Station Wagon Ideas

Panelled station wagons guzzled their way down many highways in the 70’s. Convenient? Yes. Stylish? Debatable, as were shaggy mutton-chop sideburns and highrise hairdos. Those of us who were kids didn’t know style. We slogged our way through in polyester brown pants and orange striped cotton shirts. The only joy we had, sometimes, was riding backwards – free from restraint – in those matching brown and orange metal boxes. Making faces through the glass at clearly unhappy, suspecting drivers to the rear, we knew of no internet, cable, or cell phones. A snack, or two, held our attention … and, of course, the adult at the wheel in the car behind who was the audience of our pre-teen antics.

This was our station in life. None of us knew anything different at the time. Grocery store, scouts, school, … a trip to Grandma’s house a few blocks away, whatever the reason, to ride in reverse was a treat. A middle seat plunker was doom and meant something happened – something serious in the familial universe. The overstepping of a boundary (admittedly, a line I was quite capable finding – frequently) or, simply, space were two reasons back bench bliss wasn’t available to three knee scrubbers growing up in a lower-middle income household.

My dad taught school and mom hung around home raising three kiddos. An easy decision for her. She was built to be a mom. Take a bucket full of qualities that make up a great mom and you could paint the most beautiful of mansions. Colors vibrant with care, love, compassion, music, food, touch, humor, faith, and … well, mom… made up a palate of wonderfulness.

Dad painted houses in the summer to earn extra money for a yearly trip to Ocean City. This was his release from occupation hell – as he would define his life. Love for family, as most likely defined by his generational genes, was an unwavering commitment to the job(s) he had to do. Man’s work was love for family. The yearly 7 hours jaunt to the same beach … same hotel … same efficiency room … gave him a much needed break from himself and his routine. If you caught the irony, it was intended. And if you can see where I got some of my OCD issues, kudos as well.

These trips were packed with dogs and suitcases, so riding in the back bench seat was impossible. Yes, this was a space problem. Three kids in the middle due to non-discplinary concerns, for once. A sort-of long trip from 4 a.m. to noon traveling down interstates to a very familiar beach town where people of different colors, shapes, and sizes could be seen slathering themselves with smelly oils and eating their Fisher’s boardwalk fries.

With very little to do in that confined paneled prison, I discovered a love of puzzle books. Specifically, “Variety” books. If I found moments of peace among my younger brother flicking boogers or Cheetos at me, these gems of pencil-pickers captivated my hours between eating P&J’s and the occasional window stares. These graphite grapplers kept the boredom at bay as the ba-dum of each tire over the concrete of the interstate could’ve driven the strongest willed off into the emotional median abyss.

The bridge between youth and adulthood is narrowed and shortened during a crisis. It is for me, anyway. I look back at my childhood – an obvious reverse of time – to hold my present hand. In front of me is a very puzzle book I used to unfold many years ago. Acrostics, Crosswords, SumTotals, …. all my old friends. And, of course, word searches. To this very day, I do not do them. Ironic.

As I sat down, this morning, I couldn’t find the words to write. Sentences? All the more difficult when words themselves don’t easily appear in my brain. It truly is the station wagon of the times. An ugly reality that is here and we must face – in reverse while others stare back in disbelief, anger, or malaise.

The words we choose are seen and heard by everyone … especially if we throw them “out there” for consideration on the public freeway of informational bias. They’ll get run over, skidded on, tramped, judged, weathered, and remembered.

Yesterday, I posted a simple poll result. It was reported 72% of PA residents approve of our Governor’s job performance. I took an independent position on the matter, assuming an information-only, non-pot-stirring stance. The number seemed a bit high based upon my recent FB wall post in the midst of this pandemic “thing”.

The comments and responses would not surprise you. Left, right, conspiracy, bias, fake news, polls and wrong, … all manners and forms of opinions. Words.
The Washington Post, from which the MSNBC broadcast I pulled the poll, was challenged as biased. The ugly station wagon stuffed full of opinion.

Opinions are good. I’m not challenging the basic tenent here. Problem is: nobody is going to change theirs. The station wagon is still going to the same hotel … the same beach … the same …

I just wonder. What are we trying to do? All I hear are people searching for the right words to say – everyone wants to hear – but nobody is willing to listen. It’s the greatest word search puzzle of all-time and we’re all stuck facing backwards in an ugly station wagon.

Hope the people in the car behind us know what’s going on. Let’s all make a silly face so we can get a reaction. Maybe it’ll lighten the mood a bit and they’ll have a word, or two, for us in return. When looking in the rear-view mirror once we find ourselves in the driver’s seat again, hopefully we’ll see what was left behind from lives, choices, and words we clung to. What’s ahead is an open road of ideas and opportunities for all of us to take that may … just may … help form sentences all of us can agree on.

Simple Spoon

There were times when my mom stood over me tapping that over-used wooden spoon in her open palm. Rare, but rhythmic happening moments all of us experienced at least a few times in our dinner-lives, right? Those, “Eat your peas, or else moments!” … I had tapioca pudding, meat pie, and stuffed pepper or else wooden spoon moments with mom. I’m convinced a sense of internal pulses came out of these dinner rituals, if nothing else, and to this day want those precious shadowing, metronomic motherly-love heartbeats back.

