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Bumble Be Big

“Bumble”. He’s 14 months young, … and huge.

Walking by his rather small car cradle the other day outside Sam’s Club, I was drawn to Bumble’s puppy face. You would’ve been, too, had the owner’s permission been granted in your favor as well. The kind gentleman loading boxes of goodies into the back of a non-descript SUV suggested kind words and gentle strokes are saintly acceptances for Bumble. From his response to my momentary attention, I believe this was the case.

Meaning “brave as a bear”, Bernard as a moniker attached to this sizeable, furry tot may be a bit premature. “Saint”, as well, could be up to those who decide such things. Now, to squitch the two together and imagine Bumble for work as a rescuer on the Great St Bernard Pass on the Italian-Swiss border? This I could see because he has such a sweet personality. The little experience we have as dog whisperers considered, sometimes we can just sense these things, right? … Or, think we can, anyway.

Dogs force us into a parallel universe of humanity. They make us talk funny, act weird, and spend a lot of money on upkeep, toys, and treats. I see it happen a lot and don’t even own a dog anymore. None of this is unfortunate for human or canine – it just, well, is.

I have friends who call their pets by nicknames that rhyme with the dogs actual names. Maisy the Daisy – although changed to protect the innocent – is one example. Names can also fluxuate depending upon the circumstance. During difficult, disciplinary times, names become “-natored” as in “Aargh! … Fido-nator! You pooped on the carpet, again!!” Sweet, affectionate moments are dessert-ed and verbs get awkward s’s attached to them. “Awe, my lovable little Fido-cakes! … I loves you so much!”…

I get it. Some have a dream to be smothered in puppies for hours. Admittedly, a few minutes under a bundle of Bumbles would be nice up to the point when oxygen intake becomes a problem. Thems are big pups to state the obvious here. Can’t imagine the food bill … or the, er, back end clean up ahead for the owners.

All I know for sure is it was a breath of fresh air seeing something different and magnificent the other day. A Saint Bernard puppy named Bumble didn’t know he brought a little joy into the worlds of folks going about their lives. A rather bland parking lot full of cars and people, well organized into a daily routine of go-here and go-there, was the place to pet a large, gentle creature and forget why the troubles of the day weighed so heavily on our shoulders.

He is, after all, bred to rescue. This is pumping through those large veins of his. Sure, it’s not a snowy mountain range where we struggle to survive. A sunny day outside Sam’s Club in Altoona, Pa is hardly roughing it by any standard. My new Sketchers wouldn’t handle any snow depth over 1/4″ and, most certainly, any hint of a degree less than 60 at this point would be wholely unacceptable.

He rescued us from our normal. Happy times, if only for a moment. Normal is good, too. Don’t mean to throw routine and everyday under the bus here. When special and unique crosses our path – like a 14 month old puppy like Bumble – we should stop to appreciate how wonderful a ” step aside” can be.

That day, when I happened to stumble upon Bumble, I walked away with a lighter bounce in my step. Can’t say he’s totally responsible, but I spent way more money than planned while inside Sam’s after the encounter. Darn Bumble-nator had me feeling good about myself … causing me to over stuff my cart!

I guess I’ll give him a pass this time. After all, he’ll be a big boy someday and I may need an actual rescue on the Italian-Swiss border. If that happens, I’ll forever be grateful to the Bumble-muffin who saved my life.

The Key to Mother’s Day

If this was the way: I’d play one note. One magical press of a key – either black or white of the 88 – that would bring mom back to us.
Not just my musical, happy, funny mom … but your mom as well if you are holding dear memories today.
This I would do. For me. For you.
We need those assurances only moms can give. Tight, affirming hugs are missing now. Duets are silent behind magnificent pianos.
Memories aren’t quite enough on a Mother’s Day when everything is, well, a lot different than a mom would have expected.
There wasn’t one magical key to change cancer and mom’s destination with it. There isn’t one key to bring her back.
Fortunately, there are many at my disposal to honor her the best way I know how.
For my prelude at Zion Lutheran this weekend, I’ve chosen, “How Beautiful” by Twila Paris. It is a piano arrangement I had to tweak a little for the organ “keys”…
She will know. Somehow, she will know.
This I do. For me. For you … because moms are beautiful and they deserve our very best.

