To Where?

Courtesy J. Koss

I don’t take pictures like this. There are friends in my life who do, however, and I welcome these on the doorstep of my life. Knocking at my everyday Facebook door are pictures of trees, dogs, landscapes, family members, and … train tracks – to name a few pop-up fantastics in my life. I answer willingly. I need to because life, on occasion, is too mundane with day-to-day push-throughs. Inviting pictures into my virtual home refocuses this over-active, buzz-brain of mine on the happy, peaceful track to somewhere. … To where? Just not sure.

I don’t need to know the destination and this is what makes these pictures delightful. Around the bend ahead is of no concern. Most are a snapshot of the “now” – a moment in time to be experienced … lived “through the lens” as one of my friends so aptly pens in a Facebook page. Another friend, Joel, is the photographer of record here. He aptly engineered a “now” moment for all of us to enjoy by tying in a few fall colors against the backdrop of rolling hills absorbing the rails … leaving us to wonder what’s left for anyone willing to take a mid-spring balanced walk into the future.

The time to come is not to be considered when in the here and now, though. Daylight gives us reflections on the top of rails worn down by decades of metronomically clanking metal wheels rumbling over rocks and ties. Spikes vibrated across active tracks as goods and people-folk travelled back and forth not thinking about what they rode upon. Joel stopped all this. The moment became stationary as time pulled in and blew a respite whistle. Rest.

Courtesy A. Sipes

Evening came. Aptly titled, “Heading down to the end of the day” – here is a doubly nice sunset over another disappearing “To where?” on my Facebook doorstep. Lush greens with pointed golden rails piercing into far mountain range … possibly the preservation of Joel’s single thought in this second picture by my other photographically gifted friend? I don’t know. In my limited circle, there’s doubt as to these two knowing one another. Whatever the case, within days, both posted glorious, inviting pictures extending a hand across to me. Being the slightly unbalanced one on one rail, I reach to grasp their pictures’ extended hand being offered to me. It’s nice to simply stand on the rail … get back on track with life. Being balanced and not worry about the “To where?” – if just for a Facebook moment – is nice.

These two pictures made me pause – if just for a short time. My future, and those who I love and care about, is never guaranteed. Around the bend for all of us is the great unknown, right? Tough decisions await some really close, heart-felt individuals in my life who, on balance, have invited astounding choices into their pasts. Decisions I don’t think I could have made, btw. Their life was derailed by unforeseen circumstances, but they continue onward … with vigor, determination, and love.

With the future not a certainty, we live our day-to-days trying to stay balanced. Between work and family obligations, staying on track is really difficult. On top of the normal “stuff”, there’s the larger issues of medical emergencies, financial problems, unexpected family issues, house repairs, etc … we never see coming. If I gave you a few minutes to make a list, I’m sure you’d come up with at least ten more of your own .. if not more. Life is just life and we do it until we can’t.

Sometimes I can’t, so I open my door to music, wonderful pictures, or anything willing to bring a little balance into my life. My over-active brain welcomes the visit for a short time as long as there’s room. I get all fulled-up with stress and consternation at times shoveling too much coal into the worry engine I’ve trained my life to be at times. I suspect this isn’t a problem uniquely mine. Be that as it may, I’m so glad I have at least two great friends who have an eye for photography …

… and a vision for the “now”.

The path forward is unknown. “To where?” … I certainly don’t know. Time has a way of sorting all this out. Pedantically, “Plan the work and work the plan”, I guess. Philosophically, one of the best quotes I ever read was the following:

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”—Eleanor Roosevelt

This is where we are. All of us. Now is the space. We have no choice but to hug it and make it ours. Whatever it looks like to you, embrace the moment. My two friends choose to see it through their cameras. I invite you to meet your “nows” on the doorsteps of life when you hear that gentle knock. The “To where?” will take care of itself in due time as you take that balanced walk into the future.

A Reflection on Parking

“Yeah well, I’m going to. If not an old Honda, at least my body.” So said a very satisfied brain … as an equally happy, jovial attitude stopped me for a mid-morning respite and a reflection on parking.

