Posts Tagged ‘children’


Collecting Memories

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Yesterday's Memories

My son and I went to a coin show yesterday. I started collecting coins when I was a few years younger than he is now, and for me it has been a lifelong interest. I got both of my sons started in the hobby a few years ago; Stephen was building a set of Lincoln cents (and had almost completed it) when he died, and Matthew has been working on Buffalo nickels. Not to be completely left out, I chose to collect Indian Head cents. On top of that, I have almost finished a set of Eisenhower dollars (I have one more coin to find).

My crowning achievement in coin collecting is a set of all the State Quarters. Or rather, four sets – one for me and one for each of my children. I spent nine years putting them together, picking up the new coins as they came out each year and gradually filling up the album pages. It was a complete secret from everyone in my family; I had been keeping the albums locked in a desk drawer at the office. The last state, Hawaii, came out in early December 2008, and after all that work I was finally able to give them to the kids as Christmas presents that year. The looks on their faces when they opened up those boxes was priceless; they simply could not believe that anyone could keep such a project “under wraps” for that long without a single word about it getting out.

But, what I thought was equally important was the following letter I included in their albums. Michelle read it out loud for everyone:

Christmas 2008

To Michelle, Stephen, and Matthew,

There are so many things I’ve thought about saying to you when this time finally arrived; I really don’t know the best place to start!

Maybe I should start with answering some of the questions I’m sure you have:

  • No, you are not dreaming…you each have a very real, completely full album of uncirculated State Quarters. Every P and D mintmark for all 50 states are here – 100 coins in all.
  • I bought the albums and coins and assembled them all myself, and even though the pages let you see both sides of each coin, I put the P quarters in face-up and the D quarters face-down; I thought they looked better that way.
  • I started working on them in the year 2000, the year after the State Quarters program started. In all, it took me 9 YEARS to put them together!
  • No, your mother did not know anything about them. I have kept them locked up in a desk drawer at work until the week before today.
  • No, I don’t know exactly how much it cost me to put them together, or how much they are worth, but I’m sure that whatever it is today will only go higher in the years to come.
  • And yes, as I was putting these albums together, I put a fourth one together for myself. Now that I have given these to you, I plan to keep mine in my office at home.

 Now that I have those questions out of the way, let me try to tackle the one that I didn’t answer: Why did I do this?

I could probably write a book about all the reasons why I put these albums together for you, and maybe someday I will. Until then, here are the reasons that mean the most to me, and hopefully they will mean a lot to you as well:

First of all, this is the last Christmas all of us will be living in the same house, and I wanted to do something to remember these most precious years that have simply flown by for me; by sheer coincidence, this worked out and I was able to complete these albums at the same time. I’ve watched all three of you as you’ve been growing up, each developing your own personalities and starting to choose the directions you want to take. These have been the key years for you, and as I’ve turned through the pages and looked at each coin, I think back to what each of you were doing, or learning, or trying to be at that time in your lives. Those are days I will never, ever forget.

Next, I wanted to demonstrate to you how it is possible to achieve your goals, even when they can seem impossible to accomplish. The key is perseverance. As I mentioned, it took 9 years to put these albums together; other than school, I’m sure there’s very little you can imagine spending that much time doing right now. I’m sure you all have many dreams, and maybe some really good ideas of what you’d like to do with your lives – and I’m also sure many of those dreams and ideas seem out of reach. When you look at your album, remember the effort it took to put it together, and know that you can do whatever you set out to do if you stick with it long enough.

The last reason I’ll mention here is going to sound a little selfish. I wanted to give you something to help you remember me in the years to come. We are all placed on this world for a measure of time, and these albums will still be here long after I’m gone. When those days come, it is my hope that every now and then you will find the chance to pull yours out, look through it, and think about a happy time when we were together. And when you have your own children and they grow old enough, perhaps you’ll be able to share that time with them as well.

Let me close by saying that, although I haven’t always “been there” and it’s felt at times as if I’ve been so busy that I don’t seem to notice, I am so dearly proud of all three of you. I could not have asked for children who are any more gifted with knowledge and talents than you are, and it will be my great pleasure to watch in the years to come as you go higher and father and achieve more than I have been able to do.

Love Always,

As she was reading, I looked at Steve. He was looking down at the album and slowly shaking his head. Then he lifted his head and I could see he had a slight smile on his face. I knew in that moment I had made a connection with him that only a parent could understand.

That is one memory I will forever treasure.