You’ve had those comfortable, nice, hard to forget, precious memories. I know it. Plates smooshed with undesirable adult food before and after all the yummy good kid food was happily jammed down our throats. Popsicles, cookies, candy, Spaghetti-O’s, Kraft Mac-N-Cheese, hotdogs, peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, any pre-sweetened cereal … the pre-teen, can’t get enough, gullet-slider gas fueling rebellion to normal food met all our dietary needs.

And guess what? We survived, didn’t we? Goes to show those adults in the kitchen at that time who was right, darn-it! No canned peas for me, mom. Definitely had the, “I’ll sit here until this ugh-bread pudding dies a slow, painful, dehydrated death by stare-down” routine down. I was a rebellious child who didn’t like depression-era grub. I loved the challenge, though. Probably set a few world records. Sitting on old vinyl worn metal chairs with little hind-end padding, my nerves on edge, there’s was no giving in to the pressure. The unknown, unrecorded tales in the annals of time will tell of my conquest.

For now, I’ll settle for awesome memories of mom … and her tapping of a long wooden spoon waiting for my resignation .. my defeat. The ultimate spoon into dreaded abyss of lumpy, texture-terrible terrain in a bowl.

Unfinished as those dinners were so many years ago, was a movie I began last night. It was forgettable. Twenty minutes into this masterpiece, by my best guess, I fell asleep. Laziness prevents me from going back to find the Netflix title … that’s how important I feel it is to the overall point here. I’d rather eat a bowl of over-cooked, dry bread pudding than relive those twenty minutes. Typing in that last sentence was cinematically more creative than the opening credits of said box office blunder.

Save all that, the opening eight words caught my attention – which is why I decided to, possibly, spend a few blinky eye-isolation moments watching this movie. The hook got me and kept me in the stream for twenty minutes before this fish wiggled free from bad acted lines, baited scenes, and a cast that was in need of a re-do…badly.

Those eight words were simply: Receive with simplicity everything that happens to you.

As I reviewed that quote in my notes, my thoughts this morning went immediately back to childhood. That’s where all our simplicities live. Present tense used on purpose because we never outlive our youth. It’s colorful and rainbow-y, sometimes dreary, too – but always hanging around in our “backyard” brain. The places and people who shaped and helped us sway on emotional swings, slide down and get back up, run through dirt, and hang on to monkey bars forever. Simple.

This quarantine is simple. Or, at the least, should be. It has become anything but easy, simple, piece of cake, undemanding, … whatever term you’d like. Politics, individual beliefs about liberty and freedom, media biases, and religious tenets have hijacked the tranquility these times demand. Childhood, from any era, asks something different.

“Receive with simplicity all that is given to you”

This is not to say we are to accept and not question. I don’t like canned peas. To this day, I will find ways, in my mid-fifties, to straw-shoot them across the room to see if they’ll stick on the fridge. Don’t set a bowl of meat pie in front of me or I will stir it around with a spoon like a spoiled little man singing, “Go little meat pie all to h*ck, hope you find your place in …” ..well you get my drift. I can revisit my childhood so quickly when oofy-food I don’t like, still, is slam-plated down in front if me. Rare, but it happens. We laugh when it does. Sort-of.

This virus was given to us. By who? We don’t know. For what reason? Geesh … that’s for those with significantly higher spiritual connections than I to answer. When will it end? Probably not soon enough for anyone’s satisfaction.

These are complicated questions with no easy answers. Rashi, the 11th century French thinker, rabbi, and grammarian to whom the above quote is attributed, probably couldn’t figure it out either. He lived one-thousand years before meat pie and canned peas were invented, so other than his beautiful quote, all other stuff he deeply opined about can be, respectfully, dismissed at this time.

Whatever today brings, accept its simplicity. Whatever, or whoever is charged with the delivery, it comes wrapped in a purpose. I don’t know the reason and you don’t need to know either. Accept the gift. It may just be the gift of time.

Time I wish I had back with my mom … and the rhythm of her wooden spoon. Maybe, just maybe, I’d learn to like bread pudding and be a tad less stubborn in my ways. My mom would probably be a handful during these isolation moments. As one who did like that pudding-plah, she’d find comfort in offering to lovingly drop some off, I’m sure just as a way to give me some razz. I’d find assurance sitting in my own home – with my own wooden spoon – calling her back in our heartbeat-connected way.

No words. Just a few simple taps of my wooden spoon in the phone back to her. Simple. She’d know I love her.

And miss her.

This is who I am

This day requires a response and I didn’t know what to say. Until now.

An Easter miracle has been hoped for by my Christian friends for weeks. I’m not seeing the magic. Coronavirus numbers are climbing. Deaths are still happening. People are getting cancer. Someone is dying of congestive heart failure and, tonight, a wife will be telling her husband she doesn’t love him anymore.

Again, I’m not seeing the magic. My Christian friends will certainly respond one of two main ways. Either I am not looking in the right places, or I am, but not seeing with the right “heart”. This isn’t a sleight on their sincerity or wanting of my happiness. It is an indictment of a religious belief that all will work out in the eyes of a God, regardless of what happens. I knew, heading into today, there was to be the story of a resurrected Jesus – as there has been throughout the ages. Especially today, in the midst of a massive pandemic shutting down the world.

