Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Eric H. McClellan Memorial Garden

As presented by Anita McClellan (my sister) at the garden's dedication:

I'd like to thank everyone for coming to represent Eric during this Memorial Garden Dedication.

Eric's life ended way too soon.  I'm still waiting for him to come through my front door and end this nightmare, I can't believe he has been gone for almost a year.  It is difficult to view the world without Eric being a part of it.  He was the sort of man who made an impact on many people's lives.  He made a point of greeting everyone he encountered.  Eric met many of his friends by going out of his way to have conversations with people he didn't know at the time.  He had friends all over the world.

When we first met the conversation flowed, there were no awkward silences; it was like we had known each other our whole lives.  We talked in the parking lot of the restaurant until 4 am and couldn't believe how the time had flown by.   When Eric set his sights on something he wanted he would not accept no as an answer.  We had only known each other a month when he asked me to marry him.  He wouldn't accept no for an answer and asked me every day for a month before I agreed.  I think it shocked everyone we knew.  When I met his Mother she told me she didn't know anything about me but she sure liked the way I made her son walk.  I loved Eric just the way he was, I wasn't about to try to change the man I fell in love with.  We brought out the best in each other because all we wanted to do was to make each other smile.  Didn't matter what was going on in the outside world when we knew we had each other to rely on.  We wanted ours to be the last face we saw each night and the first face to be seen in the morning.  Eric didn't like working overtime because it took time away from us.  Once he entered our home, he knew he was in a sanctuary where all was good.  Other than the mountains our home was his favorite place to be.

Eric was a hard worker but he played even harder.  He loved his motorcycles and the mountains.  He would tell me "any day you do a wheelie is a good day."  He was doing them in the back yard the Sunday before he died; I just shook my head and laughed watching him through the kitchen window.  I thought "that boy will never grow up," I was partially right as now he will never grow old.

He attended most of the Yamaha FJ rallies over the years and as the years rolled by the younger guys would push the envelope farther in their riding. One of the guys tried to tease Eric about being too slow so he looked him in the eye and said, "You may have been faster than me but I guarantee you didn't have more fun."  Eric was always game for a motorcycle ride; it was normal for him to go on a 200-400 mile ride in a day.  If the weather man said it was 40% chance of rain, he was going because that meant it was a 60% chance of sunshine.

Eric believed no one could get through this life alone.  He knew life was not fair.  He felt it important to offer a kind word to people because you never knew what was going on in their lives.  A cheerful hello might just be what they needed at the time and it allowed people to start their day on a positive note.  He was willing to help those in need.  When he found out one of the people on his motorcycle forum had been diagnosed with cancer, Eric looked hi up and went over to his house to rebuild his truck engine for him to make it easier for him to get to the doctor.  He was always answering forum questions on how to fix motorcycle problems and offering mechanical solutions when friends would call him on the phone with vehicle problems.

Eric liked to stay busy because it made the day go by faster.  He would tell me "if you don't have time to fix the problem correct today when will you have the time?"  He didn't believe in band-aiding a problem only to have it break later.  I use to tell him he was an artist.  I heard a bunch of noise from an engine but when he heard a motor it was like a melody and knew which part was playing off key.

We use to watch survivor shows on TV and Eric asked me one time what would be my one item to take to make life easier?  I looked him in the eye and said, "I would take you."  He laughed, but I knew if he were by my side I would want for nothing.

More than anything I wanted him happy.  When he would smile it would light up the room,  I encouraged him in his dreams and desires.  We use to laugh because I would say I knew him all his adult life and most of his childhood.  We had 28 good years together which I wouldn't trade for the world.  Neither of us could believe we had been together over half our lives; the years just flew by.

He didn't believe in throwing a fit when something went wrong.  Because when you were done with your tirade you still had to fix the problem and you only found out you wasted valuable time and the problem was still there.  It is an imperfect world and screws fall out.  Keep it simple and break it down into basic components, push, pull or twist.

Eric had an eye for detail.  He liked all his screws to line up, liked parts to be shiny and new looking, he never wanted his repairs to stand out; he told me they should be seamless.  He said the magic was in the details.  Nothing was too hard to fix or modify.  He loved the speed and handling of his 91 FJ1200 but didn't like the old suspension, so he upgraded the entire suspension to a 2005 model.  He would laugh when other men would admire his bike and then slowly catch on at how much modification had been done on what appeared to be a stock bike.

I recall one cold January morning when he was rushing to get to work only to encounter ice on the porch.  His feet flew out from under him, and he fell down the stairs.  Instead of continuing to his truck he crawled back inside to warn me of the pending danger so I wouldn't suffer the same fate he had.  He was always watching out for my safety.

