‘It’s Just Sticks and Slices’

He was born Homer Embree Overfelt. We called him Pop.

He was married to his one-and-only love, Agnes, whom I never had the honor to meet due to her early passing when my dad was only 22. He always spoke of her with a gleam in his eye and a slight smirk sported from his Redman tobacco-filled cheek as if there was lots of fun stuff about her that only he knew.

I loved sitting in a porch chair that was too big for me, listening to those stories about Agnes and his work at the shoe factory, intrigued by his word games and riddles while gawking at the false teeth that would too easily slide from his bottom lip.

He provided me a glimpse of life lived simply, of how fishing for catfish from the banks of the Mississippi and catching bullfrogs that were bigger than my two small hands. That meant more to my love of life than he could know.

He was just being Pop.

Twenty-six years ago, we named our first daughter Emilee, the only one of his great grandchildren he’d ever meet. When we introduced her to him, he misunderstood, thinking her name was Emi Lee, as if with a two named southern intention, so he called her Emi. The name fit her, and we still call her Emi today. I enjoy that connection when I speak her name.

Born and raised in St. Louis, Pop was a lifelong Cardinals baseball fan, as was my dad. He was with us when my dad and uncle took me to my first game at Busch Stadium against the Atlanta Braves.

A kid’s first visit to a major league park is magical. You walk in the gate and up the ramps smelling the beer, hot dogs, and popcorn. Your heart is beating as you see the sign for your section ahead. You turn into the short, upward tunnel, and as you come out the other side, you see it live and in person for the first time. The emerald green of the outfield, the brick-red infield with sparkling white bases and arrow-straight foul lines.

The Big Leagues. The real thing. Pure paradise. A 12-year-old’s fantasy incarnate.

I had no problem falling in love with the early ’70s clubs featuring Joe Torre, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, and Al “the mad Hungarian” Hrabosky. I stuck with the Cards as they developed into an ’80s World Series-winning speed team managed by Whitey Herzog and lead by Ozzie Smith, Willie McGee, Lonnie Smith, Keith Hernandez, Bob Forsch, and Joaquin Andujar.

Even though I seldom spoke to Pop as a 19-year-old college freshman, the bond of Cardinal baseball never wavered. We watched the games together, only from different places. I still love watching Cardinal games with him.

Pop taught me how to be as comfortable in my own skin as he was in his. Toward the end of his life, his doctor allowed him two beers a day.

“No more than that,” according to the doctor.

“No less than that,” according to Pop.

Shortly before he died, he came out to Idaho to visit my folks, my bride, and me when my brother, 24 years my junior (that’s another story) was being christened at church, which was scheduled during the 11 a.m. service. Knowing he had probably two hours before we had to be there, he cracked a beer. I smiled; 9 a.m. Sunday morning, his first of two beers for the day.

It must have hit the spot, because he finished it quickly and decided a second might go down just as easy. No sooner had he opened the second when the phone rang. It was my dad telling me they’d moved the christening up to the 9 a.m. service and we needed to come to church … immediately.

Pop looked at me, then at his newly opened beer, and laughed. No way he was wasting it. Down the hatch it went, as quickly as any college kid that is denied from taking his open beer into the football stadium. Two quick burps later we were in the car on our way to church.

By the end of the ceremony, he was once again the proud grandpa he’d always been and as he held my little brother, I caught the occasional smell of beer in the air. I loved it. He was just being Pop, and it was exactly what I loved about him.

Pop instilled in me the love of a life lived simply. I enjoy a quiet evening with my wife, a good book and a cup of coffee, a glass of wine or beer on the porch, or taking in a ballgame. I read books and take walks with my grandson. Family dinners, going to concerts, playing in a little blues band, umpiring high school fast pitch softball, acting in local theater. Simple stuff that adds value and spice to life.

I do my best to practice it in my lumber trading as well. Don’t take stuff too seriously. Don’t stress out too much about things out of your control. You
do what you can, and that’s all you can do. Do your best; do what’s right.

Customers just want straight forward info from an honest vendor. Do what you say you’re going to do. Ship them what you tell them you’re going to ship them, when you tell them you’ll do it.

And when the inevitable mistake happens, as it will because we’re human, or because the mill planer breaks down, or there’s a fire, or a trucker doesn’t perform as he said he would, or myriad other things that happen in the course of any business day, it’s the image of that simple life that Pop lived that brings me back to center.

As an old lumber trader used to tell me long ago, don’t worry about it, “It’s just sticks and slices.”


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