It is a Sunday in Hollidaysburg. A very beautiful Sunday, may I add. The day after I travelled 33 miles north to Patton, Pa., with the intention of playing two selections for a matrimonial celebration – one in, one out. An easy “gig” by any measure. Route 36, a pleasant 2-lane I’ve up-and-downed many times before, didn’t disappoint with its resplendent view. Large, electric generating wind turbines more than dot the landscape, but those don’t take away from the lush early-spring greenery and expansive farmland seen along the way. Saturday rushed go-abouts passed me as I took my time … ahead of schedule. Rare was that feeling in my psyche as I am not used to built-in spare time parked into my body.

The 33 minutes rushed by, however. A few wrong turns didn’t distract much once the arrival of never pushing the start icon on google maps occurred to me. The deeply disappointed virtual voice directed my calm self out from the 10 minutes incorrect destination into a more pleasing, correct direction arriving, finally, at my destination: La Ferme Rouge. The Red Farm … to a bride, a groom, a mom who hired me sight unseen, and the best use of spare time I’ve ever had.

A nice, relaxed exhale from a Honda and a pianist – as both parked calmly in the lower lot below a quaint (uhm) red farm building – was experienced by all gathered around that particular lot. Yes, I was early, but moms, dads, and groomsmen alike were pleased to see the pianist arrive. White chairs around in a semi-circle, wonderful trees ahead with a single swag strewn among their glistening, mid-afternoon branches and a small altar sat on top of a finely cut lawn. No bride or bridesmaids swooshed among us. I’m sure there was to be a few as I didn’t attend the rehearsal and was unsure the exact number … only one bride, for sure.

I was aware of Stephanie, the mom. For two reasons, I needed to be in touch with her. Payment for my services and logistics. Money, in this case, was easy. One envelope. Logistics? Simple. Where to set up my piano and that funky little problem of an electric source. All went surprisingly well during the set-up. For those of you who’ve experienced weddings as musicians, I hope you appreciate the ease and comfort in my soul as each step along the way was met with cordialness, sincerity, and kindness. I parked my easiness for a second …

…And then I had a moment to really appreciate this:

It’s a piano I noticed immediately before even turning off the engine. Actually, when turning into the lot moments before, my breath stopped and the eyes responsible for minding the 33 miles blinked and immediately wiped away the earlier missed turn. I notice pianos. Old and new. This one is special.

It’s parked in a forever home, never to make a sound other than wind turning through rotted slots and slits in the case. In the solitude of night, a whispy zephyr must sit and play this live painting while sitting on a treasured tractor seat elegantly placed perfectly behind its beautifully battered keys . If not, what a solitude for nature inside? Plants and small creatures finding sounds of the past inside to be a parking space of safety and calm for their weary selves.

I ushered bridesmaids and a bride on my arm of music as they walked escorted by young men. Beside and between two pianos they stepped. The old and new … silent and audible music pushing forward a husband and wife once again. Two people the old piano has most certainly done before and will do again. Parked in that same spot only a few yards down from a Red Farm.

Today, I remember that piano more than the wedding itself. A few tunes before, none during, and “Marry You” as the recessional. Nothing spectacular. Setting up and tearing down combined with travel time added up to six times the total ceremony minutes. “Do you?”. “I Do!” … Kind of wedding. Tears, clapping, Yeah, us … and Let’s eat! No complaints here. I left with an envelope and really cool memories of a special piano. The family was wonderful. The bridesmaids jumped the gun a bit behind the faux barn doors which made the processional a bit wonky … good thing the bride’s mom had a good laugh with me afterwards. “Dad” even commented, “Hey, welcome to my world!”.

All in all, I could not have asked for May to park a better first day to start the month. This second day, an even better day as the sun peeks through the trees on Allegheny street. I enjoyed a delicious eggs benedict breakfast a few moments ago and bask in the expectation that this month will be just fine … just fine.

Eventually, we’ll be pianos parked on our forever lawn. Silent and worn, but a joy to someone who happens by. Live for that moment.

“Go. Be You”

“Are you Doug?”… A question I am asked more often here than anywhere else.

This is Saint Francis University’s JFK Student Center. Well, the front entrance, anyway and my smaller cart nestled in behind a peek-a-boo light pole. Yes, a weekend night appearance, again, for Doug’s Dawgs. Sometimes Friday … an occasional Saturday … always a most pleasant experience. The students and faculty could not be friendlier, the facilities are welcoming, and the drive from my hometown is beautiful regardless of the season.

