Wednesday, December 31, 2014

"Happiness and Stuff, I Think"

So, I have a story, several images, an important observation or two and New Years wishes to work in today.  And, I feel a little pressure to post one last time before the year's end - that's self-imposed of course, I feel quite certain no one would notice if I didn't post today.  And, now I am irritated with myself for telling you all that...

Do over...

It is the Summer of 1973, we are camping at Hueston Woods State Park in Southwest Ohio, not far from the Indiana border.  It is midday, the paper plates are smoldering in the fire-ring, the bologna and American cheese are put away, the sparrows and a nasty jay are eating the Fritos and Lays crumbs littering the dirt of the campsite.  I am watching them skitter and bully each other.  I am bored.

I hear a familiar sound, the putter of a Volkswagen four-cylinder  engine, my Dad has a Beetle so I know the sound.  It's off though, lower, rumblier.  I see it finally, struggling up the slight hill, a VW micro-bus, '61 or so.  It comes huffing and puffing to a stop in the campsite next to us and continues to puff after the engine is quiet - if you get my drift.  The doors open all at once and seven beaded and vested, bandannaed and bespectacled young adults come spilling out in a joyful clown-car cacophony.


Three long-haired guys.

Four longer-haired girls.

Girl hippies, the best kind.

I am no longer bored.

They'd done it before, set up camp, but I'd never seen them do it.  One of the guys practically tosses the smallest girl up on the roof where a rack held several tents and and boxes of bedding and equipment.  She stands like an angel in the sun and throws the stuff down to the waiting hands of the others.  They go about their business, talking and laughing, smoking cigarettes, giggling here, hugging there - a model of, uh, stoned efficiency.

I watch.  One of the girls smiles at me.  But, and here's the truth, I wasn't watching her.  No, one guy has my attention.  He is probably the oldest.  His beard is long and red and straggly and inconceivably enviable.  He has a black bandanna on his head, gold rimmed glasses on his nose, a fringed vest - and only a fringed vest - on his chest, and patched bell bottoms ending in dirty bare feet.

He is the coolest looking dude I've ever seen.

But there is more.  As his happy hippie tribesmen set up camp, he grabs a guitar from a case he's extricated from the passenger front seat and sits on the picnic table and starts singing folk songs.  Songs I know, songs my dad knows.  Woody's songs, Joan's songs, James' songs, Bob's songs.  Songs from the American song book, songs from the very heart of us all.

I am blown away.

I vow, right there and then, to be that guy.  Not because he wasn't working, not because he looked so profound and interesting, not because he was in charge without seeming so, no, it was that damned guitar.  It was those songs he sang soulfully and honestly.  It was the dream and hope and peace and love that came from him and landed on me.

I did become that guy.  I learned guitar and memorized songs and grew my hair and smiled at the pretty girls and hoped and dreamed and...

I wish I could thank him - it worked out pretty well for me.  It's made me happy.  It's been fun.

I got a little annoyed at the boys a couple days ago for watching "too damn much television."  Now, I need to be clear here, I watched too much television when I was a kid but nobody cared.  So it's really not fair for me to feel this way.  Basically, I was tired of watching the same damn thing on Netflix over and over again.

I shut it all down.

They got mad.

I told them to find something else to do, ready for the battle that was about to ensue.  Nick grabbed a Nat Geo Kids and Zack got his craft box and some paper and drew this:

He showed it to me in the kitchen a while later.  Pencil, paper, a castle, a setting sun.  I told him I liked it.

He said:  "I forgot how happy it makes me just drawing a picture."

Marci found this in a book or on the floor or somewhere when she straightening the boys' closet:


There at the topped, erased but still visible it says "...the girls are happy too."

He saw it in my hand as I was taking it downstairs to put in the file pile I keep things I might use here.

"Oh, yeah, I remember that - it was about happiness and stuff, I think."

Nick brought this home one day last week.  Nice horse:

The next day he brought this one home.  They'd traced the horse onto a heavy water color paper and experimented with color on the black and white sketch:

"It was so much fun, Dad."

Another night last week they were both drawing because, well, I couldn't stand another Disney show again.  Zack drew this:

No, I am not sure what it is - something about a wizard and a glowing orb and "floating candles of destiny."  He starts out with a pencil squiggle and builds form there, not really knowing what he's going to end up with.

