In memory of my sister, Ruth Willbanks


Ruth and RC Willbanks

I’m just sitting here in Dellwood, Fla. thinking of my middle sister Ruth, who passed away this week.  

I’m thinking of the things we experienced when we were kids.  Ruby, my oldest sister, the quiet one, actually talked a lot when we were kids.  Once Ruth was born, Ruby didn’t have a chance to talk much and became the quiet one.  

As the brother, I played the Devil’s advocate to Ruth.  I pestered her as much as possible and competed as much as possible.  She wasn’t fond of her first name, ‘Amanda’, so of course, I called her that as often as I could.  

I remember we had a cat named Priscilla. Priscilla had the run of the house.  We slept upstairs; the girls in one room, and me in another. One morning, when Ruth was of high school age, she got up and slipped her foot in her shoe.  Priscilla at some point during the night had taken a dump in Ruth’s shoe.  WOW.  You should have been there.  It was a little brothers perfect morning.   I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but 60 years later, when I think of that morning, I still have to smile.

Ruth became involved with the MYF (Methodist Youth Fellowship) and quickly gained leadership positions.  As President she entered a district speech contest and won first place.  She was awarded a large loving cup.  You know that commandment in the Ten Commandments, the was that says “Ye shall not covet”?  I coveted that loving cup and still think of it. I wonder if it is still around. 

To say that we were economically challenged  when we were young is an understatement.  We were poor.  Ruth had always dreamed of being a pastor’s wife.  If the times were as they are now, she would have dreamed of being a pastor, and she would have been a great one.  With no assets and nothing but a dream, she set out to get a college education. Not just from a state school, but a private school, namely Taylor University, a religious university.

Working in the dining service area, she graduated from Taylor University with a degree in religious education. She accepted a job in West Monroe, Louisiana.  While employed at the church in West Monroe, she met a young accountant named Robert Conley Willbanks.  You know that old saying about matches being made in heaven? This match would make a believer of you.  If there was ever a match made in heaven, this was it. You couldn’t mention Ruth without RC or RC without Ruth. Some fifty plus years later it’s still there.  Death ends a life, not a relationship.  RC still loves Ruth and always will.

Looking back, I can see how Ruth’s determination to get though school had an effect on me. She showed me it could be done. Some few years later it was me trying to get through college and then law school….. I’ll always be proud of my beautiful , intelligent, and courageous sister.  Not many brothers can say that.  She was a wonderful sister, loving wife and  devoted mother. A life well lived.                                                                                                


Who let the dogs out – by guest blogger – Mary Ann Robinson

One morning while we were in the panhandle of Florida this last winter, where I’m from and  now we snowbird…our next door neighbor, (who is also my cousin) knocked loudly on our door.  

She was standing in her nightgown and asked me if I would help her look for her son’s dogs (he lives across the road).  About three or four of them were out of their pens and running around willy nilly.

Behind our houses (and his too,) there is a large expanse of woods, so there was a possibility for a long, hard search. Among the missing were two Jack Russells, and Dixiebell – a little beagle and Darcie, who is a Malamute.  And I must say she is one very beautiful dog…..part Husky.  Turns out – it was Darcie who let the dogs out.  

We set out on a wild ride…..two women in their 60s & 70s in their nightgown and PJs, cruising the fields, laughing.  We spotted them – and Patsy said she would try to get Dixiebell first – and she did.  She wouldn’t let me help and I must say Dixiebell is a little chubby. That dog likes to eat hickory  nuts.  

Then, the Jack Russell dogs came back on their own and went into their pen. 

Darcie lives outside. Come to find out,  a few days earlier she had opened (by herself) the sliding back door into the house.  She stands up and starts moving the door and it eventually  opens. On that day Dixiebell was with her and she also went in the house.  I think they just wanted to make some mischief that day.  

It was a hilarious time and we had a good laugh about it. 

Usually when I …

Usually when I write, I try to write about something that is uplifting, inspirational, motivational, encouraging, humorous or at least positive. However, there are times when something just “grabs” you and you have to write it.

I think that everyone in the United States has shopped in, gone in, passed by, heard of or been made aware of that icon of merchandising, Wal-Mart. When you have  gone in their parking lot, did you ever notice all of the little birds foraging in and among the wheels of the vehicles?  I think they are sparrows and they hop in, about and among the cars, pickups and vans hoping to find some remnants of food  thrown away by the Wal-Mart shoppers, some part of a bun, doughnut,roll, pretzel or potato chip.