Angelic Happiness

Photo courtesy of P. Sachse

Mankind has searched for happiness. Satisfaction in life has been the elusive carrot at the end of millennial sticks held by so many. What, truly, IS the secret to contentment? I am close to two-thirds through this life experience of mine … and, I am not holding my stick any closer to that magical orange vegetable.

Life is difficult, right? Holding on to the stick – not letting go – I feel is success. I can extract some peace from this. The splinters heal in time and a loose grip can be tightened up with determination. All the while, happiness is at the end … still there, dangling, waiting. A bit blurry at the moment.

Why? Because I don’t look at happiness being something at the end. Happiness is here. It is holding on. It is trying, pushing forward, struggling, making tough decisions, and pulling daily emotional splinters out of my mind at the end of the day.

Cheerfulness is a state of mind. A hard path at times. Local driving challenges my vocal ability to keep a proper language and attitude in check, for example. I upset myself by acting out of character – when I know better – as another driver performs a circus act in my lane. He goes merrily on his way, as the remaining fifteen minutes of my journey is fraught with remnants of ire and rebuke.

This is why we need puppies. Puppies named, “Angel”, to be specific. Happy puppies who jump through pictures to hug our hearts. Crooked looking, twisted smile, flopping eared puppies help us hold on. They are our happiness now.

There are no carrots at the end of their sticks they chase and grab in the moment. That joy is returned to us over and over. It is their now given to us without any expectations. Angel is almost jumping joyously out of the frame. Her enthusiasm is outstretching the high grassy lush tickling a furry underbelly not to be denied.

She is delight in flight. A lesson, and confirmation, of choosing happiness today – not the carrot, the “better job”, other person, different choice that seems greater than now.

Hold on. Life may require change. Be sure happiness is at the center of what you are holding on to – not what is at the end of the stick … Then consider changing.

This, possibly, is a lesson from a special Angel. Not me, of course. Trust me on this: I’m not nearly as cute, or young, as one who jumps so effortlessly through a field of healthy, green grass.

Wilson, the Furry Volleyball

Gotta ask. When you saw that title, did the movie, “Cast Away”, come to mind? If I’m the only one who – after being introduced to this little fluff ball – immediately thought of the red-handed, partially deflated volleyball, then I will humanely bask gladly, alone, on a solitary island … as long as she is by my side, of course.

I don’t believe the owner will allow it, however. As he shouldn’t. As an aside here, I can’t see myself surviving on a deserted island more than a few hours because pianist skills don’t translate well when building shelters and hunting for food.

Wilson pranced and danced proudly inside the store where we met … so much so that requests for a picture, from a 50-ish guy on his knees, went unrecognized for a good half-hour. She twisted away minutes over minutes. Her limberish self was almost too much for me, but I endured. For the sake of all puppy picture prosperities, I endured.

Boy, do puppies lift one’s spirits? Yep. She is a feisty little thing who joyfully came inside nestled in the arms of her owner. My good friend, who runs the little hobby shop, was happy to see Wilson … and she was just as delighted to allow him to stroke her soft, golden fur coat a few times. All of us in the store left out a sigh of cuteness. Everyone’s day, … all of our problems to that moment … appeared to disappear into a few pounds of fur running tirelessly around in circles.

I did manage to sneak in a few hugs, however. She was, err, somewhat reluctant because I scooped her up mid-35th lap around the small hobby store arena. If you look in really close, our smiles match … but you need to focus!😊

Nobody expected to meet Wilson during a routine visit with a friend. I didn’t. Driving a few miles east to see what’s new and happening in the life of someone I haven’t seen for a few weeks was to be catch-up conversation at best. We talk over “the hobby”, life, and general common interest things. Between us, the bridge between two “how have you been” lives is short and takes all of about 5 minutes to cross. So, when Wilson entered after a couple customers already came in after me, …

… We were done with the average lives of two dudes discussing shop and so elated to pet, hug, and dote over a velvety, licky, fun-size little furry volleyball.

Ah, Wilson. The enjoyable puppy who handed a couple dudes and customers a few moments of joy.

