to my old-maid, great-aunt Effie’s Victorian home where tea and extremely small cookies were always served in late afternoon.

These suits were always purchased under the watchful eye of Mr. Sutton at J. C. Penney’s.  The manager, and member of our church, Mr. Sutton always wore a suit to work.  My mother trusted him to lay out a couple rudimentary choices and make sure they met our budget.

One day, around Christmas of my Freshman year in college, my dad announced at the dinner table, “Ena Fern, it’s time Norman had a good suit.”  Of course mom offered, “He hasn’t outgrown the last one yet.”

“Tomorrow morning,” dad replied, “Norm and I are going down to Hood-Spencer to get a Hart, Shaffner and Marx.”

Dad had one.  It had replaced another HS&M several years earlier.  He viewed a suit by this manufacturer as the best suit money could buy.

Just the thought of entering Hood-Spencer Clothing was a brain rush.

The haberdashery always smelled nice.  I would learn later it was the aroma of a cologne for men.

There ought to be more to this tale, but there isn’t.  The most I can say is this.  Hood-Spencer Clothiers was a benchmark on my way to becoming an adult.  Following that first experience, I entered the domain of “the best” many times again.  Eventually Mr. Hood and Mr. Spencer would become friends. I would stop by when back in Junction City for years to come.  I will always remember them as the gentlemen who welcomed a boy to their shop and sent him out as a man.

Posted by: Norm | October 12, 2013

Getting Away With It

I remember once saying something to Johnny Hubbard and he smacked me in the face.  We tussled for all of 20 seconds before a teacher broke up the fight.

I guess I carried that with me for a long time.  It certainly came to mind from time to time when I was wont to make a smart-ass remark to someone.  It also came to mind when I told my boys not to fight someone who was enraged.  You most likely won’t win if you have to fight someone who has good reason to be mad and good reason to take it out on you.  I once saw a little guy, but more importantly a jealous husband, deck a big fella at a Little League baseball game over touching his wife.

One night, perhaps a decade or so ago, after the Chiefs had soundly beaten the Raiders, I went to the Kansas City blog  and watched the fans go toe to toe with Raider fans.  Since I had never been on such a chat before, I was AMAZED at the way people were talking to one another.  It was war in the trenches.  No logic, few facts, but plenty of character assassination.   Someone said something I thought I had a smart-ass response for and it took me a minute or so to work up the courage to type it in.  Then I did and actually held my heart in my throat waiting for someone to lambast me, diminish me and put me in my place.  There were a few yucks.  But mainly I got away with it.

That’s the worst thing that can happen to a person in such a situation.  I got away with it!!  No consequences; no being held up to any sort of standard at all.  I learned the first terrible lesson of the chatroom, the blog or a personal response to articles and news.  There are little  (99.99% of the time) or no consequences to being and showing yourself to be an ass.

Therein lies the reason why millions of people, daily, talk trash to one another.

In my opinion, the internet has done more to dismantle a genteel society than any other social event in the history of the world.

If Cain killed Abel because Abel worshiped  God better than he . . .

If Grog  killed Mord for spilling Grog’s yak milk . . .

If a Pope sent more troops to Jerusalem because the Muslims defiled the Holy City . . .

If the Master of the Orphanage rapped Oliver across the knuckles for asking for more gruel . . .

If Billy the Kid shot a man dead because the man called him a liar and horse-thief . . .

There were immediate consequences.

Today the Bullies show up in chat-rooms and say what they like and there are no consequences.

You can’t take it seriously.

You can’t take it personal.

Posted by: Norm | July 4, 2013


I really don’t expect anyone to read this post except our son-in-law, Shawn; a finer man from the auld sod ye’ll never meet!

