Tag Archives: Ray Lucas

Robins

If You See A Robin In Your Yard Eating Cotton Candy – Don’t Shoot!

By Ray Lucas

“Robins are special birds,” my grandma took great care to tell me one spring day as I wielded my new BB gun around the yard as a boy. “I really don’t want you shooting anything in my yard, and especially not a robin.” I had received a BB gun for Christmas the winter before, and she was probably worried I would take aim at her beloved red-bellied birds in the yard.

Grandma understood the temptation for a boy to shoot cans, telephone poles and even birds. Like the fictional Atticus Finch, she seemed to be saying, “Shoot all of the other birds you like, if you can hit them, but not my robins.” I knew from that young age that robins were special.

Because of her love for them, I have always associated robins with her, even after her death. My mom was so like my grandma that I also came to associate robins with my mom after her passing when I was in college.

I now live in our 120-year-old family home place, where both my grandma and mom grew up. I am convinced that each spring the two return as robins to watch over me. I most often see them while cutting grass, hopping around the yard or singing from a tree limb. It’s like they have come home to check in on me and see how their family has grown as my children play about the yard. Robins make me smile in a way that no other animal can.

I am not really a superstitious person who believes in visits from the afterlife. I don’t normally go in for spirits and friendly ghosts, but in matters of robins I guess I feel differently. I have known others who associate past loved ones with something tangible and physical in their lives: a butterfly in the wind, a special rose bush, a hawk on a pole, a significant song, or a piece of jewelry. Maybe I’m superstitious after all.

I once read an article about how people die three separate deaths. One is our actual death that comes with obituaries, flowers and funerals where our loved ones gather to mourn our passing. The second death is when the last person who knew us personally while we were alive passes away. When they die, there is no remaining person on the planet that can say they knew us while we were alive.

The final death, is the moment in the vast future when the last records of our life disappear.  Our tombstone is reduced by the elements and any written record of our life – journals, birth records, newspapers – are lost.  Perhaps my stories in Extol will prolong my third death by several thousands of years, but one day even these digital fingerprints will fade.

I think this was an interesting way to look at death. I like how it acknowledges that my mother, grandmothers, grandfathers, friends, neighbors and mentors who have already passed are still very much alive as long as I am here and remember all they have passed along to make me who I am. As I tell readers and my children about their lives and how they touched mine, they will live on far into the future through these stories.

It also gives me some comfort that through my children and their future families, I might be alive for a very long time. Even after my love for fast food and sugary treats has taken its mortal toll (in my very old years, if I am fortunate), my children might see me in their yard as a red bellied robin while lying in a hammock and reading Extol under a shade tree.

And if they remember me through that spring robin in the yard, perhaps they might recall what the late poet Emily Dickinson, still very much alive through her words, once wrote:

If I shouldn’t be alive

When the Robins come,

Give the one in Red Cravat,

A Memorial crumb.

If a crumb isn’t handy, my children will knowingly recall my sweet tooth and know that a dab of cotton candy will suffice as I watch over them.

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A Life in Progress | Sunday Morning Tech Lessons

LET ME BE CLEAR: I am not anti-technology. In fact, I’m an early adopter. I had a Mac in college when everyone still adored PCs. My first iPod had an actual wheel on it that you spun to find your music. As a kid, I had an Atari video game system that played only one game: Pong.

Technology is good. In general, it works to make our lives better not worse. I never want to be that old guy fighting technology with nostalgic tales to my grandchildren. “I remember walking barefoot to school both ways in the snow, without an iPhone 6, and so should you.”

With that backdrop, I have to admit when my children were still small I began to have second thoughts about how much they were starting to rely upon technology. When my oldest son was six, the water dispenser on our refrigerator broke. Walking right past the sink he asked with real concern, “But Daddy, how will I get water?”

When our youngest was still a toddler of two, his mother and I showed him my old family photo album. He loved seeing photos of me as a child but would try to “swipe right” with his finger on the plastic photo page to turn to a new photo. He was obviously more adept with an iPad photo album than with an actual photo album.