Sometimes feeling stranded in a world surrounded by thousands of people, we are. Maybe we allow ourselves to step aside from what has to be done to avoid making tough decisions? Avoidance behavior, – i.e. wanting to be alone on an island – can be rehab … but it has to be a healthy escape.

Guilty as charged here. This hobby shop is my escape. I love going there. It is, in a sense, my island. The other? A piano. The former … sometimes healthy. The latter, always healthy.

To scoop up Wilson on that day, I realized it was a momentary solace just at Wilson, the volleyball, was for Tom Hanks in “Cast Away”. And, just as in the movie, I had to say good-bye. However, ours wasn’t a sad float-away with tears. It was a kiss on my cheek – with a little, assuring yip from a tiny puppy – giving me glorious hope we will meet again.

They say, “No man is an island”. I agree. As long as a squishy, soft volleyball with four legs is served up in my life.

Flavored Status

Probably well over one-thousand. Has to be that many tables I’ve sat behind while eating everything from seafood to steak, tacos to turkey, and donuts to dumplings. I’m counting only those where pleasant smiles have greeted me at a restaraunt, café, or fast food burger joint. Sure, some don’t quite get a glimmering, “memory”, review as I sit here tonight at yet another.

If your experiences have been similar to mine, eating out isn’t always the pleasant experience we hope for when a gurgling stomach makes its demands. “Having a bad day” servers and over-priced, low quality food can cool a bowl of happy soup in a hurry. So when we find a favorite or two, it’s like the culinary cosmos opens up a big can of whoo-hoo in our lives.

I have my “flavored-status” places to find delicious ways to the bottom of a bowl, the end of a stacked sandwich, or an empty glass of refreshing iced tea. They are the few I’ve chosen out of many in which to share moments.

As I sit here tonight behind a, now, empty plate that once held a very proud piece of strawberry pie, I wonder what makes those eatery “spots” we visit so special.

Food probably comes in second; although, where I visit frequently, … the soup, salads, dinners, sandwiches, and crepes are fantastic. You probably have your local places to visit and chat up the day’s events just like I do? The conversation between likable friends across steaming coffee in the morning is sun-risably essential for the soul. Still, not the top condiment in my sandwich, though.

Has to be those smiling faces. As I came into this place tonight for a piece of pie …

… I – not so swiftly – passed this sign. The message was grinning me right in the face.

I don’t visit Eat & Park often. Maybe twice a month … maybe. It isn’t a favorite as favorites go in my life. After two forkfulls of syrupy strawberry pie here however, it became a treasured one-man island for my thoughts. Notions about a Place For Smiles and all the restaraunts I’ve been in, my favorites, … and what makes them so: the smiles and joy I receive from the staff.

There really isn’t anything better than being appreciated as a customer. The waitresses and waiters get to know us, become like friends, and are so special. A simple, cheery “Hello!”, really tugs at a deep, welcoming receptor inside us that needs a smile to open up our world of possible sadness or hurt. We go inside our favorite places to get outside ourselves. If it wasn’t for the genuinely lovely folks who brighten our days with order tablets or simple sheets of paper, I’m not sure life would be the same.

It wouldn’t be for me, anyway … because I have a “nickname” at my local, special eatery. No need for anyone here to know the specifics. It’s kinda cool, but out of context, I wouldn’t recommend looking up the associated picture of said “nickname”. It’s an ugly little bugger … 🙄😉😊.

So, with the pie all gone, it’s one-thousand and one restaraunts …. at least for now. Who really counts, anyway? Tonight HAS been a place for smiles. Truly.

I can smile since life is not bad for most of us, right? Sure, there’s are some problems always on the horizon and issues to be dealt with now. Life as it is for most of us getting through a post-pandemic, crazy world.

My waitress was deserving of the tip she received. After all, I sat here for a while – nursing a glass of water and piece of pie for a long time. All the while, she never stopped smiling while asking me if I needed anything else …

To her, and those who brighten our days by smiling and extending genuine love and care to us – your customers and friends:

… “We’re fine. I’m fine. Truly. I appreciate you. We appreciate you. Thanks.”

Crepes!, It’s Great

A promise finally fulfilled. After three weeks and many considerations, Allegheny Creamery & Crepes finds its way onto my keyboard. Weeks ago, I asked Heather, the energetic and forward-thinking co-owner, for permission to use the above beautiful photograph. She graciously accepted assuming, of course, I would fold it into an immediate glowing, spiffingly delicious, sophisticated word palate equal to her offerings inside. I did not at the time.

