Mel Is Still Being Mel

My father & I at a Piston's game

Dad & I at a Piston's game

I’ve often said that you haven’t really been to a place until you’ve been there with Mel.

Dad always enjoyed going to new places – not just to see new sights, but also to meet new people.  He fully enjoyed life everywhere he was, and he shared that joy with everybody that he encountered.  It didn’t matter where or when, there were always people that he hadn’t met yet – and they would become new friends.  And more often than not, there were people there that he already knew – creating a joyful reunion of old friends.

Camden Yards ballpark in Baltimore

Camden Yards

For example, in 1996 I was working on a job site near Baltimore, MD.   As I often did, I flew Dad out for a weekend visit.  We had tickets for an afternoon Orioles game at Camden Yards, where we not only had a great time watching the game, but we got to stuff ourselves on Boog Powell’s BBQ in the outfield concourse.  To fill time before the game, Dad had said that he would like to visit the grave of Edgar Allan Poe.

The gravesite of Edgar Allan Poe in Baltimore, MD

Edgar Allan Poe's grave

So we added a trip to the grave to our itinerary.  Since I had no idea where the grave was actually located, we left fairly early in the morning to allow ourselves time to locate the site.

We had no trouble locating the site.  We found it immediately on the first try.  It was fascinating, and we spent almost an hour there.  This still left us with several hours to kill.

Dad decided that since we had time to kill we should try to locate the old Memorial Stadium.  Dad had fond memories of watching Johnny Unitas on TV, as well as all of those old Oriole greats.  So off we went to find Memorial Stadium.

Baltimore's Memorial Stadium

Memorial Stadium

And find it we did.  The stadium is tucked away in a residential neighborhood.  We walked the entire perimeter of the facility from across the street to get a good look at the outside of the famous horseshoe shaped building.  And it was amazing.  But since nobody was using the facility at the time, it was a bit boring.  As we stood outside the fence at the open end of the horseshoe, a security guard walked past.

Dad struck up a conversation with him, and in no time we were enjoying a private tour of the place, from the locker rooms to the press box and all stops in between!  That’s just part of the fun when you traveled someplace with Mel.

Behold, the power of the Dum Dum!

Behold, the power of the Dum Dum!

On Wednesday, I posted the eulogy that I presented at Dad’s memorial service.  Part of that eulogy included a tribute to the power of the Dum Dum sucker.  Coach Hall always used Dum Dums to recognize and reward the accomplishments of the athletes on his track and field teams.

Lo and behold, on Thursday morning I found this e-mail from Dean Spangler, the Chairman and CEO of the Spangler Candy Company, the makers of Dum Dums!

Jim:
It is apparent that your father, Mel, was a remarkable man.
Our sincere condolenses to you and your family.

Your blog popped up because of the reference to Dum Dums.

As I read your "Eulogy for My Father" I was quite moved. I
have great fondness for good teachers and people that find
the good in life.  Your father had both those traits.  While
we hear many wonderful stories about Dum Dums, I just wanted
you to know that this one probably resonated more than any 
other.

I too was blessed to have a wonderful father.  He has been 
gone 34 years now and still thoughts of him brighten my days 
and inspire me to be better.  I will try to be a little 
better person today for him, and for Mel.

Dean L. Spangler
Chairman & CEO
Spangler Candy Company
"The Dum Dums Company"
The Spangler Candy Company

Spangler Candy - makers of Dum Dums

Even from beyond the pale, Dad is still reaching out to others.  I’m so proud that Mel is still being Mel!

A Eulogy For My Father

Melvin Edward Hall with foster dog Shemp

Melvin Edward Hall - April 1, 1932 - November 24, 2010

There are those who seek fame and fortune in life.  My father was not one of those people.

There are those who put their own interests first.  My father was not one of those people.

There are those who seek admiration, adoration, respect, sympathy, compassion, and a host of other responses from those around them.  My father was not one of those people.

My father was a teacher.

It was more than his vocation, more than a job, a profession, or a career.  It was who he was and it was what he loved.  He constantly sought knowledge and wisdom, even in the most unlikely of places – not for his own edification, but so that he could pass it along to others – human and canine.

