The invisible crown

Despite the cartoon, today’s post is a bit of bait-and-switch. It isn’t about ham radio. Instead, it’s about Thanksgiving.

Below is a column I wrote a few years back during my previous life as a small-town newspaper editor. It wasn’t written as a Thanksgiving column per se, but it certainly works as one. If this essay speaks to you, feel free to share it — and Happy Thanksgiving.

This column originally appeared in The News Observer, Blue Ridge, Georgia, on Aug. 24, 2016.

 

“Health is a crown on a well person’s head than only an ill person can see.” — a really old saying

This morning I woke up with the usual aches and pains. It feels odd to say that, because until relatively recently they weren’t all that usual.

When I was in my teens and 20s, I could move non-stop, and I did. In college, if a paper was due the next day, I could stay up overnight and write it; all I needed was sufficient caffeine and a typewriter. I worked third shift for a time, and I didn’t miss a beat. And while I’ve never been much of an athlete, physical activities were a breeze: I could mow any lawn, no matter how big the yard, no matter how hot the heat. I was a regular Master of the Universe.

People older and wiser would occasionally caution me to take better care of myself. One of my first bosses told me about how he was so much into his career at first that he thought he could live off of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. That strategy didn’t last for long. He eventually made himself sick before he wised up and ate better.

But did I pay attention? Not really. I though people older than me who moved slower were, well, just slower.

When you’re young, you think you’re bulletproof. You take your health for granted.

The first obvious clue that maybe I wasn’t bulletproof came in my 40s with a storyboard deadline that required I work 36 hours straight to beat it. It’s not unusual in many businesses for the last workers in the food chain to make up for time lost by those above them, but in video production the challenge is especially acute.

I did hit the deadline, but I’m sure I looked like a zombie when I turned in the boards. Ten years earlier, I could have recovered from something like that in maybe a day. That time, it took me a week to feel normal again.

Age 50 seemed to be the magic number, the line of demarcation. Heavy objects were a lot harder to hoist without feeling it later in my back or knees. Hypertension — the medical term for high blood pressure — reared its head. And mowing the lawn in hot weather without a break? Those lawns seemed to get bigger, and the breaks became more frequent.

None of this is uncommon among people my age, of course, but because every malady these days has to have a name so insurance companies will cover them, I jokingly call mine OLD Syndrome. The real “syndrome,” though, may just be my human nature. I took for granted a blessing I had — the health of youth — and noticed it only when it started to slip away. That crown on my head was invisible to me until I started to lose it.

That made me wonder about other good fortune, blessings, whatever you want to call them, I have that I take for granted, things that I didn’t earn but, honestly, just lucked into.

I grew up in a middle-class family where Dad was never unemployed and I never went wanting for anything I needed. I received a solid education every step of the way, first in Catholic schools and then at the University of Georgia. I was born with skills that I never asked for, that I did nothing to earn. I may have worked hard to sharpen what I had, but the skills themselves were luck of the genetic draw. And would I have had the time or energy to sharpen those skills without the advantages that a stable home, a good education and enough money in the bank provided? Perhaps not.

The truth is, I’ve been really blessed. The less flattering truth is that I’ve often taken my blessings for granted and assumed that I earned every success I’ve had solely through the sweat of my brow. And the ugliest truth of all? Sometimes, in my worst moments, I assume that if someone hasn’t worked as hard as I have, they deserve to be stuck in the hole where they reside because they haven’t worked as hard as I have.

That’s not always true.

Most days, I try to count my blessings. When I do, that invisible crown is a lot easier to see when I look in the mirror.

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Dayton, Ohio — the birthplace of aviation?

N3DF ham radio cartoon QSL by N2ESTWhen Neil, N3DF, asked me to create a QSL naming Dayton, Ohio, “the birthplace of aviation,” I was a little confused. After all, didn’t the Wright Brothers first fly a heavier-than-air aircraft near Kitty Hawk, making North Carolina the birthplace of aviation?

The answer is yes and no. In fact, the Wright Brothers hailed from Dayton — Orville was born there — and developed their flying machine in Ohio. In 2003, the U.S. Congress honored this fact by officially naming Ohio “the birthplace of aviation.” (North Carolina had to settle for “first in flight.”) The Dayton Daily News makes a compelling case here for why aviation while always call Ohio its home.

Neil wanted his QSL card to convey that fact, with “perhaps a Wright Flyer circling a shack with a Yagi.” I gave it my best shot, and here’s the result.

 

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Tower climbing

KC3GUY ham radio cartoon QSL by N2ESTSome QSL cards — like this one — are pretty straightforward.

Eric, KC3GUY, kept it simple: He wanted to be seen climbing his tower, with a hex beam atop it. Initially Eric wanted to be shown holding a handi-talkie, but when we realized that it was hard to see at that size, we substituted a wrench that symbolized his profession as a heavy diesel mechanic. This is the result.

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County hunter!