Eric met me at our door after work every day during our marriage to give me a hug and kiss.  He wanted it clear to me to know how he felt.  He said marriage to me was easy because he had married his best friend.  When he had his stroke six years ago he told me that if he were to die tomorrow that he had no regrets, we had led a good life together and he had been happier than he ever thought he would.

We can't demand to know the reason why things happen, or shout at the world when bad things occur.  Life isn't fair, no one ever said it would be, but I trust that at some point everything will make sense to me.  Until then I trust in Eric that I shouldn't have a temper tantrum and waste my energy on things I can't change.  I put one foot in front of the other until it becomes natural again.  I continue doing the things we had planned and following the course we had set together.

If we have learned anything from Eric, remember to hold your loved ones tight and be sure to let every single person that means something to you know it.  You don't want to leave this world with regrets and have the people you cared about not know how much they meant to you.  Memories with people you care about are more important than the material items this life has to offer; your last thoughts won't be how big your house was, how green your yard was, or what type of car you drove.  When your life flashes before your eyes, see the people you loved not the things you regret.

Eric and I both believed you experience two deaths in this life; the loss of your physical body and when people no longer mention your name.  I know I will be speaking his name for the rest of my life because a life which doesn't include him is unimaginable. I hope with the Memorial Garden Eric will be mentioned and continue to live long after I'm gone.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Serving Susah as Something New

When Edgar's quill scratched the parchment lit by a candle on the floor, did the etchings softly whisper subtle clues to Nevermore?

When Clive's keys punch against the platen firm, denting paper white, did the ribbon twist then bind, musing Screwtape to his mind?

When armed with computer such as I, to join Alan or Staples, dare I try?

Dragons and Susah, shall they show to be as tasty as wardrobe or crow?

Take a bite, and then you'll know. 




Saturday, May 16, 2015

My Father, My Mentor

I spoke these words at my father's celebration of life on 15 May 2015, before a room full of family and friends at Sheets Memorial Baptist Church in Lexington, NC.

Charles Earion Sutherland overcame much, giving me a better start than he had. 
Growing up in the prevailing poverty of depression-era Gilliam Bottom, a coal-mining community in West Virginia, limited a young persons options. It was sometimes said that a young man had three choices: coal mine, moonshine, or moving on down the line.

The harshness of a rough start can distract a young person from doing well or from finishing school. That is what happened to Dad. My father’s grandpa, James Buel Sutherland, took notice and invited him to join him in the coal mine. 

"Since you are done with school, it's where you'll will wind up, eventually."

Still just a boy he must have been impressed with the long elevator descent into the deep darkness of the coal mine revealed a dank world where hard-working men traded their health for the wages to put food on the table for their families. He remembered the water as waist-deep, and the spectacle of a rat swimming from one wall to another remained fresh in his mind decades later. That was the last time, the only time he went into the mine. He decided to move on down the line.

Grandpas are important, but that’s another story.
My Dad joined the Navy, who schooled him to be a machinist. During a shore leave in 1952, his mother, Katherine, introduced him to my mother and what farm girl can resist a wiry young man in uniform?

After he had left the Navy, General Motors employed him as a tool and die maker in Flint Michigan. Not long after that, he was laid off and instead of waiting to be called back, he moved his family to Martinsville VA where he searched for full-time employment. Being a skilled machinist but lacking a high school diploma meant, he was able to obtain only one temporary position after another. When I was a boy, he often told me “to stay in school” because he had lived the consequences of not having done so.
He also followed his advice, after he rejoined the military, the Army. He completed his GED along with many other military schools, and after he was working for the Civil Service, he even earned his MBA. Of course, he knew it would have been better to have completed his education as a young man, but he also knew you can’t start where you were, you have to move on from where your are.

His naval experience proved invaluable in 1965 when the Army commissioned the USNS Corpus Christi Bay (T-ARVH-1), a helicopter repair ship designed to perform depot level maintenance for the extensive helicopter corps engaged in combat and support operations in Vietnam.

Two years later, while assigned to the 5th Infantry Division, he was awarded the Bronze Star for saving two American lives during close-quarters combat, where he was also awarded the Purple Heart for a bayonet wound and other serious injuries.
The nature of bayonet wounds suggest a personal level of violence, the details of which would be upsetting for many people; therefore, I will end my description here, but for anyone interested I will freely share them with you during a sidebar discussion, if you ask me for them. Needless to say, his example of physical courage under difficult circumstances influenced me throughout my life. I believe such examples are essential for boys to reject child-like fears and to become men, and here’s a secret all men know and women would do well to try to understand, men desire to be known as dangerous men. My Dad was the most dangerous man I ever knew.

