Wednesday, April 9, 2014

If I Had A Dream... (A Future's Perfect Post)

I tell the boys stories I make up about a blue kid-size teddy bear in a yellow polka-dotted purple bow tie. He's mischievous and a little excitable. Chu-Chu is his name and he is my imaginary friend and I frame the stories about him around my childhood misadventures growing up in rural Ohio. In the most recent one Chu-Chu got caught stealing apples and was reprimanded by a farmer who, in truth, just wanted to be asked for the apples, he had plenty, he reminded us in the end. Oh, and there was pie.

I finished the story and Nick asked me where Chu-Chu was now. I told him that after a long career as a loving companion to several children, he retired to Arizona.  I flippantly remarked, "He'd always dreamed of that."

Tuck, hug, bathroom, hug, tuck, "three pats," lights out...

"Dad, what is it you've always dreamed of?"

"Whaddya mean?" I asked through the dim, quiet room.

"You know, if you had a dream what would it be?"

"For you guys to grow up happy and healthy. Now, good night," was all I said. But his words keep echoing through my mind, through my heart, through my soul.

If I had a dream...

We walk together along the stone walkway that marches from our screened-in porch and winds under the maples towards an outbuilding which sits about midway back in the yard, just beyond the tall locust tree, there, where the tomatoes and the roses once grew and the oak saplings still struggle upwards. The building has windows on the side facing the house, shuttered at times, and the siding is the whitewashed wood of an old barn, baked for decades, in the unforgiving Midwest summer sun.

The shadows of two boys and a man float in the speckled light and seem to crouch on the roof which is not peaked but slopes from the opposite, higher wall, at a slight, easy angle. A low, unrailed deck comes off the front of the building which sits somewhat skewed on the lot so that you see the windowed wall and the front facing as you approach it. We stand quietly. Behind us, on the front, wide wall, a pair of barn doors wait and a another window hides behind shutters. Our eyes are drawn, as always, to the stained purple, red, pink and burgundy glass window that sits magnificently, triangular in the space formed by the sloping roof above the barn door and the shuttered picture window.

One pair of hand reaches out and opens the doors as the other set pats my shoulders and then swings open the shutters of the front window. The interior is revealed. The place is dreamy, the floor is recycled wide wood planking, butter toned, and extends to the back wall perhaps twenty or so feet. A circular window is nestled high in the angular space, mirroring back the front one. We step in and gaze through the familiar light. The restored rose window - saved from a church long lost to tears and time – is back-lit in glory from the setting September sun. Below that window, the wall is weathered wainscoting up to a stick brown chair rail. The rest of the wall, and the windowed wall to the right are painted a yellowed, parchment beige.

Just below the rose window, a score of sconces hold candles of every size and description. My two companions light them with wooden matches and the sulfur smell mixes with the wood and incense infused into the very essence of the space. Lit daily for years now, they provide the backdrop to a simple wooden trestle table maybe four by six feet. An exquisite white porcelain plate, oversized and oval, sits gracefully, contrastingly smooth against the rough work table. On this day a dazzling geode sits, split open, shimmering in the candle and stained light of the back wall, seeming to hover just above the simple plate.

“A geode, nice...” A soft voice breaks the silence.

To the left, the high wall is covered in shelves and cubbyholes handcrafted by an old cabinet maker, installed flawlessly. A row of lights on the deep blue ceiling showcase old books and watches and jars of marbles and new books and photos and, well, a bit of everything, really. Hands reach out, six now, and eyes flit from this to that, breaths intaking, hearts breaking, memories soaring at every stop of each mind's eye. Beautiful things, warm things, stuff you want to hold in your hands or against your breast. Towards the front of this wall another work table sits, waist high, the kind of table you tinker at. Two lamps string down from the ceiling to illuminate it. Two hands reach out to turn them on.  Papers and music and pencils and cardboard and notepads wait. Two guitars hang on the wall, also waiting.

Below the picture window, an old-timey teacher's desk sits in the ruddy evening sun. A laptop, a scanner, and a printer are hidden under the papers and handwritten notes and finished and unfinished manuscripts. An unlit candle and a smoke-stained desk light and a cold cup of coffee sit, temporarily abandoned in the paper chaos.

I sit down at the now ancient desk.

“Dad, I remember you designing this, in the basement. Blue tape and, like, manilla card paper.”

“Yes, but it didn't turn out that way...”

“Yeah, life's like that,” the third man offers with a wisp of a smile.

“ turned out better.  Life's like that, too.”

What is this place? It is a shed. A shed where I go to dream at an oaken desk. A shed where I go to pray at a wooden table of an altar. A shed where I go to find peace, serenity and solitude in the paper words of poets and saints. We built it, we three. Someday, some-time-ago, some-time-to-come, now, never, always. We built, are building, will build, this.   A father and his sons – we three.

It is my Prayer Shed.

If I had a dream...

A retired architect, famous once but now just another guy sitting at the local coffee shop, asked me what I did as I sat tapping away on a laptop one cold winter day. I laughed and told him I was "just a dreamer." He said he was once a dreamer, now he was just tired. He went back to his mug of coffee, black and strong and hot.

"What do you dream about?" He whispered it, almost as if he didn't want to say it, didn't want to bridge the sanctioned gap between our tables, between us. I trusted his eyes so I told him about my Prayer Shed. I told him it was hard to write and think in a cold, dank basement and that I wanted to be in a space full of light so I could dream bigger, hope harder, pray more reverently, think longer, more involved plots and characters and narratives. I told him it hurt my heart to dream of something I knew I could never have.