I also knew none of this was going to be the fault of a God, Jesus’ presumed father, who is in control of all this. Or, is He? Those so willing to turn over their hopes and dreams of a miraculous end to a virus never give him an atta-boy for allowing it in the first place. Either this God’s fault, or it isn’t.

Within the circles of skeptics, it’s called “counting the hits and not the misses”

I was blind to this for 36 years of my life. There was never a time for doubt or questioning from 1982 through 2018. During those years, any thoughts of walking away from a comfortable belief in a magical Christian ideology was scary, uneasy, and unfamiliar. I would never know the terms Agnostic, Atheist, or Skeptic. Even questioning the most obvious contradiction in the bible was emotionally upsetting. Throw in a dose of after-life eternal bliss, forgiveness of sins at birth, a born-again experience at 19, and I was golden. The luck of the draw placed me in a conservative, western-central PA ‘burg where Christian parents raised three kids to cite the Lord’s prayer, be confirmed, and sing in the children’s choir without questioning,”why”.

Until my seizure the evening of June 30th, 2018. The moment of a re-set in my brain when all electronic-impulses went haywire, for no apparent reason, and the label, “epileptic”, was scarlet-lettered on my soul. A one-time lapse into a brain malfunction black hole spun my person-planet into a brand new orbit. With no more seizures since, I’ve been circling a previously unknown sun ever since.

Worlds collided and I began a journey into a universe of self-exploration. A rich, new, singularity of ideas and words I never knew. Previously hidden from me – but always there – were books, websites, TedTalks, relatives, friends, podcasts, and other resources apart from centuries old, dust laden, tested and certainly unproven ideas written in a book so unclear it took gaggles of scholars to interpret.

There is no proof of a God. I reached that conclusion. Until there is, I am an atheist. I have been since the fall of 2018. This is my day to come out and say it to the world. Well, at least to those who care.

To clear this up, an atheist is one who will believe in the existence of a God once adequate proof is presented. To say there is a God is a magnificent claim requiring magnificent proof. That’s all. You ask, what does that proof look like? I respond honesty, “I don’t know”. If there is a God, it/he/she knows what proof is required to warrant my attention. I asked, earnestly, for over 35 years. In the deepest, and saddest point of my life, this God was silent … completely silent.

Now, please don’t respond with, “His answers are either yes, no, or maybe”, “All in God’s plan”, “Footprints”, “You didn’t pray right.”, or any other special pleading. I know them all. I really do.

Save one very special friend who stayed in touch via text and my family, nothing. There was never a feeling of a God by my side, a “voice”, or a “presence” … any of the things I expected after years of dedication to the “holy one in the word”. I survived with will-power, knowledge, and the science of medicine and doctors … and yes my close friend and family – all of whom I adore. THEY are the ones who sat with me and helped me through. They were my “hits”. Oh, and to say, “God sent them” … please, don’t.

Look, if you detect bitterness, it isn’t intended. I’m not, truly. The Easter miracle today and in the recent past, ironically, is this God opened my eyes to what was possible … almost two years ago.

I am still so full of piano-love … a genuine, spirited, hopeful, graceful, caring human being. Nothing about who I am has changed at all. A Doug hug from me now means the same as ever … well … at least when the stupid shut-down is over, anyway. Can’t really reach you from here.

I’ve been over counting the hits and not the misses for almost two years. “He’s” missed so many times. I promise you, whenever this whole Covid-19 ends, praise will be given to no end with absolutely no mention of fault. Just not from me, obviously. Tell that to the thousands of families who’ve lost family members. Oh, but I guess God had to do that as part of a bigger plan. But, why? I thought he had nothing to do with it in the first place?

Yes, the last paragraph is part sarcasm, however, it highlights the problem with ideas wrapped in traditional Christian thinking. Ideas I gave my life to for 36 years. Ideas that, ultimately, didn’t serve me at all when I absolutely needed them to.

…And isn’t that the whole point of Jesus’ resurrection being “celebrated” today? He died for our sins, I guess. Just not when I need(ed) him the most. What a great plan.

I Had Other Plans Today

“I never thought in a million years this could happen to me. When I’m wrong, I say I’m wrong. We are guilty of not taking this serious enough from Day 1. For that, I have learned such a valuable lesson about life.
Last night we found out that I tested positive for Covid 19. I am the second case in Blair County.
This has been the worst 8 days of my entire life. I feel like I couldn’t possibly survive all of this for many more days but I need to find the strength.
If I can use my experience to help save a life, I’m happy to be honest about this with my family, friends, coworkers and community.
The good news for my coworkers is that because Jordyn was sick last week I only worked one day. I had no symptoms until 3 days later. So after speaking with the Dept of health today. They say you all are safe. ❤️
The same is true for Mikes coworkers as well. You are all safe ❤️
Once my symptoms started I’ve been home.
All it takes is ONE person that has a slight cough and thinks they are fine to go in public and touch a product at the store and not buy it and the next person comes along and touches it. Wildfire!
My symptoms started with
* severe headache
* High fever (102-103.8)every day and still going
* a cough so bad that if I had to guess I’m coughing thousands of times per day sometimes until it makes me sick or takes my breath away
* loss of taste and smell
* sick stomach
* dizziness and cloudy brain
* it’s hard to walk unassisted.

