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Is That Coochberry?

Published on September 3, 2014 by in Stories

It’s hard to imagine, but there was a time, not too long ago, when all long distance calls had to be placed with an operator. Sometimes communication wasn’t all that easy.

I joined the Air Force in 1963, and trained at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. When I graduated from basic, I wanted to call my parents who lived in Coos Bay, Oregon. Now, in those days if you called long distance, you had to go through an operator. Direct dial came along much later.

I went to a public phone, put in a dime and dialed “O” for the operator.

“I’d like to place a collect call to Coos Bay, Oregon.”


“No Coos Bay, two words.”

“Ah, Goose Bay.”

“No, ma’am, Coos Bay, with a  ‘C’.”


“No, no, no, no. Two words, first word Coos second word Bay.

“Goose Bay?”

“No, Coos Bay, C, o, o, s, that’s “C” as in Charlie.


“No, ma’am, it’s two words. Like Goose Bay, but the first word is Coos, with a C. First word, Coos, C, o, o, s; second word Bay; B, a, y.”

“Ah Coos Bay.”


“And who shall I say is calling?”

I burst out laughing.

“Sir, I have to have your name to place the call.” Decidedly frosty.

“It’s Marvin Stottlemire.”

She joined my laughter.

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I Think I Hear God

Published on September 2, 2014 by in Stories

While I was teaching at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas in the mid 1970’s, I loaned the jack from my Ford Torino to a student who lived in the neighborhood. When he returned it, he just tossed it in the trunk, loose, where it rattled around every time we hit a bump in the road or went around a corner.

This wouldn’t do, so one very hot afternoon, I decided I needed to store the jack properly in the trunk. Joel, then about 4, came and stood on the sidewalk as I struggled to get the jack on top of the spare, but under the carpet and under the spare tire cover. (This system was designed without concern for the humans who wanted to remove or replace either the jack or the spare tire.)

Joel was filled with questions, and for the most part I answered them patiently despite the fact that sweat was pouring into my eyes, my hamstrings were burning, and I repeatedly banged my head on the trunk lid.

“What are you doing, Daddy”

“I’m putting the jack back where it belongs.” I bang my head on the trunk lid.


“Because when Saito borrowed it, he didn’t put it back right.” I pause to wipe the sweat from my eyes.


“I don’t know why, I guess he was in a hurry.”

“How are you going to put it in right?”

“Well, there is a place that it’s supposed to go and I’m just putting it in there.” By this time, I had decided the only way to do this thing was to get into the trunk.

“What are you doing now, Daddy?”

“I’m getting into the trunk.”


“Because I was hurting myself bending over to put the stupid jack back, and I kept bumping my head.” Although my patience was wearing a bit thin at this point, I still kept a calm voice and didn’t enunciate any of the profanity that was running through my mind.

“How are you going to get out?” The last straw.

“God is going to come down from heaven and lift me out! Now please don’t ask any more questions, OK?”

Silence reigned while I finally replaced the jack and then started to look to see where I was likely to bump my head while exiting the trunk.

“I think I hear him coming.” This in a very small voice from my son.

“Who?” Although I was pretty sure I knew the answer.


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Published on September 1, 2014 by in Stories

Today is Labor Day, and to honor working men and women, I’ve selected this as my daily story:

When I was in my early twenties I worked for a short time as a logger in the woods inOregon. The work was difficult and dangerous.  Most of the men I worked with were older than me and had worked in the woods for a long time. They were not, for the most part highly educated or sophisticated. To my eye, however, they were colorful. 

The area of the woods where we worked was several miles from town and we rode nearly an hour to work on a crummy. Crummy being the semi official word for a simple school bus that drove through town picking up loggers (We were never referred to as “lumberjacks.”) and taking them into the woods.

One of the men on our bus was Bruno. He was a huge Finn who was older than most of us and had worked in the woods all of his adult life. He was a shy man who seldom spoke. As a matter of fact, I can only remember hearing his voice once:

One snowy morning we had to wait at the bottom of a very steep and slippery hill for a caterpillar to come and winch us to the top. While we waited the guys started telling snow stories. “I remember the time when I was working up in Washington and it snowed so hard …” etc. I think mostly they intended their stories to be believed.

