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Doing a whole lot of nothing isn't as easy as it seems

| Thursday, Oct. 25, 2012, 8:58 p.m.

Try it, and I bet you can't do it: Taking a week off work and doing absolutely nothing.

Sounds easy; I thought I could do it but I couldn't.

I am sure retirees know this pretty well. You have to move, there are things to do, and even if it is a little we somehow stretch it out to fill the time.

Yet I also found that a do-little vacation (not as in Dolittle talking to animals, though our beagle Cami and I had some good talks) can be most refreshing.

Here are some observations on a week off with nothing great planned that turned out to be great nonetheless because it gave me time for contemplation:

• I read much of the time, making my way through “My Father's Tears and other stories,” the last compilation of short stories published by the late writer and native Pennsylvanian John Updike.

Updike is one of my favorite authors because though he was older the life he describes growing up in Pennsylvania stirs similar memories in me – relations with family; small industrial towns and rural towns and how time has changed them; growing older; class reunions; musing on the larger questions of life as seen from the perspective of youth and maturity. (don't we love that word, used as a euphemism for old?).

In the title story, Mr. Updike's main character opens by recalling that he only saw his father cry once. It touched me deeply and brought a tear to my eye because I saw my father cry only once. I was much younger than Updike's protagonist who is going off to college; I was a child sitting on my Dad's lap in Titusville the morning after his mother had died.

• Updike wrote about trolleys in the several towns of his childhood and it takes me back to my childhood, reinforced by a visit Mary Ellen and I made to the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh. It is humorous to me that so much history displayed there is from my childhood. Yikes.

There is that trolley that sits in the main first floor room and visitors can sit in it and watch a video on the history of such transportation in the city. I recall trolley rides into the Downtown with my mother, me dressed as if off to my first day at school and she in dress, a hat and wearing white gloves. We were off to department stores, a lunch in one of their restaurants and a look in all the windows. Such small things; such memorable times.

• On a beautiful fall Sunday at the start of my week off, Mary Ellen and I, daughter Shana and husband Rob and four granddaughters went to the Pittsburgh Zoo.

A zoo is certainly a place to contemplate the wonders of life. Why do such things exist? At one point I realized the family had moved on as I stood mesmerized by two giraffes standing and just chewing, hardly moving at all in the afternoon sunlight.

I didn't need to know all about giraffes, their habits, ages, what they eat or how many there are in the world. Seeing is enough and I hope the girls someday understand that.

• During my week I renewed my love affair with old movies, in this case shown on Turner Classic Movies. This is an observation from the perspective of my generation, but the old, black-and-white films of the 30s, 40s and 50s seem simple and not so riddled with graphic violence (some are, to be sure). Even the films showing now into Halloween are not necessarily gory. My favorite actors in such films are Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Vincent Price. Their dignity put the “classic” into that genre of entertainment.

• I sat in Pittsburgh Mills on a Thursday afternoon when things were not so busy, occupying a white wooden bench outside the Christopher & Banks store where I contemplated two things:

— A sign in the store window referred to a sale on everything in the store and said “No exclusions,” and the company slogan etched in the window says: “Life. You wear it well.” And I thought: Both are good advice for life.

— The floor outside the store features colored tiles in various squarish patterns. Adults walk over them and barely notice, but more than a few little children took the time to follow the patterns as their guardians walked on ahead. We can fail to see so much as we age. Or put another way; We quit following our yellow brick roads.

• Lastly, Mary Ellen and I ended our “unplanned” week with a trip to walk Cami in Crooked Creek Park on Sunday. It remains such a beautiful place. We ran into another couple walking and they were clearly dog lovers and stopped to visit. We shared stories of dogs we have had in our lives, we laughed and smiled and went on our ways, and I thought about how pleasant people are when they are not so rushed and the sun is shining.

I returned to work Monday and it took longer than usual for that shining to fade. And the good thing is that I can conjure it up on demand.

Meandering appears Fridays. To share your thoughts on this column (or on most anything) with Mike O'Hare, write to the Leader Times, P.O. Box 978, Kittanning, PA 16201 or via e-mail to

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