* The pneumonia has taken over every movement like how I breath and talk and use my energy sparingly.
I’m not going to feel any better for awhile. This isn’t something where you just wake up and feel better the next day.
Anyone that knows me well knows we weren’t very understanding at first of everything being cancelled. WE WERE WRONG! I am 37 years old and there are moments I feel like I won’t survive this because I feel so horrific. I can most definitely agree that an older person would have an extremely hard time with this. Do your part. Please stay home. HELP SAVE A LIFE!
Mike and Jordyn are doing well. We are under strict quarantine. I hope someone takes this post seriously and it can help change even one persons mind about staying home.
It has been impossible to keep up with messages so I’m sorry if I wasn’t able to get back with each of you. We appreciate the support so much.”

I didn’t plan on copying and pasting the above Facebook quote from our 2nd COVID-19 case in Blair County, but it moved me. Rachel’s words needed to be my words – replacing what I had planned for today’s reading. I intentionally allowed her “million years” to be your door into this experience today. Enter into a new world of us – a small western Pennsylvania county with, now, two positive cases of coronavirus.

I didn’t plan on unfollowing a Facebook friend a few minutes prior to writing this entry. A friend I’ve known over 30 years. I suspect today changed the cart path of our friendship that’s weathered far worse than one, yes one, nasty exchange. Over what? Stupid actions of guys playing golf when they should be at home … social distancing … being smart about all of this. You have two guesses as to my friend’s position on the matter. He’s all-in hoax, I’m all-in responsible “don’t know, better safe than sorry”.

I didn’t plan on being extra lazy today. It just happened. All my stuff took way too much time to not do. So many tasks undone. Minutes labored on … and on. The soup I did manage to heat up for lunch was extra slow as it turned in a forever’s time of 3 minutes. I watched with fascinating fancy as the chicken pot-pie-pea something soup spun around and spit itself into the wax paper cover. Eventually counting the dough balls as I ate them passed the time. Didn’t count the peas, though. Peas don’t deserve that kind of recognition, even on a lazy, do nothing kind of day.

I didn’t plan on convincing an elderly, close relative the virus isn’t airborne – as much as it is person-to-person contact – and he could have been outside enjoying a nice 55+ degree day. (As an aside, I do believe air can carry sneeze droplet molecules 45 minutes … if that’s accurate). He has been under this misunderstanding – mainly through watching too much TV – and self-isolated under this condition. Big props to him for “over-cautioning” (if that’s a thing) and I’m glad he did. Pleased, however, to be able to clear up the confusion and give him some breathing room outside of the rooms he has been looking at the past week or so. I believe he actually cut his grass today. Wonderful when eyes are open to what is true.

I didn’t plan on finding out one of my best friend’s sons has a birthday today. Josh would have been twenty-five if I read the Facebook comment correctly. Without knowing Josh, you’d have little awareness of his struggles in life. No need for me to give details of his life leading up to his exit from this world. Be advised he had a family who embraced his physical and emotional challenges with more love than is – almost – more than you would believe possible. I am humbly embarrassed to admit I did not know today, March 27th, is his birthday…

…Which, in a so sweet and caring twist, leads me into what I did plan for today … a memorial for another special candle day person.

My mom is, as well, no longer sharing in life’s journey with us. She died in 2012. Her long partnership with cancer gave us insight into her character as she never once complained or fought against the eventual outcome that was to be. Her joy overwhelmed us all. Her love continues to be missed.

Today was to be her day. Her 82nd birthday – to be shared, as I now know, with Josh, Rachel, and soup. Funny how things go.

I had other plans today. So did the universe. Happy Birthday, Mom. 🎂💕

Viral Reasoning

There is a specific reason for happenings. I like to believe that, anyway. Call it a god belief, fate, or an happenstance … I’m not concerned what title is placed upon such a motive. Just that it exists is enough for me. Without that basis, what possible foundation would there be for anything to happen?

A motto, “There’s no reason for this or that”, makes no sense in my world. There has to be an A before a B, 1 before 2, three before “point-one-four” in pi …

I’ve hesitated for a few days. Really paused and waited …. contemplated … scratched the living beejeebers out of every intention to not write about the COVID-19 virus. Again. There needed to be a good – not good, great – personal reason to do so. Looking under every beggable rock available, I pleaded for reasons to stay away, yet at the same time wanted to join in the chorus of voices that sang the praises, or echoed the boos. It was too enticing … I sat on the bench while others continued to play the game of words.

I asked myself, over and over, “What would be that reason?”… “Invite me to stay away, please.”, became the drumbeat incessantly whacking Facebook and social media intentions inside my head. To this day, face-to-face friend meeting places of good-repute, in which I actively engage apart from digital 0’s and 1’s, encourage my ramblings through obligatory “uh-hums” and that’s-nice-ities. Reading, listening, and talking in the company of friends and books are all admirable activities, but just didn’t have enough torque to pin me down.

After a few days, I found my great reason.

I can’t not write about it. Double negative, I know. Kinda fits the COVID-19 narrative. It is the unknown vs US. A two-sided, unfair match where we find ourselves in a haze of unpreparedness, lack of education, and greed – yes, greed. People, QUIT hoarding TP!!

Everything, as of this morning, is shutting down … NBA games, colleges, schools, theatres, etc… I can’t wrap my mind around all this. Literally, it’s gone viral. This whole idea of panic, pandemic, … whatever you choose to call it … has changed the way we are going to live for the short term, apparently.

