Pho - Vietnamese Soup

Pho - Vietnamese Soup
One of our favorite dishes - Pho

Saturday, May 15, 2010

My Father, James C. McCormick's "Notes to my Grandchildren"

Here's something my Father wrote for his Grandchildren, November 12th, 1987, soon after he was diagnosed with cancer. It's a special tribute to the beautiful soul he was and always will be!

RIP, my precious, beloved Dad! I miss you more than words can say!

Love Always and Forever,
Special K

Notes to my Grandchildren
November 12, 1987
James C. McCormick
Let me begin by saying how dear each and everyone of you is to me. I love you with all of my heart. These notes are, by and large, messages of hope and optimism because they are what I believe. They are optimistic because life has given me reason to be hopeful and optimistic. Your grandfather has been greatly blessed – unbelievably blessed. Most of our fellow human beings on earth have not been as fortunate. When you are young, you have little idea how much grief and heartache there is in the world. It is pervasive. Almost everyone we come in contact with is coping with some kind of problem. Some of the burdens seem to me to be so large, that it is difficult to understand how they can be carried. As you go through life – as you come in contact with fellow human beings – realize how badly we need each other. Let’s all embrace each other – the whole human race – and collectively carry the burdens. Hesitate before you give a discourteous word to a clerk in a store when you feel she has offended you. She may have a child or a husband dying of cancer.
Your grandfather, as he writes these notes, is wrestling with the most serious health problem in his life. It is life threatening, but it is one of a long series that he has, up to this point, been able to overcome and he is sustained and uplifted by his faith that he will again, through God’s grace, overcome. The battle now is between the cancer and the chemo-therapy. They are both insidious agents, alien to and despised by my body. I read that one or the other will ultimately get me. After considering that verdict, I found it unacceptable and therefore rejected it.
It is important to remember as you read these notes that they were written by a flawed and imperfect man. Your grandfather is a very ordinary man, subject to more than his share of human frailties and shortcomings. He certainly was not blessed with a superior intellect. If he has achieved anything, it is largely attributable to the fact that he was the product of warm and loving parents who taught him, through example, that life was good and that hard work would be rewarded. Your grandfather does not have all the answers; nevertheless, he has learned a great deal during his 63-year trek and is, therefore, worth listening to. Unfortunately, there are many of life’s basic lessons that we usually don’t begin to learn until we are about 50. You don’t have to wait until you only have 25 or 30 years remaining in your life before you discover what it’s all about. The purpose of these notes is to give you a running head start. You can learn in your teens what it took your grandfather six decades to learn. Life is terrific. Go for it!

