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 …

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.