The truth mattered to Dad.  The hopes, desires, and emotions of others mattered to Dad.  In nearly every conversation he ever had, he would tell a story from his life.  It might be a story of one of his many successes.  It might be a story of one of his many failures.  It might just be a story of everyday life.  But it was always a story that he felt would provide something useful to the listener.  It was never about him, but about how he could be of service to somebody else.

Dad smiled often.  A big, giant, authentic smile – because he found great joy in life.  Joy in his surroundings, joy in the growth and accomplishments of others, joy in the bounce of a dog’s step, joy in living life.

I was truly blessed in life to be the recipient of so much of his joy.  When ever I was down, when ever I faced a difficult decision, when ever I was not sure how to go on – I talked with Dad.  He would listen, as he was a great listener.  And then he would share a story.  As a child I was often frustrated with these stories – I just wanted him to tell me straight out what I thought I needed to hear.  As I grew and matured, I realized that he had provided the information, the knowledge, and the wisdom I needed to come to my own conclusions – to make the decisions that were right for me.  Not what he wanted me to do, not what would work out best for him, but he always gave me what I needed to advance my own way down my own path – and live my own life.

He gave this gift not only to my brother John and I, but to every one he conversed with, every student in his classroom, and every athlete he coached.  He was indeed a very generous man.

One of the things that both John and I gained from him was a love for the written word.  And it would not be a eulogy for an English teacher without a poem.  Dad taught me to enjoy the simple way of the poet Edgar Guest – the poet laureate of Michigan.  This is Guest’s “A Boy and His Dad.”

A boy and his dad on a fishing-trip—
There is a glorious fellowship!
Father and son and the open sky
And the white clouds lazily drifting by,
And the laughing stream as it runs along
With the clicking reel like a martial song,
And the father teaching the youngster gay
How to land a fish in the sportsman's way.  

I fancy I hear them talking there
In an open boat, and the speech is fair.
And the boy is learning the ways of men
From the finest man in his youthful ken.
Kings, to the youngster, cannot compare
With the gentle father who's with him there.
And the greatest mind of the human race
Not for one minute could take his place.   

Which is happier, man or boy?
The soul of the father is steeped in joy,
For he's finding out, to his heart's delight,
That his son is fit for the future fight.
He is learning the glorious depths of him,
And the thoughts he thinks and his every whim;
And he shall discover, when night comes on,
How close he has grown to his little son.   

A boy and his dad on a fishing-trip—
Builders of life's companionship!
Oh, I envy them, as I see them there
Under the sky in the open air,
For out of the old, old long-ago
Come the summer days that I used to know,
When I learned life's truths from my father's lips
As I shared the joy of his fishing-trips.

I would like to close by sharing a story of Mel – and the power of the Dum Dum sucker.  For every athlete who went out for track, he would make a sheet listing all of the possible events in a track and field meet.  On this sheet he would note the athlete’s best performance in every and any event.  Each time the athlete would post a new “best” performance in any event, that student’s name would go on the “Sucker List.”  And each week Coach Hall would read off the names on the “Sucker List” and award a Dum Dum sucker for each personal best.

Of course it wasn’t the actual Dum Dum sucker that inspired 18-year old boys to push themselves to a new achievement.  It was the public recognition, the acknowledgement that Coach noticed their efforts and wanted to celebrate their achievements with the team.

This led shot-putters to form their own “Fat Man” 440-Relay team – so that they could earn that sucker and that recognition.  The fact that the sprint work also improved their ability to turn a circle and put the shot farther was never discussed.  It was simply enough that they tried something new, or improved on a previous best.

As you leave the Sanctuary today, you will find bowls of Dum Dum suckers waiting.  Please take a sucker, on credit from Mel, and as you go through the day – do something new or better than you have ever done before.  That will be Mel’s legacy.

last hopes

My younger brother John found his way through life by writing about it.  As I was working my way through Dad’s stuff today I came across one of my favorite of John’s poems.  I’ve often taken the advice he presents here on difficult days.  I think I’ll do so tonight.

last hopes

john lee hall

the woman

i thought i’d loved

had left

me.  my rent

went

unpaid

because dear father

stopped payment

on his check

“just to show”

me.  my last

close friend

had o.d.’d

on strychnine,

and my checks

bounced higher

than a head-first

suicide

off a six-story

parking tower.

i had five

bucks

left.  the phone

was restricted

to local.

i dialed:

three

five

one, seven

one

hundred,

was put

on hold, came

off hold,

and asked

for what i needed

most —

and it came

with two

free

pepsis.