"I had a lot of fun making it," he said as he got ready for bed.

Nick wondered what to draw as Z scribbled away.  An elephant on a unicycle, correction, a talking elephant on a unicycle.

"I sorta saw it in my head and before I knew it he was talking to me.  He's really funny, Dad."  Yeah, I'm not too worried, yet...


Here I go trying to make some sort of point again.  It's simple really, obvious to the point of pain I'd say, but I'm going to make it just the same, I forget happiness sometimes.  I forget fun.

Later the same night Zack remembered how happy just drawing made him, I was putting my guitar away and I stopped for a moment.  I remembered how happy just playing guitar made me.  I remembered the happy hippies I met that trip and the hundreds more I would meet on the trips to come.  I remembered jam sessions and bands and singalongs and so much more.

When I was younger, high school and college, there was music everywhere.  Not just from the records we were spinnin' on the turntables, but live music.  My buddy's band, a flute in the kitchen, twelve guitars in a barn, two in a tent in a storm, a violin recital, an opera.  One big pile of happy memories.  One big pile of fun.

I don't hear that music so much anymore.  I think I'd get nothing but funny looks and a cold shoulder if I started playing a song at a social gathering or such these days.  I often sit through sports practices with the boys and think what a great time that would be to practice, imagine the looks I'd get...

I guess I'd say, here at the end of the year, that in the coming year I should celebrate the happiness I see around my life.  Try to remember that fun is all around us.  We manufacture it, we consume it.

In a way, sometimes I feel like I am letting that old hippie down, letting myself down, letting the boys down, by not having fun.

So, Happy New Year!  Have fun, make fun; be happy, make happy.  I'll try, too.

From Marci's "... things you don't expect to hear from the backseat ..."

N: "Oh, what's that thing called ... you know, the comma for contractions ... ?"

M: "The apostrophe?"

N: "That's it!"

Apostrophe is indeed a ridiculous word...

I'll see you next year, I am, as always, happy you come around every now and again, it means a lot to me, always.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014


I wanted to go on and on about how I feel about Santa.  About how so many people who celebrate Christmas in a secular setting shouldn't really call it Christmas.  About how so many people get offended when I say "Merry Christmas," but, in truth, perhaps I should be the one offended when non-believers say it to me.  About how Santa seems to be the reason for the season most everywhere I look.

I'm not going to now.  It's been argued around and around and, honestly, I think I might be wrong.

A fellow blogger, who coincidentally I referred to in my last post, John Kinnear from Ask Your Dad, wrote a better piece than mine would have been, In Defense of Santa.  With a tenderness bordering on reverence he explains, without rancor or harshness, how he defends Santa for himself, his family and his very fortunate kids.

Around here we have never made a big deal out of Santa, he brought stuff for the stockings and an unwrapped gift sometimes.  The boys enjoyed the magic of it all.  We fed the reindeer special food with glitter to help them fly.  We wrote notes and left cookies and wrote letters and did all that.  We discussed how he gets in our house and how a fire wouldn't burn him and...

Oh, you noticed, yeah... past tense.  They know now that we were Santa.  They suspected last year when Marci heard them talking about comparing handwriting.  I'd guess that is why I am so down on him this year.  I am sad.  I suspect they are, too.

It is about the magic isn't it.  When the boys were little, three or so, we used to make little fairy houses out of sticks and moss and bits of this and pieces of that.  They were tragically cute and a bit hopeless.  I'd go out overnight and put a little bag of Skittles or a polished stone or something of the sort and tell them that the "Wood Fairies" always left a gift in appreciation of the cozy house they been given to stay in.


We weren't very good Tooth Fairies really, but they bought it, even the time(s) we forgot, and then one night Zack saw Mom do it.  Oh well...


The Easter Bunny is the most peculiar of the magical myths we perpetuate in our secular society today.  I found him to be a particularly difficult sell if you want the truth.  A disturbingly silly pink rabbit bringing eggs and candy to help celebrate the resurrection of a crucified Son of God.  I couldn't even figure it, let alone explain it.


But wait.  A child born of a Virgin in a manger as a star guided magi and shepherds heard angels on high?


Enough lamp oil for eight nights?


A solstice, a new dawn, harvest, sacrifice, prophesy, death, rebirth?


I'm no philosopher, but, maybe, uh...

Is it all the same Magic?

