Piecing Life Together

Thirty-two pasted up on seven walls. Vertical paneled partitions holding up thousands of glued pieces – each a part of individual displays. Pictures attached not only to wood paneling, but also to memories a mother left for her family.

She enjoyed this hobby. “Puzzle assembly”, simply stated. Somewhat simply understood from my viewpoint; however, I couldn’t put together hours with the shifting around of little pieces of cardboard – while figuring out which nub goes into which notch. If involved, once the straight-edge borders and four corners were set, I could very easy call the puzzle, “done”, and walk away.

Anyone who is an enigmatologist – as you may be – is certainly welcome to engage in puzzling. My mom did. Crosswords, word games, Trivial Pursuit, Pinochle, Games Magazines, etc … all of those (+) were, … err, fair game in her world. I could join in with her – except these oodles of pieces, boxed-up picture puzzle games aren’t my thing at all. And, yes, picture puzzles are games. Dump, sort, and sit for hours games.

I didn’t care for the huge, hand-sized, biggie, six-piece alphabet puzzles in first grade. The plastic, round, straight, or oblong “learn your shapes” jam into holes matching games didn’t impress me, either. Anything early in my life that suggested, “fit this into that”, I kinda told to hit the road.

So, Thirty-two puzzles. There were more, but they fell off. Mom’s interest never fell off, however. I can see her sitting in her dining room chair, hours at a time, during times when her mind needed to focus on a thousand little things other than one, or two, bigger problems. Diversionary, of sorts. Those thousand little pieces – working toward one large picture – was better than starting with the one large problem then breaking it down into smaller pieces. Her process, I guess.

It worked for her. During a five year cancer journey, this worked. She never complained that I saw. Privately, probably. Tears never flowed that I saw. Privately? Again, probably. These puzzles represent her life before, and during, cancer. Of all, the Mozart one is my favorite. Most are Charles Wysocki prints, as she was enamored by his style and class.

I don’t spend a lot of my time wandering through this room looking around this familial gallery. I should, though. One per day would give me a month of reflection upon a mom who would still be here if cancer wouldn’t have ended her life too early. It did, and that’s the way all her pieces finally came together.

At some point, these puzzles will need to be removed. Just when, is anyone’s guess. Mom used industrial strength glue on the backing and the double-stick tape to the wall is ridiculously tight. It’s gonna take some mighty panel-bending and puzzle fandangery to get these unfastened.

Seems like mom left us the biggest puzzler of all. For now, there’s no need to rush.

I never liked to do puzzles in the first place. I did, and do, love my mom. So, I’ll enjoy these while I still can. They’re pieced together and just as beautiful as she was. Memories and all.

Rex and Murphy

They stay very loyal. Of course, they do. Today, Rex and Murphy weave in and out between bags and boxes of medical supplies, legs and arms of strangers, and words coming out of mouths so unfamiliar to them. The past four weeks as well, they always found their way to Mommy. She is their rock, their comfort … their place to nestle two wet noses under a comfortable, familiar blanket.

Rex is about six years Murphy’s junior. He is Mommy’s little boy. The protector of all that is wrong with Greta, he is. These days, his job is overwhelming as Mommy’s appendiceal cancer has taken control over her remaining few weeks. Rex knows something isn’t right. He scampers about wondering where to be within eyesight … out of the way, but thankfully in the way of his Mommy’s over-extending heart. Close to her he dearly wants to be all the time. Sometimes, this isn’t possible.

Normal isn’t normal anymore. Every two hours, attention needs to be paid elsewhere. Rex must step aside. Elsewhere is Greta. I believe he understands. There’s a big picture window from which he looks out to gather his puppy thoughts. Rex will do what is necessary for Mommy. He’s anxious and unsure about a lot of things right now. Sure he is. We are, too.

Murphy is a fluffy tow-along. At an older age, his health isn’t a good as Rex. Just recently, a diagnosis of tracheal cancer put him behind the 8-ball a bit. He’s a steroid machine because of it. That medicine put him on an eating binge including a pair of glasses and pretty much any food – wrapped or otherwise – that isn’t at least 5-feet off the floor and 4-feet back off the front edge of any counter. He is laser focused on stuffing his snout.

Now, his love for Mommy is no less than Rex. A very comfortable little bed, at the foot of a larger Mommy bed, provides him a resting place almost every night. A low center of gravity, combined with nearly ninety-one human years muscled around his weary bones, makes jumping up on furniture for an ear scratch a bit difficult. He has the same window for reflection, but uses a lower bunked doggie bed, not the love seat. Granted, Rex has the same opportunity to it – and does. They are brothers through and through.

Rex and Murphy. Two canine companions trying their best to make a difficult situation make sense. In the furry brains as worried as all the human ones, their lives have been turned upside-down. Cancer – especially rare appendecial that strikes approximately 3 out of 1,000,000 people world-wide who are diagnosed with any cancer – changes everyone who cares for the loved one.