After his Vietnam tours, he went on to serve in the US Army in various capacities in many other assignments, culminating with his retirement as the Army promoted him to Sergeant Major. For personal reasons he elected to retire shortly after that, having served a total of 28 years in uniform, he then served another 20 years with the Department of Defense as an exemplary maintenance repair facilities manager.

During that time, he celebrated the significant milestones of my ongoing military career, and we maintained an increasingly close relationship, albeit from long distance, most of the time.
One event we shared was the passing of his closest friend. After the funeral, my Dad and I spent the night in his RV. Experiencing the loss of his friend, my Dad began asking me questions about the Bible and Jesus. From 8:00 PM to around 2:30 the following morning I answered questions until my voice eventually failed. At the time, I'd been a Christian for 22 years, and in those hours I shared most of what I'd learned. Later than morning, Dad accepted the salvation of our Christ, the Lord Jesus. How cool is that?

Over the next three months, my Dad read the Bible straight through. He later told me how he had been both impressed and embarrassed that his son knew so much about the Bible, while he did not. 

When my mother had a debilitating stroke in 1998, he began another journey of personal service. Aided much by my sister, Anita, and later on by his mother, whom many of you knew, he cared for my mother for 2 1/2 years during her most dependent years, until she passed away.

Then something extraordinary happened.
A series of interesting coincidences merged and my father met Vernell.  What followed was 14 years, where he was the happiest I’d ever known him to be. During those years, they visited my family in Louisiana and many other places as they completed their great adventure. I count myself fortunate to have shared a small portion of those best years with them.

Some of you have experienced a close relationship with my father in his mature years, where he transformed into a philosopher of sorts, for me he maintained the role as mentor by example, where his actions were object lessons from which I gleaned wisdom as I could. That remains true, even today, after his passing.

His form of teaching requires the learner to add value to the lesson, in order to discover the treasure hidden behind the words and actions.

 My Dad taught me a lot of things; I will share six of them with you:

1. Stay in school: In other words, “School, which includes high school, college, graduate programs, trade schools, profession education, etc., will reward the graduate with knowledge, credentials and a network which will establish the foundation of your reputation.”

2. You don’t have to stay where are, but you can’t start from where you were. We all have to move on from where we are to get where we decide to go. In other words, “you have the freedom to make your choices, but ultimately your choices will make you.”
3. Do things with your family and make friends wherever you go. Go places, dance with your Mom, and take a few pictures when you can. In other words, “Our life isn’t complete unless we share memories with other people. Those memories will be what remain after our family members, friends, and even when we reach the end of our life on this earth. God gives us a family to start our lives with, but He arranges opportunities for us to expand our network with friends, who can become closer than family.”

4. Help your friends when you can. Chances are your friends will survive the challenges that come their way; however, if you can help them, then you get to celebrate the victory with them. I’ve had several people share personal/private testimonies over the last few days of how my Dad had helped them during their challenges. The cool part is that he had never told me those stories; I remained impressed with his humbleness. In other words, “Leave your friends some good, untold stories to tell others about you when you are gone.”

5. When he left his childhood behind, he decided to live his life without fear. Imagine how great was his joy when he discovered that the “Sutherland Coat of Arms Family Motto” read “Without Fear”. He often advised me to avoid trouble when possible, but when trouble leaves you with no escape, then hit it with everything you can and get out of there as fast as possible. During such times, surviving is paramount; smiling is optional. In other words, “Don’t live in fear of anything; go around trouble if possible, but when that’s not possible, boldly go through it as quickly as possible.”

6. This brings me to the final lesson. We’re living it right now. My Dad taught me not to be sad because something was over; instead, I should be happy because it happened. Today we are celebrating my Dad's life because it happened from July 28, 1930 to May 10, 2015. Thank you for being part of this celebration.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Pain Might Be Your Last Warning

I am scheduled to have coronary bypass surgery because I was lucky enough to have bronchitis. Sound funny, but it’s the truth. If not for the bronchitis I might have delayed seeing a cardiologist until after a heart attack.

In most ways, I’m a typical man, and my type of behavior is predictable. Though older than I admit and heavier than I should be, I have always considered myself capable of answering any challenge regardless of a few aches and pains.