I do have a theory - a bit of magical thinking more accurately - to help unify all this.  Wanna hear it?

I think the most forgotten character in the whole Christmas thing is poor third-wheel Joseph.  Nothing I could say would add much to the story that is his.  The man a Savior called "Abba."  A man who raised a boy, taught him a craft, taught him faith.  In fact I already wrote about my affinity for him previously.  But, simply said, what if Santa is ole Joe?

You're welcome...

Or we could repurpose him for another holiday as I argued a couple years back.

I found this note on the floor.  It's not to Santa.  It actually has no bearing on the subject at hand.  It is sheer laziness on my part, but honestly I don't feel like figuring out how to justify this into the post today.  Sorry:

To: Zack
From:  Zack

And a little happy face guy in case he annoyed himself by writing a note to himself to do his break homework.

I know you are busy and I appreciate that you'd take the time to stop by today - or whenever you do, are, will... anyway, thanks.

A couple of years ago I wrote a letter to a boy about Santa and all this.  I must believe in this kind of magic, some kind of magic, some truth.  My heart is still breaking...

Merry Magicmas.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Non-Holiday Post or "Thinking's Complicated"

This is not a holiday post.

I mentioned that in the title, but I'll reiterate it.  "Reiterate it," say that outloud, it's fun.

I've been lacking in fun.  My mood has been dour.

Sometimes I think the floors in our home are on some sort of shifting tectonic plates that occasionally force out a forgotten toy or a past due book or a ping-pong ball or a bewildering comic book produced a couple years back by Nick.

I'll try to subtitle it as best I can.  Any elves referenced are not of the North Pole variety... it's all pretty weird:

Yes, I believe our hero is skateboarding into the swirley-sun, uh, sunset there.  I have seen a lot of odd things here in the past three years... that "sumo - wresler" is one of them.  I've no idea how he fits into the storyline...

I would venture to guess I've poked fun at Nick's misspellings scores of times around here.  I probably shouldn't've... but, I did.  And, I'd do it again.  It's funny.  It's also smart.  And interestingClever.  Cute.

This is his most recent spelling test:

He got a 95%.  But look closely at the one he got wrong at the top:

He said he second guessed himself and erased the 't' that he'd originally printed.  I'm gonna give it to him.

He kinda screwed up on the sentence he was to construct. He misspelled went with "whent" which is funny, and a mistake any of us might make.

Z did a great job on his spelling test as well:

That's solid "4" work if I've ever seen it.  Now mind you, they don't get letter grades yet but, well... 0, 1, 2, 3 and 4 are the only numbers you can get.  I think you can take it from here.

I've arrived at the point I've been trying to make and I don't like it.  Here it is: This stuff is going away.  I hate to say that, but I know it is true.  What is truer is the fact that I have to let it go.  Over and over again I vow to not make the boys vulnerable with all of this.  Truth is, I still think I haven't.  The very foundation of all of this is love and honor, never forget that...

An era, to speak in the pedestrian, is coming to a close.  I'll milk it a bit more.  I'll poke a bit more fun another time or two.  And then...

One day Nick was sitting on the couch spinning a rubber band with two hands - you know, that thing where you sort of palm the band with both hands and orbit each hand with the other, well, you've done it -  and staring off into space.  I asked him what was up.

"Oh, just thinkin'..." he said.


"Well, it's hard to explain," he said and paused, and then:

"Thinking's complicated."

Yes, thinking is complicated and I know you know that.  See, everything is complicated... until it isn't anymore.

I answered my own question about how I should keep going around here just a few sentences ago.  The very foundation of all of this is love and honor, never forget that...

I won't.

It's funny, just as I was saying that an era may be closing, I went to look for more of Marci's "... things you don't expect to hear form the backseat..." and there are fewer and fewer of those these days.

Well, change happens doesn't it.  Dammit...

Before I say "so long" today I'd like to thank John over at Ask Your Dad Blog.  He takes time to answer my stupid questions sometimes, and he helps with my my template and stuff.  I don't think he knows how much I appreciate his help.  Well, he showed me how to do a better search and, with his help, was able to determine that I have mentioned spellings and misspellings over ninety times around her.  That's great.

