Revolvers vs. Auto-Loaders – What They Didn’t Teach You In Your Concealed Cary Course.

I don’t often write about firearms training, even though its been a big part of my adult life. But, people who know me expect me to do it. I guess this blog started off as a way to keep from being a one-trick pony. I wanted to write about random thoughts, advice, travel, and other things that was foreign knowledge to most people who do know me. I also wanted to write about things that people wouldn’t get bored reading. 

Technical writing is for technical people; people who are searching for knowledge, not entertainment. This is a technical piece of writing – warning – you may get bored if you’re not interested in the topic. With the proper warnings having been made, I hope you enjoy my perspectives on the pro’s and con’s of handgun types….

In every attempt, past or present, to contrast the differences between semi-automatic handguns and revolvers, the inevitable arguments over function superiority arise. Much like the arguments over political affiliations, there are those who will always refuse to acknowledge even the most obvious and objective criticisms, especially when holding tight to long standing beliefs. In a distinct comparison such as this article, it is impossible to paint an accurate picture of each individual pro and/or con that is not void of some important contributing factor such as how the weapon will be used (i.e., target shooting or self-defense), and who will be using them (i.e., experienced or inexperienced shooters). With modern online forums these days, there is even a great deal of subjectivity concerning the issue of experience and inexperience. So, let’s skip the ego-centric BS and just get right to the issue.

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My background gives me a unique perspective on the situation due to the fact that I began my law enforcement career during a time where revolvers still dominated as the standard police issue firearm. I became very proficient with the revolver and I still have a lot of love for quality made revolvers to this day. Within the span of five years, let’s say around 1990’ish, law enforcement began transitioning to the issuance of the semi-auto handgun. I had begun my career with an S&W Model 66, chambered for .38 Special, and had recently graduated to the S&W Model 686 (.357 Magnum) when I got my first department issue autoloader, a Sig Sauer P226 chambered for 9mm Luger. Although I attended my Firearms Instructor School with my Sig Sauer P226, it was still early enough in the evolution of police issue firearms that the revolver was still widely used and issued. Several of my classmates still carried revolvers.

My career took the direction of Drug Enforcement so my weapon choices became somewhat tailored to that profession and suddenly I was being issued two sidearms, a primary and a backup. During my career, I carried the Sig Sauer P226 9mm, P228 9mm, P229 .40 cal, P220 .45 ACP, and the P230 .380. I also carried the Glock 19, the S&W Mod 629 9mm, S&W 645 .45 ACP, and the Berretta Model 92F. Not to leave you completely in the dark, I will say that I did experience a weapon malfunction once with my 1st Generation Glock 19, duty related, that i’ll admit was purely human error that would likely not occur with the modern Gen. 4 handgun. While it took me several years to purchase another Glock, I will say that I currently own and occasionally teach with a Gen. 4 Glock 17 these days and I have not experienced any weapon malfunctions with it yet. My go-to handgun of choice is still my Sig Sauer P226 – like an old friend I guess. Despite all that, I will do my best to provide objective advice within the limits of my capabilities.

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With that out of the way, let’s move on to the evaluation. We will primarily be discussing and evaluating the issues of reliability, maintenance, and accuracy. Handgun features such as rounds capacity, caliber, and grip size, etc., are all important considerations in the handgun selection process. That said, I will be assuming here that you, the reader, already understand those more commonly accepted attributes; foregoing those conversations for a later time and leaving room to explore and focus on what I consider to be the real meat and potatoes of handgun type selection. Within is an illustration of what I consider to be the most important aspects of the individual operational pros and cons of both revolvers and auto-loading handguns including reliability, maintenance, and accuracy, as well as my opinions on the weight I feel each of these features carry into the overall equations of where I hope you will rank them.

The majority of quarrels made between gun enthusiasts for either side of this common disagreement center around the issue of reliability. So it is this issue of reliable function that should be the focus of this process. There are some commonly held beliefs that should first be explored. In fact, it is generally taught that revolvers are more reliable and much simpler designs that semi-autos. Let us closely examine the complete issue of reliability and design-simplicity in order to challenge that conventional wisdom and also to professionally evaluate the level of subjectivity existing in the opinions we hold so confidently. If it’s true, let’s explain why it’s true; if not, let us accurately discern what actually is true.

Conversely, is it simplicity of use or simplicity of design that are being discussed when speaking about the revolver? These two features are definitely not the same thing and both qualities should be carefully studied.

Reliability – Common Malfunctions

First, let’s look closely at typical and non-typical handgun malfunctions. We can break them down into two distinct types or categories; jams and stoppages. A jam is a major malfunction that ties the gun up so tight that there is no way that the shooter can swiftly restore the weapon to its functional state. A stoppage, however, is a minor malfunction that can be quickly and easily cleared by the shooter in seconds, using only his or her hands.

Jams are usually caused by breakages, tolerance issues, lack of maintenance and operational limitations. They can also be caused by human error. Stoppages on the other hand are almost always caused by either human error or ammunition malfunctions. They can sometimes also be caused by worn or poorly maintained equipment.

A jam in a deadly force confrontation would spell disaster. A stoppage might cause the shooter a slight delay but if you train properly and include stoppage drills in your training scenarios, a stoppage could simply be a hiccup in a deadly force encounter that may not affect the outcome whatsoever.

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Common Semi-Auto Malfunctions

The most common problems that occur with auto-loaders are stoppages. The reason for this is actually pretty simple. Auto-loaders require that the shooter do his/her part; becoming part of the machine itself so-to-speak. Revolvers are different in that way and do not require the shooter to do anything other than hold it and pull the trigger. The shooter of a semi-auto, by virtue of a firm grip, provides the resistance needed for the weapons recoil spring to do its job. A shooter actually has to hold the semi-auto properly and with a firm grip or the recoil spring will not function as it is engineered to do. Little did you know that the resistance you provide by your grip is actually engineered into the design of the firearm.  Thus, it is generally inexperienced shooters, who do not understand the mechanics of the semi-auto handgun, that account for the majority of the most common auto-loader malfunctions.

Gripping the semi-auto improperly can result in the slide not moving rearward far enough to pick up the next available round in the magazine. Upon firing a round already chambered, the slide moves rearward and returns to battery ejecting the spent round (sometimes not fully) but without picking up and loading the next round of ammunition from the magazine. The gun is thereby rendered inoperable unless the shooter manually cycles a round from the magazine using his/her hand by pulling or moving the slide all the way rearward and releasing the slide to return to battery loaded.

Another common stoppage in an auto-loader is a failure of the extractor to fully extract the spent round. Sometimes the spent case returns to the chamber of the barrel and sometimes it will be left sandwiched inside the ejection port between the rear of the port opening and the barrel. In either case, the shooter must firmly and quickly pull the slide rearward then abruptly let go, which allows the spent cartridge to be expelled from the weapon and for a new round to be loaded into the chamber.

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Added to that, I often see people pull the slides rearward on their semi-auto handguns and gently allow the slide to move forward into battery with a live round – loading the handgun. This, in rare cases, can sometimes put the handgun into a condition where the slide is not fully into battery. If it’s not, nothing will happen when you pull the trigger. The spring tension of that slide is engineered perfectly to return that slide into battery. When loading the weapon, pull the slide all the way rearward and let it go. This is the best way to ensure that it returns fully into battery.

Another problem for semi-autos that can occur is when a magazine become old and the magazine spring begins to lose its tension. Revolvers, of course, do not have magazines which can be dropped and bent or which stay loaded under tension and unused for months or years at a time. In this condition, a sprung magazine can lack sufficient power to lift the next round into position quickly enough for the slide to pick up the next round and property seat it into the chamber. Either the round stays in the magazine or the tip (bullet end) of the cartridge rotates up from the magazine and the slide drives it forward sideways.

Jams and mechanical problems are very rare with quality-made autoloaders and some makes of auto-loading handguns such as the H&K P7 unequivocally state that their unique blow-back operated semi-auto can actually continue to function reliably with a broken extractor. That weapon of course carries a very high price tag. There are, of course, dozens of individual parts, pins, and springs in both revolvers and auto-loaders; some moving and some non-moving. That said, any of those parts have the potential of breaking or becoming dislodged from the weapon due to recoil or abuse. Broken parts are among the rarest of all weapon malfunctions.