1. Select your mate wisely. It is the most important decision you will ever make. Many people put less thought into mate-selection than they do to the purchase of their first home. Too often, the decision – because it is usually made by very young people – is exclusively glandular. A loving mate can be indispensable in the achievement of the other goals in your life. As a matter of fact, you will probably never do anything very great without the love and support of a dear husband or wife. There are exceptions, remarkable exceptions, but a loving mate is the most important asset you will ever have if you aspire to do important things with your life.
More importantly, a good mate will enhance your enjoyment of your achievements. A poor mate will leave you unhappy no matter what you have achieved.
2. Set your sights high. You have the ability to achieve far more, dramatically more, than you believe you can achieve. Whether you believe it or not, there are really very few limits to what you can do with your life.
3. At age 60 you will have more regret from not having dared greatly than you will for having done foolish things, and made mistakes.
Teddy Roosevelt summed it up with: “Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”
4. At age 18 most of us don’t need God. As a matter of fact, we don’t need anybody. We are completely self sufficient and are convinced we can whip the world alone.
Despite these feelings, realize that God is vital in your life…that without God, you are an empty shell. A time will come sooner than you think, when you will encounter problems that you can’t cope with without the help of God. A significant percentage of the people in mental institutions are there because at some point life clobbered them to a degree that family couldn’t help, psychiatrists couldn’t help, friends couldn’t help. There was no place to turn. God is the ultimate solution to all your problems. He is your strength, your solace, your comfort, and He will see you through the darkest valley.
5. And don’t forget, even with the bumps, life is terrific.
6. At age 60 you will come to realize that one of the most valuable possessions is integrity. In the Spring of your life you have no idea how important the respect of your fellow man will be to you in the Autumn of your life.
Realize as early as you can that you can’t decide at age 60 to have integrity. Integrity is an attribute that is acquired over decades, day by day, decision by decision. If you don’t have it at age 60, it’s too late to acquire it. At this point in life many try to buy it. It is not for sale, no matter how much you have to spend.
7. Develop the ability to express your love. If you love a friend, tell him. Don’t stand over his casket some day and then regret that you didn’t say some things that you wish you had said.
8. Reject the widely embraced concept that wealth is sinful. Poverty is sinful. To have lived in a country where opportunity is limited only by absence of zeal is a sin, not only against yourself but against your family and your community which can be a beneficiary of your wealth.
Yet realize that circumstances are going to force some of your fellow human beings into poverty. The responsibility to help is yours, not your government’s. The “institutionalization” of caring, which was invented in America in the 1960’s, was designed to eradicate human need. In fact, it has insulated us from our neighbor’s pain.
9. Thank God every day that you were born in the United States of America. Considering that the U.S. represents 4% of the earth’s 5 billion population, it is a statistical miracle that your seed was planted in the womb of an American mother rather than a Filipino, Brazilian, or Russian.
10. Learn to love yourself. Know that it is impossible to love yourself unless you have made of yourself someone who can be loved.
Thankfully we can insulate ourselves from people we don’t love or respect. We have the option of simply staying away from them. There is one person, however, we can never escape. We are with him 24 hours a day – waking and sleeping. We cannot even shut the door and leave him in another room. That person is ourself. If your unavoidable, inescapable companion is someone you despise, you risk alcoholism, drugs or insanity in an attempt to escape.
11. And don’t forget, even with the bumps, life is terrific.
12. Our lives are not pre-ordained. A loving, caring God, in his infinite wisdom, has given you free choice. If you get cancer, God did not give it to you, life gave it to you. The greatness of God lies in the fact that He is the source to turn to when there seems to be no hope. The miracle of God lies in the fact that through His grace the worst events in our lives can become blessings. I don’t believe I ever had a bad thing happen in my life that did not ultimately manifest itself into something good.
13. Don’t wait until you are free of troubles before you believe you can enjoy life. Since you will never be free of troubles, if you wait for that day, you will never be happy. The great discovery is that you can be happy, supremely happy, in spite of the problems.
14. Know that doing battle with and conquering problems is one of the great joys of life. No one appreciates and enjoys life like someone who has been to the edge and looked at death.
15. Don’t envy anybody. If you knew everything about the person you might envy, you wouldn’t trade places with him.
16. From time to time pause and look at the sky. It is the most unappreciated sight on the face of the earth. If there were only one geographical place on earth where the sky was visible, it would be the most popular tourist attraction one could imagine. You would have to get reservations three years in advance to go to see it. If you don’t believe this, just look up at the next cloud-laced blue-skyed day or star-lit night and reflect for a moment on the miracle you are beholding.
17. Don’t wait to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Work hard but don’t over-defer gratification.
17a. On the other hand, some day you are likely to have the means to gratify your every material wish. At that point it is important that you learn to express a certain amount of self denial. The unhappiest people I know are those who don’t learn this important lesson. They are unhappier than the poorest people.
18. Be thankful that zeal can overcome a deficit in intellect. If you do not have an extremely high I.Q., you are not relegated to a lifetime of mediocrity. There is some good in realizing that you are not so smart that you don’t need to work hard to achieve. The greatest achievements are not made by the smartest people, but by the most zealous.
19. Hate is an acid that will eat your insides out. Don’t give hate a breeding place in your mind. When it creeps in, reject it as fast as possible.
The human mind has a finite capacity for emotions at a given moment. Hate takes up space that could be occupied by love. Love is productive and enriching. Hate is unproductive and destructive.
20. Plural hate is the most inexcusable form of hate. A thinking human being knows that it is irrational to despise a man that you don’t even know just because his skin or religion is different from yours. That kind of thinking is the province of the ignorant.
21. Despite what you see around you to the contrary, the world is getting better. The progress sometimes seems glacial but there is no doubt that the world is steadily getting better. Sometimes we go forward three steps and then fall back two. Nevertheless, slowly but surely the world is getting better. It’s all a part of the diving plan.
22. And don’t forget, even with the bumps, life is terrific.
23. Most people make the same impact on the world that is made on a pool of water when one takes his finger out. In today’s perpetual care cemeteries you can’t even leave a larger tombstone than the person in the grave next to you. What is left of you when you die lies exclusively in what good you did when you were alive.
24. Give a damn. Don’t try to be popular. Try to be right. One of the greatest sins is to see a wrong and not try to right it. It is better to be liked than not to be liked, but if some people are not unhappy with you, it means that you betrayed some of your own principles along the way.
25. You can make a difference. You alone can make a difference. The overwhelming majority of changes that have occurred in the world, good and bad, have been the result of the conviction and doggedness of a single individual. The history of the world is replete with examples – from Adolf Hitler to Mother Teresa.
26. Select a career that gives you joy. If you hate Monday mornings, if you do not derive happiness from your labors, you are doing the wrong thing with your life and you don’t have a prayer of achieving anything meaningful.
27. Be very careful about what you aspire to because you are likely to achieve it. Don’t try to make permanent decisions about your life too early. A 50 year old dentist friend once told me he hated his job. I asked why he decided to be a dentist. His reply was that an unaware and unthinking 18 year old made the decision for him.
28. And don’t forget, even with the bumps, life is terrific.
29. Tell your spouse frequently of your love. Say it! Don’t make the one you love guess. “She knows” or “he knows” is a cop-out.
30. Ditto above – for your friends.
31. Grandson, understand that women are different from men. Granddaughter, understand that men are different from women. Thank God for it. I hope and expect that the 1960’s concept of “unisex” will have been forgotten by the time you are grown.
32. The next best thing to a loving family is a loving cadre of devoted, caring friends. Real friendships do not develop accidentally. They have to be worked at. To have a friend, you have to be a friend.
33. No matter how successful you become, don’t get carried away with your own importance. Recognize that a significant part of your success is attributable, not to how smart you were, but to circumstances and good luck. Nevertheless, don’t fail to give yourself credit for at least trying. Most people didn’t even try. The luckiest things usually seem to happen to the people who work the hardest.
34. Develop an ability to laugh at yourself. Don’t take yourself too seriously.
35. Anything you are not inclined to do with passion shouldn’t be done (a) working; (b) loving; (c) playing; (d) worshiping; (e) gardening; (f) playing the piano.
36. And don’t forget, even with the bumps, life is terrific.
37. Despite periodic evidence to the contrary – good guys finish first – eventually.
38. Stand up for what you believe in. Don’t let your silence be interpreted as acquiescence to something you are being exposed to which you know is wrong.
39. Accept the fact that you are imperfect, that all of your actions and all of your thoughts are not pure, but that God loves you just the way you are.
40. “Hang in there” is the worst advice you will ever get. When you encounter difficulties, don’t hang in there – scratch and pull and claw. Fight like a tiger.
41. Harness the body’s miraculous powers of self healing. You can “believe” yourself into good health. This is one of the great miracles that medicine will discover in the coming years. This certainly doesn’t mean there is no place for doctors and hospitals, but your “belief” can dramatically assist the doctor in helping you.
42. Vow that you can’t be beaten – that no matter what comes – you can’t be beaten – that you can be bloodied – but you can’t be beaten – that through the grace of God you can rise above whatever life hands you – that you can’t be beaten – that no matter what comes, you can’t be beaten.
43. And don’t forget, even with the bumps, life is terrific.
James McCormick grew up in Ennis, Texas in the 1920’s and 30’s. He served in the Air Force during World War II and attended Southern Methodist University on the G.I. Bill where he graduated with honors in 1949. He and his war-time sweetheart, Barbara, celebrated their 40th anniversary in 1987. They have five children and seven grandchildren. McCormick was stricken with both bulbar and spinal polio in 1952. Completely paralyzed, he spent time in an iron lung, and over the years has fought back from a series of life-threatening illnesses. Today he operates from a wheelchair and can navigate short distances on a walker.
After a career in investment banking, McCormick is perhaps busier than he has ever been. In past months surprised citizens of New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Singapore, Hong Kong and London have seen him weaving through the busy streets with his briefcase on the handlebar of his battery powered wheelchair. He serves as a business consultant and is a board member of thirteen public, private and civic organizations. His prayer is to be working when he dies.
P.O. Box 428
Montrose, Alabama 36559

