Saturday, November 28, 2009

The parade!

It was a hot summer day and I was actually feeling very good for once. I haven't got much time left. The doctors sent me home so I could be comfortable. My sons take turns visiting with me and making me smile. They are a welcome distraction to the monotony of being ill. I beg them to bring the little ones and let them ramshackle the house. They feel it would be too much for me. I miss life and the pounding feet and squeaky voices of the children remind me I still am here in it.

Today I feel like getting dressed and sitting for a bit. So I put on my best dress white shirt and roll up my sleeves. I slip into a pair of navy blue dress pants and don my favorite bow tie. Being 89 gives me the right to wear a bow tie and suspenders and be looked at as cute. I used to play that card at the buffet every Sunday with the ladies! I miss the ladies and I am sure they miss me!

I lost my lady and the love of my life 4 years ago. It was the day I was sure to stop breathing myself. My wife took my hand and told me that I needed to stay because my sons still needed a father and the grand kids a grandpa. She joked and said that she could only imagine the trouble I would stir up if I keep spoiling them all. I told her not to worry, I would spoil them for the both of us. She warned me not to eat so much pecan brittle. I still find brittle hidden in the house with hand drawn heart notes scented with the smell of my angel, it makes me smile and cry.

She left me aching and alone. My spouse of 57 years was the light of the world. There was no other love as strong as ours. I feel excited that I may be with her again soon. I miss the way she danced around the kitchen. She tried with all her might to be stern with me at times, but I could always get my way. She called me "evil " with a big wink when she spoiled me. She always spoiled me. I never felt I spoiled her enough, but oh how I tried.

Something in the house is odd today. My son is nowhere to be found and the nurse is not here. I have not been alone for so long it is kind of refreshing, but still strange. Walking toward the door I hear trumpets and drums. It sounds as if a parade is coming down our little street. How odd at this time of the year, down a little back road. I hear voices and laughter so I walk slowly to investigate and step out to my porch. People are crowded around the road. The image is in black and white. Balloons fly high in the air, although not in color, they are still a beautiful sight. The clothes are dated back and the faces seem familiarly strange. I walk toward the street following the spectacle. Looking back my house has faded out of sight.

People are rubbing my back and congratulating me on my life. The parade ambles by and the scenes are close to my heart. My childhood home, sturdy yet small brings a smile to my face. There is an image of my mother fawning over me at the dinner table with the vegetables she grew. Dad’s hands stained with muck and calloused holding a coffee mug and sipping slowly at the head of the table. The dinner is sparse but the laughter and stories many. I am 7 years old and wearing my pilots hat with goggles. Under the table I grasp my most prized possession. It is a hand painted replica of "The Spirit of St Louis" airplane. Charles Lindbergh inspired me to want to be a pilot. I lay dreaming of the day I would be alone in the cockpit of a plane doing loop-de-loops and feeling the wind on my face. It would be MY first solo flight and I would be highly celebrated.

A few years later things in the economy had gotten really bad. The great depression hit everyone hard. My dad was stressed and tried not to show us his worries. He still found time to play with us kids even after working for many days straight. Mom did the best she could throwing food together and she would not eat until she thought we were full. Rocks and sticks were toys for us and brought many adventures. Hard times can bring you together as a family or rip you apart. I tear up standing watching images of my mother and father. They worked so hard to not let us stumble.

In 1939 World War II began. I enlisted to be a pilot. I was 19 and could not wait to leave this small town. My dream of being a pilot had always stayed with me. Things didn't work that way for me as I was thrust into combat. The brotherhood there was amazing. One day I had to cover my mates by weapon while they escaped harms way. I lay a line of fire to the enemy and screamed at them to leave. They all got away, or so I thought. I tripped over my best mate Carl Armsely. His baby face staring up at me in shock was covered with dirt. Tears made clean trails down his shaking cheeks. His conversation led straight to his mom. He wanted me to take his tags personally to her. I cried as I tried to figure out a way to carry him to safety. We both knew the wounds were too severe and we were being surrounded. I thought carefully of his request and took the tags. When he slipped from me I placed the tags deeply in his boot. He would not be a John Doe soldier. I visited his mom first thing after returning from duty. I shakily told her of his request. We dropped to the floor of her stoop in a pile of tears together. It still haunts me to this day.