N8OYY ham radio cartoon QSL back by N2ESTIf you like chasing counties, you’ll like this QSL card.

Ed, N8OYY, told me he enjoys “county hunting all 3,077 U.S. counties and driving from county to county making contacts from my SUV.” He wanted something to illustrate that, showing his specific vehicle, a Kia Sorento. I suggested conveying the idea with a faux map of various counties and his SUV wandering through it. Ed liked the idea, so I went to work.

The map I drew isn’t an exact representation, but it tells you what you need to know. The SUV, however, is definitely a Kia Sorento. (I’ve liked drawing cars since I was a kid, so it was easy to do it right.) I then added the call sign in 3-D and a burst with the words “county hunter!” … and there you have it.

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Let it snow in Buffalo

K2QW ham radio cartoon QSL by N2ESTWith fall upon us and much of the U.S. still experiencing warm weather, it’s easy to forget that parts of the country will experience serious cold within a few months. One of the coldest places in the country: Buffalo, New York.

Phil, K2QWK, lives in a suburb of Buffalo and wanted a QSL that commemorated exactly that quality about his QTH. He also wanted his ill-tempered cat on the card as well. (If you were that cold for months on end, you’d probably be ill-tempered too.)

To do that, I made an ice sculpture out of Phil’s call sign. I added snow, lots of snow, with a few snowflake “dingbats” placed in the bottom line of type. And to top it off, I dressed the cat (scowling, of course) in a stocking cap and a scarf.

This brings up an interesting question: If you experience severe cold weather where you live, what do you plan to do to “winterize” your antennas, towers and feedlines?

 

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Flying over Albuquerque

K0WBG ham radio cartoon QSL by N2ESTMathias, K0WBG, wanted a lot on his QSL — a caricature of himself, something about ham radio, something about Albuquerque, and a Cessna plane with a very specific color scheme from his flight club. Oh, and could I make sure to use a certain tail number?

I squeezed as much as I could onto this QSL card but ultimately had to choose between his caricature and an accurate representation of the plane; I couldn’t do both because their scales just didn’t match, and a postcard is too small to make it work. I ultimately went for the plane, using a combination of lightbox and eyeball to get it right. Ham radio is there through his call sign in the clouds, and that tower on the left is from Albuquerque International Sunport.

Maybe it’s a guy thing, or maybe it’s just my left brain giving my right brain a rest. In any case, I’ve always loved drawing hardware. This one was fun.

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Musically inclined

Here’s another one of my illustrations from Gordon West’s new Technician class study manual. It illustrates a basic question many newcomers ask: Can I broadcast music on my amateur-radio station? For that matter, do I have to worry about music playing nearby that I accidentally transmit? Discuss amongst yourselves.

Gordo’s latest study guide covers the Tech question pool through 2022 and can be ordered here.

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Irritated x-rayed penguin

M0IXP ham radio cartoon QSL by N2ESTI first met Dave through the Atlanta Radio Club a few years back when he was KG4ZGG. He commissioned me at the time to draw him as a penguin (I think it had something to do with Linux). I happily obliged.

Dave is now in England sporting a new call sign, M0IXP. That called for a new QSL as well. He’d adapted the phonetics “Irritated x-rayed penguin” for his call, so it seemed appropriate to bring the penguin out of retirement for this custom cartoon.

This is what I came up with. It has ham radio, it has an x-ray and it has Dave as an irritated penguin. Add a hand-lettered call sign in a font inspired by the cartoon “Ren & Stimpy,” and there you have it. I’m not sure I could explain what I came to draw past that, but it makes me smile anyway. I hope you like it, too.

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Retired and loving it

N9JO ham radio cartoon QSL by N2ESTJim, N9JO, didn’t give me much to work with when he commissioned this QSL. “I’m a former electrical engineer,” he told me, “and I’m retired.” That only narrowed it down to about half of the hams currently licensed.

Then he sent me a photo he’d found online of some other ham, asleep in his shack, feet up and sending CW with his toe. “QLF” it said. And that, I realized, was the hook.

What’s it like to be retired and hamming? It’s kinda like the guy in that picture — so that’s how I drew Jim. I added some loose hand lettering and bright blocks of color, and this is what I came up with. I can only hope to relax in my shack like that some day!

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Exit, pursued by a bear

W7CBA ham radio cartoon QSL by N2ESTSteve, W7CBA, lives in Montana and likes the great outdoors. Can you draw me being chased by a grizzly, he asked? Sure, I said. And thus began this QSL card.

I changed it up a little, with Steve fleeing in panic while the bears size up his abandoned handi-talkie and backpack. Next thing you know, the bears are going to want to get their Tech licenses. (By the way, there’s a really good Tech study guide that just came out with illustrations by N2EST. I imagine the bears will either find it helpful or delicious.)

For extra points: Who recognizes the source of the above headline? Hint: He wasn’t a ham-radio operator but did have something to do with Hamlet.

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