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Authorities confiscate the weapon and call for lockdown when grade school children show up at school with knives, even penknives. And sadly, perhaps they must. It’s the world we live in today.

But it was different when I was a kid. From the time I was in about 5th Grade well into my 20s I carried a penknife everywhere I went. It wasn’t a weapon. It was an all-purpose, highly functional tool.

My penknives came in different sizes, colors, and styles. I loved and lost them all. Somehow they eventually found a way out of my pocket and turned up missing, permanently. This was always a sad moment—my “friend” was gone—but it also meant I could pick a new one.

I used my penknife for whittling, playing “Mumbly-Peg,” cutting things as needed when I was in the field or woods (which was often), and later as a young teacher, cutting out newspaper articles for later reference. Having a penknife in my pocket was a kind of ready necessity for going out into the world.

I was not all that different from a lot of young guys at the time. Many of us carried penknives and no one intended to use and certainly never did use them in a threatening manner. Our penknives were just a part of coming of age, one symbol and artifact of our manhood. No middle class young man in the 50s and 60s grew up without a penknife.

It’s interesting to note how much culture has changed, even with respect to something as simple as a penknife. Today, they’re used by hunters and workmen but aren’t much in evidence anywhere else. As I noted earlier, schools now have extensive policies referencing all manner of items qua weapons. Any kid showing up with a penknife is considered a threat. I’m not taking shots at schools for this. But it’s a sour comment on where we find ourselves in the early 21st Century.

So maybe I’m a member of the last penknife generation? I don’t know. But I’m glad for my penknife memories. They bring back a time too soon gone.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2012

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

Tonight in Dallas, Texas I finally did something I've wanted to do since I was a teenager. I bought a pair of cowboy boots. Not the high top "Western" kind but the shorter "Roper" (learned this tonight) kind.

My boots are brown with some light blue designs on the uppers. Rather than the traditional pointed or classic squared toe I opted for a rounded toe, so I could wear the boots Up North and not look like I’d escaped from a “Lonesome Dove” movie set.

I was born in Pasadena, Texas, a suburb of Houston when Dad was in the U.S. Air Force. He and Mom had gotten married in Biloxi, Mississippi in October 1951, and later they found themselves as young marrieds stationed at Ellington Air Force Base. I came along in October 1952. They remained in Texas, which meant I did, until Dad finished his hitch at the end of the Korean War. Then they headed home to southeastern Ohio.

Texas was a big time for my parents, and I grew up hearing Texas stories from their stint in the Lone Star State. It’s a big state, but it became even bigger for a kid.

And I grew up in the TV cowboy era, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Hopalong Cassidy, the Rifleman, later on “Rawhide,” and later still, “The High Chapparal.” And of course “Gunsmoke” and “Bonanza.” TV movies were dominated by Western themes too with characters played by Glenn Ford—my favorite, John Wayne, Randolph Scott, Gary Cooper to name a few.

As a little kid I had the boots, guns, and cowboy outfits. I even had the name. All my life people have commented on my name, like “Hey, Roy” or “Rex Rogers, that-a cowboy name?” It was like the name fit in a movie title, "Rex Rogers and Gabby Hayes in 'West of the Pecos.'" Even this week in Texas at a SAT-7 briefing a lady said, "What a great name." It's a Western thing.

And I read "Westerns," Zane Grey, Louis L'Amour, and their writing progeny. I still can get lost in a good Western, though fewer writers, at least good ones, are tackling the subject and the setting. 

Having grown up with Texas being talked up to me, and having had cowboy boots and clothes as toys when I was a kid, I've had Texas on the brain my whole life. So once in awhile I’d think about buying boots.

But whenever I had occasion to consider boots I pushed the idea away due to cost or the fact I worked a profession where I had no place or opportunity to wear them. Seemed silly then, not so much now. I don't work that kind of job anymore, and I have plenty of time to wear casual clothes. And for a Michigan guy there's an added bonus: the boots can be worn in the winter.

