A Toddler’s Playground

That distinctive aroma of gravy and turkey spun its way around the corner of our old kitchen into a small dining room. A traditional Thankgiving meal was almost on the way. Mom, of course, would be the last to arrive at a table with an informally placed, odd selection of chairs seating a similarly odd hodgepodge of family members.

A typical family holiday. Mom insisting that everyone be seated before she sat down. Dad fussing over something of which we had no idea. Perhaps a fondue pot in the center of the table surrounded by dark green vegetable trays on top of a brown, yellow, and orange table cloth all set the tone for a 70’s Thanksgiving feast.

This particular year was different, however. Aside from all the normal scuffle-abouts, the children among us – myself included – were pre-instructed to be on our best behavior, if possible. My Uncle John was bringing a special guest home for the holiday .. a friend of his … a gentleman singer/associate he met while both sang as members of the elite US Army Chorus.

I don’t recall the specific year, however, I do remember where I sat and the specific quote. “Keep an eye on him,” Uncle John said, “…he’s going to be a big star some day and go places!”

Clint Holmes went on to be a major headliner in Vegas – and is to this day.

I can’t really wrap my mind around sitting next to him that Thanksgiving day fifty years ago. Only a few feet away sat a young man in a very humble house, in Hollidaysburg. His life unfolded in quite a magnificent way. Uncle John nailed it.

The other day, this picture roused up that memory.

“Playground in my Mind” was released in 1972. The Clint Holmes recording became one of his all-time biggest hits. I listened to the record over, and over, … and … over. “Where the children laugh and the children play / And we sing a song all day” are my favorite lyrics in this wonderful song. Doesn’t this picture speak that magic?

Kiddo magic – running into a playground to laugh, play, imagine, and dream. We forget, as astutely mature ones, what it was like to be inquisitive … to run into mysteriously fun places to touch a universe of unknowns, or examine tiny fascinations.

Look at these two little ones. If they could fly, they would. One foot off the ground and the other toe-tapping a ground barely in existence under their joyous toddler beings. Beyond the covered bridge is a magnificent playground in their mind … just as Clint Holmes loved and sang in his mind a half century ago.

I am so honored to span the generations with music. The power of music holding hands with memories is spectacular. In so many ways, we are connected – variations of words, music, and spirit.

In no small way, two little ones helped me re-live a memory I haven’t experienced in decades. Also, they reminded me to skip a bit easier through the challenging covered bridges in life.

As Clint sang, maybe try, “Living in a world I left behind…” once in a while.

It is a fantastic song. Look it up and dare to pass through the troubles in a moment’s time to experience a happy, giggling, peaceful, generational playground in your mind.

Those two above, and Clint, would have it no other way.

31 Flags

I don’t know most of their stories. Every day, for a few minutes, I stood on warm concrete slabs as individual flags folded into summer breezes. Quiet imaginations filled my head while honoring local heroes. They made an impression on a digital camera phone and a daily memory for me.

Their names etched in black on a pole placard… and each individual story supported by a family member who reached out to the Rotary Club.

For one of the thirty-one days, each hero earned a place of recognition on my Facebook page. It was, truly, my honor to do so.

As a tribute to those who served and are currently active, here are the thirty-one who gave me pause:

Alex H. Drummond – Air Force, John Paul Dibert – US Army, Robert S. Cramer – Sergeant First Class US Army Reserve 1957-1995 , Richard Gildea US Navy Radarman 2/C WW2, Adolph Goldstein – US Army WW2, Samuel Calvin McLanahan – US Navy 1863-1869, Robert D. Williams – Trooper PA State Police, Andrew C. Williams RN, BSN Clinical Supervisor Cardiology Services, Valentine Ranck – Lancaster Militia Revolutionary War, Colonel Terry Wagner – US Army, Gerald Grubb US Army Air Corp KIA 3/30/43, Cloyd P. Grubb US Army Infantry Purple Heart Recipient, Dennis E. McCready – US Army Korea, JW Straesser – US Army Air Corp WW2.