Here Are Some Facts You Can Associate with Your Birth Year, My Son

1969 Karmann-GhiaMy 1969 Karmann-Ghia

(Bought it the day after my last final)

Bell bottom jeans, long wild hair, head bands, peace signs worn on military style combat jackets, and tie dye shirts, were the fashion trends in 1969. Anti-war demonstrations were commonplace as Americans struggled for their voices to be heard in a much needed plea for peace and their wish for the United States to withdraw from the Vietnam War.

(Shawn, I can just see your mom and dad making their way to the hospital that July 4th in paisley bell-bottoms, tie dye T-shirts, mutually wrapped in a tattered flag!!)


Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Neil Armstrong were the first humans to set foot on the moon in January.

Apollo 12 landed on the moon a 2nd time in 1969, putting the second set of American astronauts on the moon.


The first temporary artificial heart transplant in a human being was performed at the Texas Heart Institute.


The draft lottery for US Forces was instituted for the Vietnam War. This was the first draft since WWII. Ironically, the first United States troop withdrawals from the Vietnam War were also made this year.


Sharon Tate was murdered by the Charles Manson Cult.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, our 34th President, died.  (He grew up twenty miles from where I did in Kansas)

Judy Garland died of a drug overdose in her home.  (Such a sad, sad life and death.  I read her biography years later)

Former Rolling Stones guitarist, Brian Jones, drowned.


Regular color TV broadcasts began.  (We finally got a color TV in 1972 and it was stolen the next day.  Police suspected neighbors.  What?)

The last issue of the Saturday Evening Post was printed.  (Sadly, quite sadly; I had looked at the pictures and read the Post since I was a little kid)

All cigarette advertising on TV and radio was banned by the FCC.  (We lost “The Marlboro Man” and a good bit of his swagger that year too)


Dave Thomas opened his first Wendy’s chain restaurant.  (Such a good, good man!)

The 1st Long John Silver’s chain restaurant opened.  (Haven’t been to one since they quit giving away the Norman Rockwell Christmas glasses, decades)


You are the same age as these famous people born in the year 1969: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Brett Favre, Renee Zellweger, Jennifer Aniston, Gwen Stefani, Rachel Hunter, Jack Black, Bobby Brown, Emmitt Smith, Steffi Graf, Ice Cube, Jennifer Lopez, Matthew McConaughey, Christian Slater and Kimberly Kidd-Gorman.

The Brady Bunch premiered on ABC network.

PBS network on TV was established and Sesame Street made their debut on this network.

Hee Haw made its debut on CBS network.  (The show you never admitted you loved)

The Beatles released their record “Abbey Road” and also made their last public performance.

Elvis Presley hit Number 1 with “Suspicious Minds”.

Popular Films in the year 1969 were: The Love Bug, Funny Girl, Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, True Grit, Midnight Cowboy, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Easy Rider, and Where Eagles Dare.

The novel “The Godfather” was published by Mario Puzo.

Popular musicians in the year of 1969 were: The Rolling Stones, James Brown, The Doors, Led Zeppelin, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, The Beatles, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Creedence Clearwater Revival, John Denver, Simon & Garfunkel, Fleetwood Mac, Marvin Gaye, Cream, Pink Floyd, David Bowie, and Elvis.

Elton John released his 1st album “Empty Sky”.

The famous music festival “Woodstock” took place on a New York farm, attracting more than 350,000 fans.

George Jones and Tammy Wynette marry.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono were married.


NY Jets defeated Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.

NY Mets win the World Series.  (Really?  Yep!)


Richard Nixon was inducted as the 37th United States President.  (Inducted?  Odd.  I think they meant “Inauguration”)


The first Concorde test flight was conducted in France, breaking the sound barrier for the first time.

The British ocean liner, The QE2 departed on her maiden voyage.

The Boeing 747 Jet made its debut carrying 191 people from Seattle to New York City.

The Pontiac Firebird Trans Am was introduced.


Seiko sold the 1st Quartz watch.

The 1st ATM was installed in the United States in the state of New York.  (God bless ‘em)

The Internet, at that time called ARPANET, was used for the first time by the US Military.