 

god

won’t answer

my prayers,

but dominoes

delivers.

Every Day Is Like Christmas

Our Charlie Brown Christmas TreeThis is our Charlie Brown Christmas Tree. I bought this just before Christmas last year.  It just seemed to fit our lives, our Christmas decorations, our living room, and our lives.

A Charlie Brown Christmas first aired in 1965 – I was four years old.  I can’t swear to it, but I’m pretty sure that I’ve watched it every year since.

A Charlie Brown Christmas blu-rayWatching Dad’s reaction to the tree, I bought him a copy on blu-ray for Christmas last year.  We’ve probably watched it a dozen times since then.  There is just something about this classic that makes you feel good – even if it isn’t Christmas time.

When it came time to take down the Christmas decorations last season, Dad and I decided that the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree should stay up year-round.  So it became the centerpiece decoration in our living room.

Sue wearing a Christmas Wreath

Sweet Sue

With every thing that is going on with our lives and Dad’s health – we decided that we should stop for a moment each day and remember the great gifts that we have.  We have each other.  We have a roof over our heads and enough food to eat.  Dad has a tremendous insurance plan that covers whatever medical care he needs.  We have Sue – the love of Dad’s life and a tremendous blessing all by herself.

At the time, we were also fostering dogs for a rescue group – so we were sharing our gifts every day with those less fortunate.  We’ve since adopted Paladin, which put us at the limit for animals in the Village of Spring Lake and removed us from the fostering business – but we are overjoyed to be able to share our blessings every day with the most recent addition to our family.

At our house, everyday is Christmas Day – and we have the Christmas Tree to prove it!

Last June the doctor sat Dad & I down.  With a look of deep seriousness on his face he gazed deeply into Dad’s eyes and said “I very much doubt that you will live to see Christmas.”  I tried my best not to look at Dad, but I couldn’t help myself.  I looked over at him and we both started giggling like school girls.  The moment could not be contained, and soon we were both roaring with laughter!  The poor confused doctor said “That certainly is not the reaction I expected.”

As Dad & I wiped the tears of laughter away, Dad stated simply, between chuckles, “EVERY day is Christmas at our house!”

So, if you come to visit us – or even if you only visit through reading this blog – remember that EVERY day can be Christmas if you want it to be.  And please take a moment to appreciate the gifts that you have, and share them with others.

This Should Be A Sin

We interrupt this normally boring blog to bring you this important public safety bulletin.

I think that we can all agree that the Hot Dog is one of America’s finest foodstuffs.  It is just that simple.

The Hot Dog can be served up so many ways, in so many circumstances, it is the perfect food for any occasion.

Dad & I eat a fair number of Hot Dogs.  Usually we just buy the cheapest generic dogs possible.  But recently our local grocery store had some premium all-beef franks on sale really cheap.  Upon returning home with them, I discovered this travesty, this crime against nature!

icky bad

This should be a universal sin!

I’ll allow that in case of emergency Hot Dog consumption, the microwave is allowable.  But NEVER, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES should a hot dog be boiled! YUCK!

evil icky bad

Do Not Do This! EVER!!

Yes, it looks disgusting.  Do you know why it looks disgusting?  Because it is!  I remember that this was my mother’s favorite method of Hot Dog preparation – it allowed her to serve us the reheated water later as her famous “Weinie Water Soup.”  And yes, that is disgusting also.

Boiling a Hot Dog removes all flavor from the dog.  It renders the casing a soggy mess.  A boiled Hot Dog has no flavor or texture – and therefor no reason to exist.

If we can agree that microwaving a Hot Dog is a simple matter of last choice convenience – actually a step below eating a cold Hot Dog (is that an oxymoron?) straight out of the fridge, then we can move on to other proper methods of cooking a Hot Dog.

Italian seasoned goodness

This is the simplest & best approved method

The simplest approved method is to pan fry the Hot Dog.  If you are fat or calorie conscious, then simply put the dogs in a non-stick fry pan and warm them over medium heat, rotating frequently to avoid burning any one side.  If you’ve got a gourmet need going on, then melt a little butter in the pan first, sprinkle in some Italian seasoning, and proceed to brown those puppies up.

YUM!