So here I was in Dallas driving toward my hotel when I saw Cavender's (next door to Sheplers—even bigger), which I've seen on several previous visits. It might have been smarter to buy the boots at home in case I needed to go back. But there was something cool about the idea—one long in incubation whose time had come—of getting my first pair in Texas.

So, I may be nuts or just fulfilling a childhood psyche thing, but it was fun.

At last, Roy Rogers would be proud of me. Check buying cowboy boots off the bucket list.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2012

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issueand events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

I remember reading about, watching, and enjoying some of the greatest athletes in history, all at their peak in the 70s: Hank Aaron, Johnny Bench, Muhammad Ali—Joe Frazier, Jack Nicklaus, Mark Spitz, Billy Jean King and Chris Evert, Bobby Orr, Arthur Ashe—Borg—Connors, Nadia Comaneci, Secretariat.

I remember bellbottom pants, tie-dye shirts, huge collars and equally huge ties. What can I say? It was the 70s.

I remember our first date, November 10, 1971, “The Carpenters” concert, Dayton, Ohio. I remember my date wore pink; I do not remember what Karen Carpenter wore.

I remember long sideburns, wide sideburns. I had long sideburns when we got married. Dad had wide ones, looked like a holdover from the Civil War.

I remember pet rocks, 8 track tapes, streaking, disco, platform shoes, mopeds, “Dig it?” leisure suits, lava lamps, and Rocky before a Roman Numeral followed the title. And I remember “Yo, Adrian.”

I remember hair, lots of it. “Gimme head with hair—Long beautiful hair—Shining, gleaming—Streaming, flaxen, waxen—Hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair.” I never wore the way-long variety that came along in the late 60s and 70s, but it was long enough. In our wedding pictures my hair is too long in front and flips up like a baseball cap bill in every picture.

I remember our first calculator. It was 1974, a month after we were married, and it could add, subtract, multiply, divide, and do percentages. That’s it. Now you can get one in cereal boxes that could’ve been used on the Apollo space missions.

I remember in grad school IBM punch card machines with its attached keyboard. You’d put in a deck of cards, punch them one hole at a time, stack your computer “job,” submit it through a window to computer techs, and get your job back the next day. You lived in fear you’d open your mailbox and find a slim printout, meaning you’d made a mistake and had to re-punch and rerun and re-wait all over again.

I remember seeing my first PC. It was jet black, large and heavy, looked like 3 boxes stuck together. It came to the Institute for Public Policy Research, University of Cincinnati, where I worked in grad school. We all walked down the hall to stare at it like it was a new baby.

I remember when as young marrieds we bought our first microwave. It was like acquiring a new car and was, shall we say, large, about 50%-75% bigger than most kitchen microwaves I see now.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2012

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

The town where I spent my boyhood is situated along a creek in a county named for the Isle of Guernsey (in the English Channel), which is named for a breed of cattle. Our home on the edge of town was about five minutes from Grandpa Rogers’s farm in the nearby rolling hills, a property that’d been in the family more than 100 years by the time I ran the hills and hollows. A place that still looms large in my memory and make-up.

Four Rogers brothers emigrated from England to Maryland in 1683. Nearly two centuries later our line of the Rogers clan traveled cross-country looking for farmland, finding it in the not-so-old state of Ohio. My Great Great Grandpa John Rogers was one of them. He stayed for a time in another community nearby, than purchased “The Farm” in 1853. Before the Civil War, his obituary says, he assisted runaway slaves along the underground railroad.

Lilburn, John’s son and my Great Grandpa, later worked The Farm along with his family until a heart attack took his life at the dinner table on Christmas Eve, 1917. Suddenly without a father to work The Farm my Grandpa Tom Rogers, then in the Eighth Grade, dropped out of school and began driving wagons for a living—and working The Farm. His two older brothers had by then moved away to pursue professional careers and never returned to farming. Grandpa stayed, bought their shares, worked The Farm, and at 33 years married Grandma. Dad was born and raised on The Farm.