His eyes were full, both tears and understanding fell from them, and he looked inside me and, trusting me, he said, "I'll design it for you." And he did. The blueprints are rolled up and stacked in a cubby just there, next to that Mason jar of my grandfather's marbles.

If I had a dream...

Once a month, when the weather is good, the front porch of the shed is filled with people, singing songs and laughing and telling stories. It is a hootenanny where anyone can play, children, old-timers, old rockers and bluegrass pickers. A simple sound system, a couple of small Peavy amps, some mics and a good friend at the mixing board. A fire in a fire pit, beer and wine, hotdogs, friendship and music - inclusive music, sacred music, raucous music, good and not-so-good music - fill the evening air like prayer lanterns lifting up and out of sight.

People come from all around and there is never anywhere to park, but, the neighbors don't care - one's a fiddler and the other is stoking the fire. There is an atmosphere of love and acceptance, and memories are made, a lifetimes worth, evening after summer evening. Sometimes, when the weather is bad, we all shove into the shed, close, happy to be so, the amps turned off, the guitars and singers just feet away from the glad, expectant faces of the crowd.

If I had a dream...

The dreaming-once-again architect calls his cabinet maker buddy and finds out he could use some work and, for nearly cost, he puts in the shelves and cubbies and, from his own workshop, "lends" me the table that becomes the focal point of the space.

I meet an old hippie at the farmers market, and, liking his chest length gray beard I comment on it, he laughs, loud and strong, and wonders how he still has it because he works as a stained glass artist. I ask him about the work and we stand, talking comfortably, as he explains a recent project. He found a rose window in an old barn, covered in dirt and grime, and decided to restore it. Chuckling and shaking his head he says that he can't imagine why he did it - no one wants that kind of thing anymore.

"I do," I say quietly. 

When I go to his shop - a jumble of color and glass and lead - a vintage Martin guitar stands in a corner and a even older Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer sits open amidst the glass fragments, neither are dusty, neither neglected.

I tell him where it will go and he is pleased and offers to design another window for me, the window above the front door, the window facing east, the window he calls "Sunrise Prayer."

If I had a dream...

I wouldn't stop there. No. The building inspector would have a son who was a graduate film student and needs a thesis project and comes and documents the whole process from architect's office to glass studio to shingles and front deck. He would come to deeply understand why the shed must be built by profoundly understanding why dreams must be dreamt. He will edit and filter and score and narrate and he will manifest his dream as I do mine. And, his documentary will be beautiful.

He will help me explain my dream. He would listen to me say things like: "I think it is important for children to dream, it is important that adults dream, it is the stuff that moves us toward God. More than that, though, it is important, urgently so, that children see adults dream. Even if that dream ends in failure, which it may, we must give our boys and girls permission to dream, to dreamy crazy, to dream big." And, he would make me seem credible and decent not flaky and misanthropic.

If I had a dream...

The sound of hammers and saws filled the backyard for weeks and weeks. I remember pouring the foundations, framing the walls up and hoisting the rafters. My sons helped me. They helped me build my dream, board by board, nail by nail, blister by blister. They are just nine - or twelve, or twenty, I know not, really - and they learn a lifetime of skills, good skills, hand skills, heart skills. They will forever tell the story about the hammer Nick dropped and Zack caught, miraculously, just before it crashed through a window, a rose window. They will learn, finally and forever, that their dad is crazy and beautiful and earnest and humble and holy and full, so full, of the kind of love that is so hard to place, and, and, he built a place for it - because, because... he needed to.

If I had a dream...

I would dedicate my shed to my work. I would finish my novels there. I would have a website, I would ask others to send me books, prayer books and bibles and poetry and memoirs and my shelves would swell and bow from the weight. I would ask for things to place on my makeshift altar and people would send feathers and stones and baby socks and acorns and geodes and flowers... and hopes and dreams and fears and failures. I would pray for it all. I would take a photo everyday and post it on the site, "from the table" I might call that, and years and years of images would be forever saved in simple, prayer-like zeroes and ones.

If I had a dream...

People would come to see me, some might want to pray with me, others might want to pray alone. Some would come to argue with me, tender arguments about God and gods and saviors, warriors and souls. With some I would talk about writing and music and the nature of Art and we would sing songs and form bands and laugh freely and gather around an old wood stove off in the corner by the door and tell stories on a cold winter's night. And, we would dream together of sacred journeys and holy places and basement boats and backyard sheds. We would call ourselves "shedheads" and we would show others how to dream impossibly big and crazy and hope-filled dreams.

If I had a dream...

I would share it with you.

If I had one...

Thank you for listening to me dream my little dreams.  I hope it helps you to remember to dream yours.


  1. Wow! I want to stop by the prayer shed. I'll have a beer, enjoy some music, and offer a prayer.
    Build it and they will come.

    1. Larry, all are welcome in this place. Thanks for wandering in.

  2. You've already built the prayer shed - it's just not a physical place.

  3. That's a fantastic piece of work there, Bill. I love everything about it. Such a wonderful picture of a dream you paint and I happen to know that is no easy task. I just wanted to say of your writing: when a person like me, who doesn't feel a connection to religion (any longer) and who doesn't pray, reads your work and feels a connection with the feelings you describe then you have transcended those boundaries that many of us won't cross. I would enjoy a cold beverage and some strumming in front of that shed and hope that this is one dream that may come. I think I would also enjoy a prayer within, especially if your talk resembles your writing.

    Enjoy your social media hiatus. I have to admit, when you're gone I burn a candle somewhere within for your return, but I realize these breaks help you to maintain the very things I like most about you and I'm always ebbing and flowing with the never ending network as well so, I get it. Take it easy, or any way you can. See ya soon.

  4. Beautiful Dreams so well stated. I hope they come true for you.