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Speaking of extractors, a serious but very rare condition for a semi-auto handgun will be a broken extractor which normally leaves the weapon incapable of extracting a spent cartridge. The weapon may try to load another round into the back of a spent round causing a malfunction which cannot always be repaired simply or without the help of an armorer or gunsmith.

Extractors are essentially spring loaded hooks which claw around the rim of a chambered round of ammunition upon the slide∣bolt being closed against it. Then, upon firing and subsequent rearward movement of the slide∣bolt, pulls the fired case from the chamber rearward until the empty case comes into contact with the ejector which pushes the opposite side of the case while the extractor, still pulling, causes the empty case to be flipped or ejected from the weapon by means of the ejection port. That said, extractors have springs which can, over time, lose their tension causing the ejector to lose its reliability.

Another rare cause of weapon malfunction is a broken firing pin. Of course, firing pins do break occasionally in both the revolver and the semi-auto but broken firing pins are exceedingly rare malfunctions for either of these weapon types. Another rare malfunction which is equally common with both handgun types are broken or weakened main springs. The result of which causes the hammer to either not function at all or to strike the firing pin so lightly that the ammunition primer is not ignited. It is far more common for these springs to be intentionally shortened or filed down by novice gunsmiths, so as to lighten the double-action trigger pull on revolvers and semi-auto’s, and unintentionally render the weapon un-serviceable or unreliable than it is for the spring to break or loosen on its own.

As I initially stated, auto-loading handguns are commonly touted as being more complex machines than revolvers. Is this true? As we move to examine the common revolver malfunctions, let’s put this one away for now and pick it back up after we more closely examine the revolver.

Common Revolver Malfunctions

Now that we have learned the difference from a jam and stoppage, can you now see the significance in defining them in the way I have done? As I move into the realm of the revolver malfunction I think you will clearly see that most revolver malfunctions tend to be actual jams instead of simple stoppages. There is a very good reason for this too. Revolvers are more prone to jams due primarily to the fragility and close mechanical tolerances of the revolver mechanisms.

The swing out cylinder of the double-action revolver is, by its very nature, a somewhat fragile and finely fitted instrument; so, the alignment of the revolver’s cylinder, crane, yoke, and ejector rod must be perfect or the action will bind up. A blow to the gun that probably wouldn’t affect an auto-loader, such as accidentally dropping it on a hard surface, could easily spring a revolver’s cylinder in the crane, rendering it completely un-serviceable. Many police officers have had the occasion to use their side arms as field-expedient night sticks in years past, and revolvers are notorious for being seriously damaged after that kind of treatment. It sounds horrible on paper but when you’re fighting for your life, you do what you gotta do.

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Minute sized grains of gunpowder or brass shavings from spent cartridges in one or more of the chambers, a high primer on an unfired round, or an over-long cartridge can all create a condition of insufficient headspace that will bind a revolvers cylinder so badly that it will take a few whacks with a rubber mallet just to open the action. One of the most common revolver malfunctions, a shell casing stuck under the extractor star, is a jam that requires tools, time, and a great deal of patience to clear.

When fouling from gunpowder residue begins to accumulate inside the finely fitted revolver mechanism, tolerances swiftly plunge below operational levels. For instance, powder buildup on the front of the cylinder and the forcing cone will cause the two pieces to drag against each other, interfering with cylinder rotation. Grains of powder in the crane/yoke area can prevent the action from being closed. Fouling in the chambers can prevent rounds from fully chambering which can create a condition of insufficient headspace that will not allow the weapon’s cylinder to rotate.

Have you ever watched an action movie where the hero loads the cylinder of his trusty blue-steel companion then abruptly swings shut the cylinder with a flick of his hairy armed wrist? Most of you probably have; if you’re old enough to be interested in the revolver/semi-auto comparison you’re reading right now. Well, in so doing, the hero would likely have bent the crane and caused the cylinder to be out of time. He might even have gotten some lead shavings in his face while firing at the bad guys 12 times with his 6 shot pistol – with a silencer.

When we were talking about those pesky parts of the semi-auto that don’t exist in the revolver such as the extractor, you revolver fans may have had a moment of relaxation but the revolver has important parts such as the cylinder hand which can and sometimes does break or become damaged causing the cylinder not to be rotated into the proper position. A potential nightmare. Another tiny little unseen part is the cylinder stop which pops up into the cylinder detent when the cylinder rotates into the correct alignment with the forcing cone. Either of these tiny little parts not only can render the weapon inoperable but can also allow the revolver to continue to function in a way which could kill, blind or maim its operator.

While the revolver does seem to handle neglect better than the auto-loader, it is far less able to survive abuse, which is the primary reason auto-loaders were adopted by most of the world’s armies early in our previous century. In my opinion, the auto-loader is far superior in this category due to its near indestructibility and propensity to keep functioning long after the revolver would be rendered unusable.

Ammunition Malfunctions

Ammunition malfunctions cannot be predicted nor adjusted for. The three types of ammunition malfunctions are misfires, hang fires and squib loads. Neither are desirable in any circumstance or weapon but in the case of the revolver, I personally believe there is a higher inherent danger present to the shooter when squib loads or hang fires occur because the weapons cylinder will continue to rotate and the shooter thus could rotate a cylinder on a hang fire, believing it to be a misfire, then the round could have a delayed detonation outside of the chamber/forcing cone alignment. Such a detonation could result in serious injury or even death to the shooter.

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Also, in the case of a squib load, the shooter could inadvertently fire a round into the rear of a bullet lodged inside the barrel. Of course the shooter of an auto-loader could also fire a live round into the back of a squibbed bullet but there is a strong chance that an under-powered squib load would not have been powerful enough to push the slide of an auto-loader rearward far enough to pick up the next live round from the magazine thus negating that argument. Similarly, a hang fire would render an auto-loader inoperable without human intervention to manually eject the round and the only danger to the shooter would be if the shooter were to eject the round too quickly then the round detonate outside of the weapon. While neither scenario is good, the delayed detonation inside the cylinder of a revolver with nowhere for the bullet to go is a much more dangerous situation than for a round to detonate in the air with no containment.

So, while auto-loaders are susceptible to malfunctions based solely on bad ammunition and revolvers will continue to function flawlessly with ammunition malfunctions, I personally would much prefer that my weapon stop me from doing something stupid when an ammunition malfunction occurs, especially considering that these malfunctions in auto-loaders are simple stoppages which can easily and quickly be corrected. Contemporary ammunition malfunctions are becoming a thing of the past unless you are buying and shooting a great deal of reloads but when you really put some thought into the whole “only as reliable as your ammo” argument that some revolver aficionados are prone to employ, one has to ponder whether you’re better off with a gun which will flawlessly fail under those circumstances.

Care, Cleaning & Maintenance

What about regular care, cleaning, and maintenance? What are the primary issues of reliability for both handgun types that can be directly attributed to firearm maintenance and regular care? For the record, a person should clean their handguns every time they fire them regardless of whether it is a revolver or an autoloader. You should also clean them in regularly occurring intervals such as once per quarter to ensure they are not rusting or accumulating dust and/or debris to ensure that the weapon will function properly when it is needed. However, there are some specific issues relating to the revolver and autoloader that I want to share.

Revolvers are particularly sensitive to the accumulation of fouling. Much more sensitive than a typical auto-loader. The revolver, by its design, is like a Swiss watch; it’s a finely tuned and fitted machine with very close tolerances. Any amount of drag or resistance in the area of the cylinder and forcing cone will interfere with cylinder rotation. Additionally, the chambers in the cylinder are prone to fouling as well. When this type of fouling is allowed to accumulate, it becomes difficult to extract spent casings from the cylinder which increases reloading time. This type of fouling can also make it difficult or impossible to fully chamber a live round inside the cylinder chambers which can leave the cartridge case rim slightly protruded. In most cases, the protrusion would leave insufficient head-space for the cylinder to properly rotate. That condition also puts more pressure on the cylinder hand.

In contrast, an auto-loader can be fired for many more rounds before cleaning than a revolver before excessive fouling interferes with normal functioning. Auto-loaders are a closed system. There are no open gaps between the chamber and forcing cone like on a revolver. Therefore most of the fouling occurs inside the barrel of an auto-loader or out the end of the barrel. On the contrary, revolvers have an air gap where the bullet jumps from the cylinder’s chamber to the barrel’s forcing cone. When a revolver is fired, hot gasses carrying burnt and unburnt powder along with lead particles that exit the gun from that air gap and coat the front of the cylinder and forcing cone with residue. That residue builds up over time and will cumulatively contribute to a malfunction.

