Category Archives: family

The Heart of a Child


The end of June 2009 took the world by surprise. Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, dead at age 50.

I remember the day of Michael’s eulogy. I was on vacation home with Elizabeth, just the two of us. Mom was at work. I thought it would be the perfect day for us to wander among the trees and flowers. So, I loaded the car with lunch and toddler snacks, and put Elizabeth in her car seat.

Away we went to an arboretum on the far side of the state. Every radio station was carrying Michael Jackson’s funeral. I turned the radio down, and Elizabeth filled the car with stories of her and her BFF Lola. Most of the speakers at the eulogy were politicians trying to make people impressed by their presence at the funeral blah, blah, blah.

But, I was enjoying my father daughter time too much to pay them any attention. Then Stevie Wonder began to speak. Elizabeth stopped talking. She listened to every word of Stevie Wonder. When he finished Elizabeth sat silent for several long moments. I watched her in the review mirror because when a four year old gets quiet, parents get nervous.

Then Elizabeth looked up at me.

“Daddy, what’s wrong with that man?”

“Sweetheart he’s sad because he lost his friend.”

Elizabeth looked down again in silence for several long moments. Then she looked back up at me and spoke in a soft voice.

“Daddy I will be his friend.”

Stevie Wonder has given me years of pleasure with his music. But Stevie Wonder has also given me something no entertainer has given me before.

He gave me my proudest moment as a father. Elizabeth wasn’t fooled by the fake sincerity of all the speakers at Michael’s eulogy. She noticed the one person who spoke from his heart. The one man who really cared for his friend Mike, not the superstar Michael.

You can fake sincerity and fool us grownups, but you can’t fool a child. Makes me think no one over the age of 5 should be allowed to vote.

Thank you Elizabeth. I have always been so very proud of you.

And

Stevie, Mr. Wonder, thank you for all your great work. You are a giant in the music industry and a true gentleman. More than that, thank you for my proudest moment as a father.

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Who Knows YOU May Be The One To Make A Difference!


This year I have had a lot of people come to me with all kinds of problems. I don’t know why I have no certificates or special training. I am just a working stiff like you. But, I try to help people as best I can. This week while listening to another person I remember something that happened when I was with my daughter.

Elizabeth (my daughter) can be very shy in public or around strangers – dad is not like that. We were walking along one of our favorite places Creekside in Gahanna, Ohio. I saw a man with a tie I admired and I stopped and told him so. Then we went on our way. Our conversation afterwards went like this:

E: “Daddy why do you do that you embarrass me?”

J: “Sweetheart did you see that man’s smile when I gave him a compliment?”

E: “Yes.”

J: “It made him happy. It did not cost me any money. It only took a few seconds of my time. And he thanked me for the compliment which was good for you to see someone else with manners.”

E: “Yes, daddy but it is embarrassing.”

J: “Well Sweetheart you never know what kind of day that man was having. He could be having a really bad day. And if he is having a bad day, maybe, just maybe, someone giving him a compliment is enough to turn his bad day into a good day. And if he gives someone a compliment and changes that person’s day it could just keep going on and on. So you see giving just one person a compliment can make a whole bunch of people have a good day. Do you understand?”

E: “Yes, but it is still embarrassing daddy.”

What my daughter did start doing was telling me when she saw something she liked and I would go and give the compliment. She would stand behind me trying to hide, but she didn’t complain about daddy embarrassing her. What I also noticed was my daughter noticing the smile spread across the other person’s face when I complimented them. What I noticed was the smile that spread across my daughter’s face when she saw the other person smile.

You see we cannot bring someone back from the dead, we cannot fix a broken relationship, and we cannot get someone’s job back for them, or stop a foreclosure. But we can bring a smile to someone. And sometimes that smile is just enough to change their day and make the burdens of their day just a little bit lighter.

We cannot save the world. But we can help just one person today. And for today, that one person will be enough, just one person for today. If you do that each day, at the end of a year you have helped 365 people. And if each one of those people helps just one person and each of them helps just one person … well you get the idea.

We can’t save the world. There is going to be hunger and disease, there will be nuclear weapons and wars, there will be hate and terrorists, none of those things will go away no matter what anyone tells you. But if you help just one person you come into contact with you make the world around you better. As we all make the world around us better what we do is to lessen the influence of all the bad things in the world.

In recycling the slogan is “Think globally, act locally.” That works here. So, if you are tired of the hate in the world, the hunger and poverty. If you are tired of the terrorists and the haters in the world. Do something about it today. Today help just one person. Today give just one person a compliment. Today help just one person cross the street. Today help just one person get a good meal.

You can’t change the whole world. But you can change the world of just one person today. And changing the world of just one person may not seem like much to you. But to that one person you help it might just be a life changing event. And even if it isn’t … what did it cost you? Maybe 15 seconds or at the most maybe 2 or 3 minutes? In one day you have 86,400 second or 1,440 minutes. So, maybe those few seconds or couple of minutes really aren’t that much out of your day. What do you think?

