Be a gentleman: we need them more than ever

“Excuse me. Were you waiting in line?” the British man asked outside the bathroom at the Revolver Bar in Seattle.
“Yes, I was, but it’s alright,” I said.
“No, it was rude of me to cut you off. Please know if I had seen you – or if I had known you were waiting – I would not have barged in,” he said. “It’s unacceptable behavior. I apologize.”
This 30-something Englishman had a point. Hearing him take accountability for an action – albeit an unintentional one – was both surprising and heartwarming.
Common decency? How refreshing.
When I sat down at a booth next to my friend, Drew, I shared this encounter, and he, too, was impressed.
“A gentleman?” he said. “They’re an endangered species.”
Drew lives in Brooklyn, where he said it’s less and less common to see acts of kindness. It’s more common in Central Montana, but it’s still fairly rare. Think about it: when was the last time you saw someone perform an act of kindness? And when was the last time you performed one yourself?
These are legitimate questions. The encounter I had with the gentleman took place last October and it still stands out. I’ve witnessed acts of kindness since, but how many times have I thought, “now that’s a gentleman.” What does it even mean to be a gentleman?
To help me understand what a gentleman is, I went to the book “How to be a Gentleman” by John Bridges, a gift from my father that answers the question eloquently.
“Being a gentleman has little to do with tying a tie or fumbling with the flatware,” Bridges writes. “Instead, it requires only a little logic, a bit of forethought and a great deal of consideration for others. It is not about complicated rules and convoluted instructions. It is about trying to make life easier for other people. It is about honestly and sincerely being a nice guy.”


There are many ways to be a gentleman, but it starts with being intentional about it.

This is just one of many examples in Bridges’ revised and expanded guide, which covers getting dressed, going to dinner, saying the right thing, giving a party, going to a party, going to the office and much more, including cell phone and language etiquette.
“A gentleman considers the weight of his words and the impression he is leaving,” Bridges writes. “He knows when to ignore his iPhone in favor of face-to-face conversation, and he understands that sometimes he should simply say nothing at all.”
Being a gentleman takes effort, discipline and – most importantly – intention. If you wake up every morning thinking, “I’m going to be a gentleman today” you’re far more likely to perform acts of kindness.
Also, don’t do it for yourself; do it for others. Just recently, at a Golden Eagles basketball game, a gentleman held his girlfriend’s coat for her to help her slip into on their way out the door. Was it necessary? No. Did it make her feel special? Absolutely.
That’s a big part of being a gentleman: please your significant other by performing acts of kindness for them regularly. Treat them the way you want to be treated. Treat them the way they deserve to be treated.
Although gentlemen may be more common here than in Brooklyn, it seems there aren’t as many as there were in previous generations.
Why is this?
According to Bridges, “life has changed a great deal… and gentlemen are now left on their own, almost at every turn. Cell phones are everywhere, barking out at us in airports, grocery stores and movie theatres. Unless a gentleman is an absolute Luddite, e-mail is a central part of his life. He must remind himself, at all times, to check up on his text messages. Written correspondence seems even more antiquated than before.”
Nevertheless, Bridges writes in 2012, “the desire for gentlemanliness persists.” Sadly, six years later, there isn’t just a desire – but a need – for the gentleman.
I admit I haven’t always been a gentleman, and I know there will be times I will struggle to be “gentlemanly,” but I will do my best to think of the British man at Revolver who went out of his way to apologize, I will think of the man at the game who helped his girlfriend with her coat and I will think of John Bridges’ words, which I’d like all the men reading this to keep in mind: “It truly is possible for a man to learn to be a gentleman if he has the direction he needs.”
Welcome the challenge, gentlemen.