Owning a private firing range and being a firearms instructor for 25+ years, I personally witness and I am guilty myself of firing between eight hundred to a thousand rounds of ammunition through autoloaders without any cleaning and experience no problems or malfunctions whatsoever. You would be very lucky to get two-hundred rounds through a revolver without experiencing some type of operational irregularity.

Accuracy

In spite of all of this, accuracy tends to be the great equalizer of handguns. Most, but not all, auto-loading handguns have a floating barrel that rocks back and tilts the feed ramp of the barrel downward while in rear battery which helps in feeding and chambering a new live-round. This very small amount of potential movement along with a typically stronger and stiffer trigger pull create a more challenging condition for auto-loading handguns to be fired as accurately as revolvers. Revolvers have fixed, and in most cases longer, barrels with crisp and light trigger pulls. These features allow revolver’s to possess a higher degree of accuracy over that of most auto-loaders. It also becomes especially important if the weapon is used more for target practice or competition rather than for self-defense.

Another aspect of accuracy can be directly attributed to grip. A proper grip for an auto-loading handgun requires the shooter to actually become part of the machine itself. If the shooter holds or grips the weapon too loosely, the slide will not travel rearward far enough to pick up the next round from the magazine – returning to battery with an empty chamber. The shooter must provide the resistance required to make that machine operation work properly. That increased hand pressure, for some, undermines finger dexterity. Fortunately, this is a situation that can be helped through experience and training.

In comparison, the revolver is a machine that only relies on the shooter to make it fire ACCURATELY. Thus, the revolver can be fired with a much more relaxed and less tense grip while the auto-loader will not work unless the shooter uses a firm grip. Some novice shooters have a difficult time learning the difference from a firm grip and a death grip, which can also lead to inaccuracy.

Subsequently, the revolver is a much easier gun to learn and manipulate. Its design renders it a weapon which can be easily deployed and fired by novices. Quite a few women have a difficult time manipulating the slide of an auto-loader as some models, especially the smaller and more concealable models, have very tight recoil springs. Thus, the revolver has gained a reputation of simplicity. Sometimes people misunderstand or misinterpret what that simplicity really means and mistake the weapon as being more simplistic than an auto-loader.

Going back to that original question, is the revolver really a more simple machine design? In my opinion no. If you research exploded diagrams and parts lists for most modern revolvers and auto-loaders, what you will find is that revolvers typically have significantly higher numbers of parts than the typical auto-loaders. And that number includes the magazines which usually have four separate parts each. An example would be a classic Colt 1911 which has 51 total parts while a Smith & Wesson model 19 has 93 total parts. If you compare only the moving parts, the revolvers still exceed the number of moving parts than in a typical auto-loader.

That said, I still believe that though the revolver is a much more complex machine, the learning curve to fire it accurately is shorter for most people. Revolvers are very simplistic to use and fire but they are incredibly complex and fragile machines. Auto-loaders, however, require more training to fire properly but are in essence very simplistic designs with few moving parts. It is this phenomenon that encourages folks to believe that the revolver design itself is simpler and that less can go wrong with a revolver. I hope we have put that issue to rest.

Usability

In the beginning of this article I said I would forgo discussions about rounds capacity, caliber, and grip size to move on the “meat and potatoes” and I believe I have. When you forgo a discussion on rounds capacity you also leave out the obvious which is the autoloaders feature of multiple loaded magazines which give the autoloader a distinct advantage in firepower and ease of reloading.

But, those are the most obvious features and frankly get written about incessantly. What I intended to offer in this article were the less known and discussed pros and cons which address the reliability and usability of each pistol type. I hope I have done that.

In closing, both revolver’s and auto-loading handguns have their place in contemporary times. Each have their strengths and weaknesses and each can certainly fit the needs and requirements of most gun owners. It is important, however, to know the limits of your weapon of choice. Each system has its inherent deficits and vulnerabilities and each has unique performance characteristics. Guns that cost more are like toilet paper that costs more. They do the job better. If you are rappelling off a 600’ cliff, would you buy a rope on sale at a flea market or would you research the best ropes, made specifically for rappelling? If my life hangs on the rope, you better believe I’m going for the best rope I can buy. Gun selection is about making the same choices and so is ammunition selection. If it is your life or the lives of your family that motivate you to own a firearm, then please choose wisely.

Some of you should definitely consider the purchase of a revolver, especially if you have poor hand strength, or just want a target-shooting pistol. Others of you, however, would better benefit from purchasing or transitioning to a good quality semi-automatic handgun. I say this particularly to the people who will be using it for self-defense. Your decision on what type of handgun to purchase is just as important as your decision on whether to go armed or not to go armed – its personal and its relative to a very specific set of circumstances called life.

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Foes

Thank you Fate for all my foes. Am I being facetious? No, not really. I won’t lie though, I do wish everyone would like me. Am I all that different from others in that regard? I really don’t know the answer to that, I’m just assuming that the desire to be liked is consistent among all of us. I will say that it definitely hurts my feelings when I find out someone doesn’t like me, especially when it’s someone I respect or someone I’ve invested a lot of myself into. In retrospect, however, what could be more inspiring or motivating than an outright enemy or competitor? They keep us sharp don’t they?

People without foes cannot imagine the passions that burn within those of us who do – the fire being constantly kindled by people whose only real goal in life,  it seems, is to subvert the goals of others. A wise older man told me once that “most people don’t care if you do well, they just don’t like it when you’re doing better than they’re doing.” If you count yourself as a hard worker, a creative type, detail oriented, a smart cookie, or maybe just lucky as hell, someone out there is going to hate you for whatever it is that sets you apart or elevates your status above their own.

Thankfully, the laws of selection have likely killed off a good bit of that asshole DNA over the life-span of humanity. Our “old school” ancestors weren’t as obliged to take as much lip as we are these days and swords aren’t as readily accepted as a part of daily dress as they once were. But despite all that early character-cleansing activity, there’s still some decently pathetic people out there continuing to fertilize prick-eggs. They just keep coming. Just because one may die, you’re never going to be out of the woodwork. If you are a do’er or a leader or a facilitator – there’s always another sniper out there ready to put you in his/her cross-hairs.

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The jealousy gene is present inside all of us, especially me. If I meet someone who seems to have it all together, living the easy life, I’ll admit that I sometimes feel a bit of jealousy. For a fleeting moment, not really knowing the back story of that person, I unwittingly think that I want what he or she has. The key words here are “seems” and “think”. But not everything is always as it seems. Our jealousies are oftentimes out of sync with the person’s real life – perhaps they’re living a life that we wouldn’t want for ourselves at all – we just haven’t seen it naked.

Some people, though, have a jealousy gene which is Enormously Dominant. Let’s just call this condition E.D. for now.  These people are genetically engineered to feel threatened by another’s outward successes. They are so consumed with jealousy that they actually believe that your successes (big or small), undermine their own self-confidence. Maybe they believe you will be favored or loved more than them. Perhaps they have a tinge of mental illness – your popularity or success emasculates their own self-perceptions. These folks are driven to try and derail you. It’s not personal, it’s their E.D...

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We’re really never going to know the exact reasons why these insecure folks will sell their souls to undercut your efforts, or why they are drawn to careers in finance(?%&@); we just have to recognize them for the value that they bring to our lives. Haters don’t necessarily hate you, it’s far more likely that they actually hate themselves. You become a reflection of what’s missing in their own mirror and a painful reminder of their own inadequacies.

To sum it all up, backstabbers and haters are not going away. If you lose one, you will get another. Why not elevate their status in a way that brings about positivity instead of stress? First learn to recognize them, then learn to appreciate them for the challenges they help you overcome. Perception is reality, they say.

FOES

Thank you Fate for foes! I hold mine dear

As valued friends. He cannot know

The Zest of life who runneth here

His earthly race without a foe.

I saw a prize. “Run,” cried my friend;

“’Tis yours to claim without a doubt.”

But ere I half-way reached the end,

I felt my strength was giving out.

My foe looked on while I ran;

A scornful triumph lit his eyes.

With that perseverance born in man,

I nerved myself, and won the prize.

All blinded by the crimson glow

Of Sin’s disguise, I tempted Fate.

“I knew thy weakness?” sneered my foe,

I saved myself, and balked his hate.

For half my blessings, half my gain,

I must thank my trusty Foe;

Despite his envy and disdain,

He serves me well where’er I go.