My final hesitation about tech involves great memories of our Friday family movie nights. When my teenagers were still young, we loved going to the video store to pick out two to three DVDs for the weekend. We would lay out blankets in the living room, eat popcorn and watch Shrek. These are some of my favorite family memories. A few years ago, I tried to recreate the old magic except with Netflix on-demand. What has changed in those few years since my teens were little is that we now have exponentially more screens in the house.

We started family movie night with the New Adventures of Scooby Doo. Minutes into the movie, one teen child was texting friends, one was scrolling through their Twitter feed, our eight-year-old was battling Bowser on his Nintendo DS while the three-year-old watched Scooby and the gang foil the evil plans of Old Man Withers. Even my wife and I were guilty of toggling from movie time to Facebook on our phones. Everyone was glued to their own personalized screen. The magic was gone.

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As sad as this turn of events is to me as a father, I honestly understand how hard it is in today’s world for kids to shut out technology. When I was in high school, there was a Radio Shack commercial that showed all of the great tech toys Santa may be delivering. The commercial panned through their store and showed a VCR, TV, phone, answering machine, computer, boom box, digital watch, video games, and a large, expensive video camera that weighed 20 pounds and sat on your shoulder. Today, all of this technology (and more) is in our phones. All of it!

It’s no wonder my children began asking to borrow my phone before they could even walk. I heard an interview recently where an author, speaking about technology and kids, referenced a college survey on whether students would prefer a broken phone or a broken bone. Forty-six percent chose the broken bone option. I don’t want my children to be sent to the island of misfit kids with broken bones and no iPhones, but I also want them to know what it’s like to entertain themselves without a screen.

Like most parents, we try to limit screen time and encourage playtime each day. One of the more ambitious things we have done is to set aside Sunday mornings as a screen-free time in our home. No TV, video games or internet until 1 p.m., which is conveniently the time NFL football kicks off (it pays to be the one setting the rules). They read, play games, swing on the playset – you know, all the things kids should do.

In setting aside Sunday morning as a tech-free time, I have learned a few unexpected lessons. First, I am usually the first one to turn on the TV at 1 p.m. sharp for football. Also, I am frequently guilty of “needing” to check my work email. And several times a morning, I have the strong urge to pick up my phone and scroll through the news or social media.

One Sunday last fall, I took my phone outside on the porch where I hoped I wouldn’t be noticed so that I could set my fantasy football roster on the ESPN app. I knew I was breaking the rules, but not having the right quarterback in a starting position is serious stuff.

My five-year-old walked onto the porch abruptly and – clearly enjoying the role reversal – corrected me with a wide grin, “Daddy! You’re not supposed to be on your phone. It’s not one o’clock yet.”

“You’re right. Daddy must have forgotten,” I lied. “I’ll put my phone away.” Walking back into the house and setting my phone on the counter, I realized the lesson about needing to regularly unplug is as much for me as for my children. I am the one that needs encouragement to pick up a book, listen to music or play chess with the kids. Apparently, my children are the ones teaching the lessons on Sunday mornings.

If I continue to be honest, I also feel a tinge of regret that my son caught me in my moment of tech weakness before I could move Tom Brady to my starting QB position. In the words of Old Man Withers from those Scooby Doo family movie nights, “And I would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for those meddling kids.”

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Living Dangerously in the Shadow of the Lewis and Clark Bridge

By Ray Lucas

LIKE MANY IN SOUTHERN INDIANA, I crossed the new Lewis and Clark Bridge shortly after it opened last month. I have always been a Lewis and Clark Expedition geek, and I think naming the bridge after these historic explorers was a fitting tribute to their connection with our area. Unlike the bridge travelers of today, they had no bridges to cross the rivers on their journey or even a map of the waters, lands and mountains between the mouth of Silver Creek in Clarksville where Lewis joined Clark to prepare for their journey to the Pacific Ocean.