(as published in the Lewistown News-Argus)

Ten Eternal Truths of the Gentlemanly Life
By John Bridges

A gentleman says “please” and “thank you,” readily and often.
A gentleman does not disparage the beliefs of others – whether they relate to matters of faith, politics or sports teams.
A gentleman always carries a handkerchief, and is ready to lend it, especially to a weeping lady, should the need arise.
A gentleman never allows a door to slam in the face of another person – male or female, young or old, absolute stranger or longtime best friend.
A gentleman does not make jokes about race, religion, gender or sexual orientation; neither does he find such jokes amusing.
A gentleman knows how to stand in line and how to wait his turn.
A gentleman is always ready to offer a hearty handshake.
A gentleman keeps his leather shoes polished and his fingernails clean.
A gentleman admits when he is wrong.
A gentleman does not pick a fight.



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Frank Valach: reflections on a life built of love

“This is how I get my exercise,” said Frank Valach, 99, as he pushes himself toward the cafeteria in a wheelchair Thursday at The Villa, where he’s lived the last three years.
A beloved father, grandfather and literal community builder (for most his life he was a bricklayer), Frank has been an integral part of Central Montana and has left his mark in more ways than one.
Visiting with Frank, he’s happy to talk about his work as a bricklayer. His father, John, was also a bricklayer. That’s how his parents met.
“My dad was called in to fix a chimney, and my mom was one of three daughters at that house,” Frank said. “If that chimney had blown down… who knows where I’d be.”
You get Frank going and he’ll tell you as many stories as you want to hear.
But, more than anything, he’ll talk about Pearl, the love of his life.
“We were married just two weeks shy of 70 years,” he said.
When they met, he thought she was an angel.
Having just returned from the Galapagos Islands – where he served with the Sixth Air Force during World War II – Frank had an operation after running into some medical issues. When he came to after the surgery, Pearl’s face was the first thing he saw.
“I thought, ‘My God, I’m dead and I’ve gone to heaven,” he said.
Frank didn’t die in that hospital, but he was never the same. He fell in love with Pearl then and there, and the feeling never left him.
“You never know how one thing is going to lead to another,” he said.
The next year (1946), Frank and Pearl got married and started a family, having three boys – all of whom are successful: Frank, Jr became an artist for the American Bar Association, Bob took over the family business (John Valach and Sons) and Bill is a retired finance officer for General Electric and current president of the Oregon Historical Association.
“They all got college degrees and all did well, thanks to their mother,” Frank said. “She was such a good person.”

Frank 2

Frank Valach, 99, sits in his suite at the Villa in Lewistown, February 2018

What it’s all about
Just a few months away from his 100th birthday (June 15), Frank has been doing a lot of reflecting on what matters most when it’s all said and done. He’s proud of his sons and grandchildren, he’s happy he could be a part of John Valach and Son’s centennial celebration in 2016 and he’s glad to call Lewistown home.
“It’s a wonderful place to live,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”
Frank has let his appreciation for the community show by giving back.
“I’ve always tried to be a good citizen and an asset to the community,” he said. “I was one of the founders of the Central Montana Museum, was on the hospital board to build a new hospital and found other ways to get involved.”
It’s meant a great deal to Frank to be part of the community, but what matters most to him is family, and he believes that should be the case for everybody. Spending time with family is essential; so is learning about family history.
The oldest of eight, Frank said he and his siblings wish they could have heard more about their father’s story. It’s a remarkable one.
“In 1912, my dad came from Europe and landed in Ellis Island. He didn’t speak the language, he didn’t know anybody; what the heck did he do?” Frank said. “I want to know.”
Frank has gathered as much as he can about his father’s early days in the country, but there are still unanswered questions, and he encourages others to get as much information on their own family history. The answers could surprise them.