So may I keep him to the end,

Nor may his enmity abate;

More faithful than the fondest friend,

He guards me ever with his hate.

W. Wilcox

Shake’n Bake Politics

When I was a kid, I was hypnotized by those Shake’n Bake commercials. I remember hounding my mom to get us some. It was like watching a magic show to a kid. She never bought in to my demands, thank goodness, but I can’t imagine that I gave in very easily. I don’t know if I was convinced that you didn’t have to cook it or what. The commercials just make it all look so easy; you just put the ingredients in the bag, then the meat, shake it up and voila – fried pork chops.

It’s funny to me that the human brain is wired to assist things into mental completion. We complete each other’s sentences, we answer questions not fully asked, and we assume we know things we’ve been told, even when the things we’re told aren’t true at all. All one must do in order to get most of us to believe something is to provide a subtle hint as to a logical conclusion and allow our brains to make the connection. It’s like finishing a sentence when there’s no sentence – just superfluous information. That’s what television advertising is great at doing.

We’re in the middle of a local election here in Shelbyville, Tennessee and of course there’s lots of tension and drama concerning the prospect that a very popular Mayor could be usurped by a lesser known candidate. In fact, there are four people running for that job. Our current Mayor suffered a fall a few months back and damaged his knee. His rehabilitation has been slow but very steady. He’s back doing the job of Mayor and we’re blessed he didn’t suffer any permanent damage.

That perceived weakness, though, has opened the door for a few others to try their hand at getting that job. Being human, we sometimes seize opportunities to further our own interests at the expense of another person’s weakness. It is a very human thing to do. In so doing, our personal agendas can make so much more sense to people when you provide a logical rationale, a potential conspiracy, and a solution – especially when you allow the person you’re telling to make his or own conclusion as to real truth. The kicker is that the game rules were first established by the story teller.

It’s Shake’n Bake. I give you a bag with magic powder in it. The magic powder that will solve all your problems. I then give you a free piece of meat. We put the meat in the bag and I allow you to do the shaking up. When we’re done, a transformation has taken place. The raw meat now looks like a fried pork chop. The problem? You can’t eat it. It’s not what you thought it was.

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Eugene Ray is an African American living in a small county of about 50,000 people. He represents one man of an approximate 10% demographic. Yet, he was elected and served as a county commissioner for twenty years and has been overwhelmingly elected, re-elected and supported by the good people of this county for three terms. In the previous election, he won every single voting precinct in Bedford County. He didn’t win the overwhelming confidence of the people of this county by conspiracy. He won our trust because he’s the best man I’ve ever known and likely the best man you’ve ever known too.

The biggest rumor going around is that Eugene wants to win the election then immediately step down and appoint me as his surrogate. This is completely false and is not even legal in this state. Whomever created this lie did so because they want to play into your natural suspiciousness to government. They want you to believe that you can no longer trust your government. They used my name because everyone knows that I am personally close to him and that I am a department head with whom he has trusted with several important projects. It makes sense right?

So, let’s just put this rumor into proper perspective so that you can know how crazy it would be. First, Tennessee Code Annotated tells us what the law is with respect to an elected official stepping down during a term. A perfect example can be found right here when our state Senator, Jim Tracy, stepped down from his office last year. When that happens, the Legislative Body of the County (County Commission) is the only entity who can appoint an interim Mayor. Not the Mayor himself.

If that would happen, the chance that myself or any other department head would step up to ask for the Commission to appointment them is nearly zero. I say nearly only because there might be someone who’s close to retirement age who might actually try, but I’m only 53 so that would not be me. The biggest reason it would not be me is because I would have to quit the security of a decent job for an opportunity to serve a few months interim then run in the next general election for an opportunity to win and finish out what’s left of that term.

I would have to quit my job and spend tons of money gambling for a small chance of keeping my new job. Why would I or anyone do something like that? No one in my or any similar position has prepared or raised money for an election campaign, we’ve not been campaigning or getting our name out or gotten to know the electorate, bought expensive signs, or in any way positioned ourselves to compete in any election. It would be completely absurd to think that any of us would do that and its dismissive of our integrity to automatically assume we’d even want to become politicians.

Mayor Eugene Ray is well-known to be a man of the highest integrity and of the utmost moral character. He is never going to challenge the rumor mill because he doesn’t believe in kicking turds around – giving credence to rumors that undermine the fabric of everything he’s proven himself to be – time and time again. Eugene doesn’t need a magic powder and a mixing bag to produce anything. He’s a man of action – not shake’n bake politics.

Eugene Ray has not only been transformative for our county government but also the people of Bedford County. People love Eugene Ray and I love Eugene Ray. That said, there are still people out there who have never supported him and never will.

What I do know is that he really wants to serve us once again. If we’re fortunate enough to have this amazing man be willing to serve us once more, we’d be fools to not take him up on the offer. I am asking you, if you live in Bedford County, to please come out to support and vote for Eugene Ray one more time. He has earned our loyalty and our trust without trick nor treat.

While other candidates can debate each other over who’s the most qualified among their group, and there are some that I really like as individuals, you and I already know that the highest rated among them could never come close to measuring up to our Eugene Ray – I honestly don’t know another man who could. That is not a fault to any of the other candidates, that’s just reality. Lets do this! Shake’n Bake!

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When the Levee Breaks

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I don’t know about you but I often catch myself drifting away from the present with random unrelated thoughts. Many times those random thoughts evolve into blogs like this one. Just as often though my brain might be interrupted by some random Led Zeppelin song lyrics or stupid childhood memories or grilled cheese sandwiches. I should probably donate my brain to science; I guess I should just leave it at that and save the explanation for later.

Having some hearing loss, I probably don’t always hear what I think I hear. I hope I’m not always held 100% responsible for some of the things I think I’ve heard throughout the day then later regurgitated with some slight differences. The combination of my incompetent little brain, malfunctioning ears, and fifty-plus year-old eyes means that you never know exactly what you’re going to get from me. The saddest thing of all is that half of these blogs could literally be reactions to problems that never existed.

I can’t, of course, possibly know how many other people drift away like I do but I have to assume that everyone does it or else I might feel like I’m embarrassing myself right now. It helps me to imagine that for the most part, there’s really only one thing that distinguishes my random thoughts from anyone else’s. That would of course be the arrogance with which I assume that some other person(s) might be entertained by my stories.

One thing I can’t seem to let go of lately is the feeling I get when I hear various people espousing their political views. Political divisiveness is not new, it’s just different, louder, meaner and far more inflammatory than it’s ever been. Today, it’s definitely en vogue to feel utter hatred for political candidates and it’s far more common than uncommon for the media to inundate and indoctrinate negativity and bias than ever before. The divide between Walter Cronkite and Sean Hannity or Dan Rather is like the Grand Canyon; they’re not even in the same industry.

Disclosure: I consider myself to be an extremist moderate. I’m dead in the middle socially but with a fiscally conservative slant. I’m one of those weirdo’s who think we should do everything we can afford for our elderly, invalids, and handicapped and provide a temporary, not permanent, leg-up for those of us who are having a hard time for any reason. I also believe we should be able to afford whatever it is we’re trying to do for people and if we reach a stage where we can’t, we should cut something else less important from an otherwise balanced budget. I do not believe in tremendous debt like the situation we’ve been in now for decades.

There’s an overwhelming feeling of obviousness to me that others don’t seem to share. If roughly half the citizens of the country support one party and subscribe to its core beliefs and roughly half the citizens of the country support the opposite party and subscribe to its core beliefs then logic should dictate three (3) very obvious things:

  • The majority of the members of each party are not as far away from each other as they think;
  • There are very smart people on both sides of each isle so you cannot rule out that each could potentially have good arguments in support for their beliefs; and,
  • There being a wide range of differing levels of intelligence, socio-economic, gender and regional demographics making up the members of each group, we must assume that there really is no specific right answer to all political ideology because examples of each have positively and negatively impacted each group’s members to the point of that groups members wanting to fight about it.

There are incredibly wealthy democrats and republicans. There are incredibly poor democrats and republicans. There are incredibly smart and dumb democrats and republicans. Each group’s members, despite what you hear on television, are essentially made up of the same types of people and both groups make up nearly identical halves of the registered voters in this country – the middle swinging from side to side depending upon the platform du jour.

Said differently, what happens to be the right thing today might not have been the right thing in the past nor the right thing in our future. Generally, most people actually find themselves situated somewhere just left or just right of this imaginary line of right and wrong. Regardless of that center majority, each party is pushed to try and convince its supporters to pick a side and to do their level best to scare the dickens out of those people to the point of polarizing everyone.