After my brief journey across the bridge, I pulled out my worn copy of Undaunted Courage and began re-reading the extraordinary story of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. To say the pair and their Corps of Discovery were the ultimate bad asses is an understatement. Two years in the elements exploring unmapped rivers and lands, making contact with unknown Indian tribes, crossing the Rocky Mountains, running from grizzly bears, nearing starvation on many occasions – this was a dangerous endeavor.

As I reflect on their everyday adventures and struggles during the years of 1804-1806, compared to my 30 second excursion across the Ohio River on the bridge that now bears their name, I can’t help but wonder about the impact that facing occasional danger might play in our lives. I think there must be something in facing a daring and dangerous task that is essential in building our character.

Thinking back over the past 12 months, the most dangerous feats I can claim are trying a brand-new ice cream flavor at Comfy Cow, walking into my fantasy football draft having done no online research to guide my picks and not taking the insurance plan on my new iPhone. The results have been mixed. The Bourbon Maple Walnut ice cream was delicious but I finished dead last in my football league. To date, I only have a small nick on the screen of my phone but in today’s world, a phone with no Otter Box is living dangerously.

Maybe living dangerously is a young person’s game. Most of the truly dangerous things I have lived through in my life happened in my youth. Walking across the K and I railroad bridge in the middle of the night from New Albany to Portland, bungee jumping in the parking lot of the long-closed All Stars bar, and jumping off 76 Falls into Lake Cumberland some 50 feet below. As I recall these young acts, stupidity comes to mind more than living dangerously and building character.

I had this conversation with a friend recently at lunch, and we were lamenting that while our youth may not have been as wild as that of our peers in 1804, at the very least we had a more “free range” experience than our kids have today.

I recalled my first job was on Melvin and Annie Klein’s farm where, as a seventh grader, the other pickers challenged me to climb with them up the water tower near the farm to “earn” my first paycheck. I was scared as the older boys and I started climbing the 120-foot tower but somehow found the courage to climb one rung after another until we reached the top. We sat on the catwalk with our legs dangling free and enjoyed the view of the edge of the knobs. A true experience of “undaunted courage” that I still draw on today.

My friend Marc agreed that times are different than the 1980s when we came of age. He remembered riding his bike with friends as a young teen from Sellersburg to Chi-Chi’s restaurant in Clarksville where they ordered a Coke to go with their free chips and salsa. From their Mexican pit stop, they proceeded across the Clark Memorial Bridge (now George Rogers Clark and his younger brother William Clark both have a local bridge) to the Louisville Galleria at the present day Fourth Street Live location.

We smiled at our experiences of daring over lunch and lamented that most kids today don’t have the same type of uncharted childhood that we experienced. Don’t get me wrong, I am the first to limit my children’s experiences of what could be life-threatening adventure and for good reasons. Allowing my children to climb water towers or bike dangerous roads to Louisville would not go over well with my wife or Child Protective Services. But in so sheltering them, am I depriving them of crucible moments that test them and give them the inner courage to persevere later in life? Tough questions for modern parents.

Regardless, I have decided that having the Lewis and Clark Bridge in my backyard can be a reminder to me each time I journey across its span to seek out more experiences that push me outside of my comfort zone. When crossing into the East End in search of new restaurants and retail experiences, I resolve to also look for opportunities to live more dangerously and when appropriate allow my children to join me.

Maybe I’ll write a short story about climbing water towers. Maybe I will take the kids on a night hike in Charlestown State Park in the moonlight shadow of the new bridge. Maybe our family will volunteer to help the homeless through Exit 0. Maybe I’ll go skydiving or on a hot air balloon ride.

Or maybe my kids and I will ride our bikes across the new bike lane of the Lewis & Clark Bridge and stop for cokes, chips and salsa at Los Aztecas in Prospect. And if we are living particular dangerously – we’ll also order queso.

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A LIFE IN PROGRESS | A Fair and Balanced View of My Facebook

By Ray Lucas

I have a co-worker who recently commented on a series of Facebook photos I have posted during the past year. “My wife and I were just talking about how your family takes all of these family trips to cool places.” He went on, “You guys are always doing something fun – I look forward to seeing what type of adventures you are in to.”