20 Somewhat Horrible Things I Do to My Kids That I in No Way Feel Guilty About - See more at:
20 Somewhat Horrible Things I Do to My Kids That I in No Way Feel Guilty About - See more at:
20 Somewhat Horrible Things I Do to My Kids That I in No Way Feel Guilty About - See more at:

Oh... So long.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Best Half

Some of our Christmas lights went out, about half or a little less.  I suspect a fuse but have you ever tried to change out those two tiny fuses in the plug on a strand of Christmas lights... on a ladder... in a thirty mile an hour wind... in twenty-five degree weather?  Yeah, half of my lights are going to stay unlit.

You know what though?  Half of them are lit.  Actually, the half I like.  The half I see from the living room window.  The half that sparkles and shines on the Swarovski crystal Christmas ornaments Marci lovingly hangs in the picture window every season.  The half that goes up the peak of the garage and looks pretty cool, I think.  The best half really.

The best half.

Yes, that's what I need to focus on this season.  I think Christmas is a very difficult time of year.  I'll look back at some past Christmas posts here in a second because I think I've said that before.  It's the damn expectations, I think.

Perhaps there could be more presents under the tree.  But, there are some.  Some kids don't have any.  Some kids will get twice as many.  Somewhere in the middle is good for us.

I'd love to make a standing rib roast for Christmas dinner, with an excellent Pinot Noir and Potatoes Dauphinoise and white asparagus and creme brulee for dessert.  But, a nice roasted turkey with mashed potatoes, gravy and Stovetop and some corn will do just fine.  With chocolate ice cream for dessert.

Maybe going to every Christmas show in town would be a lot of fun.  The Nutcracker at the ballet and A Christmas Carol at The Playhouse in the Park, maybe carols with The Cincinnati Pops and the annual holiday show from the Children's Theater of Cincinnati.  But, perhaps singing carols in front of the fire on a cold winter's night after cruising around in an old Ford pickup looking at lights in the neighborhoods around us is just as good.

I'd guess flying to The Magic Kingdom and seeing Disney in all its holiday glory would be a lot of fun, or a weekend ski trip, or a Hawaiian vacation would be nice.  But, seeing all the grandparents on the same day, with added aunts and uncles and cousins seems pretty nice to.

Overflowing stockings stuffed with candies and gift cards and and extravagant gifts from Santa would be nice, but so is singing Happy Birthday to Jesus with a couple of boys of a Christmas morning and opening a few presents and going to church might be just as good.

I think so.

There is, in my opinion, a painful and inexplicable duality in the Christmas message.  Santa in all his consumer glory and Christ, newborn and the essence of Glory incarnate.  I won't go on about which half of that we choose for our family, folks might think I am judging, but, well "Christmas," look at the first half of the word.

The first year we were in the house we live in, the first Christmas we were together in our house, I bought Marci a crystal ornament as a gift.  I did it the next year and we decided that that was all we would get each other as gifts each year:

There are thirteen now.  They sparkle and shine in the sun and are especially pretty on a snowy day; they sway every so gently when the heater vent comes on and reflect the light from the outside lights, sparkling, shining.

Like stars.

Like hope.

Like memories.

Like love.

Like the reflection of yourself in the eyes of an infant.

Here's how half of my lights looked this morning:

It's a crappy picture, well, the bottom half is, but look at that turquoise sky, the trees in silhouette, the dawn breaking.

Sometimes you just need to look up to see the best half of things.

The best half.

It's a complex and difficult world to explain, especially to our children, especially in this instant and digital age.  A dear old friend of mine wrote this as a part of a FB post this morning, "A lot of time, this world seems meaningless, fleeting and trivial. Seems like you have to work really, really hard to keep things simple....instead of them just being simple."

...instead of them just being simple.  

Christmas is simple.  Let's strive to keep it that way, for the children, for the toddlers... for the infants.

From Marci's "... things you don't expect to hear from the backseat ... "

"I can see!"

(We just got glasses)

 Anyone who wears glasses remembers this moment.  It was a few weeks back now, but...

I appreciate your attention today, I really do.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Next Right Thing

Nick is home from school today with a fever and sore throat.  Nothing revelatory there to be sure.  He came into our bedroom a little before five and said he was all sweaty and had a frog in his throat.  I removed the frog and felt his forehead - clammy and hot - stumbled out of the bed and took his temp.  100.4°.  I gave him some Motrin and sent him back to bed, hoping beyond hope he might be groggy enough to get back to sleep.


He came back a few minutes later.  "I won't be able to go to school, will I, Dad?" he asked in the darkness.