I’ve handed out food through snow, rain, wind, and bright, sunny wonderfulness. Although the latter is hardly a normal pattern for Loretto, Pa. when there, I still enjoy the drizzly dialogue between the students and I when they walk up to be served. So polite, they are … Every. Single. Time.

“Thank you, Sir.”, “May I have one of each, please?”, “You are so kind for coming up …”.

These complimentary phrases haven’t stopped over the years. Sometimes I think visits are so eagerly penned into my datebook because I need affirmation, not an income. Granted, the swipe of a credit card after hours of sandwich making is nice, but my real reward is when a student mentions how he anticipated Doug’s Dawgs arrival that week. That hope. That small reward at the end of a difficult, perhaps celebratory, study week is something special. I’m so glad to be a small part of it.

The most recent numbers put the enrollment at 1,600-ish. I’m not sure how accurate that is and can assure you I don’t slab that many burgers and dawgs. They come cubed, three-by-three, most times and few order only one sandwich. The process is quick and efficient as no money exchanges and my no-bean latherful chili, drippy nacho cheese, and cooked down sauerkraut is always at the ready. Boom-boom meat in the bun and off they go …

… With smiles and happy shuffles – off to other activities planned by coordinators very proficient at their jobs.

And then it happens, almost like clockwork, every time I’m there … Three/four times per appearances.

“Are you Doug?”… “Yes, I am!”… The comeback reply is equally predicable: “Oh, wow! We get to meet the real Doug!”

Look, I’m no Brad Pitt here. Superstar stickiness to my chest should never be assumed. I’m just a piano-playing hotdawg salesman who writes a blog once in a while. Gotta say, though, when that last sentence blows across my ego, it feels really nice. Really nice.

For a moment, I have an extra spring in my tongs. Burgers on the grill nudge a bit closer to their dawg friends. Everything about the cart lightens up as concerns lift off my smoldering shoulders when unassuming “real” Doug words prop up and affirm what I am doing.

It is an identity confirmation. The students are making a passive comment. Sure, they don’t mean anything other than “It’s nice to hook the cartoon character on the decal with the live, breathing humanoid who happens to have the same name”… I get that. They know little of the struggles or successes in my life, but I do and I’m making the leap from their words to my brain.

We are “real” individuals. The real you is always here. We forget who we are and what we’ve accomplished in life sometimes because living, itself, gets in the way.

I have a lot going on now. Personal and professional stuffiness jam my schedule. Covid is popping up and forcing my eraser to work overtime … still. Just yesterday I had an event cancel due to three positive cases. Nothing … nothing can be assumed or taken for granted anymore. Money and relationships can be lost and gained in a heartbeat. Health-related issues will peek around a tree whenever you least expect them. Friends and family will bless and disappoint you on a regular basis.

Even with all that, happy phrases can make a small difference if you’re available and open to hear them. They don’t have to be nine words long from really nice college students. You know how a kind word or two from a stranger in a grocery store line can turn around your lousy day, right? Say a kind word to someone, too. Tell them they’re the real deal, wearing a nice shirt, or drive a nice color car.

It’s a small University tucked away in a really tiny town. I love going there. They help me to be more of me than they know. I’m Doug and I own Doug’s Dawgs. “Yes, it’s me. Yes, I am.”

Go. Be you.

Snowy Diamond

“Can you believe this?”, pronounced one of the provocateurs at our breakfast table. He incited misplaced seasonal phrases none of us wanted to say like, “There’s crappy white stuff out there.” & “What the hell is this?”. As the three of us looked through our favorite cafe window, the snow blew expectations of a sunny, warm April day out that same clear glass and we certainly felt the pain. If only momentarily, the winter angst revisited us like Grinch looking over Whoville … ready to steal any positive, happy packaged belief we had about a snug, comfortable Thursday.

Yes, the snow blew. We felt it in our souls. Diamonds in the rough we pretend to be every day as time passes over easy eggs, rye toast, and occasional slabs of scrapple dripping with maple syrup – depending upon our mood. These are the Hollidaysburg days uptown or downtown depending upon one’s idea of direction around here. Pennsylvania times few of us – a scant half dozen, or so – get to experience sitting in a booth by a window.