It’s never the obvious changes: bills, groceries, things-to-do that have to be altered. Those are (sometimes) the easy workarounds … short-term, anyway. Certainly, there’s no easy answer to any of this. I sit here not claiming a magic crystal ball. Yesterday, friends stopped by offering many open hands – as friend do.

The change is at a heart-centered level. Love digs deeper, care cores down, and tears are torrential during silent, solitary moments in the middle of the night.

Greta’s two boys aren’t immune from experiencing any of this. They sense the pain. Mommy isn’t well. Rex and Murphy are keenly aware of her missing their normal, daily connection through feeding, head-scratch, and hug set-aside times.

With this, however, hearts don’t miss a beat between a Mom and her two doggies. Eyes don’t miss every few moments available to catch a glimpse of each other between all the busy medical steps now woven in all our lives. Rex, Murphy, and Mom … a blanket of love with some snags now, but never to be torn apart by cancer.

That’s loyalty earned through years of patient petting and nurturing. Devotion in the midst of sterile equipment and impersonal, neutral medicine flowing past open valves and tubes into a body so tired of fighting … a loving soul still very much aware that two kind, devoted, four-pawed creatures still love her so much and feel every twinge of pain and also every smile.

This is a day for them, now. Rex and Murphy. I suppose, in a few hours, their wet noses will find warm spots somewhere. Wherever those may be, Greta will know. Of course, she will.

15 Stones

We had a few minutes. Greta and I weaved our way through the maze that is Shadyside hospital in Pittsburgh. Outside, across from a large slowly rotating door, in “The Garden of Distinction”, we sat comfortably on a weathered wooden bench. Finally, after 48 hours of hospital air, a fresh August breeze filled our lungs.

It is a meditative rock garden. Greta spent little time reflecting upon her past two days, of course. Any thoughts of IV drips, nurses, needles, or pain most assuredly was there but didn’t require her attention. The focus was her art … Needing to express herself by creating something out of nothing.

And that she did.

I watched the process unfold. With no fancy pens or expensive supplies available at her patient, artistic insistence, stones warmed by a late August sun were just enough to give her all she needed.

Specifically chosen by shade, stones were placed in rows and columns – darker to lighter – 3×5 to finish. 15 stones. On the top rests, perhaps even now, a pebble man on a chair as this artistic piece was not dismantled upon our departure. As we left, she stopped a few paces down a pebbled path to pick up that pine cone to return and place it gently on the corner. “Now, it’s complete!”, may have been the phrase so happily smiling in her head at that moment? I can’t recall what she said then, but I’m aware she knew those 15 stones, a pebbled man, and a pine cone brought closure to a wonderful time in a garden.

Yesterday was hard. A day that was supposed to be full of smiles and music presented an empty stage and lots of tears instead. When the day nurse wrote 8/22 on the daily board, it was difficult to see in the context of medicines and dose schedules. August 22nd was not going to be wasted, however.

I asked Abbey, her very kind day nurse, if it was possible to go outside after Greta requested a meeting with sunshine and nature. She pleasantly agreed and made arrangements for us to begin our trek through the labyrinth that is Shadyside. (Full disclosure here, I wanted to head out the nearest exit with Greta and not come back …). Slowly we headed out of the room, down 7 floors, past the cafeteria, then the gift shop, a few short steps until reaching a long, majestic entrance/exit to the rotating door …

… Out to a small driveway – then to a very peaceful rock garden.

Something out of nothing. 15 stones. Art is there for us to interpret. She is an artist who created a small work of art – a man in a chair on top of 15 stones … with a pine cone. It remains there as evidence of her presence during a very difficult time. I have my private ideas about what this means to me and would encourage you to look at that picture to consider how a terminal cancer diagnosis would change your perspective.

Music is art as well. We lost yesterday’s chance. As an accompanist, I lost the opportunity to perform with one of the best vocalists ever. What I have, however, is something much better. Time in that garden.

During an afternoon when we should have been on stage in front of many friends, we sat alone among many stones in a meditative garden. I watched as she worked her artistry … I was accompanying her once again – just not how we planned.

All in all, I figure the day was a success after all. My ideas and thoughts about her little creation, again, will remain mostly private. What I can share, though, is this:

Appendix cancer took the concert away from her yesterday – 72 hours short of our goal. 15 stones may seem small and insignificant to many, however, to me they represent the rock star Greta will always be to me.

Baseball Fireworks with Dad

Could be Anywhere, U.S.A. However, this was in Altoona, Pa at a minor league baseball game. Our “Curve” ran the bases five times more than the Binghamton Ponies, so that’s a win by any measure. Fireworks – combined with a “wrestling” theme ticket stamp (that never materialized into anything) – and perfect weather swung the evening’s five hour carve-out of life without an error.

Yes, a minor league game, but a major win for fun, relaxation, and connection … to dad.