And this is why. A reason. A pretty damn great reason.

…and a reason you, as a reasoning, mature adult should think this through as well. This is all about us. A global society. One that relies on a fair distribution of information and resources. In times like these, we need accurate and reliable information in a timely manner from sources we can trust. Our elected body MUST separate themselves from ideology and become national leaders speaking as one voice. Most importantly, greed and self- interest – so engrained in our DNA – has to be resisted for the greater good of our neighbors.

I don’t believe we have end-times stuff going down. Geesh, I hope not. I have plenty more pizza to eat and texas hold’em hands to play. I can live without crowds, except my concession business may suffer short-term. Hand washing isn’t a problem, although I’m getting a bit chaffed on the knuckles. Sneezing into elbow? Not a problem – always did.

My dad is 82 and I worry about him. He’s in the age bracket where there is some concern. He hasn’t traveled, nor has he been in contact with anyone I know of who has been out of the country, or on a cruise. I have a pretty average life with bills I can’t pay and a seasonal business that should get started this weekend …. with crowds …. maybe. It’s all life right now with a virus floating around.

There’s a reason for it in 2020. Sometimes, I don’t know why. Just that it is, I guess. Except this time, I know. We need to get away from all the talking points, sound bites, and Facebook-isms. There are humans on the other side of our lives. People with problems, happy times, and reachable moments. Friends, relatives, and strangers who need us in a viral world when computers and cell phones fail to give us what we need – a vaccine for our isolation when COVID-19 knocks on our door.

It is us now. It is our real for the time we have together the next few weeks, possibly months, as reason and calm must be our guide.

Be kind to one another. We are all we have. That’s an awesome reason to be. Period.

Sing Sing a Song

We eventually reach the end – or, near the end … close to it, perhaps within sight of it. The age-enlightening, gosh already, step over moment our grandparents told us would eventually come. That wrinkle line. The age we reach when people we love start passing away. When mentors, friends, relatives – huggables who influenced our lives in many ways – step smoothly over into forever and leave us with only pictures and memories. Good and great, they were.

Death happens. We know its unavoidability as our lives go about, worrying and praising the goods and bads happening around us. The unknown, post-life extravaganza wished for is gladly preached among many different variations of god-beliefs while some choose a once here-and-done mindset. Whatever the walkabout, life does end for a huggable – eventually – and those of us left must experience the loss. We have to. To grieve is a private peace and public proclamation of love for the life once lived.

Monday, I lost one of them. Our community lost one of them. A huggable. A music teacher unique among the many I had the pleasure of tooting and singing my way around. Mr. Foor had an excitement that blew through the trombone he gleefully gloshed while we sang Carpenter songs. In the days before SoundCloud, Twitter, and YouTube, he carted cassettes, records, and 8-track tapes on a rickety old cart room to room. Gladly and willingly, we put down our over-large pencils and wide-ruled paper to sing our hearts to the moon – forgetting the problems of eight-year old loves and forgotten homework.

He gave us our kid time. Our music time. Time to sing. Time to enjoy ourselves not knowing the genius, until later, of Karen Carpenter’s voice, or the absolute inanity of Neil Diamond (sorry folks, can’t stand the guy) …. 🤦🏻‍♂️. The joy of music he knew as time pushed forward and his career path weaved in and around the same school district. From elementary to high school, he continued to laugh his way into the souls of young musicians and shape the futures of us all.

I saw Mr. Foor frequently around town over the years as we bumped elbows sharing a common love of instant lottery tickets. To see him in line at a local convenience store wouldn’t be a surprise. We’d look at each other …. and laugh knowing the insanity of our minds. But, hey, we also knew, as fellow trombonists, our minds didn’t work normally. He was, simply, in my life a long time. And wonderfully so.

The end of this short post today is near. Just a reminder to live today as one of them. Live as one of those who others can smile about on that day when the wrinkles come slinking across the line. It’ll be here before you know it… just like grandma said. In the mean time, do me a favor: Sing a Carpenter’s song. Any one you choose. Don’t worry that it’s not good enough for anyone else to hear. Mr. Foor loves you, anyway. RIP.

Sing a song.
Sing out loud, sing out strong.
Sing of good things, not bad.
Sing of happy, not sad.
Sing a song.
Make it simple to last your whole life long.
Don’t worry that it’s not good enough for anyone else to hear.
Just sing.
Sing a song.
La La La La La La
La La La La La La
La La La La La La
Sing. Sing a song.
Let the world.
Sing out loud.
Sing of love there, could be.

Elfin Words

Writers, authors, novelists, poets, and bloggers – not an all-inclusive list of humans putting words together in some recognizable form, but a start. I have a close relative who belongs in this group, although he won’t ever admit it. Stubborn older crumblecorn of a guy, he is. One short story of twenty-five pages gives him forever status into our imagineer’s workshop.

It is an Elfin tale written during a time of loss and reflection. He traveled a zig-zaggy path with a co-author, trading paragraphs with a friend, back and forth over the internet three blocks away from each other. It was word therapy – the best kind, when tears and meals at an empty table no longer worked. If for no other cause, an expression of his grief unable to be shown over the casket of his wife who recently left his side, forever.