I already helped my person today. What about you? (I think I’m going to squeeze in a second person today. You know what they say “Every day of the week and twice on Sunday.”)

You have a good day, take care of yourself, and go change someone’s world!

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It Is All A Matter OF Perspective


I was checking out the last three cities on my “move to list” and was headed back to Columbus when my Civic decided 250,000 miles was enough. I nursed it from Cincinnati to Columbus. Then on the following Monday I bought a truck. I had some of my friends telling me how sorry they were about that.

I’m not. You see when I move I was going to have to use a U-Haul. And if you have ever moved you know how that goes.

“Yes, I am moving 1,000 miles away and I need to rent a truck.”

“Oh. Well, I can’t rent you any of my trucks. These are only for local use. Let me give you directions to the one-way dealer.”

Two hours later when you finally arrive at that “other” U-Haul dealer you are in a section of town that makes the back side of town look not so bad after-all. And the truck you get to rent to go one-way? Yeah. It was one of the last trucks that Henry Ford himself actually turned a wrench on. Gas mileage? If you can get 10 m.p.g. you’ll be doing good. But, yeah, at least the bailing wire that is holding it together is new.

Nope, I don’t need to do any of that. I bought a nice little used truck. Didn’t cost much and my insurance will be less than what the Civic was. Now I’ll just put my stuff in the back and put Columbus in my rearview mirror. It is all a matter of perspective.

Next week is also my daughter’s birthday. Not Elizabeth, her birthday is in a month. No April 10, will be Alex’s 11th birthday. Alexandra Elizabeth Combs, my first born, Elizabeth’s older sister. There are so many things Alex taught me. Things no one else could have taught me. More than that are the gifts she gave to me and her baby sister.

What she taught me was the power of my own love for another person. No one expected her to last 30 minutes. But she lasted for more than 90 minutes. I marveled at that, she was so tiny. Where did she get the strength I asked the nurse. The nurse’s answer was just two words, “From you.” She stayed with me, in my arms, until I told her it was ok for her to go. Then within just a couple of minutes, she was gone.

The precious gift she gave to her little sister? A better dad than she would have had. Because of Alex, I know how important each minute is with Elizabeth. I am not the dad I want to be, but I am a better dad than I would have been without Alex.

The gift she gave to me? The chance to help other dads who are grieving. Like my friend Matt who just lost his little girl. I have walked in his shoes and understand like only a father who has lost a little one can understand.

You see, in life, there are many things that happen that we have no control over. But, we can control how we perceive those events and what we do afterwards.

It is, after all, a matter of perspective.

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An Interview With Joe Combs


Smashwords Interview, February 2, 2015 .