When Dad and Mom got married he headed with her to the big city, her hometown, which is to say Small Town. But The Farm was never very far away, geographically or emotionally, especially while Grandpa and Grandma continued to live there.

So when I came along I all but grew up on The Farm. My first dollar came from putting up hay. Hot days of walking alongside slow-moving wagons picking up bales and tossing them on. When I got into high school and stronger we tossed the bales five rows high.

I’ve forked many a stall clean in the spring. Like most farm labor actually, it was satisfying work. I forked the straw-laden manure into a wheelbarrow, rolled the full load past the stanchions into the barnyard and up a precariously positioned plank. Over she went. The offload was fun, but it was more fun to come back into the stall, dig for my pocketknife, and carve a small notch into an old sideboard. I was a gunslinger keeping a morbid tally. The number of notches increased as a public testament to my prowess that speaks to this day.

The source of all this fertilizer was Grandpa’s Herefords, or what he called “White Faces.” Hereford’s get their name from Herefordshire, England, are reddish of body and feature white hair on their heads, neck fronts, and underbelly. Sometimes they have a white sock or two. Grandpa’s White Faces weren’t purebred, but they were polled, meaning their horns had been genetically bred from them. Some people prefer polled cattle because horns get in the way, damage farm stalls or fences, and can be dangerous even if accidentally. Grandpa’s herds were not huge, maybe 25, 30, 40 at the largest, but they were always there, required management and winter care, and provided a source of meat for the family. Best of all, they created timeless pictures of pastoral tranquility on long summer evenings. For a farmer, there’s nothing more relaxing than watching a herd of quietly grazing cattle.

Grandpa kept one breeding bull named “John.” Come to think of it, all the bulls year after year were named John and all were registered Hereford sires. To protect the genetic strength of the herd calves Grandpa would sell the older bull and buy a younger one every three or four years. I remember one John who was mean and had to wear a huge specially built metal mask on his face, which had eye covers that prevented him from seeing straight ahead unless he tilted his nose to the sky. Most of the bulls, though, and certainly the cows were quite docile, but then again we didn’t mess with the bull.

The Farm featured a continually changing menagerie of animal life. There were chickens, pigs, at times a pony or two, dogs, cats, and once in awhile sheep, goats, and maybe a horse.

I’ve never been a farmer, but in some sense I grew up one and I’m glad for it. Some of my fondest memories come from down on The Farm. It’s part of me warp and woof, imbedding in my DNA and worked into my cultural worldview. To this day driving through farm country, at home or abroad, remains a limitless source of simple pleasure.

I’ve always believed my farm roots helped me teach or preach, because the imagery of Scripture is built upon agricultural economies.

In my book, I had the best of both worlds, The Farm and Small Town.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow Dr. Rogers at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

 

When I was a little eeper I was sent to visit my Grandma who lived across a big field from our house on the edge of Small Town. After a time I wandered downstairs to watch her work with what was even then an old-fashioned wringer washer. It’s the kind with actual rollers twisting and smashing the clothes out of and back into the wash or rinse water.

I was just over 4 years old, probably old enough to know better than to put my fingers on the clothes near the rollers. But of course I did so and, you guessed it, I didn’t let go in time. In a manner of seconds my arm was drawn into the rollers along with the clothes.

I guess I started yelling or crying or both because Grandma ran (make that flew) down the stairs to the rescue yelling or screaming or both louder than me. By then my arm was into the wringer almost up to my elbow. I remember her flipping a lever on the right side of the washer, which released the rollers and freed my arm.

This is one of my earliest vivid memories. I can see the washer, my bare arm, the wet clothes, and Grandma wearing white. I can see the basement steps, clothes hanging on a nearby line, and the old furnace. I can hear the washer and remember Grandma’s excitement. But I can’t remember being all that shaken myself, or in pain, just something between befuddled, scared, and Oh Yeah Man, That Was Cool.

