Please Note: This journal contains a wide variety of stuff — complete stories, bits and pieces, commentary, and who-knows-what else. As is always the case these days, the material is protected by copyright. On the other hand, I publish it here to be shared. Feel free to pass it on. Just give me credit. Fair enough?

Pack Creek Ranch, San Juan County, Utah.
The last week in August, 2017


There is a 12-inch wooden ruler in the top drawer of my desk.
I think about it every year around this time – when the first notice of sales of school supplies appear in the stores in town.
I come home and reunite with the ruler – put it on top of my desk.
And wait for nostalgia to kick in.
The ruler has been with me since the first week in September 1947.
I know the date because, in barely legible penciled letters on the back, are these words:
“Bobby Fulghum – Fifth Grade – Sanger Avenue Elementary School – Sept. 1947.”
I was ten years old.

The ruler is one of those artifacts that have survived the triage of possessions over 70 years – as useful now as it was then. And it reminds me now of the delicious pleasure of shopping for school supplies before classes began in September.

Having the right tools promised a fine school year.
Yellow pencils, lined notebook paper and ring binder, pencil sharpener, eraser, books and workbooks, and brown paper covers to be carefully folded around those books.
Plus a new metal lunch box with Superman on the outside.
Ready for fifth grade.
Stand back, here I come! was my state of mind.

Alas, along with the supplies came the annual review of my report cards from the previous year.
My father’s job.
The “You could do better, talk.
And by fifth grade it was clear that doing better involved math.
My ruler reminds me that I could handle inches, but not fractions of an inch.
Somewhere along the way of my early years in school the fog of number phobia had risen in the swampy edges of my mind.
The adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing of fractions seemed more a matter of faith than fact, and while I had learned to fake it, I could not do it.

Too proud to admit incompetence, I promised to do better.
I meant to do better, and I tried – but fractions still eluded me.
It must have been a Syndrome – FID – Fraction Incompetence Defect. Back then my father just saw it as my being lazy or difficult or not paying attention.
If I had known that Algebra was coming soon, I would have run away from home. (I still do not believe in the reality of Algebra.)
But I digress.

I know now that if I had asked for help, a very little more information and encouragement would have filled what has ever after been a pothole in my self-image.

The ruler has become more than a piece of nostalgia.
It’s an annual reminder of what I promised my father and myself.
An existential talisman of intention.
“Could do better.”

As I look at my life in this fall of my 81st year, I have all the supplies and tools I need for what comes next. This afternoon I am going to repair my chainsaw – get it in condition for sawing up winter firewood.
I have pliers, wrenches, screwdrivers, hammers, and diagrams.
And a Mr. Fixit attitude.

But. I’ve never repaired a chainsaw.
I know a neighbor who would help me if I asked.
But I’m embarrassed to ask – a real man should know about this.
Besides, I’m as smart as he is.
How hard can this be?
I can do it. . . surely I can do it . . .

But his chainsaw works – I can hear it running across the valley.
My chainsaw does not work.
And you can fake it when it comes to fractions and Algebra, but you can’t fake it when it comes to making a chainsaw work.
It does or it doesn’t.

The voice of my father still echoes out of the backroom of my mind, the old mantra: “Could do better.”

So, alright, ByGod, I will stifle my pride go over and talk to my neighborly expert.
Admitting ignorance, I may learn something useful.
This could establish a trend.
This could be my year to finally do better when it comes to learning – a bold move away from ignorance.
It’s about time.
Stand back.
Here I come!

(I can do fractions now. My granddaughter taught me. I asked.)


The painful rest of the story. . .
Turns out I forgot to put gas in the chainsaw.