A few days ago, my wife and I went to Wal-Mart. She was driving and I was directing her into a parking space. I noticed that where the left front wheel was going, there was a dead sparrow.  It was a small mangled mess of blood, and feathers.  That’s a sight that’s difficult to erase from your memory.  What  an injustice!!  That little sparrow, who was eating from some discarded  scrap of food, had not been alert enough and was suddenly and abruptly smashed by the  oversized tire of what I imagined to be a twenty year old, rusted out, Toyota pick up with oversized tires. (You know what a southern boy  will never  say, “Those tires are too big”)

The Billy Graham revivals used to have a singer named as I remember, George Beverly Shea. He used to sing a song, “How Great thou Art”.  That song used to have a line “His eye is on the sparrow and and I know he watches me”.  His eye certainly was not on that little sparrow. A small injustice as they go,but still an injustice and it  causes you to think. I think it was Descartes who said “I think therefore I am”

Have you ever seen that picture of some small children crossing a bridge and in front of them is an angel holding a sword and guarding their way?  It is their guardian angel.  I thought of all of the stories I’ve read and cases I’ve seen from the bench in the courtroom where children have suffered terrible abuses.  Where was that guardian angel then? I live in a world where Christians are killing Christians in Ireland, Jews and Arabs are killing each other in the middle east and muslims are killing people all over the world and I think about that.

I don’t mean to disparage faith, but sometimes its hard to have trust.  Of course, if it was easy, everyone would have faith.  Its easy to believe when you say two plus two is four, but it is hard to believe in the face of reality.  Mark Twain said of faith, “Faith is believin what  you know ain’t true”…. that’s faith……

There have been some advances; child labor laws, hospitals,colleges, universities and a growing awareness of world hunger, over-population.  There was the abortive League of Nations and now the United Nations.  You should believe, and there is  some justification that the world and civilization are getting better and perhaps there is a plan and we are right on track.  It allows you to keep going on if you believe it, and I do and I think, perhaps too much……

Skeeter – a retrospective

CHIHUAHUA:  A breed of tiny dog with a round head and large pointed ears, originally from Mexico and popularized by Xavier Cogat, a Mexican band leader who had a Chihuahua and would hold it in his hand as he conducted the band

In 1996, our son Sam graduated from college and while home, drove to a nearby town,  Anderson, IN and bought a tiny, white Chihuahua just a few months old.  Tiny Chihuahuas are good chick magnets. He named him “Skeeter”.  Sam lived the first year after college in Kentucky with several of his friends and of course, Skeeter.

The boys rough housed with Skeeter (which on some level I’m sure shaped his personality) and on one occasion, the boys left the house with an almost entirely un-eaten pizza, saved for later.  The returned to an open, empty pizza box and Skeeter was feigning innocence. But his bloated little stomach and the red sauce around his mouth betrayed him. Sam had to set him outside for a good, long while.

Sam taught him any manner of tricks.  He could shake hands, spin to the right or left, roll over and play dead.  Years later when Sam would come to visit, Skeeter could still do his tricks with the use of hand signals.
The next year Sam started law school in Indianapolis.  His apartment did not accept pets so he asked us if we would keep him for a just while. This was in 1997. It is now 2011.
Skeeter became part of the family.  Chihuahuas by nature are territorial and become attached to their human families.  Skeeter quickly assumed his duties by barking and inspecting every visitor.  He had the uncanny ability to hear any vehicle before it touched the gravel of our lane.
Skeeter is most well-known (famous or infamous depending upon your perspective), from his memorable role in our Christmas photo one year. He inadvertently became a little…well… ‘excited’ during the photo shoot, thereby exposing himself.
I didn’t notice so I sent the cards out myself, and they went to many, and even across the Atlantic. My wife Mary Ann (along with the rest of our family) didn’t know and was horrified after (along with the rest of the family), and even suggested that I might have done it on purpose. But it worked out in the end because I received several responses that it was the best Christmas photo ever received. (To be fair, we did receive a few complaints as well).
As a general rule, Skeeter liked women better than men, but there were exceptions.  Nancy Grunin, a family friend and Ellen Graves, Mary Ann’s best friend were, for some reason known only to Skeeter, intensely disliked.  Skeeter could sense when either set foot on the premises and reacted accordingly. However he was absolutely enraptured with our next door neighbor Pam Frazee who spoiled him regularly.
Skeeter and Mary Ann would walk every morning down the lane to get the paper and have a little walk on the county road.  One morning, a large, dumb but friendly dog approached Mary Ann and tried to jump up on her.  All of a sudden 5.07 pds of Chihuahua fury dove into that large dog’s foot.  The dog thought Skeeter wanted to play, dropped down and rolled on him. Long story short, we took Skeeter to the vet and he had broken a small bone.  The bone was set and Skeeter ended up with a cast on his paw.  At that same time, Mary Ann had a foot operation and had a cast on her right foot.  I had a wife and a dog with casts.
Skeeter, like all of us, began to age.  He lost a bit of quickness when he chased woodland creatures.  He developed cateracts and eventually lost his sight.  He would bump into things and had trouble finding his food bowl.  His hearing deteriorated and you would have to clap to make him hear.  Then he started having difficulties with his bowels.  He was 15 years old.  Using the 7 human yrs for each dog year that would make him 105.  We had to think about putting him down.  My head told me yes and my heart told me no.  We finally made the appointment.
Mary Ann and I went together and Sam surprised us by coming up.  We all went with him and he received a sedative to relax.  Both Sam and I held him.  I kept saying Good Dog Skeeter, Good Dog Skeeter.  I wanted the last thing that he would hear is one of his family telling him that he was a good dog.
He passed away Friday, October 14th, 2011.  We had him cremated.  I don’t know where we are going to bury the ashes or even if we are going to bury the ashes.  Ben Hur Lampman says that the best place to bury a good dog is in the heart of his master.