What about that Led Zeppelin song, “Good Times Bad Times”? Is it just me or is anyone else confused about the girl leaving him but then he says they will never part?  

Good Bad Times

People pick sides because they fear the extremism represented on both isles – which is the very thing the opposition wants you to know about the other side. The world and America, in particular, is organic – not fixed. We are learning the effects of yesterday’s political decisions today and tomorrow our children will be learning about the choices our elected leaders are making today. It’s our children who are left behind to clean up our mistakes and it’s our children too who are left behind to ride whatever wake of success that trails behind us.

This country has rode enormous waves of prosperity and it has suffered the hopelessness of economic despair. When the country has suffered, we’ve risen to the challenge by creating safety nets. When the country has soared, we’ve invested in infrastructure and added chairs to the table. Along its way, this country has matured and altered the way it treats and represents its citizens. Maybe not everyone of course, but enough to steer the direction of the country nonetheless.

But, regardless of any of that, we should not be surprised to discover that people will always be left behind. No society is perfect and no society, however determined it is to be perfect, will ever be.

We cannot make policy on the fallacy that it will perfect that which cannot be perfected. There is a balancing act between economic prosperity and opportunity for entrepreneurial investment against the weight of humanity itself. If you concentrate on civics then you lose on economics. If you focus on economics, benevolence takes a second seat. It is the way of things.

There’s this Led Zeppelin song, “When the Levee Breaks”… I love the drum licks in that song. John Bonham was an awesome drummer! Oh, sorry. Let’s get back on track.

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One problem is that ALL of us are horribly but perfectly made to be biased. It is a human survival mechanism. Our brains are simply built with greater sensitivity to unpleasant news than positive news. Our capacity to weigh negative input more heavily than positive input most likely evolved for a good reason – to keep us out of harm’s way. From the dawn of human history, our very survival depended on our skill at dodging danger.

The brain developed systems that would make it unavoidable for us not to notice danger and thus, respond accordingly. All well and good in the jungle but having a brain apparatus super-sensitive to negativity means that bad-news bias, at work in every sphere of our lives at all times, can alter our realities to the point of insanity.

If you want comedy, OK, how about bad-news biased comedy. You want news, no problem, here’s some bad-news bias for you. How about dinner conversations based upon biased bad-news learned from every source except the real one? One half of the country pays attention to biased news that leans left and the other half of the country pays attention to biased news that leans right. We’re tuned in to institutional bias rather than being tuned in to each other. If we’d just listen to each other, we’d find that we’re really not all that different.

Whatever is said or done by a person from either political party, the reporting agency will edit and peel away the things that doesn’t fit their agenda and emphasize the parts that do, sometimes completely out of context. Whatever gets your attention sells. For the media, that’s all they really care about. Real news can be boring – you can’t run a business trying to sell real news anymore.

As individuals we generally, but not always, will have two opinions about everything. The first opinion we have is the one that we never or rarely share with anyone. That opinion is how we truthfully feel about any given situation. The second opinion we will have is our public opinion which is carefully crafted not to offend and generally, but not always, exactly aligned with our given party. Then, of course, there are those with only one opinion. Just so we’re being straight up with each other, if you always only have one opinion on every issue then you’re probably too ignorant to vote. Just sayin’.

Oh well, I don’t want to put a bustle in your hedgerow but people really need to get a life these days. Whatever is happening in Washington D.C. whether there’s a democrat in office or a Republican, you’re not going to be allowed to know enough about any given subject in order to form a logical opinion anyway. The media is only going to report the part that sells the most copies and they’re going to seriously spin that small part of it in order to sell a few more.

The issue itself will be marred in red tape so that you could never understand why it happened that way and the facts will be muddied by the existence of classified elements which you cannot possibly be told. You’re going to be provided with a smidgen of details which are painted and embellished to the point where it no longer resembles the truth. Therefore, your opinion, no matter how eloquent your delivery, sounds completely stupid to the people who actually do know and possibly brilliant to those others, who like you/me, don’t.

“Dazed and confused for so long it’s not true…Lots of people talkin’, few of them know”. What is it with the melancholy chords anyway? Do you think Led Zeppelin members were doing drugs back in the day or were they like Nostradamus – like, foreseeing the future/present? Hmm.

R.214 LED ZEP PAGE VIOLIN BOW

In the end, none of us are really qualified to question what happens in the District of Columbia. We can have opinions as to whether liberalism or conservatism is a better or worse solution for any given set of circumstances but we’re never going to really know the whole truth about the other stuff. Yes, yes, there are always signs on the wall, but you know sometimes words have two meanings.

Legitimately, either direction can be the right direction depending upon the specific set of circumstances. Likewise, neither direction works as a system in and of itself. Too much a good thing is never a good thing. Push liberalism too far and you get communism; push the right wing agenda too far and you may pull a Nazi out of the bag. The powers are made to be balanced because they need to be balanced in order for our country to work as it was engineered to work. We’ve seen the atrocities committed by both polar extremes – so who wants to give up prosperity and freedom for either of those two bullshit alternatives?

There’s a lady who’s sure, all that glitters is gold, and she’s buying a stairway to heaven. I don’t know her personally but I can tell you that if she’d just focus on the area somewhere between the stratus’ of gold and pot metal, she might make a better investment. It is so easy to deceive. Smear on a little paint and spike it with a little lead and voila. Viewed from a distance the pot metal looks just like gold and it weighs the same too. That is the lure of political parties but it’s just a façade. It’s never exactly what you think.

There’s an enormous effort from both sides of the isle to convince you that their path is the true stairway to heaven. In my world there are lots of stairways and many correct paths. Gold too, is not just an element on a periodic table. It’s a condition, it’s a place, it’s a relationship, and it’s a state of mind. As Alaskan’s are fond of saying, “Gold is where you find it.”

Stairway to heaven

If there’s one thing I could convey here that I hope will resonate with people is that we should try and respect, not necessarily agree, with people who don’t share our opinions. We’re losing our ability to show respect to others who may be different. Deference is no longer fashionable. I want you to respect my views/sexuality/race/identity/etc., but it’s completely unfashionable for me to respect you in return. This one-way street of acceptance will, if not cured, incubate a future filled with hate and intolerance all over again.

If you are allowed to hate me, I am within my rights to hate you back, right? Isn’t that the way of the world today? I would hope that we’ve moved beyond that particular stage of humanity, or is it inhumanity?

On one hand our society has done a great job of learning to embrace people who look or act different, but we’ve completely lost our ability to embrace people who think different. Today, we celebrate differences on television and in movies and even parades. Kids who feel different about their sexuality no longer feel as if they have to conform to anything. Different races and different ethnic backgrounds blend and assimilate back and forth to the point where the word “cultural appropriation” has actually become a subject in college.

In my younger days, culture was something that only old and frightened white people felt deserved protection. Now the majority of people who want to insulate and protect their culture are ethnic groups. The desire to homogenize is no longer as prevalent as it once was. Ethnic peoples used to pray for a day where they could just be called Americans, now they’d much prefer a richer more diversified cultural identity.

Ironically, they have become that way only because they now have the freedoms and the acceptance that allows them to concentrate on themselves for a change, and not a broader more inclusive goal as once was necessary. Coalescence is to the modern American joke what the Pollock was when I was twelve years old. Oh how the world, and I, have changed – for the good.

The irony is that the better things become, the more selfish we’re allowed to be, and the more faults we find in the world because the world is not suiting our individual goals anymore. Things may be great for my community, my state, my gender, my race, or my culture but its not so great for moi. So, I should start a go-fund-me page in order to change all this shit to accommodate my blossoming individuality.

Meanwhile at the coffee shop, I read that Republicans want to outlaw go-fund-me accounts. Should I write another blog about it or just keep my mouth shut and hope they don’t shut down the one I started to buy myself a fishing boat cancer policy?  Why am I so cynical these days?

How are we so systematically being pushed away from each other? What around us is so deliberately tapping into our brains innate sensitivity to fear and danger? I think I know but maybe I don’t. Being that I am not the god of knowledge, I think it’s time for me to ramble on then allow you to figure that one out for yourself. Hmm, this reminds of another Led Zeppelin song.

ramble on

Genesis 2.0

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Everyone benefits from an obsession with family history. Maybe too bold a statement…? I can only speak from my own experiences but if you will allow me to explain my reasoning I think you will agree.