Tracks in the snow during an April blizzard were left by anxious feet and rubbery tires as they made haste coming up the street toward “the diamond” – an intersection where The Capitol Hotel has been taking up residence for decades. Trolley cars, horses and buggies both have passed leaving their historical marks in the snow for us to remember in pictures hanging elegantly on the walls inside. Portraits from the past showing those who’ve previously passed our time and left marks on our hearts. I’ve seen their faces and places they’ve lived and loved. The intersected ground on which I stood moments earlier experienced their lives … in person. Where Allegheny and Montgomery streets cross? Today, a snowy diamond.

So we sat for a few moments watching this event … a mini late-April blizzard. The urge to put my amateur film-making skills into place overtook hunger, so outside I went. The 15-seconds above are meant to highlight the wind current event, certainly not my Spielbergian sense of cinematography. It wasn’t cold, but a bit breezy. The window creaked as I rose from the booth – as if to say, “Where you goin’, son? … Breakfast hasn’t been served and your friends aren’t done talking.” To be fair, they never stop talking, anyway, so there would not have been a quiet time for me to politely excuse myself. Impulse overtook my instinct to feed the grumbling belly inside. The doors welcomed my exit. Strangely enough, so did my ever-so compassionate friends.

Strangely quiet it was. Save the bundled gentleman who appears in the final second, nobody was astir. Whoville-Hollidaysburg contained a presence unopened at 8:25 a.m. during what should’ve been sunny, early spring awakening. Snow capped cars sat unattended as their otherwise occupied owners were busy going about their business. At that hour, I suspect most were either at The Capitol having the same conversation as my friends, banking nearby, or preparing to shop at one of a few delightful shops about ready to open. Retail isn’t a huge walk-around here, but happening-Hollidaysburg always has dreams afoot and folks will enter into those ambitions as the fates allow.

Fifteen seconds was enough to capture my thoughts. Oh, and I was able to avoid getting wet by standing under a magnificent human porte cochere Brian had installed a few years ago. As I stood there with memories forty years removed from high-school band appearances and only a few feet from where my grandmother had her gift shop, flurries of white stuff continued to cascade down and sideways. I saw winter remembrances coming back as cinematic flashes while looking down over the hill toward what used to be the movie theater. Across the street, the old five-and-dime – G.C. Murphy building – was a row a retail/office buildings being caressed with soon-to-be melting snow. The large, multi-floored furniture store across the way has been converted into smaller stores where imaginations have gone to flourish and generations have lived … and passed. It’s a hometown for most of us. Just like thousand of others, except this day a snowy diamond in the rough had us somewhat perplexed.

Bemused only to a point, though. After the questions were asked and I re-entered my safe space, the friends so eager to welcome my exit graciously embraced the return of their favorite amateur cinematographer. No answers necessary. All of us knew this off-season adventure into blah-blanche wasn’t going to last long. Conversations shifted into politics, personal profundity, and sarcastic wit. You know, the usual morning banter before all of us departed into our normal activities.

The Grinch does apologize for his shenanigans. I’m waiting for Mother Nature’s sorry butt to ring me an, “I’m sorry!” for her apparent dust upon our little ‘burg. In the mean time, I will believe what happened … because it did. THIS should answer the question first posed by one of my friends. As to the “crappy white stuff”? It wasn’t. I saw it as an opportunity to breathe in the remaining fresh, cold air of memories before a hot, humid summer of challenges visits me.

I guess it’s all about living in the moment. Even if we say to ourselves, “What the hell is this?”, it’s still a life to live … and that’s ok. One snowy or brilliant, wonderful day at a time. Inside or outside a favorite cafe, we’re all diamonds in the rough.

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. ( 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.

Sparkling Sunday

A drive and a walk. A simple first Sunday in April. Not something I usually do.

This is Canoe Creek State Park. A few minutes drive east from where I’d usually be on a day like today. Hometown – Altoona, Pa.

Don’t know why it was necessary to experience this calm and silence. I’m not the guy who looks for natural moments like this. I like reflective, insightful keyboard thoughts at my desk with warm mugs of tea sitting by as friendly hellos. Whisking away on my phone – while elbows rest on a well-worn, faded picnic table – is quite the different experience.

Up in the distance sky, a few small aircraft break the silent blue. Small pebbles crunch under the feet of the few passerbys on the stoney path behind me. The lake ahead is so calm. Small ripples touch the same breeze moments later crossing over my relaxing shoulders. Even the chatter coming from a dad and his toddler playground playing nearby doesn’t distract from sounds of soothing wind sails crossing over my ears.