"Nope," I said, "Sorry, son."

"Rats, it's COSI day and I was really looking forward to it."

"Yes, I know.  But we can't let you go to school, we don't want you getting the other kids sick," I explained.

"Yeah, that's probably how I got sick..."  he trailed off.

"Well, snuggle up with me here and try to go back to sleep."

Three minutes later we got up.

I got dressed, he went to get a favorite book he reads over and over again.  The house was dark so he followed me into the kitchen and watched me make a cup of coffee, which he's done before.  I was second guessing myself, I mean he did have a good point, other parents send their kids in sick, I know this, I help out in the library media center a couple of times a week.

"I guess if your fever goes down you could go in, I'd hate for you to miss the COSI stuff," I told him.

He looked at me for a couple of seconds and then he said, "No, I should stay home, it's the right thing to do."

Several years ago a friend I worked with was having some, well, difficulty deciding what to do about his relationship situation.  He had a girlfriend but wanted to see if another girl might be more, uh... fun, shall we say.  Basically, he wanted his cake and his cake, too.  He was using all sorts of elaborate excuses to make this copacetic to his desires.  Did I mention both girls worked at the restaurant we worked at?  Did I mention that his girlfriend was a very sweet, sensitive girl?  Should I mention that the other girl was, what's the word, cray-cray?

Here's the thing, and yes I did call him out on it:  He knew the right thing to do.  He knew the nice girl was right for him, he knew the other girl was just a lustful fantasy.  When I pointed this out to him he got pissed at me.  I didn't care, I knew who he was upset with was himself.

I wonder sometimes what the boys will someday think about all this, these piles of words I insist on throwing out into the cyberwind.  I wonder if they'll wonder why I didn't spend much time on the important topics and events of the times, these times... now.  I've laid out my opinions on a few things, but, basically, I have remained as neutral as I could be.  There are a couple of reasons for that.  Mostly, without the hindsight that time and reflection can offer, I don't know what is important.  I can't point to this moment or that and say it was seminal.  Secondly, I detest trolls.

You know, hatred and violence and disregard and ignorance and hopelessness are not new nor can my response to them be.  But, I know this, I can act on all of them in the same way.

I saw a man speak at a conference long ago.  The circumstances aren't important, but his message hit me long and hard.  He'd been a chronic drug-user and and an insufferable alcoholic for all of his life.  He detailed his trainwreck of a life in painful, heartbreaking strokes.  His hair was long and gray, his face was wrinkled and worn, his hands were as elegant and his words were more so.  At age fifty he hit a bottom that he assumed he'd never get out of.  At age fifty-eight, when I heard him talk, he was a OR nurse, you know, the person that hands the surgeon the scalpel, the person everyone depends on, the person that deserves a kind of respect reserved for those who have reached into themselves with deep courage.  I think meeting him was the first time I understood the word "elder."  I'll never forget how he said he got to the top of the mountain on which he now stood.

"I decided," he said through real tears of impossible gratitude, "to always do the next right thing."

The next right thing...

A few Sundays ago the boys were trying our collective patience at Mass.  The were talking and poking and just, well... their behavior was not becoming.  I struggled to pay attention.  In frustration I decided on a punishment of sorts.  I'd have them rewrite the Gospel reading because they hadn't paid a bit of attention to it.  I hadn't really paid much attention to it either, I must say.

I have known the Bible as long as I can remember.  I learned passages in Sunday school, I spent a few summers in high school looking for the flaws in it.  I studied it as literature in college.  I know the Bible.  This was the reading that day as it appeared in their Magnifikids, a Mass companion aide for children:

And Jesus said to his disciples:  “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’

“Then the righteous will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
 “And the King will say to them in reply, ‘Amen I say to you, whatever you did for the least brothers of mine, you did for me.’

This is how they copied it:

It is a paraphrasing of Matthew 25:31-39.

I learned that last verse, in the glorious prose of the King James Bible, as:  "And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."

Or as Nick said it, "... it's the right thing to do."

Or as a recovering drunk operating room nurse said it:  "Just do the next right thing."