Colonel Paul Roscher – Decorated Pilot POW WW2, Louis J. Lusk USAF “Halo” Senior Master Sergeant Special Warfare, Thomas Tidd – US Navy WW2 Pacific Theatre, Colonel Craig L. Carlson – US Army, Dr. Bridget O. Corey – Blair Foot & Ankle podiatric medicine, Mike J. Corey US Army , Elle W. McConnell – Nurse Practitioner Blair Foot & Ankle, Carl C. Werner – Staff Sergeant E-6, Allegheny Lutheran Social Services Healthcare, Residents of the Lutheran Home of Hollidaysburg who served our Nation, William R. Collins Jr. – US Army, Gary A. Davis – US Marine Corps, Richard Burnett – US Army, John S. Sigrist – US Army Reserve, Tony Drummond – US Army Healthcare worker, Desmond T. Lutz – Air Force Staff Sergeant, and Edward Kopanski – Vietnam veteran.

Quite the list. Revolutionary War through present day. I knew Colonel Wagner and am personally familiar with a few others; however, I am still fascinated by the stories those flags told.

They are no longer there.

Gone are the early morning stops for me. I miss the moments. So much so that a late night pull over this evening – after a tiring food truck event – was necessary. I needed time. Time to pull life over from its busy lane just enough to remember other folks who do much more – give so much more – to allow all of us a life of work and leisure.

At the very end of an invisible 31st flag, the permanent digital display gave me this:

Another flag. Yes, it is always in the rotation between, now, 80+ degree temperature readings and the time. This was no miracle sent from the heavens. For me, simply a final image to capture, to bookend if you will, a marvelous experience.

My story is simple. Five minutes every morning, I was fortunate enough to stand in front of an American flag while honoring an individual who deserved my time.

On July 13th, thirty-one invisible flags – for thirty-one seconds during a quiet, dark evening – were settled into their repose until next year. I stood there, peacefully.

I figure a second for each one of their stories is worth a lifetime for us.

Wilson, the Furry Volleyball

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Likable Loneliness

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thomas was there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Vase and a Friend

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

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

She is not here anymore.

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

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

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

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

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

… this is gain, not loss.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flowers That Remember

I walked into our local florist today. Exactly ten years after one sad day, a month and five days since my last post, and ten minutes after sitting alone in a restaurant eating breakfast … I entered into an array of color. Expecting to buy a small spray of forget-me-nots, they had none. My vase of expectation remained empty as I left, but hope is never defeated.

It will take a few hours to re-visit the small blue flowers because I must attend to my business. It is a difficult day. Ten years ago, mom died from cancer. She is one of two small – never to be forgotten – flowers I expected to have close to me now. The other? A recognition of the shrinking brain known as dementia. Forget-me-nots are the symbol of this slow moving disease that slowly peels away reason and sense from those we love.

Within the beautiful arrangement that is my life now, I have a recognition of a life gone from cancer and a life present with dementia. Two wonderful flowers in a vase on my mantle today.

There’s no denying a reality. What is … is. Conversations repeated, forgotten sentences, anger over recognized loss – yet a small understanding, still, of a diagnosis in the early stage … all of this in a bouquet known as dementia. A reality so many experience daily. I am understanding this path with every inhaled scent and sensibility I can gather as two of us walk together. We are pals. We are stemmed together, yet trying to maintain our independence at the same time.

It is difficult. Especially today, it is hard.

Does he remember that day ten years ago? Is it meaningful? Is a forget-her-not in there somewhere? I believe it is … and he should water that memory as best he can.

I have my sad – and wonderful memories – of that day. I always say, “When mom died, it was the best day of my life. I started a new journey, … a new me. She was exceptional. A fantastic mom. That said, I had to grow up. My biggest supporter (and crutch) was gone.” I began anew. The past ten years would not have been what they were had mom not died.

Do I miss her? ABSOLUTELY!! Do I miss the “old” me? No.

So, here life is. Two forget-me-nots – not in a physical vase yet. No picture to show here … just words. Words one will never hear again and another may hear, but not fully understand.

I am ok with both.

I’m not ok having over a month go by without writing a blog entry, however. It is life, though, and quite acceptable when gaps in a shrinking brain require my attention.

Dementia sucks. Cancer sucks. That said, I do intend on keeping hope alive later today. Forget me not as I press on toward finding small blue flowers of hope.

A Love Story for the Ages

“Round Midnight” by Jerry Blank

I love this. The northwest trombone caught my eye.

Usually, pianist blood coursing through my veins directs my eyes toward keys in arts … in life. Ten years of youth in this case, however, slid a trombone into prominence. My band experiences from 4th grade through college – then playing off and on since – haven’t exited my psyche.

As it should be.