Had I, like many others, not followed my genealogical paths backward, I could never have better understood the whole of who I am in the way that I do now. Knowing what I know about all of the astonishing things that had to occur and all of the remarkable people who were able to survive along the way – all contributing their own DNA along the way, it has helped me to realize just how unique we all are but also amazingly true is how similar we are.

Genealogical research has a way of reverse-engineering our souls. It breaks us down piece by piece, and reveals an honesty about our pasts which is sometimes flattering and newsworthy and just as often ugly or immoral. For some, it can reveal a surprising or hidden truth, blurred by time, exaggerations, or even lies. For the majority of us, what little information we do learn from our ancestors only represents a tiny fraction of the story of us.

I vividly remember my paternal grandfather, Papaw White, telling me that we were Scotch-Irish and that I was named after Capt. John White of early American colonist fame – Roanoke/Croatoan story. I never doubted the Scotch-Irish ancestry but somehow I never really bought the Capt. John Smith story. A couple things just didn’t add up; the Captain was English and, most importantly, after returning from England to discover that his colony was lost, he returned to England and never returned to American soil.

My grandmother, however, shared her family history with me which has turned out to be pretty accurate, albeit scant in detail. She told me her family immigrated to the United States from Germany. What I later discovered was that they immigrated from a tiny hamlet called Mitschdorf, Alsace which is actually in France. Situated on the Rhine River bordering France, Switzerland and Germany, Alsace has a complicated history as it sits just below the traditional French customs border of the Vosages Mountains although the French territories stopped at the Rhine River – just beyond the tiny town of Mitschdorf. The people who inhabited that region were principally of German descent.

The German language and customs of the inhabitants of these French outskirts continued for centuries through the 17th and 18th centuries – including the time when my Neese family immigrated to the United States. Thirty year old Hans Michael Nehs, infant son Michael and his twenty seven year old wife Dorothea along with 266 other Palatines arrived in the port of Philadelphia, PA on 21 September, 1731, sailing on the ship Britannia having sailed across the Atlantic from Rotterdam, Holland. Soon after immigration the Nehs family, either through ignorance of the language or by choice, Americanized the surname to Neese and/or Neece and other similar variations which have since scattered themselves to and fro across the entire country.

So, my grandmother was actually pretty close right? You could say that but only if her story began or stopped right there – but it doesnt. Michael’s father and mother Mathias and Maria had just been living in Rusovce, Bratislava, Slovakia prior to moving to the Alsace region of France.

Cognizant to most of us family tree-climbers is that just four generations up the tree gives me no less than sixteen great grandparents. Another generation beyond that gives me thirty-two grandparents – another gives me sixty-four… each grandparent having his or her own distinct ancestry, some of it quite fascinating. Unfortunately, some is also lost forever to time and insignificance. Perhaps we should expend more energy while we’re alive with the goal of not being so insignificant.

Most of us associate our general lineage and ancestry by our last names. The truth is that you have hundreds of last names, some you’ve never heard about. If I push my ancestry out just ten generations beyond myself, I can personally verify 128 different surnames. This does not include incidences where the same last name repeats from other ancestors marrying cousins which occurs nearly a dozen times in that same ten-generation time span. There are also familial lines where I can’t YET go back ten generations.

Family Tree

I have found a wealth of new names, belonging to me, I’d never even heard before. Some of the oddest names in my lineage: Cazeneuve, Coggeshall and Erchtebrech. The Beaufort, Ragland, Marcell and Simpson are surname lines that I’ve researched heavily while the Pfeiffer, Koch, Emot and Lisbet lines are among the many still lying in wait for me to catch an interest. The gist of everything I’m writing here is that we are all so much more than the sum of two parts, even if you’ve not been formally introduced to the other parts.

While I grew up thinking I was just an average white guy with Scotch-Irish/German ancestry on my paternal side and maternal Welsh/English ancestry, I’ve since learned that I hail from Scandinavia, Spain, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, England, France, Italy, Turkey, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Greece, the Middle East, Hungary, Slovakia, Israel, and Belarus. My ancestors were Vikings, Jews, Knights Templar, Spanish conquistadors, American colonists, Native Americans, Revolutionary War soldiers and early American statesmen. They were Frankish kings and Welsh nobles and they were poor farmers, merchants, tin smiths and shoe cobblers.

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What my ancestors have most in common with your ancestors is that they were all survivors. They are the survivors of numerous plagues, copious wars, inquisitions, witch trials, battlefield forays, and voyages across unknown and uncharted waters. They survived attacks from neighboring warlords, tribes, and villages. They fought off zealous religious groups, parried political unrest, returned from great world wars, defeated the Nazis, found something to eat under communist regimes, lived through indentured servitude and found freedom after generations of slavery. Our ancestors avoided the horns of Jericho and the plagues of Egypt. Had they not, you and I would not be having this conversation.

flat-world

All of us are extremely lucky to even be here. There were far more opportunities for us to have never been born at all than for us to have ascended from whatever heaven and hell our people endured. If you look far enough and broad enough backward, sideways, and crossways, you’ll find a bit of both.

Since I know that I’m a Gaul, a Latin, an Etruscan, a Greek, a Celtic, a Briton, a Silurian, a Native American, a Jew, an Arab, a Spaniard, a Frank and a Viking, I can safely assume that other people living among me who are firm in their belief that I’m either a deplorable, infidel, heathen, left-winger or right-winger might also themselves be a great many things they never knew about.

Despite our differing features, sizes and shades of skin, we’re very much a homogeneous community of very blessed people of common origin and descent. Not the kind of homogeneity like Hitler envisioned but in the way that if you look deep enough, what you find is me. Hitler didn’t have the ability to know that he himself was a Jew – we, however, do. If we all choose to use our extremist obsessions to peel back the layers of our own ancestry instead of the flaws and faults of others who disagree with us, perhaps we could all realize that we are all many different things…things which would not qualify us to be the judge of all others. Said differently, if I’m an infidel, we’re all infidels; because I am you.

 

Mom, I Turned Out Awesome!

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From time to time, like pretty much everyone on the planet, I reminisce about my family, the experiences we shared growing up together and the evolution of our family’s story. Comparatively speaking, I’ve rarely written about them, mostly just a few honorable mentions to make my blog more family-friendly. There was, however, that one time that I blogged about my sister Cindy and how her move to California reminded me of the song Hotel California. Oh yeah, I wrote the blog about my sister Lisa and how I ate her box of Coco Puffs when she was pregnant with Lauren.

I’ve actually written quite a lot about my brother Mike. His downward spiraling journey into mental-illness resulted in an unfortunate decision to end his own life. Writing about Mike not only helped me to come to terms with his death, it also helped me to better understand the lives of so many other of our mentally vulnerable. Now that I think about it, I really should take the time to introduce everyone to the precocious older brother I grew up with before war, biology and the stresses of life happened to him. Soon maybe.

I’ve also written a blog about my wife Emily. A favorite of mine is a blog I wrote about my cousin David White after he suddenly passed from a heart attack a few years back. I think, over time and during rare moments of lucidity, I may attempt to honor my favorite things about everyone I care about. Not necessarily because I want to kiss anyone’s butt, but mainly because I think it’s important that my feelings about those around me are known and properly memorialized.

Quite a while ago, I decided that I would write and create my own birthday cards. Occasionally I’ve made quite elaborate ones. I don’t do it for everyone but I always make them for Emily and I’ve made a few for my son. My thoughts on the matter were that if I can do it, I should do it. I recognize that I’m not the most overtly expressive person on the planet, I don’t communicate my emotions all that well, but I do have the ability to write about them – so I do what I can do.

For whatever reason, my conservative exterior becomes nearly invisible when I’m writing. My belief is that the shorter attention span of today’s society is far too inadequate for people like me to properly convey a serious thought. I use far more words in my sentences than most people are prepared to hear because I abhor being misunderstood. Said differently, the way I speak bores some people. Getting cut off or ignored has, over time, led me to become less verbally communicative overall.

Writing allows me to say things the way I want to say them. I can write fully and expressively; I can write about things in ways that better explain my thought processes without being cut off in mid-sentence. My mother seems to love everything about my writings. She prints and saves every single blog I create. She even printed copies of the papers I wrote in college. Mom does this even though I seldom have ever mentioned her in any of my blogs. It makes me wonder if she’s been patiently expecting to read something about herself, waiting to finally be recognized.

mom sayshi

I’m finally doing mom. I finally decided to brave the unknown and attempt to summarize the most complex personality on the planet in a few pathetic paragraphs. I will probably fail miserably but it’s all admiration, not admonition, which is inspiring me.