The First Of Many Firsts

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality

Today would have been my son Stephen’s 16th birthday. It is the first one to pass without him.

The high school band Steve was a member of decided to have a brief event today in remembrance of him, and my family was invited to attend and participate. It was held outdoors on their practice field. Everyone was given a helium balloon and stood together in a large circle. After a moment of silence, the balloons were released to float away with the wind. Following that, we went to their band hall for lunch, and I spoke a few words of thanks to them for remembering him today. We also took the opportunity to present his pallbearers (most of whom were his fellow band members) with small thank-you gifts, as well as give small tokens of appreciation to several other people. In return, my younger son was given several t-shirts that were being worn by the band…two were what are called a “section shirt” (worn by everyone who plays a particular instrument – in his case, the trumpet), while the other was a “leadership shirt” (he was a section leader). In both cases, his name was listed on the shirts. When I saw them, I realized that the band was going through a “first” of their own by commemorating someone who was so loved and respected.

I know how emotional “firsts” can be. In July of last year I had coronary bypass surgery. Every major event that happened for the next twelve months – my wedding anniversary, birthday, holidays, even the changing seasons – became a “first” for me…but in a good way. These were events I might not have lived to see were it not for the skilled hands of the surgeon and the love, support, and prayers of my family and friends. They were firsts I looked forward to, and when each one arrived I felt so very grateful to be alive and able to share them with everyone. I was still going through those firsts on the day of Stephen’s accident. So now, I have another twelve months’ worth of firsts to live through, but I am not looking forward to any of them.

In this case, the firsts go beyond the annual events to include many of the firsts of any young adult’s life – first driver’s license…first time borrowing the car to go out on a date…first day at college…first full-time job…even his first love. But then, who is to say he had not already met his first love? If he did, he never spoke to me or my wife about her; or, perhaps he had already met her and did not know it because they were both too shy to say anything to one another. If this were true, I am sure that girl has felt absolutely devastated since his death. If she truly exists, I would hope that someday I could meet her and tell her more about him.

I have been told that writing is therapeutic for some people, and I believe this to be true, at least in my case. Writing helps me organize the jumbled thoughts I often have running through my head; and, more importantly, it allows me to share my thoughts, and wishes, and memories that would eventually be misplaced or lost had I not done so. I hope to write much more about my son in the days to come, and I hope you will be along to read about him and share in my memories.

Happy Birthday, Steve.


Four Weeks And Forever Counting

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality

Yesterday marked four weeks since my son passed away. It’s difficult to comprehend so much time has already gone by, but indeed it has. I returned to work full-time two weeks ago, and have been running through a fairly normal schedule of activities; my managers, however, appear to have been giving me some leeway and not pressuring me for a lot of things. I am grateful for their concern and compassion.

The last condolence cards I’ve seen came in last week, and my wife and I have begun sending out thank-you notes. There were about 50 different cards and letters to come in, some with very touching messages that made us both tear up as we read them. Two of them were from parents who had also lost teenage sons, one of those being the first to drown in the same lake. Others were from people we have never met, but who heard the news and reached out to offer their hearts and to share our grief.

During these weeks, there hasn’t been a single waking minute in which I haven’t thought about my son. I think about all the things we did together, and all the things I wished we had done; sometimes, it feels like there are more sad memories than happy ones. As I wander through my thoughts, I wonder if he ever realized how proud I was of him and all of his accomplishments… if he did, he surely didn’t let on that he knew. He was always pushing himself to do better at everything, whether it was playing his trumpet, assembling a project for school, or working with his 4-H goats. He had worked very hard to become a section leader in the school band, and after he was selected he still didn’t let up. He even pushed himself to organize the pizza party at the lake that fateful day, settling for nothing less than putting it all together by himself.

He had set some very lofty goals for himself – he wanted to be class valedictorian; he planned to go to an Ivy League school; and he wanted to work in government somewhere, perhaps even serving in an elected office one day. Although we will never truly know, I am quite certain he would have done well in anything he had set his mind to do.

The weeks will continue to pass, and with each we will move a little further down the road. The pain we feel today will slowly fade with the passage of time, but the thoughts and memories will never end.


Sibling Parity, Final Take

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality

I have related in several earlier postings the constant back-and-forth competition between my two sons and their computers. The latest round in the battle occurred around Memorial Day, when I was finally able to purchase the pieces I needed to make the older son’s machine as capable of playing games as the younger son’s. Both of the boys were thrilled to be able to play games equally well, and at long last I had achieved balance in the universe.

Little did I know it would be the last competition between them.

