Sunday, April 10, 2016

“You should be here.” My friend Great Aunt Ray. The lyrics bring me to you each time.
We lost you for a while. I can remember phone calls, visits to Nashville to see you, your voice. I can remember your funeral. But I couldn’t quite remember where you were buried.

Google wasn’t any help.
But finally an old piece of paper surfaced and we could find you.  Lori went first and searched the gardens for you. Yesterday I stood at your grave.

You should be here. You would have loved MyFella. You would have loved Jamie. You should have met us for lunch yesterday. You should have been at the house, or us at yours. That’s just one example, one weekend. What seems like a whole lifetime of experiences since you left us – you should have been near for all of it – and I near for yours.
For years I saw you in the crowd – a gray head and square shoulders from a distance. It took years for you to fade from my daily conscious. It took a year for me to quit crying for you.  Whenever my time was quiet, I cried for you. There are things I do that remind me of you, things I see that I know you would like.  Things that crept into my routine that are quiet reminders of you.

Yesterday I stood at your grave. Today I weep like you just left me yesterday. Oh, Ray, you should be here.
"You should be here, standing with your arm around me here.
Cutting up, cracking a cold beer, saying cheers, hey y'all it's sure been a good year.
It's one of those moments, that's got your name written all over it.
And you know that if I had just one wish it'd be that you didn't have to miss this
You should be here."


Monday, December 21, 2015


"Why don't you buy a house?"

That's how I remember it starting. Since I've moved to the Big City, I've been a non stop renter, usually only moving when extenuating circumstances encouraged it - rent went up too high, income went down too low, etc.

For the last 3 years I had shared a rental house with a good friend. Most of the pro's and con's in that situation would be the same items on 2 different lists.  I simply was too lazy to change the status quo, both in real time physical effort required to move from one place to another, and in the emotional strength needed to broach the subject with my roommate and then start looking.

Then MyFella upped the ante. "I'll go in half with you."  "I'll get you moved."

So one night sitting on the couch we logged onto a website and started looking at houses. We submitted information on line to some mortgage companies.  We had an inbound call from a realtor referred by the mortgage company (I would do that part differently.)

Most of the houses MyFella would find on line and send me the address. I would take a drive by on the way to work and if it looked OK, I would go from there. Many houses passed the drive by test. Not many passed further than that. And quite a few we lost just due to timing.

"I would rather buy a house with you and drive home to our home every weekend, than for you to keep giving rent away for years."  It made sense.  Well, to me, it made sense if someone was in it with me. I had no interest in being the only person responsible for a house.

So from my recollection, that's how it came to be that we wound up homeowners.

Standing In The Driveway

"I like it."
That's what I remember saying.  MyFella and I had been on the hunt for a house for a couple of months, when he suggested I go by this address.  On my drive by in the morning, I was surprised - for the price and the appearance that the house was in a neighborhood that looked so nice.  The realtor got me in that afternoon.  There were a few things against it - mainly that it could have used maybe another foot of space in every direction, and perhaps just a bit more bathroom. But the things in it's favor were a house that seemed to be in very good condition, with hardwood floors and an updated kitchen. There is a detached workshop/garage combo that is very spacious and set into the back of the yard in line with the driveway.

We had, I had, the realtor had, all seen so very many houses and ruled most of them out very quickly. One house I loved so much but knew would be a mistake due to it's advanced age and lack of deep care.

Looking at it, I couldn't tell you why it felt right. It is a very standard 1950's era ranch style house.  Brick outside, one floor, three bedrooms and 1 bath. Maybe that's exactly why I liked it. I seem to be drawn to vintage pieces, and perhaps this is just a great big vintage piece.

The realtor said, "If this isn't what you want, then I don't know how to help you. You'll have to tell me exactly why."  We hadn't been thrilled with her, we should have politely parted ways a month earlier. But I understood what she was saying. Aside from lacking a bit of a second or half bath, it seemed to be what we wanted.

MyFella took my word on the call that afternoon.  He said, "We've always had just one bathroom and you're there 5 days a week by yourself. Make an offer."

By the time he saw the house, all the offers had been done, all the frustrating what-if's and oh-no's had been completed.  By the time he saw the house, we were a couple of grand into inspections and earnest money that would have been thrown away if he hadn't liked it. For that reason, I'm not always sure that he does like it.  But I think he loves what it represents to us, and how it affects our relationship. I think that, like myself, he loves that it's just us and the bank, our little old island of space in this big ocean of a city.

There's plenty of room for Jamie, both to have his own bedroom and to enjoy being here with us. We have a nice sized back patio perfect for a meal or Coca-Cola, and we have the shop.  My junk seems to still fill the shop, but I've promised to get it in order, and he keeps pretending to believe my promise.