A project of love? Perhaps. He’ll never admit to Beatrice’s true identity. He wrote of her wanting true love as she stood singing on the balcony. Recent suitors to the castle never quite measuring up to her royal standards, she remained singularly focused on her love yet to be discovered.

Pacing, singing, … our fair Princess tuned out into the woods a song so pretty, and invitingly rich, no gentleman could ever deny his heart’s insistence. When, at once, through the mist came a friesian horse so bold … upon which sat a unseen suitor with a baritone song that pierced her longing heart…..

I’ll leave it at that. She fell for him. Not off the balcony mind you, … that would have been a ridiculous story line. Ya know, Beatrice hurting herself, some guy having to take care of her non-life threatening injuries while tending to his whatevers. Above is my two paragraph summary of Beatrice’s beginning journey into her exploration of true love – as written and imagined by my older wrinklefuss relative and his dear friend in their fantastical tale, “Elfin Irving, A Scottish Fable”

Over two dozen pages, they walk Beatrice through mist-laden bogs, literally, as she treads upon lessons theretofore mist (😂 love puns!) As a Princess, she didn’t know true love, I guess. We aren’t privey to her past years in the tale, but can only assume it was a life of foot massages, long hair brushing sessions in front of a full-length mirror while humming a wispy little tune, and grapes … plenty of grapes. We are to understand there lived a wonderful father and mother, i.e. Sir King and Lady Queen. Family life after a hard day’s work around the castle must have been pretty normal – for a fictitious family frolicking fancifully about.

I can’t disclose how the fable ends…not because you’ll ever read one of the 15 copies in existence. I can’t, due to the fact I’m a bit confused myself. Pretty sure I know, just not 100%. It’s been roughly two weeks since I read the heavy, tan parchment paper it is so elegantly printed upon and my memory has been committed to other matters. Mainly, did I shower yesterday, or not?

Overall point being, Beatrice aside, I’m really quite proud of my shufflescooter author who, along with his good friend, wrote such a tale. My dad.

He found a way to write about fantasy – which is a world so uncommon to his everyday. Very infrequently did he engage the monster, dragon-filled, playful fancy side of our childhood playtimes. Work – and only work – occupied his time. So common for the everyday man struggling to meet the demands of a three-child, one income household in the 70’s. Mom played. Dad worked. Three kids scruffled to-and-fro blopping and fropping with toys that made noise.

We transitioned into more expensive toys, spouses of our own, and lives apart from what we knew as kids. Dad pretty much stayed the same. For that matter, so did mom. Dad, the serious worker. Mom, the goofy gamer. Then she died.

My world changed.

I’m not going to claim dad’s world screeched to a massive halt and he fell to his knees in a rapturous, redemptive emotional u-turn the moment mom died. We walked out of the hospital numb. All of us. The rest of 2012 – the nine months since March 19th of that year – was a blur. Our playful gamer was gone. Fantasy and fun seemed lost. A world that dad never wanted to experience with her, anyway. Or, so it seemed.

He wrote a tale. It will be his only one I’m sure. It has to be. It is a story he could never write until love was worth searching for in a fantasy – not in a present reality. The unattainable … the lessons learned, finally, when perfection among all suitors arrives upon a stallion.

When all the hard work is proven worthwhile, yet years too late for one who passed. Not too late for those of us still grieving who finally decided to pick up this little gem and read it all the way through … seven years later!

So an awesome “tip of my hat” respectful nod to my father who has turned a corner into the imagineer’s workshop this one time. To feel his connection to mom – albeit probably not Beatrice’s identity as he would definite her – is my soul’s interpretation of the Elfin Irving. As the reader into my dad’s tipping hand, I reserve the right to see mom’s heart shining forth – singing wonderfully across the forested glen from a balcony of expanding, heart-gleaming tunes.

Two loving parents. One gone.. another here. Two very different transitions seven years ago. A single story written in fictitious form that, in it’s few dozen pages, tells a story of love beyond the pages. A personal story this son is glad to finally know. It may be just my silly interpretation, or not. I don’t really mind either way. The older klankmuster of a guy is my dad who shares a past with me that was kinda rough at times.

His fault? My fault? Don’t care. He’s my surviving parent, standing in the “not an all-inclusive list of humans putting words together in some recognizable form” group with me. So glad to have him here by my side.

For mom and dad, the final words from “…. A Scottish Fable”

“For after all, they both owed their love to all the little people in the world” The End


Four in the picture. Only three were mature. But, who’s counting, anyway?

This is a famous trio on my left and right. No, .. not the Three Musketeers, Stooges, Marx Brothers, Bee Gees, or the Kingston Trio. The three surrounding this handsome gent are the only grandparents I ever knew. My other grandfather passed away shortly after I was born, and it’s his wife – my grandmother standing on the far right in the picture – who would be 113 today. Granted, that is an age not attained by many in today’s world. She died in 1999, at the age of 92, not quite seeing the turn of a century, but seeing a lot in her lifetime.

1770. 136 years before my grandmother was born. Bonn, Germany. Ludwig van Beethoven was baptized on December 17th. Now, I know this is one day off from today, December 16th. Historians are unsure as to the exact day of his birth, but it is presumed he was born the day before his baptism.

Why do I mention this?