‘Be True to Yourself’
Frank’s advice goes beyond genealogy. He also shares thoughts on how to live a healthy, fulfilling life: one way to do this, he said, is by avoiding talking about politics or religion.
“All you can do is get in trouble,” he said.
Instead, Frank focuses on kindness and goodness. He’s learned quite a bit in 99 years and isn’t afraid to share some of the most meaningful quotes and aphorisms. In fact, he regularly quotes from William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”
“Neither a borrower nor a lender be, for loan oft loses both itself and friend, and borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry. This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man,” Frank recited.
The message – “be true to yourself” – is never lost on Frank.
Rolling to the cafeteria for lunch, he reflects some more, and, as usual, the first thing that comes to mind is Pearl.
“I had such a good wife who was perfect in every way,” he said. “I was very lucky to have her just short of 70 years.”
Playing bingo, playing cards, visiting with friends and family, Frank always seems to have a peace about him during these last days. His resting smile is that of a man who knows he didn’t take for granted the love he built his life around.
Frank hopes other husbands out there have that same kind of adoration for their wives, and, if they do, he encourages them to let their wives know.
“Be kind to your wife all the time,” he said. “You never know how long you’ll have her.”

(as published in the Lewistown News-Argus)

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Jer Gregg: Resurrected

Jer Gregg: Resurrected

“Everyone loves something that is authentic, and Jer Gregg is an authentic artist that not only honors and creates the music he is passionate about, but honors and looks after those that make up the company he keeps.” – Stephen Salyers

Jer Gregg (est. 1984, Elwood, Indiana) has always believed in himself.
From his days working in the cornfields at 13 years-old (saving up money for a Fender strat) to his days laying low in recovery after devastating vocal surgery, he hasn’t let any obstacle come between him and his dream.

First, Jer wanted to rock, pushing himself to learn how to play like Tom Petty and sing like Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes. In his late teens, he was making his way into the Indianapolis rock scene, which he outgrew in a hurry.

Jer moved to Nashville, where he shifted his focus to the art of songwriting while also finding his own place. He started tending bar, befriending many in the community. Doors started to open, leading to adventures the small-town Hoosier never imagined possible.

Through the years, Jer has toured the United Kingdom, Australia and all over the United States (coast to coast). In the spring of 2015, he had the opportunity to open for childhood idol Jonny Lang while on tour with the Runaway Saints.

“I’m blessed to have played in multiple countries,” Jer said. “I’ve had a weekly residency with a stellar band, I’ve played many songwriter festivals and I’ve been around many talented people. Playing for 10,000 people in Australia was amazing. It was just as good as the first time I played the Troubadour in London to the time I played sold-out shows in Scotland.”

Jer’s journey has had its highs and lows. In 2014, he faced his biggest challenge.
“I lost voice voice right before my 30th birthday,” he said. “I was in the middle of a song and it just stopped completely. I was so swollen and inflamed that it paralyzed my vocal cords and ruptured my blood vessels. I didn’t sing my music again until nearly a year later.

But Jer never allowed this adversity to detour his dreams. Salyers and others admire his courage and strength through this time.
“I believe he created the great narrative of his career during those silent times, in the shadows of the stages that he was born to be on,” Salyers said. “I am confident that his patience and his passion are about to catapult him – with even more ammo – back onto the stage, equipped with new music and even more swagger.”


Jer Gregg, 2018

Back in the spotlight, making up for lost time, Jer is currently putting together a summer tour playing “American music that’s storyteller inspired with rock n’ roll delivery.” Originals such as “The Burn,” “Jet Lag,” “Pretty Girls” and “Drugs and Money” are examples of his newfound sound.
Jer’s bringing it and taking his sound to another level. He’s also connecting, befriending many younger musicians and working with them on the essence of songwriting.
“I’m trying to be an advocate for artists who were frustrated and reckless like I once was,” Jer said. “I do this by being real, and they recognize it. They can tell I’m not giving them the cookie-cutter, frozen veggie bullshit. It’s so much more organically grown.”

Jer’s songs are engaging and empowering, which is exactly what he hopes to do for listeners at songwriting festivals around the country – just as he did last year when he hit up Lyrics on the Lake in Virginia, the Key Largo Songwriter’s Festival and the world-famous Tin Pan South in Nashville.
“Playing the Tin Pan South Songwriter Fest in 2016 was a career highlight for me,” he said.