Sadly, even quoting the bible these days can draw the ire of folks on the innerwebs.  That is truly not my desire.  Christians do not own the concept of doing the next right thing and, to be sure, the next right thing may be different for each person in each circumstance.  It might mean marching for equal rights, it might mean staying home with a sick son, it might mean trashing a temple, it might mean weeping in the night for the victims of violence and hatred.  It might mean giving food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, shelter to the homeless or hope to the hopeless.  It might mean accepting the differences between us and embracing the good we see before us.

It might mean... well, you can finish that thought.

From Marci's "... things you don't expect to hear in the second pew..."  (I made that up.)

At Mass, Nick asked me to clarify how to remember when to do what during Mass.

I told him that most of the time you could watch the presider for cues and start/stop standing/sitting/kneeling when he does.

His response?

"Oh, I get it! It is kinda like Simon Says!"

My response?

Strangely accurate.  Sacramental Simon Says.

Simon Peter says, it's what I've been doing for years...

Thanks, as always, for reading what I am throwing out here.  If it isn't your cup of tea, come back, it'll be different next time... always is.  Peace.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

An Ashtray and A Bowl of Nuts

I complicated the title of my last piece on purpose.  As I faced the empty title line for this one nothing clever came to mind.

Titles are hard...

In that post I wrote:

"My dad would crack nuts and put the shells in his ashtray
 and when it was full he'd dump it into the fire and the cigarette butts would 
burn quickly but we'd stare and watch the shells initially smoke and then 
 flare up, the nut oil burning them bright and fast."

 My Mom found these and gave them to me:

There's a bonus table lighter that matches the ashtray there behind, but that all wouldn't fit in the title line.

These are the exact items I was speaking of, lifted from my memory.

From Marci's "...things you don't expect to hear from the backseat ..."

"Sorry, they were just preparing you for life ... it's what parents do'"

I'm pretty sure Nick said this to Zack.  If he knows this, maybe we're done...

Thanks for taking a look at this, I thought it was pretty cool that she found these, thanks Mom.

Are you still here?

Yeah, so am I...

Sometimes I have a little bit to say about more than one thing.  I have been known to throw them all together in a forced mashup like this or this.  Sometimes I just hang things on the end... uh, sorta like I am now.

The boys are working on keyboarding here at home and at school.  You know, typing.  It's sort of cute to see them lining their fingers up on a particular way - like they did on their forgotten recorders.  However, unlike the sadly discarded wind instruments, they really need to learn this skill.  Frankly, I never did.  I don't so much hunt-and-peck, but I sure as hell don't do it like I'm supposed to.  I wish I was better.  I should have paid more attention in my high school "Personal Typing" class but Jill was remarkably distracting.  Yes, thanks for asking, they were electric.  I used a manual through college though, it's funny, we all did.  It seems so impossible now.

Here is a picture of Nick working on a project for school:

That's pretty much how I look right now, precisely.

 Peace to you.  See ya 'round.

Friday, December 5, 2014

On The Complicatedness of Simplicitiness

I shake my head at the complexities of life sometimes.  I am not sure if I shake my head in defeat - in acquiescence - or whether I do so in disbelief, because a part of me still hopes that it's not really, complicated, that is...

That went well.

When I was a kid there were nutcrackers.  Everyone had them.  Not just the "toy soldier" variety, no, they came in "old man time" and "Father Christmas" varieties as well.  But they weren't for show, they were to crack nuts.  My mom had a nut bowl.  It was wood, like, log-shaped with bark on the outside.  In the center was a post and at the top of that was an acorn shaped thing that held the crackers themselves and the "nut picks," sharp, dental-like tools that you pulled out the meat from the nut with.

Yes, we cracked our own nuts and picked at them like archaeologists to get at them.  My mom put nuts in my stocking.  It filled the sock well and the sight of almonds and hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, pecans and jumbo walnuts splashing out among the Hershey's kisses will live long in my memory.

My dad would crack nuts and put the shells in his ashtray and when it was full he'd dump it into the fire and the cigarette butts would burn quickly but we'd stare and watch the shells initially smoke and then flare up, the nut oil burning them bright and fast.  I would sometimes poke myself with a pick and even once, out of curiosity, pinched my middle fingernail so tightly it left a deep purple mark under the nail for most of a year.

I remember, when I was older, finding out that the nuts came in big mesh bags, burlap in those days.  The bowl would get refilled and remain around well after the Christmas stuff came down.  It's weird what memory serves us sometimes.

When Nick drew this the other night and I saw it, I said, "Is that a nutcracker, Nick?"