I feel a deep and unimaginable sorrow for people who were not blessed with a good mother. A mother who thinks everything you do is great. I could literally have been the most disgusting bastard ever delivered from human flesh and yet my mother would probably still think I’m wonderful. Ironically, if any other disgusting bastard came her way, my mother would not hesitate to call him or her a disgusting bastard – or maybe not.

I have the kind of mom who might hold her tongue if she thinks she might cause drama down the road. My siblings and I think she very likely could have solved a great deal of the problems we faced as young adults, through marriages and divorce, raising kids, etc., had she only shared her personal thoughts with us. But, our mom understood the potential perils of getting involved in our personal affairs. So, nothing; nada; silence.

I also have the kind of mom who might say exactly what’s on her mind. She weighs the consequences carefully on subjects that come up along the way and if she thinks it doesn’t matter, she fires with both barrels. Our mom can be quite the provocateur. One never really knows which mama you’re gonna get until surprised with an impromptu and sometimes indelicate remark.

mom baby

Did I mention that I am the baby of the family? No, ok; I probably shouldn’t have left that part out of the story. My sisters are firmly convinced that I am my mother’s favorite child. She’s never officially confirmed it but since I turned out so well it might actually be true.

I’m joking of course but I certainly won’t mind admitting that the thought of it has probably encouraged me to try and make better decisions in my life than any other factor. If your mom is always watching, you never want to disappoint her; right? There’s definitely something to be said about the positive power of influence from something as simple as just being loved unconditionally.

Yes, I’ve made a few bad choices too, some I’d never admit, but I’ve decided at least for now to blame the really bad ones that everyone already knows about on my rebel-rousing Scottish ancestry. If I decide later to write about my dad, I might have to amend my thoughts slightly in order to pay my proper respects. Right now, let’s just focus on my regal Welsh ancestry.

momThe_Battle_of_Culloden

I think that the reason I’ve been reluctant to blog about my mother is that she’s very much like me. She’s difficult to know. She’s a loving and nurturing enigma. My mom does not fit the paradigm of typical moms.

When I stop to make notes about the way I’m articulating this blog, it forces me to recognize that what I would normally be writing about is my relationship with my mom, not necessarily my mom. To actually write about Shirley Ragland, I’m forced to dig deep because nothing about my mom is obvious except of course her natural beauty.

But the older I get, the more similarities I find between the two of us. Part of that discovery comforts me and part of it scares me. My life literally began with waking up and loving my mother’s face. And in some ways, I feel that it’s been the same for her. But our relationship is more kinetic and intuitive than necessarily vocal. The resultant man I’ve grown to become is also intuitive and less vocal.

My wife has often told me that I’m unapproachable to most people. I’ve actually heard her telling people, “Chris is very hard of hearing so he didn’t know you were trying to talk to him.” What she was saying was true in that instance but a big part of the equation with me and why I might seem unapproachable to some people is that it’s not natural for me to reach out to people or attempt to make friends. I can when I want, but more often than not, I don’t.

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I’m very lucky to have the great friends that I have. But I give all the credit to being married to a social butterfly. My wife pushes me to be more socially active and my life is far more socially fulfilling because of her influences.

Lately, I’ve noticed the similarities between me and my mom. When she has active friendships, she usually has very supportive and reciprocal relationships. But, she doesn’t have a great deal of friends and I’ve never really known her to be socially active except for rare occurrences when she was ballroom dancing or when her and her husband were traveling to and from cowboy action shooting events.

Why? I can only assume that, like me, she rarely finds the necessity to share herself with the world. My mind is perpetually illuminated with thoughts, such as the one’s I like to blog about, and knowing her to be a sharper cookie than myself, I can only venture to guess that she keeps herself entertained with an active mind.

Obviously, my natural communication skills lacking, I long to be different. I recognize that my wife and son and extended family want and need to really know me and I’m not all that good at expressing myself. After my son was born, I suddenly and overwhelmingly understood the concept of instantaneous love. The same forgiving and acceptance that my mother must feel for me. My blogging and writing provides me with a method of conveying those feelings without having to rely on the same type of intrinsic relationship that I share with my mother.

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As a child, my mother was always in the picture. She was my protector and my emotional barometer. Part of being the baby of any family is that you’re always the perpetual victim. My siblings know well how I played that part. One story Lisa was telling about me when we were traveling in England was about a time when my brother Mike bloodied my nose while our parents were at work. I sat at the kitchen table, head forward so more blood would come out, and waited hours on my mom to come home from work so she could find me in my bloodied and gruesome condition.

But that was our relationship; my mom was my protector. I’m confident now that the dried blood probably gave my intentions away but she never undermined my condition. She knew I needed to be the center of her attention and she gave me that without any judgement. My mom doesn’t say a lot, the Ragland’s in general aren’t known for spilling their secrets. But, despite her complexity and inability to openly emote, she feels and loves and hurts more deeply than most anyone else I know – she just does it silently.

The biggest gift my mom ever gave to me is peace of mind. My mom has tremendous coping skills; something she had to learn growing up in a household filled with division. I think that a great deal of people move about in this world never realizing where they learned the skills they possess. Perhaps they think they just learned them on their own. I feel lucky because not only do I have the self-awareness to know where I got my sense of humor or my rationalization skills, I also have memories of my mother displaying specific examples of those influences – which has given me a context and texture of her character and of her superior intellect.

For most of her life, my mom was a working mother. A term that seems redundant in this day and age but accurate nonetheless. Knowing her, she’s probably reading this right now hoping that you’ve confused the two terms working mother and working girl. For clarity, she’s never been a prostitute as far as I know. My mom had four kids in five years, working most of that time. She took a few years off work after I was born but returned to work when I was five years old. She continued working until she was 70 years old.

The mother I know is intelligent beyond the norm, reliable and sensible. To say that my mom is just a strong woman undermines the depth of the words resilience, capability and adaptability. My mom is all those things and more. I honestly cannot find a word or group of words that could paint an accurate picture of her. Whatever I could say will be utterly inadequate.

In television terms, my mom is definitely more of a Mary Tyler Moore than a June Cleaver. Whatever she did, she excelled at; my mom kicked in doors, broke invisible barriers and hammered away at glass ceilings before those terms were ever associated with women in the work place.

It’s pitiful on my part but I’m finally starting to recognize that my mom is growing old. She’s 75 so it’s taken me a while. With her age and a few spinal surgeries, she’s had to get used to some diminished physical abilities which have hindered her ability to get out and take on those challenges and obstacles that I’m confident exist inside her mind.

I know my mom pretty well and I’m completely confident that her physical limitations have made her bored out of her ever-lovin’ mind. Retirement for some people is great but retirement for people like my mother is probably closer to hell than heaven. With her, it’s a simple case of carrying around an over-achieving blob of brain cells that are being held back by an uncooperative body. I guess that happens to us all eventually but I think it’s particularly difficult for her.

What strikes me hardest right now is that while writing this blog, I recognize that I won’t have her in my life forever. So while I’d love to encourage her to use all that intellectual energy to reach out and develop more meaningful relationships with grandkids and such – I recognize that despite all those deep emotions kept inside, converting those emotions to words aren’t the easiest things to do. I just feel selfish sometimes knowing that Cindy, Lisa and I are the only ones in the family who get to really know who my mother is.

While I have an opportunity, I want my mom to know that there’s a two-way street between a mother and a son when it comes to love; it need not be re-acquired; it need not be indulged; it need not be deserved, and it need not be spoken about. The love and respect I have for my mother is an unspoken and unbroken simple peace of mind, like a blessing from above, it is just there, and it always will be there.

Inspirational mom birthday card ideas pattern best birthday quirky mother birthday card ideas

The tools she gave me have not only kept me alive all these years but they’ve influenced people around me, moved projects forward, solved problems and developed ideas. I am who I am because of my incredibly special mother. I see the world the way I see it because of her. I love the things I love because of her.

I write the things I write about because my mother gave me a love for words and made it ok for me to think out loud. She allowed me to be me and supported me in every step and misstep. My mother is an awesome mom and I’m eternally grateful for the many blessings I’ve had and will continue to have because of my mother’s unconditional love and support.