Giving it his all, Jer is ready to hit the road, and he looks forward to making his way to your music festival.
“I’ve already been beaten up and kicked down If they wanted me to die, they should’ve pulled the trigger,” Jer said. “Now, I’m back with even more determination from all the damnation. Thank y’all for listening.”


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Still Smiling: 94-year-old cowboy loving ranch life

Sitting in a wheelchair by his wood stove at his cabin on Gilt Edge Stage, 94-year-old Eldon Snyder reads Louis L’amour’s “The Riders of High Rock,” entering the world of Hopalong Cassidy.
“I’ve read a lot of books since I quit riding two years ago,” he said. “That’s one of the main things I do: sit around and read…but I did a lot of riding up to this point.”
The middle of 11 children from Mount Trumbull, Arizona, Snyder has spent his whole life riding and ranching, A former professional saddle bronc rider and 2015 inductee into the Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame, he is a legend to many, revered around the state as one of the true cowboys of the West.
But you wouldn’t know it by speaking to him. Calm and reserved, Snyder keeps to himself, reading his books and only stepping outside to feed his horse, JJ Bars.
On his way back into his cabin from visiting JJ, he often takes a look out at the Judith Mountains and smiles, proud to call this area home.
“I love Central Montana,” he said. “I’ve traveled all over the U.S., Canada and Mexico, and there is nothing I like better than right here. I knew that the first time I stopped through in 1948. That’s when I met Julia Jackson. “
At this time, Snyder said he was “getting to the top” of the rodeo circuit.
“I was winning pretty regularly,” he said. “I figured I could ride any horse that came my way. I never found one I couldn’t, and I rode a lot of bucking horses. For a while I was doing 30-40 rodeos a year.”
His last rodeo was in 1957, and he won that one, too.
Although he could have kept going, Snyder let it go, choosing to settle down instead.
“I ended up marrying Julia,” he said. “She wanted me to put that life behind. I think she was afraid if I kept rodeoing I’d chase other women.”
For 29 years, Snyder worked the Jackson Ranch, and it didn’t take him long to get the hang of it, especially considering his ranching background in Arizona.
Although a part of him wonders what would have happened if he stayed with saddle bronc riding, he’s glad he stumbled upon this part of the world.
“I’ve had extremely good years here,” he said.
A large part of this is Snyder’s passion for ranching and horseback riding of all kinds. This includes teaching riding, which he did through 4-H for almost 20 years.
“My wife was a 4-H leader and helped start a 4-H horse project,” he said. “I was asked to help them with their horses. I’ve always liked helping young people and I had some standout students.”

Eldon at Home MAIN

Eldon Snyder sits by the fire at his home on Gilt Edge Stage in January.

Community Cowboy
When Snyder and Jackson split up, Snyder was unsure what his next move was going to be, but he soon remarried a local woman named Barbara. They worked together as outfitters, operated a hunting camp and regularly would go on pack trips in the Little Belts and the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
“I had a license to pack anywhere in Montana,” Snyder said.
Snyder also stayed busy helping friends out with sorting, branding, trailing cattle and training horses and mules. He’d help out at the Schultz Ranch, Wickens Ranch, Rickl Ranch, Teigen Ranch and many others.
“It was nothing for me to go to seven or eight brandings,” he said, “but now my horse is old like me. I’d probably still do it if I had a different horse.”

Overcoming Tragedies
Wanting a change of scenery, Snyder and Barbara moved from their place on Upper Spring Creek to the place Snyder lives now on Gilt Edge Stage, but sadly their partnership would not last much longer.
“We were only living here three years when a horse kicked Barbara in the head and killed her,” he said.
“I’ve been by myself ever since then. That was in 1991.
Five years later, Snyder lost a leg after a mule ran him into a corral post. Such tragedies would debilitate many men, but Snyder pushed through, getting back in the saddle the following May with an artificial leg.