"What's a nutcracker, Dad?"

That same night, while I was talking to Nick - about cracking and eating nuts out of the shell - as he got ready for bed, Zack got a piece of paper and drew this.  It is colored pencil which, as a little advice here, does not scan well.  I walked in as he was topping the mountains in purple majesty (yes, I mentioned that now two posts in a row) and I asked him what he used to make the curves, like a lid or coin or what.

"I did them myself, Dad," he said, "You know, by free."

It took me a second but I realized he meant freehand.  Those are some good curves right there.  I can't draw a straight line, let alone a damned-near perfect curve.  But, honestly, all I was thinking was that a friend of mine from college had an elephant nutcracker that looked surprisingly like this.  The nut went in on top of his back and, through some wonder of mechanics, exited out the, uh, rear, cracked.  The elephant's trunk controlled the whole unseemly process.  She was a pretty odd girl.

So, what is so complicated?  Is it memory?  Then childhood wouldn't be complicated... but, it is.  Is it feelings and emotions?  No, love and all that isn't complicated really.

I don't guess I know why it all seems so hard sometimes.  I was thinking this though - it isn't, until we make it so.  I want to have life be easy and unfettered, not just for me, but for the boys as well, but to grow and learn and make memories and tell our stories, we must - to make all the connections, to see all the angles, to feel all the stings - we must complicate things, it is what we as humans are divined to do.

It's simple, really...

From Marci's ... things you don't expect to hear from the backseat ...

Mom: "Hey, guys, can I tell you something real quick?"

N & Z: "No."

Mom: "Well, that was honest."

I'm stayin' out of this one...

It would seem that I wasted your time.  I mean I really didn't end up anywhere, did I?  Life is, at its core, simple, but, as Mr. Rogers said, it is simple and  deep.  Thanks for coming around again.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Man in The Green Reds Cap

I met myself on a country road a few weeks ago. It is a complicated story... well, that may be untrue.  I want to complicate the story, obfuscate it, paint it over with layers of narrative perhaps to cover up the truth of it.

He drives up and back once, turns around and goes on down to a place on the side of the road.  It is a pull-off that has always been there, a place where hunters and drinkers and couples park.  He turns the engine off and opens his door.  He knows he will not see another car, it is a lonely road - he knows that as well.

He is down where the railroad tracks come through, a bottom you'd call it.  Always full of swampy muck down here, he thinks.  The sycamore trees are happy and the live oaks grow large on the train embankment, out of the standing water.  The smell has been the same for decades he is sure, centuries more likely, the scent of decay, of sadness; not fetid, not morose, just familiar and close.

His boots hit the pavement, tar and gravel, an edge of only tar softens in the sun, he presses his foot into it to leave an impression until the next truck comes along and changes that.  It is all uphill from here.  The railroad crossing, the sycamore grove, and perhaps a third of the road is behind him. A long hill begins as he looks ahead.  He grabs his hat, pats the F-150 fondly, shuts the door and moves ahead and, somehow back.  He smiles at the sheer autumnal beauty of it.

The boy is struggling to get his shoes on, his Chucks are stiff with mud, but dry.  He hears a truck go by and wonders who it might have been, the road is usually quiet on a Saturday.  The laces let fly a little dust storm as he pulls the string to undo the knot.  He is glad they are dry, he wants to walk to the tracks and explore the woods near them.  He had noticed that the swamp was dried up and he'd not been back there for a while.  He wants to see if there is a good way through the brambles and into woods

He is sitting on the floor of a two-car garage.  The shoes had been leaned up against the old oil burning furnace which suddenly kicks on with a whoosh that startles him.  He stands up and brushes the dirt from his Levis and decides to stamp the dried mud off in the driveway.  He's wearing only a stained and tired white t-shirt and the fall wind hits him as it whips through the garage, a whirlwind of dust and leaves and time.  He runs back into the garage, through the basement, all the way to his room and grabs a soft and worn khaki overshirt and red ball cap.  He trails the dirt from his shoes through the house, he notices on the way back, but, he wants to get going.  Something beckons him.

He could take his bike but, if you take a bike you always have to come back to it, and sometimes that is not the route one returns on.  He runs out the door and into the fall morning and out to street and up the hill that runs in front of the long brick house.  The hill is the tallest on the street.  He crests it and looks on, into the day, into the future.