What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
My daughter and the sunrise. I had neither when I was on submarines.
What do you read for pleasure?
Mostly biography and autobiography, non-fiction, and I still enjoy the classics.
Hemingway, Twain, Dumas, Tolstoy I could go on, but those are my four favorite.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
The Old Man and the Sea, because I feel it is the best book I have ever read. Hemingway does more with less than any author.
Tom Sawyer, I enjoy almost anything by Mark Twain. However, I grew up on a large river and imagined Tom living in my neighborhood. That feeling made the story more personal to me.
White Fang, I felt like I was in the great outdoors, a part of the story.
Moby Dick. My parents said that before I started kindergarten I was telling anyone who would listen that when I got big I was going to sea, and I did. I have always been fascinated with the sea and it was the first nautical novel I read.
The Count of Monte Cristo, like the other books it was pure adventure. Plus it had a wronged man who was avenged.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
I always try to read the works of the writers on my friends list, even the ones who write in genres I do not normally read. After that I would say word of mouth is how I find most of the books I read. Once in a while I will go to my favorite ebook retailer and do a search on my favorite genre and just see what comes up.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
I like both the kindle and the nook.
When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?
With my daughter, reading, painting, sometimes carving wood, talking with my readers on Facebook, and doing things with my friends. Lately I have been doing a lot of travel as well.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
Winnie the Pooh was the first story I read on my own. It made me want to read more and more because I enjoyed the story so much.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Yes, I do. It was an essay on how kids could help fight water pollution by pulling water hyacinths from the boat and boat trailer while their parents were putting the boat on the trailer.
By doing that they would be helping to prevent the spread of water hyacinths to bodies of water that did not already have them. I won the essay contest.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in the South. North Florida a little town called Palatka to be exact, not far from St. Augustine and Jacksonville. I have always had an insatiable curiosity and enjoy history. The area I grew up in was awash with history. I was always listening to grown-ups talk about the past. So, today I approach my research in much the same way. I go to the source, people, documents, official records. And just like that small boy I show up with a thousand questions and want them all answered. Those answers always lead to even more questions. Some times I just have to stop the research and write the article or book, if I don’t I will never get anything written.
When did you first start writing?
I won my first essay contest when I was about nine years old. When I was a submarine sailor I used to write short stories at sea to entertain myself. But, I never thought of myself as a writer. When a college English professor told me I should write I laughed at her. But, about ten years later I published my first book, “Titanic, A Search For Answers,” I have been writing ever since; and I began writing full time in 2014.
Describe your desk
I write on a small 1940s maple table that has been my desk since high school. My table holds: a photo of my daughter, 3X5 cards, notepads, an assortment of pencils & pens, my dictionary, a small table lamp, my computer, the 4 or 5 books I am currently reading, and a lead crystal water pitcher.
The pitcher was my great-grandmother’s. When I was about 5 their house did not have running water, and every morning she would fill the pitcher with water from a hand pump and place it on the kitchen table so you did not have to pump water every time you wanted a glass of water. I keep that pitcher fill with water on my desk. It keeps me grounded and connected to my family.
What do your fans mean to you?
My fans are part of the writing team. One fan, Sheri, asked me if I would write an article (for my blog) about her great-great-grandfather. As it turned out, I had studied her great-great-grandfather quite a bit in my youth. He was a Marshal for Napoleon and one of my early heroes. It was a pleasure to write about him. But, the real joy came when she told me she learned things about him from my articles that she did not know.
Anyone can send me a friend request on my facebook page, and I have fans who have. Like I said, my fans are part of the team, sometimes I will ask a fan to read a draft I am working on and give me their opinion. Sometimes I’ll ask my fans what would they like to see me write about next. I enjoy research and thanks to my fans, I have learned many interesting things I might never have learned if it had not been for a request from a fan. I know all writers say this, but I really do have a great bunch of fans and have become friends with many of them.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
The research is fun, but I really enjoy doing rewrites. Sounds crazy I know, but when I find a way to say the same thing with fewer words I get a feeling of accomplishment. If I can improve the meaning of a sentence while shortening it, that is joy.
Like I said, I know it sounds crazy, but it is what keeps me writing, my little brother says it is the perfectionist in me.
What’s the story behind your latest book?
A mythology I remembered from my childhood of a Roman soldier who bullied Jesus he on his way to the cross. Because of that he was cursed to walk the face of the earth until Jesus came back.
One afternoon I began thinking about all of the world events he could have witnessed, and my imagination was off.
What are you working on next?
I have two things I am working on next. A collection of short stories called, “Growing Up Southern,” and the next Cartaphilus book.
The first Cartaphilus book will be released on March 27, 2015. That book will be followed by my book about the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley, which I sent to my editor in last month.
What is your writing process?
I get an idea and I play with it in my head for a while. Then when I get something that I like I’ll quickly jot down those thoughts. Then I begin to write the story in my head.
While I am writing in my head I begin to list references that I will need. Then I do an outline and write the book. The outline keeps me on track and prevents me from wandering around. Then I go back and use my references to check facts. Then I set the work aside for a while. When I come back to it, the first time I use text to voice software to listen to the book. Then I start my rewrites.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
Having to learn all aspects of the business. I mean let’s face it, as an indie writer you have either no or very few people on staff. So, you need to learn to do everything. Even if you hire out aspects of the work, you need enough knowledge to be able to pick good people to hire. So, far my picks have been 100%. I have very talented people I can turn to when I need help.
How do you approach cover design?
It depends whether I am going to do the cover myself, or hire someone.
If I hire someone, I tell them what the story is and then turn them loose to come up with some ideas. It really is great working with talented people.
If I am doing the cover myself, I shoot for an idea that will be recognizable as a thumbnail and that tells the book’s story in a simple picture.
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
Word of mouth has been the most effective for me. There is nothing like a reader who enjoys your work to help get the word out.
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
Of all the retailers around the world that my books are with, only one of those is not through Smashwords. That alone would be enough, but the tools available to authors and publishers make the entire process of publishing/distributing easier and quicker than any distributor I have worked with. There are many user friendly tools that can help with each stage of the process which other distributors do not have.
What piece of advice do you have for people who want to be a writer?
Write. Writers write, if you are not writing you are not a writer. Race car drivers race cars, teachers teach, and writers write.
Even if it is only one sentence a day, write something. Just once sentence a day will give you several paragraphs by the end of the month. Do not worry what you are writing about, just write.

Published 2015-02-02.

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Filed under books, Cup-O-Joe, family, folklore, historical fiction, history, interview, legend, myth, New, Southern, thoughts, writing

My Christmas Gift to You


This is my Christmas gift to you. This is not your typical Christmas writing and for some of you it may be hard to read. Please, stay with me. My Christmas wish for you is to feel the love that surrounds you, feel the peace of those who bring and have brought joy and love into your life, and for you to be able to experience the joy of celebrating and experiencing life.