Happy Mother’s Day Mom

You Say Baath; I Say Bath.

ex·pec·ta·tion: a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future; a belief that someone will or should achieve something.

A persons expectations can be the key to enjoyment or the riposte to disappointment. If you project your ideas too low then no one gets interested; if you tout too high, no one ever feels quite appeased. It could be said then that managing people’s expectations is one of the principle secrets to success.

You might surmise then that McDonalds has done a great job of it. They’ve demonstrated expertise at branding their burger chain as being the best deal in town, not necessarily the best burger. This despite the fact that their entire identity is built around hamburgers.

What does all this have to do with traveling to Bath, England you say? For starters, I’m writing to you about my personal observations of Bath; Bath through the eyes of Chris. I’m hoping to help you discover things about Bath that go well beyond the scope of what you might expect to find in Bath. So, while others may focus on its most obvious attributes such as the Roman Baths, I wanted to better illuminate Bath’s more obscure but interesting facts, history and architectural features.

The Roman baths are indeed amazingly well-preserved and definitely worthy of explanation; so, I will do my best to describe them for you in as descriptively visual terms as I’m capable. But, when I drove away from that uniquely singular place, my first thoughts were of how challenging it may be, given my limited writing skills, to convince vacationing travelers to look more deeply at Bath, to peel back the layers, and to venture outside the city center to discover its other gems.

A gem in and of itself is the scenic drive into Bath. Bath sits at the southern edge of the Cotswolds, a range of limestone hills and valleys designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The limestone quarried from there is particularly unique and has this creamy honey golden color. The stone is known world-wide as Bath Stone. Every house, cottage, mansion or castle in the vicinity is constructed from this beautifully rich and distinctive stone. While there, I learned that one of the zoning restrictions for all new construction inside the city of Bath requires builders to use this same stone on the façade to ensure that modern buildings pay homage to the city’s 18th century heritage.

Bath has long been an ancient borough with high status. First, with its close proximity to Stonehenge and its Neolithic/early Celtic Briton inhabitants. Afterwards, its Roman occupants constructed spa’s and baths around the first century AD where it became a well-known Roman vacation destination. After the fall of the Roman Empire it remained as a rare gem for the Kingdom of Mercia until the year 878 when it became a royal borough of Alfred the Great when it was ceded to the Kingdom of Wessex. If you’re a King Arthur fan, it is believed that Bath may have been the site of the Battle of Badon (c 500 AD) in which King Arthur is said to have defeated the Anglo-Saxons.

Despite the city name and its historical changing of landlords, Bath continued to be an important place. The Roman baths and impressive stone infrastructures continued to serve whomever claimed it. By the 18th century, Bath evolved into a posh village for Britain’s elite. Its hot mineral baths were advertised as having curative properties so people migrated from far away to find respite for whatever ailments they suffered. If you had any sort of illness from leprosy to acne, and also had money, you were definitely moving to Bath. It all sounds great until you find yourself in a hot bath tub with a leper. But despite my negative thinking, Bath is now one of the best preserved 18th century cities in the world; designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

In fact, the famous 18th century author/novelist Jane Austen lived in Bath for many years. You might have read a few of her famous novels such as Pride and Prejudice, or Sense and Sensibility. If you read them deeply, you will find traces of Bath scattered throughout her writings. An example would be Bath’s Holburne Museum of Art – The impressive creamy gold Bath Stone façade mansion housing today’s museum. The manor and its grounds were a favorite walk for Jane Austen while she lived in Bath, she thus set part of her novel “Northanger Abbey” across from the Holburne Mansion.

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Today, the impressive manor home houses the late Sir William Holburne’s collection of fine and decorative arts. Some of the artists represented inside will include Gainsborough, Guardi, Stubbs, Ramsay and Zoffany. The manor home has also been used for filming numerous movies such as Persuasion (1994), The Duchess (2008) staring Keira Knightley, Vanity Fair (2004) with Reese Witherspoon, as well as numerous other foreign films.

By far, one of the most impressive things I visited in Bath was the Royal Crescent. The Crescent is a 500-foot-long row of Georgian styled terraced houses laid out in a sweeping crescent. Designed by the famed architect John Wood-the Younger and built between 1767 and 1774, the Royal Crescent is among the finest examples of Georgian architecture to be found in the United Kingdom. It boasts over one hundred Ionic columns on its first floors with an entablature in a Palladian style above.

Architect John Wood-the Elder, father of the Crescent’s architecthad earlier designed the Bath Circus in 1754 which is also regarded as a preeminent example of Georgian architecture. The name comes from the Latin word ‘circus’ which means a ring, oval or circle. The Circus is essentially an incredibly fancy roundabout divided into three segments of equal length with a lawn in the center and Georgian styled buildings at its perimeters. Each of the three building segments faces one of the three entrances to the roundabout, ensuring a classical façade is always presented straight ahead. After my left-handed, standard shift, two-day drive in Wales, I decided that I don’t particularly like roundabouts anymore, but this one is very special.

The senior Wood, as its architect, was convinced that Bath was historically the principle center of Druid activity in Britain so he studied nearby Stonehenge to ensure that his Circus design would pay homage to what most people believed to be an ancient Druid ceremonial ground (There are some different ideas about Stonehenge today). Three classical orders (Doric, Roman/Composite, and Corinthian) are used, one above the other, in the elegant curved facades. The frieze of the Doric entablature is decorated with altering triglyphs and pictorial emblems. One very interesting fact is that when viewed from the air, the Circus, along with Queens Square and the adjoining Gay Street, form a key shape, which is a masonic symbol found frequently in many of Wood’s other building designs.

My wife and I particularly enjoy visiting impressive cathedrals and abbey’s when traveling and Bath Abbey was one of those sites on my bucket list. Particularly because of its unique vaulted ceiling. Founded in the 7th century, reorganized in the 10th century and rebuilt in the 12th and 16th centuries, Bath Abbey is one of the largest examples of Perpendicular Gothic architecture in the West. It’s most unique feature, in my opinion, is its notable fan vaulting. We actually know that brothers Robert and William Vertue, architects and stone masons for King Henry VII, were the designers and builders of this particular fan vault. They not only built Bath Abbey’s fan vault, they also built the vaulted ceilings inside the Tower of London, King’s College Chapel in Cambridge and Henry VII’s chapel at Westminster.

Our hotel in Bath, the Hilton Bath City, was located just a block from the extraordinary Pulteney Bridge. This interesting bridge crossing the river Avon, is reminiscent of the Ponte Vecchio Bridge we saw while traveling in Florence, Italy. I say this essentially because it is a bridge with shops built across its full span on both sides. The bridge was built in 1774 in the Palladian style by Robert Adam. My wife, my sister and I not only walked along the bridge visiting the shops but we also found a stone path and stairway that led us to the river’s edge so that we could snap a few glamor shots of the bridge from below.

Something I hadn’t mentioned before is that I had accidently forgotten my razor when packing for the trip. That led to the obvious annoyances to both Emily and I, but alas, my stroll to the Pulteney Bridge allowed me to discover a cool little barber shop along the way called New Saville Row. I made the proper arrangements with the gentleman who told me that although they were about to close, that I could return in 30 minutes and he’d give me a shave. Thirty minutes later I was comfortably laid back in an old style barber chair with a hot towel on my face about to embark on my very first professional straight razor shave. I had no idea what I’d been missing all these years. These guys were unbelievably courteous to stay open for me and it was an experience I won’t soon forget.

Barber Shop Bath

Jane Austen wrote, in her 1811 novel Sense and Sensibility, “I come here with no expectations, only to profess, now that I am at liberty to do so, that my heart is and always will be yours.” Bath is certainly much more than it was when Jane Austen lived there. Although it is now a very modern city with both a professional Rugby team and Football club, two universities and nearly one hundred-thousand people, it is still very much still trapped in the wrinkled skin of its 18th century past. In my book, its a hard act to follow, even for a very cool and mostly intact two thousand year old Roman bath.

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I can’t say for sure what my expectations actually were when I arrived in Bath but what I can say without any pause is that Bath exceeded, no a better word might be trounced, any notion of what I had first imagined it to be. The name is Bath and of course there are Roman baths there so I guess that was where my mind was initially. But Bath is far more than just its namesake. If you decide to be one of the three million annual visitors of Bath in the near future, and I hope you are, don’t just tour the baths and the abbey and leave. Bath is far more than that. If you stay long enough, you might even start pronouncing it Baath.