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.

The Lava Has Cooled

Brothers. Brian and Lance.

I’m not sure how it came to pass. They, separately, own two restaurants in town. The Capitol Hotel and Old Canal Inn eateries are located within a mile or two of each other. Most of us around these parts have parked our Blair County butts in chairs and booths surrounding tables – munching down fine breakfast, lunch, and dinner fare.

I enjoy early morning frivolities inside the Capitol with my friends. Yes, “friends” for those reading this who may consider my life as one without such surrounded happiness. See, as my day goes occasionally, some cross my path who, sarcastically, speak briefly on this matter. I do have friends – many in that circle as a fact. Those who suggest otherwise just don’t get it. I know of their mindset, however … and, I know mine.

Companion walk-alongs are really nice. I believe it. If this wasn’t the case, I wouldn’t have them around in my life. Every once in a while, though, a disagreement – perhaps a subject heavier than a lighthearted dissent – turns into a lava pour that takes a turn into the calm, peaceful friendship community two friends enjoy.

This happened. But, not inside the Capitol or Old Canal … and did not ensnare a friend who usually meets me there. The unease, however, did keep me away from the Capitol for two days. Strange. But, not really.

Took us a few days to work it out. Religion is probably NOT the best thread to use when weaving together a nice conversational sweater even IF you’ve been friends with someone for a long time. I never fully appreciated the depth of his uninformed views (insert sarcasm emoji here), nor have I ever taken the time to entirely take in my complete and utter genius in regard to my own views on matters spiritual (of course, insert humility emoji here).

We spated our way through a barrage of texts and one very interesting phone call. He said, I said … During one text string after an hour of words after words, I wrote, “Pretty much comes down to this: You think you’re right and I think I’m right. Now, how do we determine who is? There’s really no way to get there, is there? (especially with bible ‘stuff’)… So, we need to stop the discussion.” His reply was fascinating to me: “No, the discussion is good. It’s fun to learn why people think the way they do.”…

He’s a poker. Half the time he pokes to poke. I wasn’t sure if this was a cry wolf scenario, or he was really trying to keep me from a falling heavenly sky. When he replied as he did, I fell back in my already broken-in Honda – no longer feeling I was in the driver’s seat of the conversation. Did he REALLY want to understand my position on a God belief, or was he looking to bolster his stance through my words? Was he hearing, or just listening? When faith and belief systems are challenged – even within the community of two – a volcano of emotions spew forth from miles away and, within minutes, begin to burn the companionship structures.

We fire hosed the situation yesterday. I had him call me and we worked it out – as friends do. He now understands my superior thinking, and I get his illogical reasoning. He owes me a lunch and I will graciously accept.

Most likely, we will go to the Old Canal Inn.

Yesterday, I was there for lunch to meet my dad and his friend, Charlie. As an aside here, the off-hour presented a rather vacant room with just the three of us … and an almost five-year old. Sophie was off pre-school, “helping” her waitress mom serve us. As I enjoyed my juicy “Canal” swiss-mushroom burger along side dad’s haddock dinner, Sophie shuffled over to our table frequently to ask difficult, identifying questions such as: “What color is this crayon?”, and, “How old am I?”.. Our responses? Why, “blurple, breen, and sred, of course … Her giggles at our apparent unawareness of basic color recognition made her afternoon minutes pass quicker than expected, hopefully.

We need the challenging mental moments … and the “What color is my crayon?” times, too. Balance. In less than 48 hours, my life went from unanswerable, deeply held convictions to red, innocent crayons held by little orange-colored cheeto hands asking, “Do you know where I go to school?”…

If Brian and Lance ever fought as brothers, I’ll never know. They come from a large family, so I bet they did … sometimes. I do see them together frequently, though, and there’s a lot of respect and admiration between them. The same holds true betwixt Doug (yes, Doug) and I. We share the same wonderful name. I am Doug #1, he is Doug #2 – as it should be.

We’ll continue forward believing what we do …and, why we do. The lava has cooled and the landscape around looks a bit different. Change is good. Like I said in one of my last texts to him, “We’re good for one another, regardless.” …

Axes and Ohs

Brian extended a very kind gesture toward me today. “Who’s Brian?”, you ask. He owns a local axe throwing house close by. I met him eight months ago during a casual hour of moderately sharp tool-tossing after a five-minute introductory session. Underhanded, over-toss, … certainly not sideways, and – for sure – the forbidden backward mistake throws were all covered by his trainers. In front of me stood the forbearing circles of unproven manhood I was to carefully consider without stepping beyond lines at my toe tips. The only caveat was allowing axes to be thrown by all before retrieving mine. As an aside here, I’ve had knives in my back, figuratively, but would know to wait … (darn insurance company regulations require the disclaimer, probably). Oh, and did I mention alcohol is allowed as well? Yes, BYOB in an axe-throwing building.