He and I weren’t the typical dad/son baseball team. I didn’t enjoy the usual, “get-out there and do it, son”, kind of encouragements most young boys got. Music was my juice, not sports. One miraculous diving catch from a half-asleep pre-teen who went on to a hit-less career in little league did not produce any proud dad moments. Gladly did I hand in my uniform and cleats after my team won the local championship with no help from a useless bat so unproductively, and awkwardly, swung from the ends of my sportily unrhythmic arms. Piano, yes. Getting to first base, no.

So, sitting with dad at a semi-professional baseball game wasn’t going to re-live any remember moments between us. Frankly, I doubt either one of us, to this day, would know how to fill in a score sheet or analyze a game beyond the usual “ground rule double” or “balk rule”. He was a wrestling coach, primarily, focused on grunts and sweats in closed, hot, winter season practice rooms – not open, fresh air sports like baseball. My first – and only – mitt came via a great-uncle, not dad. See, we just don’t have that traditional baseball dad-son thing going on here.

What we did have Sunday evening, though, was time. Time to spend together … forty-five years of life experiences after a son stood ankle deep in outfield weeds praying a baseball didn’t arcfully whiz up in his direction. Decades after a dad was frustratingly finding ways to supplement a measley teacher’s salary, we sat,… together.

I understand, now, my age. In baseball years, I’m older than my dad was when he insisted it was better to look at the ball in order to hit it. Pick your methodology, “blind squirrel” theory, I believed was the best approach at the time. Even a tightly closed, shuttering little man at the plate was hopeful one blind swing at the right time – combined with that perfect pitch – would manufacture a hit. Alas, not to be.

I do believe this may be the regret on dad’s face in the above picture. He may be having flashbacks. Either that, or handing over a twenty-spot and getting no change back for one burger, a dip of ice cream, and a lemonade may be stinging his financial consciousness. Hey, he offered, and nobody says, “no” to a dad who wants to pony up for goodies at the ballpark. After all, the tickets were complimentary – and quite a nice surprise along the bottom tier behind our home team dugout. So, there was no problem giving him the pleasure of paying for a delicious $10.50 Curve burger w/jalapeno cheese, ketchup, mayo, and tomato. Don’t know about the ice cream and lemonade … suppose they were fine, too.

We talked over the usual words he’s familiar with – long hair under hats and too-high salaries. 2021 fashion and cell phone usage among the visitors at the ball-park was an occasional attention radar blip as is almost always the case in public when dad and I go out. The what’s and how’s don’t mean much to dad. He’s not so much fascinated or intrigued by life as I am. His contentment is in routine, stability, and helping others. At his age, these are the good ole’ reliables, I suppose.

And so, we watched the final out together then waited for the fireworks. The announcer began a ten-digit countdown with three-thousand remaining loyal waiters sitting, standing, and reclining so patiently within the comforting park … Ten, nine, eight …

I sat back behind dad. A few spritzes, little sparkles, and all different colors of artificial stars lit up a clear black sky for fifteen minutes.

The finale wasn’t your big city, New York, kind-of million dollar bang, for sure. We’re a little city. This was a “wrestling” theme ticket night with nary a Hulkster or hint of what they meant in sight. At least fireworks were advertised and delivered. The last of the bangers didn’t disappoint me, but not for the reason you’d expect.

That first picture sums up a lot of what baseball, and life, with dad means to me. It’s the end of something wonderful even though most of it wasn’t that impressive.

Most of our life together was, well, hitless. No need for details. It’s just enough to say music, sports, personalities, etc … didn’t run the bases together very well.

That was then, as they say.

We’ve come through the relational minor leagues together and have been on the same team for some time now. Up and downs? Sure. Disagreements and missed calls at home plate? Absolutely!! We are currently two very independent, strong-willed men who aren’t afraid to speak our minds when necessary … and sometimes when not.

This is all part of the experience. I watched dad watch the finale. At a baseball game we were. Both of us living weird, different life experiences now – neither thinking, a few years ago, we’d be inside our individual situations. Thing is, we are where we are together, too. This is, simply, a nice place to be.

We can’t choose some life things, right? I didn’t choose my inability to connect a bat to a ball, nor do I think I had a hand in playing simple Chopin at the age of six. Dad didn’t choose his personality or later-in-life challenges. We chose to go to a ballgame Sunday evening. The tickets were complimentary and the food was deliciously expensive, of course. His dime, so extra-good as far as I was concerned.

A special evening to think about what was – and to watch dad watch a finale in a place that wasn’t Anywhere, U.S.A. It was home base for a dad and a son.

Morning Sun’s Facetime

In between the occasional seasonal sneezes, drilling sounds from a necessary garage door repair to my left, and anxious, happy doggie barks inside, this sun provides me much needed calm. Warm facetime across a right cheek as I sit comfortably on a rocking wicker chair – morning feel good massaging a pre-Friday, 7:45 a.m. sore body. Ninety-four million miles away, yet immediate relief after two days of uphill crazy-town, mental drive-throughs with peoplefolk.