Two weeks later, on June 15th, my older son was hosting a party for his marching band section at a local lake. Without going through a lot of detail (I will do that in the future), there was an accident on the lake and he drowned. The funeral was held four days later, with many of his friends and classmates and their families attending.

It has been three weeks since my son’s death, and even though his younger brother is in the house all day long it still feels eerily quiet. He has been spending these hot summer days alternating between watching TV shows and spending time on his computer. He hasn’t been playing his games as much, opting instead to read online or listen to music…the same music my older son used to play on his computer and MP3 player. He doesn’t talk about his brother very much, mostly when my wife or I mention him in conversation. He reminds me a lot of how I used to be when I was younger…not letting on about how much I was hurting inside. I wish I could get him to talk about it more, but it’s difficult to do when you’re also trying to come to terms with the same loss.

Some of my older son’s friends and classmates have tried reaching out to him, both by phone and online through Facebook, and he seems to be responding to them; perhaps I can try getting them to spend more time with him and maybe it will help him open up more. I plan to contact a couple of their parents to see if they can help out as well.

Unfortunately, even with all of their help I will never be able to restore that delicate balance ever again.


Feelings Of Loss

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality

We’ve always had dogs as a part of our family. My wife had a small house dog when we were first married, and over the years we’ve had several others come in an go out of our lives. Earlier this spring, we were compelled to send all of our Great Pyrenees dogs away to other homes (one of them had attacked a neighbor’s dog and almost ripped its ear off; the choices we had were to restrain our dogs or send them away, and anyone who has owned a Pyr will tell you that restraining them is almost impossible). That left us with our one house dog, a 9-year-old blue merle collie named Duke. We got him as a puppy the summer after we moved from Georgia to Texas, and unlike most collies he was not quite the brightest star in the sky. We knew he wasn’t the pick of the litter, but he was loved and accepted by all of us just the same.

Almost two weeks ago, Duke went to the vet for his monthly allergy shot (this dog has had a problem with allergies that’s been so bad he’d scratch and chew all the hair off his backside). He seemed okay after the shot, but during the following week he started having problems, first with eating and then with drinking water. He would eat his food as always, but sometimes it didn’t stay down for very long and next thing we knew we were cleaning up a mess somewhere in the house (usually on one of our carpets). The vet offered the suggestion that he was dealing with a stomach bug of some type, and to give him Kaopectate to settle his stomach and help him keep his food down. That didn’t work, and the random messes continued. Then this past Monday we noticed he wasn’t drinking as much water as usual (normally he’d go through as much as a half gallon at a time). By Tuesday morning he had stopped drinking and eating altogether, and also didn’t want to get up and walk around, even to go outside (which he has always loved to do).

My wife took Duke back to the vet that morning and they did some blood work. The news wasn’t good – his kidneys were failing. They pushed IV fluids into him for most of the day to see if it would help, but he didn’t seem to be improving. They kept him overnight and told us to check back in the morning. After a fitful night for us, we called the next morning and he was still no better. A couple of hours later, we got the news we had been dreading – Duke had died.

My wife was in tears, and I was simply stunned. He had gone downhill so quickly…just 11 days after a routine visit and all was well, and now he was dead. The vet asked us what we wanted to do with the body. I’m usually able to step in and deal with situations like this, having had other animals that have died on our ranch over the years, but this is one time I simply couldn’t do it…I couldn’t muster the courage within myself to go there and bring his cold and lifeless body back to bury him. We took the vet’s suggestion and had them cremate him. At least that way, we could remember him as he was and not as he had become.

My thoughts turned to our children; they had literally grown up together with Duke. I sent a text message to our daughter in San Antonio to break the news to her, and we told the boys when they got home from school. We were all hurting from the loss, but I surmised that it would hit the two older children harder because they had been able to play and spend more time with him than their younger brother had (Duke also liked to sleep in our daughter’s bedroom at night, and we liked to say that he was “her” dog). My wife talked about it over the phone with our daughter, the first time either of us had heard from her in several weeks; meanwhile, our older son asked about the body, and I explained what the vet was doing with it. I think he was somewhat disappointed that we weren’t going to bury him ourselves, and equally bummed out because Duke was “the last dog”.

As for our youngest son, he was generally quiet about the whole situation; much like me at that age, he looks at the world with an analytical eye and tends to keep his emotions to himself. His heart seems to be more attuned to the great cycle of life as well, possibly from having tried to maintain an aquarium in his room for several years and experiencing a sometimes regular loss of fish in the process.