This is a Sparkling Sunday – not a brilliantly shiny one. Just one that has, for me, a spark of something new … different. This is the first Sunday in years – in April – I’m not at a particular location doing my “thing”. My concession stand, for 13 years, has been – loyally, without fail – at a particular location every Sunday from April through October. Today, I’m not there. Through a series of decisions not necessarily my own, it wasn’t to be. They announced an opening day of April 4th (today) … I drove by. Closed.

So, I continued onward. The drive was necessary. Down a few local roads and one state highway, my car ended up here. I sit on a bench looking out over a lake remembering all the family reunions, church picnics, and events I attended at this very park. Most folks I remember now are eternally silent. They are as silent as the lake, but as alive in my memory as all the folks now walking and playing within my eyesight.

The spring sun is warm against my beaten leather jacket. That same sun gives me the opportunity to look at a beautiful, shimmering glow across the lake. Each little sparkle could be a memory … a new experience ahead … or simply a reminder to us that one day at a time is all we really have.

Another toddler has joined the fun with her dad at the playground. They are playing quietly with each other. Dad has a hand over his eyes looking out over the lake – while keeping guard over his loved ones. I suspect he sees the same magic I do. His thoughts and experiences perhaps a bit different than mine, but still appreciating the calm and quiet of the moments.

This is a special Sunday for me. Yes, it’s Easter for Christians. This, today, is a sanctuary.

I’m so glad nature was at the end of my drive and walk today.

One Yellow Flower

Greenbean is friend who brings joy to little ones I have occasion to musically entertain along the path of my life. He is a non-human life form puppet who becomes whatever – whomever – I need him to be through my voice and right hand. A magical, mysterious monster? Why not! A compassionate listener? Sure. One who teaches the ABC’s of the grand staff? Absolutely. Since 2013, the year after my mom died, Greenbean has been a steady companion throughout the lives of many.

Why the name? The last voicemail left on my answering machine from mom was a breathy thank you for a green bean casserole dropped off earlier in the day. She was suffering from late stage cancer difficulties, yet found the few seconds to call. Always the generous soul, she would certainly make that call. It could have been a bag of chips or a quart of milk … her heart would reach out just the same. Food, favors, car rides, cards, … it didn’t matter to her. There was always a follow-up “thank-you” in some form. I knew of no other proper homage to mom than name happiness, thankfulness, and gratefulness after her …

… And with the same breathiness, I write during these early morning hours.

It’s my time to offer my thanks and gratefulness. To life and all it has … and to a special person.

Specifically, to the artist of “One Small Flower”. This small painting rests comfortably on the top of my Baldwin piano. As I play, never is it not a peripheral reminder of the gift of music endowed to both of us. A talented artist as well as a musician, her gift to me ensures an already high level of commitment I have to join her in a journey. We are, together, preparing a benefit concert to raise money for rare appendix cancer research. Our hope is not to raise millions (although that would be terrific). We want to share our gift and, as well, enjoy music together.

That concert is months away. Now is now and cancer does not take time off. The stage with a piano and a microphone awaits, but stage four is here now. I’m sad about this. There’s no denying my last 24 hours of tossing and turning can’t be appeased by a Chopin nocturne or Brahms Intermezzo at this moment. Music has specific healing power, but there are times when grief inside a sad brain can’t be silenced by listening to a lush symphonic crescendo, either. The artist of note has a blank canvas at the moment. Everything is secondary as this pianist types.

This isn’t about me. It is about the 2.5 x 2.5 inch gift of one yellow flower on my piano … because now is now. My dear friend is having a difficult time and I can’t do much more than type one letter at a time. One word after another … hoping, somehow, she knows there are silent musical masterpieces and invisible works of art being played and painted for her – soon to be heard and seen once again.

She is a steady, wonderful companion to many. An artist. A musician. One who deserves a call to simply say, “Thank you”…

I know mom and Greenbean wouldn’t have it any other way.

Appreciate the Wonder You Have

Yesterday was a really nice day. The end.

Preferably, the sunny hours could have stayed … forever. A story never ending, really. These months of cold weather since last November have been sitting on our collective last nerves. Look, it’s not like ice, snow, and freezing temperatures aren’t familiar around here. Western PA thermometer mercury dips replace delicious chocolate and vanilla outside concession scoopy ice cream dips for five months during this span between November and March. Local mom and pop dipperies close down their shops as “hunkerin’ down” becomes a way of life. Wind chills replace the goosepimples of a warm summer’s day rare bird sighting while the sight of exhales overcomes our patience. We see our breath, reminding us not only of our aliveness, but also our early spring reality in PA : still cold.