I hope dogs go to heaven. I’m quite certain they do. Certainly no loving God would separate people from their canine friends for eternity.”  In Job 12:10 it says “For the soul of every living thing is in the hand of God.”

One of my favorites is from W. Dayton Wedgeforth “If my dog is barred by the heavenly guard, we’ll both of us brave the heat.”
Our son broke the news to our 6 year old grandson Hudson Robert.  He started crying, telling his parents that Skeeter had only let him hold him ONE TIME.  Julie, our daughter-in-law, told him it was important to remember all of the good times.  Hudson through sobs said he couldn’t remember any good times.  His mom Julie asked, “Then why are you crying so hard?”  With a burst of emotion, he wailed BECAUSE I LOVED HIM!
President Reagan said “The best way to get over a dog’s death is to get another one soon.” Mary Ann wants to take a rest from dogs.  I can understand how she feels, she  handled a lot of his care.
Cleveland Amory said “Unlike some people who have experienced the loss of an animal, I did not believe, even for a minute, that I would never get another.  I did know full well that there were just too many animals out there in need of homes for me to take what I have always regarded as the self- indulgent road of saying the heartbreak of the loss of an animal was too much to want to go through it again.”




The Tooth Fairy Cometh


Yesterday my wife and I went down to Fishers, IN. to pick up our grandson, who is six, from the school bus when he arrived.

We waited for with many mothers and younger siblings.  When the bus arrived, our grandson climbed down from the bus, holding a Kleenex to his mouth. He ran up to us and said “I pulled a tooth today!!!”, and sure enough in his lower set of baby teeth there, right in front,  was a gaping hole. He was so proud.

As we walked the two blocks to his home, he was all excited,  jabbering and telling us all about it.  He was pulling on his tooth, twisting it, and it fell out.  His teacher took him to the school nurse, they washed his mouth off and gave him a Kleenex to hold on his mouth.  They also gave him an envelope to hold the tooth.

As soon as we got into the house, he called his dad and told him what he had done. Then we had to get a look at the tooth. He emptied his back pack, then shook it out.  There was no envelope, no saved tooth.

He threw down the back pack yelling, “I’ve lost it!!” and fell to the floor wailing.  His heart was broken, his precious tooth was gone.  My wife and I examined the back pack carefully, shook it again and a small, white, envelope fell out.  Our grandson saw it and immediately said “There it is!”  and sure enough, that small, cherished baby tooth was there.  We quickly said “Lets put it where we can find it”.

We took the tooth and envelope and put them on the counter in the kitchen, laying the tooth on top of the white envelope.  Our son then called Julie (his wife) to give her the exciting news.

The loss of the tooth did not hamper the grandson’s eating ability.  After dinner, my wife and I left for home.  Shortly after we arrived home,our son called and asked if we had seen the tooth.  We told him where we had last seen it.  Unbelievably, the elusive tooth was missing again.

About two hours later, the son called again and the fleeting, evasive baby tooth was again found.  He had thought that the tooth might have fallen to the floor when he picked up the white envelope to throw it away.  He had gotten down on his hands and knees, using the flash light on his cell phone had searched the floor and miraculously found that baby tooth.  He, Julie and the tooth fairy all rejoiced and celebrated.  Now they just had to keep an eye on that wandering tooth until morning.


Indian Lake. A must-read.

When we were in our teens in the early 50s, we had heard for a long time from Nick Liakos about the joys and excitement of Indian Lake, Ohio.  It had a lake, an amusement park and lots of lovely, lonely teenage girls. It also was in Ohio where you could drink beer at age 18.