It’s been a couple of days since this tragic event, and the pain is still very fresh on our minds. My wife and I are trying to look ahead through the pain and decide whether or not to get another dog. If we do, it would most likely be an adult so it can get out and play with the boys right away, rather than a puppy they would have to wait on to grow up (after all, our older son will be with us for only two more years before he heads off to college). I think we will, but it’s still too early to make that sort of decision. We need some time to mourn, and to heal a little, before we take that next step. Hopefully the long Memorial Day weekend ahead will give that process a chance to start rolling.

Needless to say, this isn’t the best way to end a week. Rest in peace, Duke.


Musical Children

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality

Our local middle school bands held their Spring Concert this evening. It was a great show, filled with wonderful music and performances by a lot of really talented kids.

I was blessed to be given three musically gifted children. All of them have played in the school bands – my daughter on the clarinet, my older son on the trumpet, and my younger son on the saxophone. They have all done very well; the two older ones stepped into positions as section leaders in the high school marching band, while the youngest is first chair in the middle school’s top band, the Wind Ensemble (if you or your child have been in band, you’ll understand everything I just said; if not, all you have to really understand is that it’s all good news). My wife and I have received many glowing reports from the band directors over the years, and each of our kids has shown improved skills with each passing year (my daughter even started playing in her college band, but dropped out due to her class workload).

Where did all this musical talent come from? It certainly wasn’t from me; I can’t play any instrument more complicated than a triangle, and it’s highly likely I wouldn’t even get that right. I’m sure it all came from my wife; she played the clarinet in her school band. In fact, she still had her old clarinets when our daughter went into band; so, getting her started was pretty much a no-brainer…we took one of the horns down to the local music shop for a quick checkup, and she was all set. It was a little more difficult to get the boys started on their instruments; we got the trumpet on the rent-to-buy plan, and found a used saxophone in a local pawn shop (as it turned out, the salesman happened to have played in the same school band, and he helped with picking out the right one for my son to use).

Not a day seems to go by in my house without some sort of music playing, whether it’s selections from an online band music library, to someone practicing their music pieces, to listening to music and trying to pick out the instruments used. Sometimes my older son will play the same piece of music over and over again for seemingly hours at a time, to the point when it becomes obnoxious to my ears. But, I let him continue; that’s his way of learning right now – simple repetition – and I’m sure it will change as he grows older.

Will any of them continue to play after they leave school? That’s a tough question to answer. When my daughter left school earlier this year, her clarinet was among the things she sent home. Both of the boys are very enthusiastic about playing, so it’s possible one or both of them may continue. I hope they will consider it, if for nothing more than their own personal benefit, like having a hobby. Perhaps in doing so they can bring out more of their creative abilities, which is something I am just now re-learning how to do with the help of several friends in our writer’s group (follow the “Shared Words” link on this blog to visit our group and read some of our writings).

One thing is certain: my house will be a lot quieter once my children have all moved on. I might have to get out my triangle and start practicing again…


Playing Chess In A House Of Cards

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality, Yesterday's Memories

You know the announcement that television networks always seem to use when they break into a show to report some sort of news event? It goes something like, “We interrupt our regularly scheduled program for a special report from XYZ News.” I was about to do something similar tonight with this blog, only it would have gone more like, “I interrupt posting my regularly scheduled blog entry tonight due to a possible tornado bearing down on my house.”

The region of north Texas where I live (along with the region of southern Oklahoma just across the river from my home) is nicknamed “Tornado Alley.” It didn’t get that name by accident. This is a well-known area for having violent storms in the springtime, including a fair number of tornadoes. There have been small storms that popped up seemingly out of nowhere and destroyed one or two buildings, and huge storms like the one that practically wiped out an entire town up in Oklahoma just over a year ago.

A line of storms blew through the area throughout the afternoon and into the late evening. Whenever that happens, I’m usually tuning in to the local news channel to get the latest weather reports and to find out if we need to prepare for the worst. For years, I’ve been doing the same thing – watching, waiting, wondering, and praying. Fortunately, the worst that has ever happened to us has been catching some strong winds (over 50 miles per hour) and getting some small hail that wasn’t enough to cause any significant damage.

When these storms come up, the rest of the family gets excited and somewhat anxious, and the questions inevitably come: “Are we going to be hit by a tornado?” “How will we protect ourselves when the tornado comes?” “Will the animals outside be okay?” I’ve learned to take them all in stride, as most parents do; I try to maintain a calm voice as I answer each one for the umpteenth time, and explain in plain language what the meteorologist is saying. That usually maintains order about the house, and everyone gets through the event fairly calmly.