Yesterday, while forking through a very tender buffalo chicken crepe while relaxing at a table on the outside back patio, Heather and I exchanged glances. Mine was an apologetic – yet somewhat sarcastic – glimpse suggesting humility hand-in-hand with pride that I actually remembered a promise from weeks ago. “I haven’t forgotten to write that blog yet … thanks for allowing me use of the picture!”, I threw out to initiate an apology of sorts. Heather, in her kindness, acknowledged my attempted cover-up and replied, “that’s ok…”, and went about attending to her business … with a smile. There were other words exchanged, of course. (I have a habit of over-using bits of lexicon).

Ok. So it took a few weeks to get to this point. At least we’re here … and what a marvelous place it is!

Step off of Route 36 North, or South, in Hollidaysburg and you’re within two blocks. Allegheny street is this hometown’s narrows for all that’s lovely in a ‘burg over 226 years old. We have cracks in well-worn sidewalks, a slightly-yellowed post office that you would pass on the way, and old, restored buildings painted with historic hues breathing legacies down upon young, energetic youth. Go too far past the Creamery, and you’ll be in front of the Blair County Courthouse, built in 1875-1876, .. our county government center of law and justice. Just down from the courthouse, an old green church is being developed (proposed) into offices, an indoor vendor market, and new performance center/restaurant.

All this to say, Allegheny Creamery & Crepes sits in the middle of history, tradition, and a new generation of ideas and growth. Heather & Kirk, her husband, weathered Covid and a few (failed) ideas to emerge as a landing place for hungry souls. A soft landing for those having a hard day, perhaps. A fulfilling, warm meal for those who need something to satisfy an otherwise empty day. I wrote of a valuable hot chocolate serving few months ago … here, when only words and the Creamery felt right.

There’s technology inside, and lots of great food. Sounds so cliche – and I don’t mean it to be so. You enter into the doors of an old shoe repair store where my grandfather took his boots to be resoled – knowing, ahead, your soul will potentially be restored by any of the following (different/new items may have been added since):

The wooden floor creaks when you walk by carrying a slender metal pole, number attached at the top for quick table service. Drinks in the neighboring room to be picked up on your way by to the upper room, or outside dining patio if the weather is accommodating. All so efficient. So pleasant. Take the time to peer through the glass wall separating the dining area and prep kitchen. That wall, at times, reflects the silver metal ceiling tiles keeping watch over all patrons … making sure everyone is enjoying the time away from stressors and frustrations.

That is the magic of this place. Whether it be the few front outside metal tables, beverage room sit-abouts, sitting area in (what I call) the order room, red dining room upstairs, or back patio, – the experience of tucking away their fare, combined with the kindness of a well-trained staff and hometown pride in presentation makes them worth writing about – even if it’s a few weeks late.

Come by our hometown. The Black Dog Cafe is but a few steps down. This block is a-rockin’ with great food. The Allegheny Creamery & Crepes is so unique and worth stepping over a few cracks in the sidewalk and swinging around a small number of tree branches the borough may not have trimmed yet. Five-0-Five Allegheny Street is so easy to find. Parking, well, it’s kinda ok, as well. You need to be a bit of a detective during the busier times to find a place, but I guarantee once you sit inside Allegheny Creamery, all that will be behind you.

Look for Heather. I’d like to say she’ll be the one smiling, but they all do, soooo. Ask for her, maybe? If I am there, I’ll point you to her. I am absolutely sure she won’t mind my pointing her out to you. At least if YOU are talking to her, the conversation won’t go on as long.

Likable Loneliness

Saturday’s message from the pulpit – this 2nd weekend of the Easter season – focused on loneliness. Thomas, specifically. Yes, the odd-disciple-out from the upper room story. That guy.

At no point in the gospel story, as our Pastor was gracious to note, was loneliness scribed into accepted biblical words. Three days after the death of Jesus, where was Thomas? Were the other disciples missing Jesus? All of a sudden, the eleven were alone … grieving. Possibly, Thomas was sad, too. Alone.