Blessed to be in Central Montana
At his age, Snyder admits life is harder now, and he appreciates the support he receives.
“I can’t go out and cut wood anymore, but I have neighbors who do it for me. I can’t believe it. I’ve never asked anybody for help in my life.”
Snyder can’t say enough about the people who have helped him out, as he can’t imagine a different lifestyle, and caring members of the community have made it possible for him to stay at home.
“I’d be lost if I lived in town,” he said. “I have to be out in the country.”
Snyder doesn’t ask for much: a warm fire and a good book is enough to keep him smiling, which he intends to do, no matter what comes his way.
“I’m a firm believer in smiling,” he said. “Smile when you’re in trouble it will vanish like a bubble: if you only take the trouble to S-M-I-L-E. I’ve believed that my whole life.”

(as published in the Lewistown News-Argus)


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Seeing the Rolling Stones with my father – a trip of a lifetime

My dad is well known for his surprises.

About two months before his 60th birthday, he Facetimed with a wild proposition.

Drinking his Fresca, we locked eyes through the phone screen and he said, “You know how I have been thinking of doing something wild and crazy for my 60th birthday? Well, I think I have an idea. How would you like to see the Rolling Stones in Boston? If you say ‘yes,’ I’ll get the tickets right now.”

The gritty adrenaline-fueled guitar riff of “Start Me Up” popped into my head immediately. It was like I was already there.

“Are you serious?”

I already knew the answer to that. At times impulsive, my dad will present outlandish ideas. His mind works fast, too. I knew he had already outweighed the pros and cons of the plan.

“I’m in.”

Anticipation grew and grew as I geared up for my dad’s epic birthday, which coincidentally fell on Father’s day weekend.

“This is a perfect time for us to have one of our adventures,” he said.

We’ve had many: New York City, guitar camp in Connecticut, two trips from Louisville to Montana in a Ford F-150 and many more.

But seeing the Rolling Stones at the TD Garden in Boston – the city where my father was raised and went to college – might just take the cake.

The Rolling Stones: arguably the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band of all time besides the Beatles.
A big Beatles fan himself, my dad raised me on “Hard Day’s Night,” “Help,” “Sgt. Peppers” and all the other Beatles records. They were a big part of my childhood and are a big part of my life as a musician.

My dad, a retired Presbyterian pastor, has always known there are people out there who consider the Stones “evil,” but he was never able to deny their ability to make sensational rock songs. I remember him singing along to “Sympathy for the Devil” in the car, teaching me why it’s a great song.

“Listen to how they build the song up to the climax,” he said. “The background vocals, the guitar riff, it’s amazing song structure.”

Having just read Keith Richards’ memoir, “Life,” my dad was more excited about the band than ever. The Beatles might have rocked on “Let It Be,” but the Stones were always more the rock ‘n’ roll band.  And that’s what we were ready for: the ultimate rock ‘n’ roll show.


My Dad loving every minute of the Stones concert June 14, 2013 at TD Garden in Boston

After getting through a heightened amount of security personnel, we found our seats and began waiting for the action to start.
“The Stones don’t need an opening act,” my dad said. “Their fans warm themselves up by waiting 45 minutes.”
He was right. There was no opening act necessary. The lights went out, the spotlights went on, a mini-documentary interviewing famous fans and concert-goers in the ‘60s and 70’s played and then it happened: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Charlie Watts took the stage to a raucous applause. Now in their late sixties and early seventies, it was incredible to see three original members still together, keeping alive something greater than they ever could have imagined.

They still had it.


Keith Richards tears it up during “Sympathy for the Devil”

The Stones opened with “Get Off of My Cloud,” with nearly all 17,565 people in the sold-out crowd singing along.