Yes, still glacially glib. Showing little regard and interest in our overall well-being it is … this pre-spring coldness we seasonally experience. Which makes the very short story of yesterday a breathtaking tale. This being one story you could Chekhov the list of famous short stories written by me – a so-much-less famous author of short story fame.

We are, as of today, ten days away from the official start of spring. March 20th is the spring equinox. Here in PA (the Northern Hemisphere, of course), the sun will begin to hit us kinda’ better increasing daylight and increasing temperatures. Key words: increasing temperatures!! … Two very nice, considerate words crossing the equator approximately 240 hours from now. We anticipate them the same as a triple melty cone of teaberry from the Meadows Original Frozen Custard stand in the middle of July. I, as well, look ahead to increased lines of wondrousness as my customers free themselves from cars and stand, comfortably, outside my trailer.

Fifty-five degrees is barely past one-eighth of a circle, but it came full-circle for us yesterday. Not quite enough to be light jacket free, the sun on weary bodies was a delight, however. Attitudes were bright. Outlooks unclouded. Words spoken expressed joy in the now … not thrown about, carelessly addressing a future unknown to anyone. “Isn’t this a lovely day!?”. “Wow, I’m enjoying this!”. “Can’t believe we have this sun in the sky now … what a treat!”. “How about this?” I spent my three hours open simply enjoying words spoken from the sun – through people – to me – … and now to you. This could be the end of my very short story today.

But, it can’t be.

As I waited for my dad and his friend for a late lunch yesterday at a local restaurant, a very touching text from a lovely high school friend came through on my phone. I was alone – sitting by a window where the sunshine’s warmth came rushing in – when a ping from my phone bounced off the iced tea glass just placed in front of me by a favorite waitress of mine. As clear as the sun’s reflection in that glass, I lived the memories she wrote:

“I wish I could make this shorter but gotta tell u something on my mind – especially after the post about a “Sisters Bday”. When I was a kid coming to your house for piano lessons (don’t know exact age) but I was there. I was always early or very punctual. Your Mom (gracious as always) had me sit in this chair inside the door to the left as I remember and behind the piano. Said she would be with me shortly. So I was the outsider looking in. Was nervous bcuz didn’t want to think I was watching but I observed. So whoever was there, went about their business. Never made me feel unwelcome or like an intruder . Then I would hear sounds of family like kitchen cabinets or plates or oven or just kitchen sounds. If anyone passes by… briefly… no big deal.. a nod or of course I was looking down.. but never ever felt uncomfortable. The point is I was lucky enough to be the outside looking in to a wonderful mother taking care of her family. Yet…. when it was time for me. Her focus was on me- just me and my music and my playing and what I could practice on. She was wonderful. So I was an outsider looking in until it was my turn. I had her full attention with no distractions. In a world today with cell phones, zoom, internet, Alexa… I appreciate the wonder that I had. Just wanted u to know.”

This was her story of my mom. My friend wanted her text to be shorter, but it was the perfect length. Perfect words for me to hear. A small chapter in the story of my mom that truly never ends for me.

I love that second to last sentence she wrote. Love it! “I appreciate the wonder that I had.”. My only regret is I didn’t come up with such a resplendent seven-word phrase to describe the day yesterday. It was a beautiful day … a span of time during which we had warmer hearts to share with each other and kinder words to say. It was, indeed, a welcome sight: that big yellow ball with its glow of snugness shining down on soon to be filled cones of peopleness.

Take today – whatever it brings for you – to appreciate the wonder you have. Ten days, here, will go by quickly and spring days are bound to unleash sensational scoops of fantastical flavors we can finally enjoy after five months of … well, let’s say waiting. Marking time as only western-Pennsylvanians can do.

One breath at a time.

Szechuan Time

It was delicious as always. Szechuan chicken from my favorite downtown Chinese restaurant is the best. Period. I ate all of it. The whole pint.

Not much of a surprise, as the day was a long one. Finally sitting down after eight hours on a mildly sore foot, I had the chance to eat. Given the choice between pancakes from the iron skillet at home, another take-out I can’t recall at the moment, or that wonderful spicy delicacy from my go-to, hometown marvelousness a few miles away, … it’s not surprising I had a happy fork last night.