The 1st battery powered smoke detector was made.


The 1st Gap store opened.


Postage stamp: 6 cents

Dozen eggs: 62 cents

Gallon milk: $1.10

Coffee 2lb can: $1.39

Bacon 1lb: 89 cents

Gas: 35 cents per gallon

Movie ticket: $3

New House: $15,550

Average annual income: $8,550

Monthly rent: $135

New Car: $3,270

In Longmont, Colorado, a young, married couple welcomed a baby, Kimberly, into their home on Christmas day, 1969.  She would go on to become Mrs. Shawn Gorman.

Posted by: Norm | April 25, 2013

Is Your God Too Small?

I tend to worship the Big God.  The One who spoke galaxies into sight.  The One whose presence moved across the face of the deep.  The One who separated land from water with the sweep of a hand.  The One who looks you straight in the heart and mind and says, “I Am.”  He’s the one who, in my experience, is still shrouded with mystery and my response is awe.

Harry Emerson Fosdick, a minister of another generation, caught my thoughts precisely when he wrote,

“I would rather live in a world where my life is surrounded by mystery than live in a world so small that my mind could comprehend it.”That’s the God I worship.  The one behind the mystery, the awesomeness of creation.  And the One who still works among us.  His creation not yet complete until it is reconciled to his eternal standards.

If I cannot understand my wife completely, after 47 years, what makes me think I can understand the Big God completely?

Yeah, my God is Big.

Posted by: Norm | April 18, 2013

The Grief of Love Long Lost

I write a monthly article for our magazine at Valencia Lea.  Owing to my work for the last twenty years and the numerous grief support groups I’ve facilitated over the years, the articles appear under the heading, The Grief Journey.  This month’s article deals with a topic not often discussed in grief groups but is, nonetheless, sentient for many people in the midst of the process of grief.


 black and white sadness photo: lonely-missing-you-black-and-white-photography-2-lindos-black-and-white-black-white-sadness-sad-czarno-biac581e-sad-beauty-nikki-images-w-1 lonely-missing-you-black-and-white-photography-2-lindos-black-and-white-black-white-sadness-sad-czarno-biac581e-sad-beauty-nikki-images-w-2.jpg

What if the grief doesn’t come?  What if the tears are few and, instead, there is only a general relief that it’s all over?

Not every marriage is a happy one, even if it lasted multiple decades.  Not everyone loses the love of their life at death.  The passion ended somewhere near the beginning.  Respect, love or tenderness departed.  The weaker of the two spouses gave in and gave up to keep peace in the home.

Life was lived like in an oyster.  The grain of sand irritated, so you protected yourself with insulation.  This defensive reaction placed a barrier between you and the chronic irritation.

When the spouse died, not much changed because the choice to retract and insulate was made years ago.  Logically then, grief doesn’t look like it does in so many other spouseless homes.

Let me assure you, you are not doing grief wrong.  Your reaction to the present death is simply a continuation of choices long-since made.  The grief you think you should be feeling, was observed when the expectations of your marriage were doused in the far distant past.

When the spouse dies it’s an event like the breaking open of an oyster.  It’s recognition of the wreckage of a marriage long ago. “Insulate.  Insulate,” you said.  You chose to protect yourself from the pain or loss of what you hoped a marriage would be.

So, does this leave you bereft, staring into an empty future?

Miraculously, there is lying within you a pearl.  And it’s now up to you to discover that pearl and use it to seek a new life.  What will you discover there:  patience, kindness, hope, freedom, peace, self-control, faith?  What have the years taught you on which you can build the life you wish?

Posted by: Norm | April 14, 2013

My Brothers Take Me Fishin’

When I reveal to people I have two older brothers, what I really want them to know is these two siblings are 19 and 17 years older than me.  They were more like uncles.

