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Friday, June 21, 2013

Art


 We had taken our teenage twin boys and four of their friends to the beach for their sixteenth birthday. It was early (for teenagers anyway) so my wife Kimberly and I had taken a bike ride on a couple of cruisers that were under the house.
 
 It was sunny on a balmy May day when we spotted a  wooden footbridge down at the end of a street. It crossed the inland waterway and was about as long as half a football field. It arched from the wild of marsh and beach into a middle class neighborhood.  Fascinated we parked the rusty bikes and went for a stroll.

  An older couple, gray and a little unsteady were crabbing down below on a small square of dock.  A white egret fed in the distance. Modest piers were home to modest boats of various configurations.

  It was quiet. After crossing and walking a block we realized we’d been gone a while and the kids are probably wondering where we are. We turned to cross back over at a faster pace.  I remember thinking how I love the sound when your tennis shoes hit the two by fours of a wooden bridge when I spotted an older white haired gentleman we had greeted in passing on the way over the bridge.

  He seemed small sitting there on a bench in the midst of the flora and fauna of a quiet marsh His hands were clasped between his legs, shoulders drooping forward. Then I realized that he was weeping. I didn't hesitate but stepped over to him with out raised arms and held him about the shoulders in the best hug I could with me standing. He tensed for a millisecond then rested his head in the nape of my neck. I could feel the tears and his day old bristle. I let him weep.

  I knew my wife had stopped because I could no longer feel her footfalls. I sensed her returning and dropped to a knee. The old man muttered “ thank you … thank you.” Finally, when it felt right I stood, as there was not room to sit.

  “I’m so sorry,” he said. “My wife has died and I’m having a bad day. We were married for fifty-six years. Some days I’m ok. Then there are days like this when I miss her so. My son lives down the way. I’m here visiting with the grandchildren.”

 “There’s nothing to be sorry for my friend. We know all about grief. I’m just glad that we happened by.” I said.

  We stayed and talked to Art for a while. He told us about Margaret. Then he told us about his wonderful church and all the friends that looked after him. He showed us pictures of his grandchildren.

  We told Art that our son was battling cancer so he would know that we were brothers and sisters in grief and that we are never alone. We told Art we loved him until a tall man with a graying short beard came earnestly walking onto the bridge. I knew by his energy of haste and concern that he was Art’s son.

  We all exchanged pleasantries until it was time to go.

“The children will be missing us so we should go.”

Son and father thanked us. We told them we were just glad that we had happened by when we did.

 As we passed back over the bridge I spoke to God.

“Thank you Father, for Art and this time in nature to heal. Thank you Father for all of those who have held us in our tears and let us rest our head in the nape of their neck as our sorrow bled into them. Thank you Father for each breath we breathe and the memory of our loved ones. Thank you most of all for my sons who are waiting. Please let them live so that the day can come when they walk onto a bridge with love and concern looking for their wayward and earthly Father.

Peace to all …


The Fountain Pen 2

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   Long ago, as a child, I sat impatiently waiting on the front steps of my home. Crew cut and inquisitive I had discovered a box top offer on the back of some Sugar Smacks for a fountain pen.

  It had kindled daydreams of the Founding Fathers using quills to pen our beliefs.  I was going to save the world with that pen. There were truths that needed to be told. Grown ups needed to heed the thoughts of fresh and knowing young minds. They were “messin’ things up somethin’ awful.”

 I told my mother one summer morning, “Momma, I’m gonna save up and get this fountain pen.”

 “ Ok Honey. You do that though I can’t for the life of me see why a seven year old would want a fountain pen! Wouldn’t you rather save for something you could play with?”

 “No Momma. I NEED this pen!”

“ Ok Honey. You save the box tops and I’ll help with the mailing.”

 Somehow I felt she thought I wouldn’t follow through. What she doesn’t understand, I thought, is that George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, they all knew the real truth, that  “The pen is mightier than the sword.”

  Look what the Declaration of Independence had accomplished. It had tumbled a world power like a line of dominoes. It had created a country like God created the universe. That pen had brought a king to his knees and by golly I was going to tell the world how it could be done.