We are a musical family. The “piano” line is direct from grandma-to mom-to me. This is not to exclude sisters, brothers, uncles, aunts, dads, etc… AND it is not to assume a direct line back to the Master himself (I can, however, trace a teaching/pedagogical line from grandma back to Liszt from her instructor when she studied in Chicago). Heck, MY birthday is tied in with World War 2, so the “causation doesn’t equal correlation” fallacy chain, musically, is good only so far…

I mention Beethoven because it is a link to a memory. Today is a simple memory. Today is a day to celebrate the birthday of a lady who started it all – or, at the very least, kept it going. “It” being a love of music passed to her from her ancestors.

Her mom, my great-grandmother Ekas, I knew. A spirited little lady, she loved her card games. I didn’t know her as a musician as much as I remember her as a knitter, baker, and fierce pinochle player. I do know she – and her family – were singers. Not professional by trade, but singers in the home. Female chanters around the house. Carry-a -tuners. When we visited infrequently (made the trek west), the smell of cooking was always accompanied by a whistling tune of some origin. A female choir of voices.

My grandfather I didn’t know fiddled a tune in a local dance band according to family lore. I have yet to see pictures or hear recordings of such to validate any stories I’ve heard over the years. That said, I have no reason to believe this isn’t true. No reasonable person would make up a story such as that. I can see a fabled tale of gangsters, whiskey rebellions, and international crime … but, local fiddler dance band shenanigans?

Come to think of it, there were very few men around. Hmmmm. I wonder where they were? Either death came early voluntarily, or in an untimely…. well, suffice to say I shouldn’t speculate. I do know they, the men, worked hard in the steel mills of Western Pa. during a time when smoke billowed and towered above the mighty three rivers. I do believe the local watering holes sustained the sanity of those men and THAT’S why I, the underaged neophytic pre-teen, never saw the likes of them.

Her daughter, my grandma, was a lover of crosswords, Alex Trebek, pinochle (of course), Diane Bish, the organ, VW Beetles, Pittsburgh, her two daughters, Mrs. Cramer, her neighbors and friends she eventually got to know in Hollidaysburg, and her family. As her needs changed, it was a necessary move from Pittsburgh to Hollidaysburg. Closer to mom, medical care, opportunities for growth within the elderly communities, etc…

A trio of trios. Grandma, mom, and I sat together many times behind the 88 keys: Me – lower third, bass; mom – middle third, tenor / alto; grandma – upper third soprano primo. Thirty fingers, six hands, three players playing. The music rang (not always accurately). We had so much fun. You wouldn’t think it possible, but it was. Possible because we made it so.

“Life is possible because we make it so”. Probably this is the birthday lesson grandma gave me along with the perennial, “Life is like a piano…” sign predominantly displayed on her Yamaha grand: “…What you get out of it depends on how you play it.”

Mom isn’t here anymore. Neither is grandma. The entire trio above has been gone for a while now. Pap-pap was the most recent to pass away in 2010 … New Year’s Day.

Beethoven died March 26th, 1827. Coincidentally, that date is only one day before my mom’s birthday … well, his ending a hundred or so years before her beginning, of course. But, who’s counting, anyway?

Happy 113th, Grandma!! Miss You!… 92 was a long life with no regrets. You gave us a great mom, a wonderful aunt, and plenty of happy memories along the way.

Beethoven would be proud to share this “Ode to Joyous” day with you, I’m sure.

Mom: Then, and still Now

This is the face of illness. No need to specifically call out the disease. It has an ugly name. My mom, however, has a beautiful name: Beverly, It is etched into her gravestone above the date, March 19th, 2012. Over seven years ago, she died. No getting around the fact she is gone and will never again celebrate holidays with her family. We can argue the merits of an after-life belief, benefits of chemo vs the side-effects, herbals vs. no treatment, etc…, but, to what end? I can’t crack open a fresh pack of pinochle cards and struggle mightily against the forces of her always better melds.

Shortly after we survived the millennium turn, our family drove to Disney. Pennsylvania to Florida in a soccer mom van. I say, “our family”, but it was only four PA folk: two couples in search of a mid-winter respite. Mom, dad, my wife, and I eagerly, yet cautiously, humped our rears into a hunter-green Oldsmobile silhouette one early morning and headed south. “On the road” details unimportant for the purposes of this post. Suffice to say, I can enthusiastically report dad and I shared most of the driving, mom slept, we had an overnight in North Carolina, and arrived safely in Florida…

Mom always wanted a Disney trip. That, and a Grand Canyon visit. Happy to report we were able to get both her bucket list items in before there was an inkling of trouble on the horizon. I can’t even imagine her not having fulfilled these dreams at a time when she knew they were no longer possible. At a time during our conversations in the final month of her life, we talked openly about these trips. She was so grateful. Always grateful.

I have so few pictures of her at Disney. I like it that way. The ones I have are so precious. She was so happy there. I honestly think “I” was the adult and she was the child as we interacted with each other among the rides, venues, and characters. She rode “It’s a Small World” as if the magic of Walt Disney’s pen wrote a fantasy in front of her very eyes. When Mickey appeared in front of the Magic Castle shortly after we arrived, there were fireworks of splendor in her smile. This smile never left her face. You can see it in the picture above.