The expected phone call from my dad was not taken on my home phone. Couldn’t. There are times when even a call from my dad couldn’t be answered. Nestled into a warm sofa, I wasn’t able to do much but move forkfuls of steaming baby corn cobs, green pepper slices, carrot wedges, peppercorns, chilies, brown rice, and really tender chicken a foot’s distance from the bowl to my mouth. He calls almost every night – wondering, in his way, how my day went. “Did you have a good day?”, are the six words usually starting the 3-minute conversation. That call is necessary and almost always on time. His time.

Retired time. A regimented, need-to be on schedule time. When the clock in his head dings, the call is made. So many times, I place my fork, soup spoon, or butter knife down beside a plate of anything to talk with him. He cares enough to call me, so I listen to his concerns about my life. I assume this sounds a bit callous of me to talk/write this way … and, honestly, writing those words is uncomfortable as well; however, talking and listening takes place so frequently – and the heart-to-heart parley is nearly the same every night – so I pass the time casually giving him half an ear. If the tone in his voice changes, I perk up a bit and attend to his words, otherwise, the three minutes passes without much adventure … to be repeated the next evening.

Last night I couldn’t – just was not capable of taking the call. Sometimes there is a follow-up re-ring on my cell when he can’t reach me. I almost expect a forest tone to puncture the near airwaves when he can’t reach me by old technology. Strangely, there was none. Maybe he knew I had a long day and a sore foot? Perhaps he smelled the deliciousness headed my way and knew – just knew – an unanswered first call meant a second call was unnecessary? Possibly a distraction came across his life’s pathway – and an unanswered, “good day?”, query remaining that way wasn’t a paternal problem anymore? Never mind how he got there in his mind. It didn’t happen. He never made the second call. I was not handling any phone instead of a fork … and all of the Szechuan chicken disappeared after 20 minutes of my uninterrupted blissful time.

Let me tell you of one joy in my life. Not dad calling every day … that would be too easy to write about, right? Although I will have time in the future to type those words if expectant tables are true, this is not one of those times. Today, you could assume Szechuan chicken is, but you’d be mistaken as well. Well, this isn’t exactly true. I have mastered spelling, “Szechuan”, by this sixth paragraph without opening the google spell-check window – so that’s something. Nope. Not dad. Not Szechuan.

Time. Time when I can relax. Time alone at my desk writing a blog. Time on the sofa eating one of my favorite take-out meals while watching one of many Johnny Carson re-runs I’ve seen before. Moments I’ll never see again, but clicks on a dial that mean something … not just rush-around, breathless, meaningless to-do’s that only fill in voids to get to the next “thing”. Silent, consequential instants – during which a mind can settle into funnies from the day, musical interludes, and friendships I care about – enter my purposeful time. Uninterrupted is nice.

Last night, and by extension the day, was about friends. I thought about them. Good and great ones. Long lasting, new and existing, old and young, happy and sad ones. I have a rainbow’s color full of friends. Not a day goes by when one does not cross my mind. One, specifically, lately. I would dream a better, hopeful pot of gold awaits her rainbow as she continues ahead in her destinal path forward. Cancer sucks. Specifically, this rare form she so optimistically faces during her time here.

Find your favorite meal, or favorite sofa. Don’t answer any calls unless you need to. Take time to cry, meditate, read, write, play, watch t.v., walk … whatever stops you from going. Be you for a few minutes. The dad in your life – whoever, or whatever that is – will call back. It, or they, still love and care about you … I promise.

My dad will call again tonight. We’ll arrange to meet for pizza because it is Sunday … and that’s what we do. He’s a man of routine. I’ll meet him at the local pizza shop just a few buildings up from the Chinese restaurant where Szechuan chicken made my life meaningful last night. No call necessary for his asking me, “Did you have a good day?”. I’ll answer, “Yep, dad, I did … and my week went well, too.”, because I know the follow-up he’ll ask. Five minutes later, the same question most likely will be asked again since he’s older and has some difficulty remembering these days.

The check will be paid forty minutes later and he’ll probably ask me how much to tip the waitress even though the bill is always the same amount. I’ll reply, “$3.50, dad … and let me since you are picking up the tab … ok?”. It is the conversation we have had every week for years. One day, I’ll miss it.