It wasn’t their fault, I guess. Better to dismiss it away than to get in the weeds trying to figure out why conversations and activities go the way of ridiculous. Especially in business dealings, I find myself in the land of the lost when folks don’t consider time or effort valuable … especially when spent on their behalf. Nobody needs a bucket of praise here. Just a simple dribble from the faucet of respect would have been nice the past 48 hours.

And so I sit, quite peacefully, on a well-accepting agreeable chair while the sun’s 8 minutes of aged warmth reaches my face. It feels 100% amenable to what I need right now: Quiet in the midst of drilling, barking, and sneezing.

Connecting to what has been around for 4.6 billion years is better … for now. Sitting on a back patio wicker chair for a few precious moments, away from everyone except two guys repairing a garage door, is what repairs a soul. Breathing in the history and snugness this sun provides, while allowing the denim cushion on which I sit to ease in the day, fades away all the discoloration from days past.

These are the nice carve-outs we need.

I don’t expect life to be a perfect, tasty pie of sweetness all the time. It’s rough. Days are challenging – we know this. Gosh, the past year-and-a-half, right?. Life is difficult. My family will soon experience how so.

Monday, I expect life to change drastically for a loved one. That day’s decision will affect a lot in his life, although the sunshine rising early on the days remaining in his life will remain steady. Schedules, friends, hobbies, and other constants he has known are going to adjust because the independence he has known is being driven away. His license, most likely, will be, sadly, taken away. I hope this won’t be the case, but the glaring exit ramp ahead is too obvious to avoid. Mental traffic has been congested and we need to clear the roads ahead for him.

… And it’s up to the son, his loving siblings, and the sun, to find a way forward for a dad who has been challenging at times, a loving father as only he knew how to be, and companion to me across many a lunch and dinner tables.

This will be a few days from now. As it stands, Father’s Day is Sunday – the day before a doctor’s appointment happens soon after sunrise. I have a small gift wrapped for him. I wish I could wrap the sun for him and reverse time instead of the gift.

My past few day’s inconveniences are minimal compared to his potential life-changing few minutes. This carve-out helps me look at big picture things. It’s time to think. Ninety-four million miles away, yet so close is the sun and a son who is thinking about his father.

My hope is he will find his morning sun’s facetime soon after we leave the office.

Find your morning sun to set aside crazy-town peoplefolk and focus on others who have life struggles ahead. They’re under the same sun. Eight minutes of aged warmth will reach you … and touch the faces of those who reach an age when life just isn’t the same anymore – like dads who did the best they could.

I Don’t Know Joe

I don’t know Joe, but I know Dave. He is on the right … next to a glad to be there friend of his. Most likely he is smiling not only because it was a 60th birthday celebration, but also the colon cancer so prevalent in his life seems to have taken a break. I love this guy. A customer … and a good friend.

As I took inventory of my life and watched invisible minutes swoosh by over Canoe Creek, the opportunity to take another picture of this state park arose.

I wasn’t as much on edge emotionally as I was physically – sitting on yet another worn picnic table. These sit-upons have been there for decades, so it was a challenge finding a comfortable splinter-less, middle-of-the-plank location on which to rest my aging butt. The early May wet weather didn’t help, either. Damp spots sprinkled areas on the dark green outer seats making choices less available. Finally giving in to a forgiving, yet small, dry area slightly under the pavilion’s protective overhang, I sat with a festive piece of birthday cake in hand.

Dave’s day. A surprise planned by his son, Matt. I was one of a few non-family members who came by to wish another year of happiness. Atop the little hill. A Canoe Creek pavilion where my family reunions and church picnics were religiously held. Memories filling those invisible minutes. My great-grandparents sat there, breathing in the same lake experience I was having many decades later during a cold Saturday birthday visit. Seemed like a short Friday before when church prayers and cookouts happened only yards away from where I sat. It wasn’t, of course. Memories appear like yesterdays, but aren’t, right?

What was in my brain? A lot of great memories at that time, for sure. Thinking about my mom the day before I wouldn’t be able to celebrate another “winning the cancer battle” Mother’s Day Sunday with her, my mind was on other things when pulling into the park earlier. The particular pavilion hosting a friend’s party was not in any memory of mine, … short or long term. I knew it. Matt told me weeks ago. I, simply, forgot.

I don’t know Joe. He graduated this year. Congratulations, Joe. The blue balloons attached to the pole outside pavilion number one attest to his achievement. I boldly walked past them on my way to the enclosed tent where festivities and merriment were clearly underway. Any person wanting to be involved in a birthday celebration would’ve walked up to three men and asked the same question. “Hi. Where’s Dave? Nice to see such a turn-out for his birthday.”

“Uhm, hey Doug! (I was wearing a company jacket).. How’s the hot dawg business?”

“Great. Sales are sales, I guess. I don’t see Matt. He said sometime around 1:00 would be a good time?”

“Kinda would be … except this is Joe’s graduation party.”

“Oh? Joe?. So I probably have the wrong pavilion?

“Suspect so. You’re welcome to stay, though. We have hotdogs!” (yuk yuk … always the joke when I’m at a picnic)

“Sorry to interrupt, geesh. I bet they’re at another pavilion!”