Well into our 40's and 50's, we are home owners for the very first time.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Newest Tombstone

I had some time before the funeral on Saturday, so I went over to the part of town where the 3 old cemeteries are (the “new” one is on the far side of town, because it’s a small town) – the public one that dates back to the  Civil War,  the Catholic one and the Jewish one.
The Catholic and Jewish cemeteries are sort of land locked, small – you can see the whole of either of them from their respective front gates.  The Catholics have since purchased a section in the “new” public one across town and had it reserved as a Catholic area. The Jewish community, like so many other things that were once vibrant in my hometown, has gone. The synagogue was transferred to the state heritage department and can be rented for public events and the cemetery has an endowment fund and a caretaker.   These cemeteries are in a row, and when you pass them you head into a rural area that becomes a national state park with a gravel road.
The cemeteries are just barely minutes from the church where I would attend a funeral, and I had time so I walked around for a little bit. Many stones dated back to the 1800’s, and some would say the European birthplaces of the deceased.  Some of the family names rang familiar, not from me growing up but from my job in the big city. It’s not hard to imagine that sons and daughters made it 80 miles up the road. Commerce, mercantile, and opportunity have pulled people out of my hometown probably since the beginning.
I’m not a photographer. But I like to visit cemeteries and I usually wish I had invested in a notepad and charcoal but I’ve never actually purchased charcoal or that thin paper you need to do a grave rubbing. I'm walking, I'm walking, I'm snapping pictures.
I’m walking, I’m walking.  I realize there’s something that looks like a tombstone, but it’s metal and hides a water spigot.  Neat idea, functional for lawn care.  I’m walking, I’m walking.  I notice a tree that is down that fell on some old markers and I take a picture to remind myself to find out who the groundskeeper is – I’m walking, I’m walking.
I walk up on a stone and recognize the last name.  They’re from a farming community on the far side of the county. I realize the man is a father to a friend of mine.  I had lost touch with my friend some years back  - I knew him to be very ill.  For a while he lived outside of Nashville, and once I asked MyFella to take a huge detour on a road trip so I could visit him. I found him after a while in a nursing home, it was an awkward visit because he couldn’t really talk.  But anyway, there was his dad. 
And a second later, there was my friend. He died 3 years ago. I didn’t know it. It makes sense that in 1947 when he was born, his family probably came over from that side of the county to worship, but it never occurred to me that he might be there. I didn't expect to walk up on his name, his grave.
If I were a painter, I would try to paint the picture. Within a short walk is a levee holding back the Mississippi River.  The sky was grey and overcast. An uncomfortable breeze was blowing – not a gentle wind.  The grass has all died.  It is a dreary morning. 
 In this very old cemetery, my friend has the newest tombstone.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

G-d Laughs

You recall the saying, “Man plans, G-d laughs”?  I think I heard him laughing at me.  You see, I often play like I’m shallow.  I pretend that I don’t think about things. I wave my hands and act like it’s no big deal.  But the problem is, sometimes I forget that I’m supposed to play like I’m shallow. Not be shallow.
I had decided that he was obstinate. Strong willed over things that didn’t matter.  I had decided that he just enjoyed being that way. I decided that every time he approached me with yet another pesky question, that he was doing it because he had nothing better to do.
Then I heard it.  The piano.  The sounds coming from down the hall.  I knew the room had a piano, but I didn’t think anyone was playing the piano.  But the song went on, and there was a key stroke mistake, so I got up to look.  There he was.
Playing a tune.  Playing it well.  Really well.  Perhaps not concert well, but I wasn’t paying for a concert seat, and he’d certainly had several years of practice on me. Fifteen years, I would find out.
I found out from a conversation I had with him.  You see, for all the times I see him, for all the times we exchange words and pleasantries, I’ve never talked with him.  After this song, after I complimented listening to a tune which I really enjoyed, we talked.  Or rather, he talked.  I had sense enough to listen.
He talked about his parents. His father had been the only person in the family to survive a horrible war. We talked about his college experience, and his career, from which he had become disillusioned and found a way for an early retirement. We talked about his likes, and his loves, and his pursuit of things he thought would make him a better person, and we talked about his joy of piano playing.  Mostly my words, not his, but that’s sort of what I took from it.
The whole time I thought I knew him, I didn’t know him at all.  I could almost see G-d looking at me, laughing at me, laughing at my shallowness.  I had thought he was one level of a person, and it turned out I was one level of a person.  He gave me a gift of listening to the song, for which he had practiced.  And he gave me a gift of a moment of insight.  Just a moment, a snapshot, nothing more.  It was enough.   It was a beautiful snapshot.
I could hear G-d laughing.  

Friday, August 29, 2014

81 Years Old

He was asked, "How you doing?"

"I'm 81 years old.  I'm barely above ground."