I don’t remember either, but Mom does, that this happened when she was in the hospital with a newborn sister scheduled to come home the next day. She did and I’m told Grandma was still so worried my arm would be permanently damaged she didn’t have it in her to help care for a newborn. So another relative came to help and gave my sister her first bath. Meanwhile, I returned to boy-land, roaming wild and free and oblivious to the fact that a New Sheriff had arrived in my home.

You’d think this would be the end of the story, but it’s not. Years later in college I met this girl who’d grown up in the next state, West Virginia, two and one-half hours from me. We sort of got along well. Actually, we got along really well and still are after thirty-six plus years of marriage.

The amazing thing: when she was about 7 years old she also got her arm caught in a neighbor’s wringer washer. Unlike me, who bears no physical remembrance, she wears a small scar on her right hand pointer finger. This, we speculate, is because she rescued herself, pulling her arm back out of the rollers. Whoa, I doubt if I would’ve had the smarts or the moxie to do that. Good thing Grandma was upstairs.

So what are the odds that two kids who ran their arms through wringer washers would get together?

But who cares? We got together.

Years hence, like most people, we’ve been “run through the wringer” more than once by the vagaries and vicissitudes of life.

But who cares? We’re still together.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow Dr. Rogers at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

 

I remember our first calculator. It was August 1974. We’d been married about two weeks. We were newly weds and newly minted teachers, so we purchased a calculator for about $35 to use in grading. I think it could add, subtract, multiply, and divide. That was it. Today you can get more than that in a plastic toy “computer” in a cereal box.

I also remember the first computer I ever met. I say “met” because to interact with Oz was a close encounter of the third kind. It was a room-sized unit at the University of Akron in the late 1970s.

I was in graduate school and we’d spend hours keypunching our programs onto 80 column IBM punch cards. We’d carefully check the cards for hole errors, put the cards in the correct order, and take the stack to the computer center across campus from where the keypunch machines were located. Then we’d wait, hold our breath, and wait some more in fear and growing anxiety for the “Job” to be returned through the great window to Oz.

Finally, usually the next day, we’d go back to pick up our Job. The worst thing in the world, the absolute worst, was to see folded computer paper—thin not thick—being handed through the window. A thin fold meant something was wrong in the program, some hole, maybe just one, that wasn’t punched correctly. The thin fold was an error statement, so you had to go back across campus to the punch machines, re-punch that one card—once you found it, which could take time—place it correctly in the stack, resubmit, and wait.

Punch cards were gold, your data set. I knew doctoral candidates whose entire dissertation research was punched on cards. Huge stacks they’d wrap in plastic and put in their freezers “in case the apartment burned down.” Better to lose everything they owned than to lose a year’s worth of research punched on those cards.

A couple of years later at the University of Cincinnati we’d progressed to terminals. No more punch cards. Now we stared at huge blinking cursors you can still see on computers in 1980s movies. FORTRAN, COBOL, BASIC, than later, software systems like SPSS, Statistical Package for Social Sciences, or SAS, Statistical Analysis Software. What made these terminals and software packages so much of an advance over the old punch cards is that when a Job went awry you discovered it fairly quickly and could make changes in the program stored on the computer. To my knowledge, no one put a terminal in a freezer.

While a doctoral student, I was hired by the Behavioral Sciences Laboratory (BSL), later the Institute for Policy Research. It was a survey research think tank located on campus. This was Cincinnati, so almost all staff members had German surnames: Oldendick, Kraus, Tuchfarber, Stuebing. I made friends, learned a lot, and made a few shekels to help pay our way.

It was here we met our first P.C. In retrospect it’s a funny memory. We literally, excitedly gathered in the hallway, about 5 of us, than walked to another room to see the new arrival. It was like going to see a new baby. Our new little one was an IBM P.C., jet black, bigger than our terminals, square, and unwieldly, took up the whole desktop.

We oohed and aahed, commented on how it looked just like its father, and said we thought it had a bright future ahead of it. It was powerful. I think it could run a little BASIC. It was 1981.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow Dr. Rogers at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.