The scenes of my life flew by fast. My wedding day and the view of my beautiful bride was a welcome sight. The dancing, music and love was enveloping us. There was the honeymoon where we laughed like teenagers all night long holding and exploring each other.

The flight of the first US satellite "The Explorer 1" in 1958 amazed me to no end. A month after the launch my first son was born. How amazing this world is and how beautiful life was.

I was a factory worker and provided well for my family. It was not easy but we were contented with the simpler things in life. My hands were always dirty and this reminded me of my father with pride.

It was 5 years later that my second son was born, 1963 a year of turmoil. John F Kennedy was to be assassinated a few weeks before my son's due date. I questioned bringing a child into this world in such a state. I could have never known the extent and validity of that worry.

I met Jimmy Carter in 1978. It was the year he became our president. He personally thanked me for my service in World War II and presented me with a plaque. Tears of pride ran as I finally felt like the role model I had always wanted to be for my boys.

There was my last vacation bash in January 16, 2003 when my sons surprised me with a trip. We went to watch the final launch of the Columbia Space Shuttle. I wept in appreciation of a sight I never thought I would witness. The sky lit up in a grand display of achievement.

By this time the faces around me grew more familiar. Carl was there, still a baby faced hero, and he joked with me about our story filled nights. We cried as we remembered his last day, he thanked me for being there with him. We grew from boys to men in those months, strong and proud. His mother gushed at his side.

My wife came up beside me and held my hand tightly. I felt complete again. My mother and father both wept at the sight of me. I know what this is now. My time has come and this was my final celebration. What a wonderful and energy charged life I have lived.

I will dance into the light with my loved ones by my side, not afraid but deeply honored by the life and treasures I was given in this world. It was never about "things", it was always about the people around sharing them with me.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


A woman walks alone on the beach. I watch her clothes dancing in the wind beside her. I cannot make out much more than a shadow but I observe her with each fading day. Slowly she meanders past. I cannot tell age or ethnicity. I cannot tell class or status. Still with no information I am left transfixed by this image.

I am here with family and friends and have been for two weeks. We have a villa with huge rooms and lots of food in our fridge. Our days are full of laughter and shenanigans. The kids and the dog are contented with exercise and sun. A picture perfect portrait of an American family vacation is born. Planned for months and executed flawlessly. I am not alone. I am trying to be nothing but joyous and thankful. Yet I am troubled deeply with news I have to share before the end of this trip, in front of everyone I hold dear to me.

I have watched this stranger's journey each night. I have shared this with no one. It's as if this is meant to speak to me alone. I selfishly hold her and my fascination privately. Intently she picks up shell after shell, stopping each time to slowly place it to her ear. I wonder what she is hearing or what she is longing to hear. Human nature leaves me inquisitive. Logic and reasoning leave me to assume and write the story in my mind.

Had she lost a sailor to the sea? Was a child taken by an undercurrent, a husband lost fishing for sport? Was it a loss at all? Could it be that she is unstable and is acting out of the repetition in a clouded mind? Maybe she is just a free spirit. Maybe she is taking the time to enjoy all of the amazing sensory stimulations offered at this wondrous location. I had spent so much time with her on my mind that I had shuffled my own problem to the back of my conscience, for now. At least that was a positive thing.

My time here is coming to an end and my speech is near. There would be only one more night of happy faces, full contented bellies and sweet dreams. Then my family would have to know the real reason I fought so hard for this trip. I needed this time with them more than they could know.

The figure looked a bit different this night. I was compelled to greet her but scared to bother her in her task. Maybe doing something so simple helped her heal from something. I began to wonder about my own path. When was the last time I had taken the time to do something so uncomplicated? Had I stopped to smell a flower recently or just sat under the stars admiring the beauty? Had I let the kids stay up entirely too late while watching movies and consuming sugar toxins freely? Everyday life had consumed me. I was beaten into submission by the rules and regulations someone else set for "normal" life. I work everyday at a job I hate. I yell at the kids for bad grades and torn clothes. I fight with my husband about the bills and his obsession with golf. And yet, they all still love me. I let people dictate more than I should.