“Uhm, yeah. Not here, for sure. I think there’s another party closer to the park entrance” …

…. And then, ONLY then, did I remember Matt’s instructions were to drive past the parking lots up to the little hill. With extended apologies I didn’t need to say, off I went to arrive moments later … without ever meeting Joe.

Up a small grade and over past the buffet table full with pork, potatoes, and coleslaw, Dave welcomed my visit with a warm smile and handshake. Matt followed with his wife and relatives. Turn-out was small due to the weather. I suspect nobody would have been turned away, friend or stranger, had an adult mistaken their pavilion for another. This is a nice, kind family who embrace the minutes just as I did on the edge of a rickety bench.

On Sunday, Dave and Matt came by my cart. I was open for business outside the local Sam’s Club selling on behalf of the appendix cancer research foundation. This is me doing my thing:

There’s a special person about town, Greta, who is seeing her way through appendix cancer. She spent a few minutes talking with Dave across the serving area of my cart as she was helping me serve. They had a colon/appendix cancer conversation connection I simply watched unfold.

This is what’s special about my life and business. Two strangers, bound by a common challenge, connecting … talking things through – figuring life out as best they can.. I’m glad to be a part of that connection.

Neither one is depressed. They’re moving ahead with life as it is. Making the moments count.

As for Joe, I wish him well. Life will be his plan … whatever road he chooses to take. I just hope he listens to directions and doesn’t turn off too soon into a gravel lot expecting to see Dave. It can be a bit embarrassing.

Happy 60th Birthday, Dave!! Many more …

One Step with a Sister Smile

Every day. Every day, before taking the first step of fifteen up a flight of stairs, I glance over to my right. This picture hangs among many … so delicate it is in my line of sight. Never do I ever pass by without thinking of my sister – if only for a second or two. This isn’t to say she’s not around. A few hours and a quarter tank of gas, I’d be at her front door. “Go west, semi-old man … “, and visit your slightly older sister sometime!

We weren’t old back then, for sure. The two of us hung out together a lot. Not surprising a picture showing off our smiles exists because it happened on porches, in boardwalks penny arcades, cheap family motel suites, and while we donned off-white cherub choir robes. We had each other to bounce smiles off of when happys and giggles hid behind adult stresses and concerns swirling about our home.

Yes, I do think about my sister when passing by this picture. Today, more than a few seconds…

…It’s because we’re so much alike – today, yesterday, and tomorrow. As adults, those three days, no matter when they fall on the calendar during any year, provide us with,”you, too?” moments. Times when we connect experiences together are wonderful. Separately thinking or acting lives in worlds, separated by concrete and time, come together in seconds through a phone – vanishing the weeks gone by during which we didn’t connect.

I stopped in to see our dad this afternoon. As usual, he was talking to my sister and chatting up the news of the day. She listens, he talks. So goes the daily long-distance phone call between the oldest of three and her father. I, the middle child – an appeaser and quite possibly the eyes and ears on the ground – am very comfortable checking in to see if all is well with the man who now struggles with names and occasional logic patterns. These are the smiling roles both my sister and I gladly play in the theatrical performance of a one-man, late stage in life, show.

We communicate ideas and thoughts just like we used to do in those rooms and arcades. Just now, the skeeballs, sandy footprints on the boardwalk, cherub robes, and baseball cards on the front porch have been replaced with “What to do’s?”, and “What to thinks?” about our dear dad.

Dad is fine, kinda. No worries, yet. The “You, too?” moments now are connected with wordy sentences sounding like answers we don’t really have at the moment. “Oh, you heard him say that, too?”, or “Man, I think I feel the same way …”. followed by a bunch of back and forth wadda-ya- thinks?

We know these moments aren’t unique to us. Thousands of sons and daughters have these conversations every day. Perhaps you are chit-chatting ideas back and forth over wires or airwaves with someone you love much as I love my sister? She and I are really trying our best to pilot this plane we have no idea how to fly.

For now … and today, after stopping in to see him, we went out for lunch. The usual Wednesday Canal burger satisfied my hunger while he decided a conversation about the local road construction was the best use of his time. Actually, this was a relief from politics and money … his usual go-to. Sure, names were a problem and I was glad to help. So goes life.

I have a sister, never forget how and when to smile, and never miss that first step. We were young once. I still feel that way when I see that picture, if only for a few seconds. There will come a day for me, possibly, when I lose my ability to remember names, places, or experiences. If that day comes, I want to smile….

I believe that is the first step in any process … no matter the challenge. I’m just one of the fortunate ones to have a sister by my side. If only in a picture fifty years old hanging so delicately in my life most times, that’s perfectly fine; however, I like the phone calls, too. I think she’d agree.

This Happened Today

So, this happened today. Not to me, mind you, but to a friend of mine who was merrily on her way when a prehistoric encounter interrupted a rather boring drive. We should all be so lucky. A friendly looking Brontosaurus with, apparently, a frozen Big Foot in the cooler for her visual satisfaction – first hand – and ours through her phone camera.