But, just because I sound calm about what’s going on doesn’t mean that I am calm about it. No, it’s usually quite the contrary: I may look the vision of confidence on the outside, but inside I’m shaking like a leaf. I get just as anxious as the rest of my family does when storms approach, and wonder in my mind if I will make the right decisions at the right times to keep them safe from harm.

The scene is almost like playing a macabre chess game in the middle of a house of cards. I study the radar images on the screen with as much intent as the meteorologists, trying to follow the storm tracks and projecting where each one goes, as well as interpreting the changes in intensity to determine whether or not a particular storm heading toward us is going to be troublesome. All the while I maintain my cool, providing updates to everyone in that same calm and steady voice, knowing that if I make the wrong move and they sense me starting to panic they will panic as well, and the entire household would collapse into chaos. I can usually get everyone to follow their normal routines and even have them turn in for the night, safe in knowing that I’m keeping an eye on the weather for them. What they don’t see is how I stay transfixed to the screen long after they’re asleep, sometimes watching until the wee hours of the morning to make sure we’re not in the bull’s-eye for a storm.

I have always felt I had no other choice but to keep my fears hidden from everyone, lest they cause a general panic through the house. Now that the kids are older and can understand more, I show them how to read the screens and draw their own conclusions from what they see; they still get anxious about it sometimes, and in my mind that’s okay because I do too! I’ve just had more practice in keeping it hidden from view.

Tonight’s storms were no different. By late evening the major cells had mostly broken up, and for a while it looked like we were going to be in the clear. Then, just before the last storm cell was due to pass through the area, a funnel cloud (possible tornado) was spotted forming along one edge of it about seven to eight miles to the west of our house.  The radar track showed that while part of the cell would pass directly over the house, the funnel cloud was most likely to pass to the south. Watching and waiting, I got even more nervous as the radar slowly updated, showing the movement of the storm. Luckily for us, it did exactly what it was expected to do; it roared through the area to the south, missing us by 10 miles. We had a spectacular thunder and lightning show and a heavy dousing of rain, but no damage. I breathed a sigh of relief, and all is now calm again, both in body and mind.

All calm, that is, until the next storm comes along…


Of Mothers Day And Daughters

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality, Yesterday's Memories

Mothers Day is coming up this weekend, and like many dutiful sons and daughters I will be calling my mother sometime during that day. She lives about 1,000 miles away, so it would be difficult at best to hop in the car and drive over for a visit. I’ve made the trip back and forth several times, and the best one-way time I marked was about 15 hours. It might be possible to do the round trip in a weekend, but it’s not very practical.

I’ll also be spending time with my wife, who as I’ve mentioned in other posts is herself a mother of three. She will be calling her mother just as I will, but she will also be looking to receive a call for the first time from one child who no longer lives at home – our 19-year-old daughter. We aren’t really sure if she will call; we haven’t heard from her since before her birthday almost a month ago. We send e-mails and text messages, and we forward her regular mail periodically, but we have neither seen nor heard anything in return (her last message said she was mailing a letter to us, but we still haven’t received it). It makes both her mother and me very anxious at times, but I have come to realize that my parents probably felt the same way when I left home, since I also didn’t call or visit very often.

My wife hasn’t talked much about it to me, but I’m sure it’s a strange feeling for her, just as it was for our own mothers when we first moved away from home.  It certainly feels strange to me! I never really appreciated that before, and I suppose you can’t until it actually happens to you – it’s one of those rites of passage that every parent goes through at some point, and I have come to one very definite conclusion that I’d like to share.

We spend eighteen years or so preparing our children to go out on their own, teaching them how to tell good from bad and right from wrong, and hoping we can pass along at least some of the experiences we’ve had so they won’t be quite so naive as we were when we left home. I didn’t listen to half of what my parents tried to warn me about, and I learned it the hard way. Only then did I realize what they were trying to tell me, and I vowed to not let my children make the same mistakes.

Now that I’ve seen it from both sides, I’ve come to the conclusion that a parent’s attempts to pass along those experiences to their teenage children is mostly a lost cause; try as we might to help them avoid it, they’re still going to make similar mistakes, and they’re going to have to deal with the consequences just as we did. All we can do in the meantime is take a deep breath and say a small prayer that they will use at least a little bit of what we tried to teach them.