Alcohol and axes. Local Paul Bunyons and their Big Barcelo Rums chasing the blues away in a small city block building close to a set of railroad tracks near Altoona, PA. Brian runs his business quite well. It’s as professional as any I’ve seen – for this type. Granted, how many mildly-blunt forestry implement flinging establishments have I been in? One. His. Every precaution has been taken for the safety of his guests. There’s sign-in ahead with call-in appointments recommended and professional staffing from entrance to exit.

Two weeks prior to my visit, Brian stopped by my concession stand to introduce himself. Why not, right? At that time, I was only a few blocks away and surely scents dancing on air – from the finest sausage grease and hamburgers in town – caught his nose-tice. Simple marketing. Meet-and-greet as we used to say pre-internet. Being not overbearing or abrasive, he became an instant friend of mine. I didn’t pretend, or assume, we’d immediately start to attend family goldfish burials together or send holiday cards back and forth, however. It wasn’t a bromance in the brew pot … just a real nice guy.

As the weeks continued on from there, I would look out my concession window and see Brian order two hot dawgs once a week – no onions. “Hey, how’ve you been?” moments in passing … hoping each one of us respond with positive reports. We did, then moved on with our next six days or so.

Today I noticed his company vehicle pull up – which, of course, wasn’t unusual. I knew fresh hot dawgs were grilled up ready to go with his favorite chili-cheese steaming in the cooker. Before I had a chance to ask how things were, he set a hefty box on the cold serving counter just outside my window.

“Here, Doug. This package is for you!”, he gleamingly gave voice to his benevolent demeanor. Stunned, I noticed a rather plain box with the words: Exterior String Lights, 49 Feet.

He continued, “A buddy and I came by the other night and measured the exterior of your trailer. There are enough lights to go around here …”, he continued, pointing excitingly to the far left side, “…all the way across the front, around the end then behind. All the sides cars will see you in the dark. Those nights when you are open, hopefully these will help you get some increased business, right?”. I, in a breathless manner, replied, ” Uh, yeah …”

“I’m sorry, Brian. I’m at a loss for words. Thank you so much. Let me pay you for these”.

“Absolutely not. And we’ll let it go at that.”

“Ok. At least allow me to give you these two dawgs for free?”. He agreed.

I was taught to accept gifts with gratitude and compliments with grace. Both, when done with sincerity, are given from a kind and gentile place. Brian, in that moment, exemplified his kindness toward me. I accepted – with a little push-back, of course, because I’m Doug.

Two weeks ago, Brian came by – at night – and apparently made a mental note that my exterior trailer space is dark. Save a few small lantern lights setting on the very shelf he placed his wonderful gift today, the customer experience after sundown is less than ideal. I have certain priorities – exterior lighting hasn’t been one of them. My casual friendship to Brian was a priority to him during this past week and I am indebted to his goodwill. He lit up my emotional small 160 square feet footprint today.

In a few days, I’ll be able install these lights. For now, Axes and Ohs go out to you, Brian. You threw one and hit dead center today, my friend.

It’s Just Joel

I have a friend. He’s a rainy day kinda guy who finds his way around my days that are gloomy and need a poke – a dash of “You’re not that special”, or “Get away from me with your stupid humor”. You know, the kind of friend who likes me enough to be there when I need him and dislikes me enough to listen to my bad jokes. He constantly needles me with words of repute, but has a sparkle of respect in his eyes for my strange life. He’s my friend … just Joel.

This man, a few years my junior, is an expert craftsman. I’ve seen his woodworking skills in action and in 2-D pictures. Here’s an example:

See, this is one small sample from many I could show. There are rolling pins, flower pots, tree planters, containers, boxes, etc … all wonderfully caressed from his hands. As a pianist who creates from my hands, I can appreciate anyone who molds magnificence from nothing – as he does. There are few within my circle of knowing who can do this level of craftsmanship.

And why stop there? Recently, popping up on Facebook are pictorial fancies from the very phone he carries in his wood-dusted pockets. Seemingly, he could be the long lost, unknown sibling to my dear lady friend I’ve written about recently. She is wonderfully structured around flora and nature, he is naturally wondering about structures. This fascination comes through his eyes to ours as follows:

Rails, power, and invisible steps. Three out of many pictures finding their way in front of my eyes almost every day on my Facebook page – from a friend.

I don’t walk among those who explore. Joel and my other special camera friend saunter around sticks and stones looking for nature’s beauty and long lost structures that’ve rekindled their beauty in age-worn rust and rickets. This is not my thing. My duty is to sit back and enjoy their enjoyment in sharing their love of same … and then, in turn, pass that love on to you.

The same love I know Joel has when he says, “Please stop!” to me as I slip into a very eloquent joke, or long, detailed story of how my day is going. That’s how he rolls. If at any point he leans in with dutiful intent and queries, “Please tell me, Doug. How are you today?”, I will pause, get up from my seat, head out the door, and then go for a long, long walk … exploring in the deep woods, looking for the alien ship that carried the E.T. that took over Joel’s soul.

On my way back, however, I’ll be sure to find that perfect piece of lumber. I need him to make me a new piano bench – which I’m sure he’ll do. He’s that good of a friend. He’s just Joel.