Here's an inspirational speech my Dad wrote for our church:

Here's an article a very close family friend, Jim White wrote about my Dad.  Jim was hugely instrumental in encouraging my Dad to finally write his book "Stone Bruise."


  1. I've always loved that piece. I'm not one of his grandchildren. but I've alway been very proud to be his niece! Love, love the pics and the memories! I'm sure I would love the recipes if I ever cooked (I'm glad someone does!!). :-) You have a beautiful family, Kel - thanks for keeping us in touch with them!

  2. Thanks for shearing, this is just what I needed, I
    am going through divorce after 34 yrs of married.

  3. @Anonymous, Thank you so much for your comments and for checking out my blog. My Dad most definitely had a unique perspective on life. I'm so sorry to hear you're going through such a tough time. I've found that with any kind of life-altering changes like that, although you might not see it now, ultimately there will be all kinds of good that will stem from these changes. Hang in there and know it WILL get better! God Bless and take care!! ~Kelly

  4. Kelly, I knew your father when both he and my father were on the Board of Directors of Southern Savings and Loan, based out of Brownwood. I was on the staff there at the time in early 1980. I communicated with your father on a couple of occasions later, while he was still with us and after my father passed away. I am fortunate to have a copy of his "Laymans Day Address" he gave at Spring Valley in 1978. It is in that "special folder" where I keep things I do not risk losing. I shared a copy with my son who is in the ministry with the comment that "every time I am down, whether I realize is or not, I end up in that folder reading your father's words once again. It is always like he has walked through the door and told me to get off of my rear and get back to work and be thankful for the opportunity." He has been with me many times. He and my father became friends during their common Board Membership so I did take the time to share with him, a number of years ago, that my father had passed away. I told him that the 2 men I respected most in my life, and I meant it very sincerely, were my father and him. I really didn't expect a response, since I didn't know his physical condition at the time, but was not the least surprised to get back a very short and meaningful note from him that is also in that special folder. I have taken too much of your time, but wanted to thank you for sharing your wonderful father with the rest of us. He continues, through that well worn copy and through memories, to be a guide. Thank you. Bob Morris

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