When Jerry Blank’s colorful print splashed across my Facebook page, music entered once again. In the midst of hassled hurries…, rhythm, melody, and harmony – the trilogy of musical marvels – visited my soul.

Art inspires music. Nobody would argue music stimulates brushes upon canvases, either. This love story between the two requires no handsome princes or beautiful damsels. Neither demands outrageous expectations from the other. They live and love co-equally for us.

Depending upon the colors and sounds in our life’s experiences, art and music speak to us. They allow us entrance in to a world of imagination and pleasure. The artists who create fascinations through notes and hues give us golden gateways through which we find new ways forward … different paths, … distinct, unconnected patterns to our old woven tapestries.

Yes, I do love this print. Especially today.

Love of what can be, and acceptance of the love story before us on this Valentine’s Day IS this day

Music adores art. Art cherishes music. It is a love continuing from centuries ago. We have the great fortune to soak up a few decades of rose pedals placed gently under our feet from their nuptials generations past. In this life, every symphony, museum, child’s drawing, or simple sonatina is a marriage of our imagination and art. Whether it be a single stroke of a brush or the caress of a middle-C, … it is the engagement of our mind with an idea, a wonderment, a dream, a new beginning.

A love story, perhaps.

Whatever today means to you, embrace it through art and music if you are able. There is an enchanting, surreal experience waiting for you through forms and fugues, or perhaps statues and songs.

For me, a love story for the ages. For you, a love of your dreams and those who make your world magical. Look for their bright colors and tuneful smiles. Fall back in love with yourself …. your earthly, rhythmic pulse and rainbow of possibilities.

Find your trombone among the many. Look in all directions. Let arts, in general, be the instrument of your love this February 14th. “Round Midnight” it will be a new day, but love will continue forward just like it has for centuries.

… through the heart chambers of music and art, of course.

Hot Chocolate Thoughts

She deserved a nice tip. The young lady behind the beverage bar – nested in a separate room inside Allegheny Creamery and Crepes – mixed up a fine warm chocolate brew for me. This, alone, could have been enough for my asking to break a ten dollar bill. In addition to her perfectly mixed hot refreshment, sips of pleasant conversation accompanied my Saturday evening as I had forty-five minutes to wait.

It was a cold evening in Hollidaysburg. Across Allegheny street, a substitute organist sat on the church bench as I enjoyed a week off. This wasn’t a time to eat a wonderful meal prepared by culinary masters. Due to a meal planned for later in the evening, I didn’t want to over-saturate a growling stomach … just appease the monster within. It was a time to wait for my father to finish up at church. He needed a ride home, … and I needed some alone time to think.

She deserved the tip. I deserved some hot chocolate time. Alone with warmth between my fingers and occasional, sweet conversation across a beverage bar, I sat on a comfortable square stool – deserving a few moments to think.

If you live a life similar to mine, these moments are rare. There is a concession trailer a few miles away – full of supplies, but empty of motivation. Life here has been hectic. If you are a follower of my posts, there have been few this past month. I’m not one whose bucket fills with excuses, so there will be none here. Life … just … is.

This recent hot chocolate moment without staring into a phone screen (except to capture a picture) was worth every second. I was hoping it would be when I Skecher-crunched my way across a dark, snow-covered Allegheny street that Saturday evening. There’s never a bad time to enter Allegheny Creamery either. The service is exceptional, succulent servings on the menu never disappoint, and the owners are very kind and genuine.

Allegheny Creamery and Crepes
505 Allegheny St, Hollidaysburg Pa 16648

So I sat and thought.

I considered the unending, unknown universe while thinking about what has ended in my life recently and “things” I thought I knew. Hot chocolate ponderings I haven’t taken the time to consider over the previous thirty days.

Notions about what I believed should have been normal, but never came to pass, blew through the steam as it wiggled its way up past my nose. Loss -not quite settled into my existence – sat quietly in the not yet consumed white squiggles atop the rich brown chocolate. As I thoughtfully tapped on the comforting cup with each acceptance, the warmth on the side continued to hold hands with great friends and family who’ve always been by my side.

We don’t take enough time to examine, and possibly affirm, the wonderful and not-so good drop-ins that happen to us. Sometimes, we push forward. I did. The past few weeks, life took over.

All of the “stuff” is still here, of course. Part of managing is stopping behind a cup of hot chocolate, alone, and acknowledging the ugliness and beauty of the frayed tapestry that is us at times.