   I was going to pen my way into the hearts of America. I would write tomes to truth, tap dance my way into the hearts of mankind, toot the horns of progress, tell the world the answers til they were dancing on the rooftops!

  When I was done they would make me president because I was so smart. I yearned for the love of mankind. I believed that we could mesh our souls to create a utopia of understanding. “Damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead!” “Hi Ho Silver … AWAY!”

  I spotted the mailman way up the street striding down the Nessman’s driveway. 

  My heart began to palpitate as that blue clad public servant grew in my vision until he was nothing but a giant   “Jungle Jim” hard hat and a pair of high black stocking socks on huge, hairy legs. He was holding out a small box to ME. I was receiving my first piece of mail. I thought I would explode with glee.

   I don’t remember the mailman leaving. All I could see was that box as I worried it open. Then at last there it was, just like they showed it on the box, that beautiful, lacquered epistolary tool of the scribes.

 “Hot diggity dog!” I held it for a moment just feeling it in my little hand. It was smooth, elongated, orb like.

  Finally I had my very own fountain pen, my vehicle into the world! My uncles would sometimes pay me quarters to stop talking for fifteen minutes. I bet they’ll pay attention when I write a book. I just bet you when I’m famous they won’t be grinning that grown up “oh ain’t he funny” grin. I was jolted back to reality as I heard a car door slam.

 I looked up from my reverie and there was my Dad. He was sort of a cross between Johnny Cash and John Wayne. He had a booming voice and always wore starched shirts and pressed pants.  He stomped when he walked. It would cause all Mommas’ knick- knacks in the house to tinkle and shake.

 I loved my Daddy but he could be plain mean sometimes, especially when he was just coming back from a work trip.

 “Hey Beau … how’s my little buddy doin’?’’ he drawled with that lazy grin.

“Great Dad! Look at this fountain pen I got in the mail! I saved box tops and ordered it myself!  “Ain’t it great?”

 “Well Beau, I don’t think it’s such a good idea for a little fella to have this kind of pen. It breaks and you’ve got a mess that’ll never clean up.”

 “But Dad that’s why I wanted it. It’s a grown up pen. I’ll be careful. I promise.”

 “ I can’t believe your Momma would let you have such a thing … nothing but an accident waiting to happen. You let me have it for now. I’ll talk to your mother and we’ll see.”

  He reached out his big ole hand and I couldn’t do a thing but hand over that pen. I want you to know my heart broke right down the middle. He wasn’t just taking a pen, he was punching me in the gut like he had drawn back in meanness and let me have it. He stomped away around the house and out of sight.

   Hot tears streaming down my red, flushed and freckled face my blood rose to fever pitch, pounding in my temples. I hated him like a bull hates red, like a tiger hates fire, like a preacher hates sin. My heart raced and my knees went weak.  I changed in that moment. I never saw that pen again and I never forgot how easily dreams could be taken away. 

  I’ve got boys now. They are truly a gift. I can be grouchy and say things so I wish I had just kept quiet. I try to remember though that a little boy’s dreams are just as intertwined in their hearts as our grown up dreams are. I try to remember to say I’m sorry. I hope I’m doing ok. I hope and pray that I have never taken away their dream.


  My Dad is gone now. He died a couple of years ago. I loved him and sometimes I miss him bad … but he should have never taken away that pen.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Maybe ... Just Maybe


 Hey Dad. It’s been a while. Father’s Day just went by so I’m thinking about you more than usual. You know if you’d asked me 10 – 15 years ago I think I’d of said you were mostly just mean. Seems like the memories of violence and drinking were what stuck the most.

 I've mellowed some. My boys are up big now and I’m flooded with memories of a different kind. Do you remember dragging us all to the Starlite Speedway in Monroe on Friday nights? I’d lean into the chain link fence and watch those old beat up cars bump and bang around the red clay track. When they came around the  fourth turn it’d throw mud in our faces and down the front in little specks till the front was a film of clay.