The visit lasted days. Universal, Epcot, … We tried to fit it all in for reasons most Pa folks understand. It was a long trip by car, the tickets weren’t cheap, and the time “chunk” to do it was not any small feat for four adults – two of which had to make a living. So, four weary adults humped their rears back into the same minivan and headed north. Same details. Same drivers – kinda. Arriving home the next day, safely, with the best memories Disney is so gifted to provide.

And then there’s …… cancer.

The two pictures above are squeezed together so tightly – and I’m glad they are. The space in between represents, so appropriately, the amount of time that seemed to go by between our Disney trip and her diagnosis. In actual time, of course, it was a few years, but it seems like only seconds. Time distorts memories. It never changes smiles, though.

In that small space between the pictures, there were chemo treatments, pills, surgeries, shots, many doctor visits, diet restrictions, colds, uncomfortable medical appliances, hospitals, nurses, trips, wigs, hair loss, neuropathy in her fingers, sore bones, pains all over, … for five years she endured as so many have. What started out as a small, little spot …. ended up going to three other areas in her body. She never really got a break. Every time she ended a treatment and her outlook was positive, a few months later her markers would be off and the disease would be somewhere else. All the while? A smile.

Look, it’s the holiday. No need to be sad. And, I’m not at all. The second picture of mom a month or so before she passed doesn’t make me sad at all. She is happy in that picture. The waitresses at a local restaurant bought her an angel and stopped by. They are a special breed…those waitresses. Mom was so happy. Probably, she was a bit embarrassed because the house may have been dusty (knowing mom, the house just “had” to be dust free for anyone to visit). That said, I suspect she was warmed of heart because she loved everyone. Period.

For me? I absolutely love these two pictures side by side for one reason. If you look closely, she is wearing the same blue and white overshirt she loved. I didn’t notice this until posting today. These pictures are over twelve years apart, and I KNOW she had this shirt in the 90’s, which makes it at least twenty years old.

You wonder why writing about my mom is so easy? She, apparently, never changed her shirt in the midst of the cancer storm life visited upon her.

And she never changed her smile either.

THAT’S a lesson for all of us.

I’m Sure He Wouldn’t Mind

I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t mind.

His made up words rattle around in my brain. As fresh today as they were during the many years he was alive, these locutions are difficult for me to forget. I can say, “I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t mind”, because he spoke them so frequently – with such joy and merriment. Times of sickness required a motherly hot-water bottle, Vicks Vapo-rub, and a grandfather’s visit with a made-up word or two to lessen the pain a bit. Birthdays and holidays?….same. Ups, downs, in-betweens?…..didn’t matter to him. Insert made-up word or phrase here.

I can’t say for sure if he made them up, or, they were passed down. I didn’t know anyone older than his generation. Most of his family passed before I was born. There were a few brothers I saw infrequently at reunions. Time spent delving into weird-word origins seemed like time wasted among Pittsburgh Steeler talk, potato salad, flies, women in flowered aprons talking recipes, young boys and girls enjoying life without electronics, and the smell of burning embers in the fire pit waiting for marshmallows later at dusk.

I think Pap-Pap used words to get through life (Hmmm, sounds familiar)… I have the added advantage of my musical talents which he didn’t have, though. He and I shared the gift of laughter. He was a silly guy, but probably had his serious moments we never saw. We knew he never strayed from his faith. The last few years of his century-filled life were filled with wonderful, healthy experiences. He managed them well without grandma: the nose-to-the-grindstone, go-get-’em gal he lost after so many happy years together.

Words did mean something to him. One never knew what was truth or fantasy. The sparkle in his eye – I came to know early on – was a give away. As I aged (can’t say matured, obviously) I began to notice the “set-up” as another. I began to enjoy – rather, look forward to – his terminological twist even though I knew, most assuredly, what was to come. Reliving, forty years later, the little sick boy in bed listening to nonsensical words in hopes of feeling just a bit better about life. Adult, child? It never mattered. Pap-Pap was the same to me.

The last time I saw him alive and aware, he was in the hospital. I went in, alone, to see him. We couldn’t communicate well because he had a mask on and was hooked up to machines. As time passed, and family came in and out, he faded away and eventually passed – surrounded by family. Simply stated, after one-hundred years, his body was done. He was in pretty good shape a week prior – Christmas day – but fell ill suddenly a few days hence. He died New Year’s Day, 2010. He made it to his 100th year, but not to his 100th birthday. In all of our minds, he lived to be 100.

I’ve heard, “There are no words….”, used many times in many different contexts. From deep sorrow to endless elation, there can be times when words do not fit. Sometimes only a strong hug comforts the grieving when despair grips a soul. Or, so much happiness overrides overflowing joy in a heart and words are unattainable. Yes, silence is golden at times.

For me, silence isn’t one of my best attributes. I like to talk. It’s a good thing. Probably got the “skill” from grandma who was the salesperson. Pap-Pap, the goofy one who spun a story once in a while … choosing his moments carefully … would be proud of me. I think. But I don’t use made-up words like he did. The twisted irony of all this? … I still mix up dangling participles, clitics, schwas (wink wink Ms. Renee), malaphors, and sluicings ….. which ARE real grammar usage words. Geesh.

So, I lift my glass to Pap-Pap: The purveyor of purposefully meaningless words such as “Lumpuckaroo” and “Cringidabingess”. May you rest in peace.