It is true that as a family, we have made a conscious decision to focus more of our time and money on life rayexperiences. As a result, we frequently spend weekends camping, vacationing in places we have always wanted to visit and exploring unique local destinations. It is also true that I have always used Facebook as more of a shared photo album for family and friends than to share funny memes or political ideologies. Grandparents, family and friends from different states as well as close to home often comment about how they enjoy keeping up with us through our Facebook posts.

However, his comments started me to thinking that perhaps posting photos of smiling children, happy family times and fun weekend ray-2getaways is painting an unrealistic picture of what the Lucas family is really like. Let’s face it, very few people on social media are prone to post the nitty gritty moments of life. We want to share the moments when our children are smiling and laughing, not the ones where they are arguing about having to take a photo in the first place. It’s human nature to share the best of times.

I’ve begun to wonder what Facebook would look like if in addition to the good times, families like mine started posting very candid and real photos of the mundane or downright hard moments of life. Instead of editing our photos for the best smile, maybe we should occasionally slip one in of the kids whining that they don’t want their photo taken in front of Cinderella’s Castle at Disney. In the interest of presenting a more fair and balanced portrait of my life on Facebook, my New Year’s resolution for 2017 is to post more moments like these:

I resolve to post a photo of me weed eating in a T-shirt full of holes and my  wife cleaning the bathroom toilet on a beautiful Saturday morning in addition to the one of us paddling our kayaks on a placid Deam’s Lake later that day.

I resolve to post a photo of our five- and nine-year-olds whining in stere about “How much longer do we have to walk?” captured just ten minutes after they cheesed with my wife and I for the trail selfie we took in Brown County State Park.

I resolve to post a photo of my teenage son and daughter rolling their eyes  about having to wear matching sweaters for our annual family photos right  before I upload our family posing in a beautiful shot taken at the Falls of  the Ohio.

I resolve to show the image of me getting frustrated with my wife who is  trying unsuccessfully to help me back the camper into a tight camping  spot between two trees, as well as the one of us sitting around the fire roasting s’mores with the kids later that weekend.

I resolve to post a photo of the McDonald’s double cheeseburger I ate in  the car on the way to a school open house a few days after I post an image of the two beautiful rib eye steaks and fresh corn on the cob I am grilling on the front porch.

I resolve to post a photo of me returning work emails on my iPhone while my  preschool son comes to the sidelines to ask how much longer soccer practice  will be on a blazing hot afternoon a week before I proudly upload the video of him scoring the cutest soccer goal in the history of the YMCA league.

I resolve to post a live feed of me threatening my teenage son that if his grades drop due to all of the time he is  spending in the Actor’s Theatre production of Macbeth, he will not be trying out for the spring musical at Providence.  I’ll upload this hours before the live feed of his feature solo singing “It Takes Two” in the musical Hairspray  on the New Albany Riverfront stage.

I resolve to post of photo of me in the bedroom watching Sunday night football while my wife is in the living  room watching the series Outlander a few days after the romantic photo of us dressed up and having dinner  with friends outdoors at Brooklyn and the Butcher.

I resolve to ask someone from church to click a shot of me bribing my children with Hot Wheels and candy  if they smile for our family photo after Christmas mass with all of them wearing their Christmas best outfits.  I’ll post this moment before the one I post of our smiling Christmas electronic postcard.

And finally, I resolve to post the evidence of mom and dad sleeping/recovering on the couch on New Year’s  Day while the kids serve themselves cookies and Cheetos for lunch as well as the photo from the night  before of me kissing my beautiful wife at midnight at a New Year’s Eve party with extended family.

The next time you idealize my or another family’s life based on the posts you see on your scrolling social media feed, remember that the grass is always greener on Facebook. And if it isn’t, I probably used Photoshop to make it look like my kids were sitting in a field of the greenest grass in all of Ireland. Can I get a like?