The man had forgotten the plain beauty of it.  Not the majesty of purple mountains or the wonder of roaring rivers or the splendor of the pounding surf, no, just the simple, quiet beauty of a rural Ohio fall day.  The road rolls a bit, it is not one steady climb, but a rise and then a small fall, a bigger rise and fall and then one final hill that always makes you mad when you're on your bike.  Each house he passes whispers a name to him, he knows each field and meadow.  A crumbling backstop here.  A fallen, overgrown fence there.  Purple blackberry brambles instead of a fence here.

His boots, his legs, his eyes, his soul - all know the way.  He passes a old apple grove, and sees it young and laden with small, sweet apples.  The tall weeds and saplings between the trees fade away and the orchard is neat and tended.  He looks back at the backstop again and it is new, creosote posts, chicken wire hanging fresh, still shiny.  The fence is new again.  He comes to the top of the final rise where the road is high and the land goes on forever, into the fall, into the past.  He realizes he is seeing it all as it was.

The boy pauses as he comes to the top of the hill and turns to see if perhaps his friend Joe was coming up behind him, he had sensed someone and hoped it was company.  He turns again and sees, a football field or so away, a man heading towards him.  He is too far away to recognize - it must be someone he knows - the way he walks seems familiar to him, though.  He looks over at the house to his right to remember where he is, thinking that might explain the figure.  The houses seem different to him, worn out more, strange.

The man knows at once who the boy is.  It doesn't seem strange to him, in fact it explains a lot.  He wonders what to say.  He wonders if he should just turn and head back down the hill.  He doesn't, he knows the boy would just catch up with him.  Towards the boy seems the best way to go.  The air seems fresher around him, newer.  The house on his left, the nicest on the street he knows, is new and clean, the lawn well-tended, the fences white and true.

As the gap closes between the boy and the man, who the boy can see is wearing Levis, a worn white shirt, and a tan work shirt to ward away the chill of the wind.  The man wears a green baseball cap with a "C" on it in the familiar script.  He is heavy, not fat, shaped like his dad, he thinks.  His beard is shaggy and gray, his eyes crinkly and worn out, grey behind heavy glasses.  The boy knows he knows who this is, maybe someones dad?

He is, of course, not afraid in any way.  In fact, he seems calm and curious.  In fact, he feels like he's been expecting the man.  The boy likes the man in the green Reds hat, he likes the way he looks.  He likes his walk.  He likes the half smile he gives the boy.  He likes that the man seems worn and soft.  He likes that he seems happy.

"Hey," he says to the man.

"Hello," the man says back.  They wind comes up and the two figures hunch down just a little, together, watching the other pull their hat down tighter.

"That's a green Reds cap, isn't it?"

"Yes, it is."

"That's funny," the boy smiles for the first time and man smiles back through the mirror of time.

"It is funny.  And, it'll always be funny," the man says.

They walk on past each other.

"See ya," the boy says quietly.

"Later," the man in the green Reds hat says to the wind, to the past.


Well, that's the truth of it.  The boy did "see" me and I met him "later." 

I take Mondays off, well, that's a lie.  I usually end up doing housework and the like, but, in my head and sometimes in my actions, I take the day for myself.  Several Mondays ago I went for a walk down the old road I grew up on.  I had originally intended to use images in this, but, I thought they'd get in the way.  I did take a few pictures on my walk and I'd thought I'd just throw them in down here.  I'll caption them with quotes from the story, for, uh... context, yes that's it.

..."a good way through the brambles..."

..."the sheer autumnal beauty of it..."

"...not the route one returns on..."

"Each house he passes whispers a name..."

"His boots hit the pavement, tar and gravel..."

"...a pull-off that has always been there..."

"... where hunters and drinkers and couples park."

"...explore the woods near them."

"The railroad crossing..."

" is a lonely road, he knows that as well."

"...a bottom you'd call it."

"Purple blackberry brambles instead of a fence here."

Well, that's all of them, well, most of them.  Thanks for taking a walk down my country mile with us.  Walk your own childhood road someday, you never know who you might meet.  My best to you.

(It is odd that the color green keeps coming up here.  First I wrote a piece called The Green Ball of Gratitude, I followed that with The Frayed Green Rope, which I recorded as an audio file as well.  I also wrote a bit of a requiem for my old green hat in a post called On Hats and the Dreams Therein.)