"You're gonna get a ticket if you don't put your seatbelt on."
-Sideways glance.
What you gonna do if they take you to jail?
-Throws arm up to heart and says, "Oh, I'm having a heart attack."

"Did I tell you about that time they had that road block and those guys told me I needed to wear my seat belt?
I told them I was 70 years old, had lived through World War 2 and the Korean Conflict to keep this country free and nobody was gonna tell me I had to take a rope and strap my ass into my car. 
They told me to get out of there because they had work to do."

The Shrine of Christ's Passion

 Recently I found myself visiting friends in the Indiana area just outside of Chicago.  During the visit, I was told of a place nearby that has a life size version of the 12 Stations of the Cross.  An adorable young lady told me that "You can take a selfie with Jesus - ascending, not crucified, because that would be creepy."

I imagined a sort of life size version of the plaques you see on the wall of the church, and I could run to the very end of the row and take my selfie with Jesus - ascending, not crucified, because that would be creepy.

So, after entering the outdoor garden area through the Kirkland/Thomas Kinkade-esque gift shop, one first sees a full size Jesus sitting at a table with open seats.  It appears he is waiting for (you) someone to join him for dinner (the Last Supper.)  Since he is life size and it's a table with seats, I was strongly considering sitting down next to Jesus for my selfie. But then a group of very somber looking people began their walk, and it didn't quite seem appropriate.

So my friends and I continued around the garden to what I thought would be 12 statues in a row somewhere in Indiana.  I was wrong. And I wasn't prepared emotionally for what was about to impress me.  So, I admit it, I shut it down so it couldn't reach into me.

This is a purposely overgrown garden of a couple of acres with a life size temple, a path, large boulders, and over 40 bronze statues of Jesus, his disciples, Mary Magdalene, crosses and judges - all on a path that places you in footsteps designed to remind you of the walks of Jesus.  It was impressive, and if approached with the right frame of mind, a powerful experience.

It was also hot.  Really, really sun shiney hot that day. 

By the time I made it to Ascending Jesus, sweating profusely but impressed by someone's dream turned reality for this walk of that last day of that life, I had lost my desire to take a selfie.  I seemed slightly in appropriate.  Though the ascending version of Jesus with six pack abs and hair blowing in the wind did lend a bit of brevity to the moment.

I might do two things if I ever go back.
- I would go on a day I could take a slower pace and allow myself to be touched by the dream of some artist who that created this tribute.
- I would definitely take a selfie.  Because, you know, in the Christian belief, he did ascend. And there's nothing more cool than that.

Monday, November 11, 2013

A Rotary Prayer

Our Father in Heaven, we come before Thy throne of grace this Wednesday morning
Thanking You for life, thanking You for another day
We come thanking You for all the blessings that Thou has bestowed upon us
  From the greatest of our existence up until this present morning
Realizing as we come there are thousands on top of thousands who are as we are
Some are not as we are, but you know their condition
Just touch them we pray in your own special way as only you can
Strengthen them spiritually and physically we humbly ask Thee
Guide them and direct them in the way that Thou would have them go
Pray for those in need of Thee everywhere
The sick and the shut in, take care of them, we humbly ask Thee
Bless those who are behind the bars in prison
Bless those in the hospitals, day care homes and elsewhere
Have mercy upon us this morning, we humbly ask Thee
BLess our club, bless it's officers, endow them with the knowledge and wisdom from on high
Lead and direct them in such manner as You would be pleased
Please stand by us, we humbly ask Thee
Pray for our nation, our state and county in which we live
Ask your blessings on the leaders thereof and help them to look to Thee
  from whence cometh all Thy help
We pray in Thy name
We pray for our young men and women defending this great nation around the world
Bless their families and loved ones they left behind
Our Father, on this day, the opening day of the new school year, be with the teachers
 Protect them, we pray, from all seen and unseen dangers,
Bless the young people with whom they will be working
Help them to learn
Endow them with the knowledge and wisdom to do that which is right
We ask in Thy name
Be with us, Father, we pray. We need You this morning.
When we come to the end of the journey, we pray that You will take us by the hand
 and lead us to the other side so that we can spend eternity with Thee
Our Father, this is my prayer.  In the name of Thy son, we pray.


August 2013

Father's Day Luncheon 2013

Our gracious heavenly Father,
We thank You for this day
Thank You for our many blessings
Thank You for this food before us
Pray that You'll be with us in each and every way


A Young Boy's Prayer

A prayer spoken at the funeral luncheon.

Thank you, Jesus, Lord we come to You again.
Lord, we thank You for this family
We ask You to bless them,
Be with them for what they went through, Lord, for what they're going to be going through
We ask You to keep Thy hand up on them
Bless this gathering here today
Bless this food
We give You all the glory and praise.
In Thy name we pray, Amen.