Imagine our surprise when Bruno cleared his throat and said, “You young guys think you know some lies about snow. I remember the time it snowed so hard it filled the cabin through the keyhole.”

It was quiet on the bus for a long time.

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The Hint

Published on August 29, 2014 by in Uncategorized

When we celebrated my thirty fourth birthday, I was working at Lamar University as an instructor and writing my dissertation. Both time and money were tight, but I still found time and resources to take Joel, then about five, fishing. We would drive down to Sabine Pass and fish in the Gulf from a pier. We almost always caught something, brought it home, cleaned it and Becky would cook it for our dinner.

For my birthday that year Becky and the Kids bought me a filleting knife. (I still have it.) Joel pestered and pestered me wanting to give me just a little hint about what my present was going to be. I discouraged him.

“Son, if you give me a hint, I’ll probably figure out what it is, and then it won’t be a surprise.”

He insisted he could give me just one hint that wouldn’t give it away.

Finally I relented. “OK, but just one.”

“It’s something you clean fish with.”

I’m sure glad it was subtle.


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Playing Possum

Published on August 28, 2014 by in Uncategorized

While we were living in a suburb of Topeka, we had a dog named Bones who stayed in the yard. One night Becky woke up to hear him barking furiously for a few minutes, and then falling silent. Then barking furiously again for a few minutes then falling silent. This was repeated several times.

Because we were conscious of how annoying neighbor’s barking dogs can be, Becky went to investigate and see if she could make him stop barking.

Bones was standing next to the cyclone fence that separated our yard from our neighbor’s. On their side of the yard was a possum, “playing possum.” After a few minutes the possum woke up and got up. Immediately, Bones started barking and the possum immediately went down. She watched this through two cycles.

How long that might have gone on we will never know, because Becky Called Bones up on the deck and detained him until the possum waddled off.

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Butter the Baby

Published on August 23, 2014 by in Uncategorized

I have two younger sisters; Joy is six years younger than me and Jo Ann is 15 years younger. One time when Jo Ann was around two years old, our parents left Joy and me in charge of the baby. I honestly don’t remember what much about that day, but I do remember what happened when our parents came home.

“Where is Jodie?” (Jodie was her nickname when she was a baby.)

“Oh, she was right here a minute ago.”

We began a search of the house and heard a slight whimper coming from one of the bedrooms. We opened the door to find Jo Ann. While her older brother and sister were “watching” her, Jo Ann had gone to the refrigerator, gotten a stick of butter, retired to the bed room to eat it, and got so much of it on her hands and the door knob that she couldn’t open the door.

Needless to say, this is not an event of which I am proud.

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City Council Faux Pas

Published on August 20, 2014 by in Uncategorized

I served as City Attorney for the city of Lansing, Kansas for a couple of years in the late 1980’s. At that time Lansing was a pretty small city, and City Council meetings were held in a small room in which we all sat around a conference table. As City Attorney I sat in on all meetings. Kenneth Bernard, who was mayor at that time, was one of the finest public servants I have known, and I’ve known a bunch.

The format for the meetings was that we would take care of all items that required council action, and then the Mayor Bernard would go over documents that had come to the city that didn’t require action. There were usually about a dozen items in each council member’s folder and the Mayor would identify each one and ask if there were any questions or comments, or if anything required council action.

The city had recently installed a modern waste water treatment plant and closed its sanitary lagoon. So this evening as Mayor Bernard was going through the documents in the packets he said, “And this next item is just a letter from KDHE telling us that our lagoon site is free from any residual dangerous orgasms.”

There was a moment’s pause, then two people made eye contact, and that was it. The whole room erupted in laughter. We laughed and laughed. Every time the Mayor opened his mouth to say anything we laughed some more. Finally he just rapped his gavel and said, “Meeting Adjourned.”