Have we been alone as well these past two years as well?

Loneliness creates chemical changes in our bodies. I wasn’t aware loneliness has the ability to slam a wrecking ball into our bodies. It is like hunger, according to some studies. Those same studies suggest we are experiencing an epedemic of loneliness in America. Geesh.

As I walked along our local street last evening, this image caught my attention:

It is what I’ve named a likable loneliness. These shadowy arms embraced my every, single step. It was as if a solitary, bare tree recognized my moments of reflection inside this early-Easter seasoned brain.

Thomas was there.

Through Pastor Dave’s words, I heard Thomas’ possible loneliness. My silently barked friend held arms around me for a few moments as I headed back to sit casually behind an organ. In the shadow of loss, a pandemic, medical challenges, mental stress, business worries, and familial pulls, … I felt a calm – a friend. A likable loneliness.

During the third service – while listening to the sermon again – I reasoned we may have two probable, colorful spaces … with many shades in between, of course.

First, we should take a deep breath, look inward, and find something unique to like about ourselves when alone. Second, when in a crowd and feeling alone, remembering we still are that unique and special individual we saw when alone could help de-stress the feeling of loneliness.

Too many folks are way more qualified than I. A licensed talk-to I am not. I do, however, talk to my piano. It takes on human therapist qualities and I would swear to anyone those keys speak back to me. I am never alone when gracing the black-and-white sweet tenders.

Answers to loneliness aren’t easy. The Pastor’s messages aren’t intended to set answers in concrete. By my estimation, they never are. This is what good sermons are supposed to do: challenge the listener to dig deeper … dive into a pool of information and thought. In other words, don’t just take his, or her, word for it.

I bring a different perspective to the table. A bit of a sceptic, I am. “Where was Thomas?”: those now familiar words as Pastor Dave began the sermon that first Saturday evening. My ears perked up. A perfect beginning for my cynical cerebelum. From all three listenings, I gained additional pleasure.

Maybe not as much as being hugged by the shadows of a lonely tree, but enough to help me understand being alone – sometimes – is a magical place to be.

Be a Peanut

“Peanut”.

With only a little imagination, you could see why this little mini lop was named so. She was off to my right as I entered the elementary school where an early morning sun provided a nice shadow. The school’s macadam play area displayed a shadow pointing directly to the grassy area where Peanut and two of her friends playfully enjoyed caged joviality. Two black and white nibbling companions … and her.

I am always attracted to the “odd one out”. No surprise Peanut caught my attention. Yes, her friends were adorable. Sure, the fuzziness of balled up contrasting cuteness on display a few feet away was charming. They were slightly more jumpety than Peanut. Shall I say, “out of their shell” full selves a bit more? With that, the odd-one-out attracted my morning attention.

This differently hued hare, with a calmer character, and I spent a few minutes together. It was nice.

I expected nothing out of the normal that morning. Odd, however, because my weekly life to that point was anything but. A reliable Honda finally gave up the auto ghost two days prior which exhausted my patience for a few hours. A tow truck, mechanic, and the ultimate bad news … all led me to a car dealership to pick out the best option for, ultimately, sucking money out of my bank account once again.

Peanuts to most, I guess, but not to me – one who hasn’t had a car payment for some time.

By the time Peanut appeared before my phone, a new car had not yet been purchased – although to be in the works later that day. Holy week, with all its keyboard responsibilities was piled up on my mind on top of all other daily to-do’s. A first-event of the hot dawg mobile season had to be prepared by Saturday which flipped over almost too quickly for my own good.

Just too much it seemed.

… Until Peanut cracked my shell of stress and frustration.

Ah, to be a mini lop with the power to jump the low battery of a worn, rundown man this Easter season. What power you yield just by being what you are.

If there is a message this Easter, it is this: be your fuzzy little self. Be approachable – even in the shadows of life.

Someone may need five minutes with you. Ya never know.

A Vase and a Friend

The only words I could find? “She was blessed to have you”. The news came as a shock, but wasn’t unexpected because I knew the person who sent the text kept me, somewhat, in the loop over the last few months.

Loss is hard. When a wonderful friend dies, our many great memories don’t soften the blow. That sudden void is huge. Their calming words and silent assurances will not longer be here for us. We can no longer cook for them, hug them during a thunderstorm, or laugh together at a silly joke. They are not here anymore.