It is said over and over: life isn’t perfect. We shouldn’t want it to be. Reminding ourselves of what is good, and possibly not good, at the moment – at whatever age – can be a sweet transformation, however. Being real with yourself is “what is” … There’s no getting around it.

I have a road to travel. A simple forty-five minutes accompanied by a delightful bartendress, a cup of hot chocolate, and my thoughts won’t solve the larger picture that is my life.

It did tighten up a few threads dangling from a decorative tapestry, though.

And so, she did deserve a nice tip. The moments could have gone by with a less-than stellar beverage and sour chat. As it happened, I was beautified with a perfectly mixed chocolate beverage and a few moments of sweet dialogue.

The Allegheny Creamery and Crepes was a place to be that Saturday night as I waited. I walked in anticipating only few moments out of the cold. A cup of hot chocolate, however, offered something more … time to examine loss, change, and anticipation of good things to come.

If you have a Creamery where you are, sit. If ever in Hollidaysburg, find 505 Allegheny Street. Heather and Kirk will welcome you with open plates and pleasures.

I highly recommend their hot chocolate, by the way, for the gentle reminders it can offer you. I waited and found warmth in a simple cup.

George

I didn’t know George well enough to post a picture. Knowing his wife through her heartful writings lately and our pianistic connections in the past, I can feel her pain. George is gone.

Pamela writes, publicly, of their love. Leading up that difficult decision to end his life, her words tearfully expressed an inevitable finish to a beautiful story. Today, I read – and watched – why that story had to be told. George was a master lyricist and romantic. He had charm.

Usually, my entries are longer, fuller – a bountiful basket loaded with more paragraphs. Today, however, I am satisfied to let George’s words rest with him and on our hearts. More reading time is not necessary. I was moved by his poem, “A Rainbow In My Rain”.

… and his eternal energy is enough for me today.

All of us can be thankful to meet these unexpected talents. Sometimes, they come disguised as sadness in the lives of others. I am in mourning with Pamela.

As you read his poem, may you extend positive, healing thoughts in Pamela’s direction as she begins a new life without her George.

http://www.georgewertman.weebly.com

Beautiful, Reliable Shadows

Photo courtesy of Kimberly Calderwood

The year is winding down. One week to go. Our fifty-one weeks of sun’s memories are setting on 2021’s horizon. Some dark trees still remain in front of us, yet we know that our friendly, warm orb will rise again tomorrow, the next day, and eight days hence … January 1st of the new year.

With it will come our chance to change, to grow, to take those tree’s shadows and shine some light on them. Before then, however, a holiday eve is but hours away.

Family members, if coming into town, have possibly arrived. Presents are wrapped and will be tucked away under glistening trees. Little fingers, anticipatIng the tug across seams aligned with scotch tape after Santa arrives in the early morning, are excited to have school on recess for a bit. All food-stuffs for the days ahead are planned out in the heads of those gifted with culinary skills. Football schedule times, embedded in Christmas day gridiron diehards, are already being discussed.

This is what today is. A holiday eve. There’s an energy – a togetherness – that has no equal to any other time of year. Some may say, “tradition”. I say, a reliable, predicable, wonderful time.

It is all about reliability and “I am with you-ness”. Just like the sun. As one sole typer of words on this day, I see this in my life … and hope in yours as well.

When I saw Kim’s picture posted, growth through the reliance on friends and family came to mind. That “family” isn’t just the mom & dad, sister, brother, etc … All of us belong somewhere – to someone.

Our 2021 story belongs not only to ourselves, but also to a larger family who believes what we do, engages in the same activities, thinks along the same lines … and, shall I say, loves us despite our dark trees. We grew together with them this year, right? It wasn’t easy at times, but we saw our way through because the sun kept rising every day disguised as reliability in friendship.

We relied on them to tie a large knot on the end of our slippy, mistake-ridden rope. Friends met us for a bite to eat when we really didn’t want to discuss a problem or find our way through a maze of issues – but they knew we had to talk.

We can certainly celebrate what we need to this holiday season. For me, I will recognize the sun in my tree’s shadows … which have been the friends and family in my life this year. They are my sun that keeps rising every day.

My hope is 2022 will present many opportunities to change, to grow, to take those tree’s shadows and shine some light on them.

I offer my sincere hope that you find a universe of family and friends who give you the same. There’s no moment when a sun isn’t above to give you guidance. It’s reliable and, in eight days, may you look back into the shadows of 2021 and say, “We did that … together”.