I often devote space in this, the first issue of January, to wild exaggerations of how much I intend to improve myself over the course of the coming year. Some call these annual hallucinations New Year's resolutions, but I generally think of them as promises I never intended to keep in the first place.

In the past I've resolved to lose five pounds, help my friend finish the bridge over a gully in his front yard and stop beating my wife.

That I am still alive and well should demonstrate that I have never beaten my wife nor even threatened to. My friend's gully remains un-bridged. (We bought a boat and lost interest.) I have lost that five pounds — about 29 times.

I will tell no such outlandish lies in this year's New Year column. As some of you may recall from my last commentary of 2003, I have given up telling falsehoods in print — for the most part. I cannot, in all honesty, however, promise not to lean on poetic license from time to time, purely for illustrative purposes.

Consequently, since I have no desire and even less motivation for self-improvement in 2004, I've decided to look rearward, and not at that lost five pounds I keep finding. Recently, while driving across West Texas, I took to musing. As those of you who have driven across West Texas know, there is little to occupy one's mind except musing, so I muse quite a bit from Denton to Lubbock or Amarillo to Vernon. And I got to pondering about things that you can't find any more and how much I miss them.

Barber shops, for instance. I mean the kind with candy stripe poles in front, stuffed deer and fish on the walls and Field and Stream, Popular Mechanics, and Outdoor Life scattered about the chairs and occasional tables. I mean a place where Cosmopolitan and People would be pitched into the street. And, I hate to be chauvinistic, but the only women who come in arrive in a huff, purse clinched tightly in one hand, the ear of a reluctant lad in the other.

The place smells nice: Old Spice aftershave, talcum powder and bay rum. Walls are not festooned with seven or eight televisions, all tuned to a different soap opera or the Oprah Winfrey Show.

Where can you find a place like that any more? I usually get my tresses trimmed at establishments that will cut and “style” (whatever that means) men and women's hair. These McHair salons smell like home permanents — or rotten eggs, I could never distinguish the two. It's hard, if not impossible, to locate a Field and Stream, but they have plenty of Glamour, and US.

And mules. I miss mules. I know, they are not nearly as efficient as diesel-engine tractors, but they are considerably more colorful. When I was growing up, our neighbor had one named Kate. And he used a whole different vocabulary to tell her what he wanted done. Geeup, meant to go. Gee meant turn right; haw meant go left and whoa! you, stubborn @#$%&*@ meant stop.

You don't get that from a tractor.

I miss stories. My grandfather was a master storyteller. On winter Sunday afternoons, after we'd finished Sunday dinner (Folks don't cook Sunday dinner anymore, either.) we'd all get as close to the fireplace in the living room as we could and listen to Pop spin yarns.

Most of his tales were loosely based on fact, but, like all good storytellers, he embellished, exaggerated and stretched the truth enough to enhance interest. And we never heard the exact tale twice, even though one may have started out just like one we'd heard a month before.

I don't know of anyone now who sits and tells stories about hunting, fishing, hard times on the farm or finding whiskey stills in the back woods. And, regrettably, I don't know of many youngsters who could tear themselves away from their televisions, laptops, or video games to listen to a wise old man reminiscing.

I wish I had recorded his stories, or taken notes or at least listened closer so I could recount them.

Perhaps my grandchildren will listen to me tell some of my tales. Nahh. Probably not.