Yes, I know “Yeti” is the brand of the cooler. Allow me a literary license here. Since we’re considering beasts living an average of 150 million years ago, I figured throwing in a fictitious, furry ice dripper for effect wouldn’t be too much of a stretch. According to legend, Alexander the Great demanded to see the Yeti when he conquered the Indus Valley in south Asia around 326 B.C. (livescience.com). I guess at that low altitude, the great creature couldn’t survive, so a Yeti could not be produced for the Great Alex. Bummer. Yeti continued to believe one existed.

I’m not buying it. S’pose it could be true, but until I have dinner with the 6-foot tall, red haired mountain dweller with extra-large tootsies, I h’aint believing it exists. A Brontosaurus existed, though. I know it! I’ll go one step beyond, too. Snorkasauruses walked this earth as well … Fred Flintstone had one – I saw Dino with my own eyes years ago … and I heard him talk. Nobody, not nobody, is going to convince me that pinkish-purple, ploding, pouncing, tongue flapping, happy family pet didn’t add everyday effervescence to childlike dreams.

So what’s with the smirk on this guy’s face, anyway? I know traffic can be a boresome four-laner – especially the highway on which he was traveling. I’d probably have the same look out my driver’s side window at a car whizzing passing me on the left … if that would be possible considering that lane would probably have construction cones, or massive craters – like the ones created by the meteors that interrupted his ancestor’s dinner millions of years ago. Our roads are, well, good for whack-a-mole with any tire of your choice this time of the year. Suspensions are on their last nerve, axles play chicken with every upcoming dippidy-do-dah in the road, and tires hold their breath when drivers speed up in an attempt to Evel Knievel their way over pot holes. As a result, that look above is appropriate for deserved car repair bills as well. So I kinda get it.

I want to know what this guy is made of and how much he weighs. Also, I am assuming “it” is a male and have no way to prove this, either. Just some random questions in my mind never to be answered. Disappointed my friend didn’t get out of her car on a very busy interstate to ask those questions, I am. I mean, after all, it isn’t every day one sees a dinosaur on a trailer being transported to places unknown. As I type, that smirkish look is on my face wondering why I have to spend the rest of my life without answers to those questions. Also, I am keenly aware she reads this blog and that look, quite possibly, will be dismissed off my face post haste – through a friendly gesture, of course.

I love pictures like this. Most are mine, though some come in from friends. Ordinary objects like this guy (or gal) help me exit the grind of drudgery. That’s overstating it a bit. Sorry. My life, like yours, isn’t really a grind. It is a normal sightseeing of sameness. Friends, family, coffee, places, traffic, and work all seem to weave a blanket of comfort around us – which is nice – but we get used to the usualness of it all. Right?

Look for the dinosaurs in your day if you can. If you find one, share it. If not a sniggering green Brontosaurus, look for a treasured trinket that falls across your field of vision that wasn’t there minutes prior. Appreciate the shape, color, and size of that funny little favor in your life, and then go about your day.

Sure, it’s probably not going to bring you wealth or help you realize lofty dreams from your childhood, but it could give you a few minutes of needed rest in the midst of a busy, normal day. I know that silly picture, at 12:58 p.m. today, gave me the chuckles for a minute when I was really too busy for my own good.

I hope this guy found his way home. Wherever home is, I’m sure he’ll be welcomed. He’ll never know what joy he gave to fellow travelers along the way as I’m sure my words are not the only ones written or spoken about his journey. This happened today. So glad it did.

Birthday for a Sister

Ordering online should not be so funny. But it is. Not to me, necessarily. There’s my high school friend, “Scott”, across from me chanelling movie actor accents and lines, his mother encouraging the shenanigans, and my dear friend sitting three cushions away to my right. She is ordering our dinners as I type. Commentary from the living room gallery continues to be, well, funny.

I do find this to be entertaining. “Not to me, necessarily.”, wasn’t meant to be dismissive. Chicken parmesan with a side of asparagus, some kind of soup I would never order, and a discussed cold steak salad on the very talkative menu this evening. The banter between two very close siblings I find exhaustingly affable and engaging. These two are really special. Both laughing their way through this snapshot in time. Mom of the two sitting not so quietly off to the side, picking her spots to correct my occasional grammar mistakes when I find the moments to speak. Yes, it has been the slip of, “Can I…?”, instead of, “May I…?” out of my non-thinking ahead mouth here.

Across, in my view is a stunning, large portrait I have yet to ask about … as the dialogue continues back and forth concerning tabs, menus, and “longhorn” alliterations. My ears and eyes collect data so much more than any other senses here … now. Jim Gaffigan and obscure movie lines tickle about and I sit here enjoying all the love between a brother and sister … and mother. Not mine, but theirs. I’m an outsider visiting on a birthday weekend. Sitting on an unfamiliar couch with settings strange to my want-to-engage personality. The impenetrable bond between a sister and brother is uniquely theirs. I’m laughing inside, all the while so much admiring the unspoken giggling youth they are re-living every second. Mom reclines back, She is taking it all in. Her son and daughter. So infrequently together, yet here they are, chuckling and hand-holding their words through an app. designed to frustrate even the most tolerant of hungry siblings.