Hot Dog on a stick over the campfire

There are of course other approved methods.  Perhaps the finest is the Hot Dog roasted on a stick over a campfire.  Apple or cherry wood make the best sticks, but any old green maple, oak, or hickory will work just dandy as well.

You can use one of the

toasting gizmo

A Fancy Toasting Gizmo

fancy toasting gizmo gimmicks.  Or one of the

mini roller gizmo

A Fancy Mini-Roller Gizmo

mini-roller gizmo gimmicks.  You can simply put them on the

flame grilled hot dog

Grilling is GOOD

grill

grilled goodness

Grilling is VERY GOOD

for amazing results – remember to turn frequently.  Or you can get one of these fancy

fancy grill roller

A Fancy Grill Roller

grilling gizmo gimmicks, although this is silly overkill and your friends will rightly mock you for it – it still will produce a tasty Hot Dog.  You can even go for the

Yes, Jeff Foxworthy, you just might be a redneck...

A Redneck Grilling Gizmo

redneck grilling gizmo.  This one will certainly result in massive derision and is only recommended after massive consumption of alcohol to kill off whatever nastiness is growing on the high-tech grilling device.

3 for the price of 3!

The Mini-Mart Roller Dog - An American Classic

You can of course run out to get a fine Hot Dog.  While it may appear to be grotesque, the mini-mart Hot Dog is indeed fine eating.  Especially if you can find bargain pricing like the 3 for the price of 3 deal shown below.  Remember that the secret to the mini-mart dog is to select the oldest, crustiest one possible!

hot dog heaven

The Pronto Pup Stand

Of course in this little corner of Michigan, we know that the best place to go get a Hot Dog doesn’t really serve Hot Dogs, they have the world famous Pronto Pup (and no you infidels, they are not corn dogs)!

OMG - nothing finer

The World Famous Pronto Pups

I could go on forever about other approved methods for cooking America’s Finest Foodstuff, but by now you should have the idea.  Anything other than boiling = GOOD; Boiling = BAD.

You may now return to your regularly scheduled boring internet surfing.  This has been a public safety announcement.

icky bad

DO NOT EVER DO THIS!

Prop It Up

A Comfort To Dogs

This photo was taken a month before my brother John’s untimely death in January 2004.  As his wife Karla stated in his obituary, he was “a comfort to dogs.”  Pictured here snoozing with John are Barkley & Alexander.

I like to think that this is exactly what John is doing at this very moment – sharing love with and being a comfort to dogs.

Reasons Why I’m Single

it really only has one use

It should be simple

Have you seen the toilet paper commercial where the husband keeps stepping out of the bathroom because there is no toilet paper and the wife throws him a new roll from down the hall? First she throws him a too rough roll which buzzes a stripe of hair off of his head, second she throws him a too soft roll which explodes on impact with his chest, and finally we see her throw him a “just right” roll from the laundry room.

Now I’m a guy, so I really don’t care much about the quality of my toilet paper. I mean really, come on, the only thing I use toilet paper for is to wipe shit out of my ass. As long as it accomplishes that simple task I really don’t care how soft, white, smooth, strong, whatever, it is. All I need is for it to be there and to perform a simple task.

But the whipped nature of the husband in this commercial gets to me! Come on man, be a man!

First off, explain the facts of the matter to your charming wife. BITCH, STOP LEAVING JUST 2 SHEETS OF TOILET PAPER ON THE ROLL! Every time this poor shmuck goes into the bathroom, there is no paper left! Obviously she needs an education in toilet paper etiquette. The rule is simple – if there isn’t enough left on the roll to do the job for the next visitor to the bathroom, then REPLACE THE ROLL!

Secondly, this woman needs a lesson in basic supply chain replenishment and inventory optimization. Why would you store the supply of toilet paper in the laundry room? Who needs toilet paper in the laundry room? NOBODY! Store the supply of toilet paper in the BATHROOM – that’s where it is needed! That way when some inconsiderate woman leaves you without enough toilet paper to do the job, you don’t have to leave the room to get more. Get with it honey, from now on we store at least a four pack of toilet paper in the bathroom. I don’t care if it clashes with your dainty decor, toilet paper belongs in the bathroom.

Do NOT make me purchase this roll!

This woman wouldn’t have lasted a week in my house. And that is certainly one of the reasons why I’m (still) single.