Jagger held nothing back, doing his chicken dance, slithering around from one end of the stage to another. He even took off his long-sleeve shirt, revealing a tight black muscle shirt. At 69, the women were still screaming for him.
Although not all the guitar riffs sounded verbatim to the recordings, Richards played them with his signature coolness. He always made it work. Whether momentous or subtle, everything he played rocked, including the two songs he sang – one of which was a tribute to the early Delta blues.
Watts held down the beat and played the same drum patterns he did on recordings spanning the decades with perfect posture and the occasional smile.
With a career spanning nearly six decades, it’s no easy task to put together a set list that will please everyone, but they did it in Boston on June 14.
“I have seen the Stones 25 times and I’ve never heard them sound this good,” a guy next to us said after they played “Midnight Rambler.”

My dad and I had not seen them before, but we had been to several concerts together: Bruce Springsteen, B.B. King and Bobby Bland, Eric Clapton, to name a few, and this was perhaps the best show we had seen – together or otherwise.
This was especially on our minds when the Stones played “Sympathy for the Devil” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” two of our favorites. My dad was giddy, displaying one of the biggest smiles I’d ever seen on him – and that’s saying a lot, because he’s often smiling.
The Stones closed with “Satisfaction,” which indeed satisfied the crowd. People were screaming, some in disbelief. My dad was one of them. So was I.

“The way I want to celebrate my 60th birthday is by seeing the Rolling Stones with my son,” he told me on the phone. “I can’t think of anything better.”

Neither can I.

(inspired by column written for Lewistown News-Argus in June 2013)

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Keeping the New Year tradition alive, sort of

Read more.

Exercise more.

Get a girlfriend.

Every year, Trevor and I would put our New Year’s resolutions under the shed behind his house on Madden Place.

We were crazy then.

Before we put the resolutions under the shed, we’d do the “polar bear club” lap of shame and run around Trevor’s house in our boxers.

Of course, it wasn’t as cold as Montana, but you’re kidding yourself if you don’t think December in Indiana is cold – at least when you’re only in boxers.
Trevor and I would stick three or four resolutions each under that shed.
At the time, we were all about it, certain we’d stick with our plans, certain we’d become better people.

The following New Year’s Eve, we’d return to the shed and check our progress.

Trevor’s family shed on Madden Place, Fishers, Indiana

No sign of the resolutions.

Where’d they go? Had they withered away? Decomposed? Or did Trevor’s older sister find them and dispose of them just for a laugh?

I still remember those looks of dismay once we couldn’t find them.
“How do we know if we’ve improved or not?” we’d ask, often unaware what our resolutions were in the first place.

Whether we could remember them or not, what mattered is we did it together. Follow-through didn’t matter, either. We were young, naïve and arrogant high school kids.
Year after year, the same thing would happen. Only once did we ever find one of our resolutions
Keep a girlfriend.

It was Trevor’s.

And, no, he didn’t keep a girlfriend that year. In his defense, however, not keeping that girlfriend remains a good thing to this day.

Trevor is married more than 10 years now, living in Nashville, where he lays tile and works as a recording engineer. He always wanted his life to revolve around music. For all we know, “become a recording engineer” may have been a resolution he put under the shed.

I’m married now, too, and I can honestly say I’ve never had a better woman. Sometimes I wake up amazed, wondering how I deserve her. We live in Lewistown, Montana, where I write for the local newspaper and she works at the local library. We enjoy small-town life and feel fortunate to have found each other here. And, like Trevor, I haven’t abandoned my passion for music, as I perform originals and covers regularly, playing guitar and singing both solo and with a band.

Our resolutions of the past have withered and wrinkled, decomposed, but it’s safe to say we’re living the lives we hoped we’d be living when we put the resolutions under the shed 15-plus years ago.


Although we both live miles away from our hometown, every New Year’s we keep in touch, sharing new resolutions via text message.

We don’t get carried away, but we share some practical promises we hope to keep in order to improve our lives. This year, my resolutions include being a better husband (listening more intently and being more direct), writing more essays for myself, furthering my freelance career, spending less time on my phone (be it texting or perusing social media), exercising more regularly and meditating more.