  Do you remember Uncle Benny driving that race car, biting his tongue underneath his black helmet til one night somebody finally bumped him back and he went over the far rail? I knew it scared you though you hollered and went on like you were mad. He sold the race car after that.

  Do you remember how you’d make me go down to Beaver Creek at night and fish from the boat? You’d put those Coleman lanterns out over the black water and we’d sit there for hours pulling in crappy. The mosquitoes would be so bad I’d have welps in the morning. You hardly noticed them at all.

  Do you remember throwing the baseball out in the front yard? You threw side armed like Don Drysdale cause you broke both your collarbones in a head on collision with a drunk driver. I knew it hurt cause you’d complain a little. To be honest I was glad because you threw it so hard it’d make me dance.

  Do you remember all those times we’d fly down two lane blacktop leaving the ground on the “tickle hills” singing old hymns? You’d be smoking Marlboros like a freight train and you, Momma and me would work out the harmonies.

  Do you remember the time you were working on an electrical problem with a vacuum cleaner at your workbench and little brother Stevie snuck up and banged a hammer on the bench? You jumped back so hard you slipped and had to catch yourself. Man did you cuss. It scared me at first but then we all ended up laughing. It was good to see you laugh, Dad.

  The reason I’m bringing all this up now is because I got to thinking. Maybe he just wanted to spend time with me. Maybe he just thought if he could teach me enough, life might not be so hard like it was for him. Maybe … just maybe you were trying to be a better father than you had.

  Maybe when we were fishing you were showing me how to be quiet and sit with nature in the dark.

  Maybe you threw that baseball hard so when I played with the big kids I’d be used to it and not be scared.

  Maybe singing those hymns was your way of taking me to church … of showing me what you believed and how you loved God.

  Maybe when you started laughing that time Stevie scared you, you were laughing at yourself. It made us all better … I know that much.

  I could go on and on because you see for the most part you were there after I turned twelve or so. It was hard to watch you fall. You were my hero when I was little so it broke my heart to see you destroy yourself.

  Well Dad I suppose I just wanted to wish you Happy Father’s Day and let you know that I see things a little different now. Having the boys grow up has changed me. I love them so much it hurts so it makes me think … Maybe he just loved me and it was the best  job he could do.

 


Thursday, June 13, 2013

Born Again

I have written many times about my baptismal experience. The core of the message is that little did I realize in those moments the depth of rebirth I was experiencing. Little did I know that  I would be reborn many times over.

  It saved me in more ways than one. Before my “conversion experience” twenty-four years past I lived by anger and conflict. It was me against a cruel world until I wore out. I changed my life with baby steps. I married. We had fraternal twin boys, joined a church … you know the drill.

  Those twin boys grew until they began to obtain driver’s licenses, have girlfriends and go places without us on a regular basis. Often I've wondered why they showed little interest in “joining the church” or being baptized.  I would ask and teach but each seemed  ambivalent other than a rather liberal take on religion in general. We have encouraged questions and exploration. We seek each day to ingrain in them a sense of inclusivity and a “cosmo-centric” worldview yet I yearned for the passage into commitment … belief … faith.

  Last year in the midst of a grueling protocol of chemotherapy one son told his mother he’d like to be baptized in the lake my wife called “Heaven Lake”. We have traveled there each year for 12 or 13 years to camp with friends and raft white water. Ironically it started on a church trip. We have continued to go even though the church trips have stopped.

  My wife and her teacher had taught my son to meditate to help him with the side effects. They told him to imagine a place of peace where he felt lifted, calmed … healed. He chose “Dream Lake”.

  Last week we went there and the same man that held them up to the church as infants baptized them in that lake. That man is a friend of mine and I’m afraid I don’t claim many. Twenty or so folks stood on the bank and watched. We sang “Amazing Grace” and a few sang a verse of “We Shall Gather At the River”.

  It wasn’t done at the church we attend in front of that community of faith but I got a feeling God’s ok with it. Some were from the church … some weren’t but we were all in that cathedral of nature.  We were all witness to these youth being washed in the spirit. We are all better for it and once more I was "born again."