Over the years, I have modified my exercise routines to avoid injury and pain risks. As an aging martial artist, my tournament-training days of tornado-like spinning heel kicks are behind me. In their place, I’ve adapted to a routine of lower and shorter-reaching but effective techniques to both promote fitness and maintain something of an emergency arsenal should the occasion arise. I have enough skeletal issues to discourage running, but walking has been enjoyable, until recently.

At first I found myself out breath much quicker than in the past, and then my blood pressure elevated after even short workouts. As fate would have it, a flare-up of reoccurring bronchitis emerged. Naturally, I credited my bronchitis with the exercise-induced shortness of breath and elevated blood pressure. Wisely, I decided to lay off my exercise routine until the bronchitis cleared up.

Then it snowed in Louisiana. My four-year-old grandson had never seen snow, and the idea of going outside into the white stuff captured his imagination.

After I gave him a demonstration of how to make a snowball, he quickly became an expert, too. Of course, I had to help him make his first snowman. What kind of grandpa would pass up such an opportunity?

As the base of the snowman grew to sufficient size, I realized that I was in trouble. I leaned on a nearby fence while I encouraged my breathing to return to normal and for an angry tightness in my chest to relax. The closest thing I’d had to this level of discomfort had been during the last few hundred yards of an Alabama 10K in 1985. Back then, I had the good, or you might say, bad timing of approaching the finish line beside another runner, who was as determined to finish in front of me as I was to be in front of him. Understandable consequence for then, but this time, all I’d done was roll up a medium-sized snowball.

After I recovered my breath, and the pain left me, I blamed the bronchitis and rolled another ball to make the middle of our snowman. Then it happened again.

When I recovered, we finished the snowman. My grandson thought it was a great invention. I think he’ll remember at least a little about his first time whenever he makes another snowman, or as he called it, a snow dragon. Because his grandpa writes books with dragons in them, he often sees dragons where others can't. 

When I explained the breathing, blood pressure, and pain issues as part of a plea to get my desired antibiotics, my doctor suspected more than bronchitis. A flurry of test and procedures: EKG, x-rays, stress test, and eventual heart catheter confirmed the suspicions.

I have many blockages, some quite serious. The doctor told me that the good news was that my heart was healthy. Sounds funny to you and me, but in cardiologist talk, that means I haven’t had a heart attack. I presume many of their patients wait too long. Good thing I didn’t.

When there isn’t enough oxygen-carrying blood flowing to a part of your heart, you get pain, sometimes called angina. Fortunately, the pain goes away when you rest. It’s not a heart attack, but it’s a sign you might have one.

It’s not always an indication that you’ve allowed yourself to get out of shape and need to push yourself to the next level. Telling yourself, “pain is weakness leaving the body,” and then trying to push through the barrier can very well kill you. I think that may be what happened to a few of my old friends. I didn’t understand it until now. As demonstrated, a typical man may not be able to distinguish the nature of these pains until he gets some help from a cardiologist.

Not all problems like this require coronary bypass surgery. Depending on the severity, some solutions are relatively simple, but you need a trained professional to make the determination.

Naturally, my story is not a substitute for qualified medical advice, but I hope it serves as a warning to all those typical folks like many of friends who chose to push back at the pain.

Think of pain as a light on the master caution panel. Don’t push it and forget it, hoping it stays away. Investigate it; you might have multiple problems confusing your symptoms. Take the proper action.

Be good to your heart. Talk to a doctor about chest pain and shortness of breath.

It might not be what you want it to be.

The Chronicles of Susah

If you haven't already done so, check out my antediluvian novels at Amazon. You'll be glad you did.

If you have read them, then I ask you to consider posting a review wherever you acquired the books. Thanks for reading my books.

They're also available for your Nook and iBook.

The Dragoneers
The Lost Dragoneer
The Last Dragoneer

Friday, March 20, 2015

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Constitution Says So

A dear friend of mine and I were discussing forms of government and the question, "what is the United States" came up.

I said, "Republic."

He countered by declaring, "We're a Federal, Presidential, Constitutional Republic because we have a democratic, representative, and electoral congress. Nothing is simple in what he have. Perhaps there's some despotic legislation in there, too. What's a legislature called where the head of the executive branch has his hand in the cookie jar?"

As usual, the correct answer was mine, but here's the explanatory version of it.

The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America; it delineates the national frame of the federal government. Anything the federal government does, to include the President (a.k.a. head of the executive branch of the government) outside of the Constitution is illegal. The violations are myriad, but they do not make them legal. 

The Constitution of the United States is the first constitution of its kind, and has influenced the constitutions of other nations. That's American Exceptionalism. 