She is not here anymore.

This particular lady was special. I didn’t know her nearly as well as her dear friend. They were, however, two flowers in the same vase when I saw them. Inseparable, one would say. Years apart in age, but so close in personality, outlook, and smiley humor. They laughed inseparably and shared a common, liturgical seat most Saturdays.

These past few years saw loss in all our lives. We laughed with so many who are not with us anymore. We shared a last hug … and then they were whisked away to mysterious spaces beyond our understanding.

I don’t have any pure, perfect answer to that place past the here and now. What I do have is my reply back to my friend who is experiencing the grief: “I don’t know what else there is … except to accept what is. Loss is sad.
I am thankful every day – this is what gets me past (the recent events in my life).
We can be so grateful for best friends (and loved ones) who walked with us …
…and will continue to inspire our grasp of this world and the hopes we have of what is to come”.

She was kind to point out two words – Thankful and Grateful – with the added phrase, “two wonderful takes in life”.

She is right to pull those two from my reply. If we can, simply, be thankful and grateful for who we are and what we have THROUGH knowing the life of the friend who died, …

… this is gain, not loss.

It was joy to know her. She was special. I can imagine how wonderful and magical it must have been to be her best friend. To, now, experience the loss is certainly heartbreaking. It should be. To care deeply means to grieve profoundly as well.

I closed my phone thinking about that text. It urged me forward toward this entry. After a chicken/bacon/ranch salad at Eat N’Park an hour after the news, tossed words formed into some clarity. I think, anyway.

Over the past six months, loss has been winning over gain here; however, I’ve never given up on being grateful or thankful.

No matter the circumstance, we can find a reason to be both.

Today, the loss weighs heavy and a bare, solitary stem rests in the vase. I am sure my friend will water each memory as the hours and days pass. In time, however, the seeds of reflection will sprout and a now empty vase will once again be filled with flowers, … surrounding her with forever scents of her best friend.

There will be no more loss and, at that time, both will be blessed to have each other. Again.

The Fabric of Life

A dusting of snow. On the other side of those beautiful blue stained glass windows lies white late-March flakes. It was a cold, short trip to church this morning. Dad and I made the second of three car rides an hour ago. Last night, during Saturday service, we had an inkling today was bringing the snow-stuff. Next service at 10:45? More of the same.

Dad will, dutifully, attend. I must, as the organist on staff, sit on the keyboard benches as well. “Must” is too harsh. I so thoroughly enjoy my keyboard acts of paid generosity at Zion Lutheran. This time is a fold-into world where I can live without judgement of myself and share a talent with others. Prelude, hymns, liturgy, preludes, kyrie, and sanctus … all are part of sharing a belief so important to the faith life in the hearts of members.

We arrived early – as is custom. Nobody other than the Pastor and us grace this space prior to ten minutes ’til. The air was, predictably, still. Silence prevailed save a few rustling papers at the end of Pastor Dave’s fingers in the pulpit as he organized his thoughts. I organized the organ while whispering among the wisp of music sitting on the rack. All is prepared worship.

After all was done, dad found his way forward to the front pew. Something unique caught my morning, still awakening, eyes. Unknowingly, he and I nicely connected our attired tastes. Matching black dress pants and decorative gray blazers adorned our generationally partitioned selves.

We chuckled. It was nice to laugh with dad. A connection that held together the fabric that is a relationship between a son and father was wonderful to experience. Additionally, he agreed to a picture. Special.

We separated soon after the picture was taken.

A few dozen parishoners came in, the silence was broken with shuffling bulletin bending, and service life began. Dad didn’t light the alter candles as I began the prelude. Another held that responsibility tightly and tapered it nicely into her life. He didn’t seen to mind as the last pew accepted him into his normal, comfortable spot.

I will remember the photo for a while. These are moments a father and son don’t get too often. He agreed, which is, normally, outside his capacity of comfort. When I said, “Check it out, dad. We’re looking good together. Black and gray … both of us!”. He happily replied, “Yeah, this is interesting”.

“I want to take a picture, what do you think?”