I see myself twitching about here … possibly unable to continue writing as the ordering saga may be coming to a close. As time and opportunity present themselves, I will proceed here… Demands are high. “Scott” has been designated the task of driving 15 minutes for pick-up and he’s escorting the grammar-corrector which, fortunately, affords me the opportunity to freely speak my mind. The birthday girl has requested an audience to reminiscently roam about her childhood home, so I will abandon this post for now. More to come …

Morning after. No time to continue last night as the festive atmosphere hung around without the chance for my tapping into this phone.

Our meals arrived, but not without incident. The horrors of no bread and fries, as ordered, mandated another trip back to Longhorn for the already distressed “Scott”. (As an aside here, I refer to my friend in quotes because it is his real name, however, he is identified by a nickname … very much a literary license being used here).

This starchy mis-step required two additional phone usages from two separate cell devices. One, a vocal urge from a mother. The other an attempted text. I casually sat back, enjoying the one-sided conversation heard an earshot away. I assumed the offering of a free desert on the next visit wasn’t an acceptable replacement as mom’s voice raised to a higher level previously unknown to me. A brotherly text came in, “I’m in the lot. Now what?”. “Mom talked to them. Go inside.”, my friend replied back. Fixed upon his return. Ah, the perils of a large, multi-state restaurant worker looking at a sticker that says, “fries”, and thinking, “I’ll put asparagus inside. They’ll never notice.” Ugh.

It was a delightful meal, nonetheless. A bit of music trivia played along the way as I, the master of who-holds-the-cards-with-the-answers controls the game, dutifully discharged my OCD – not without some criticism from inpatient players to my right and left, I must add … A sounding board of critically friendly, yet somewhat understandable, banter ensued from those hungry for the correct answers who didn’t balance up to an acceptable level of who’s who in musical trivia. I say, in retrospect, “He who controls the cards, controls the flow and rules of the game … regardless of whose birthday it is. Period.”… Also, I am grateful my meal was paid for prior to assuming the role of trivia dictator-in-chief, otherwise, my financial situation would be $15 dollars less at this time.

We escorted our full selves to the living room. A room quieted with shelves full of pictures and books built into a wall broken only by a stone fireplace irreplaceable in the heart of my friend. She lives in memories pasted gently behind many clear pages in tens of binders carefully labeled by event and year. Volumes of books stand in back of framed photographs. Brother and sister, side by side, always … even in many captured moments. This is an evening for them. A visiting brother, home.

Back home to see his sister. A room for living. A birthday. A mom off to the side, again, resting her eyes on her two children. Seeing a daughter connect with her brother during a time when they needed to be together – laughing, giggling, attaching their youthful spirits to their current adulting world – she had joy. I noticed a slow camera phone picture taken as Scott played his guitar for his sister. Mom is still a bit tech-savy. She needed that moment captured. It will remain in her soul more than in the digital world.

I sat beside, yet removed from time. Presents were opened. Songs sung between a brother and sister crossed my air as I sat on a sofa between them. An accomplished guitarist and song writer, Scott played for hours as his sister sunk into his every note. Invisible was I. Truly ok because I closed my eyes and entered into their world of music as it should be. An added connection on top of a love deeper than I knew upon entering this unknown home hours earlier.

It is no longer unknown. I know that love because I have a sister of my own. She is special to me. We cry together. We’ve experienced a life together. She’s musical. I’m musical. Our mom is no longer here to deliciously serve a no-bake cheesecake like my dear friend’s mom did close to 10:30 that evening (with fresh strawberries and blueberries, I may add). The family of three I spent time with, as a distant fourth, has a special bond … and a trio of special people. It was a birthday for a sister with limited time, but a timeless experience for me.

They hugged each other, as siblings do, when the evening ended hours later. I watched and admired. No more words are necessary.

Life has returned to whatever normal is for all of us. A brother is back to his life out-of-state. A sister continues her maze through a rare, known cancer path that will, ultimately, silence the music in her life. A mom lives – simply. Know a lot, she does. Mostly, that her two children love each other so much.

Me? Well, I did finally ask about that stunningly large portrait on the wall. It was designed and done by, yes, my dear friend. A gifted artist is she. A thumb and fingerprints self-portrait done in ink, from what I recall. Not surprising myself here, I found it to be engaging and worth my attention. To be proud, she mentioned it won first prize – winning that award over a local artist who then recognized her talent.

Art, music, and a birthday. Life is just nice sometimes. We should have birthdays for sisters all the time.

Welcome Back, Mom

I’ve been at this a short time. Since October of 2019, to be more precise. Millions of other bloggers dutifully write words of greater depth on this day and have done similar, marvelous posts on days going back further than that. Year over year, they tell their individual stories. I walk along side some of them as they silently speak of their beautiful journeys. They are we-blog folks. Simple people who have something special to say on a particular day.