The people of the States existed first, and then created the federal government to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. The central government has no legal authority to grant rights to the people, the powers not delegated to the federal government by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

By being a member of the union, the States are not allowed to violate the provisions of the Constitution. For example, Alabama may not have slaves and Illinois may not infringe the right of the people to bear arms. 

Ah, but one might argue that they do. 

Alabama has slaves? No! Of course not, if they did the Federal government would take legal and if required move Federal troops into to prevent Alabama from having slaves. Not only would they free the slaves, but also they would intern those who organized, planned, and executed the slave-holding provisions. No state may violate the Constitution and get away with it, unless both the State and the Federal government work in tandem to violate the civil right of the people.

"Not Alabama," one might response to such a statement, supposing it was either a diversion or a misunderstanding.

Some States and cities infringe on the right of the people to bear arms. Maryland is one, Illinois does or at least used to, D.C. has some anti-gun laws, New York City, Detroit and others have some restrictions. So those places do it, how do they get away with it?

As I said, when the State and the Federal government work in tandem to violate the civil right of the people, then they appear to get away with it, but it doesn't make it legal. 

In Nazi Germany, everything the central government did was legal, even though it wasn't right. If the central government did that sort of things here, it wouldn't be legal, even if they wore badges and carried guns. As long as the Constitution has people willing to defend it, there is the hope of freedom. Keeping the federal government purposefully weak is part of the Constitution's design.

The Constitution provides protection for the people by dividing the federal government into three branches, supposedly with three separate functions, but with overlapping checks and balances.

In the landmark case, District of Columbia v. Heller it was found that D.C.'s handgun ban and trigger-lock requirement (as applied to self-defense) violated the Second Amendment. The total ban on handgun possession in the home amounts to a prohibition on an entire class of arms that Americans overwhelmingly choose for the lawful purpose of self-defense. This prohibition would fail constitutional muster under any standard of scrutiny. Similarly, the requirement that any lawful firearm in the home be disassembled or bound by a trigger lock makes it impossible for citizens to use arms for the core lawful purpose of self-defense and was, therefore, unconstitutional.

When the citizens elect people to office who compromise on the basic freedoms of the citizens, certain rights are never taken away. They are merely being infringed. 

For example, you have the right to life, which demands the implied right to breathe. If the President ordered his Secret Police or an ATF officer to choke you until you could no longer breathe, and they complied, they still haven't taken away your right to life. It is still your right, but they would be illegally infringing on your right to do so. Throughout history, governments have denied people their rights under the guise of sovereign authority. The illusion of legality is supported by the lethal force the governments use to control the people. In the United States, the federal government is only legal when it operates within the constraints of the Constitution. Therefore, when people, using the cover of an office, infringe your rights, it's not legal. When the government people commit crimes against you, you have a few options. 

Your choices would be to summon your state police, a sheriff, or even the local police to intervene, as it is their duty to protect your right to life, but sometimes they can't get to you in time. Law enforcement is focused primarily on the public at large and sometimes individuals are left to fend for themselves. If you had time you could have your lawyer by paying him or her to file suit, hoping to make it to the supreme court for them to declare the act unconstitutional in the hopes the offenders would obey the SCOTUS. 

Lacking the ability to do those things, you might decide to take action on your own. To take up arms and fight for your rights, with the full realization that when you act as an individual to violently defend your God-given rights against out of control government agents, they are probably going to kill you. 

Maybe your death would spawn a local uprising, convincing the local police to join in the battle, maybe the State would follow, and then maybe other States would join in. What a mess. 

Stop the madness. There has to be a better way.

The better way is for the citizens to elect people of good character who honestly mean it when they swear to defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic. Much better to have a limited government as directed by the supreme law of the land than to depend on self-serving office holders, who want to parcel your rights to you when and where as they see fit, when by their actions they are neither fit to control your rights nor to hold office.

Elections have consequences. 

Dr. James McHenry reported, at the close of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, when queried as Benjamin Franklin left Independence Hall on the final day of deliberation the Constitutional Convention. 

A person who had been anxiously waiting outside shouted, “Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?”

Benjamin Franklin tipped his hat and said, “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

We're a Republic. 

It's as simple as that. Keeping it is the challenge.

The Chronicles of Susah

If you haven't already done so, check out my antediluvian novels at Amazon. You'll be glad you did.

If you have read them, then I ask you to consider posting a review wherever you acquired the books. Thanks for reading my books.

They're also available for your Nook and iBook.

The Dragoneers
The Lost Dragoneer