“Ok”

In the effort to take the picture, he was careful to help me get it right. Now, taking a “selfie” one-handed to make sure the pants AND blazers appear is a pretty difficult task. Dad and I laughed our way through the process.

We finally decided, “What they see is what they get…”.

… and I wholeheartily agreed.

What I got was a wonderful few moments with my dad. We may not be alike in a lot of ways, but in the overall fabric of our lives together now, we are alike. We share humor when we can, frustrations when available, friends and family when they are around. As of this post, ninety-five Facebook friends have responded in love and friendship to the above picture.

There may not be too many snowy days ahead for us … or, we could have a decade plus. Who knows? For today, a day to celebrate what would have been a birthday of a special person in our life together, I will take a few minutes with dad.

Family truly is the fabric of life.

Pickles and Beef

A March 26th snow squall unexpectedly graced my windshield. It was a mere hour ago at a signal light where the red Toyota next to me was barely visible. Glancing between the sideways snowflakes, I made a squintiant, valiant effort to connect with the driver who, perhaps, may have been as surprised as I was at the less-than accomodating weather. No go.

Actually, my left turn arrow was a go before making any contact. That driver plowed forward, presumably, minutes after I pulled into a local grocery store to basket up some pickles and beef. Head down to avoid the high, white wind, I passed through double doors only to face faces in line at Starbucks. A long line of kiosk anticipators who, by all accounts, weren’t having their “best life now” …

I am not a coffee drinker, but there’s a rumor going around that some folks need their “fix” in the morning. This was a small convention of them. I may be a little grumpy paying around $48 per gallon, too, but can’t say I blame them. I pay the same for my green tea and when it’s not available? Look out!

There’s no need for displeasure in our lives, but all of us have to accept it. There’s no escaping the pull toward, “Really, why?”, or “I’ll just hang with this situation now until things get better …”. Life has a way of being more than we can handle at times.

…Thus coffee and green tea. The little cups of liquid that help the bitter stuff go down a bit easier.

I pondered this while deciding between 80/20 and 90/10 beef. Knowing Starbucks would probably sell more in fifteen minutes than I – during three hours at my stand in 40-degree weather – … the beefy decision came down to price vs fat content during grilling. Being an average guy, I split the difference and carried away one pack of each. With those, and a jar of bread & butter pickles, checking out was easy at one of nine self-service kiosks. Past the Starbucks, again, as those last were edging their way to first, I exited out into the wintry stew.

Walking through the lot, I noticed a middle-aged man in his car, head back against the rest, eyes closed. Almost positive he was waiting for someone as the blue Mazda was idling (presumably for heat). With nothing to offer but raw meat and pickles, or possibly nice conversation, I felt it best to be on my way. No medical emergency was apparent and this is very much and ordinary sight among us, right?

I wondered, however, was he thinking the same thoughts as us needing our green tea, and coffee fixes? Was he simply hanging out in the windy late-March flurry of laughable, languishing snow? “My companion went in for bread 45 minutes ago and hasn’t come out yet … ” like-sentences may have been parked in his third-to-last nerve space. Could someone inside be a partner whose face was contemplating a sugar-free latte and WAS, by extension, holding his hand? Without being extremely rude, potentially arrested, and late opening my trailer (definitely in that order), there really is no way to know.

I am truly happy not knowing.

… and was glad to be back at the same signal light to re-enter a busy highway.

Forward is a great direction. Whether it is toward a place we expected or not, we are still headed from somewhere to somewhere – with others beside us. This is my takeaway from the past few hours as I sit here watching traffic go by … While serving a few customers now and then.

The driver next to me in the snow, customers in line at Starbucks, and Mr. Mazda rester all have somewhere to be and a story in their March 26th day. They are doing their day now … as I am. We’re participating in life together, yet apart.

They made a small impact in my life, during a variation of March madness, without knowing it. By extension, I am sharing part of my day with you.

We all share the highs and lows. Our heads lean back on so many headrests. We lean back on friends, family, and yes … coffee & tea. Communities support us. Strangers reflect our thoughts and feelings even during unexpected snow squalls.

My left into grocery lot enlightenment was the right turn after all. I’m glad to be reminded it’s ok to stop, close my eyes, and rest.

Sure hope nobody walks by with beef and pickles, however.