Just then my dog tore past me and ran straight out towards the shape. She was posed perfectly erect, head up to the sky, shell at her ear. Darting after the dog I noticed her smiling. I stopped his escape and we both stared at each other for a moment. The mystery and I were locked eye to eye. I felt cold in an instant. She looked right through me.

"I've been waiting for you.” she said softly "Listen to this and tell me what you hear" she spoke as the shell was strongly placed in my hand. Startled, I accepted it and placed it by my ear lost in her eyes. I heard nothing. Complete silence. "But," I said cautiously "I don't.." I was interrupted. "NO! Listen again, LISTEN!!!" she pleaded to me forcefully. It was amazing. I tuned every thought out and really listened. I heard the ocean as normal, but there was more. A background noise that brought me a peace and calmness I had not felt since I received my news. Goosebumps grew on every part of me and I began to cry. This was a gift.

"You have a lot of decisions to make, a lot of them you have already tried to make on your own. You need to go back and rethink them and change your way of looking at this situation before it is too late." Her eyes penetrated me "there are things you can't know, a power with you that you don't know is there yet, reconsider." She started to fade away "you must trust in what you heard here and only that, reconsider". I started to flashback.

Months ago I sat in a doctor’s office staring at the pictures on his shelf. I awaited his return confident that nothing serious was wrong. That was not the case. There is a tumor. It is strong, it is deadly and it is in my brain. I have brain cancer. It is inoperable, not treatable and there is no hope left. Opinion after opinion bears the same conclusion. I would not tell my family until I was sure. "There are some last ditch efforts that we could try,” I was told by the last expert. "But they are very invasive and could even take time away from you. You need to consider this very carefully,” he said calmly. Now I am sure.

I have decided not to fight. I have decided to give in, as it would be easier on everyone involved. No false hope and no seeing me in anguish. That was it. I would tell them in a special way at the right time.

She touched my arm and jolted me back to reality and then completely faded away. I was awoken on the beach, dog still by my side. My husband had seen me collapse and ran out to help me. I stared up at him and felt the shell still lying in my hand. "Did you see where she went?" I asked. He had never seen her. I sat up slowly and put the shell to my ear as he looked at me concerned. The sound was still there only stronger. Tears drained from me, as I knew it was time. I had to tell my family. But it would be a different speech. It would be a fighting speech. I would try everything to survive. We would beat this.

It is five years and a baby girl later. The risky and experimental treatment has worked and I have been in remission for many years. The shell sits by my bed as a constant reminder that there is a power within us all.

All I remember about her were her eyes and the strength they conveyed. I don't know if it was a dream or real. I know I have been saved. I have learned to look at things differently. I reconsider things that seem hopeless. I take the time to live now and not merely exist. I look and I listen and I really see and hear. These are among the greatest gifts you can receive. And they are available to everyone. I now pass them on to you.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Letter

**I was working at a bank and had made friends with an elderly gentleman. He was harsh and rigid but I could always make him smile. He stopped coming in so I called to check on him to no avail. One day his son came in and happened to get me as his representative. I found out about his fathers passing and cried at my desk. His son looked startled and had said that his father never was a caring man and wondered what I had done to bond with him. I stated nothing, I listened and smiled and he grew softer with each visit. We had to have documents to file and close the case so I gathered them all up. With a smile and a tear in his eye the son asked me if I could please make a copy of a letter he found by his fathers bed, he also said that I should read it. It was an apology letter to the for the love that he neglected to share with his family. He never got the chance to voice it but they now had a peace and a closure. I wrote this story as a tribute to the friend I lost. None of these characters are real. Just a gentleman I think about and a letter I pray would have been received by his family just a bit earlier.**

I sit facing the wall at a desk. No window view, I have no cares about the outside world. Experience and mistakes have taken away my hope. I hold a simple glass of Brandy, two cubes to clatter when I swirl it in my weakened hands. To my left, a square glass ashtray piled too high with death and obsession, red ashes mingling seamlessly. Would it be too much effort to empty this mess? Or is it a reminder of the lack of care I have for myself. This aged typewriter has been my only friend. I write to remind myself that my brain is still active and possibly worthwhile to someone who finds these journals. The ink is failing and if it weren't for the deeply impressed letters you would not be able to read these words at all.