It was one of the funniest things that I ever saw in a public meeting. But the story doesn’t end there. One of the councilmen was Bill Bailey, who worked as a sign painter. A few weeks later when the city announced the grand opening of a softball diamond at the former lagoon site, Bill, knowing that the Mayor would arrive at the site long before the ceremonies, posted a sign. “Mayor Kenneth Bernard Has Declared This Site To Be Free of Residual Dangerous Orgasms.”

Sure enough, the Mayor arrived early, laughed a bit nervously at the sign and said, “You are going to take that down before people get here aren’t you.”

City government is serious business, and as I said, Ken Bernard was a fine, dedicated public servant. But he understood that the most important feature of a sense of humor is the ability to laugh at yourself.


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A New Hat For Uncle Bud

Published on August 19, 2014 by in Uncategorized

There is something very engaging about tall tales. Those stories that are so far from the realm of reality that no one will be expected to believe them but told in the most honest manner. I love them.

My Uncle Bud was a master of the tall tale, and I’m sure more than one of them will find their way into my own stories, but for the moment here is one of my favorites:

Uncle Bud was driving me somewhere on the country roads near Rantoul, Kansas. It had been raining and the road was laced with potholes.

“This road is in pretty bad shape,” I said as we jolted along in Uncle Bud’s pickup.

“Oh Marvin,” he replied, “You think this is bad you should have seen it last year.  I was driving along right about here when I saw what looked like a brand new Stetson hat lying in the road. I thought to myself, I’m going to get me a new hat, so I got out of the truck and went over to pick it up. What do you think, there was a fellow wearing it. ‘You sure have fallen in a hole,’ I said. ‘Can I give you a ride somewhere?’ ‘Nope,’ he said, ‘I’m riding a horse.’”

Pretty deep pothole.

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It Runs In The Family

Published on August 18, 2014 by in Uncategorized

My grandma once told me, “When people ask how you are, they are just being polite. They don’t really want to know.”

I exercise regularly in a water walking class at the YMCA. The class is mostly made up of people my age or older. There is always a lot of chatter in the class, which makes the time go very quickly.

While all of us occasionally mention some illness or treatment, most of the time we talk about other things. There is however one exception. George. You can’t talk to George for 90 seconds before he begins to regale you with his latest surgery, or the lingering side effects of an earlier surgery, or some other malady.

Recently I ran into George in the grocery store, shopping for groceries with his wife, whom I had never met. I opened the conversation:

“Hey George, how are you?” Big mistake.

“Oh, all right, I’ve been pretty dizzy since I had two operations in one week.”

“George, is this your wife, I don’t think we’ve met.”

“Oh yes,” George says, “Marvin this is my wife, Gloria.”

“Hello Gloria, Nice to meet you.”

Gloria’s response?( I swear this is true!) “I’ve got vertigo.”

Note: Because this story is pretty recent, the names have been changed.

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Put Downs

Published on August 14, 2014 by in Uncategorized

Put Downs

Harry Truman once said that the more power and authority you have the easier it is to hurt someone. Knowing that to be true, I make it a rule to avoid sarcasm or any negative feedback to students in my classrooms. I have tolerated, even encouraged disagreement and debate, and even when the arguments get pretty dumb, I have always followed the rule.

To the best of my knowledge there have only been two exceptions. One I regret, and the other I’m quite proud of.

I’m not going to talk about the one I regret, but I will tell you about the one I’m proud of.

It was in an evening leadership class at Louisiana State University – Shreveport. I was a guest lecturer in a program teaching leadership skills to public servants. There was one student in the class who was constantly disruptive. It was apparent he wasn’t singling me out for his rudeness, because every time he opened his mouth, which was very frequently, his classmates reacted.

I don’t remember exactly what I said; it was something about how to be successful, when he interrupted:

“That don’t have nothin’ to do with it,” he sneered . “The way to get ahead in this world is to have friends that count. I got friends that count!”

“Really!” I replied. “Some of my friends are already into addition and subtraction.”

With one exception the room erupted in laughter, and that was the last I heard from the troublemaker.

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