Our adventurous gang decided to go, and when one of our own, Bob Stephenson, provided the car, we were on our way. There was our ringleader; Nick, Bob Stephenson, myself and Max Parker.

Bob was the groundskeeper of the Muncie Reds, a class D affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds.  Class D is one of the lowest levels of Professional baseball.  Usually when a player is signed to a professional contract they are given a signing bonus.  Once received, the first thing many of the players do is to buy a new car.  When the team would go on a road trip, they would leave their cars and keys with Bob to care for them. I remember one player had a new Chevrolet and he had put on Cadillac tail fins which made it a really hot car.  They would give Bob permission to drive them.

Max was a south side Muncie boy, and a fine basketball player.  He was a great shooter and the starting guard with the local team, the Muncie Central Bearcats (i.e. the movie Hoosiers).  He delighted staying with his friends’ families and would just make himself at home.

At the time, he was staying with another friend of ours, Bobby Graves.  Bobby’s father, Tommy Graves, would give his children a weekly allowance every week.  They would line up and Tommy would dole out the money.  Max would just line up along with them.  One week, they were lined up to receive their money and when it came to Max, he said,  “Could I have a little extra? I have a date.”

Max also loved country music and was completely uninhibited.  He would belt out a country tune any time so moved.  They had a country tune that was popular at the time, “Good Night Irene”.  It was like the later Beetle tunes where they just keep repeating a line.  It went “Good Night Irene, Good Night Irene, Good Night Irene, Good Night Irene, I’ll see you in my dreams.”  Max loved that song and would sing it repeatedly.

We finally arrived at Indian Lake and rented a house for the weekend.  It consisted of a front porch which ran across the house and the rear of the house had been divided into two spaces which served as bedrooms.  The partition dividing the room did not go to the top of the ceiling.  There was a space of about two feet.

We went on our way around the amusement park and met some young ladies who were glad to accompany us. I, as usual, had no money by this time.  I was in line with a young lady to go on the Ferris wheel. I had no money and the young lady was expecting me to get the tickets. I really had no plans, I was thinking of using the old lost billfold routine.

As we were waiting in line to get the tickets, Bob Stephenson came over to me and extended his hand to shake hands with me and to wish me luck, he slipped a $10.00 bill into my hand.  He didn’t say a word other than good luck.  It has been over 60 years and I can still remember that most vividly.  That says wonders about Bob’s character and I have remembered it many, many times.

Max was also on the Ferris with us and he had some young lady with him.  We could not see him, but we could hear him occasionally belting out “Good Night Irene.”  Max had consumed several bottles of that 3.2 Ohio beer.  When Max and his lady reached the top of the Ferris wheel, it stopped and the seats started rocking.  We were about two or three swings behind Max.

The rocking of the swings and the 3.2 beer apparently overcame Max, and he started throwing up over the side of the seat. I’m describing this as delicately as possible, but the vomit went all over the sides of the Ferris wheel and toward the ground.

When the ride ended, our girlfriends left, and we, with a thoroughly chastened Max, went back to our rented house.

Max and I slept on one side, and Bob Stephenson and Nick slept on the other.  As we prepared to go to sleep, Max coughed up a goober (phlegm) and blew it up and out of his mouth into the air.  Again, I’m trying to describe this as delicately as possible.  It soared up, over and through the partition of the rooms and with the precision of a GPS, came down and hit Nick right between the eyes.

Nick was a Greek kid, not too tall, but very stocky and strong. Nick was enraged!  He charged around the partition, with wild, tousled hair and in white shorts and yelled, “WHICH ONE OF YOU SONS OF BITCHES DID THAT?”

I pointed to Max and Max pointed to me.  Bob Stephenson came trailing after Nick and helped to calm Nick and restore some semblance of order.

Even now, after all of these years, when I want to raise my spirits, I think of Nick coming around that corner.

We loved Indian Lake.

Three Amigos Reunited

The Ducks

About a half mile from our house there is about a 45 degree curve.  The folks who live there raise some chickens, ducks and occasionally some turkeys.  The birds run loose and as  you can imagine, they lose some to the traffic.

A day or two ago,  a duck was killed and was laying by the side of the road as I went through the curve.  Today when I went by the area, I saw two young ducks laying by the body with their heads laying on the body of the dead duck.  Apparently the dead bird was their mother.

Sometimes I wish I was not so observant or so sensitive, but then again the fact that someone was aware and had noticed the incident perhaps gave it some meaning, some dignity.  Maybe in some small way it made the world a better place and me a better person?

I hope so.