For now, it is a Sunday routine and last night night I missed his call, kinda. It’s ok. A conversation missed once in a while is ok as long as the time spent otherwise is well worth it. And it was.

I love Szechuan chicken. Period.

It Was Nice

It was a nice day.

Ok, so the weather wasn’t a perfect 72-degrees, sunny day here in central PA. We’ve been talking a lot about the snow, ice, and coldness around town lately. Roads and bridges resembled a Dickens tale up and until yesterday as most staggering about have had enough. I saw the melting frustration in my customer’s eyes, however, as some sparkling ones, inside happy heads, approached my concession window – on top of bounce-in the-step bodies.

It was nice to see.

A sunny, 45-degree day can do this to defeated outlooks. As in most loving communities, the past few months have taken their toll on everyone. Nagging our collective souls: lingering election fatigue, a continuing unmasking of new information about the virus, national and local business struggles on how to survive, heroes of ours dying unexpectedly, personal and spiritual tussles within ourselves … and, of course, the weather.

I don’t know what, from that list or any other challenge, was on the heart of any one of my walk-up, special, fellow walk-abouts yesterday. I do know my mind wasn’t quite on task upon opening as a dear friend was in a cold, sterile hospital room being consulted about her ongoing (possible) newer treatment for cancer. Possible, parenthetically, because her cancer is a rare, unwelcomed friend that’s been hanging around a bit too long and she’s kinda tired of it needing attention. “What to do going forward…?”, could have been one of the questions of the day swirling inside her always optimistic, outlooking window of a brain. “Is the treatment – and possible side-effects – worth it?… Do I want to go through all this, again, for a third time? … Just what, exactly, is my body doing with this cancer that I need to know?… “. Her thoughts were unknown to me. My thoughts about keeping sodas cold, or over-grilling a few burgers took a back-burner for a moment as the quiet of pre-opening a concession trailer during a rather nice February weather day took shape.

She was one. One person who wasn’t in-person, but on my mind as the protective, hinged roof rose to start my day. The sun did shine through my less-than clean windows – sliding their way across north and south. I did find my way through the emotional morning, though. Sales are like that. Turning a switch as my first customer sauntered his way up to my window … happily so. I like this moment. Happy is transferable. Smiles spread well. An insincere smile, they say, is better than a sincere frown.

He appeared happy. I knew it was going to be this way. After all, the weather brings out happy when – after weeks of rain, snow, and ice – slightly-warm sunshine breaks through malaise sitting on folk’s vitalities.

It was nice to see.

Content and untroubled words continued throughout the day … as did warmth. Now, warmth, in this context, was 45-degrees and a slight glare I could finally see reflecting off of the gray pavement a few feet below where I stood inside. Salt residue crunched under the feet of an increased number of folks who saw 8-foot banners my irresponsible self at last decided to hang back up. It was these wonderful right-of-spring, bright red “Hot Dog” flags waving in the mild breeze I loved to watch yesterday in between thinking about my friend and waiting on customers … wondering what they were thinking each time one would walk up to my window. Yes, It wasn’t spring. We’re 21 days away, but there was a definite spring in their step.

It was nice to see.

I need a day like that. A day to see other people. A day to be sad about what my friend is going through and a day to be extremely glad to enjoy the sun, the breeze, the opportunity to be in business … and share the happy in other people’s lives. One ordered just a plain dog and was simply joyous to do so. Another came by later – after passing by earlier in a hurry, unable to stop – and was plainly contented ordering five sandwiches … talking about life with me as I prepared his order. A long time casual friend, out and about, needing some time with me to chat up the weather in his life. A somewhat stormy, but familiar life. The sunset, to him, was so welcoming. I got it. I really did.

It was nice to … hear.

That was the day to me. Customers, friends online and off. I did hear from my dear friend as she returned home later in the day. A sunny, some-what warm day for everyone … including her. The sun knows no problems we face down here on this floating home of ours. It knows only what it can give to us – bright, warm faces and hope for a better tomorrow. I saw glimpses of that yesterday … in myself and in the eyes of so many others as they casually, yet intentionally, walked a few steps away from their cars to my slightly speckled windows I never did take time to clean. Windows I closed, seven hours after opening. With more optimism, I drove home on dusk-laden roads knowing happiness during those warmer hours meant something. A sunny, 45-degree day can do this.

It was just … nice.