Trevor has some, too: embrace the change in career (and make a big move forward), get back to healthy eating after the holidays, write more and “make only music I love.”

We could go on and on, but we want resolutions to stay practical. No one needs to go overboard: resolutions should be fun, and they should be a challenge. Here are a few good examples of resolutions I saw in the Boston Globe: experience awe, be adventurous, eat foods that improve your moods (nuts, seeds, salmon, avocado, spinach), expand your friend zone, learn something new and nurture your inner artist. The last one on their list puts it pretty perfectly: do good and do better.

If you are writing new year’s resolutions this year, I wish you the best of luck and I hope that you are able to improve your life, no matter how big or how small the change.

No need to put your resolutions under a shed or run a lap around the house in your boxers. I don’t know if the tradition ever helped our resolutions come true, but, who knows…

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It Truly Is A Wonderful Life: Lessons learned from a Christmas classic

On Christmas Eve this year, instead of going to church, I went to a different kind of service. My fiancée, her older sister, their mother and I went to the Art House Cinema and Pub in Billings to see Frank Capra’s 1946 classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
I’d never seen this movie on the big screen. Suddenly having the opportunity to do so was something I couldn’t pass up.
As long as I can remember, “It’s a Wonderful Life” has been a Christmas tradition for my family. When I was a child, I remember my mom bringing a box a Kleenex to the family room along with the popcorn. Every year, my father was a mess. The cheery ending always got to him. Tears of joy would stream down his face.
“George Bailey taught me how to be a nice guy,” he’s told me. “He’s taught me how to truly appreciate life.”

A retired Presbyterian pastor, my dad would use the mesmerizing clip of George Bailey (played brilliantly by Jimmy Stewart) outside of his mother’s home. The camera zooms in close on Stewart, who looks scared and on the verge of insanity. His mother didn’t recognize him. No one knows him and everything is awry. Clarence, George’s angel, gave the struggling character a great gift: a chance to see what the world would be like without him.
In this scene Clarence (a convincing Henry Travers) delivers the masterful line, “Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around, it leaves an awful hole, doesn’t it?”
By high school, that message was speaking to me, and I started introducing the movie to friends myself and carrying on the Christmas tradition. As I grew and experienced, I’d always come back to the film. Like my father, I started needing the Kleenex for the climax.
Now as a small-town reporter and musician embracing the community of 5,000 I’ve chosen to call home, the message of the movie is more powerful than ever.
Too often the message is lost, too often we choose not to count our blessings and instead focus on the negatives. We get down on ourselves for not working harder, for not being as ambitious as we once were, for not living our dreams. We worry about retirement and how much money we have in the bank.
Don’t get me wrong; by no means can one movie flip a switch and change your life forever. Life isn’t that easy, and it especially hasn’t been that easy for my fiancée’s family. Early in 2015, her mother was diagnosed with cancer. She’s been fighting it through chemo treatments and surgeries and, although its been challenging, she is keeping a healthy attitude and is not giving up. However, the more positive gestures she can muster, the better.
“It’s a Wonderful Life” is not just an entertaining, captivating way to spend an evening, although it certainly is that as well. If you open your eyes and your heart, the movie can serve as much more, reminding us what’s most important in life: relationships.
I stop and take a moment to focus on these relationships. I think about the people who have changed my life and the people whose lives I have impacted. I step away from finances – whether they are favorable or not so favorable – and think instead about those I love and those who love me in return.
When I do this, I realize what Clarence helped George realize: it truly is a wonderful life. Whether it’s Christmas time or mid-June, we all can use this reminder. That’s why “It’s a Wonderful Life” is my favorite movie. That’s why, every year, I need the Kleenex. Seeing this classic helps me appreciate the people here in Lewistown and the friends I’ve made. I appreciate and love my new family. I feel rich with relationships, and that’s what matters to me.
As Clarence wrote to George, “no man is a failure who has friends.”

(as published in the Lewistown News-Argus Jan. 2016)

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