The religions of the world have creeds, doctrines, and laws that the faithful must follow. People, not the Creator, create religions and their rules; the Creator has but one law, one creed, one doctrine – Love.

Many of these religions claim the bible as their governing document. When I read the bible (No, I am not trying to convert you. I love you just the way you are.) I do not see all the rules, I see one rule – love. When the religious leaders tried to trick Jesus, they asked Him what was the greatest commandment. They were expecting Him to pick one of the Ten Commandments over the other nine. Instead, He stated simply and elegantly the greatest commandment was to love God; the second greatest commandment was for us to love each other as we love ourselves. He said, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

There are no random acts in life, we are all connected, and we are all one family. Strangers are merely family we have yet to come to know. No life is a waste and good can come from all things, if only we have the eyes to see, ears to hear, and the heart to feel.

One of the things in life that we lament is fairness. Often we create rules and laws to insure fairness. But, if life were fair, no good person would ever die young. Some people believe that before we are born we choose the circumstances of our birth, life, and death, even to the point of who will be a part of our life. Stop and think about that for a moment – that is powerful.

If this is true then what we see as a loss is not a loss, but a sacrifice. A sacrifice our loved ones made for us. Sacrifice is something we should always be proud of, for in the act of sacrifice we do not lose that which is precious to us, we pass it on to those we love. Sacrifice is the noblest thing we do; it is what makes us human.

My grandfather lived to the age of 72 (I was 16 at the time). He wanted to live long enough to see me graduate high school and become a man (I was his oldest grandchild). But, this was his sacrifice for me. You see, I remember the many teachings of my grandfather even though, at the time, many of them I did not understand. As I moved into the world I pondered many of the things he said to me, but without my grandfather to tell me what to do, I had to make my own decisions for myself. Without my grandfather, I had to stand on my own in the world.

Each year on Facebook, I ask my Facebook friends this one question at Christmas time, “What was the first Christmas gift?” The answer is – a father’s love. God so loved the world that he gave his only son for the world. In my own personal faith we are all children of God (I am still not trying to convert you). Do, you see the sacrifice he made for us? No conditions, no selfishness He gave all. This is the love of a father. A love I had never known until the birth of my daughter Alexandra.

What of my daughter Alexandra? Her life was a mere 93 minutes. Yet, from this tiny girl came the greatest of all gifts. Alexandra passed on to me unconditional, total, unselfish love. I was 42 years old and had experienced many things in life both good and bad. Yet, I had never experienced a love that gives all and takes nothing. Without this gift from my daughter, Alexandra, I would never have been able to give the unconditional love of a father to my daughter Elizabeth, and so Alexandra passed on her gift of love to a little sister she never met.

My favorite author started one of his books with something he called “The Storyteller’s Creed,” it ends with, “… and I believe that love is stronger than death.” You see, life must end, but love does not. There are people in our lives whose hands we can no longer hold, whose hair we can no longer brush from their faces, whose warmth we can no longer feel in an embrace. Yet they are still with us, and they will always be with us as long as we have our memories; and as long as the love that we shared with those people still lives within us. That love will never die. This is the greatest gift, their last gift to us, the gift of their unconditional love.

Our last gift to them is to pass on their gift of love to others. There is however, one more part we need to conquer before we can share their love. Forgiveness.

When I learned to drive a car in driver’s education in high school, Mr. Henderson taught us to keep our eyes down the road in the middle of our lane. He said that we go where our eyes go. A great lesson for life, not just for driving. (Thank you Mr. Henderson).

Many of us have people we have not forgiven. By not forgiving people, we are keeping our eyes on that wrong from our past. Hate, anger, and hurt are a double-edge sword, the harm we think we are doing to others; we are really doing to ourselves and those we love. You see, we don’t forgive those people for their sake, but for our own and for the sake of those who love us. Until we can forgive, we are stuck in a past of hate, anger, and hurt.

We have to leave the past so that we may focus on the love we share and have shared with others. By doing this, we are then able to pass on the love that has been passed on to us. This is how we honor those who wait for us on the other side, through sharing their love with others, and we cannot share their love until we forgive.

This Christmas my wish for you is the gift of forgiveness, but I cannot give you this gift, nor can anyone else. It is a gift that only you, can give to yourself.

May you always feel joy, peace and love.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I have never dedicated a post to anyone before, but this week I would like to dedicate this post to my friend, Ed Horner. Besides being a good husband, father and friend, Ed was also one damn fine submarine sailor. Fair winds and following seas my friend.

Ed Ray Horner III my friend, my chief November 20, 1954 to November 23, 2013

Ed Ray Horner III
my friend, my chief
November 20, 1954 to November 23, 2013

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