At the time of this post, there are an estimated 500 million blogs. Logging on the web, back in 1994, was a portal for Justin Hall and Peter Merholz who became quasi-household names to all the bloggers yet to come. Pioneers are they. The former considered the “founding father” of personal blogging and the latter who coined the term, “blog”. Technological credits aside – available for anyone willing to do the additional research – I’m simply amazed – after fifteen months of experimental digitry on my Dell keyboard and Samsung phone, primitive observational photographic skills, and basic grasp of grammar rules – I have followers of one kind or another. Either through email or a simple follow button, there are those of you out there in the blogosphere who enjoy reading my words.

We don’t say “thank-you” enough these days. Out of half-a BILLION blogs, you’ve chosen this one to read. Thank-you.

…and thank you, 2021. What for? Returning a little bit of normal to me I thought I lost months ago during a tempestuous, emotional 2020.

We didn’t lose mom in 2020. She died in 2012. Part of what she left behind was her music. Not just all the piano music I get a chance to play, but also her iPod Shuffle and various other devices with music downloaded she listened to while undergoing chemo treatments. I’m not sure my siblings, or my dad, miss mom the same way I do. We’re all different. We mourn her loss differently – even eight years, four days later. Pianistic connections are hard to let go between a son and mother. Duets played side by side, deeply felt, are not easily let go – and shouldn’t be. Remembering hearts entwined, while playing thousands of pinochle hands on cold winter evenings, trump this sad feeling of not having her around to help me deal with her absence across the table from me.

Facing another year without someone like her is hard. If you’re sitting with me, you know the fondness without the company of that person. A mom, dad, son, daughter, friend …they’re all so uniquely important to us. A memory just isn’t enough most times. We can pretend a sign from above is enough – and it is for the moment. But when that person is no longer here in person to give us a hug, or tell us they love us no matter what, we feel less-full, less-complete. Holidays, especially, are tough. Mom’s cookies. Dad’s Christmas traditions … all so important to us, right?

Here is 2021. Geesh, are we glad it’s here, or what? The election season was anfractuous. Yes, anfractuous, and as of this day, still hasn’t settled into a direct line toward a calm inauguration. The pandemic, of course, virtually split everything into parts previously unknown for a century. Racial tensions pulled apart our country. What a mess we were … and continue to be. How about we simply acknowledge a lot happened we weren’t too happy about and, privately, mourn our losses? If you suffered a tragedy, please accept my sincere condolences. 2020 wasn’t kind. “Happy New Year!”, I guess.

Mom didn’t need to be alive for any of this. It’s fortunate she isn’t around. There are too many people to hug and not enough time in the day for her. Distancing away from her family would be too much – as it is for so many other families – and not being able to be her wouldn’t be any kind of life.

Cancer sucks. The day she died, however, was one of my best days. I’ve said this since that sad March day in 2012. My biggest crutch in life was kicked out from under me. I had to grow up and become an adult on that very day. Losing her earbuds last year still hurt, however. Listening to music through her ears since she died was one of my connections. When they went missing, I lost a part of my mom. Last year took so much from so many, yet misplacing a simple pair of earbuds, to me, was living the 14th floor of UPMC Altoona’s palliative care wing all over again.

The connection was lost. I lost a small part of mom. Efforts to find failed. Drawers, closets, cars, clothes, etc … nowhere to be found. With regret and sadness, I gave up. Times of late night music sessions only for my ears silenced. I didn’t want to buy a replacement. There was no other. I know this sounds goofy, perhaps a bit featherbrained, but tickle my fancy and go with the emotional-logic here: there IS no emotional-logic. Replacing the earbuds meant I was, in a mystifying way, replacing my dear mom.

I don’t believe in signs from above. If there’s a divine being up there, I think there’s a better way to send us signals than birds and cloud shapes. I don’t know what I don’t know, so I’m always open to learning, however. Whatever urged these wonderful little earbud-dies of mom’s to show back up in my life yesterday … thank-you. Yes, they were jammed under the sofa … no surprise there because I probably hobbled them under there a while back flirting around doing something else.

As I type, for the first time in months, music flows again through my ears. Mom lives again. I’m listening to the top hits of 2020. Everything’s back to normal. Kinda. Still have a way to go because hanging close by are six masks and a schedule adjusted for semi-lockdowns and virtual teaching.

I’m thankful and grateful I can write along with my 500 million friends … and have something special to say on this particular day. Unique, to me, of course because of all the problems in the world lately, I may have been the only one who lost his earbuds within the past 6 months. Small in comparison to others’ tremendous losses this past year, my experience was, nevertheless, real to me … and heartfelt.

As I close, “Memories” by Maroon 5 finishes up on the playlist. Again, no pointing upward or sideways to a divine interventionist. I’m simply going to stop typing, sit back, and listen to the words. Thankful, for one last time, mom is talking to me again. Welcome, 2021.