The house is dark now. It has a musty smell. It has no life because I let it go. I thought being a good husband and father was simply providing. My house was kept up and there was plenty to eat. The boys never played in here and I always had my back to them. I heard them giggling and having fun that I assumed would keep them loving me, even though I did not partake. I never raised hand or voice. I never reached for hugs or tickles. I don't know now what I was scared of. I pray my leading failed to take shape in their parenting and roles as husbands.

My wife was the most beautiful creature in the world, but I never told her. I never danced with her or brought her even the simplest of flowers for her auburn hair. I remember how her eyes would dance in the light. She tried so hard to bring me in but I just sat at my desk working.

As I swig another glass of Brandy I wonder who would know if I should perish. My sons have rightfully declined to offer companionship and I have never extended the invitation, as a father should have done. It pains me to say I need them now as my health is failing.

One day I heard a rustling at the door. A large mess of a dog was snooping around the porch. I quickly dismissed him yelling for him to flee my domicile. He came back each day and day after day I kicked at him and yelled profanities at the disturbance.

It was a crisp fall day when his thick rusty coat matted and littered with dry leaves and branches caught my eye. I thought of how uncomfortable that might be. I felt my heart open strangely but pleasantly. He looked at me with knowing eyes and I took hours talking cruelly to him while I brushed and washed him. He might as well stay on the porch, stupid dog; I wouldn't want to make a habit of grooming the mutt. I swept the porch and lay down a ratty quilt for him. He wagged openly and came to sit by my leg.

At the store I passed the pet aisle. I bought him food and a thick black leather collar, shaking my head at the register at my own ignorance. What would I do with a dog of all things? Still he captivated me.
It was a very cold night when I decided to let him in. He was the biggest yet most unassuming beast I have ever encountered. He sleeps by my bed and wags when I get up to relieve myself. I have started talking gentler to him now.

As I type he lounges and naps without a care next to my chair. He only awakes when I hit the letter "M" which is sticky and makes a strange grinding noise. His startled expression always brings a smile to my face. No matter how I try, I can't hit "M" without waking this stupid dog.

I have fallen in love with the nuisance I named Red. He sneezes and does a funny dance when I smoke so I have even tried to stop. It feels good taking care of him and having him look after me. What have I missed all these years? I have been defined as bitter and unloving, but I have found that I do have love to offer, and I crave it now. Red has shown me this.

I sit tirelessly night after night, day after day at this typewriter trying to find the right words for my children. How do you apologize for the years of neglect? I wrote of Red and how he had changed me. I wrote of my health and who would tend to Red. I shared my heartfelt apologies and tried to explain that I did what I thought a father was supposed to do. I told them I know now I was wrong and will forever in my heart love them even if they can't find the peace with me I pray for. Red and me mailed the letters and I tried to forget about them.

Months later there was another rustling at the door. I peeked out, not another charity animal case I said teasing Red. Opening the door there were a small group of people. My sons and their families were standing there arms open. Red jumped and twisted around the kids. It was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen. The sight of Red with sticks and leaves in his thick fur had to take second place now. He had saved me. He had brought me back my family.

**For the next year my father lived happily with Red and we visited him often. He was so soft with the kids and had become a wonderful person to know. We are proud that he was our father and that Red brought him back to us. They both perished within days of each other.

I have found the piles and drawers of journals my father had written. His legacy will go on in words barely readable but strong and potent with knowledge. I fixed the letter "M" on the typewriter and now think of him and Red as I compile my father's tales.**