One of those teachings we hope our daughter will remember is the one that says she should call her mother on Mothers Day. And if your mother is still around, I hope you will remember to call or visit her this weekend as well.

Happy Mothers Day to all you moms out there!


Old School

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality, Yesterday's Memories

My two teenage sons are determined gamers, enjoying almost every kind of video game that can be found for a PC or Playstation. From sports like NFL football to WWII first-person shooters to Pokémon, these two dive right into it. Over the years, their gaming tastes have grown more and more sophisticated, pushing their PCs to the edge of their abilities and beyond, resulting in a string of upgrades that have kept me on my technological toes.

Tonight, though, they surprised me. Instead of clamoring for the latest and greatest whatever, they asked instead if they could play with an old game I had bought for my wife several years ago. Actually, it is a miniature game “console” that is programmed to play several popular arcade games from the early 1980s. This device connects to a television the same way as a camcorder, using jacks on the front of the set. Plug it in, turn it on, and you are instantly transported back into the gaming world we grew up with – Pac-Man, Galaxians, Ms. Pac-Man, and so on. The graphics are anything but modern; for example, Pac-Man has a simple grid, a bunch of dots, and ghostly-looking characters chasing the player around the screen.

What made the boys want to play such old games, most of which were taken off the market a decade before either of them were born? At their ages, they aren’t old enough to “wax nostalgic” about anything. I noticed how much they were laughing and carrying on about each old game, and then it dawned on me: they were having fun – simple, lighthearted fun! It is so rare these days to hear laughter when they play games; most of them require a lot of focus and attention in order to keep their character from getting killed. This evening, it didn’t matter when one of the ghosts caught Pac-Man; they’d just press a button and play it again.

I looked at other games they have, and some my wife has as well, and none of them seem to have any sort of carefree fun in them. They all involve some form of strategy, focus, attention, or intensity. I’m not a gamer; I rarely play any sort of video games because I’ve never been very good at them, and I haven’t had the propensity or desire to become better. But yet, I can see where gaming has evolved from lighthearted romps through cyberspace into complex applications which immerse the player into the action. I’m not sure that’s always a good thing, and from the experience I witnessed this evening, I am even more certain of it.

I can’t in good conscience stop them completely from playing games; they’re both straight-A students, so it’s a stretch at best to tie in reduced gaming time with making an improvement in their grades. I suppose the best thing to do is encourage them to step away from the intensity a little more often.

I also need to make sure the batteries in that old game console don’t run down.


The Long Haul

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality, Yesterday's Memories

Have you ever bought or been given something years ago, and one day suddenly realize you’ve owned it longer than your children have been alive? I don’t mean an engagement ring or old photographs; those are too obvious. I’m talking about some other item that, say, you picked up while shopping one day, and probably used it at least from time to time over the years since without realizing its age.

I came to one of those realizations late last week, when I mailed off a Cross® pen to be repaired. The cap was broken, and under their lifetime warranty all I had to do was send it to them with a shipping and handling charge of $10, and they’d either fix it or replace it. That’s a great deal, considering the cost of a new one like it is over $50.

As I left the post office after mailing my package off to Rhode Island (where Cross is headquartered), I added up the costs –$10 for them to service it, plus the postage to mail it. Not bad, I thought, for a pen that I had paid only…wait…when did I buy that thing? It had to be the mid-1980’s. That makes it about 25 years old! My daughter is 19, so I’ve owned and used that same pen longer than she’s been alive.

What a concept: having something that actually lasts for years and years, rather than being disposable like most of the world has become. When it runs out of ink, you don’t have to throw it away — just pop in a new refill and keep on writing! There’s no telling how many times I’ve used that pen, how many words I’ve written or how many documents I’ve signed with it. Miles and miles of writing, to be sure.

I started looking around the house and found a number of things that I’ve owned and used for many years. I might not have the fanciest, the prettiest, or the most modern printer for my computer, but it’s still doing its job long after several of its younger and prettier “replacements” have bitten the dust. I have several mechanical watches that would be considered “vintage” but still run smoothly many years after their cheaper quartz cousins have broken and been thrown away. Even my cell phone isn’t the most current model, but it’s survived more punishment than some newer ones I’ve had. These items all have one thing in common: each one was built to last, unlike newer products that seem designed to break down as soon as their warranties expire.

Will we ever get back to those days where the quality of the things we buy starts getting better again, or will we continue on the downhill slide and watch as the quality gets even worse than it is today?

I don’t know for sure, but I’m definitely going to hang on to that pen for as long as I can!