This, however, did not keep me from worshipping them.  What time I had with them was a luxury.  I’d discover other heroes growing up like the Mick, Stan the Man and Hammerin’ Hank.  But my true heroes have always been my big brothers, Howard and Jim.

They were known throughout our smidgen of Kansas as athletes, hunters and fishermen.  To my recollection they never came home empty-handed.

I was on tippy-toe with arms outstretched toward adolescence when they off-handedly offered me the grand prize for my adulation.  Jim was home from Colorado and was in a rash over “settin’-out-some-lines” up on Madison Creek (hereafter known as the Crick).

We stopped at the farmhouse to the west of the Crick and got permission to fish.  “Permission” took almost an hour and two glasses of sweet tea.  They had to discuss who was related to who and who got married, who died and where they are now, not particularly in that order.

On leaving the front porch we were told by the farmer to be careful not to “hook” any of his cows.  A reference, no doubt, to an ominous line he used in the Fall when my brothers asked permission to hunt on the property.

We crawled back into Howard’s ’52 Bel-Air Coupe and straddled a two foot high green median of “somethin” grass down a two rut trail to a crossing of solid limestone well below Streeter’s Mill, our final destination.

It was here we would seine for crawdads and minnows to use for bait.  We worked about a quarter-mile of the Crick to fill two minnow buckets with enough temptation for the catfish to come.  To be honest, I was rather disappointed we didn’t get to start fishin’ right away.  But I swallowed my discontent and kept both buckets at hand for them to fill.

We scrambled back into the Chevy and made our way another half-mile or so up just beyond an ox-bow in the Crick above Streeter’s Mill.  It took us two trips to get all the trot-lines, limb-lines, and pole-lines down to the Crick’s edge.  Howard had an old inflatable “canoe” of sorts, left over from WWII, we used to float all the paraphernalia down the Crick as we set out lines. 

There were spots along the way that I and the minnow buckets disappeared from view.  I’d just paddle with my feet until my head was above water and I could reach a shallower place in the Crick.  Looking back on it, my brothers were so intent on their business I could have drowned and floated downstream before they turned and asked for more bait. 

Lines all set, we drug our tired, sorry selves up the bank and walked back to the Chevy.  I went to sleep on the way home.

Around midnight I had this dream I was floating down a river.  I was at the mercy of the current and the flat-bottomed boat simply turned round-and-round at an alarming pace.  I came to an inlet into a gigantic lake and saw a lighthouse off to my left.  The light became brighter and brighter.  I couldn’t take my eyes off it.  Rudely, manhandled really, I was awakened by someone shaking me.  It was Jim and he was pointing a flashlight right into my eyes and telling me, “Get up Tenderfoot, we gotta run the lines.”

I slept all the way to Streeter’s Mill.  We both walked and slid down the bank.  The moon was high and we made our way to the bait buckets we had nesteled away in some underbrush in the Crick.  The water seemed icy now.  At line after line, there was “action”.  We must have caught a dozen catfish.  We rebaited the hooks that needed tending and went home with the largess.

Standing out back of the old outhouse, my brothers set up two saw horses with a couple 2/12′s stretched across to make a cleaning table.  We skinned and gutted the fish, throwing all of it down a steep embankment; sure that critters would come along and have a feast. 

Smelling like fish guts and the bottom of a Crick, I stepped inside the house and immediately went to bed, not knowing I would be put upon again around 6 a.m. to run the lines just after sunrise.  Interestingly, we were allowed some breakfast of scrambled eggs, fish eggs on the side and toast.  To this day caviar holds no interest for me.  Things pretty well went the same as during the midnight foray.

After a couple of days of this routine, we had enough fish for a big fish fry.  Friends, neighbors and relatives were invited to the old homestead.  Energetically, my brothers revealed my every fault and foible during the trips to the Crick.  Everyone loved it.  It was then, I think, I discovered fishing with my brothers was so cool I was willing to put up with a bit of laughter at my own expense.  I had become one of them.

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